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Sunday, June 8, 2014

How to Avoid The Dog Days of Summer

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The final school bell rings. Overstuffed backpacks and shouts of jubilation reverberate throughout hallways as United States schools release for summer vacation. Starbucks gift cards and handwritten thank you notes from learners-- that would melt any teacher's heart-- are packed up. Good-byes are said. It's June and summer vacation has officially begun for teachers and learners alike.

Here are 5 tips to help you get the most out of your summer break and prevent the dog days of summer from catching you off guard. 
Tip #1: Celebrate without guilt.

Give yourself permission to let out a whoop! at the top of your lungs. There is no shame in feeling a sense of jubilation for having time away from your classroom. It's okay to admit that you are be out for summer!

Think about it. You don't have to turn in lesson plans and you can eat lunch for longer than thirty minutes. Your food will actually have time to digest! If for a minute you start to feel guilty remind yourself that your learners are just as happy (if not happier) than you are to have the summer off. Celebrating will help relieve that pent up ball-of-stress and help get your summer started on the right foot (or paw).

Warning: the rush of adrenaline you initially feel is similar to a sugar-high. Be prepared to hit a slump within the ensuing days. This is normal and in no way implies that you need medical attention. This is a good time to pull out a Starbucks gift card and order a Triple Grande latte to give you a caffeine boost.

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Throw caution to the wind!
Tip #2. Take an excursion.

As badly as you wanted to be a Publishers Clearing House Winner for 2014, it didn't happen. This is an opportunity to do what teachers do best...go to plan B and improvise. Taking a road trip with the kids in tow can make for a fun outing. An excursion might be going to a museum, taking an overnight camping trip, or going to an amusement park.

Don't let disappointment steal your joy just because another teacher on your team is packing to go on an exotic trip to the Caribbean. It's normal to feel a twinge of jealousy, just don't let it consume you. Vacations are about building memories. It can be as simple as taking a one day road trip to someplace new. The important thing is to let your hair down and have fun!

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 Try something new.
Tip #3: Learn something new.

 You may have heard the adage: You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Summer vacation is the perfect opportunity to try something new. Ask yourself, What is something I've wanted to do but never felt like I had the time?

This does not mean you have to become an expert photographer, for example. It's simply about stepping out of your comfort zone and learning a new skill. Write a blog. Join a twitter chat. Take a Zumba class. Get your high school band instrument down from the attic and belt out your high school fight song.

Caution: Be prepared for your children, spouse, or significant other to ask if you are feeling alright.

Dude... am I swimming?
Don't overdo it! 
Tip #4 Know your limitations.

You are up to your eyeballs in laundry, your car smells like French fries, and you've developed an involuntary twitch in your left eye. This is a normal response to "shoulda-stopped syndrome" or triple SSS.

This is normal for teachers who are conditioned to a routine such as morning bus loop duty, morning announcements, rigorous lessons coupled with formative assessments, playground duty, lunch, more lessons, well, you get the picture. It can be exhausting...but it is also structured.

It can be a trap to think that since "school is out" teachers should be footloose and fancy free. Quite the opposite. Follow tips 1-3, but listen to your body and stop when it tells you to stop. Chocolate and wine can do wonders as long as they are consumed in moderation.

Tip 5: Embrace change.

Before you know it, you'll be cheering with your fellow teachers at convocation and welcoming in the new school year 2014-2015. There will be changes in technology, assessments, and perhaps a new educator evaluation system.

I confess that embracing change can be so much harder than it sounds! But then I remind myself that learning is all about growing. And growing is all about change. Being open and willing to embrace change will start the new school year off right!

Confession Reflection:
  • Fill in the blank. This summer I want to learn to_______?
  • Why is it important to monitor our activity level and take time out for ourselves?
  • What are the benefits of stepping out of our comfort zone and learning something new?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Paint By Number and Run!

The map unfolded before me. Vast oceans filled with sunken treasures. Lands where Jesus himself had walked. Hills and valleys where the Shepherd boy, David, guarded his flocks until he grew up to take the throne as King of Israel. The Holy of Holy Land mapped out on a table in front of me with unopened paints in neat rows beside never-been-used brushes. Yes, the world was my oyster and at the ripe age of four-and-a-half, I was there to claim it...


My dad was the pastor of a small, Southern Baptist church in Renton, Washington. The church was called, Trinity Baptist, and was all about loving people of every walk of life and serving one another. I learned at an early age the importance of embracing people in spite of their imperfections, regardless of how much money they made, their political affiliations, or the color of their skin. Being a part of God's family, meant loving others, warts and all.

Sunday mornings meant cold cereal, sleeping in sponge rollers so I would have curls for the day, a Sunday School lesson, church, warm hugs, and more kisses than I wanted from a handful of adopted grandmothers. Since my own grandparents lived thousands of miles away in Texas, the elderly women from the "Naomi Class" seemed to fill this void. 

As our little church grew, we began running out of Sunday School class space and so it was decided that our basement would hold the weekly widow's Sunday School class. Our home, also called the parsonage, was a hop, skip, and a jump from the church and so it made for an easy trek to and from church.

One perk was that our basement was light and airy. The tip of the basement had a high window that let in sunlight from the front of the house, but in the back there was a full size sliding glass door that made the room full of natural light.

Since the members of the Naomi Class were planning a trip to the Holy Land, our basement was an ideal place to begin their nine month, in-depth study of the Holy Land.

A paint-by-number kit of the Holy Land, purchased with Sunday School funds, was set to chronicle their studies as these precious women prepared their hearts and minds for this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.

Yes, the world was my oyster that summer day. The paints, the map, the clean, unused brushes begged to be brought to life with all the color and splendor it so deserved. One angel's voice whispered, "Paint just a corner of the ocean blue and no one will notice." The other angel warned, "Remember what your mom and dad told you? Run away...before it's too late!"

I decided that I liked the first angel's advice better and so I picked up a small vial of paint, took the lid off, dabbed a brush into the paint, and selected the number 14. The map evolved into what can only be described as a patchwork, calico-style painting interrupted with glimpses of splatter paint that resembled something more from outer space over any landform on earth.

Not the actual map (for display only)
Somewhere along the way, I had lost track of painting numbers and began to imagine real people I had learned about in my Sunday School class. The stories of David and Goliath, Samson, the boy with the five loaves and two fishes, the Battle of Jericho, had come to life amidst starbursts of vibrant color matched to random numbers.

Unfortunately, my artistic inspiration, fueled by unbridled passion, left paint on my shorts, shirt, elbows, cheeks, the floor, the table, and every square inch of the paint-by-number map.

It took several weeks to raise enough money doing extra chores and some money my parents pitched in to order a new Holy Land map from the Moody Bible Institute out of Chicago.

I also claimed that my brother, Brad, was as guilty as I was because he clapped and laughed when he saw me with paint on my hands and face (and that was after two baths and scrubbing with soap until my skin was red). However, he was pardoned given the fact that he had no paint on himself and my parents claimed was "too young to be an accomplice."

I'm pleased to say the widows of Naomi's class trip to the Holy Land went off without a hitch. The second map was far more boring than mine, but who am I to judge? The women returned beaming as if they'd seen heaven, itself. And I think they felt so sad for me since I was crying and visibly shaken when I had to tell them about their map and what I had done.

As a token of their love for me, they returned with a tiny gift. It was a necklace containing a vial with a mustard seed inside of it. I wasn't too impressed until they told me that if my faith was as big as that little seed (which is a little bigger than the size of a period at the end of a sentence), I could move mountains.

Seven months after receiving my mustard seed necklace, my brother, Brad, passed away unexpectedly. He had gone to the doctor for a well baby check-up and shots, and caught an aggressive form of meningitis from an unsterilized needle that had been used on an infected child in the next room. Brad was placed in the hospital and died in the wee hours of the night. The belief that I will see him again someday, has kept my faith strong.

My confession is that it's taken years to figure out how a tiny mustard seed can represent faith. But then it came to me that it isn't about the size. The power of faith is in the potential of the seed. It's the explosive, living power of hope and belief in what can't be seen and believing that it is. Faith isn't believing in superstition or old wives' tales. It is standing on the promises of God.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

Got faith? Check out this link! Do you have mustard seed faith?

Confession Reflection:

1. What does faith mean to you? Describe a time in your life you've had to lean on your faith.
2. Why is it important to have faith? Why do you think faith is compared to a mustard seed?
3. Is there a mountain in your life that you need to move? What is it?
4. Research shows that "hope" is a predictor of learner success. Do you agree or disagree with this finding? Give your reasoning.