Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Summertime Blues

(sung to the tune "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?")

Where, oh where has my summertime gone,
Oh where, oh where can it be?
With its workload short and its days so long,
Oh where, oh where can it be?

Where, oh where has my summertime gone,
Oh where, oh where can it be?
Wearing flipflops and shorts, growing my hair long
Oh where, oh where can it be?

Where, oh where has my summertime gone,
Oh where, oh where can it be?
The calendar's full, the bell rings before long
In the library is where I will be.

Two weeks of summer left, but professional development on three of those days and high school marching band practice for teenboy starting tomorrow leaves me feeling like summer is gone already.  I'll take stock of what I've accomplished--and left undone--on next Tuesday's Slice.

(Picture courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunlight_(Benson))

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

I still have four Bluebonnet Book nominees to read before August 25th (one of them is listed below), but I also feel the need to read some self-help and inspirational material as the summer is quickly winding down:

Are You Fully Charged?  The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, by Tom Rath.  A couple of chapters into the book, I'm reading about the first key--finding meaning in what you do.  That's already a given for me; becoming a librarian has allowed me to focus on my passion of supporting literacy and lifelong learning for my patrons.  I'm interested in finding out more about the next two keys, which focus on dealing with other people and maintaining your physical health.

Epiphany:  True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform by Elise Ballard has become my bedtime ritual. Ms. Ballard has interviewed fifty people, ranging from the famous to the not-so-famous.  She shares a brief bio for each, how she connected with that person, and then the epiphany(ies) they've experienced.  Each story is only a few pages long, so it's the perfect "word bite" to read and inspire me before I turn off the light.

A friend of mine suggested Simon Sinek's Leaders Eat Last:  Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.  She recommended downloading the Kindle version to have access to additional video content.  I started reading the preface, but my Android device can't play the videos (yet; I'm working on it!), so I got a bit stuck.  I really enjoyed Sinek's Start with Why, looking forward to continuing with his newest material.

Back to those Bluebonnet nominees...I'm currently reading A Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, illustrated by Todd Harris.  If you've ever wondered about the Prince Charmings behind Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, then wonder no more--Mr. Healy will fill you in.  We get to know the "real" princes--Frederic, Liam, Duncan, and Gustav--and all their foibles.  I'm just getting to know Frederic, and it's pretty funny already.  Teachers, please be sure that your third graders-on-up who are reading this book know the stories of the original fairy tales first, so they get the humor!


Last week, I finished Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen, illustrated by Greg Swearingen.  It was a sweet story of new friendship between the title characters, who have polar opposite personalities.  As in Always, Abigail by Nancy Cavanaugh, it touched on the difficulties of fitting in at school.  It also speaks to being true to oneself, setting boundaries, and knowing your strengths.  The story is told in alternating voices, so it's great for character inference.  

I've only got a couple of weeks left before my work calendar starts, and three of those days will be in professional development!  That's one of the reasons I set aside Digital Leadership:  Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric C. Sheninger; I'm going to wait until I'm over the beginning-of-year chaos before I try that one again.  I'm hoping to finish at least two of the above books before next Monday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday Slice: The Writing Barn

How my children and I ended up at The Writing Barn nine days ago, on a Sunday:

Last October, I had the extreme pleasure of hosting Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus at my school, to speak about the book they co-authored, Grandfather Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk.

Mr. Gandhi's and Ms. Hegedus' booking agent is Carmen Oliver, who told me about Ms. Hegedus' retreat for writers.  I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Oliver on several occasions after that, and the subject of the retreat came up again.  P.J. Hoover even encouraged me to look into going during her author visit at our school.  

I began following The Writing Barn's page on Facebook, and noticed they hosted "Write Away Days".  For a small fee, you could spend the day working on writing projects in a beautiful, quiet setting.  I was unable to attend the first few times I saw dates posted, but finally....a Sunday without other obligations!  As I was emailing the program's assistant, I told my teen son that I was signing up.  He asked for the details, then asked if he could go....so I included that request in the email as well.

The answer was an enthusiastic "Yes!", so he enrolled.  I then told college daughter what we were doing...and she said, "I want to go, too!"

So the morning of July 12th found all three of us in the car, heading south to The Writing Barn.  Carmen Oliver was our guide for the day. We were joined by a dozen other writers.  We spent the first half hour getting coffee and tea and coming together to introduce ourselves and state our writing intentions for the day.  Most people were working on fiction pieces--some reviewing manuscripts returned by editors, others just beginning stories by outlining or writing that very first sentence.  One person was working on her doctoral dissertation!  We then were free to find our own "space" to work.  My children went off to find places in the other room and outside, while I stayed put in the air-conditioned room.

I had a hodgepodge of writing goals:  book reviews for work, a blog post on the importance of play , journal questions for a webinar I'm participating in, and a couple of fiction pieces for children I've had in mind for awhile.  Surrounded by other writers, I was amazed at how quickly I was able to get to work on projects I'd been unable to focus on at home.  By the time we gathered again to eat our brought-from-home lunches, I had two book reviews and the blog post done!

After lunch, I went outside for awhile to work on my journal questions.  One more task completed!  Then it was back inside to write up one more book review, flesh out one story, and start working on the storyboard for another.

We wrapped up the day by coming together again and reviewing what we had accomplished.  Everyone seemed happy with their productivity.  Ideas, book titles, other writing programs, and avenues for publishing short stories were shared.

My children and I headed home, basking in the shared experience and talking about a repeat if the occasion arises.  I'm hoping for monthly weekend Write Away Days, if only to catch up on my backlogged book reviews for work!

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

In an effort to continue blogging into the school year AND hold myself accountable as a reader-model for my students, I'm going to join Teach Mentor Texts and blog about my reading on Mondays!  Fingers crossed I'll be able to keep up!

Sooooooo, what have I read lately?

Mountain Dog, by Margarita Engle.  YES, it has a dog on the cover, but here's a spoiler:  the dog is ALIVE at the end of the book!  (Think Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc where this is not often the case).  Free verse, told in two voices--a young boy rescued from an untenable living situation by a loving uncle, and a dog rescued from a shelter, now trained in search-and-rescue.  The ugliness of the boy's former life and his coming to terms with it is gently handled, and the details of how search-and-rescue workers are trained and perform their life-saving work is fascinating.


Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage was just as much fun for me as her first book, Three Times Lucky.  Fun, quirky characters, vernacular dialogue, and light handling of serious topics makes for great read-aloud material.  I'm thinking this would be perfect for October, with ghosts in the story but without a Halloween slant.

Always, Abigail by Nancy Cavanaugh is a great book to parallel with this summer's release of the movie "Inside Out".  The reader is privy to the thoughts and actions of brand-new sixth grader Abigail as she navigates the social wranglings of middle school.  Good fodder for discussion on making the right choices (it's not always easy!), and the meaning of conscience.

Currently reading:

I'm about halfway through my reading pile for the summer, and I only have two-and-a-half weeks to go until I'm back to work, so I'm reading three books at a time right now:

Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger
Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen
Epiphany:  True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Tranform (Expanded Edition) by Elise Ballard

What are you reading this Monday?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday slice: It's getting real

The advertisements and paperwork and emails are already starting to arrive, midway through July.  Specials on notebook paper and teaching supplies.  Financial statements for the fall semester.  Summer band schedule to learn the fall marching show.

And then there's the desktop widget telling me I have 21 days left of summer break.

There's more significance to the coming school year for our family.  "Dear Senior Parent(s)" one letter began, a save-the-date and book-your-hotel-room-now announcement for commencement next May.  (Yes, I booked the hotel room.) I'm already sending positive vibes to the Universe on college daughter's behalf for job opportunities upon graduation.  Like her, though, I'm trying not to think too much about post-grad employment, as she will be studying abroad in Tokyo this fall, and we need to focus on those details.  She's busy brushing up on her Japanese vocabulary while interning for a production company three days a week; she doesn't even want to talk about graduation right now.

Thinking out loud with teenboy in the car this past week, I said, "You're a junior.  A JUNIOR."  He just laughed, as if to say, "No duh, Mom, where have you been?".  Obviously not in the same time-space continuum, because the enormity of  it hadn't hit me until that moment.  Junior means scrutinizing credits to make sure we're headed down the slippery slope to graduating high school without any glitches.  Junior means really paying attention to those college flyers that have been arriving since PSAT scores came out.  Junior means talking about the colleges he got to visit with big sister not so long ago, and planning other visits over breaks and next summer. Junior means he and dad need to be a little more active in getting his driver's license.

It's getting real in our house. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Formalizing play

I was a teacher before I was a parent. I quit teaching (the first time) when I became pregnant with my firstborn.  Ready to be out of the classroom for awhile, I tutored students and worked in a neonatal unit during the next six years. 

And I planned out activities for my children during the summer.  Looking back, I'm not sure if I did it out of a need to continue teaching, a love of planning, or the fear of my children becoming bored and whining and driving me crazy.  The weekly activities included: exposure to different genres of music; arts and crafts; a trip to the library; swimming; outdoor time/ playground trips; a field trip of some sort; hands-on building activities (Legos, blocks, marble run, snap circuits); watching "Muzzy" language lessons in Spanish; basic reading and math games (some on the computer); and reading time.

Before you start thinking of me as Captain von Trapp, controlling every minute of my children's day, you have to know that I was very loosey-goosey with how all of these plans played out.  There was no set schedule, and activities were ditched if they didn't work or the kids weren't having fun. My only goal was to provide some variety in their week--and to avoid the aforementioned whining.  They still had plenty of free time left to their own devices, to experience being bored and creative on their own terms.

This summer planning only went on for four or five years.  Eventually, my children drifted into their own activities, only occasionally asking me for ideas.  I became the materials-buyer and chauffeur for their self-initiated projects and playdates.

You would think that with all that's been written about overscheduling children and the deleterious effects it has on family cohesiveness, children's sleep schedules, and decline in the enjoyment of learning, we'd be getting better as a society about formalizing children's play time. Instead, I am still seeing parents enrolling their children in activities that fill their every waking moment that's not taken by school.  Most often, it's done in the name of padding the college applications to come.

The effects of losing out on unstructured play time go beyond just loss of sleep and family dinners.  Researchers, college counselors, and hiring personnel are discovering that many young adults have difficulty with navigating the demands of college, critical thinking, making decisions, and forming relationships on their own--and that these effects can be linked to lack of self-directed play.

I recommend reading the resources listed below.  As for my own children, they are now a college senior and high school junior.  Both are successful students, navigate their academic worlds independently, and have personal interests and friends that occupy their free time in ways I couldn't have planned.  They are happy and productive and engaged in their own learning; this teacher-mom couldn't ask for anything more. 


"Over-Scheduling: A Problem for the Child and Family"

"Overscheduled Kids:  How much of a good thing is too much?"

"Overscheduling Your Kids Isn't the Fast Track to Success It Once Was"

Play:  How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Rebel without a cause

Most of the time, I'm a rule-follower.

I'm one of those folks who tends to work within social boundaries and guidelines.  I'm guessing that being the first-born, a well-traveled military brat, and one of those kids who-did-so-well-in-school-I-decided-to-become-a-teacher have something to do with that part of my personality.  My Piscean nature is not to be a boat-rocker.

But something in me must like to rebel, just a little bit.  In high school, it manifested as going to heavy metal concerts at night while I sang in Latin in the school choir by day.  As a senior I turned down a full engineering scholarship, because I knew I'd be a miserable engineer.  I got that third ear piercing in one ear, just because a friend had to buy two earrings but only wanted one piercing himself.  In my thirties, I got a tattoo, then a second, to mark meaningful life events (I'm planning a third).  I've tried my hand at motorcycle riding, and not just as a passenger, to push myself out of my comfort zone (still working on that one, too).

So this is what happens when I want to procrastinate on cleaning my desk, and my daughter gives me an almost-full container of Manic Panic and tells me to go for it.
Will the color be gone by August?  I don't know...and the rebel in me really doesn't care.  The rule-follower will be back to work, on time and on task.  As I counseled one student with whom I crossed paths while working at our district DAEP:  You can listen to Metallica on your way to work, and still be successful in a mainstream job.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Do you have rebellious acts of your own?  Why do you think you rebel?