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.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Best Books of 2023

 My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2023 like I have the past seven years. Maybe these aren't my favorites, actually... maybe they're books I believe other people could benefit from if they read them. I read a bit for myself, along with many books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy or books they recommended for me.

     2022 Favorites
     2021 Favorites
     2020 Favorites
     2019 Favorites
     2018 Favorites
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 100 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here. Another note: One of my goals this year was to read more adult books. Young adult and books geared toward seventh graders just aren't holding my attention like they used to.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
     Adult - Eddie Jaku's The Happiest Man on Earth: The beautiful life of an Auschwitz survivor

Young Adult - Neal Shusterman's Game Changer

Graphic Novel
Middle School - Two true stories.
Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile's Victory. Stand! Raising my fist for justice along with Christina Soontornvat's The Tryout: Making the Squad Means Risking It All

Historical Fiction
Adult - Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five was one I chose simply because it was banned.
YA - Krystal Marquis's The Davenports (#1)
Middle School - Amina Luquam-Dawson's Freewater
and Jennifer Nielsen's Lines of Courage

How To / Self Help
Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements has four tips anyone should follow.
Ryan Holiday's The Daily Stoic had me reading a bit each day. I'm now going to read a follow-up book on the Stoicism philosophy, because it, along with the Calm app and my pausing to stay in the present, has helped me grow.

I'm not a huge mystery reader, but Robert Traver's Anatomy of a Murder was a fun one to read with my husband. It was MUCH better than the movie.
Adult - Robin Wall Kimmererer's Braiding Sweetgrass reminded me of how I need to take care of our earth.

Poetry / Prose / Novel in Verse
Middle School - Andrea Beatriz Arango's Something Like Home
Rajani LaRocca's Mirror to Mirror
                                Jarrett Lerner's A Work in Progress

Angela Watson's - Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching reminded me of what she already has shared with her readers.

Adult - Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye ... so grateful for the afterward.
Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures
Middle School - Sarah Everett's The Probability of Everything - The payoff was worth the confusion.
Alyssa Hollingsworth's The Eleventh Trade was a stretch I think my students will enjoy.
Antony John's Mascot grabbed me from the first chapter

Middle School - Julie Buxbaum's What to Say Next was recommended by a parent, and it had alternating narrators that I LOVED.

Science Fiction
Adult - Nikki Erlick's The Measure is still in my mind many days.

Middle School - Tommy Greenwald's Game Changer was a fast read! (Wait a minute... Do two of my favorite books this year have the same title?!?!)

A Book that Inspired Me to Write
Adult - Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
This was the last book I read in 2023. Just this week I purchased a journal - to write to myself... I'm asking myself for advice, and I'm answering myself. I imagine it's kind of like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy... using my own negative thoughts and showing myself what's okay (or even beautiful) about the struggle. I'm excited to keep writing; I've never written like this.

I'm still on the lookout for books that stretch my thinking, are written by those with different experiences than me, and are written well. Please comment your favorites (from this year or all time) down below, so I can add more to my list! Cheers to more reading in 2024!

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Twitter Journey

My own Twitter journey is coming to an end... 

If you don't want to read the history, jump down to how I think this is going to affect my life. (Side note, I refuse to call it X. It's still at Twitter.com, so...)

My Personal Twitter History
  • August, 2011 - I signed up because my principal asked us to. It was my first full month as Joy Kirr, so I used that name, and I decided I would only use it for professional purposes.
  • February, 2012 - I learned how to use Twitter, and I started to follow hashtags. This led me to learning about Genius Hour, EdCamps, following conferences from home, and a TON of PD in my PJs.
  • From then on, I've used Twitter to join chats, host chats, learn about what I'd like to do in my own classroom, and help others in theirs. I wrote about much of this while reflecting on just my first year.
  • I remember spending hours on the Twitter app, on Tweetdeck for chats, and looking at so very many educators I wanted to follow. (I've lately gone down to 30 min a day, and I'm never on it after 8pm.)
  • If you'd like to know more, I have documented my Twitter thoughts and tips here on this blog.
  • I have been using Twitter for professional use only, Instagram to connect with (former) students, and TikTok to connect with my current students.
  • Eleven to twelve years later, it's probably time to be done.

Why am I leaving?
I love using Twitter on my laptop. It's much easier than on my phone, and I can interact with more people using my laptop. First they took away my Tweetdeck, because I'm not paying. As of today, I'm locked out of Twitter on my laptop, as I never finished the two-factor authentication process when Elon told me that's what I needed to do. I had to clear my cache and history to help my (old) laptop work better, so now I'm locked out, as it logged me out after this process, and it's not enough to just use my username and password. I was going to leave a bit earlier - when Elon took over, but some of my favorite people online were still there. I was still learning bits of tech and opportunities and about people, too... And I was limiting myself to half an hour a day. While I ate my breakfast before school, I got somewhat caught up. Now that it will be difficult to use, I don't see a large reason to stay. I'm glad I follow the blogs of some of my teacher pals, I'm glad I've connected with some of them on Instagram, TikTok, Goodreads, and even Duolingo. I have some of their phone numbers and addresses.

How will my life change?
  • I may read more of a newspaper site (instead of using Twitter for news, too). 
  • I won't be writing on this blog to share via Twitter. This relieves me of some pressure.
  • I may be writing more on this blog, as now there's less pressure. I don't know how many readers I have, but when I tweet out a new post, I feel it has to be "worthy." When I simply write for myself - to reflect or to document - I am more my true self, and I can write, write, write.
  • I won't be sharing self-help tidbits (which has been my go-to tweet lately) on Twitter. I hope to simply be LIVING them. I'm sharing some at the next IDEACon in February, so maybe I'll continue to do this, and maybe I can even share them with my coworkers (which I really haven't done).
  • I won't be comparing myself to other teachers (as often). Although I feel I've learned this lesson, sometimes it still smacks me in the face.
  • I won't be lured into reading accounts I don't even follow. I won't be sucked into what's "trending."

How do I feel?
  • Ready. I'm so done with Elon Musk. I'm so done with the anonymous Twitter handles that feel they can comment any and all nasty things that (I feel) don't belong in this world.
  • It's another change in my life. I was ready when I jumped on, and now I'm ready to leave it be. I do hope, if someone pulls up my feed, they see things that could still help them - new teachers, teachers new to Twitter, and old friends.
  • I'm also feeling a bit old. I still have at least 4.5 years until I retire, but I feel my work now needs to be done IN the classroom. I will still learn from my students and colleagues, and I'll still learn from teachers on TikTok.
  • It's been such a journey that I needed at the time. I'm so grateful for the access, the connections, and the learning that came with that journey.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for keeping the conversations going. If you need me, you can find me on this blog, on TikTok (JoyKirr), on Instagram (JoyKirr1), on Goodreads here, and my email is my name at gmail... Let me know what you need, and please share with me what you love and value.

Monday, December 18, 2023

EduWins - The Small Things

There is so much pain and suffering and hate and sadness in this world right now.

In my own small slice, I've decided to collect and share small wins from my job of trying to teach children who are in my seventh grade ELA classes.

Here are some EduWins from the past two months...
  • One student said, "Thank you" for the fidget stickers another teacher on our team provided. He also put them on his Chromebook right away AND threw away the backings.
  • One of my students struggles with struggle... after he calls me over to help, he often gets angry with me when I come and try. I found him in a calm moment and sat next to him. I shared, "When you want my help and I try to help, but then you act like I'm a terrible person who doesn't understand, it makes me sad."
  • I sent a lot of good notes home one day when I didn't have a team meeting, and many parents replied, sharing more about their child that was enlightening, sweet, and funny.
  • Two students called me "Mom" (or Mamí) this month.
  • I was able to diffuse an angry student and allow her to chat with an administrator.
  • Sending a parent a virtual hug via email helped her see she's not alone. Her child had had a tough class, any help I tried to provide backfired, and I wanted her to know that he may come home upset. She welcomed any hugs.
  • Our homeroom raised the most money out of any other because we offered an incentive based on student suggestions... my good-humored co-homie and I will soon be putting a streak of pink in our hair. 
  • I was able to see two of my students at their hockey games on two different Sunday mornings.
  • One student asked me what my favorite book was. As I was thinking of an answer, I suggested one of them to three girls that like to read together. I had two copies already, and I got another one from a coworker - they started reading them five minutes after I showed them where they were!
  • The bookmarks I make are always a hit. And some students even give me back the one they'd been using!
  • One student told me another student was really struggling. Another, on another day, told me about another student struggling. I love how they take care of each other - without making an announcement to the entire class.
May you be able to reflect back and find so many things to be grateful for this week before winter break.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

We've got a plan this year.

I saw this tweet the other day, and I found myself disagreeing:

If I'd seen it in May, I would've most likely agreed.

HOWEVER... one of our six teams (we currently have two at each grade) at our middle school tried something out last January through June, and they shared it with the staff. We have since adopted it, and student behavior is better than last year (at least in my small slice of the school)!

Here are the steps:
  • Teachers identify the behaviors that are unwanted.
  • Why are these behaviors a problem? Staff comes up with reasons and puts it in student-friendly language as to why students should care, too. Many of ours include that we want school to be a safe, welcoming space for all students.
  • Teachers agree on ones they'd like to use/reinforce.
  • Share these specific behaviors - and the reasons why they should not be occurring - with students. (Our teachers made a slideshow that helped with consistency presenting them in homerooms. We then put these slideshows on our Schoology pages. Here are some: classroom disruptions, unkind words or actions, inappropriate Chromebook use, hoodies up, earpods in, late to class, etc.)
  • Let students know that when they do one of these behaviors, it will be counted as a "minor." When teachers record these minors, there's a simple form to fill - teacher name, student name, major or minor, check the box for which type of incident it was, then fill in any other information that is pertinent.
  • Let students know that certain behaviors will be considered "majors," and students will be meeting with an administrator right away if this happens.
  • Teachers should also create a system that spells out the consequences. Ours is 3 minors = 1 after-school remediation where a teacher meets with the student, fills in a form with them, and then emails home with what the minors were for (grabbing them right from the spreadsheet) and what the student's plan is to stop this behavior. Add to this chart the next steps for consequences. (We've got one or more lunch detentions and we've also added when administration will be called in.)
  • Have a practice week with students. During this week, teachers point out the specific behaviors that are disrupting learning and let students know that those would be considered "minors."
  • Once the next week begins, teachers fill out a form for each minor.
  • The responses for the form go onto a spreadsheet teachers can see, and it magically (I didn't create it - it's magic to me) adds up the minors in another sheet. For us, the number is highlighted once it hits three minors for one student.
  • During our team time, we decide which of us is going to sit with that student after school to fill out the reflection form with next steps.
One thing that's great about this - parents see the exact behaviors their child is doing. Ex: Student shut off another student's Chromebook during work time... or ... During quiet independent reading time, student shouted "Skibbity toilet!" etc., etc., etc.
Another great thing about this - ANY staff can issue a minor.
One more? Administration is also documenting the majors, and the fact that parents were called.
Let's add one more benefit - most of our "what not to dos" are clear. Was that a disruption to the class? Yup. Did you come in after the bell? Yup. Most (no, not all) seventh graders own up to their actions.

We had three "heavy hitters" on our team last quarter, and those three have since cooled down this quarter (so far). I think it's because the parents are more aware of what's going on, and the administration gets involved after a certain amount of minors. Of course, other students who didn't pop last quarter are now getting minors and staying for remediations this quarter, and now we're hoping to get off-team staff to help with the after-school remediations.

When I first heard of this, my worry was the time that we'd need to spend after school with kids. I found out at the end of the quarter that I issued the most "minors" for my team. (At least five were from when I had a substitute... And maybe it's harder for some students to behave during an 80-min class even if I mix up quiet sitting and louder movement times??) I've also done my fair share of remediation meetings. It hasn't been terrible. It's actually nice to have the time to sit with the child who is great one-on-one and just has time with impulsivity when their friends are around as an audience.

As I write this, I think of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid... "If you want someting done, you've got to do it yourself." Our teachers had been asking for a laid-out-easy-to-follow discipline plan since at least January of 2021. I'm thankful for the staff at our school who created this, implemented a trial period, and then shared it with our entire school. We voted to use it, and I'm so excited we've got a system in place that both students and staff can use!

P.S. I loved this article from ASCD about how student behaviors could be cognitive in nature...

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Pause Button

I need a pause button for my school life.

Hubby and I were listening to a sports TV show, and the two hosts were bickering back and forth. This was on a Friday evening, and my patience had run low. I took the remote, pointed it at the television, and clicked the pause button. I sighed, and I realized as I told Hubby, "I need one of these at work."

I've gotten better at pausing during the school day. Before school, I may listen to a minute of the HeadSpace app and just breathe five deep breaths. During my lunch period, I make sure I stop working for a bit and listen well to my peers/friends. After school, for sure, I sit down with Hubby (outside - ahhhh), we share our day, and then sometimes I just sit and soak up the sights and sounds around me.

There are times, however, when I react (poorly - not my best self, that's for sure) at school. It's happened twice this year - both times on a Friday afternoon - when I get so worked up, my blood pressure rises, my patience goes out the window, and I'm close to tears on my way home solely because of interactions in my last class. I've noticed it's usually when one child (or two or three in that class) keeps talking back to me about something they're upset about. I KNOW I won't "win" that discussion / power struggle. I've been reminded of it many times - from experience, from the awesome behavior book Running the Room (Tom Bennett), from another book Pause, Ponder, and Persist in the Classroom (Julie Schmidt Hasson), from the professional development I attended ("The more you yak, the worse they act..."), from MORE experience... and yet STILL... sometimes a seventh grader has me wrapped around their finger and I fall for it - AGAIN. 

I just made myself a pause button. I put a button on the top of my ID tag.

At least half of us (me) in the discussion/argument will pause. It's all I can control.

When I do take that pause, I will close my eyes, take a deep breath, and either walk away from the situation or let the student know we'll continue the discussion later if necessary.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Glimpse...

...into my first full week at the start of my 29th year...
  • A girl in the hallway helped another student in the hallway get to her class.
  • A new student said "gracias" to me when I was able to use some Spanish to help her with her locker combination. (We've since talked a teeny bit more - C'mon, Duolingo - get me to conversational level!) She did chuckle when I muttered, "Algun dia..."
  • Student to another student: "There's no proof that anyone walked on the moon." My thoughts: Oh no. Not again.
  • One student walked across the room. Another took her Hokki stool. She complained. I said it was hers - she was sitting on it a minute ago. She said to the student who took it, "What am I supposed to do, glue it to my butt?" 
  • When I called on one student, he replied, "Arf." This happened three times in one class. It hasn't happened again after that (yet).
  • We have very few Black students. One of mine was sharing favorite breakfast foods, and then added, "...and of course, watermelon." As the other students said, "That's a stereotype," I took a deep breath. Then they all looked to see how I'd respond. I said, "I have to stop class right here. I do not think ___ meant any harm towards anyone here, but that type of stereotyping is not allowed in this class. I don't want anyone to say anything that could make another student feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any way." He quickly apologized, and we moved on.
  • This same student needed a book because they forgot theirs at home. They went to my nonfiction books and found Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography. They asked me who the author was. I said, "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." I loved the look of surprise - and pride - on their face.
  • I stand by my door during passing periods. A student who (I'll just say it) hated me last year walked past me in the hallway, shouting, "ELA is the worst class ever!" I had been smiling at the time, so I forced myself to laugh (trying to put it off as if I hadn't heard him and was laughing at something someone else in the hallway said). As I was forcing a laugh, a real laugh came, because the first one was contagious and I just thought it was a crazy situation that I was pretending to laugh - all around, middle school is a crazy situation anyway.
  • One teacher put cold Diet Cokes on other teachers' desks in the morning with a note about having a "good day."
  • On "Book-Trailer Tuesday," I heard from one student, "Wait... books have trailers?" In another class, a different student said, "We've had book trailers since second grade."
  • One student was choosing which notebook to keep out for this quarter. He quietly used the "Eeenie meenie miney moe" rhyme. I encouraged him to find a new way to choose next time, as that rhyme has racist origins.
  • Two students (with lots of energy) channeled their energy into sharing their silly and creative quick writes (choice writing in 5 min) with the class.
  • We started talking about the behavior system for the school year, and as students started asking questions (EX: What if someone ...), I let them know I don't play the "What If" game.
  • I'm still giving out a balloon for birthdays. The birthday girl blew hers up while I was reading two chapters from Ghost Boys for our First-Chapter Friday, and as she was very quietly and appropriately playing with it, it popped. After the shock, students looked to me. "Balloons pop sometimes," is all I said, and I kept reading (and they let me).
  • A quiet student shared with me, "I liked that first chapter."
  • A student is reading aloud one of our writing prompts: "You have just finished your first full week of 7th grade..." The rest of the class claps!
  • During plan time, my co-planner friend was adding speech bubbles to photos of kids reading that she's putting into our slideshow for the next day... she's got this wicked laugh because she knows the students will laugh and will like seeing them.
  • EIGHT students shared their writing today in front of the entire class.
  • One student took out headphones and said, "I still have them from last year." I replied, "That's great you took care of them." A (normally) quiet student added, "Until they break, they're still useful."
  • Student: "My brother says you're really nice."  Me: "How would he know? I never had him as a student." Student: "Well he's not wrong." 
Lots of "wins."
Lots of laughter.
Lots of stories.
I love the little snippets in my day. This is my way of saving them.

And... this pretty thing was on our butterfly bush a few times this week:

Thursday, August 24, 2023


The first week of school - prep, meetings, set up, and kids coming in - is a TON of work. I tried not to work at home this past week, so I stayed a teeny bit later at work. Of course, I get there an hour or more early, but I love being at work in the mornings -- there's so much promise, and I feel invigorated and ready to work.

This past week was not a lot different from previous years... there were some scheduling glitches that we've never seen before, but even if they don't get worked out, the kids will survive. There were new students who don't speak English, there were new-to-our-school students that weren't on the "new student" list, and I have a student who was missing for the first two days who was suddenly off my homeroom list. Communication hasn't been the best since COVID, but we make do with what happens.

What's different at the start of this year is the expectations I put on myself and how I respond to them. 

The less I talk, the more I learn - about myself and about others. I learned a bit about myself this week. In my teacher role, I expect a LOT from myself. These expectations are ones I put on myself - they're not anyone else's doing. I've only got myself to blame for how busy I may be. When I did what my administration expected of me, it truly wasn't a lot. I had to find some documents that were in various places (pre-COVID everything was provided in a folder for us - but again, so many changes happened, and we were always updating them anyway), I had to ask about a couple of things, but what the administration expected of me was pretty minimal. It was all the things that I expected of myself that were myriad. Truly, they are countless. 

Here are a handful of instances that made me pause this past week...
  • I expect myself to shake everyone's hand as they enter, and ask them their name. It always caused congestion and confusion. This year, I simply said "good morning" or "hello" or "welcome," and started learning their names once class had begun. 
  • I expect to have all my students' names memorized the third day (or so). This week, I gave myself until this first full week is finished. (Today - Thursday, Day 6 - I got them all right!)
  • I expect to have all my decorations up and all my supplies out. This year, I just did one bulletin board (that we'll add to as the year goes on) and I only took out the supplies we'd need the first day.
  • I expect to share all procedures the first few days. This year, I'm sharing them as they're needed. Students don't need to know them all yet.
  • I expect to send an email home to parents every month, and even though that's still my expectation (it used to be every week pre-COVID 😳), I'm not going to tell them it's going to be monthly, just in case I don't make time for it.
I did ADD an expectation. In my Google calendar, I have after-school meetings in red ("tomato" as Google calls it). Red to me means "Oooh. This is important." This year, I also put our days OFF in red. Those are just as important. Now the color red won't just mean MORE work.

I know I'll run into more work that I have actually given myself, and I look forward to reflecting and noticing whether this work needs to be completed right now, or if I don't get around to it, if it needs to be done at all.

Here's the bulletin board I'm excited about this year...

I'm going to have the kids vote on the lessons that work best for them and then highlight the ones that "wins" with a different shape behind it (courtesy of a friend at work).

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What Went Well

I could complain about my year (more / again), yet that won't help anyone. 

So... here's what went well this past school year for me (and hopefully for my students):

Student Relationships:

Going to students' games/meets when coaches shared the schedules, and volunteering for the students vs. staff dodgeball event.

Having my plant in class - sad that some students (in MAY!) thought it was fake, but I think it was good for them to see life, growth, and caring for it. (Her name was Amy, and she's a beautiful Wandering Jew.)

Some classroom roles / jobs worked really well. Tech support, secretary (next year calling this one an assistant), randomizer...

Book club groups - I'm getting better at these! The book choices were still good, too!

Not taking things personally. A quick story: a student who is abrasive to his teachers and his peers was in the hall with a friend who asked me, "Who do I give the field trip money to?" When I answered, "The office," this abrasive student added, "She's not worth it." So I sneered / snickered (feeling all kinds of things) and added, "I'm not worth your $12," and I laughed and walked away as they laughed and did the same. I laughed, covering up the diss, but I felt it. Then I thought... Wait. This kid puts down all his friends - even his "good" friends (that never checked on him when he was gone for three days... does he have good friends?)... He's treating me like he would a friend. It's really not personal. It's just all gut, and no brain when they respond the way they do to you and their friends.

Not responding - only repeating myself - so as not to get into a power struggle.

During the difficult moments... knowing there will be better moments, and knowing the difficult moments will come again... Normalizing them was a calming force for me. Also knowing there is an end in sight, and each day we all get a fresh start.

Seeking out time to spend with respectful students during my toughest class.

Small notes to students throughout the year. Recognizing accomplishments and small bits of gratitude.

Small "good news" notes to parents throughout the year. Most were received warmly.

Time Management:

Kept most work at work. Sometimes I would give feedback on their writing during independent reading time - I was reading, so I didn't feel guilty about it - and sometimes I would do quick things at home on a Saturday morning, but that was really it. 

Monthly updates / small newsletters home (instead of every two weeks - prior to the pandemic it was every week). Our team does a weekly blurb, so this worked out really well! Parents still appreciate seeing their child in the videos I sent home, too. Oooh! One more for this one - I only used videos, not photos, so I didn't have to add and trim any music, either. I only recorded the kids when everyone was in class, too, so I didn't have to worry about leaving anyone out.

Choosing outfits for the week... This is a habit leftover from teaching in the pandemic. Back then I had scrubs I'd rotate out; this year I just chose five outfits for the week ahead on Sunday night. I chose them based on the shoes I'd wear - better for my feet and not making that decision in the morning was better for my mind.

When asked to prepare a presentation for the staff, I asked for time during the school day, because it wasn't going to get done before or after school or during my lunch or plan time. Fortunately, it was granted to four of us during IAR testing time. My co-homeroom teacher this year is in my homeroom daily, so she took care of the testing once I got it started. That was a win.

Changing My Thinking:

I didn't get any migraines this year that were strong enough to keep me home. I credit this to...

Quiet time. Just 3-5 minutes. Alone. Mostly outside. Almost every day, especially the last two months.

Being aware that I can't fix other people's problems... ask questions instead. Listen.

Noticing negative thoughts - mostly about what I can't control - and then being able to switch them to only thinking about the present. Why complain at lunch about the rude children in my last class? It does nobody any good, and it brings my blood to a boil, until eventually they're all I'm thinking of. I tried harder to not allow them to take up my thinking space. I should be able to control this. I didn't do this all the time, but I did it way more than I have in past years. It's a process, and I'll be practicing it for a long time.

Same goes for when I got home - let Hubby know some instances, and then don't talk about it (or think about it) more. Cliff notes version, for sure.

No work email outside work hours.

Limits on games on my phone / grouped games into a label on my phone called "Nothing else to do?"

Technology off by 8pm. Time to read... if I can stay up until 9pm....

Thursday, June 8, 2023

2022 - 2023 Digital Scrapbook

Year 28 is finished. I'm still learning.

So... my PD has really gone down... I only presented at my own school, and I only went to one conference... and that's okay. I was focused on enjoying each moment - or getting through the tough moments without getting migraines. This is a list of specific times outside the normal school day I either learned something or tried to help teach something.


- Fell off my bike. (Still have evidence of this event as I write this.) Then my planning partner / friend had to go on leave until December for a much much larger issue. I learned even more about how everyone has something they're struggling with that many people know nothing about.


Played in the staff vs. students games of dodgeball for charity. Now I can say I have an old sports injury - the middle finger on my left hand. With 30 seconds left in the last game. Yes, I'm getting old.


Facilitated a book study for my district on Angela Watson's Fewer Things Better. I got positive feedback from it! I may do this again.


- Got to attend the Chicago Auto Show for free thanks to a student who has a dad who "works there." It tuns out he's the Marketing Director for the entire show!! We were even able to jump the line to ride the Bronco around a track. I decided to take off Valentine's Day for this. :)

- Attended a conference - "Practical Strategies for Improving Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative, and Challenging Students," and loved it!


Presented (with three organized and energizing peers) "Behavior Conference Take-Aways" to our school staff in the courtyard of our school - it was one of our first gorgeous days outside. The administration asked us to present - and then they provided us TIME to prepare the presentation (without having to write sub plans). 


- I read more books this year about how to improve my mental health, and I realized I only had ONE semi-migraine this school year, and it didn't keep me from going to school. So somewhere along the line this year I learned how to take better care of myself. Breathe deeply when pausing to react to circumstances, be present in the current moment to notice (and respond to - if you can) the good, and don't carry the weight of five students' behaviors with you after those 80 minutes you are harassed or belittled by them.


  • "Bet" means "yup."
  • Those tiny babies are still around the school - along with the magnetic balls.
  • When kids destroy - or steal - my decorations or other things (that I have for them to use or enjoy), I now take down the rest and lock everything else away.
  • Seventh graders know WAY more about stuff I might not still know than I ever did when I was twelve or thirteen. And it's not from books...
  • Sometimes when some children talk certain ways to me I get upset... but then I realize they talk like that to their friends, too, so it's nothing personal - just rude behavior.
  • They like chess again. I bought four games with my own money to help after our state testing. Now some students play when they're done with their regular work.
  • Next year, I'm not going to have all privileges (being able to use the cushions or Hokki stools or my supplies, etc...) accessible at the start of the year. Each class will earn them.
  • Some students still will only work with who they knew through COVID. I'm going to have many mixed groupings next year to facilitate more cooperation, kindness, and empathy.
Some items I've found on the floor the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Mindfulness Work

Two More Books to Share...

If you know me at all, you know I'm reading for my mental health (self-help books and adult fiction and memoirs) as well as for my seventh graders (YA/MG books and nonfiction how-to books). Two books I just finished...

They helped me get through the last two weeks of April and this first week of May. My #OneWord for 2022 is "present," and Fully Present was an audiobook I received free for educators through Libro.fm. I learned through these two books to not judge myself when it comes to slipping up during mindfulness, so I forgave myself for listening to it while doing the dishes... ;) I did stop to take notes when I found a gem I wanted to keep. From this one, I was reminded of the myriad benefits of doing NOTHING for a few minutes each day. This means stopping to focus on my breathing, so I can be more in the moment, and less in the past or worrying about the future.

As for Awakened,* I re-read sections of this. I read the first 50 pages in on sitting, then thought of it during school/work the next day. When I got home, I read them again. This is not something I usually do. The next night, I read them again and then summarized them in my own words. I decided my notes for this one would be summaries first, and then I'd fill it in with specific quotes I wanted to look back on later. Because I'm so invested in making my mind healthier, I have all of my self-help / optimism / mindfulness / joy book notes printed out and put into a binder. Those I actually read again every so often when I need a boost / reminder. I love seeing repeated ideas throughout the binder. One other book that won't be in the binder that I've been reading daily is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. It's got a lot of the same ideas about how to be mindful, controlling your own thoughts, and not letting influences (from all over) change who you want to be. 

These two books have solidified a few things for me.
  1. It is up to ME how I feel. My thoughts control my feelings. I can take control of my thoughts.
  2. Worries, anxieties, fears ... they're all FUTURE based. When I focus on the present, they go away.
  3. When I ruminate about the past, I make those thoughts worse and more concrete, making them harder to go away. I need to remind myself that the other person involved is most likely NOT thinking of those moments now and it's only hurting me. It could even be hurting my physical health.
  4. Stop and think of each current thought. Does it do you any good? If not, let it go or replace it. Just because it's a thought, doesn't mean it's true, and it doesn't mean it's important right now. Plant the seeds of positive thoughts - you'll reap later what you sow now.
  5. It's going to take a lot of time and practice to change your thinking. All our life we're inundated by images and words that influence us. It's time for me to start taking control of what I want influencing me.
I loved being immersed in the language around mindfulness and controlling my own thoughts. Hearing it from one book, reading it in the other, then following up with a quick meditation that helped me to breathe evenly and put me to sleep each night (the Calm app) really helped some of these ideas stick.

Calm App...

    This tool may still be free to educators, I hope. I'm on a streak right now of about two weeks. I've been hearing the same ideas from the two books in the app (words such as "catastrophize" and ideas such as reframing my thoughts). Just last night, after I'd taken some notes about how our thoughts are seeds, I get this one to listen to before bed:

Online Resources...

        It includes a link to their app: UCLA Mindful
        The questions / process:
  1. What negative thought are you struggling with right now? (You can choose or type an answer.)
  2. What's a recent situation that led to this negative thought?
  3. Select the thinking trap. (I really like this one - it shows possible thinking traps, such as "fortune telling," "overgeneralizing," "negative feeling or emotion," and "all-or-nothing thinking," and these change based on what you've put in for your answer. It suggests what it thinks you're doing. The AI here seems to be spot on - at least the two times I tried it.)
  4. Reframe your thinking. (First it tells you - based on what you chose as the thinking trap - a tip for how to overcome that thinking trap. Then it gives you space to type in your own reframing thoughts, and it also gives you three options it came up with. You can even click "Show more reframes" !!) Once you choose or write one, it asks you to see if you can make it more positive, realistic, or helpful. I changed one word of mine - "can" to "will" - you can see my final reframe in the photo below.)
  5. Evaluate the activity. (You do not need to do this. It's part reflection, part info for the AI, I'll bet. There is another section after that which is an optional survey.)
    1. I filled out the survey and was rewarded with a summary (which I didn't know I was going to get - this is much better than the screenshots I took)! Too bad you have to fill out the survey to get it, but maybe you can just click "next" without filling it out...

        The questions they use on this site are simple - so much so that you don't need the site:
  1. What negative thought are you struggling with?
  2. Where does this negative thought come from?
  3. If your friend was dealing with the same negative thought, what would you say to help them feel more hopeful? (I love this question!)
  4. What do you need to say or do so you can truly believe the more hopeful thought?


Of course, I've read many more books on optimism and joy and how to be happy during the fall and winter of the 2020-2021 school year. My post from June of 2021 about those books is here. What makes these different? The lessons are finally STICKING. I was in class the other day saying in my head, "Dismiss. Distract..." and then I focused on something else instead of that worrying/annoying/not helpful thought. Maybe they're sticking because I've read so many with the same ideas. I'll take it. And I'll probably keep reading more. What I want to do first, however, is to practice meditating for 5-10 min a day without falling asleep to it... Taking 5-10 min out of my day to let negative thoughts appear and then dismiss them can only be beneficial.

I will keep learning and practicing. With time and effort, I can learn to recognize and manage negative thoughts.

*One thing I have to add about Awakened... Page 1 starts on the left side of the book. This was at first a source of aggravation for me. By the time I finished the book, my mindset had shifted. I now wonder what other books start that way?