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.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Why would I want more stress?

I moved my apps around on my phone on January 1, trying to not play so many pointless games. I'll still do the Wordle and Connections game with my husband every night, and I still do three small exercises on my Elevate app, but the Blockudoku, Fishdom and Puzzledom are largely based on luck of what pieces come up next. I was still playing Nonogram and Sudoku for a bit, but even those became easy for me. So I relocated them all together in one bundle of apps and labeled it "WRITE INSTEAD." And here I am!

Sadly, I'm still looking for a better game. One that helps me learn or helps me become more intelligent somehow. I'm still on TikTok about once a day, and here was an ad for a game that popped up on my feed:

The two pics are the same game. (The videos came one after the other.) As I'm preparing to share "Shifting Away from Stress" at IDEACon in February, I wonder... isn't this game causing more stress? Shouldn't we be "playing" games instead of stressing ourselves out? Why would you want to play something that gives you anxiety? What a terrible advertisement.

So... the apps I used the most this month on my phone are Duolingo, Babbel, Calm, and, of course, TikTok - but I have a time limit on that one. πŸ˜‰ I have my family and friends, my walks, my books, my journals, and my blog for when I know I need to be off my phone. Here's to more of this in 2024!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Only Thing I Can Control...

I've been reading at least one "self-help" type book a month since the fall of 2020. I've been trying to apply the myriad lessons to my teaching life. I keep thinking I've simplified them, to make them easier to remember, but none have really stuck with me... yet.

This week, this is my focus: 
         I will not let a 12-year-old's words or actions dictate what I say or how I act.

I re-read a blog post from George Couros, and the line that got to me was, "Never let an 8-year-old ruin your day." Yup. And how do they ruin my day? I LET them.

You might think this is common sense. If so, you've probably never taught middle schoolers. If you've taught them, you KNOW how difficult it can be to snap at them, to yell, to grit your teeth and say something that you'll probably regret later. Only to feel like crap afterwards, knowing you weren't your best self. The pot can only hold so much steam before it blows, and 12-year-olds know how to push all your buttons. So this is my goal this week: to not let a 12-year old's words or actions dictate what I say or how I act. The ONLY thing I can control is what I think. (I'm learning this from reading about and trying to practice Stoicism.) The next thing I can (usually) control is how I act.

I still have my "pause button," and I'm going to use it.

Here's a snippet of how I did during one instance in one class yesterday... 
     We'd been reading quietly (a slice of Heaven for me), and one student had been "in the bathroom" for ten minutes. When he returned, he shouted, "Mrs. Kirr! I was walking down the hall and some boy called me Black!" Many of the kids laughed. He loves to get people laughing.
     I closed my eyes. I took a breath. I looked at him. I said quietly, "If you'd like to report this, you may head to the office. If not, you may sit down and read quietly."
     "But Mrs. Kirr! I am NOT Black! I don't like that he called me that!"
     I repeated quietly, "If you'd like to report this, you may head to the office. If not, you may sit down and read quietly."
     I don't know how many times I repeated this. Maybe two more times? When I shifted to go get a yellow sticky note as a warning (before writing this incident in a form we've been using - see this post), he went to sit down. The rest of the kids got back to reading. I felt proud of myself.

And today...
     Once again, we'd been reading quietly (a slice of Heaven for me), and one student was tickling another student. The other student laughed, or I wouldn't have even noticed. I quietly told him to get back to his seat. "But I thought it was free seating today! Why do I have to go back to my seat! I didn't do anything! I'm reading, Mrs. Kirr!" I quietly pointed to his chair. "It's not fair! I wasn't doing anything! Why doesn't anyone else have to move! It's not fair!" I quietly pointed to his chair. 
     When he finally went to his chair, I whispered, "I'll answer your question now that you're here. You were tickling ___ and we're supposed to be reading."
     "I wasn't tickling him! I was getting something off his neck!" he "whispered" back.
     I quietly responded with, "And you were supposed to be reading." And then I walked away with my book. After a few more huffs and puffs, he opened his own book.

I don't like getting riled up by an outright lie or a made-up story.
I know I can't win an argument with a 12-year-old.
I like how I feel when I stay calm and simply repeat myself.
I like how these instances are over fairly quickly, and I feel like they're small but mighty "wins."
I hope this lesson will stick with me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Slice of Life - Sledding

I've never sledded (or is it just "sled" ??)  down a hill before. Hubby and I realized this about a month or so ago. Last night, he gave me an early birthday present - a red sled!! 

We're heading to a hill today after eLearning ends (around 1pm). I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm a bit frightened! I know I'll be fine, and I'm looking forward to it. 

I'll add a photo of my not-quite-51-year-old self (on a sled!) later today. For now, it sits in the dining room... waiting for me to pull it up its first hill.

UPDATE 1/18...
We FINALLY got to the hill today - ON my birthday!!

I screamed, each ice bump hit my butt, I got snow up my pants when I first put my legs out, I fell off a couple of times, and screamed a bit... The hill was pure ice - Hubby says it'll be better once we get more snow. The hardest part was getting down on the sled! LOVED it. I love that Hubby gave me this experience, and we'll definitely do it again!

Friday, January 12, 2024

Thankful Thursday (Friday) Jan 12, '24

Who cares that I'm one day late? I'm writing for myself these day... no need to share it with educators via Twitter. I'm writing to document these days, and I like the shift. ;)

Today I'm thankful for the oh-so-thoughtful letter from a student I had nine years ago. When I shared it with Hubby, he had tears in his eyes, too. (And... yikes! She said she reads my blog!!) 

I'm thankful that I was ready for the eLearning day today - and I'm thankful it became an emergency day due to the power outages - and I'm thankful the power outages didn't last long!! I'm thankful I'm strong enough to shovel this heavy slop we've gotten (so far), and that the snow blower works for my love to use. I'm thankful I have this energy enough to help neighbors, too. I'm thankful my attitude is not that of our neighbor (crabby!!) when the plow comes into our cul de sac and puts snow right back in front of the drive. I'm thankful we could get out should there be an emergency, and oh-so-thankful we haven't had an emergency. I'm thankful Hubby helped me with the snowperson, and I'm thankful I've thought of calling it a snowperson. (It has a uni-boob, so I'm not really sure what it is, and it doesn't matter!) 

I'm thankful I can put a stop to talking politics with my mom, and I'm thankful we can both still vote. There's a lot more to be thankful for today... I'm now going to print out that email and put it in this school year's stack of things I'd like to add to my scrapbook come June. πŸ’š

In every moment, there are a million reasons to be thankful.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Slice of Life #1 - The first 20 min of my work day.

I went back to school - with students - today. We had two blissful weeks off (well, some of us did), and we had a professional development day yesterday which wasn't painful.

I got back in the groove quickly this morning once I went through that door to the classroom. I've often wanted to document all the things we do in the morning, and since I've decided to try the Slice of Life Challenge this year (since I'm not spending time on Twitter - AND - I want to write again, I'll try this small slice of my life... just in list form (because I'm tired from shoveling - I'll sleep well).

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting this #SOL24...

Put my bag on a chair.
Take off my boots & switch them for my gym shoes.
Put my coat in the closet, and my boots underneath.
Take my lunch out of the bag, and take my sunflower seeds out of my lunch (to eat during team time).
Take my kid's book out of the bag and put it on my shelf that says, "Mrs. Kirr is reading..."
Remind myself to put on my to do list: "Bring book home." (I want to read it tonight.)
Turn on my computer and log in.
Log into Google.
See that I have 12 unread messages, and deliberately do what I need to do first instead.
Move plans from the "working plans" file over to "Today's Plans" for the kids and I to access today.
Copy the same slides and rename those "084 January 9, 2024 (Tuesday)" and save under the folder "All Plans" for the kids and parents to access.
Create a folder called, "December," and add all of December's plans to it. (Soon that folder will go into the "Q2" folder.)
Turn on the class computer and open up "Today's Plans," "Homeroom Announcements," "Spotify" (log in through Google, get the two-factor authentication, it says I don't have an account, try to log in again on my school account with an older password, try a different password, get the playlist ready for independent work time), the Headspace App (log in with my school account, find the one-minute cat breathing video and press "play" - because for some reason you have to press "play" TWICE to get it to go).
Write today's date and agenda (what are we doing again? Go back to look) on the board.
Come up with a warm-up activity for students.
Change what book I'm reading on the sign outside the door.
Remember and add "Bring book home" to my to do list.
NOW I can open and answer (or delete!) emails... 
Go back to my to do list to see what I forgot, then do those things...

And that's all in about 20 minutes - before students arrive.

If someone comes up to talk to me about something, the list doesn't get done.

Maybe for my next slice, I'll try another 20 minutes of my day.


I had a solid day to day, no less. Plans went ... as expected ... because I was able to let some things go. I was calm, I was friendly, I got to chat with kids one-on-one, and I enjoyed the pace I'd set. It was a good 84th day of my school year.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Thankful Thursday Jan 4, '24

I used to post my #ThankfulThursday posts on Twitter... I'm now off of TWitter.
Since I'm going to try to reflect more on my blog, here's today's quick post. I'll try to keep them at a limited number of characters. πŸ˜‰

I'm thankful for my morning routine and all its conveniences... The mouth guard that helps me sleep and not clench my jaw, a new toothbrush every six months, a new bar of soap, deodorant so I stay not stinky, the stick Hubby "made for" me to allow me to open a hair product easier, and a beautiful bathroom we designed to refresh - and do our business - in.

In every moment, there are a million reasons to be thankful.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

My One Word for 2024

I typed the title wrong just now... I used "2023" instead of "2024..." Then I looked back on my previous posts and realized I didn't change my word last year (I kept "present" for the past two years), but I'm writing this to work out what my new word will be this year. "Present" worked pretty well, and I'm ready for a change.

I saw three blog posts in my Feedly this morning that tackled the "one word" idea. 
     One Word, One Wish from Sheri Edwards
     It's Tuesday! Join Us for Slice of Life! #SOL24 from Jenna Komarin (Two Writing Teachers) 
          (The comments are FULL of #OneWord posts!)

And I've received the seven days of "how to" from Jon Gordon (signed up through an email - here's his book on it I haven't read).

So this is my first #SOL24 Slice of Life post!

Disclaimer: I've read how to create a word for the year, and yet I've only followed the steps when it comes to doing this in class with my students. And that's AFTER I've already chosen a word. I choose it based on how it sounds, how it feels in my mouth, and what it does to my brain and heart. I've learned I like consistency, as I noticed I'd had the word "gratitude" from 2014-2022!! My life is full of gratitude - it helps me in so many ways, and I checked it out in my posts - I write about gratitude OFTEN! Practicing gratitude is a huge part of my thinking.

I've read so many "self-help" and focus and attention books the last few years. I've focused on being present and in the moment for two years now, but the word "present" itself doesn't do as much for me as maybe "listen" or "breathe" or "attention" ?? could now. I collect quotes from books (they're all here), and from one of the last books I read, I saved this one: 

I'm not a big fan of the word "attention" by itself, as it sounds... military to me. But attention is what I want to give. I want to give love in the form of attention. I want to give it to others by being fully present in the moment. I also want to give it to myself by noticing all I'm grateful for in each moment, and noticing where my attention is (or is going!), so I can work on keeping it in each moment.

Two things help me pay better attention - breathing a couple of deep breaths (sometimes even just one helps bring be back!), and listening fully. I'm not sure if it was during one of my mindfulness sessions (with the Calm app), or if it was something I was reading about Stoicism, but something had me think about the sun. The sun gives and gives, and it never asks, "What can you do for me?" This made me think about the act of giving attention - giving that consistent and unconditional love. I've been toying with the idea of a tattoo (but OUCH?!), and so I've been drawing a sunset on the inside of my right wrist for a few days now. 

Not just a sun - to remind me to give attention without expecting anything in return - but a sunset - to remind me of something my nephew once said to us as we were in awe at the sunset in Holland, MI, "This happens every day." It's consistent. And also to remind me that now I'm kind of (sort of? actually?) in my own sunset years. My life is at least half-way through, and what will I do now? How should I live my life right?

But "sun" doesn't work for me, and neither does "sunset." They are nouns, not actions.

So....... I look up "sun." It's at the center of our solar system. That brings me to "center" - which is what I try to do to myself to ground myself when I'm upset or shaken by something. I center myself. And I'm noticing more and more what's in my center of control - my thoughts and my voluntary actions... but "center" sounds too... ego-driven. I read more about the sun... "energy," "heat," "radiation," "light," "life," "elements" ...  It's mass consists of a lot of gas... ;) And it formed from the "gravitational collapse of matter," which reminds me of how our challenges change us.

What about "radiate"? Can an adjective like "consistent" work? Not for me. I might want to change further, and "consistent" won't help me accept change, unless I think of it for how I should act in the face of change... consistent with the behaviors that help me stay in the moment? I want to go back to providing my attention as an act of love. I want to stop, breathe, listen, and give love through my attention to the people around me and the present moment.

So... I went for a walk in the middle of writing this blog post.

Words that came into my mind: shine, notice, accept, recognize, appreciate, quiet, pause, observe... To me, "shine" means positivity, and I can't act positive all the time - some people are put off by that. I thought of "shine" meaning to "radiate" or "share," but that won't work for me. "Recognize" means what, really? To "know again?" I can "notice" and not always "recognize" or "accept," and that's plenty okay. I think it's important to notice without judgement, so "notice" is my favorite right now. I said "Happy New Year" to someone on my walk, and they didn't respond, so I said it back to myself... immediately I thought of the word "quiet." Like, really, Joy, just shut up. My snarky reaction was to say it back to myself? I was judging, that's for sure. But "quiet" to me is not as good as "listen," and I've already taken that out of the mix for this year. I like "pause," but I like "breathe" and "notice" better. As for "observe," to me it has a negative connotation - only because of classroom observations. Observing is great. Noticing... better (in my opinion).

Yup. I'm going to go with "notice" for this year's #OneWord. I'm going to pause, breathe, and notice the sights, sounds, smells, what my body is doing (heart rate, breathing, tense or not), what other people look like or are saying or how they're acting... and then I can decide how best to act. During a startling or angering moment, I'll take this break, notice what I can, and then be my best self. I'll notice that the sun comes up each day (even if it's hidden behind the clouds) and sets somewhere in a beautiful way each evening. I'll notice the constant heat and warmth it provides - without asking anything of me. I'll notice what I'm giving my attention to and redirect it if it's not beneficial to myself or others.

Here's a snapshot of the point in my walk when I realized I wanted my word to be "notice." I heard a squirrel eating, birds chirping, wind rustling through the weeds. I was noticing the steam above the water, the reflection of the trees and sun, and I was looking for the hawk I'd seen land in the trees (it eluded me). I could smell winter - crisp, cold in my nose, old leaves and maybe a tiny scent of skunk? I could feel the breeze on my cheeks, the sun in my eyes, and the quiet peace of this spot.

If you'd zoom in, you'd might notice the blue heron at the edge of the far right side of this tributary on our creek in our forest preserve. 
I've seen this big bird on my last three walks near the dam. Here's a bonus photo of it - it was about ten feet from me and didn't fly away when I recorded it and took its picture! :D
If you'd zoom out, you'd notice the sun trying to light up the morning.

I hope to notice more in 2024. When I notice, I hope to pause and breathe, listen better, provide more attention, make fewer judgements, and stay centered in more moments.

I'm excited to NOTICE and give attention to other bloggers in 2024, as well! 
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating a space to share our stories.