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, May 31, 2020

Days 78 & 79 - The Kids Are Upset

Saturday & Sunday, May 30 & 31

First, let me just admit that time is of no use to me anymore. I have no clue what day or time it is, and only one thing per day keeps me grounded. I have to have one thing on my calendar each day. That's the only way I know where I am in time.

Second, our nation is in an uproar again. I am embarrassed to be in the category of "White people." I am a privileged spoiled suburban White woman who is not in debt. What am I doing about it? Well, I found a list of things I can do, and I'll sit down with Hubby and we'll figure out which one comes first.

I'll keep sharing via Twitter, even if I share "wrongly" and am berated for it. I will keep trying. This is a fairly new fight for me, and I don't know what I'm doing. Sadly, my White Fragility is real.

I'll continue finding books that my students should be reading, and I'll continue reading those books and adult books that help me see how deep this issue is.

My former students are sharing a TON on Instagram stories. Photos such as these, and many more. One that's hit me strong is the one of Colin Kaepernick kneeling. Remember how mad Trump as at that?? And people wonder why some are resorting to rioting. My weekday messages are going to revolve around how to be anti-racist. I know I'll make mistakes, but I know some of my words will steer some young people in the right direction.


In the meantime, neighborhoods around here seem to think it's okay to come out now. It's okay to get together with friends for a walk or ride or picnic... I had a dream that Mom and I hugged. That will still do for now. I feel a need to be even MORE cautious now.

I wonder... does opening in stages include these two guys at the park?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Day 77 - Lesson Learned

Friday, May 29, 2020

It wasn't like any "last day" I've ever had at school. Well, yes, there was crying, but for different reasons... I think. Maybe it's the same reason... I cry when they're sad. They were definitely sad today.

My first class meeting that started at 11:00 had the fewest attendees. At the end, one quietly asked, "Mrs. Kirr, are we going to go back to school next year?"

I almost lost it right then. (I mean, how dramatic am I, right?!)

Instead, I calmly said, "I really don't know... Your parents got an email today saying that the district will be preparing for three different scenarios. All of us back at school, a mixture of a bit at school and a bit at home, or all at home." The looks on their faces. That's what broke the tears over the threshold. I let them know I've loved their tough questions, and I encouraged them to keep having the tough conversations.
     The movie for that class...

During my second class meeting at 11:30, one student was monopolizing the time. This student also asked / stated, "Doesn't this prove that school work can be done in two and a half hours?"

Since this one didn't do the work for the last three weeks, I responded with, "I think school WORK can be done in two and a half hours. How long did yours take YOU?" I just got a smirk in return.
     The movie for this class...

My ramblings that led to my lesson for this crazy messed up 2019-2020 school year:

My last class is the one in which we had the deepest, most important (in my mind) discussions while IN school. We also got to go outside more than the other two classes! This was the class that I told this year they'd be my favorite. We have a teacher at our school - Mrs. Kathy Stutzman - who was my keyboarding teacher when I was in high school! Her class was in my room after my last block (I had 8 & 9, and she had 10th in that room). She'd seen my frustrations and how that class would get on my nerves. She knew I had fewer nerves to begin with at the end of the day, too. She told me a story. When she realized that her last class would be her hardest every year, she decided to tell them at the start of the next year that they were going to be her FAVORITE CLASS.

I had my doubts, but I knew it couldn't hurt. Also, I had reasons it would be the best class of my day... 1) It was at the end of the day, so I knew better how the lesson should go and what I can cut. 2) We could go outside on the days it was nice!  3) We'd usually have more time (due to what I could cut), so we could chat about what THEY wanted to chat about.

I think the prophecy came true, Mrs. Stutzman. You've taught me once again, for my 25th year of teaching. I will be forever grateful. I know more about the children in this class than any other, and I believe we ALL had a solid relationship. This class was brutally honest with each other, AND they had each others' backs. I believe each one of them grew socially. This was my biggest attendance today at noon.
     The movie for my favorite 8/9 block EVER...

The reason the tears came today... is because my seventh graders (now 8th) are still only twelve or thirteen. They have so much innocence, even through the veil of maturity. Many of them rely on a school building for their social life. They're going to miss each other more than anyone they've missed in a long time. I'm going to believe it was due to the expectations I set out for them from the start.

I'm aware that many schools, or better yet, the way we "do school," has to change. It has to become more relevant to the children. It has to stop being about memorization. It has to be a collaborative effort. I believe, as well, that it has to be together - in person. Our children of all ages need socialization. Our children of all ages need to ask and be able to discuss complicated issues. Our children of all ages need to share supplies. Our children of all ages need to move around. Zoom (or Google Meets or whatever you're using) cannot replace in-person communication. This will NOT be the way of the future.

Me trying a virtual background today...

Total side note: 
Maybe it's time for middle schools and high schools to start later in the day!!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Day 76 - Insecurities

Thursday, May 28, 2020

I'm not sure I did enough.
  • I could've had Zoom classes each day.
  • I could've recorded a book being read aloud and shared it with kids.
  • I could've assigned a response to their reading each day.
  • I could've pestered students and parents more for those who didn't seem to put in the effort.
  • I could've put individual notes in each student's binder before I lugged them down to the gymnasium and put them in each child's big black bag.
  • I could've made little gifts for each child.
  • What did I miss?? OH, there was so much I did NOT do!
None of it felt like the "right" thing to do. I didn't want to do things I wouldn't have done in front of the kids during a class in a middle school ELA classroom. Some seemed impossible, such as calling or visiting each (85!) student. (As for visiting students, when I was a child I would NOT like for my teacher to see where I lived, and I, personally, would've thought it was weird or I would've been scared or embarrassed.)

What DID I do?
  • I did hold office (half) hours online.
  • I did return each child's binder (spending an hour and a half labeling each, lugging them down to the gym, finding each child's bag, opening them and then closing them once again).
  • I did share many resources for students to access books.
  • I did share writing contest opportunities.
  • I did stick with plans for reading articles of the week each Friday.
  • I did start genius hour (and many - ? - students finished).
  • I did learn new tech tools and used them.
  • I did read myriad articles and blog posts and resources to try to teach "better" during this time.
  • I did provide feedback to every child, every assignment.
  • I did share small video notes with most children.
  • I did attend any event I could (reverse parades, locker clean out, cheering on 8th graders, helping out to hand out supplies).
  • I did create birthday videos for children who had their birthdays during this time (and I plan on doing the same for those over the summer).
  • I did (and will continue) share a one-minute "keep your chin up" reflection on Instagram each weekday morning.
  • I did close my email each day by 4pm.
  • I did write a post card to each child and sent them yesterday.
  • I did create a video of photos of my students for each class to share with them during a class Zoom tomorrow (our last day) and then put on Schoology and our classroom website.
I'll never be able to do enough.

I'll always be working on how to be a better educator. I'll always be working on ways to speak out against racism and biases. I'll always be working on choosing my words more carefully. I'll always think I never did enough.

I think the important thing is that I do what I can, when I can.
I cannot be everything to everyone.
I cannot please everyone.
I cannot take care of myself AND improve every day.

I'm sorry I couldn't be my best today.
I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Day 74 - Advertisements & Webinars

The ads these days are changing... This one is from my Duolingo:
This one was on my Instagram:

This one was in a YouTube video, and I actually checked it out... They're $20 for one, and the price goes down as you buy more. I was seriously considering buying the five at $14 a piece (so I could give some away) until I read the reviews.


I was able to attend two webinars this afternoon!

The first one my mom invited me to - it's for her ICL group - continued learning through Roosevelt University. I probably shouldn't have been able to be in it, but there weren't 100 participants, so it was okay. Plus, it gave me some fodder to help when we argue about that man that we argue about all the time... It was called "Logical Fallacies," and it included some of what (I believe) we teach in eighth grade:
Yup. This one is sooooooo true of DT on a daily basis.

It was also pretty hilarious at the start - the participants being my parents' ages - all talking over each other, making comments about the backgrounds, swearing and then repeating what that person who swore said... I was laughing a ton at the start! Adults - Just like the kids! Finally the man helping with the tech muted everyone so the presenter could start. I did learn a new setting for Zoom while sharing your screen. Here's HOW!

I then was able to attend one from Tom Driscoll at EdTech Teacher - Games, Simulations, and Virtual Field Trips. I did NOT know you can move that little yellow guy in Google Maps to where you want to see the street view! That was my huge take-away for that hour. He also talked about these sites which I want to explore further:
     123apps.com (to help with those with Chromebooks!)
     Games for Change
     Google Arts & Culture
     Mystery Doug
     Wide Open School

Monday, May 25, 2020

Day 73 - Memorial Day

Monday, Memorial Day, May 25, 2020

It's Memorial Day, and we've got all day to think of those men and women who gave their lives in the service. We also think of others who've gone before us. It was a good day of stories at home with Bob. We re-lived many stories of those gone before us.

This NYT piece tells of some of the loss this world has endured - due to COVID19.

It's been a long time now. We're in Week Eleven.  The yellow tape on the playgrounds is fading.

It's been a long time. Today I thought about our future a bit. I will allow myself a few days to think and write about my thoughts about the future, and then I'll relax for the summer. Today I wondered for how long will our kids be out of school, and really out of practice of socialization skills? We all need practice socializing, and Zoom ain't gonna cut it. But how can we go back to school?

It's going to be a long time until things get back to what used to be considered "normal."

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Days 71 & 72 - I Miss the Kids Like Crazy

Saturday and Sunday, May 23 & 24, 2020

I'm totally stealing the title "I Miss the Kids Like Crazy" from Dan Kerr... because it's true for so many educators.

This weekend I worked on end-of-year videos for my classes. I was so fortunate that I had so many saved with Animoto from my two-week parent updates, and I'm so fortunate I could work WeVideo thanks to help from our tech teachers. (And really, I'm glad my iMovie application was out-of-date so I couldn't use it!) I'm sooooo grateful I could look back on the photos and smile. I was able to quickly record an introduction - saying my final thank you to my students.


When I finished one, I decided to watch it (obviously) to see if it worked.

Tears came, and I let them.

I miss their laughter. I miss their silliness. I miss their drama. I miss their stories. I miss their questions. I miss their sighs. I miss their resistance. I miss their participation.

Watching one of the videos included IN the video of photos, I was missing what we might not have next school year (if rumors are true).

I'll be missing no masks, partitions, reading classroom books, over-the-shoulder feedback, book clubs, sharing supplies, the student station, even grammar on the board... the KIDS leading in many ways. I still want to be the facilitator. I need to find out ways I can have student-led activities next year should we teach remotely or even in class with all the restrictions put in place.

Today, however, I decided to not think about next school year. I still have one week left to miss these students. Oh, how I hope they join me on Friday for our last Zoom meeting where I can share the video I made live. I want to see their faces watching the video. I want to hear their giggles and whatever they have to say after the video. I won't want to hang up the call.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Day 70 - Social Distancing

Social Distancing Hacks shared by Terri Eicholz
My favorite social distancing "hack?" Stay away from other people. We did just so today.

We got out to Illinois State Beach...  Storms decimated the walking/biking path along the beach, and flooded the streets of the campground.
It was calm, not tons of people, and we enjoyed the quiet, listening to and looking for birds... If you know what that middle bird it (small blue heron?), please let me know. I can't find it in my book. The first two are egrets, there's a kildeer, a warbler of some sort, and a chickadee (they kept going into that hole and coming out with wood!
Is staying at home making me look older???

We needed the time "away." I'm exhausted, yet ready to work on school work tomorrow while it rains. Working from home does provide flexibility for me, which I relish.

Oh, and I finished one of this week's weekly challenges my teacher/friend Karen and I are doing:
"Kirrs" - letters found outside

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Day 69 - High School Graduation & more ramblings

Ramblings for Thursday, May 21, 2020

They say this will be the new trend... While I'm aggravated about my "long" hair, all my mom sees is my grays (not roots - I've only dyed my hair blue - June of 2017). I tell her they make me look distinguished.

Some camps will be opening this summer...
Click HERE for an article that explains more about how they may open...
It was the students' idea to host their graduation at a drive-in...
See the full story HERE.
The town where I teach is considering blocking two streets for outdoor dining only for the summer...

We can support local food banks by ordering Take-Out on Tuesdays...

High School Graduation parade notes:
  • Cheers, tears, masks, dogs, all kinds of cars and decorations...
  • One limo
  • One student driving himself in an older small car
  • One student driven in the front seat of a taxi
  • Families packed into cars
  • Some graduates had multiple cars with them - before and after their vehicle
  • Drivers with masks on
  • A Corona hat
  • Bullhorns, cowbells, one driver had what looked like an alphorn
  • Latex balloons, mylar balloons, pom poms
  • Kids leaning out of windows, kids standing out of sunroofs, kids sitting in the bed of a pick up truck - on a chair or without
  • Some looked totally bored (to be fair, I was near the end and didn't know half the graduates)
  • Such a variety of wealth or lack thereof

High School Graduation video notes (sadly, I actually watched two):

  • There were mistakes in pronunciation (like always) and some name mix ups, too.
  • To include EVERY year - a mix of songs and pics from students' first day of school to their Senior photo.
  • To include EVERY year - a photo with their name as they are called to shake hands/get their diploma.
  • The "thank yous" to staff were very sweet. I think that could be separate from the actual graduation. It was also weird to see into students' homes.
  • LOVE LOVE LOVE the music - choral, solo, duets, bands... IDK how they make those videos, but they ROCK!

Our local tennis courts are re-opening...

The truck got smacked with a piece of rerod... It was the local park district mowing the grass - it shot out at the street. Bob and I are both grateful I wasn't there to freak out and be scared to get in the truck ever again. He said it sounded like someone reared back and smashed a hammer at the door.
Passenger side door.

I can put my thumb IN this hole the rebar made.
Claims man chatting with Bob. Masks. All the time. Everywhere.
They are selling "fashion masks" now at Meijer. Of course I bought two. Guess which one's mine?

Through all of this, I'm noticing my privilege WAY more than ever... 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Day 68 - Instagram

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I'm thankful for Instagram. I'm so happy I can watch these young people grow up. I can celebrate them and send them care. It's Instagram that helped me figure out where the Seniors were going to college. I was able to personalize their cards that way, and I enjoyed hoping they are able to live the campus life at some point. It was such a huge part of my own life.

I'm thankful for Instagram. If I hadn't been connected to my former 7th graders (many of them now Seniors - they got me ON Instagram), and if we hadn't had a staff meeting where a teacher leaked the information, I wouldn't have been this happy cold wet teacher out in the rain at a non-sanctioned "Senior walk" parade of cars. That half hour of waiting and the five minutes of parade was worth it!
Thank goodness I found this rain coat in a bin in the trunk of my car!
I'm thankful for Instagram. I'm inspired by so many, yet I keep following adult educators to a minimum on this tool. I don't want to see things three times during my day. I also keep my content as "kid-friendly" as possible (as I do with ALL social media, I suppose). I got on Instagram to be a role model for students as to how they can use social media for GOOD. During this quarantine, I've gotten on every school day morning to post a one-minute "story," trying to keep my former students' spirits high. I love when the adults that follow me respond, because that helps me remember that other part of my audience on this tool. I haven't too much lately, but I also post what I'm grateful for - to share that it's okay to post small things that make you (and others?!) happy. I'm on this one for the kids, for sure. It's been somewhat of a lifeline during this crisis.

Added 5/21/20... Instagram has an awesome poll feature... I asked the kids who follow me what school they go to, so I could decide which graduation parade I should attend... It was an easy decision even though I missed some awesome students. Luckily I was able to watch that school's graduation online!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Genius Hour Virtual Summit 2020 - #GHVS2020

I'm going to use my post for Day 67 to share our Genius Hour Virtual Summit #GHVS2020 presentations (from last week Tuesday, 5/12/20)!

Our Panel Discussion
     Participants: Andi McNair, A.J. Juliani, Denise Krebs, Don Wettrick, Gallit Zvi, and Me
     Time: 56:04

Weaving Content and Life-Ready Skills into the Six Ps of Genius Hour
     Host: Andi McNair
     Time: 51:53

Six Steps for Genius Hour
     Hosts: Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi
     Time: 56:30

Scaffolding Leading Up to Genius Hour
     Host: A.J. Juliani
     Time: 34:29

Genius Hour for High School: Innovation and Open-Source Learning
     Host: Don Wettrick
     Time: 58:30

Tips for Reluctant or Resistant Students
     Host: Me (Joy Kirr)
     Time: 37:54

I JUST noticed today that the hashtag above these words is wrong, and none of us caught it!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Day 66 - My #LastNormalPhoto or #PhotoBeforeQuarantine

I saw the two new hashtags, and I immediately picked up my phone to see what it was. I thought it would be from my dad's 85th birthday party on March 14th (we even went to a restaurant as a large family!!), but I didn't take any photos that day. Instead, it was this one...

Carrie and I have a great relationship. We can not see each other for months and then BAM! We catch up in no time. We work in the same district, but we met at an EdCamp (or maybe it was a SIT conference??). Carrie's a big hugger, just like me, and I remember her sharing when the Stay-At-Home order came in that she's going to hug EVERYONE when this is all over - the person who bags her groceries, the person who holds the door open... Yup.

Now it's 66 days in for us, and I found out we're both just not feeling ourselves. I replied back to Carrie that I don't like how I (kind of) recoil when people kind of get close at the grocery store. I talked with Hubby about it yesterday, and he said it's normal. We're being asked to stand apart from each other, and it's because there is (what feels like imminent) danger if we don't.

I hope I don't lose that part of my identity. I hope - at edcamps - that I'm still known as the girl who hugs everyone. I hope when people go to an edcamp and say hi to me they still expect one - and I hope I still give them - without hesitation. Maybe I'll wait to attend another one until I CAN be who I used to be. Maybe, instead, I'll change. I've changed in a few other ways already. I can't tell what will happen. Who knows?

No one has these answers. There are so many questions in all this to which no one seems to have the answers. It's one of the hardest parts of the pandemic for this privileged girl, and I'm learning to put off the questions until someone comes out and answers them for me without me asking. My patience is growing leaps and bounds.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Days 64 & 65 - More Documentation

Saturday & Sunday, May 16 & 17, 2020

It's time for me to update my future self on what's going on these days...

The hummingbird visited the feeder this morning at 6:10am! (I put out the feeder on May 1.)

A restaurant in Amsterdam made tiny greenhouses for their patrons.

A restaurant in Virginia is said to open with mannequins to enforce social distancing.

Students around the nation are graduating - virtually. Our eighth graders graduate June 5th, so stay tuned for news about that endeavor.

Bob wants to go to Starbucks tomorrow to get his coffee. I really don't. But if a cake-pop comes with it, I'll reconsider.
Bob:[Your teacher friend] got you one just a couple of weeks ago!
Me: A couple of weeks ago? NINE. NINE. Since when is "NINE" a "couple?"

This is what ordering tacos looks like in southern California - thanks to Sean Ziebarth.

I'm still collecting numbers/statistics each morning. I added new information today about the population, so I the numbers across IL and MI were more comparable.

JC Penny filed for bankruptcy, but they're still functioning right now.

Bob and I saw two frogs in the retention pond alongside Salt Creek. They were soooo loud!

I'm going to have to re-evaluate my dislike for red-winged blackbirds. Today we saw and heard a close one that had beautiful red on it. And it HAS been over ten years since they attacked me on the path in Lake in the Hills...

I was putting off work. I had maybe an hour or an hour and a half of reading and commenting and sending short Loom videos. Bob said, "C'mon! Crack that straw and end strong!" in reference to our message/straw from the Superintendent yesterday (or the day before). So I got off my butt and got to work. I heard Bob's voice (to my nephew) in my head: Now's the time to make good habits. And THEN I saw this in my photo feed (from Instagram a couple of days ago):
And I gave those kids my BEST comments YET. I made tons of tiny videos for them, and sent them off via Schoology. I felt like a teacher again.

It's really rainy outside, and Bob's a little worried about flooding - he says it's next on his list of natural disaster fears (behind tornados).

I "rode" the Frozen Ever After river ride at Disneyland...

We get to watch LIVE golf today! (I write that, and I can just SMELL my privilege.)

It was interesting to hear how they're dealing with precautions.
- No spectators.
- They walked.

- They carried their own bag.

- Only one person was in charge of the flags.
- The flag looked like this... the ball would go in and be able to be popped out easily with a club.
- Only one person was in charge of the rake.
- They had on Bill Murray, and he was totally real and funny, with a crooked screen, on his first Skype call, while eating and betting on the game.
- Later they had Trump on, who of course knew many many good great players who were tremendous golfers...... if it hadn't been for those people who didn't tell us about the virus....... I almost barfed in my mouth.
- I learned what a skin is in golf. And my mom asked me not 2 hours later! And I was able to answer her!

My teacher friend and I started on our weekly challenges...

It's surreal. Sometimes I can't believe we're in a pandemic. Then I listen to the radio or watch television or go outside or go for a drive....... signs that it's a pandemic are ALL around.

My therapy today was watercolors... cards to friends and coworkers. I did seven today while watching/not watching golf. I also set up the next "lunch bunch" Zoom meeting. I miss those girls.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Day 63 - Strange

Friday, May 15, 2020

First, thank goodness for the reminder on my laptop that tells me what day it is! Phew!

Second, I honked at another vehicle today. I was on my way to meet a friend to visit a friend, and this vehicle came from my right, crossing through the red light it had! I honked, because I couldn't believe it!  More and more things like that have been happening. On my way home, I saw a grandpa walking a double stroller though a very busy intersection (no light or stop sign, either)! Very strange things have been happening lately.

Third, my stomach. I know I'm gaining a little weight (I guess it's a different kind of stress than the one I had going through my divorce when I didn't eat anything at all...), but sometimes my stomach is in knots. Sometimes that feeling produces yuckiness, but most times it just feels like a cramping knot. My body has been known to react to stress in various ways, but this is a new one.

Fourth, I haven't had a migraine since we had to submit Q3 grades! This is a win.

Fifth, I can't believe it's Day 63! It's been NINE weeks!

Sixth, I'm so thankful for my friends.

Seventh, Even my ramblings are getting stranger. And I haven't changed a thing when it comes to habits! Bonkers.

Eighth, Hubby and I are outside. I'm writing this, and he's moving the purple coneflowers. How could we ask for more? I am so very privileged.

Ninth, I finished my genius hour project! I just need to mail them at the local post office tomorrow!! What's next? Postcards for my CURRENT students...

Tenth, I received a glow straw with a note to try to ramp up the end of the school year. I didn't know how this could be done, but I do know I'll try.