Hitting a Detour Doesn’t Equate with Failure

To say my journey to overall better health is off to an auspicious start would be very accurate. I had everything organized to set myself up for success, and then this happened:

Our grandson Ace was born, our first grandchild. While I was planning to start focusing on my journey, my path went completely to this precious baby boy. I have enjoyed every moment I have been able to spend with him, my daughter, and son-in-law over the last week.

What that has meant for my journey is a temporary pause and that’s okay. I have been doing some things, just not ones I had planned.

Values and Priorities

One activity I did for myself was to start The Healthy & Whole Project with Becca Shern. The first week’s activity was to complete a values and priorities assessment. In general, I feel like I have a pretty firm handle on this part of my life. 

My foundational values are relationships, health, and leisure. I included leisure because it is a value I haven’t appreciated. Leisure in my mind equated to laziness. If I wasn’t doing something to be productive even if it was more “busyness,” I felt like I wasn’t measuring up. Now I view leisure with a positive perspective. I look at it more as self-care and service. 

How can’t I take care of myself and also take the time to help others? 

I’m more intentional with how I spend my time, and I no longer feel guilty if I want to take 30 minutes to sit on our deck to read a book. If I want to take the time to go visit someone, I simply do it.

Another part of the assessment was to identify core values. The ones I identify with most are love, spirituality, gratitude, peace, optimism, and centeredness. (You can find a list of more than 200 core values by simply doing a search.) I could have listed up to 15 core values, but I wanted to go with the ones that I most intimately connected with overall. These are the six that I feel most in tune with on a daily basis.

Finally, I looked at tertiary values and imaginary values. These are areas that can take away from core and foundational values. Although it wasn’t necessarily eye-opening, I found myself cringing at some of the activities I wrote down that steal my time. Social media by way of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook frighten me in terms of the amount of time I spend using them. A look here and there or flat out going down rabbit holes has shown me where I need to do better in order to be better. 

This was such a healthy exercise for me, because it showed me what I do well and where I can and want to improve. 

This is an activity I should do periodically. My plan is to sit down with my assessment every 4-6 weeks to notice if there are any changes in these areas:

  1. Foundational Values
  2. Core Values
  3. Tertiary and Imagined Values

This Week’s Takeaway

The biggest takeaway for me this week was that even though I didn’t complete what I set out to do initially, I still had an effective week in learning more about myself. Moving forward, I will post my values where I can see them every day. I’m also working to wean myself off social media by setting up specific times during the day to update and interact. Setting limits with a timer will also be helpful. 

The best takeaway though? I experienced tons of snuggles with my grandson. 

Continuous Journey Requires Specific Goals

“The point is that you are back, wobbly or not!” When I wrote about getting back on the bicycle after time away from doing things that had been a natural part of my life, a friend of mine made that comment.

I loved this, because it was so accurate. That’s exactly how I felt!

But now it’s time to take the next steps and I’m going all in. One thing that is fair to say about me is that most of the time I don’t dip my toe into the shallow end of the pool. I just dive right into the deep end. 

Photo by mauro paillex on Unsplash

I’m diving back into my health and wellness. 

For reference, I’m no stranger to being in really great shape. I was the type of person who would routinely be at the gym for close to two hours daily and ran half marathons. While I still have my gym membership, I haven’t been there in months (some of it due to COVID-19) and I haven’t run a half-marathon in four years. 

To say I have a lot of momentum to regain is an understatement, but I’m putting some pieces in place to hold myself accountable and have set some very specific goals.

Goals

Over the next 10 weeks, I’m focused on getting back some of the physical shape I’ve lost through the following goals:

  1. By the end of 10 weeks, I will be able to run a 10K. I’m not concerned about time yet. My focal point is to complete a virtual run.
  2. During this time frame, I will lose 10-12 pounds. Roughly a pound a week is doable.
  3. While my BMI is a perfectly acceptable 22.1, my goal is to get under 20.
  4. In addition to my physical health, I’m also focusing on centering myself better mentally and spiritually. 

How

Sure, it’s great to have goals, but how am I going to get there? You can’t have a destination without having an idea of how you’re going to get there.

  1. To run a 10K, I have downloaded Runkeeper to track my runs. I have also planned my runs on a calendar, 3-4 days a week. (Since I have trained for half-marathons, I know how to schedule my running workouts.)
  2. Losing the weight will come through tracking my macros. Using the macro calculator on healthyeater.com, my focus is 200g – carbs, 81g – protein (I’m shooting more for 50-60), and 53g – fat. Each day I will put my daily intake in a spreadsheet. In addition, I’m planning to drink at least 60 oz. of water daily.
  3. For my BMI, running and eating better will make a big difference, but I’m a gym junkie and I’m most excited about getting back to lifting weights consistently. I use the Shred app, and I will get in 3-4 workouts a week.
  4. My one word intention is “Center” and this is a big one for me. I regularly meditate, do a daily bible study, and journal. However, I want to put it all together – my physical, mental, and spiritual health. Therefore, I’m taking part in Becca Shern’s The Healthy & Whole Project. Becca is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health. 

“During the nine weeks of The Healthy & Whole project you will discover how to nourish your body, mind, and soul to see gradual but long-lasting results.” (Excerpt from the description about the project on her website.)

Here’s what I love the most about Becca’s program: She gets it. During this stressful time, she understands that finances are tight for a lot of us and so she is offering this program as Pay As You Can, Standard Price, or Superhero Price. I hope you check it out (and join me)!

  1. Probably the most daunting of all is to post before and after photos, but that’s a huge accountability piece to see how far I come in 10 weeks. No, I’m not expecting monumental changes, but I know I will see progress.
  2. Finally, I’m going to document my journey on my website twice a week (Mondays/Thursdays) and once a week on Medium (Mondays).

Why

This is the most important piece. If you don’t have strong reasons for your goals, it doesn’t matter what the process is, you won’t follow through. 

  1. I have one amazing life to live and I want to be as healthy as I can so that I can enjoy it to the fullest extent possible.
  2. I know that when I’m in great shape that everything else falls into place. I simply feel better about everything else.
  3. I’m a classroom teacher, and leading by example is very important to me. It’s not only about my content as an English teacher but also as a leader of young people.
  4. I’m about to be a first-time grandma and I want to have the energy to keep up with my grandson.

Wrapping It Up

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about embarking on this journey, or rather continuing on this journey! While I know it might look somewhat ambitious, remember, I like diving into the deep end of the pool. Feel free to join me if you’re ready to jump in.

Teaching Middle School During a Pandemic Has Its Benefits

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

While many of my teacher friends share tales of woe and

While many of my teacher friends share tales of woe and higher stress levels, I would like to offer an alternate view of teaching during the pandemic.

Yes, a majority of us have been thrown into something we’ve never experienced. As a 26-year veteran, I thought I had pretty much seen it all, and then COVID-19 happened.

In some ways, it’s a bit (or a lot) of a shit show. Even the school districts who probably felt like they were somewhat prepared for distance learning have experienced curveballs they weren’t expecting.

We are suddenly being thrown into the world of Zoom meetings, using Padlet, creating lessons that can be both digital and paper-copied, and figuring out ways to keep students engaged and motivated.

We are asking ourselves how we can deliver essential learnings and pondering the ethics of grading when all students cannot be reached either by choice or necessity. Teachers report spending more time on lessons and responding to student work.

And then there are our parents who are trying to work full days, are making sure their kids’ basic needs are being met, and are filling in as teachers.

It’s no wonder stress levels are through the roof. School districts are trying to make decisions to meet the needs of every student. Individual teachers are trying to deliver content. Parents are trying to fill in the gaps. Students are trying their best, but many of them are frustrated and tapped out.

It feels like a no-win situation.

How my school district is handling curriculum.

At the district level for our middle school curriculum, we have broken it down into six essential learnings over a six-week period. There are six of us in the department at my school and we are in teams of two, so every three weeks it’s my team’s turn to take one of the essential learnings to deliver a lesson. Even if 117 of our students turn in the work for the week, the feedback is divided by my teaching partner and me. We would each have roughly 59 responses in a perfect world, but as you can guess it’s much fewer than that. In any given week, I’m responding to around 25 assignments.

While I would much rather be responding to all students, I will take what I can get at this point.

I know I’m very fortunate in the way my district has decided to handle what we are doing at the middle school level. Many of my counterparts in other school districts are having so much more put on their plates. I get why their stress levels and anxiety are causing sleepless nights.

As with everything, there are parents who feel like we should be doing more while others think it’s too much.

Again, it’s a no-win situation.

Why I’m framing it differently.

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

Instead of looking at teaching right now as the entirety of the picture above, I’m focusing on what I can control within the frame.

It’s making all the difference for me.

While I’m adhering to our district’s expectations, I decided to do something to feel more connected to my students. It also falls under the category of something I’ve never experienced.

I decided to create a YouTube Channel, and I post daily videos. (You can check it out here.) Each video is roughly 3–5 minutes, and I give students a daily challenge to complete for points if they choose to do so. These challenges range from explaining their personal meaning of a quote, determining the parts of speech for a sentence, or telling a story using a prompt.

In addition, they can continue turning in book reviews (something we also did while school was in session) for more points. Completing the district assignment for the week is also worth a varied number of points.

While there are significant academic challenges, the videos are somewhat entertaining (or I’m sure weird, according to my students). My husband comes on to deliver dad jokes twice a week. Our cat Chloe has made a couple of guest appearances. I record the video from different parts of our apartment. Sometimes there’s even singing, or what I like to call, making a joyful noise.

At the end of each week, I add up student points. If students participate in the district assignment and in at least two of my activities, they are put into a drawing for gift cards. Three students are drawn each week and then I send them the gift card with a note letting them know how much I appreciate their participation and hard work.

The end result.

While I wish more students participated, I get that it’s not realistic for every student. Some don’t have technology or a way to get the paper copies. Some parents simply don’t have enough hours in the day to be able to sit down with their students. For some of my students, they are fortunate if their daily needs are being met. It’s a matter of survival.

For the students who are participating regularly, they are blowing my mind! Several of them are writing more than they ever did in a classroom assignment. I believe much of it has to do with the creativity behind the lessons. Much of our curriculum is so structured that there isn’t time for the creative endeavors.

Having less stringent guidelines during this time is giving me the opportunity to give students more creative, outside the box assignments. For example, one day I asked them to draw a picture of a hamburger riding a bicycle and then to write a story as to why this would be happening. Another day, they wrote about building a snowman with the added component of highlighting the prepositions they used. Creating a sculpture out of paper and telling me about it was another way for students to explore and try something new. They are taking more risks and writing more than they did previously.

More importantly, I have gotten to know some of my students a lot better during this time. It’s a weird feeling, because there were students who showed up to my classroom day in and day out, did their thing, and then moved on to the next class. Now I’m finding out more about their interests, what they are excited about, and what is bothering them during this time.

They are opening up and sharing more of themselves with me through the written word. They share a word document with me and continue to add to it each day. Others send emails with their responses. They know I’m checking in daily during my office hours, so they know when to expect feedback.

No, it’s not perfect, but then again it’s not going to be. We are living in a very strange time right now. I’m not kicking curriculum to the curb, but I am putting a lot less importance on it and making more time for connections. Students need to know they are being heard and that I care.

And that is a win-win situation.

Unexpected time off, unexpected thoughts

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

To borrow an overused word, it’s been a ‘surreal’ start to my spring break as a classroom teacher. This is the first time I’ve had a spring break in my educational career, and while I thought I would be giving myself a long to-do list to accomplish this week, I find myself in thoughtful contemplation more often than tackling the list.

This contemplative state has much to do with the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the unknowns it has created. A one week spring break has turned into an indefinite future, and I find myself a little lost, annoyed, and yet relaxed.

Lost because school districts in my state are in a holding pattern right now. My district’s leaders are trying to figure out how to best serve our students moving forward. While we were told to relax and enjoy the break, it’s a challenge not knowing how things are going to be moving forward.

Even though there are unknowns, there are things I can control. I’ve already given myself a daily schedule to keep me on track with self-care, learning, and entertainment. I have two daily exercise routines in place, one through the Shred app and the other by going for a walk with my husband so we get some fresh air. If nothing else, I’m going to be in great shape!

However, following so many small businesses on Instagram is breaking my heart as they are closing indefinitely, adjusting hours to be in alignment with state guidelines by offering curbside and/or takeout options, sending reminders about their online stores, etc. I think about everyone in the service industry who suddenly find themselves without an income. There are always things we can do. Buy gift cards at favorite eateries to use in the future when they are back on their feet, or send a little love to your service professionals via Venmo when you have to reschedule with them. I keep trying to think about ways to be supportive.

I also think about the parents who can’t take their kids to daycare, because it is closed for now and they have to figure out how they are going to continue working while also caring for their kids. While it doesn’t solve the riddle of financial strain, this is a gift of time. Read with your kids, take them outside and go for a walk, play games, build a fort in the living room, draw pictures, put puzzles together, bake with them, teach them life skills, etc.

Teaching myself to slow down and relax is paramount right now. I’m reminding myself how truly blessed I am and that the world is hurting right now. Healthcare professionals are already exhausted and facilities are maxed out. While it doesn’t seem to be enough, I’m spending more time in prayer. I’m praying that people use common sense by staying home as much as possible. I’m praying that world leaders make decisions that are in the best interest of their citizens and that as citizens we follow them. This is not the time to be a precocious, stubborn child who does not want to be told what to do. Being selfless means thinking about others instead of doing what we want to do when we want to do it.

While I want to go out for a coffee with my friend, head to the bookstore to get the book that was ordered for me, and go to my hair appointment to get the gray out, home is where I will be. I hope you will be too.

Taking a break is okay

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Sometimes I just need a break. I need to stop what I’m doing and alleviate the undue stress I’m putting on myself.

Recently, the undue stress has been writing. Every time I sit down to start a new blog post, I look at the blinking cursor with a ton of thoughts running through my mind but nothing concrete makes it to the screen.

Ideas aren’t the problem. My head trash? Now that’s another story. When I think about writing on a particular a topic, I recall all the articles I’ve already read about it and doubt I can put a different spin on it. I remind myself that my voice will give it a fresh perspective, but when the words begin to come out they sound contrived and artificial. Like it’s not my voice.

I go back to the drawing board. I read and I write down additional ideas. I took the advice of another writer to jot down 10 possible headlines each day. Yeah, that lasted about three days. While I had 30 headlines, I didn’t do anything with them. I know it didn’t give it enough of a chance, and I do think it has merit. Maybe I will give it another go.

Then there are the times that I plan out my writing. For example, I tell myself that I will put out new content on Mondays and Thursdays. That way I have a few days to develop an idea, give it some time to simmer, go back to edit, and then finalize. It’s a great plan that I have yet to execute.

Planning will many times give way to flat out procrastination. For example, I have a snow day today from my day job as a teacher. It’s a free day that gives me ample time to write. Instead, I’ve cleaned the apartment, sent some email correspondence, checked social media more than I care to admit, made a second pot of coffee, read my book, booked flights for an upcoming trip in April, ordered tickets to a comedy show for the weekend, boiled eggs (random, I know), and chatted with my husband.

While it sounds like a productive day so far, it isn’t when my intention was to write. I got lots of “stuff” done but not what I told myself I was going to do.

That’s when it dawned on me.

It’s completely okay to take a break. I’m finally giving myself permission to let the head trash go. Maybe I needed this little hiatus to get myself writing again. That, and nachos. A break to have nachos is also okay.

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