Sunday, November 4, 2018

...and the Wisdom to Know the Difference!

I got new glasses a month ago and to me they were dramatically different from my previous pair.

I love the month of October: hints of Fall, pumpkins, pumpkin spice everything, my birthday, family celebrations...I could go on and on.

A funny thing happened to me this week when I called to order a pizza. I remembered I was a breast cancer survivor.

Does any of this make sense? Is there a theme I'm going for? Is Penvose going to finish anything she starts? If you're thinking any of this, good for you! If you've gotten this far, you know that there is a method to my madness. Those 3 lines at the top are 3 of my latest blog posts that remain in the draft state on my blog. They're similar to ideas I've had in teaching. The number of projects that I've started or wanted to start in my 40+ years of education would fill my outdated set of encyclopedias. (note to self, add "weeding" to the To Do List) It's probably the nature of teaching and librarianship, to collect the next great idea, maybe even start it, but then drop it in the interest of time/interruptions/the next great idea/ or just plain forgetfulness!

I woke up this morning, not able to take advantage of that "extra hour" with the clock change, and finished the latest Andrew Clements book, The Loser's Club. Highly recommend it! But at the back he features a list of good reads  that the students in the book read. And I start to think, wow, I'd like to start a club like that. Or do a 40 Book Challenge. Or keep on reading the Andrew Clements' books that I haven't read. Or..... You get the picture! So then to quiet my thoughts I start looking at a few of my favorite library blogs, starting with Gwyneth Jones' "The Daring Librarian". Love her! Well, I'd missed a few of her posts, so almost an hour later, after saving most of her ideas and sending them to my school account, I heard my husband stirring in the living room where he was reading, also not getting the extra hour sleep! But once again, ideas/projects/cool stuff started swirling in my head and I got up just to quiet those thoughts. Get up and make pancakes, Sandy, and quit thinking!

And adding to this potential mental meltdown, I started to think how much longer I have in my current position before I retire. Approx 1 3/4 school years. Is that enough time to do all that I want to do? Will I ever be able to reach all the students I need to? Can I make a difference in the reading culture in that amount of time? Will I ever read all of the books in our Media Center? (what the students think I do!)
Exhausting, isn't it? I'll have another pancake, thank you!

But before I fixed our breakfast, I sat down for my morning quiet time, looking to rest my mind and spirit. And the words of the famous "Serenity Prayer" came to me loud and clear. If you don't know it, it goes like this "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference." Written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it has been adapted by many groups, but the message to me was unmistakable. There are lots of things I can't change at my school, so any projects I want to undertake have to start with that. While I'm the Queen of my little Media Domain, I have to consider our population, administration, and current initiatives to move ahead in student achievement. So some of the things I'd like to try might just be "fluff" that doesn't add to that conversation. Maybe they work in another school, but I have to realistically evaluate whether they'd work in my current situation.

However, there are many things I CAN change. Just this year I rearranged furniture, created warm inviting reading areas, started self check-in, jazzed up the signage, and some other things. I know that I have the freedom to try anything new, as long as it's student-centered and builds that love of reading. But our students also don't have oodles of time to come to the Media Center to do the popular maker stuff, or participate in reading clubs, etc. Also,  I don't have extra help to prevent me from having to close for many activities. So the things I want to focus on are ones that create an inviting space that encourages reading and participation and exploring what we already have. Also, developing relationships with the teachers so that when I do have to close for special classes or activities, they are totally supportive and assist in whatever we're doing.

So how do I  get that end part of the prayer "and wisdom to know the difference"? Some serious reflection is needed. Reevaluate my mission statement. Recall why I wanted to be a Media Specialist in the first place. I taught elementary and secondary ESE students for over 20 years and even became certified in Administration before switching horses and getting my Media Certification in 2000. I saw it as an avenue to really make a difference in students' lives, tap back into my fun/creative/silly side, and contribute to the overall climate of a school. Kind of like what I wanted to do in Administration, but more fun! And with books!

When I go back to school after this weekend, I'll start to look through my piles of "future ideas" and ruthlessly purge those that don't fit in the above criteria to "change what I can but accept what I can't". Even that process of clearing physical clutter will clear some of my mental clutter for some peace of mind. If it's not promoting reading and books and fun for the students, while moving them ahead in achievement, I don't have time for it. I need to look at what I am doing successfully and keep on doing it before starting the next great thing. Maybe I'll see that what I'm currently doing is perfectly fine...I just need to keep on doing it in the best way I can. As Dr. Bev Smallwood,  a favorite blogger of mine said, when addressing the idea of finding success in your work, "It may not be that you're not doing the right things long enough and consistently enough. Don't try that new novel idea, just keep doing the right things."

Are you on that "next big thing" treadmill? Does the scenery never change because you're always thinking of what's next and how you're going to do it and end up running on empty? Are you comparing yourself and your program to your friends on Twitter who are posting daily wow's? Well, take a break, step off the machine and have some quiet reflection time. Sincerely consider what you should keep doing, what you don't need to do, what you could do new or differently and how it fits into your personal and professional mission statement. Discuss it with a close friend or mentor. Have some good conversations with those who can honestly advise you. Maybe even have a meeting with your Administration, to see if and how you're fitting into their agenda. I know your decisions will bring you a new peace and contentment and joy in your work.

I hope you are able to achieve that "Wisdom to know the difference" in your work this year and achieve a sense of stability in what you do. Make each moment count for your students and yourself. And as always, Stay Grounded, my friends!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Your Students: Some Assembly Required

I've never met a Clearance Shelf I didn't love. When the bright yellow tags indicate something that is not what it used to be, it just sucks me in, like Gollum to the ring,  begging to be examined and put in my cart. Recently I bought not 1, but 2 (let's double our savings!) copper garden spinning things. My backyard flower gardens are a beauty to behold, but I'm always looking for some additional yard art and the $5.00 spinners were just the thing. Once I got them home and unpacked on the lanai, I realized why they were such a great price (like that's never happened before)...the "simple assembly required" turned out to be the understatement of the century!
The "directions", a term I'll use loosely, had a mix of numbers and letters that didn't quite apply to the items in the box. Oh, and just removing the items required tools worthy of someone trying to break out of a maximum security prison! But once the items were released from the confines of the box, there seemed to be more ways than one to assemble them. Do we keep these silver ring thingy's? And what about these huge nuts and bolts? They weren't on the "directions". Well, once one was assembled, after many pleasant verbal exchanges between my husband and I, I proudly stuck it in the ground in the flower bed. Then, I attacked the second one, reminding myself of how much money we saved! Well, on this one we concluded that the silver disc thingy's were part of the packaging to secure the spinner in the box, and the huge nuts and bolts shared the same responsibility. Not necessary. So I finished the second spinner, put it outside, then got the first one to re-assemble it according to what appeared to be the correct procedure. And of course we threw the packaging away, with the "directions", but saved the silver disc thingy's and nuts and bolts, adding them to one of the numerous coffee cans of hardware in the garage, because you never know, right?
Once I sat back and admired our accomplishments, and waited for them to actually spin, I started to
think: how many of our students come to us this way? Packaged nicely and tightly, but once we "open" them up, find that they aren't as easy to work with as we hoped or expected. In fact some are secured so tightly, it takes greater effort on our part to get them to open up, feel comfortable with us, want to be out with the rest of the class. Do we give up just because of the challenge presented? Of course not. Like the challenge of the spinner, most of us feel the bigger the challenge, the more our determination rises to reach that difficult student. We persist in "assembling" them to become the best they can be because we know the outcome will benefit them in so many ways. It might take a team, more interpretation of the "directions" that they come with, but we press on regardless. And how about those extra parts that came with my spinners? Do your students have some extra baggage? Sadly, at their young ages, they come with more baggage than I accumulated in all my years as a student. We patiently see what is needed and what can be eliminated. We see if the students can stand alone, learn in our classroom, relate to others, without the nuts and bolts that seem extraneous to us. But if they need them, they need them. Don't save them in the coffee cans, as I did. Let them hold on to what they need as long as you professionally and personally deem necessary.
AFTER I assembled and displayed my spinners I had a couple questions: how much did I really save on these beauties, and were there  comments as to how other customers assembled them. My search proved that their original price was $20, which I wouldn't have bought them for, but as I said, the yellow clearance tags can fool me easier than P. T. Barnum ("there's a sucker born every minute" which may or may not have been said by him) and saving $30 on the 2 really got me jazzed. But the reviews from customers were the kill card. One star at the best on most reviews...some one half, some none. All with the same comments I had: bad directions, extra parts,  didn't work, fell apart (still waiting for that to happen), etc. Should I have read them before purchasing them? For $5 each? And let someone else get them? No and No! I got them determined to make them work...use my green thumb/midas touch/I'm a librarian! No other super powers required!
So when we've gotten those students with "assembly required" did we check their accompanying folders/ test data/ anecdotal accounts before accepting them into our class? Of course not! Well, we probably didn't have a chance to be honest, but even if we did, it shouldn't sway how we teach them. The same love and perseverance we have for the neatly packaged and put-together kids also goes for the challenges, and more so. Our staff enjoyed a dynamic presentation by Brian Mendler on his book, Discipline With Dignity, in which he very colorfully guided us to some unique strategies on dealing with the students who present such challenges. It was the perfect kick-off for our new school year.

So friends, whatever your role in education, I hope you are starting the 2018-2019 year with fresh hope and anticipation of the awesome "packages" that will be delivered to your doors. Welcome them all with open arms, equipped with the tools to enjoy, equip, and assemble a group of students and
classroom that will be one of your best ever. They're lucky to have you! Remember to inspire each and every one of them to the greatness that someone once did for you, and Stay Grounded!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Pack Your Bags for an Amazing Journey!

This summer I was in a fortunate position to take 2 little trips for fun. One was a flight to my home state of Ohio for a niece's wedding. The other was a girlfriend beach getaway in Florida. As I prepared for each one, I was struck by the radically different approaches I was able to take in packing stuff, both practical and mental.  I'm sure you can relate.

For the flight, I packed 2 carryon bags for my husband and I. I agonized over everything to make sure we had enough for a week in unpredictable weather, our wedding duds, extra shoes, etc. And then there's the minimal amount of liquids: my daily routine had to change somewhat but in small town northwest Ohio, it wasn't an issue. Still, I hoped my supersize can of hairspray and mousse were still hidden under the sink at my mom's house...not exactly what she needs for her fluffy white helmet hair. So we were each packed to the gills, with no room for any extra purchases. And that doesn't even begin to address the anxiety I feel about flying. I have a hard time enjoying it and can't relax until I reach the destination...and even then I start to dread the flight back the last few days of my trip! Yes, I'm a head case...but don't fly that much, so I forget how easy it all really is.

Now packing for a beach trip that was a few hours' drive away...well, the sky's the limit! Let's see, 2 nights, 3 days: yeah, 3 shorts, 10 tops, 1 jeans, workout duds, etc. More than I'd wear in a week, but you never know! And then the beach bag, food, cooler, full size liquids, shoes, sandals; because you never know! Just knowing we had the freedom to pack generously, have room for who knows what, and comfort to enjoy the ride greatly enhanced everything about the trip. There were no time constraints, so eating and potty stops were unlimited! Not to mention interesting sights along the way. Not that the trip to Ohio wasn't fun, because it was, but there were just a lot of restraints in the prep and journey to reach the destination.

As happens with much of my daily activities, I saw this as "blog material". I started to compare these activities to preparation and anticipation for the approaching school year. Am I going to prepare with minimal resources (clothes) and small-sized ideas (liquids)? Am I going to going to dread the school year (flight) until we end in June...landing the plane? Or am I going to go whole-hog generous into the year with more resources and ideas than I know I'll use. Am I going to enjoy every mile along the way, or only look at the destination? Am I going with an attitude of being up for anything, ready for whatever comes along, and having room for even more good stuff along the way?

How are you packing for the new year? With the bare minimum or ready for anything? Are you more concerned about getting it over with, or pumped for an exciting road trip? At my school, we're starting with a new Principal and Assistant Principal who are planning some very different things, yet returning to some old routines that look great. Some people are cautious about the changes or upset about not being a part of the planning, but I encouraged them to look forward to the trip, boldly going where no school has gone before! The initial "pre-trip agenda" that was sent out is something I've hoped for for a few years now, so I'm content to get on board, fasten my seat belt and enjoy the ride! I'll bring along my over-packed bags filled with ideas gleaned from summer trainings, readings, etc. and generously share them with my fellow travelers. I don't have to have planned the trip, but I do have to come along ready to support my companions. It helps to do some research on some of the best places we'll be "visiting", as I would for any trip, but I hold those expectations loosely if our "driver" goes in another direction.

Not only do we want to have a great trip, but I know any journey is more fun when our companions
are anticipating a good time and share our vision for the experience. You don't have to agree on the same places to eat, visit, etc. but you still have the same goal of a good time for all. So it is with a successful school year. The differences and diversity of a staff is what makes for an exciting school culture, yet having the same vision and what mission binds you together to create a memorable experience for all. When I look around our large staff meetings, I'm always delighted at the variety of educators our school has attracted, yet we all share the same mindset that we're there for our students and each other.

So what do you say we pack up the family station wagon a la Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo and head out for a year of fun and adventure. We'll have more fun than the Griswold's if we commit to each ourselves, our fellow teachers, our students, and our administrators to bring our generous best and to be ready for anything. Have an amazing year and stay grounded, friends!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Way We Were...and Can Be Again!

I'm a funny person. People think I'm funny and they laugh at things I say, so I can say that without being boastful. If I'm bragging, I'll return my "Humility Pin" to my Sunday School teacher. But I think I can use that description with confidence. The trouble is, I haven't been very funny lately. I haven't felt like being funny. Is it the condition of the world? Politics? Financial concerns? School Board histrionics? Family issues? Sore tooth? None of the above.  It's just that things have gotten busier at work and I have more responsibilities that I can SAY take the joy from my job, but in truth, I've just let the joy slip away. And I don't feel like being funny!

However, a recent comment in a meeting I was involved in struck me to my, well, funny bone (humerus?). I honestly don't remember the gist of the discussion (bad mood) but then I heard the following about a fellow Media Specialist, "Oh, Ryan is hilarious! He sends me the funniest comments. His tweets are a riot. We've got to get him for...." (missed this next part, I was cringing in my lack of funny-ness.) (the name is obviously changed to protect the probably-funnier-than-me person). What about me, I wondered. Doesn't my name come to mind when funny is mentioned? Did I fall off the list of funny? From that point on until I left, I was consumed. Well, nibbled on might be a better word. Gnawing? I could get over them not mentioning my name with my funny friend, but realized that maybe I'm not funny anymore. Or more worrisome, I'm not exuding any joy, cheer, zest or  joie de vivre in any situation, much less having a comical comment to add.

Now I'm not talking about having to be the center of attention, life of the party type. Well...not always, anyway! I don't mind it, in fact. My dad was a life of the party guy by playing the piano and entertaining anyone and everyone. I'd sit at the top of the stairs when my parents had a party and watch him with adoration...and hoped I could be like him. He was my role model and motivation as I took piano lessons. But I basically grew up an insecure, shy-yet-sarcastic, smart kid, who didn't say a whole lot. I don't think I came into a level of confidence until my 40's (quintessential late bloomer/ugly duckling) and when I became a Media Specialist I blossomed personally and professionally. Part of it was due to having a Supervisor who gave me a platform. "Present something about this professional book we're going to be studying" was her request for a Professional Study Day...and I've never been the same since! I got up nervously, notes prepared, but it didn't take me long to veer off the topic and spew one-liners and other comments related to our daily work life. Where was this coming from? What am I saying? And yet people laughed. I loved it! I wrote weekly columns and received compliments on how touching yet funny it was. I was in heaven! This was all pre-Social Media, or I might have been on the speaking circuit earlier or a TED sensation (LOL), but I enjoyed every opportunity to write, speak, interrupt, etc. I had fun being funny.

But somewhere along the line I pulled back. With all the misery around me, how could I be funny? Shouldn't I be serious and commiserate? Rant and rave? Join the complainers/protesters/haters? Or just mind my own business and try to keep up with my job. And I was miserable! I knew I wasn't really being me, (while Ryan moved up the Funny Meter!) but I was either too tired or focused on other things to do anything about it. Blog? Sure I blog...oh, I guess it's been several months since my last post. I missed writing like crazy, but not enough to do anything about it. Would anyone even notice my presence or lack thereof? Wait a minute...why am I doing any of this? Who is it for? Is it really life of the party stuff, or do I truly enjoy being able to encourage people through my humor? Is it for the recognition, or is it just because it also makes me feel good? I decided if this was a gift or talent that I have been blessed with (because it's sure not coding or most of the tech stuff I read on our conference!), I won't be happy and fulfilled unless I'm expressing it, no matter what the reaction or response.
And that's the way it is with any talent or gift you have. If you're waiting for the recognition or acknowledgement/appreciation from others, as most teachers are, you might have to wait a long time. But that shouldn't quench the gift or your desire to express it. I've been in Education or I should say an Educator for 40 years and I can maybe count on one hand, well maybe 2 and a couple toes, the praise/thanks/etc. I've gotten. The year I got Teacher of the Year at my school may have been a sympathy vote when I had breast cancer...but it was still an incredible experience (both the cancer and the TOY). Are you feeling tired/put-upon/over worked because of your job? Exasperated at the state of the State and education? Join the club...but fight to retain and maintain the joy that brought you here. And I mean fight! Don't let the zeal slip away. One of my favorite writers, Mike Mason, conducted a 90 day experiment in experiencing joy, the joy of the Lord, and wrote an incredible book in 2003, "Champagne for the Soul"  that I still consult almost every day. One of my favorite chapters "Job Description: Joy" says this: "Wouldn't it be more fun just to show up at the Happy Factory (love that!) every morning and do the work, whether we want to or not? Isn't it worth some effort, knowing we'll be paid in the form of an increasingly rich and blissful life?"

So maybe I've digressed a bit, but I wanted to make the point that when you move away from your natural gifts and talents, which for most of us involve being Educators and Media Specialists, you're going to be miserable. It's time to get back to what brought you to the profession in the first place and exercise that gift and talent with all your heart. I'm getting my funny back. (sorry, JT). I'm writing again. I'm not coming down on  kids in the Media Center for too much silliness (within reason!). I'm bringing all my characters back to the Morning Show (I have a lab coat that's carried me through many a situation!) I'm going to show up at the Happy Factory every day and put forth the effort to spread the joy, starting with myself. Because if I can be happy and fulfilled, those around me can hopefully experience some of the same. They might just have a better day, whether they're 10, 40 50 or 62. They might decide to come back next year with a hope that it just might be better. Or at least make it to the end of the year intact!

So how about you? What have you suppressed that you need to revive in your life? Joy in your job? Some form of creativity? A passion for sport? What is it about the real you that people miss? It could be anything from your smile to brownies...but you can change someone's life with it! They might not tell you, but just do it for yourself...and you'll be glad you did. You just might start to experience that increasingly rich and blissful life that Mike Mason referred to. What have you got to lose? Let's get back to "the Way We Were"!

Stay Grounded, friends. And by the way, did you hear the one about the.......

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Save the Best For...Now!

Save the Best for ….Now!

I’m a collector, a saver, a cataloger, a miser, an archivist, a curator and a steward of stuff. Notice that I made no reference to being a hoarder. Not even close. However, I save stuff for rainy days, a future size, hope that styles return, the next curbside collection, etc. I save for that number one student, favorite teacher, potential goodie bags, Teacher Appreciation giveaways, etc. In other words, I hold on to things with the intention of giving or rewarding them to me or others and as result, often forget what I have, where it’s located, who it was intended for or where I got it in the first place. This summer I was able to devote many hours to major re-organization of the stuff and ended up realizing I spend an awful lot of time on it! So with some radical purging, several bags of clothes went to the Salvation Army and countless school items landed on the free carts in the Media Center. Blessed were the teachers and others who happened to be there that day!

So as I basked in the glow of being semi-clutter free, a scary thought came. What if it creeps back in? After attending a district vendor fair, I toted bags of freebies with the plan to redistribute the wealth to my teachers at my school. But there it sits, in my office, rolls of posters, bookmarks, buttons, highlighters, etc. Maybe even a stray mint or 2! And with plans to attend our state Media Conference this month, I’m already swooning at the swag that will make it back to my car and beyond. And then what? What am I saving it for? Why not just walk in my first day back, freely strewing freebies to anyone within reach. “Pens for everyone!”  “Who needs a Love My Librarian Lanyard?” “How about a highlighter, kid?” What am I saving it for when I could make someone’s day right now?

One of my heroes in the writing world is Erma Bombeck. Her humor and insight into the human condition is brilliant. In her heyday, mid-1960’s through the 1990’s, she wrote numerous bestsellers and over 4,000 newspaper columns. Many were the days I’d call my mom to see if she ready Erma that day and we’d nearly wet our pants laughing together over them. But she also wrote a bittersweet column “If I Had My Life to Live Over ” after discovering that she was dying of cancer. That column provides just the antidote for my ridiculous collections for “someday”.   One of her observations, “I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored”, really resonated. Why am I saving the best for last? Who is it really for? What’s the harm in giving that stuff away now…for anyone who wants it? In fact, it’s often the very people who we don’t think deserve it, who actually need it or would appreciate it now. “No, these 3-D bookmarks should be for student X”. “Mrs. Y  would love this cloth-y cat bag from a vendor”.  “These posters would be perfect in Mr. Z’s class”. And all the while X, Y, and Z move on and you still have the stuff! And more besides.

So just for today, I’m going to sort one more bin, or shelf or cabinet and boldly go where this librarian has not gone before…straight to the teacher giveaway cart or freebie student basket to hand out when they check out their books. Why? Just because! I don’t have the room, tubs, or energy to keep saving the best for last. I’m saving it for now….and then passing it on! Go ahead, make somone’s day and give them the best of what you have now. If you’re not the archivist that I am, you might not have the stuff I have. So how about your best smile, listening ear, compliment, hug, lesson, effort? Your best 5 minutes to encourage? Your best planning time to spend with a struggling colleague? Your best lunch to share with a student? Most of our “bests” don’t cost a thing…yet are priceless to the recipient.
It's time to save the best for now! One more step to help you stay Grounded!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Get One More

 This is the time of the school year when some teachers have started doing assorted countdowns (X more Mondays, Y more Faculty Meetings,  Z more exams, etc.) as a way to get through to the end of the year. I usually don't start the process until May, but this has been an especially challenging year, not only personally, but for several of my Media friends. Somehow watching the numbers tick off, marking x's on a calendar, counting off the last of things helps us know that no matter how hard things have been for us personally or professionally, they will come to an end and we'll get a break before it starts up again in a fresh new way. But in the meantime, we have to get through each day...we have to "get one more".

I recently saw the acclaimed "Hacksaw Ridge" movie and as is usually the case in inspiring war movies like that, I am in awe of the courage, fortitude and strength that our soldiers have had in battle, from "The Patriot" to "Glory", from "Sergeant York" to "We Were Soldiers". I can't say I like all war movies, especially the more modern takes on them, but "Hacksaw Ridge" had something that put it in my "must see" movie list. No spoilers here, but the main character Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, struggled to save his fellow soldiers in a horrendous grueling at a time. And that became his mantra, "Please, Lord, help me get one more" as he rescued roughly 75 men. He says it was 50, witnesses claimed 100, so they settled on 75!

Now I know we're not in such dire straits as Doss was during the battle at Hacksaw Ridge, but I find his expression of "get one more" helpful, if not lifesaving in everyday situations at work and personally. My "get one more" at work has enabled me to prepare 100's computers for our computer based testing for our 1000+ students, have the patience for students who think vacation has already started, show another teacher how the copy machine works and/or unjam it after they leave, run copies for another unprepared sub, re-arrange furniture and equipment for another unplanned meeting, send the link for Reading Counts quizzes to teachers who finally realized the power of that for motivating their students, etc. In other words, my job! Just when I think I can't or don't want to do/guide/re-teach/connect/promote another thing, I'm reminded to do "get one more". This year there have even been days when "get one more" got me back the next day. Meetings where "get one more" helped me focus and contribute. Rowdy students who "get one more" got me to finally  hook one of them up with a new favorite book. 

Maybe your "get one more" is personal..."get one more" leg press at the gym, "get one more" step/block/mile in your fitness; "get one more" bedtime story for the kids, "get one more" season of "24" that I binge watch, "get one more" potato chip! Whatever your situation, those baby steps and small increments can get you a long way when they all add up. This year I've managed to lose 20 pounds with that "get one more" mentality. Lots of ups and downs and slow going, but faithfully attending  my 7:30 AM Weight Watchers meetings on Saturday mornings and sticking to the plan and "get one more" day proved a winning strategy.

So are you counting the days until the end of the year? Are you facing what you think is an insurmountable Media/Teaching situation? Is it a struggle just getting out of bed and off to work? Try to    get a "get one more" attitude and face it one hour/half-day/day at a time until it's over. Nothing is impossible. And if, like Doss, your plea invokes the help of the Lord, you may find a strength you didn't think you had. But if not, at least facing it in small doses helps turn what you think is impossible to the possible. 

Right now I'm watching "A Hard Day's Night" on TCM. Sometimes I have to NOT do a "get one more" when I'm watching old movies! But I'm having some serious nostalgic thoughts now...I was in elementary school when the movie came out and still remember going to see it with girlfriends, then buying our Beatles' trading cards at the drug store after the movie, hoping for pix of Paul. And also, striving for the perfect flip hairdo those cool English girls had! So after this "get one more" I'll  "get one more" meal for the weekend, and prepare mentally to "get one more" day of school. Fortunately, the good days far outweigh the bad, and I'm not in the countdown mode yet. There's still plenty of good stuff this year to enjoy and look forward to. That's what I'm focussing on, friends!

Have a happy "get one more" and Stay Grounded!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why I Plan to Stay At My (High Needs) School

One of my favorite articles in recent months is Justin Minkel's "Why I Plan to Stay in Teaching" (Education Week 2/24/16). It is more than a pep talk/tough it out/what did you expect kind of treatise. It is really inspiring and is saved to my desktop to read from time to time as a concise reminder as to why I love teaching and have been in this field for 39 years. I could've written it, but he beat me to it! LOL. But recent events at my school have given me reason to come with another version of that article and it is Why I Plan to Stay at My School.

I have been the Media Specialist at my current elementary school for 14 years. Before that I was a Media Spec at another school for 3, and before that I had over 20 years as an SLD/EH teacher in Secondary, and before that I was in Elementary for a mixture of ESE students when it was kind of getting started. When I came to my current school, I was not necessarily planning to finish out my career as an educator at that location, although I did feel called in a divine sort of way that this was my new mission field. As the years went on, I felt it was my home, and I certainly moved enough stuff in to make it that way! Anything we were getting rid of at home ended up in my Media Center: Christmas trees, decorations, party supplies, kids books, know what I mean! When the demographics of the school started to change, thanks to a completely illogical boundary the District established, mini-exoduses became a regular occurrence. "So are you coming back next year, Mrs. Penvose?" "Of course" I'd always respond. They would wait for a reason, since it was quite an unexpected response. At first my reason was (jokingly) I had too much stuff to move or some such thing. More recently, however, the reason became "I am one of the only elementary schools with a Media Clerk and a Tech Specialist, why would I leave?" We are a Title 1, Renaissance, 1000 student high needs school...those positions are crucial! But with our District looking to reduce resource positions, and not fill the vacancies, our Tech Specialist opted to take a classroom teaching position in a middle school. Ok, so there went half of the reason I repeatedly gave as to why I'm staying. I'm hoping my clerk, who is at retirement age, will hang in there with me for a few more years. I'm treating her with kid gloves to help make it happen!

But seriously, why AM I staying at my school? It is for students like Kristen, who is now in 8th grade and came back to visit with a little sister at a recent Conference Night. "I was hoping you'd be here. None of my other teachers are left". When asking about her family, who had been unstable, to put it mildly, she responded that her mom was back on drugs with a boyfriend and dad was in prison for armed robbery. Grandma and Aunt took Kristen and 2 siblings in...and Grandma has since died. "She just had to come a see 'her' Mrs. Penvose", said her Aunt.
It is for students like Jack and Trevor who, when learning that I lived closer to some higher SES schools, asked why I don't want to teach at those schools. "Because you're here" I said, truthfully.
It is for the middle school students who experienced the suicide of a classmate and clung to me when I went to the funeral, not seeing many of their previous elementary teachers in attendance.

These are just a few of the students who see their elementary experience as more than the fun and learning that took place. It was and is their foundation, their entry into the world of education that is populated not only with friends and classmates, but also adults that they want to turn to, and return to, for a sense of stability and security. In their worlds of more upheaval and uncertainty than I might ever experience in a lifetime, they live every day. When they come back to visit their old elementary school, I want them to know that there will be someone there for them, that remembers them, that is interested in them and has genuine love for them and gives them a sense of constancy that they are searching for.
When I was talking to Kristen, I asked what she thought of all the changes in the Media Center. In the past few years, I've gotten the furniture recovered, tables re-laminated, carpet replaced (thanks to a water fountain flood) and generally tried to keep up with renovating the space to keep current with media trends. To me the change is dramatic, yet cosmetic. She looked around and said, "oh yeah, it looks nice". Her nonchalance struck me like a ton of bricks..she wasn't here for the decor. She could have cared less if the tables were Seafoam green or Arizona turquoise. Whether the baseboards matched the carpet or not. She didn't note the dust in the corners. She was there for the human contact, the interaction, the relationship. How much time have I spent searching for funding, ideas, etc. for the externals in the Media Center (which of course make a difference) when the students are there for the human element?

So as I labor on, adapting to taking on more of the Tech role at my school and being in the rotation for Specials classes, I remember why I'm there. For the kids. For the current students who come in every morning before going to their free breakfast (don't forget, you need a pass first...oh yeah, I forgot), for the students who have had more books deleted from their record due to moving/family trauma/foster situations/acts of nature/ etc. than I'll ever know, for the students who arrive on their bikes in the dark in the morning who just feel safer at school than at home, for all these and more. My heart breaks that I can't do more, but perhaps just staying at my school is enough. Being some sort of constant and consistent adult in their lives will give them a hope that they're not being given up on or forgotten.

I know that most educators, facing a multitude of challenges, will choose to change schools this year...if they wait that long. I don't fault anyone for making changes they deem necessary. In fact, I think it's healthy and wise to have several educational experiences and different schools, grade levels and subjects. But unfortunately, the most movement and transition seems to be at schools like mine, with needy children who don't have the option to go to other schools. For that, I am sad.

So take some time to reflect on why you're where you're at, or even why you're staying in education. Maybe why you even pursued it in the first place. If you truly are answering a call to change lives, it shouldn't matter where you do it...there are lives there who need you, want you, and are seeking to be changed.

We are in a mighty and powerful profession! Encourage each other, seek support as needed and Stay Grounded, friends!