Speak Life in the PARCC

This week we begging PARCC testing in our school. I have many thoughts on that, but those are for a different time and a different Post.
Suffice it to say that I know there will likely be an air of stress in the building this week. Teachers tend to stress about following all the many restrictions and rules for the testing, as well as how to balance it with all the curriculum demands. Kids stress about taking the tests. But the stress can be counterproductive. 
I’m setting out to be especially mindful of finding little ways this week to speak life into my students and colleagues. I want to find ways to alleviate stress. To promote joy, confidence, and acceptance. In the testing tug of war, we are on the same team. While we might occupy different rooms, we share the same goals and purposes. I want to cheer them on so we can pull on the rope efficiently, and have fun without falling in the proverbial mud pit.
I want to speak life so they remember that they’ve got this.
I want to sow seeds that remind them their value is not measured by a test.
I want to give words with wings, so they can rise above the stress.
I want to speak life, because our words matter, and I want those words to remind students and staff around me, that they matter, far more than any test.

During the month of March, I’m blogging daily with friends and colleagues from around the world in the “Slice of Life” writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.


So you signed up for the writing challenge. One month of consistently putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, trying to reflect, create, articulate, and imagine. Finding the daily discipline to quiet the circus that revolves around each of us, and summon the muse. To tap into an inner voice that offers inspiration, insight and originality. 
Yet often times a different voice intervenes. “Just what on earth were you thinking? What possessed you to foray into the world of writers, authors, and people who are obviously much more creative, eloquent and intellectual than you? What made you think that your words mattered? Why would anyone listen to what you had to say?”
Ah, the inner-critic is a cruel specter that haunts us relentlessly. 
“Your words, are gibberish.”

“Your writing is nothing but jumbo jumbo.”

“Your ideas are mere gobbledygook.”
So you stare at the screen, every keystroke a determined act of courage, to cast out that irascible voice, and instead find your own. Scribble. Delete. Type a few more words, backspace, change, re-word, and hopefully the meaning starts to come together.
A few paragraphs in, a flow begins to emerge, a little rhythm surprising you like the first growth of spring, peeking from beneath the remnants of a grey winter sentence. Fingers continue to stroke the ivories. Composing. Dancing. Becoming.
As you give birth to this new creation, you find the wherewithal to unveil it to the world. You hit the button to publish, and your infant story is rushed to the maternity ward, held before the glass for all the world to see. 
Will they see the beauty that you see? Does it really matter?
Your creation is inherently genuine, inherently you. Whether anyone else recognizes the beauty of your ideas, or the originality of your voice, you labored. You delivered. Your new creation needs no comparison to the stories, poems, or reflections generated by others, because the joy was not in the reception, but in the creation. Whether people smile, laugh, cry, or are otherwise stirred by your words doesn’t impact the symbiotic adoration you have with your new creation. 
So hush the inner critic, and hug the creation you have delivered. It’s not gibberish. It’s genuine. It’s not mumbo jumbo. It’s magnificent. It’s not gobbledygook, but instead, it is gorgeous, and worthy of adoration. 
I’m blogging daily in the month of March, along with friends and colleagues from around the world. This “Slice of Life” writing challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

Brave the Shave

Twelve chairs aligned the stage

Bouquets of balloons swaying

Stage right

And stage left

Music blaring
Behind each of those chairs

A hair stylist

Armed with a razor

Tonight they weren’t styling

They were removing


Taking it all off
Ready to proceed

Upon the stage

A line stretching 

Two hundred deep
Men with Samson’s locks

And determined gazes

Women with gorgeous curls

And radiant joy

Boys and girls

With hair of many hues

Laughing, giggling

Waiting their turn
Two hundred deep

Generous and courageous

Donating precious time

And personal style

Each one moved to

Brave the Shave
I stood in awe

As patches dropped

And scalps were revealed

Volunteers taking selfies

Documenting the transition

Rocking the bald
All this bravery

Inspired by children

The true heroes 

In this tale

Who bravely faced cancer

With dignity

And determination

Losing their hair

And so much more

Many survivors

And several took wings

All of them brave

Inspiring this army

Two hundred deep

To respond in kind.

I’m joining colleagues and friends, blogging every day in the month of March for the “Slice of Life” challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.


As a teacher, there can be an underlying pressure to be the expert. The authority. The know-it-all. I’m supposed to promote the questions, but also know the answers. At least that is how it used to feel.
But I’ve learned that while kids are amazing learners, they are also some of our hidden experts. They are surprisingly experts of many pursuits.
Sure, they often haven’t quite mastered the fine art of shoe-tying. They may not know how to handle their burgeoning emotions, how to be content at not being the first in a line, or how keep their fingers from exploring the deep recesses of their nostrils. But they are still experts in many areas where I may be completely clueless.
One of my students loves animals. We call him our animal expert. He is obsessed with furry four-legged thingamabobs, creepy creatures that crawl, and the slimy, slithering animals that repulse my inner being.
Another student loves to ice skate. She can spin, twirl, and glide gracefully over the ic that I can barely walk across while remaining upright. Another student is a badminton expert. Someone loves Guitar Hero and often finds reason to strum his air-guitar Gibson with delight while moving through the classroom. Another boy loves cycle-cross bike-racing. Another girl loves basketball, running and (cough) cats. Ewww.
My point? 
That THEY are the experts. They are the teachers, and I am the novice. And it is a wonderful dynamic. I don’t have to know everything. In many cases, I know nothing. They get to teach me.
Being the expert carries a lot of pressure. But being the student brings a great deal of freedom. I’m free to make mistakes, which I do quite often. I’m free from the burden of having to already know things, or feign that I do. I’m free to ask questions.

I am free to learn.
We have a saying in our classroom. It goes something like this – the smartest person in the room is, the whole class.
As individuals, it is unrealistic to be gurus in multiple areas, but collectively, we can share the love of learning, and the fun of exploring. We don’t have to be experts, because we are expert learners.
I’m participating in the “Slice of Life” writing challenge (hosted by Two Writing Teachers) by blogging every day this month.

All Heart

You have your talents, and I have mine. Perhaps you can sing, dance, paint, or conceptualize the next culture-altering social media app. As for me, I like to run, write, and teach math, science, history and literature to my students. And if appreciating the delicious genius that encompasses Double-Stuf Oreos is a talent, then I can do that also.
But I’ve never been considered especially talented at jumping rope.
Every year at school there is an event called “Jump Rope for Heart” where the kids do various aerobic exercises to promote heart health, and to raise funds for the American Heart Association. My first year teaching, I was honestly lucky to string five successful jumps together. Because I don’t have the talent for jumping rope. Or maybe the coordination.
But I have the heart.
So each year I try to improve. I have nowhere to go but up, right? And the kids love it when I join them for the event. So on Monday, when one of my students asked me if I’d join the class to jump rope on Tuesday, I gave the hesitant “sure…”
Because as a teacher I realize I don’t always to be better than my kids to model for them. I just need to have heart. I need to have the willingness to step into my weaknesses. I need to have the mindset that doesn’t say “I can’t”, but instead, “I’m not getting it, yet”. And with that mindset, I get a little better each year. With this heart, I get a little stronger each time.
This year, my goal was 100 consecutive jumps with the rope.
I made it to 97.
So close, and yet so far.
Not to be deterred, I took pics of the kids, rested, cheered students on, and then tried again.
By this time my legs felt like jello. For whatever reason, jumping rope is not my thang. But overcoming obstacles is. Because challenges reveal the heart.
So I got in line again, went up to the parent volunteer to be counted and began anew. 
Now having the moms from your classroom volunteer to count your jumps can be a real ego crusher. Especially when their little 3rd or 4th grade child is pushing out 700+ jumps, backwards, forwards, side-straddle, and whatever other fancy moves they come up with while barely breaking a sweat. But putting ego aside, I had an obstacle to tend to.
So I began jumping. My legs were sore by 20. When the mom called out an enthusiastic “FIFTY”, I wanted to call it a day. When she murmured 75, I thought “for the love of everything holy, isn’t it okay if I just stop now?” 
But I smiled and kept jumping, until my cadence faltered and my feet finally succumbed to entanglement with the rope. 
Smiling, the parent volunteer called out “One Hundred Twenty Two”.
Elation. Jubilation. I felt as if I had just won the World Series.
And in that moment, jumping rope served as a reminder that obstacles and challenges measure our resolve. Our tenacity. Our heart. 

I’m blogging every day this month with friends and colleagues from Two Writing Teachers.



I pledge allegiance

To the flag

Of the United States of America.

And to the President.

My President.

Your President.

Though many of us didn’t vote for him.
Like it or not, he is my President.

He is not the President I wanted,

though neither choice was inspiring.
In a perfect world,

Or even one with a reasoning electorate,

A person who consistently bullies others…

Not my President.
A person who objectifies women,

Not my President.
A person who marginalizes

Entire cultures and ethnicities,

Not my President.
A person who spouts from the cuff

Without facts, understanding, or balance

Not my President.
A used-car salesman,

Who dispenses promises

like Halloween candy

Providing a sugar rush

Without substance

Or nutrition.

Not my President.
A reality TV star

Consumed with fame

Instead of concerned with pain

Not my President.
Blustering bravado,


Groping on the side,

Not my President.
This is not the model that we share with our children.

The highest office in our land,

Occupied by the lowest of morals.
But the reality is

This is my President

And yours.

We honor the office

If not the occupant.

We honor the legacy

Of those who have served

If not the season

Of one who is self-serving.
So I pledge allegiance

To the flag

If not the President

Of the United States of America

And to the Republic
Our republic

Made of Republicans

And Democrats

And Green, or Libertarians

Or the disenfranchised
Our republic

Meant to stand

As one nation

Singularly acknowledging

Collectively embracing

All of its’ people

Even those who claim

A plural republic

Of multiple religions

Various cultures

And diverse dreams.

Even the dreams

Currently darkened

By a nightmare election

Awakening to

#NotMy President
One Nation

Under God

worshiping differently

Or not at all

Ideally Indivisible,

Striving to live united

Without coercion to be uniform.
Each of us desiring

A “My President”.

A leader who inspires

Unity and collaboration

Instead of fear and isolation

A leader to be proud of

And emulate

And claim as our own.

My President.
That is our mandate

Not Republican

Or Democrat

Not to repeal

Or replace

Merely laws and programs

But to refresh

And rejuvenate

The offices

In our Government

With people who listen

Who get us

All of us

Not one party

Or one race

But one nation.

Craving Liberty

And thirsting for justice

For all.


Signature Move


Signature — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Characters and letters
Swirled together
Sometimes in a flourish
Sometimes in a rush
Yet always unique
Always personal
Form a signature.

Our name.
Our autograph.
Stamping documents
And letters
As accurate
And personal.
Our best efforts
Our heartfelt wishes
Creating our signature.

Our signature
Is our promise.
Our signature
Is our bond.
Uniquely Us.

Uniquely Mrs. Bolger.
Distinctly Mrs. Camp.
Specifically Mrs. Cochrane.
Authentically Mrs. Donovan.
Exclusively Mrs. McAvoy.
Genuinely Mrs. VanSlyke.
Intimately Mrs. Zeivel.
Each of you soon
Signing off,
Bidding adieu.

Your students –
Years of faces
Hundreds of names
Now grown
Raising families
Realizing dreams
Making a difference
Those students –
Are your signature

Stamped for a lifetime
By your words
By your labor
By your lessons
And by your love.

Those lessons
Teaching them to form letters
And to forge character.
Properly organizing verbs and nouns,
And learning the primary elements
Of language
And literature
And our national constitution.

Your lessons –
Your signature lessons that taught them
Not only how to count
But more importantly,
that they count
That their words matter.

Your signature lessons that taught them
Not only how to graph a function
But more importantly,
how to function
within a society
that is sometimes cruel
and polarizing.

Your signature lessons that taught them
Not only how to write with voice
But how to find their voice
and how to speak life into others.

Your signature lessons that taught them
Not only the value of x or of y
But the value of struggle,
Of facing down their fears
Being able to make mistakes
And emerge stronger
More ready
For the road ahead.
Preparing them
And preparing us
for this day
when we part.

We, your colleagues –
Friends in the hallways
And in the lounge
Partners in the trenches
Navigating the ever changing seas
Of curriculum
And whatever passes for
“differentiated standardization”
We, your colleagues –
Are your signature

Verified for a lifetime
As kindred spirits
Of this spiritual calling
Known as teaching.

Thank you
Dear friends
For autographing our lives
With your unique signature.
Thank you
Dear colleagues
For pouring your hearts
Into generations of souls
Who now carry your lessons
Your love
Your signature
To dream
To strive
To believe
To be extraordinary.