I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Out of the (metaphorical) box

Today's interactive question (and by interactive, I mean one in which the students come and put a tally or their initials on the board):

Which of these songs/poems best describes how you feel about the recent rain?

- "I'm Singing in the Rain"
- "Rain Down"
- "Don't Rain on My Parade"
- "Rain, Rain, Go Away"

Maybe it was a silly question. But I think it's a question that requires thinking outside of that good old metaphorical box, wouldn't you say? (It's so much more fun and roomy outside of that box too - and I think some of our students are starting to get that!)

And I don't know about them, but I can only be "singing in the rain" for so long before I start wishing "rain, rain, go away."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Prove it

"It isn't enough to love; we must prove it."
- St. Therese of Lisieux

I have a feeling St. Therese didn't mean that we are supposed to prove our love through our words. That's all well and good, but, when it comes down to it, words are just words. Our actions need to match those words and thoughts.

Sometimes I feel that matching our words and actions is especially difficult for everyone, but it's especially hard for fourth graders. At one moment they're saying one thing, but then they turn around and do something completely disconnected the next moment. And, the crazy part is, they usually don't realize they completely went against what they just said:

Student A: "We shouldn't slam the door in each other's faces. It hurts our feelings."
Minutes later...
Student A squeezes through the door, letting it slam in the next student's face.

Do her actions prove her thoughts? I think not. Disconnect...But we're working on it.

Again, words are one thing. Actions are another.

Doing is better than saying.

So prove it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

That which is "fair"

Fair does not mean equal. How many times growing up did I hear this message? (Thanks Mom.) And yet, it didn't always make sense to me. My sister and I are twins - aren't things supposed to be the same? Always? And, if not, why not? Is that fair?

Years later, with kids of my own (so to speak), I finally get it. With students moving at different paces and needing different amounts/kinds of attention, activities, etc., it's impossible to make everything equal. But it is possible to make things fair.

For example, in math, one small group of students may need reteaching in the basic area of making change while another group needs enriching through different word problems requiring them to make change for different amounts. Even though they are doing different activities, those activities are fair because they are based on the specific needs of the students - we're doing what is best for them. (Trying to get the students to understand this, though, is another matter - but who can blame them? I didn't quite get it when I was young either.)

And we can't escape this constant idea of fairness - in today's First Reading, we hear this message (in a sense) again. (And who is more fair than God?)

Maybe this is God's way of letting us know that it's time our idea of "fairness" gets reexamined...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Whenever you remember...

"Memories light the corners of my mind..."

Telling students that the assignment is to write a memory poem is like setting children loose in Disney World - there are way too many options from which to choose, even if there is already a favorite in mind. Talk about an ambitious lesson.

To start off, my co-teacher and I each shared a memory poem we had written, and then I shared a poem/song my dad had written when his mother passed away. And as I started to read it to the class, I couldn't get through the first stanza - so many feelings surfaced, and I found myself crying right there in class. (By the grace of God) One of the students jumped right in and finished reading the poem in my place.

For me, the images brought to mind through the words painted such an accurate portrait of my grandma that I couldn't help but cry as I remembered how much I loved her and still miss her.

And I think the feeling and intimacy of all of the poems we shared with our students today really hit home for them, as many of them created their own beautiful images of beloved people and places in their writers' notebooks. Students told stories through poetry of trips to the seashore, First Communion, best friends, family pets, and more. It was such an incredible feeling to see them truly open up and put their heart into the words on the page. They were writing, truly writing.

When it came time to share, oh you bet they were proud and ready. Disappointment actually came when we announced it was time to stop shares in order to make it to lunch on time. (Many even said they would forgo lunch just to be able to share - such drama kings and queens, I do say.)

There are so many great memories out there, but so few actually end up on paper. We may not be Emily Dickinsons or Robert Frosts or William Shakespeares. But we all have memories we keep alive in our hearts that are yearning to be set to paper.

All we need now is a pencil...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just stop, stop, stop running...

Life flies by quick enough as it is - there's no reason to help it go by even faster.

Rush, rush, rush. First, first, first. This is what culture often dictates to (and demands of) us. Even in the microcosm of the classroom, it boils down to who can be first in line, who can pack up the fastest, who can get the newest textbook, who can finish the test first...

Do we see a trend here? And, more importantly, do we see a problem with this logic? We're on a race to nowhere, even in the fourth grade. What's the rush? Honestly, have we, as a society, created a mindset so averse to waiting for directions? to exercising patience? to showing appreciation?

Yes, even as adults, there are countless activities we run, run, run among each day. (And, by no means am I belittling any of the tasks at hand.) But we need to be present in the current activity rather than let thoughts about the next hundred things we need to accomplish consume our time and energy. (Don't worry - I acknowledge I need to work on this too - note the "we" - so I'm right there with you!) Seriously, what good does worry do? It only takes us away from enjoying and experiencing what is right in front of us.

And if common sense wasn't enough in this situation, the Gospel spells it out too: "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself..." (Mt 6:34)

So, let's allow the following question/song lyrics marinate in our minds and hearts tonight:

"Can we slow down, just take our time,
Close our eyes and just enjoy the ride?"

Grotto candles bring a sense of serenity

I encourage (and, in a way, challenge) you to just take a deep breath and take in the moment. 

(I personally think the view is much nicer when life's not in fast forward.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

H and G...Hi and Goodbye

ND Grotto candles offering prayer intentions

To say that there were tons of ACErs and friends at this week's Notre Dame game would not be an understatement. To say that it was so good to see them would also be quite true.

To say that it was great to catch up and talk with them would be pretty much bologna. And I don't mean this in a bad way - it's just that it is SO difficult to have quality conversations with people at such events as football games and tailgates because you try to see too many people in too short of an amount of time. (And when I say "you" I obviously mean me as well.)

That's not to say sometimes you can't have solid conversations at these kinds of events, but, in all honesty, interactions are oftentimes reduced to something along the lines of

Person A: "Hey! How's it going? Good to see you." (hug)
Person B: "Doing pretty well. How about you - what have you been up to?"
Person A: "Oh, you know, same old, same old. How's school going?"
Person B: "The kids are great - full of energy. It's hard to get them to keep still a lot of the time, but they're a good group."
up walks Person C: "Oh hey guys! How are you?"
Person A: "Doing well, yourself?"
Person C: "Oh, you know..."
...and so on.

Is this a bad conversation? A waste of time? No. But in some ways, it can be, unfortunately, just going through the motions.

Human interactions are so important, but it is up to each of us to be more aware about the types of conversations we are having. Will it be just hi and goodbye, check I've seen you? Or will it be truly taking the time to see how someone is doing?

Yes, I realize time is one of the keys here. Wouldn't it be nice to simply add hours in the day so we had more time for being present to one another? But clearly that's not an option.

Plan B? Let's ensure we make every moment count. Easier said than done, right? But remember, time truly is a gift. And it is up to us to decide how to use it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Whizzpopping Good Time

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..."

Cue costumes: After a little bit of convincing and a few reminders, our fourth grade team donned yellow today in honor of Roald Dahl's birthday. (Yellow was his favorite color.)

Cue sound: The students were reading the chapter all about frobscottle and whizzpopping today, and those are definitely not the kind of chapters you can truly enjoy by yourself. So, as a special treat, we had the opportunity to listen to an audio cd version of The BFG, and some of the students were practically in stitches from laughing so hard. (Do yourself a favor - if you don't know what frobscottle or whizzpopping are, be sure to look them up for a laugh.)

Cue script: As the students were lining up for lunch, I made sure to remind them, "And please don't whizzpop in the cafeteria," to which many of them smiled their sly smiles. After all, they realize "Whizzpopping's only natural."

Cue imagination: The students truly had a difficult time putting down their novels today - the hook has been cast (and for many the hook actually came earlier in the book), and there's no turning back now. What journeys await the BFG and Sophie our students will all too soon discover.

But for now, there are dreams to be had tonight. So sleep well, my friends. The BFG waits in the shadows to blow dreams your way...

(P.S. Latest classroom pictures available here)

Monday, September 12, 2011

It really is the little things

"Delight in the little things." - Rudyard Kipling

And there are so many little things...

- Successful writing conferences with a small group of students, in which the girls actually pointed out parts of their writing they knew they could make better if they were to have some extra help, suggestions, etc...

- Students explaining that they couldn't possibly stop reading The BFG, as it was getting to the good part...

- Excitement in a few students' eyes when realizing they were able to explain how the moon gets its light...

- A high five from Catherine at the end of the day, letting me know hers was, indeed, a good day and that she was ready to leave...

- Opportunity to leave school before 5 for the first time in a long time (and a parking spot right near my apartment when I pulled down my street)...

- Water fountains on running routes offering a refreshing quench from the heat, especially when water bottles are left at home...

- Packages in the mail containing goodies from home - thanks Mom!...

- Finding out more and more people who will be at the ND game this weekend - so pumped...

And this last one is probably my favorite from today -->
Being able to go to bed knowing I have already showered and that breakfast will be provided at school tomorrow in celebration of summer birthdays...which means I get to sleep in!

So, do yourself a favor today by remembering to take pleasure in even the smaller and smallest things - as you can see, they really do add up to make for a great day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mass, Music, Mexico, and More!

How's that for alliteration? Mmm-mmm...

Reventon (literally, "explosion") was held today for its 6th year at my sister's school here in the city. And what an explosion it was. I'm so glad I was invited to come (even if there were no mariachis, ahem, Marisa, ahem).

Flat Stanley even made an appearance, sombrero and all:

Flat Stanley with Reventon postcard reminder

me 'n Flat Stanley - Stan, the man
Today was a beautiful reminder of a number of things, but I'll keep the list short:

1- Catholic education and good role models are so important for children today, especially with society and the media throwing all kinds of crazy things their way.

2- I will forever be grateful for my time in Phoenix and how ACE brought me there in the first place. (And, like today, I'll even cry from time to time thinking back on my friends and former students still there - they hold so much of my heart!)

3- God is incredibly forgiving, so I need to not be so stubborn and stop holding grudges for the smallest, most stupid things. (See today's Gospel reading, in case you missed it or had a differently directed homily today.) Gotta practice what we preach, here, folks.

4- Authentic Mexican food really is all it's hyped up to be. (Plus, I learned I really do like refried beans when they don't come from a can!) 

Just thought I'd throw that last one in for fun. But it's the truth. For sure.

And now it's time to get ready for my all-time favorite "M" word...

(Just kidding, it's not really my favorite. But I bet you guessed it...)

MONDAY! First full week - bring it on!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Easy as 5-7-5

I haiku, can you?
It's simple: five, seven, five -
syllables, that is.

Students love to write?
Today that was the case - Yeah!
Confidence was built.

Pencil, paper - go!
Let your inner poet out -
write what comes to mind.

Can you tell we did haikus today in Writers' Workshop? Well, let me clarify - I shared "Guyku" (by Bob Rackza) with the boys while my coteacher shared "Dogku" (by Andrew Clements) with the girls. And wouldn't you know it, with a strong mentor text and the limitless imagination of 10 year olds, our students' writing took off - and they couldn't wait to share it either!

It was one of those lessons you have every once in awhile as a teacher with results that you don't expect or sometimes you don't even hope for, but when they come, you treasure them.

I'm still smiling hours later. Seriously.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Learning (Not Hiding) from Mistakes

"You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself."
~ Alan Alda

Getting students to take risks - no matter how small (or big) - is hard! It's human nature, I suppose, to resort to doing tasks and activities at which we can succeed with little or no effort. If it's too hard and/or there is a chance of failure, forget about it. 

But little do they realize within those mistakes and challenges there is so much to learn...

How do we, as educators (or parents or adults in general), help to change their mindset? Shouldn't that be one of our number one priorities - getting kids to take risks? Failure (or a mistake, if you will) to an extent is a good thing...provided you take time to learn from that mistake and proceed to approach it at a later time with a new perspective or plan of attack.

Well, that sure is easier said than done for me. I was one of those kids growing up who was definitely afraid of failure - from saying the wrong answer in class to not placing at a track meet to cantoring at Mass - you name it, and if there was one ounce of a chance I might fail, let's just say I thought twice about it...hard. I avoided my fears and insecurities with failure by avoiding those circumstances all together (or at least temporarily). Way to go, Kelly. And, I hate to admit it, but not much good came out of my hesitance.

But some good can come out of it now if I share my experience with my students. I need to model for them in the classroom that taking chances and making mistakes are the only ways we can grow as individuals and as a class over the course of this year. And I need to make sure I am helping to provide an environment in which they feel safe if they fail - that no one is there to judge or make fun of them.

This may sound bizarre, but I'm making mistakes (and learning from them) one of my priorities in the classroom. Are you ready to take some risks and make some mistakes too?

Let's remember not to beat ourselves up too much, though. Life's a learning process, after all...

Monday, September 5, 2011

You Can't Win 'Em All

You can't win 'em all...even though sometimes you'd like too. 

In every football game, someone has to lose. And if two of your alma maters are playing each other, there's no way to truly end up happy. Add rain/storm delays on top of it all, and you've got yourself a long, emotionally-taxing day.

But the weekend's events were fun regardless: We met up with friends, ND and USF alike (but not together), and enjoyed tailgating and walking around campus. I even made new "friends" during the game, as a middle-aged couple wearing USF gear (their daughter attends USF but they live in Chicago) sat down right next to me in a sea of ND alumni and fans. (And it was definitely a good weekend of family - so great that my parents made it into town!)

So, as you can imagine, after such an emotional (and long) game day and a 20+ mile training run into strong gusts of wind this morning, I am quite exhausted. I'll leave you tonight with a couple of photos from this weekend's ND v. USF game:

Pre-game view of scoreboard & Touchdown Jesus
View of field after halftime rain delay - longest game in ND's history

In case you were wondering, I wore both teams' colors, and my heart was happy for plays made on both sides of the field. And yes, I will forever bleed GREEN & GOLD...and BLUE & GOLD.

Let's just pray these teams don't have another football match-up for a long time.