I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

How Do I Know If My Mental Health Is Improving?

I've seen some signs this week...

When I come home from school, I relax on the couch and tell my (retired) husband about my day. Just last month I would think, "If I could just get started on some school work now and talk to him later..." Now I feel I have the time. I don't worry about what I need to do next. I simply am present, enjoying our time.

A couple of days ago, when dinner was almost ready, I went to the cookie jar for a bite. I watched my hand reach for the lid, then come back to me without lifting it. It was kind of awkward watching my hand, so I paused to figure out what was going on. I realized - I still have some will power left in me. I used to use up all my will power at school.

One day on my way to work this week, I was frustrated at the speed of the vehicles around me. They were going way "too slow" for my taste. I was upset because it's the only stretch I have where I can go 50mph instead of 40 or less. Grrrr - I was feeling my blood pressure rise. So I shook my head and heard myself say aloud, "Shift your mindset," and wondered how could I simply enjoy this moment? Sadly, I was not able to shift this mindset, but thinking about it out loud made me realize I have some tools I can use. I was also able to laugh about it later when I shared with a coworker.

We had a twelve-hour day Thursday this week, due to parent/teacher conferences. Heading home in the dark is never my favorite, and the vehicles were going faster than I was willing, so I stayed in the right lane. Approaching the street where I turn left to get home, I realized it was going to be tough. Suddenly all the cars in the left lane were nestling close to one another, and I didn't want to fight my way in. Instead of getting upset, I made a conscious decision to turn right, and take another route, simply to get away from the rush.

Friday night, we got our fire pit raging hot with all the twigs we'd collected the last few weeks. We had the Soultown station on. A bit of Roberta Flack ("Killing Me Softly"), a bit of Sly and the Family Stone, and even some disco mixed in! I found myself getting up and dancing - like nobody was watching. I just wanted to get up and MOVE. It felt good. It felt healthy. I testify to that!

These last few instances are occurring outside of school. It made me wonder, what have I been doing IN school that has helped me be more present, save some will power, and remain calm?

At school...

Teachers vent. I get it. I've written about complaining before. I've noticed a difference now - sometimes we just need to share something with someone who understands what we're going through. I'm not immune to it, either. What I do now is listen. Then those of us in the conversation move on to something else, and it's forgotten for awhile.

I hear rumors about other teachers, and I think about how it affects me. Much of it doesn't matter to me. It's not my business and doesn't affect me in the least. I know I'm not hearing the whole story, and will probably never find out how it all turned out. If the conversation becomes all about rumors, I either say something nice about the person, try to talk about something else, or I excuse myself. If the rumor may mean children are being affected, I simply share what I've heard with someone who MAY be able to do something. Then... I let it go. I will continue to act the same way towards the person I have always acted, unless I, personally, notice that person doing or saying something that would make me act otherwise.

In the classroom, I'm taking deep breaths when I need to. During transition times, heading out of a meeting, just before students arrive, before I head to lunch, and on my way out the door, I breathe in an out more deeply - or should I say "with more intent" - for a few breaths. I've come to relish those breaths.

Angela Watson taught me a huge lesson in her book, Fewer Things Better. We all put our own "rules" on things. I had "rules" for the photos I take in my classroom. I share photos with parents in my two-week updates on our blog. Since reading her book, I've ditched two rules that I realized take up a ton of my time and concentration. I no longer take a photo of the date each day, and no longer do I make myself share 5 photos from each class each day. I now take photos when I feel I can, and there are no more rules anymore. I simply take photos and videos. Some days. Of some classes. And it's okay. As long as I'm fair about taking them in ALL classes, I'm happy and proud of getting parents photos of their children. (Here are our updates with photos. I use Animoto's educator account.)

I've gotten more exercise - in and out of school. One line that stays with me from Teaching Well by Lisa Bush is that "exercise rejuvenates our willpower" (quote from Simone McCreary). Even simply walking around the school halls before school or during lunch has helped me. Another idea to remember - "...exercise increases circulation - thus there is more blood in the brain..."

The huge lesson I learned from The Zen Teacher by Dan Tricarico is to do at least one thing just for myself every day. I'm getting OUTSIDE. I've gotten my last class outside more days than not in the first month and a half of school, and the fresh air rejuvenates me, makes me happier, and calms my mind. (When the snow arrives, I'll strap on those snowshoes once again.)

I've eaten healthier lunches and fruit or nuts for a snack third period. A few years ago, I would eat a lot of frozen meals. Just last year, I would eat boxed snacks. I'm eating more (healthy) leftovers now, and I'm not including chocolate in my lunch bag anymore. I still have it sometimes when I feel I need it, but it's not a staple food because I don't really need it. I'm not gaining or losing weight - I'm simply eating healthier.

I'm drinking loads of water. With the prompting of a coworker, I did some (albeit in-store) research and purchased a reusable, BPA-free (free of bisphenol Awater bottle. I'm now needing to refill it during lunch!

A HUGE SHOUT OUT to these three books that have really made a difference in what I'm doing for MYSELF in the last year (no, I don't get compensated for sharing - they're just that good, in my opinion):

I needed these books on my way into my 25th year of teaching...

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Screencasting Feedback

I'd written about using Explain Everything to provide feedback back in 2016. I then started using Screencast-O-Matic for most of my feedback, as we are now a 1:1 Chromebook school. I had in my notes this year to try Loom, a Chrome extension. (Thank you to whomever suggested it!) I'm a large proponent of FREE tools, so I'm going to share today how Loom compares to Screencast-O-Matic.

First, here's what Loom video feedback looks like. The only difference in looks is that it's the entire tab, and my photo/video is in the corner.

And here's how I add the link to the document students are working on - it's just like how I added the Screencast-O-Matic YouTube links:

  • free (up to 15 min)
  • easy to find on my computer
  • can be used on both home and school MacBooks
  • can edit the name of the video
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • can share the video with a single link
  • can embed the video if you'd like
  • students can respond
Not the best: 
  • need to set the screen size
  • uploading to YouTube takes almost the same amount of time as recording the video
  • when I upload to YouTube, I need to make sure it says "unlisted," so only those with the link can view it (me, student, parent)
  • I need to go to and look up on YouTube who's viewed their feedback
Better than Loom:
  • can choose exactly what to screencast - can size it to where you want it
  • can see the timer

  • free trial of Pro, and there's also a free version (up to ?? min)
  • easy to find as a Chrome extension
  • can be used on both home and school MacBooks
  • can edit the name of the video
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • my picture is in the bottom left - I hear students take feedback more seriously when they can see you
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • can share the video with a single link
  • can embed the video if you'd like
  • students can respond (right in the video? I'm not sure yet)
Not the best: 
  • no embedded timer - I need to look at the clock or set a stopwatch
Better than Screencast-O-Matic:
  • no upload time - it's instantly ready
  • can simply hit "record current tab" instead of setting the screen size
  • I can be alerted when someone views it - if I choose to not be alerted by email, I can easily see in the extension who's viewed their video
  • fun reminders to smile pop up for a second when you open it (see examples here):


It wasn't until I'd completed my PRO trial, that I saw the limitations of the free version of Loom... Here are the full pricing details: www.loom.com/pricing

I currently have just under 70 students, so we need access to more than the last 25 videos.

The debate in my head was a quick one. I'm going for it. The time I save uploading the videos is worth the $96 in my opinion. Others will think differently, especially if they don't give video feedback on students' writing. Since my students value the video feedback (only four this year said they'd prefer the comments only on their documents), I'm going to stick with this for the long run. I think the personal touch and the instant uploading time is worth it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ramifications from Saying "No"

I've said "No," and now I'm out of the loop...

These words actually escaped my mouth this morning as I sat with my Tweetdeck open.

I noticed that I had missed the TeachBetter Conference information - to perhaps present, and now to win a free registration.

I noticed tweets about the DBC conference in June that I've said "No" to, due to the cost of the flight, hotel, and yes - even registration that the authors don't get compensated for.

I noticed the myriad educators tweeting about their books, and I wondered if I should be doing more advertising.

I noticed I had still not cleared my column for direct messages, and it was to remind me to not feel bad for saying "No," as the last two things I said "No" to are helping me do better at my profession - TEACHING. Two things I've turned down this month are giving a one-hour virtual presentation about Genius Hour and hosting a chat after 8pm about Word Shift. This morning, I realized that saying "No" has kept me out of the loop. It was that realization that made me feel the need to write about it.

Yes, I'm out of the loop. And yes, I'm doing fine.

I could advertise Shift This and Word Shift more, for sure (like even right now when I hyperlink the titles). Then I go back to my reasons for writing them. I felt the need to write them and share them. I didn't feel the need to supplement my income (really - it's funny what money people think educator books bring in). I didn't feel the need to advertise it with contests, weekly mailers, or fun fancy GIFs. I tried it for a bit - it's not my style.

I could say "Yes" to presenting around the nation. Again, that's really not me. I love when I have a receptive group, for sure, yet the travel is nerve-wracking to me, and taking off a day from my job I love is a lot of stress I don't need to put myself through. I've written before about teachers as presenters, and I still feel the same.

Being out of the loop online - and on social media - I believe that is actually OKAY. I may even go so far as to believe that it's HEALTHY. One response I received after declining something was, "I love that you're being intentional and purposeful in your self-care." Yes. That's what I'm doing.

I am doing what I love, and I'm trying to do it well. With my husband, I talk about retiring - SOME day. Until then, I'm making the most of my teaching. I'm getting outside with my students, I'm laughing at my mistakes in front of them, and we're enjoying even more learning this year. I'm calmer with my students and my coworkers, and I think it's because I don't have so much on my plate. I think it's because I'm learning better how to make family and time for ME a priority.

Writing this reminds me of that FOMO saying - the "Fear of Missing Out." I've recently added "JOMO" to my vocabulary - the "Joy of Missing Out." It helps me focus on real-world relationships, or being truly present in as much of my day as I can. Check out this link and see how you can turn your FOMO into JOMO.

Twitter, and social media overall, has been helpful for me to becoming the educator I am today. I have jumped on many ideas, made them work for me when I could, and done further research when the bug to do so hit. I've read many excellent books, gotten inspired by a lot of excellent student work, and been supported by educators from various backgrounds on a regular basis.

Being connected on Twitter often makes me feel like I want to do everything everyone else is doing. I don't want it to be that way. I know I can't do everything. I've tried that. When I try to do everything, everything falls apart (or is simply not done well), and it's ugly. I want to do what I AM doing, and I want to do it WELL. For that, I need to step back from the excitement on social media and enjoy what I am already doing.

What am I doing today for myself? 1) Writing this - it helps me to get my thoughts down and try to organize them. I make more sense of them that way.  2) I've already swept out the shed and picked up sticks for a fire tonight while my love waxed my car (I know - I'm spoiled).  3) Reading some young adult literature and some nonfiction to feed my brain. 4) Looking through student photos on my school-issued iPad so I can print some out at Walgreen's (at 34 cents each) for parent conferences coming up soon. I enjoy all of these tasks. What are YOU doing today that you enjoy doing and helps you jump on the JOMO train? I'm not asking for responses in the comments this time - I'm encouraging you to stop reading this and get out and DO what brings you joy.
Fall has arrived at the Kirr household... Heading back outside now!