LET’S GET BACK TO FISHING!

A number of years ago, our District adopted the Fish! Philosophy: a technique to make happy individuals alert and active in the workplace. We were inspired by a documentary from a fish market in Seattle, Washington. This market included entertainment from employees throwing fish – sort of like the Harlem Globe Trotters with fish! The positive energy was electric. The fishmongers seemed to relish their work throwing themselves into it with energy, passion and enthusiasm. They made us laugh out loud!

The philosophy included 4 fundamental ideals:

Be There

This is all about being emotionally present for people and being in the moment – not always easy in such a busy reactive world with so many distractions. By being there we demonstrate respect as well as improving communication and strengthening relationships.

Play

Allowing people to tap into their natural creativity, enthusiasm and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mind-set to everything you do.

Make Their Day

Finding simple ways to serve and delight people in meaningful and memorable ways. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life – not because you want something, but because that’s the type of person you want to be like.

Choose Your Attitude

Taking responsibility for what life throws at you and recognizing that you have a choice of how you are each day and that the choice you make impacts others.

The Fish! Philosophy empowers employees to be more effective in any job. When a team lives the philosophy, they improve their culture and create better results. It improves teamwork, employee engagement, retention, recognition and leadership.

Over time, Professional Development with a focus on Standards & Proficiency Based reporting has become the priority and we have lost opportunities to discuss “minutia”, thus losing the opportunity to strengthen our community. Even grade level team time has strict guidelines, which has left staff feeling lonely.

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of education at over the past 28 years, and I feel strongly that returning to TEAMING and making PLAY a priority would strengthen relationships and create a working environment that encourages 2-way communication and togetherness.

In 1997, staff were encouraged to pair up. We had multi-age classrooms, looping, as well as teaming within grade levels and across grade levels. Teams were designed to help with planning, behavior challenges, and brainstorming- many chose their teammates and some were assigned.

I would like to suggest that schools return to the team philosophy. I would also like to suggest voluntary and involuntary transfers that include placing staff members together that would bring out the best in one another.

There was a time when one Wednesday Staff meeting a month was for 2-person teams to have common planning time. The second was for grade level teams, the third was for building meetings, and the fourth was for everyone.

I would like to recommend PLAY and relationship building to truly utilize the natural talents of all staff members, including support staff. We need an opportunity to get to know one another personally- to laugh and to “let our hair down”. I’d like to suggest game nights, and the type of team building that camps do for trust building. In order for us to BE THERE for one another, we need to get to know one another in an informal setting. Many of us didn’t grow up in “the hood”, and are not part of local gatherings in town. I wonder if a night of play that may or may not include families and spouses would initiate a wonderful bonding experience that would make happier staff. We could watch a movie and have popcorn, play spoons, run obstacle courses, and even go to a local camp to use the mud pits or zip-line.

A happier staff creates trust with one another. That, in conjunction with the encouragement and time dedicated to working with each other would indeed impact the school climate and spill down into our classrooms.

But what if the Fish! Philosophy isn’t enough?

I would suggest that schools return to a clear behavioral support system that takes the control away from the students and places it back into the hands of classroom teachers. We need to focus on holding children to high behavioral standards and have clear guidelines within a behavioral protocol. We worked really hard on that a few years ago, but we haven’t used it for years. We need a system in which staff are not feeling bullied and harassed by students. My sister’s school is using a “Quiet Room” run by a qualified staff member, where children who are having a tricky time can go and quiet down and/or complete unfinished work. They use soft light and soft music, with sensory opportunities and comfortable chairs to de-escalate children, allowing classroom teachers to continue teaching. We know that children do better with clear guidelines regarding behavior expectations with clear consequences. My daughter’s school uses demerits, office referrals, in-school suspensions, and an alternative school placement for extreme behaviors. At the alternate school, they use a “boot camp” mentality with the goal to remediate and return children to the regular education system. In our district, we rarely keep children in for recess, send children to the Process Room, or keep them after school for Detention.

Social/Emotional support with the Fish! Philosophy, Teaming, and clear Behavior Protocol would go a long way to improving moral and communication. I for one want to return to teaming, get to know my fellow coworkers personally, and bring FUN back into the school, while holding children behaviorally accountable.

Fun + Accountability = Happy Productive Staff & Students. Let’s do it!

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What Keeps Me Awake At Night

I woke up early this morning. I didn’t need to, but after 8 days of school, my body has morphed into school time. School time means that no mater how hard I try, my body refuses to be fooled into going back to sleep.

This morning my mind was filled with goal setting: Marshall Goals, Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) and what I should make for priorities this year. I don’t know why my brain decided that 6:30 am on a Saturday, was a great time to make such crucial decisions.

In case you have a burning desire to know, our district uses the Kim Marshall Plan which includes an evaluation system based on teacher performance. It is divided into six categories, or domains. The domains include (1) Planning and Preparation for Learning (2) Classroom Management (3) Delivery of Instruction/Monitoring (4) Assessment, and Follow-Up (5) Family and Community Outreach and (6) Professional Responsibilities. Each domain contains 10 standards, in which supervisors rate teachers as Highly Effective, Effective, Partially Effective, or Ineffective for a total of about 60 standards. In theory, each domain, gives teachers and supervisors an opportunity to look at performance and set goals to focus on. Marshall’s rubrics are meant to clearly define criteria to distinguish the Highly Effective teacher from the Ineffective one, and all points in-between. Administrators aim to do 10, 10-minute pop-ins, with a coinciding 10 minute post observation to document progress on a teacher’s chosen goal. Last year, I had 5 classroom observations totaling 50 minutes.

On top of the Marshall goal, teachers are also expected to choose 2 Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) that are used to target growth and measure student effectiveness. Teachers are expected to make two SMART SLO goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time Bound) that can measured using data points that are proven reliable.

All lesson plans need to align to Common Core Standards and reporting is done on-line by individual standards. So, not only are teachers being evaluated on an insane amount of standards, but so are children. Most importantly, teacher evaluations are directly linked to the academic success of ALL students.

For both teacher’s and student’s alike, a 4 point scoring system is used. A 4, or Highly Effective status is reserved for truly outstanding performance that meets very demanding criteria very few ratings are in this area. A 3, or Effective status describes solid, expected, professional performance. A 2, or Improvement Necessary indicates that performance has real deficiencies. A 1, or Does Not Meet, is unacceptable and can lead to dismissal unless improved on immediately.

The Marshall Model in particular is not designed to be an “I got ya'” model. However, teachers are perfectionists. They want what constitutes and A and therefore, accept suggestions and generally respond to gentle correction. However, in the world of Marshall Goals, and SLO’s, with 100% of our students expected to meet high demands, many teachers are left feeling deflated.

Fear should not be consuming me at 6:30 am after the second week of school. I know what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are. I know that I am a Highly Effective teacher and nobody can convince me that less than 2 hours of cumulative observations gives my employers a clear picture of what is happening in my classroom and enough information to fairly score me on 60 standards. Although the rubric is designed to create self-reflection, supervisors make the final scoring decisions. This means that my self reflections can be trumped by their perception of what is happening in my classroom. I do have the right to challenge final decisions by showing data. However, they don’t have to provide data that supports their perception of my performance. That is hard for highly sensitive, Type A perfectionists like me.

It used to be that I would leave school for summer vacation feeling like my supervisors noticed and appreciated the dedication and student achievement that was attained. I don’t feel that way any more. Honestly, if I had known 30 years ago what I know now about the evaluation systems for both teachers and students, I think I would have chosen another profession, and that makes me sad, because I truly love what I do and I know in my heart of hearts that I am good at it.

People say that in educations, the pendulum swings from one extreme to another. I wonder when the pendulum is going to swing again, because things need to change. Teachers should not have sleepless nights worrying about end of year evaluation results after the first 2 weeks of school. I’m not sure how, but we need to stand up and demand change. It is time. edweek-pendulum

Poppins and a Servant’s Heart

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Ever feel like something exciting and terrifying is in the wind?

This year I have been challenging myself to live a “palms up”, take my hands off the wheel, and see where each day takes me kind of life. Those that know me intimately, know that this is a real challenge. I genuinely love to plan, organize, and sort. I’ve joked that in Heaven I’d like to have a label-maker at my disposal so that I can spend eternity helping my Maker to organize. If I were honest, it brings me more joy than it should.

For vacations, I research and schedule “must-do’s” and “must-sees”. I carry an agenda for my agenda. Honestly, two of my favorite times of the year are “nearly January” when I can start to plug-in important personal dates on the new calendar and “nearly the first day of school” when I get to plug-in important professional dates and events into my school planner. I brew a large pot of coffee, surround myself with snacks, and listen to my favorite musicals while I color code and break in my crisp new calendars. While you may be wondering what kind of medication I need to be prescribed, I sit here with a huge smile on my face. It’s true. All true.

However, as I anticipate the new planner in my mailbox for the fall, I have found myself wondering whether it was time for a CHANGE, which has been terrifying and exciting at the same time. It has dawned on me that I have about thirteen more years before I can dream of retirement. My children are all grown into independent young adults. My husband is stable and enjoying the sweet joys of summer weather and planting projects. Now just might be the time.

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It’s easy to become complacent and believe that life is what it is and that it’s too late to make a change. At 52, change is scary business. In my current profession, I can practically fly on autopilot. Most everything is familiar. I know the expectations and I feel like part of the furniture. But what if there is a blessing that is just waiting to happen if only I took a leap of faith? I have found myself wondering whether the Lord needs to see that I mean what I say?

Twenty years ago, I made a huge decision with my children as my main focus. This Spring I have been thinking that maybe it’s time to make a decision with ME being the priority.

Mary Poppins was originally released the year before I was born, and my mother, an avid Julie Andrews fan was just a year younger than the main character. Mom would serve us medicine singing, “just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down!” and would occasionally tell us to head to our rooms, “spit spot” after watching the musical together on the VCR. I can safely say that we have grown up together.

bb5e255f0f9819a61245e3d859cfb120As a teacher, I have often compared myself to Mary Poppins. I teach with a whole lot of no-nonsense, but there is always an element of fun. I don’t always show all my emotions, but my students know that they are loved, and that together, we will accomplish great things. Over the last 28 years, I have taught over 800 children. That’s a whole lot of lives impacted by my influence and a whole lot of responsibility. I figure that if I teach another 13 years to retirement, I will have taught well over 1000 young people. I’m so glad that while I focus on what needs to be accomplished, I work some good times in.

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So, as I have contemplated the pro’ and con’s of a great change, truly living a “palms-up” life, I have wondered what is best for me, my family, and my future students. What if I close my eyes and jump? What if I walk away from all that I know, can plan on, and what is easy, and take a leap of faith that something might be even better? I would desperately miss those left behind: friendships, long-lasting relationships, familiar families, but as Mary reminds me, it shouldn’t muddle my thinking.

Overall, I know that “all things work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to his purpose” and in the end, I showed God faithfulness and He showed me that I am right where I need to be. Today I thank God for answered prayers and passing the test, because for the record, I would have jumped.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost, Hiding, and Naked

I continue to have wild dreams. My most recent ones involve being taken captive in a house that I couldn’t get out of. I would go through door after swinging door, only to meet more doors. I was running and hiding. Once outside, I was in an unknown place, in the snow, and naked. I was scared cold, afraid, and I could not find my way home. Occasionally I would meet people along the way that I recognized, but they turned away, seemed disinterested, and refused to help me. Last night I dreamt that I was living in an unknown house back on the farm. People with guns stormed my parent’s home and I was hiding a classroom full of children in my house across the street. My job was to try to keep them safe and quiet. The dream ended with a fire in just a portion of the house, and for a brief moment, I was heartbroken that I had lost one of my own children. She appeared through the rubble holding the family dog, Even as I write this, my heart breaks, and tears come to my eyes.

Why am I having such wild dreams? Friends say that I am feeling naked, exposed, and like my life is out of control. It makes sense.

I was awake in the night with a stomach ache and I was thinking about it. Maybe if I could understand my fears, I could find a solution and the dreams would stop.

This is what I have been thinking about:

I seem to have four kinds of support systems in my life and I liken them to the layers of the earth.layers-of-the-earth

The Inner Core: These are the family and friends who know the most intimate parts of my daily life. 

The Outer Core: I consider these to be my most faithful prayer supporters, and those with whom I can call on, but don’t have regular intimate contact with.

The Mantle: These are the casual observers, further removed, kind of like me with the Red Socks and the Patriots. 

The Crust: People who know we are out there, watching, but don’t have the time, the energy, or the desire to become intimately involved.

I’m sad to say that I often feel very alone and vulnerable. I am so grateful for the those who support me. The problem is that I don’t always know where people fall in my support system and it can become confusing, because my expectations for those in the crust should not be the same as those in the core. Sometimes I misjudge where people choose to be located and I think they are part of the mantle, and they are part of the outer crust, which is where they want to stay. I think sometimes people move from one layer to another and I don’t know they’ve moved, so I try to ask something of them that they can’t give me. This journey has been surprising. Shockingly, some of those that I thought would be part of the inner core are part of the crust, and those who I would have guessed would be part of the crust, are part of the outer core. It’s a puzzle, because sometimes I just can’t figure out where people want to be located in my circle and it just adds to the confusion.

I think we have this idea, when we go through adversity, that certain people will step up and be there for us. When in reality, some slide out into the crust, and that brings me great sadness. I miss people with whom I have loved and have lost.

Life continues to be busy and challenging. School comes with a whole lot of hurdles that I don’t see any immediate relief from. My parents are aging, which is creating another layer of concern. Three hospital trips since Christmas with our mother reminds me that time with my parents is limited, and that creates a whole other layer of stress. I worry about my adult children, grandchildren, home & financial responsibilities, and a failing husband which adds more and more plates to spin, and my stomach gets tighter and tighter. I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I feel like I am not doing 100% at anything I tackle these days. I am trying to be flexible, but this perfectionist is struggling. More and more is being asked of me and I just can’t keep up with the additional demands and do them well. I want to please everyone, and I can’t. I want to help everyone, but I can’t. I want to fix everything, and I can’t do that either.

Perhaps I do have good reason to dream about being alone, lost, frightened, naked and with people who look away, but unfortunately, there is little I can do about any of it. I need to just keep trying my best, putting one foot in front of the other, and pasting a smile on my face even when I don’t feel like smiling. I need to break out the glitter and the chocolate, put on some lovey 80’s music from Air Supply & steal a kiss from my favorite man, sip some coffee, and thank God for making it through just one more day.

 

By the Light of the Tree

Each morning I meet with my Maker. I try to open His word and see what nuggets he has for me. The latest study encourages me to do our PART. Praise God for who he is, Admit my sins and feelings, Request from God what I need, and Thank God for what He is doing. (Jaunita Purcell) During my special time in the morning, when it is just me, the fire, the tree, the animals, and my Maker, I strive for a cheerful heart. But I have to be honest, some days I have to work at it.

By the light of the tree, my first thought is always my children. I reminisce about past Christmas’s. I smile at recent memories of finding and decorating the tree with all of my children. Then my mind wanders to the future. I wonder what it will hold? I wonder how many more family Christmas’s will be held in the house on the mountain? I wonder how many more I will have with my soul mate here on earth?

It occurs to me that nobody knows. You don’t have to be facing a terminal illness to have those thoughts and concerns. That’s why we are called to live in the moment and also reminded by our Maker, not to worry about tomorrow. However, sometimes being told not to worry is like asking water not to be wet. It is just going to happen.

So here is what is on my heart, and what I disclose to God by the light of the tree:

I pray for quality time. I pray that what time my husband has left, is time that he remembers his family. I pray that we can keep him home, and that his pain will be manageable. I acknowledge his diagnosis and have accepted it. I pray that when the time comes, that the Lord will take him quietly and gently, and that I will be with him. I want that to be my last gift to my husband.

I pray for my oldest and his family who are headed to Japan on Monday. They will be there for three years. I pray for the unity of their little family and that their marriage will be strengthened. I pray that the example that they portray to their children will make a lasting impression. I pray for their safety and that they find faithful support and friends who are “like them, or someone they want to be like.” I pray that when the time comes, they will be able to afford to come home to help pay tribute to their father. I am thankful for Face Time and opportunities to see our grandchildren and text to their tablets. Nothing brings us more joy than to receive silly emjois from our little people.

I pray for my middle child who lives and teaches in Arkansas. I pray for her safety and financial well-being. It isn’t easy living alone and 1600 miles away, especially when your father is ill. I pray that she continues to thrive in the school system, and that she finds a church family that can support her when she isn’t able to be home. I am so thankful for Christian co-workers who have been good influences on her, and I pray that in the Lord’s timing, he reveal her soul mate. She has a huge heart, and a kind spirit and I just know that somewhere He is preparing the heart of a very special young man. I pray that the community wrap their arms around our precious girl and make her feel supported, comforted, and cared for in the difficult days ahead. I’m so thankful that she lives in the Bible Belt.

I pray for my baby girl and her family. She is giving of her time selflessly to help care for her father, and I am so appreciative. She is gentle and tender, knowing just when to spend time with him and when to give him some independence. It is a very difficult job working with moods and abilities that are ever-changing. My prayer for her little family is to find their own independence with a home nearby, along with financial security. I pray that we can be actively involved in our grandchildren’s lives because they are such a joy to us. I pray that when the time comes, that my daughter will keep her head and do exactly what she needs to do, and that the final moments won’t leave a lasting negative impact in her mind.

Then I think about me. I wonder what life will be like “after”. I think about how hard I am working to make myself healthy and strong for the marathon that is upcoming. It is challenging to train for a race that you know nothing about: what will be expected or how long it will last. However, I am determined to be physically, spiritually, and mentally ready when the time comes, so that I can be everything my children need me to be. It’s tricky now, but it will be challenging then. I wonder where I will go? Although I love the house on the mountain, it was God’s gift to my husband. He knew that my husband would need the distraction and more projects than he knew what to do with. It will be too much for me. So my plan at the moment is to find an efficient condo or rental that is big enough for company, but small enough for me to manage easily. I want very few responsibilities, to live nearby so that I can commute easily to the farm, school, and church, and close to the ocean because that is where I will feel my husband’s sweet spirit the strongest.

By the light of the tree, my mind wanders to my aging parents, my siblings, my friends and coworkers whom I adore. I lay their needs at the foot of the cross and ask God for his loving guidance as I enter the mission field each day. I thank him for the blessings, and meeting our basic needs, as well as an active prefrontal cortex that keeps me from sticking my foot in my mouth during long meetings that aren’t on the top of my priority list. I aim to do my PART by praising God, admitting my sins and feelings, requesting from God what I need, and thanking God for what He is doing.

One day, one minute, and one second at a time, my prayer is that by God’s grace, we all get through this marathon with as few scars as absolutely necessary.

Sometimes Life Stinks

Warning: This is not your typical entry from me…

I’m struggling. I did fine on Thursday when I needed to step up, be strong, and make difficult decisions. I am proud of myself. My initial response was fear and a few tears, but I pulled it together before walking through the front door. I casually and quietly convinced him to go to the Emergency Room. We joked and laughed on the way to the hospital. I even bought him a coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

I learned a lot from the last time. I packed a “to-go” bag quickly, had most of what I needed to stay the night, and had the documentation that I knew doctors would ask for.

I stopped into school that evening to put together sub plans, took care of our animals, and collapsed into bed all by myself.  I didn’t kennel the dog, but I mostly slept despite the empty spot on the other side of our queen sized bed. I was strong and brave, and I was what I needed to be for my children and for my husband.

I presented myself casual yet attentive to the observer. I hovered, asked questions, and listened carefully to doctors. I was determined to find the cause of his extremely LOW blood pressure which was causing him to pass out.

In the end, they gave him a new diagnosis: Orthostatic Hypotension, which is a decrease in blood pressure going from a sitting to standing position. This causes very low Bp, dizzy spells, and black outs. Doctors feel that he was on too much Bp medication and was dehydrated (a side effect of the water pill). As a result, doctors removed 2 meds completely and significantly reduced 2 others.

Then they sent us home.

The problem is that they did not tell us how high to allow the Bp to go before returning to the ER, or what to do about a significant increase in heart rate. They didn’t tell us how to tweak the meds in case he passes out again. They just sent us home with an amended med list and told him to drink a lot of fluids.

In the meantime, I have to go back to work tomorrow and he will be home alone. I’m scared to death that I am going to come home to find him in a pile. I wish so badly that I could just stay home with him: to hover, wait on him, protect him, remind him to eat, nap, take his meds, and monitor his Bp. Mostly, I want to keep him safe.

This isn’t a dementia thing. It is just him. On top of the Bp dilemma, we now have to make a decision on Friday about a beat up rotator cuff. That isn’t dementia related either. It is just him. The recovery time from surgery is 3-6 months, on his GOOD shoulder. He was just released from PT and OT from the stroke in April. It means starting again, while I work every day and hope and pray that he stays safe, and that his pain is under control. So many medical decisions to be made with no relief in sight… and then we have the dementia.

So, no, I am not alright. I am not okay. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I am tired, frustrated, terrified, and sad. I am trying to keep a positive attitude, and to do the best job I can in the workplace. I am trying to manage the finances and keep everything done in the house. However, I feel like I am in the middle of a cyclone that is spinning endlessly and going downward into the center of the universe. This isn’t fair and it stinks, and I hate it.

The bottom line is that I don’t have a choice. This isn’t going to go away. It is a road I have to take and a burden I have to bear. I’ll just keep moving one foot in front of the other and do the very best I can. In the end, I am determined not to have any regrets, and I always want to be a good example of a a faithful servant of God.

I won’t give up because I love him desperately, and he’d do it for me. But, please pardon me if I tell you “it’s not okay”.  Just hug me, offer me coffee and a sweet treat, and agree with me. Sometimes life just plain stinks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Prepare

Last night I dreamed about you dying. Perhaps it is because I have been putting together documents for Medicaid. Perhaps it is because we have been surrounded by so many deaths lately. It might be a result of the conversation we had yesterday with a friend about seeing an Eldercare Lawyer, or a support group members request for a copy of the Medicaid application. I suspect that it is because we met with another specialist yesterday and we had to explain it AGAIN and we had to force him to understand our complicated situation.

Death surrounds us lately. We have recently lost more members of our neighborhood. A coworker lost her nephew this week. Another dementia caregiver mourns the loss of her mate on Facebook, and I am trying to process why therapy is planning to dismiss you when you can’t walk yet.

It wasn’t sad, morbid, or gross. You were still joking. You asked for a tall glass of milk. We all know the significance of that. You always ask for one at meal time. You told me not to spend my life in mourning, but that I could take your suit and snuggle with it for a while. In my dream you were walking, but with a significant limp. You were unsteady and kept falling over to the side. You never lost your sense of humor. Our son put a kitten on top of your baseball cap and you laughed. In the end, I was running to get your lawnmower so that I could get you home from a ballgame. Home is where you love to be and I know that.

Sweetheart, I hope that you are right and that you outlive us all. Maybe the Lord will come and we will all go to glory together. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? My heart is so heavy and you are still here. You are sleeping in our bedroom, dreaming about our day out today at the cemetery. It is so beautiful to walk through in the Fall.

It isn’t about me. It is about you. I am so thankful that we’ve had plenty of time to prepare, and plenty of time to say all the things we need to before you leave. Maybe this has been spurred on by our son’s deployment half way around the world. I suspect that it might feel a little like you’ve gone on a trip that has no cell service. I am so thankful that it will be temporary, and that at some point we will all join you at our vacation paradise. I expect that you will enjoy spending your days preparing our new home for our reunion and that makes me smile.

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