About

North American high school English teacher living abroad in Brazil. student. wife. daughter. sister. aunt. runner. athlete. yogi. outdoorsy. spiritual. deep. thinker. questioner. horse-woman. story-sentinel. friend. God-seeker.

I understand through writing…hence this blog.

this I believe (my teacher-why creed)

I have been reading two books in pursuit of some professional growth lately: Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall as well as Teach Like Yourself: How Authentic Teaching Transforms Our Students and Ourselves by Gravity Goldberg. And when they both, as if in some conspiratorial cahoots, albeit for different reasons, encourage the writing of a teacher mission statement… well, then, ok! I give!

And it’s a good thing. I do feel I’ve lost my teacher way a bit lately.

Not only that, but the knowledge that we will be starting the school year digitally has me all up in arms about all the nots and can’ts and the things that aren’t the same or right or best or normal or in my wheelhouse.

I’m already starting the year in a deficit model.

Which means, consequently, my students will be, too.

Ugh.

And, so, to get up out of the murky pit of deficit and into the expansive field of assets, here is my WHY. In some of these, I’ve been doing well. To some of these, I proclaim a renewed dedication. But all of them will ground and guide the manner in which I begin this new and scary school year.

And beyond.

This I Believe (My Teacher-Why Creed)

I teach students. Not statistics or data points or standards. I teach beating hearts who have their own pains and pleasures, drives and demons, growth spurts and gallant missteps.

This I believe.

I teach humans. People, who at their core, just like me, crave love. People who, though it looks differently for each, crave meaningful relationship. People who both want the chance to be authentic as well as the authentic presence of others around them.

This I believe.

I teach stories. Words woven together as threads that have sustained man since man has been. Explorations and declarations of our own hiSTORIES. Themes that, unlike our polished updates and filtered selfies and perfect feeds, unlock something true and deep… nourish something true and deep.

This I believe.

I teach power. Power through literacy. Power through knowledge. Early in my career, that was the power to rebel against the constant knock of oppressive systems. Now, it is the power to be humble enough and brave enough to see that system within and dismantle it for others.

This I believe.

I teach mystery. An approach that honors the question above the answer. A path that celebrates the process more than the product. A philosophy that is critical but not bitter, deconstructive but not destructive. A confession that I, myself, though the teacher, am not the expert.

This I believe.

I teach reflection. A pursuit of life’s most important questions: who I am? how do I live a meaningful life? how do I be whole? how do I respond when I am down and salute when I am standing? what does it even mean for me to be down versus standing?

This I believe.

I teach community. The realization that life’s most important questions cannot be untied from other: who are we? what is your story? how do I give you space to be and feel and struggle and blossom?

This I believe.

I teach mindfulness. The constant, kind mental work of returning to this present moment. The intentional bowing of the heart to this moment as the only moment. The freedom and courage and strength that this moment spawns.

This I believe.

I teach joy. Light hearts and belly laughs. Nonacademic moments of connection. Insightful tangents. Familial chaos.

This I believe.

41 blessings

This past week I turned 41. I never thought I would be the person who worries about my age, but alas, it turns out, I am. All kinds of questions loom about the life I’ve lived: is it good enough? am I a good friend? do I make a difference? blah, blah.

At the same time, on the other hand, in that paradoxical way life breaths, I am counting so. many. blessings. I have lived a life of adventure with countless memories for which I am so grateful. So, to mark my birthday in this shitshow known as 2020, I thought I’d celebrate those.

  1. My legs have carried me 13.1 miles, through a russet ribbon canyon.
  2. Through years and transformations, I have given myself, my husband and God the space to be known anew.
  3. I have been mesmerized by the dance of aspen leaves in the shifting sunlight.
  4. Friends old and new gathered to party with me in Nashville, Tennessee for my 40th birthday.
  5. Dave and I left everything familiar and moved to a foreign land.
  6. I have had to scramble to hide my bible in a forbidden Christian meeting in China.
  7. I acted as a witch on the Globe stage and stood humbled in the shadows of Stonehenge.
  8. I am a paid and published writer, contributing at Edutopia.
  9. Students past and present call me their “Mom.”
  10. I lost both my pets and both my parents in a handful of years, but, still, I live free from bitterness, with a grateful heart.
  11. I have chased and caught a ski-pass-thief through Telluride, Colorado ski lines and shops.
  12. I have seen a black bear climb a tree in my backyard and grizzly cubs cross a stream in the wild.
  13. I am known for being a great hugger.
  14. I have witnessed glaciers pop like Rice Krispies and then calve in an Argentinian lake–the same lake we kayaked.
  15. I have ascended a 14,000 foot peak.
  16. I have disappeared into the alien-worlds of tide pools on the Oregon coast.
  17. I helped my husband and my godson save an old man from drowning in a glacier lake in Montana.
  18. I have sat in the sound of silence and the sheer terror of my head for five nights and six days.
  19. I am a certified yoga instructor.
  20. I met a red-headed angel.
  21. I have sampled over 1700 unique beers since I started tracking them.
  22. I have been in 3 earthquakes, always when traveling for work.
  23. I have swam the waters where the Amazon meets the Atlantic.
  24. I have loved the intimacy of the Badlands over the vastness of the Grand Canyon.
  25. We have sunned and funned in Cancun with our best friends.
  26. I have harmonized under a night sky to an audience of flickering fireflies.
  27. I have spotted a wolf in Montana and a puma in Chile.
  28. I am a Grauntie.
  29. I have built a cairn in an Arizona canyon.
  30. I have traversed Patagonia on the back of a horse.
  31. I have been given the honor of speaking at graduation.
  32. I survived a sprint triathalon.
  33. I have road tripped highway 1.
  34. I have eaten dinner at 10pm in Buenos Aires.
  35. I have howled in the middle of a pack of wolves, and then stood still in wonder as they took over.
  36. I have had to carry my dog up and down a rustic ladder on a hike in Utah.
  37. I married into a family that is more than just “in-laws.”
  38. I have have felt minuscule in the Redwoods.
  39. I have been carried on my sister’s hip like I was her own.
  40. I am a licensed cosmetologist.
  41. I have watched a whale swim off the coast of Ipanema Beach in Rio against the backdrop of the most glorious sunset.

A list like this humbles me.

I. am. grateful.

I. am. blessed.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures from Psalm 16:

Yes, yes I do.

book reflection: “Teach Like Yourself” preface & ch 1

As you know from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity these days.

With a bit of serendipity in the ether, a group I’ve been a part of for a while resurged on my Facebook feed with an invitation to a book club (thank you Kathie for the inspiration) about Teach Like Yourself by Gravity Goldberg. Yes, please!

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be responding and reflecting to this book. Here is what’s on my mind after the preface and chapter 1.

Relationships.

“It took some time for me to realize that being my true self as a teacher was exactly what my students needed…We know that students learn more from teachers they trust and with whom they have a strong relationship. And students can’t form strong relationships with teachers if they are not showing up as their true selves.

I always have focused on relationships in my classroom; however, as of late, in reflection on recent discouragements, I am renewed in my dedication to this approach. Knowing our school will be starting the next school year digitally, my mind is already creating lists of ideas and activities to get to know my students. And to introduce them to my true self as well.

One approach I am really excited to resurrect in my classroom is getting to know my students through their writing. To do this, I will offer more invitations for non-academic writing and conferences. I remember my first year of teaching, I had my students journal daily and I responded weekly. The amount of time required was unsustainable, but those were some of the richest moments I’ve had with students. I need to modify that in order to reintroduce it to my practice.

Standards vs strengths.

These two pages hit me h.a.r.d. from chapter 1:

In many ways, while the narrowing of targets due to standards-based teaching is a good thing, it also has led me to a deficit-based approach: what standards are they not meeting and how do I get them there? This reduces students to checklists and prevents me from celebrating and building on their strengths. One of Goldberg’s points in the book is that this deficit-based model arises from our self-help approach: what’s broken and how can I fix it? Not only do I see my students through this lens, but myself. And it results in anxiety and stress and heavy burdens that do not inspire anyone. Especially in a cutthroat, high-stakes environment where the name of the college means everything… I have to create a refuge in my classroom.

Comparison.

I feed on perfection. I like to be the best. Because of this, I often look around to see who is on point and how I can emulate them. This is not a bad thing! However, when I try to replace myself with them… it is. I need to do a better job seeing mentors as role models, not instructional manuals. This will take courage, and yes, sometimes even confrontation. But my students deserve ME as MY best self for them, not an impostor of someone else.

For the first time in a long time, I am bursting with excitement to go back to school. The ideas and plans are keeping me up at night–but in a good way. Creativity is flowing; writing calls to me like a long-lost lover. I feel inspired and reinvigorated. I know this is because I am returning to myself as a teacher.

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