O Me O Life

First let me say, I'm not even sure what to write as I put these words on the page. I just know that I have to get them out there because this is part of my verse.

Walt Whitman is one of my favorite poets. So much so that I named one of my cats after him. I first read Leaves of Grass as a freshman in high school, and his words have forever been imprinted on my soul. In fact, Walt Whitman is one of the reasons I pursued an English degree in college. 

When I presented at inservice last week, I talked a little about legacy and what we want to teach the world. Students returned back to school this week, and I, too, was forced with the decision about what I want to teach the world. Since then, this line from Walt Whitman's "O Me! O Life!" has replayed over and over in my mind. It's almost constantly there in my day to day motions like my own personal motivational coach. It's given me many mixed emotions.

Growing up, there were many times I felt hopeless, that nothing in this life would ever be right for me. If it wasn't for a teacher who encouraged me, who helped me see where there could be hope, I do not think I would be here today. Many of the students I have taught and will teach this year come from homes where there is no hope. Where no one has told them that there even is hope in this world, and that this hope lives inside each of our voices. It's the flame (no matter how small) we carry inside of us that we matter and we can make a difference.

With this I have the answer to my question: I want my verse to be about igniting this hope in others. I want to teach the world that even in the darkest of moments we carry this hope within us. That we are powerful beyond measure, and it is hope that gives us this strength.

Recommit

This is the first school year since my very first as an educator that I have felt truly daunted - completely intimidated and utterly excited at the possibilities. After coming off of a very rough 2013-2014 school year (which included a short time when I thought about leaving education), I am venturing out into the great unknown by taking on a new position in a new school with people I didn't know before. Well, before today that is.

Being a new teacher, regardless of whether you're a first year or changing schools, can be difficult. Walking into inservice on the first day when all faculty and staff are back is like being a deer staring down the headlights: You walk in. Look around. You know no one, but everyone knows you're the "new kid". Then comes the question everyone dreads when walking into a room: "Where do I sit?"

That's kind of how I felt today... for about 5 seconds.

One of the things I learned quickly about the team of instructional leaders and educators I'm joining is that they embody collaboration and family. They have a huge sense of pride about their students ("We have great kids" "Our kids are awesome" "We truly have some of the best students") and their school ("Trojan Pride Never Dies"). It's invigorating just being around them. That's when I knew I had made the right choice.

I want my new school to feel they made the right choice in me, so this year my "New School Year Resolution" is to Recommit. Recommit to my passion as an educator. Recommit to positivity. Recommit to networking and making new friends. Recommit to being a servant leader. Recommit to the belief that I am supposed to be an educator. Recommit to the educator I know I can be.

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Follow Me ISTE

A full year (365 days; 8,766 hours; 525, 948 seconds) has passed since I attended my first ISTE in San Antonio, Texas. One of the things I'm looking forward to most about this year (and have come to love about attending other conferences this past year) is reconnecting with friends. It starts like this: recognition from across the room, a big smile followed by an even bigger hug, and then the dendrites of personal networking begin to pulse again. Because we truly care about how the other has been and currently is the questions are asked: “So how are you? How was your year?” I am good, truly. But it’s been a year of change.

Change 1: I took on a new position at the central office level in school district and moved out of the classroom. I didn’t think this move would change me as much as it did, but that was a naïve thought. By the end of the year, I was frustrated, bitter, burnt out, and utterly defeated.

Change 2: I turned 30. That doesn’t seem like such a significant change, but it has affected me in ways I didn’t know it would. My body changed and what I thought about my body changed, and this affected my confidence both personally and professionally.

Change 3: I stopped writing and blogging and retreated from interacting, collaborating, and networking on social media because of Change #1.

Change 4: In order to rectify my general unhappiness and Change #3 caused by Change #1, I resigned from my district and my position as a district administrator and took a position as an instructional coach at the campus level that would put me back in touch with teachers, students, and the world of campus climate and education that I love.

Change 5 (in progress): I’m working on accepting Change #3 and making plans so Change #4 helps breathe some fresh life back into me.

This morning as my feet first found their way to Starbuck’s for coffee and then to registration, things felt different. Perhaps it was the different layout of this year’s lounges. Perhaps it was the difference in picking up a name badge from “Attendees” rather than “Presenters”. But really, the difference was me. And that’s okay. Because if I weren’t different, if I hadn’t changed, that would mean I was stagnate – that my learning was stagnate.  And that’s just not okay.

National Poetry Month

April.  A time of rebirth and renewal with soft rains and the warmth of the sun.  It is by far the best month of year (though I'm sure T.S. Eliot would disagree on this point) because April is National Poetry Month!   In the classroom, we would read poetry throughout the year, but, in April, we immersed ourselves in the language of the soul.

This year, I am in a different capacity and am no longer in the classroom.  That hasn't kept me from working on National Poetry Month activities with teachers in my district nor from pinning resources and ideas to my poetry board I wish I could use in my classroom.  I have found that along with following the #NationalPoetryMonth hashtag on Twitter, there are several boards on Pinterest that have tons of great ideas.

Edutopia - There are tons of resources on this board for all grades levels.  If you're looking for classroom activities and resources to celebrate National Poetry Month, this board should be at the top of your "Must Look" priority list.

Poets.org - This is probably the definitive source for poetry and National Poetry Month related information.  Their pins relate anywhere from information about Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day to specific poems and biographical information about Poets.

Poem-A-Day - While not a board on Pinterest, I highly recommend heading over to Poets.org and signing to have a poem delivered to your inbox daily.  It's a great way to start the day and find poems to share in the classroom with your students.  I printed them out and posted them in hallway, so we constantly had a display of poems students could stop and read.

The next 28 days will be a celebration of poetry and the life of rebirth and renewal it breathes into language.  While we can continue to celebrate poetry even after the 30th of April has passed, be sure you don't miss your chance to share the power of poetry with others this month.

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Heart of a Warrior

This weekend my dear friend Rafranz Davis and I crashed the Network for Public Education Conference being held in Austin, Texas.  Between sessions (and between trying to find a room with an empty seat), I sat in the first floor lobby for a bit listening to the conversations around me.  Now, I have heard and read a bit about the movements and happenings with regards to educators and education in Chicago, but it's always been kind of like watching through a one-way mirror: I can see what's going on, but it doesn't quite affect me the way it probably would if someone on the other side of the glass knew I was there.  On Saturday that pane of glass completely disappeared.

As I listened to a parent from Chicago relate her story of fighting for her children's education and their teachers, the gravity of the situation and the precarious position that public education is in hit me full force.  Her story was powerful because of her belief and because of the power of her heart.  Her tears became my tears, her strength became my strength, and her passion became my passion.  What she said resonated with me:  "If we only fight with our minds, we're only fighting with half of ourselves.  We have to fight with our hearts."

Her power of conviction and the physical pain of its manifestation was real.  It helped me understand that a fight cannot be won all through logic and strategy.  It is must be won through the strength of love.  Nor should we take tears as a sign of weakness.  Rather, we should recognize them as the  physical proof of armor we wear and the shield and sword we carry to defend those who may not have a voice and those who have been disenfranchised.  But most importantly, it is our bastion of solace, our home-field advantage we carry with us that will, ultimately, ensure our victory.

If we truly want to create change, we must act out of love.

Cracking Under Pressure

Every time I talk to my Dad and Mom, whether it be on the phone or through FaceBook, they always ask me "How is 'Carrie' doing?  Are you making sure to take time for you?"  They know me too well, and they always know when I'm not being 100% truthful.

The last few weeks have been rough.   The pressure to ensure that students are successful on the STAAR/EOC is heating up.  There is pressure to increase writing scores in grades 4, 7, Eng I, and Eng II, to pull small groups, to write curriculum, work on technology integration, plan summer academies, disaggregate data, and provide interventions in the classroom.  Then there is the pressure I've put on myself.  The pressure to begin changing my lifestyle to one that is healthier and more fit.  The pressure to look good in the bikini I have dreamed of wearing ever summer.  The pressure of knowing of but not knowing how to handle personal family issues.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining.  I actually enjoy being busy.  I enjoy the pressure because I know I am a procrastinator, and it is this pressure that helps transform some of the things I do into "diamond" works.  But not all pressure is good.  Especially when I let that productive pressure turn to stress.

There have been times over the past two and a half weeks that I have sat looking at a blank page willing the words that were swirling in my mind to come forth.  There have also been times where I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn't get to the page to write them down.  I've let things slip in my pursuit of good health.

Through it all, I have learned a valuable lesson.  It's a lesson I've also had to adopt in terms of getting in a good workout.  Schedule Yourself In!  iCalendar on my phone is my own personal assistant.  I schedule everything from meetings, activities to do for the day, lunches with friends, and Twitter chats I don't want to miss.  The one thing I haven't been doing is scheduling myself into my day.  I guess it's because I feel like it's a selfish activity to do.  But if I crack under the pressures that are working to help me be successful, then all the effort I've put in to transform myself will be for naught.

The science behind diamonds says they begin as crystals of pure carbon, but they are transformed through crushing pressure and intense heat.  We are all pure crystals of carbon.  The pressures that we experience are not there to crush us into flecks of carbon dust.  They are there to harden us and transform us into a rare precious gift.  The key is to not let that pressure turn to stress that causes your crystal to crack and let harmful elements come in.  Schedule in time for yourself.  Set a reminder to go the gym, bake a cake, go for a walk, or just take a nap if that's your cup of tea.  Our future diamond selves will be glad we did!

Future Me

Two years ago I was lost and unhappy.  I was also 28 and probably experiencing some final angst left over from my early twenties.  I've always been a writer, and I've always kept journals since I could remember.  I had heard about a website called FutureMe.org  that allows one to write and send a letter into the future either to someone else or to themselves.  They even have a place where you can go and read various letters that have made their way through the loops of the time-travel rug and arrived in the present day.

I sat down 2 years, 10 months, and 6 days ago to write a letter to my future self to be delivered on my 30th birthday.  There were many times throughout the past (almost) 3 years where I would remember I had written the letter, log back into FutureMe, and stare longingly at the greyed-out link where my letter sat waiting to be read.  I wanted to know what it said!  Today, I finally received my letter.

I debated whether or not I should share it, but I think it offers some insight; the me two years ago was pretty smart girl (even though I didn't think she was).  Without further ado, here is my birthday present to myself sent from the past to the future:

Hey Catfish,

Hopefully by now you've found some measure of happiness.

Right now you're unhappy with your job, unhappy with your relationship, and unhappy with yourself. You're in love with someone you can't have, and you don't love yourself at all. Girl, you've got a long hard road ahead of you.

I hope you're living the life YOU want, and not the life you think people want you to live.

Are you still a teacher? I hope you're at least in education. You're meant to touch people's lives. If you're not education, I hope you're writing and touching people through your words.

Are you with someone who makes you happy? I know right now you're confused and hurting.

How is mom? I know you're scared right now that she's not going to make it to or through the transplant. Where are you going to get the money? How are you going to take care of her through her recovery? So many questions. So many uncertainties.

If you haven't done it: PUBLISH something. Do it today. Contact a publisher.

If you haven't done it: MOVE somewhere different. Live part of your life experiencing new things

If you haven't done it: LOVE yourself. This is something you always struggle with.

If you haven't done it: Do something CRAZY. Something no one would ever expect, and don't let them tell you no.

You've always been so unsure of yourself. Always so scared... It's time to be strong. Time to be fearless.

Make sure you give yourself a fantastic birthday present.

You're only 30 once in a lifetime.

TCEA

Five years ago when I began my career as an educator and sometime before it became my true passion, I was given a book by my principal.  Actually, she introduced me to the school board and then handed me a book charging me with a task to read it, think about where I was in my life, and begin striking out to fulfill my dreams.  The book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Often times when the universe conspires in helping us it's the little things that we don't notice that continue to propel us forward.  At TCEA this year, for me it was: The teacher I co-presented with did a marvelous job on her first presentation and her students' work got rave reviews.  Planning with the Region 6 ladies for our summer conference left us with a real possibility of having an awesome keynote (ahem... Rafranz Davis!).  I got to meet up and connect with some like-minded individuals such as David Squires, Paul Wagner, and Jessica Powell.  I even got to meet Tom Whitby and Steve Dembo, some of my educator role-models that left me a little star-struck.

And sometimes the universe just comes along, pats you on the cheek (none to gently, mind you) and forces you to take notice.  John Quinones closing keynote was that moment for me.  One of the great things I loved about Quinones keynote was that it was more like weaving a good story, complete with exposition, climax, and denouement.  But beneath that beautiful story was a rawness, a desire from the universe for us to sit a little straighter and listen a little more closely.  Through Quinones' triumphant story of following his passions and dreams and the WWYD clip (which I bawled my eyes out at, btw) there was the undercurrent reminding me of something I'd read in The Alchemist and filled me with the power of belief:

That people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.  That when we want something bad enough, all the universe conspires in helping us achieve it.  And most important - No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.

So now I charge you with a task - Follow your dreams.  Listen closely to what the universe says and where it guides you.  Don't let fear of failure keep you from setting out on your path.  The universe IS conspiring to help you achieve your dream.  And know, that without a doubt, you are playing a central role in the history of the world.

TCEA

One of the things that inhibited me from entering the world of presenting, blogging, and even starting a conversation with someone new was the fear that I had nothing of value to share.  In fact, I still turn crimson when people tell me that they read my blog and follow me on Twitter because they like the things I'm doing and sharing.  The words "I'm just a small-town Texas girl" are never far from my lips.  But that's where I am wrong.  I am not "just", as if that one words sets limits to who I am and who I can be.  I may be a small-town Texas girl, but I am more than that, too.  

Today, I had several conversations sitting in the Digital Square, some with people who have been staples of my PLN but many with people who are new to my PLN.  In every single instance, there came a moment where their passion for an app or an activity or an issue would arise.  It was then that I would say "You should blog about that or do a LearnEd breakout session.  I'd love to learn more."  And I genuinely meant it, because the majority of the things I've learned have been because someone has shared them with me.

As someone who neglected her voice (and still sometimes falls prey to destructive thoughts of inadequacy), I can understand how scary it is to share out what you're doing.  I think sometimes the fear is "Well, someone has already said that.  What more could I possibly say about it?"  The truth is there are still tons to be said.  Our unique perspectives and voices add to the richness of the conversation, regardless if that conversation has existed for only a few seconds or has been an ongoing discussion.

Once, not too long ago, someone told me that what I had to share and contribute had worth.  After that moment, I felt empowered enough to submit my first proposal to present at my first TCEA in 2013.  Returning back this year, I am still a newbie.  I still have a lot to learn.  But one thingI have learned is that you, yes YOU dear educator and TCEA attendee, have something wonderful to share.  I can't wait to join you in a conversation to hear about all that you're doing in your classrooms and schools.

TCEA

English teacher confession: I love the smell of books but numbers scare me.  I have struggled with math for as long as I can remember.  I often find myself awed at people who can mentally (and almost instantaneously) crunch numbers.

Another confession: Change scares me.  My comfort zone is just that - where I feel comfortable to move about and share out what I know.  When I move out of that comfort zone, I am stricken with anxiety that I am invading someone else comfort zone.  I think everyone feels this way though.

Growing professionally and personally doesn't happen within your own bubble.  It's the adaptation to new environments and experiences that creates growth.  So it is with this mindset that I set about creating an environment and an experience that would force me to adapt and face my fears.

On Monday, the first day of TCEA 14, I presented at the Math Academy on Tools, Apps, and Ideas for the Secondary Math Classroom.  And because I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, I brought along a safety blanket and presented with the math department chair from my district's high school.  A self-proclaimed "non-techie", Mrs. McDaniel stepped out of her own comfort zone to attend a "tech" conference and present with me.  We have been working together over the past two years: she helps me with math, and I help her with integrating technology into her classroom.

I learned that stepping out of my comfort zone, though scary, can be fun and very rewarding.  And it is with this thought I will go through this TCEA week doing things to step out of my comfort zone in the hopes of growing, adapting, and becoming a better educator.