Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homecoming in an American Highschool

A time-honored tradition in many high schools across America is what’s known as Homecoming. Steeped in history, this annual mid-October ritual captivates students like few other athletic events.

For those of you who have never seen it, or for those of you whose Highschool Homecoming Days are long gone, I’ve compiled some photos from Friday’s Homecoming in rural North Carolina.

Chronologically sequenced, from the pep rally during the last hour of school, to the football game that evening, here’s a window into some very spirited happenings.

First was the pep rally. It was held in the gymnasium of the school during the last hour of the school day. There are many activities that take place on the basketball court. Most of the students sat in the bleachers, with their grade level. "Baby Blue" freshmen and “Sunny” sophomores sat on one side, while the “Jolly Green” juniors and “Red Hot” seniors sat on the other side. Each grade level wore a specific color or just black.
Can you tell which grade was which?
Who do you think screamed the loudest?







These students, who are class officers representing each of the 4 grade levels, are competing in relay races.  The races were silly and fun, and all of the students in the bleachers screamed loudly to cheer on their team.




Cheerleaders are girls (sometimes boys are, too) who cheer on the football team. They do a lot of dancing and acrobatic moves. You can see them flying in the air here! During the game they wear special uniforms, with skirts and tops. For this pep rally their uniform consisted of shorts and a t-shirt.


During the pep rally, the student marching band played live music in the gymnasium. One way students show their spirit is to paint their faces with the school colors. Can you tell what this school’s colors are?



In some events, staff and students were pitted against each other. Although the competition was friendly, everyone wanted to win! Musical chairs and a dance competition were the two popular ones. Do you see any teachers you know in this video or this picture?




                                            video


After the relay races, the cheerleader show, and the staff-student competitions, the students stretched out their spirit chains to see who had the most spirit. Looks like the Seniors won this competition! (Can you imagine how loud they were screaming?)





At the very end of the pep rally, the football coaches introduced all of the football players. One by one, they announced each player’s name, and they lined up on the gym floor. The principal encouraged them to play well, and the pep rally was complete!


After school, there was a homecoming parade. In the parade, different clubs from school carried banners, the marching band played, and some groups rode on floats


The homecoming court consists of girls who were elected to represent a club or school group. Members of the homecoming court rode by in cars. They were excited because later in the evening, one of the girls would become the Homecoming Queen.



In the evening, after the pep rally and the parade, the football game began. This is American football, and you can see that the boys wear a lot of equipment to protect themselves. The helmet is the most important piece of equipment.


When a touchdown is made, and the team scores, the referees put both hands up in the air. How many referees do you see?


During halftime, in the middle of the game, the girls on the homecoming court were introduced. One by one, an announcer read their names and information about them. They lined up on the field with their escorts. Some escorts were friends, some escorts were boyfriends, and other escorts were fathers.


Finally, the Queen was announced. She received a crown from last year’s queen, and flowers from the principal. How do you think she felt? How do you know?



After the Homecoming Queen was announced, the football game started up again.  The home team finished the night perfectly—with a victory!

Some questions for you to answer: 
1. What was your favorite event?
2. Which event would you like to try?
3. Which picture do you like the most?

4. Describe a celebration or tradition from school in your culture.

5. Why are traditions important?

6. Did the team from this school win or lose? Which word tells you so?

7. How many phrasal verbs can you find? Phrasal verbs are verbs with two words that work together to make one verb. I found at least 8. I did number one for you, and there are hints for the others:

1.     take place
2.     something cheerleaders do
3.     the cheerleaders’ uniforms “were” t-shirts and shorts
4.     staff and students “competed” with each other
5.     to make longer
6.     get in a line
7.     go past in a vehicle

8.     began












Monday, September 29, 2014

An Adventure to Old Salem, a Living Museum

Nestled among the tree-lined and cobblestoned streets of Old Salem, North Carolina, are remnants and living examples of times gone by. As you look through the pictures, what do you see? What looks different from what you know? What looks similar, or the same?

Wooden shutters, opened wide, give glimpses into the Gunsmith shop.
This Gunsmiths LOVES his trade,
and talks about how they make rifles out of
wood and metal. 

Here you can see another craftsman producing
longrifles. We say he is producing them
"by hand".
Two examples of longrifles. The gunsmith often
engraves, or carves, a symbol that is important
to Americans. It's hard to see here, but the symbol
engraved on the right rifle is a very famous
bird.
Do you know what bird represents America?

I intended, or planned, to take this picture of a candle
in the window, but guess what else is reflected?

These are beams  in an old barn. There are no nails
holding them in place. Instead they used joints
and grooves
 to hold them together.  
The wood did not fit tightly in the holes, but
they say it helped the connections last longer
because the wood was able to expand and contract.

This is your bonus question--I couldn't find anyone to ask
what this machine was. It looks like a grain grinder, but I
wonder which of you history sleuths can discover what it is?

In colonial times, writers wrote with quill pens and ink. Sometimes
they wrote on paper, but they also wrote on parchment.  
Do you remember a very famous document that was written
on parchment paper in 1776?

This is a shoemaker at Old Salem. She makes about one pair of
shoes a month! The men who used to make shoes produced
about 6 pairs a week, but they didn't have to answer a lot
of questions from tourists!

These are examples of some of the shoes. I thought it was interesting
that shoemakers didn't make right and left shoes. Instead, they made
"straight" shoes, and as people wore their shoes, they became molded
to their right and left feet. (And by the way, the shoes are really heavy
and they don't have any cushioning!)

This is the yarn storage area. It was hard to get a
picture from the front. All of these yarns are
dyed with natural plants and herbs. You can
see a spinning wheel in the corner.

This is a potter. She is working at a kick-wheel
which spins when her foot kicks it. This lady
has been making pottery for 18 years, and
she loves what she does. You can see many of
her products on the shelves behind her. 

This is how kids got water for their homes. It's
a water pump. It's hard work! You might get sweaty
just pumping water for your bath!

Everything in here is handmade.  Can you spot a basket? A bucket?
A stool? A ladder? A wall?

This man is chopping wood. Look at the wood
behind him. Do you think he has done a lot
of work, or just a little?

This picture was taken in a garden. There is a wooden shed in the
background, and a small vehicle in the front. It has two wheels--do you
think it is a wagon or a wheelbarrow?
I hope you enjoyed the pictures from our day at Old Salem, in North Carolina. We are very fortunate, or lucky, to live so close to such a wonderful living museum. 
Did you answer all of the questions? 
Which was your favorite picture? 
Which job do you think you would have liked most to do?
What looks similar to your home or town?

Feel free to leave your comments below! If you have pictures, please send them, too!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Are you who you were a year ago?



Funny how small things like a question posed
at Abercrombie and Fitch in a mall
in Albuquerque, NM can spur your thinking. (2014)
It's been said that challenge spurs growth. New situations shake us out of our routine, and lend us new eyes to see things anew. Once in a zone of comfort, though, it can be more than a challenge to shake out of it or take that step into The Unfamiliar.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that stepping out of my comfort zone is precisely what I've done this school year. After 13 years in either an elementary or K-8 setting, I am back to my "roots" of teaching--at the highschool level. (Having K-12 TESOL licensure allows you to experience this wondrous dance.)

Change? You betcha.
Growth? In an almighty sense of the word.
A step out of the Comfort Zone? Neil Armstrong ain't got nothin' on this step.

One thing that is extraordinarily different for me this year, or at least this semester, though, is the fact that this is the very first year in 18 years of teaching that I do not have my own stand-alone class of students. I am co-teaching in all of my classes---and although they're similar thematically, it's a heavy content load for me. Not only am I learning how much content has to be covered in a single semester--Paleolithic Age through WWII in 80 days??? Wha...????---but I am also going to be uncovering and learning the ropes of co-teaching partnerships with a range of experienced and successful teachers.

Another distinctive gift is the fact that I am now working with many of my former students, ones I had taught during their elementary years. Some have changed mightily, while others are eerily reminiscent of their former selves, only bigger and with hormones. (Sigh.)

Needless to say, this semester will bring about myriad insights, so expect them to surface in this blog. Thoughts on co-teaching, differentiation strategies that can fit into well-established routines, having tough conversations, prioritizing skills and knowledge, balancing best practices in spite of testing rigors, and maintaining high expectations as part of a direct team will be on my mind. We also have several newcomers who were/ are directly involved with the immigration crisis at the border--yet another avenue of understanding. And of course, there will be thoughts and learning around opportunities for our language learners as older students preparing for their next level of life post-HS.

 I don't know about you, but I do love the opportunities brought on by change, and I'm pretty excited to be in this position. There are so many challenges, but so much to be grateful for. I didn't realize how much I needed a change in perspective, a different kind of push to my thinking, and how detrimental a comfort zone can sometimes be for one's creativity and lens.

As I filled out my self-assessment for our teacher evaluation last week, I was disheartened. Being honest with myself, I leveled my skills and abilities at "developing" (which is the lowest level) in the majority of areas. I had been increasingly successful the past few years, and had my routines down to achieve at much higher levels. I have much work to do--and while disheartened, I am also trying to be gentle with myself, remembering that we have only been in school 5 days. I have much growth ahead of me. And that also energizes me.

I will be reaching out to you, my readers, during this semester and year, and look forward to your suggestions, input, and advice. And as I do, ask yourself that question: Are you who you were a year ago? If not, good for you. :)


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Six Signs of—and Solutions for—Teacher Burnout

As we begin a new school year, I realize that myriad tasks loom large as I make the move from working with elementary to highschool students. I've revisited some thoughts to help me stay focused on what matters most from the start of the year--being proactive rather than reactive...I doubt I'm alone with demands tugging at me from all sides, so I'd like to share these thoughts on dealing with burnout. Before it happens.  I'd love to know how you handle the many pressures of teaching--please comment below.

(this article is cross-posted from EdWeek: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/05/20/ctq-pillars-signs-of-solutions-for-burnout.html)


A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home on a gorgeous Carolina blue day. It was spring break—and I was in burnout recovery mode.
I felt it consciously, deeply. This year has been oh-so-tough, for myriad reasons.
I also found myself wondering: Is burnout contagious in schools? Because it certainly seems pervasive. As we head into summer, I know my colleagues are feeling the strain of testing and staying motivated for themselves and their students. I'm far, far from being alone.
Let's take a closer look at this phenomenon that every teacher suffers—and rethink how we approach burnout.

What Is Burnout?

Teaching is one of the most visceral jobs I've ever experienced. It's emotionally, physically, and mentally consuming. I often find myself worried about how to reach every student, or wracked with guilt because I've let my work/life balance shift in favor of work.
I know what needs to be done to be successful, but there is simply too much to do. Still, I keep clawing my way back. Because in teaching, you can never do enough.
But that kind of constant, intracranial hammering is not sustainable. In order to address it, we have to define what burnout looks like. Then we can attack it.
Recognize these signs?
  • Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there's no way to "turn it off," no matter how badly you want to. It's deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.
  • Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.
  • Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.
  • Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won't be enough.
  • Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.
  • Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

Emerging Stronger

Burnout has visited me in full force twice this year. It's brought me to the edge of my sanity, wrenched emotions out of me when I felt I could give no more, and sapped energy from the depths of my bones.
But guess what: I'm all right. I'm still here. I'm learning as I go—and learning as I let go. And I'm actually thankful for its visits.
Here are a few lessons I've learned from dealing with burnout in the past few months.
1. Sfumato. One of Leonardo da Vinci's seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for "smoked," or "going up in smoke." This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it's also an ability to "let go" of everything that's left undone when you know you've done your best. Embrace Sfumato.
2. Balance. In yoga, those lithe bodies in stretching poses are beautiful to behold—yet the beauty stems from a tension of opposites. In yoga, muscles compromise to support others, meaning that balance is not a matter of symmetry as much as support. That's a lesson we can extend from our internal selves in order to seek out a supportive community.
3. Self. I'm human. It's not selfish to address my own needs or say "no" once in a while. My job, as much as I love it and thrive upon its challenges, is not everything I am. I am more than my job. I need my creative outlets—drawing, nature, reading, writing, and playing—in order to be whole and wholly present for others.
4. Relationships. Friends, family, and faith are critical. Time away from work is best for me to recharge—without distractions of work staring at me from home. Small adventures with my family and friends, exploring new ideas and places, writing notes, and sharing acts of gratitude are things that I need regularly. I'm also learning that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
5. Gratitude. Being present and intentional with your days, even for just a few breaths at a time, can give you a survivor's lens for managing the problems at your doorstep. For me, it's about having gratitude for the people in my life. Embracing the questions that underlie my curiosity. Remembering the passions that have driven me to and throughout my job. Holding a clearer vision of what it takes to make and keep me well.
6. Healing. Here's my biggest takeaway. When I lift weights, my muscles undergo tiny tears, with temporary pain—but the subsequent healing leads to stronger muscles. And the next time, I can handle a little bit more.
With these strategies, I've learned to view the challenges of burnout through a new lens and rethink the "gifts" it's brought me.
Burnout has allowed me to emerge in a stronger form—to be more determined and focused on what's most important to me in my relationships and my work. Now I see burnout as a reminder to address the things that my soul needs. And, although I'm far from perfect, I can now teach and lead others through these same feelings from a place of recognition and understanding.
For all of that, dear burnout, I am grateful.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Little More #Edugood in the Name of PRAESPERO

Last week I posted about the first recipient of the inaugural new mini-grant program called PRAESPERO. Today I'm writing about another recipient of the mini-grant, challenges she faced, and her lessons learned.

Glad you're here for the journey of this little girl who wanted to "help children in need" by creating school-related goodie bags. Initially she wanted to take them to the hospital, but our local hospital doesn't have many kids--they typically travel to another one about 30 miles away. Because of logistics, she decided to create the bags for students who are without homes, for whatever reason, and we enlisted the Salvation Army to help.

Unbelieving after her phone interview, she was an excited
bundle of nerves!

With her partner, we celebrated the day she received her grant.

Being silly and serious--the girls hold up the
academic goodie bags they created for kids in need.

Shy, but ultimately proud of her work, she displays
her first bag of goodies.

Spending their early mornings planning and putting it all
together. 
Our local Salvation Army director gratefully received the
goodie bags and answered questions about how the gifts would
be used and distributed. Ms. Wrenn also taught the girls about
all the different resources the Salvation Army provides for those
in need in the area.
Unbeknownst to them, local Salvation Army rep,
Jane Wrenn, had also planned to bring them a
token of thanks for their work. So, yes, the girls
received their own little goodie bags.
Karmic cycle indeed. 
When asked if she would do this again, our recipient said absolutely. She wants to continue to "help kids who are in need", even if it's a little at a time. Her biggest lesson was that planning how to use a limited money is "so hard". It took a lot of time to complete her application because she struggled most with determining how best to use the money. She needed adult help for this part.

The biggest positives she gained? She feels like she "knows what she's doing more" now. So, there's a much-needed boost of self-confidence that we weren't anticipating from this normally very very hesitant girl. She was also thrilled to have the chance (via money) to help other kids who needed it. (Keep in mind that our school is high-poverty (95%), so she and her friends are no stranger to what it feels like to need something.) The third aspect was how she collaborated with others. She invited friends to help--and although many said they would, only a couple kept their word. She had also secured donations from the local dentist to include in the practical goodie bags. 

Time and budgeting--such great lessons to learn, and ones that we are always challenged with, right, adults? Self-confidence, opportunity, and collaboration to solve a community problem she had determined herself? Priceless. Worth every penny of the mini-grant. And then some. 

It was a blessing to be involved with Praespero this year, and we're anxious to watch it evolve and grow in new ways this coming school year. Mini-grants will be available this fall, specifically for younger students, and the primary stipulation is that they must use their resources to help someone else. Pretty broad, but then, we want them to "Believe Big".