Wednesday, March 28, 2018

sol 27: simple reminders

Oh yesterday. Yesterday didn't start off in the way I wanted. As with life, sometimes you have things on your mind, or heart before the students walk through your doors, which lessens your patience for them (by no fault of their own.)

So kids came into homeroom, and my patience already thin, put me in a disagreement with a student, about something petty from that began the day before. We were kinda going back and forth, arguing, when a third student made a comment, "Somebody's in a mood."

And I was stopped. Dead in my tracks.

Here I was all upset about something unrelated to my students, yet they were feeling the weight of my frustration.

So right away, I apologized. "You guys are right. My lack of patience has nothing to do with you. I'm sorry." The two girls looked back, and smiled, and we all felt better.

Fast forward another 3 minutes, and I was feeling my patience begin lacking again, as another student didn't have the proper uniform on. I said something, to which he replied, "You're totally making assumptions!"

"You're right," I told him, and as he began to walk away, I reached for his arm, and asked him to come back. "Ok, I"ll listen better. Go ahead, explain it to me."

And he did. And I listened. As he finished, he began to walk away, and then I asked him to stop again.

"You know, thank you for reminding me to listen better, but now, can I have a turn to talk?" He nodded, and I continued on, about uniforms, about being ready for school, about how as a young adult, I'd expect him to be in charge of that. He nodded, and we were done.

Just reminds me of this, that I had read on facebook the night before:
This is a big part of my classroom management, and so it's important for me to apologize when I screw up. I may be older, but I'm human, and it matters to kids that I set my ego aside and just be honest.

My day could've continued in a very anxious, stressed, and frustrated way. But, because I accepted responsibility for my actions with my students, I was able to make it better for all of us. So thankful I was given these reminders the day before.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

sol #24: not just a moment

A moment.

Today, I marched with 30,000 others in Chicago to make our voices heard for common sense gun reform.

I listened to poetry, I heard speeches, I chanted with those around me, and I carried a sign.

See how a whole bunch of moments are creating a movement, here.

See how kids of privilege use their power to give voice to those who have been silenced.

Let's be this movement.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

sol #22: use your brain

I share a classroom with my coteacher, Andrea. We teach together during block 3, but during blocks 2 and 4 I have coaching periods, and she teaches two general education classes in our room. So sometimes, I find myself in my space in our room, but just working at my desk, not really interacting with her or her other classes.

Today, Andrea was telling her students that she left them comments on their essays in google drive.

Then overheard:

Andrea: Do you guys know how to see the comments on your doc?

Student: Yeah, open the comment and use your brain.

Maybe this slice isn't translating well, but I had to stop working, put my head down, and laugh. Because, actually, to see comments when working on an iPad is not as easy as it is on a MacBook. You see the words highlighted, but to find the comments, CONFUSING!

But just use your brian, kids. That's it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

sol #20: remnants of a departure

A few weeks ago, we had to say goodbye to one of our students from ELA. The class wrote him notes and we had a nice time together, even on such a sad day.

But still, there are remnants of his departure, namely, our Status of the Class notebook.

Every day we call out to kids to ask them their "status" with independent reading. They tell us what book they are reading, what page they are on, and we record it on a quarterly calendar. (This eventually is filed into portfolios, and is a nice artifact of their independent reading!) Jovanny's calendar is still in our notebook, and my coteacher and I have just been annotating it like this ever since:

We miss you JT!

Monday, March 19, 2018

sol #19: remember when

Remember when we first started teaching together?

Remember when you weren't almost high school kids?

Remember when we first just met?
And you were bummed there were 7th and 8th graders in our class?

Remember how I'm always really proud of you?

Remember how I like taking selfies? (alot?)
So we have lots of memories to scroll through? :-)

Remember how reading is AWESOME?!

Remember how there are 28 teachers, not 2?

And one to never forget: Ohana.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

sol #18: making selections

It's March Madness and I love the brackets! It's only been a few years that I've done them, but they always make these weeks in March so much more fun.

Here are some of the ways I decide on who wins:

1. If ASU makes it, then I make my first bracket and put them through till the end. In the case of this year, Syracuse beat ASU in the first 4 round, so my #ForksUp bracket has Syracuse winning the whole thing. Boo ASU.

2. I immediately eliminate U of A, because ASU :-)

3. Any teams who my exes liked, I eliminate, but depending on their ranking, might give them a round or two.

4. Teams my friends like, I keep them in. Hauer, Duke was for you!

5. Throw in a few upsets.

I'm actually doing pretty well this year! A friend at work organized a pool, and my brackets are in 3rd and 5th place, so that's fun!

Who else is enjoying March Madness?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

sol #17: easy saturdays

I hand no ideas for a post, but then was inspired by my coteacher to be thankful for Saturday mornings.

Dear Saturday,

How I love thee. Let me count the ways.

1. Coffee as a treat, instead of Detox Tea.
2. No alarming noise interrupting my slumber.
3. Sunlight streaming through the windows (though not today).
4. Catching up on friends' blogs, and writing one of my own.
5. Warm covers and a comfy couch, still in pajamas.
6. Skyping with my best friend.
7. No where to go until yoga, not till 1:30.


How is your Saturday turning out? Hope it's just how you want it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

sol #16: #nationalwalkoutday

Today, I'll let the video do the talking. Proud to be a Falcon.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

sol #15: best made plans

This is not the post I wanted to write today, but YOU TUBE (say it annoyingly) uploads videos so slow and BLOGGER (I'm also annoyed with Blogger) will not upload a 2 minute video so I sit waiting on one app, and retyping a new slice on another so I can meet a deadline and get some sleep, hoping tomorrow I'll get the post up that I wanted up tonight.

And curtain.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

sol #14: no video games, more books

"Hey Ms. Brezek, do you have Amazon Prime?"

Not looking up from what I was doing, I replied, "Yep."

My kiddo went on, "Could you order something for me?"

Assuming he meant a book (kids bring me money sometimes and I will order them books) I looked up, with a light in my eye and asked him what book he was hoping for. But I was met with the shake of his head.

"No, I don't want a book," he scoffed. "I need 6 new controllers for my Playstation."

I'm sure the look on my face was a three word acronym with an explicative. "What?!" I asked, incredulously.

"Yeah," he went on, "I need new controllers, so I"ll bring you the money, and you order them." This particular kiddo has been with me for a year and a half, so he sometimes gets a little bossy, but I let it slide.

"Uummm... no. I order books. That's it."

Still working on his argument, he told me that his dad broke one of his, and now he won't get him a new one. But my kiddo reassured me he had the money, so it would be best if I placed the order.

To that I said, "Well, I'm not going to go do something for you your parents won't do. I'm not having them mad at me. And further, no video games. More books."

He laughed and walked off.

Maybe if I got him his own copy of Hatchet we'd be good to go. He loves that book.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

sol #13: go go falcon players

Yesterday and today have been volleyball playoffs, and both JV and Varsity did so well, we're so proud of them. Today, I was doing record keeping for the Varsity matchups and the kids are just so funny.

Picture this: About to do the setter swap-a-roo to get in front row middle, one of the kiddos was waiting off to the side, ready to run to the middle upon serve. Serve went great, sailed through the air, over the net, and the back row on our team received it easily. You would usually envision the receiver popping it up high, so the setter could set up a strategic hit, but that's not what happened. Receiver got there, and bumped it, but a low bump, straight forward toward the net, but so low. It was right in that moment that the setter reached her spot, facing the other team, and was hit in the back with the volleyball.

As this happens, the bench starts singing, "Go go falcon players," a la power rangers.

It was so funny! My writing isn't making it translate right, but I'm too tired to spend any more time revising this now, but maybe the volleyball players will leave a few comments with a little more description to help me out :-)

Monday, March 12, 2018

sol #12: off balance

I don't like when I'm
off balance
because then, I'm not as patient, when
I'm off balance
Kids do normal stuff, which any other day is fine, but today it's not because
I'm off balance
I need to recharge because tomorrow I don't want
to be off balance
The people in my life deserve it, and most importantly I deserve
to not be off balance
So I will rest and relax tonight, so tomorrow I can be

Sunday, March 11, 2018

sol #11: running late

9 pm Sunday
No ideas, need to sleep
And that’s all I got.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

sol #10: (almost) all heart

On Valentine's Day, we did the Warm Fuzzies, like I do EVERY YEAR. It's my favorite community building activity. That day, as he handed me a warm fuzzy, one kiddo said, "I'm going to remember my 8th grade heart."

This got me thinking about how I do business. How I do classroom management. It's by heart. I pull on heart strings to get kids to work and take risks.

Here are a few ways...

Every Monday, kids begin their day with a Monday Meeting letter. (Adapted from Responsive Classroom's Morning Meeting.) It's just an ongoing google doc with the newest letter at the top, and I tell them what is going on this week, share some celebrations, provide feedback, etc. I like this because it's authentic reading (and in some cases, writing, too.) Here's a sample -->

We also do celebrations. On Monday, someone gets an award for something. After Parkland, I was reminded of this blog again, and since have been asking kids to nominate someone for the award. It's cool now because they are nominated by their peers. And kids are funny, too. A few have nominated themselves a few times; I laugh! If they can create a good argument for their award, I'd give it to them!

We have some flexible seating, too, and regularly gather in a circle on the rug for sharing. The circle is important - no one can be siting outside the circle, so we make room for all. We use a talking turtle, to engaged everyone in listening. As the year goes on, kids continue to build trust and share even more easily.

I also tell kids I love them all the time. I sign our letters that way, I tell them 1:1 when needed, I tell them that as they leave my class. I mean it too, I love those kids. But when they mess up, they hear it from me, too. I have boundaries and high expectations, and I don't let stuff slip. So they make a mistake, fine. We talk about it. Then I end by telling them, "I wouldn't get this upset if I didn't care about you."

And Ohana. We just did a building-wide parent engagement assignment about what Ohana means and why it's important in our school. I used to just call us a family, but I think I'm going to use Ohana exclusively now. They know what it means, we watch out for one another. We're family and we bicker and argue, and have fun and sometimes hurt one another's feelings, but at the end of the day, we're home in room 230.

And blogging. Do you have any idea how much community you can build with blogging, specifically with the Slice of Life challenge? My kids are writing stories of their lives, sharing them with their peers and wider community, and I'm able to learn so much about them. About their families, about their friends and boys, when they get "exposed" by peers, when they are sad, and on and on and on.

Obviously, instruction is important to me, and I want to learn the most effective ways to engage kids in literacy and grow them as readers and writers. But what I care about even more than that is that they feel safe in my class, that they know I care so they will take risks.

It's because of that I'm more heart than instruction.

Thing is, it works.

My kids learn BECAUSE I love them so.

I couldn't imagine another life's work for me. I'm so thankful I get to teach kids.

Friday, March 9, 2018

sol #9: introverted friyay

My Fridays are pretty awesome. There's no more of the going out late or being crazy, just an easy unwind into my weekend.

Typically, I leave work pretty promptly, because I have to get to the yoga studio at 4:15 for my shift of helping take care of the studio. I know, finish work to go do more work, but it's totally worth it. For 90 minutes, I'm on my own, cleaning up around the lobby, locker rooms, and doing the mats. It's nice to unwind a bit with some quiet time after being "on" all week.

My shift ends at 5:45, just in time for my favorite class, Hot Power Fusion. This class is heated to 105 and it's a series of balancing and strength movements, tying breath to movement. What I like is the series of movements here is always the same. The music changes, the teacher sets a different intention each time, but it's meant to be a detoxifying session where you constrict and then expand your joints and internal organs. Walking out of HFP at 7pm feels AHHHHMAZING.

Once I find myself in this state of Zen, I figure out some food, and then head home. Usually to a quiet apartment by myself, as I'm introverted and derive my energy from the ever elusive quiet time. Sometimes I"ll catch up on my DVR, sometimes I'll take a bath and read, sometimes do a detox face mask (currently sitting here blogging with one!), but always super happy to have time to myself to unwind.

Clearly, do not take myself too seriously!

This isn't to say I'm opposed to doing something fun on Friday with friends, but either way, I'm usually snoozing by 10pm, latest. Teachers out there, you know what I'm talking about!

What's your Friday night look like?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

sol #8: letters

Dear JB,
You are one cool kid. Your high standards for friendships, funny jokes, how you don't take yourself too seriously, your interest in music, the fact that your spare key is a screwdriver (?) makes me laugh and  really overall just happy to see with you each day. Thanks for helping me coach volleyball.
Love, Coach

Dear TF,
I'm so proud of the leadership you've taken in the past few weeks. You are an inspiration to me and to our ELA Ohana. Thanks for all that you bring to our lives.
Love, Teach

Dear AO,
Cut yourself some slack. I seriously watch you in all capacities and think to myself, "What can't that kid do?"
Love, Teach

Dear Arie,
Get it together. Have some integrity.
Sincerely, an annoyed viewer

Dear Volleyball team,
I have so much fun with you, playing volleyball, and also just hanging out during the Varsity games.
Love, Coach

Dear Spring Break,
Please come sooner.
Love, Teach

Dear Daylight Savings Time,
I heard today that we will be reunited this weekend. I couldn't be more excited! YESSSSS!!!
Love, Michelle

Dear Standardized Tests,
Please don't make my students feel less than.
Love, Teach

Dear Self,
Remind students extra amounts of time how precious they are, and unique, and smart, and fun, and...the best.
Love, Self

Dear RB,
Thanks for the laughter at team meetings. Your pothole pinterest board made my day today. And thanks for making me your special yoga buddy. I'm so excited!
Love, Michelle

Dear Slicers,
Thanks for sharing your stories, inspiring me, and being a part of this wonderful community with me.
Love, a blogger

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

sol #7: what's your 17?

Our school is planning a rally for next Wednesday to be in support of #MSDStrong. Part of the rally will involve some student writing, so today, we prompted our kiddos with a few videos of speeches, Ohana from Lilo and Stitch, and #whatsyour17.

So I got to thinking about my 17. What 17 things could I do that could impact our school community and all those around me?

1. 17 books about teens just like my students, so they can see their story is like so many others' experiences.

2. 17 hugs for kids who need them and and some for me when I need them. One on a rainy day, one when I'm so proud, and 15 on valentines day when we're all warm and fuzzy.

3. 17 appreciations to colleagues who bring love, light, and insight every day.

4. 17 comments on blog posts so voices are valued.

5. 17 invitations to my classroom, so together teachers can model how we collaborate, too.

6. 17 social events with teachers, to cope with stress, to laugh, to lighten the heavy stuff that weights us down.

7. 17 requests for more books. Because.... books.

8. 17 photos on 8th grade picture day when the kids are looking so sharp.

9. 17 opportunities for personal reflection, thinking about how I can continue to learn and grow as a teacher, to better support my students as the days go by.

10. 17 punny jokes. Because puns.

11. 17 packs of notecards from Target's dollar spot. Because snail mail never goes out of style.

12. 17 deep breaths, because we're all human, and sometimes teaching is a lot!

13. 17 calls to parents, so they can see the beauty in their kids through my eyes.

14. 17 times asking, "Can you ask your peer to repeat that?" so they understand how important THEIR voices are.

15. 17 apologies, because I'm human and mess up too.

16. 17 appreciations to my coteacher, who makes my days so joyful.

17. 17 boxes of Mr. Sketch markers and 17 reams of chart paper, so student ideas can speak from our walls.

So many things.
Thankful for this teaching life.
What's your 17?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

sol #6: daily mood

A year or so ago a friend gave me this:

and it lives on my conferring table, usually buried around a bunch of other papers and notebooks and binders. The girl in the pic stacks her stuff up so nicely. My items, on the other hand, are in a big jumble all over the place.

A few months ago, one of my students in homeroom started adjusting the mood for me. It's so much better when someone else does it, because sometimes they pick the perfect mood (well, what I think my mood is) and other times it's so off that I'm left wondering, "What in the world?"

One day it was even better, because it was a mood (not sure what mischievous things I was up to!) but it was the mood and a teeny tiny note:

Love spending my days with teens!

Monday, March 5, 2018

sol #5: what I'm loving, monday edition

Ahh I'm prob doing this wrong because this may not be a slice, per say, but anyways, I bring you What I'm Loving Monday. I suppose there's a few little slices here, so I say it counts :-)

Loving that I teach in Chicago and so we have a holiday for Pulaski day today, woop woop!

Loving sunday strolls around the neighborhood with a dear friend.

Loving yoga teachers that inspire me with their words, music, and prompting. I've got wild thing down now, and totally did a chiropractic adjustment on my spine yesterday with that move!

Loving the sun and blue skies in Chicago in March.

Loving my cleaned apartment that now smells like Pine Sol.

Loving planning my bestie's 40th in Denver, with a Taylor Swift concert, can't wait!

Loving March when classroom communities are strong and kids are thick as thieves.

Loving that my 20 year high school reunion is coming up and I still feel 25 on the inside.

Loving reconnecting with all the Slicing teachers this month!

What are you loving today?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

sol #4: figure out what you need

Do you ever get mad at yourself for not doing something you know is good for you? I've had this ongoing battle with exercise. I'd have gym memberships, or yoga studio memberships, and I just would blow money and not use them. And, even worse, I would beat myself up for not going.

Until January.

In January I finally figured out what I needed to make it work for me. I realized that I do not like to work out after school, well, except Fridays. All of the teachers out there can attest to this - you're emotionally drained after a day teaching. I think it's simply because we respond to the needs of others all day. Kids need things: to use the bathroom, to borrow a pencil, to talk to you about a disagreement they had, to get a hug because something went wrong. The adults we collaborate with need things, too. To send them a document. To complete some survey. To fill out paperwork. To provide feedback. To plan an event. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt completely drained after work each day.

Which is why I don't have the energy to go to the yoga studio during the week.

So in January, I finally found my system that works for me. The system where I don't have to feel guilty. The system where I can take what I need when I need it.

Fridays after school is when my  yoga routine starts. I'm part of the Studio Experience Team, where we do 90 minutes of cleaning in the studio and then get unlimited yoga at a much more affordable rate. So Fridays after school, I run over there, complete my shift, and then end my week in Hot Power Fusion.

Then I take a Sculpt class on Saturday and a C2 class on Sunday. Monday through Thursday, I teach and coach and maybe meet a friend after that, but there are no longer days that I beat myself up for not doing something more than I want to.

I finally made a routine work for me. And now I'm just left wondering, why did this take me so long to figure out?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

sol #3: not *our* seventh graders

There I was, sitting at the score table at a volleyball game. Varsity was playing so my assistant coaches and I were on the record keeping and score boards. We were just killing time, casually chatting while we waited when one of them looked over to the bleachers and commented, "I don't like the seventh graders."

I looked over to see typical shenanigans in the bleachers, nothing bad, just a bunch of kids he didn't know personally because they are in another grade.

Unlike the seventh graders in our combo ELA class. Our ELA class is composed of half seventh and half eighth graders. I love this setup for a few reasons. Number one, one of my literacy idols, Nancie Atwell, runs her classes this way. Number two, when half the class loops, you get not two teachers, but 16 teachers on year two. Number three (which I'm coming to find more and more this year, as it's our first year building a few classes this way), kids become unlikely friends. What I mean is that is most eighth graders are not friends with seventh graders. Setting up a class in this fashion gives them the opportunity to be friends with someone they probably wouldn't have been.

So back to my story, my kiddo tells me, "I don't like seventh graders," as he looks onward to the bleachers. Then, he turns towards me, places his hands on my shoulder, looks right into my eyes and adds, "Not our seventh graders."

Friday, March 2, 2018

sol #2: big mac on three

Found out last minute that JT from my ELA class is moving. So, beginning of the class today, I asked the class to think about something they might like to say to him in a letter that we would write towards the end of the block.

After they had written their notes, we met in a community circle. My coteacher and I had snooped through the notes, and we were so touched, and also curious about a nickname we didn't even know about - Big Mac. We sat down together and opened the floor up for sharing. 

First, EB explained that a handful of the boys just started calling each other Big Mac. I didn't really understand, and then IO asked me, "You've never had a Big Mac?" The kids went on to say that one day someone called another the name, then it stuck.

Then TF shared. She started by describing how at the beginning of the year, she was really upset that she was in a class with seventh graders (she's in eighth). She spent a lot of the first part of the school year being upset, but finally, she began talking to the seventh graders, and JT was one of the first kids she began to speak to. She said she was sad she wasn't ever going to be able to wink at him again, or see him wink back. She started to really tear up when she related the next story. You see, early on in the year, she had asked him for his snapchat user name, and she had it all along, but tears were really falling when she then added, "I had it. I had it all this time, and I never added him." That was when KA came over with tissues, but like half the box worth, and so every started giggling. Thankful for a little respite in that moment, but I am so proud of her reflection and courage to share something that I bet she now wishes she had done differently.

Another student relayed that he was also sad to have him leave, but it came with some comic relief. "You guys, it feels like a funeral!"

Then AO added, "Yeah, look, even Ms. Brezek is in all black!"

Luckily we were laughing and wrapping up, when EB asked to speak one more time. He sat there, on the little stool, leaning over, elbow on knee, pointing at JT, "Just remember, *this* is your home."

This is why I teach. These moments. Of course, I'm devastated that we're losing a great member of our ELA family, but to read my kids' letters, to hear the way they responded to this news, to feel the love in the class, this is why I do everything I do.

I'm reminded of Brené Brown and her new book, Braving the Wilderness. One of her tenants revealed in her research this time is "People are hard to hate close up. Move in."

It's the sweet spot in the school year, when we have formed those relationships. We've 'moved in' on the lives of one another. And to hear from a student after student, some in tears, saying how much they'll miss a peer (who some had no desire to even know on day one), well if that isn't magic, I'm not exactly sure what is.

Big Mac on three!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

sol #1: sentimental stuff

Warm fuzzy day, I love it.

Every Valentine's day, the kids get little yarn necklaces and share kindness and appreciations that make one another feel "warm and fuzzy." This year was no exception to the amount of joy it brought me.

One trio of kids, we'll call them Alice, Tanya, and Isaiah, were huddled together. The girls were tying warm fuzzies to Isaiah's necklace, telling him such kind things:

"You're my best friend."
"You're so nice to me...well, you're not, but I know you're just joking."
"You're so cute, too," one of them said, as they grabbed his chin.

Then they asked him to say thank you. He just smiled.

"Say thank you!" they demanded.

"No thank you," he said, with a grin, shortly followed by, "Thank you."

The girls went on, "Now tell us something nice!"

Slowly, he pulled a string from his necklace, looked down at the floor, up at the wall, around behind him, and finally, said, "Here you go, Tanya, because........ you're cool."

All smiles, with Tanya, saying to her friend, "And after all that sentimental stuff I told him!"

Sentimental or not, all the kids were smiling, around all of the classrooms we did this. Like every other year, it was a win.
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