Monday, January 26, 2015

My Yes and No List for 2015 + What Fires Me Up + My Word for 2015

Ok, ok...normally I only blog about once per week, but I'm home today with a fever, and feeling super inspired by other people's blogs, photography, Pinterest, and so forth. So inspired! Plus...I'm trying this new thing where I don't worry about the approval of others. And if people scoff and think it's wrong that I wrote another blog post the-day-after I wrote a different one, well...I'm choosing to focus my energies and thoughts on things that give life, not destroy life.
Thought for the day: Isn't being you COOL? I mean, you are the only you that has ever existed + will ever exist. Ever. Growing up we see quotes and hear people say "Be yourself." But what does this mean? For me, it means to stop agreeing with everyone just to save face and instead assert my true opinion and make things messy. For me, it means to stop hiding parts of myself that I love about me!, like the fact that I love Taylor Swift... 
Victory in Jesus! He has made me victorious through him. And because of that, I have freedom in Christ to delight in how my heavenly father has crafted, molded, and shaped me. There are more things of course, but I love that I am finally embracing what it is like to be me and think for myself, to read articles or blogs with a critical mind instead of a sponge-ish mind that soaks it all in as find what educational philosophies work for me, even if they don't work for not feel ashamed of the passions and desires and dreams that God has given me, but to embrace them.

Here is a link to my Pinterest board of inspiration above. A lot of the pictures on this post are from it. I challenge you to create your own for yourself, or to even make a physical one in your classroom, office, bedroom, anywhere that you can see it and feel alive. One of Lara Casey's challenges was to create a pin board on Pinterest of things that motivate you, fire you up, stir your soul, bring you I did that today. And let me tell you. Every time I look at it I get energized, invigorated, and excited! 2015 is going to be a good year- and I say good meaning that it is good because GOD is good, and is for my good, even if that means God's definition of good is not our human definition of good.

This has been something I have been reflecting on for a few weeks, the idea that God's definition is different, and BETTER!, than our definition of the word "good." You often hear people tell others who have had good fortune or things come their way or a beautiful story "Wow! God is good." But you rarely hear someone telling a story of hardship or broken-heartedness or tragedy and hear someone say "Wow...God is good."

But the truth is, he is. God is constant and he never changes. He is good, forever. Even in the trial, the sadness, the brokenness. God is in the business of repairing and redeeming broken things. And, he uses the brokenness in our lives to teach us beautiful lessons that we wouldn't have been able to learn otherwise.

Moving on to my Yes + No List for 2015: I must say that when choosing things for these lists, as well as my list of things that fire me up!, I had to be really careful to weigh everything through truth and not just flippantly choose things. For example, I know that drinking an ice cold Coke on my way home from work is something I love doing and maybe could have made it in a list down there somewhere, but when I got to the core of it, I realized that Coke can symbolize my need for control, caffeine, release and relief. Reality?: I'm sometimes finding satisfaction in a fountain drink...and even though Cokes in and of themselves aren't bad or sinful, the way I was treating them and viewing them at times, well, was. So it did not make the list of things that fire me up because it is something that needs redeeming. I think we have to be careful about that. I think we have to really view everything with a mindful, thoughtful lens, because the next thing you know, someone could put on their "Yes" list that they are going to stop coming home every night to their spouse and go out with their friends to bars and raves, because it makes them feel alive...or smoke marijuana every day because it gives them a high. We have to weigh these things and think if they truly bring us life, joy, satisfaction. The answer is going to be no. Even good and healthy things, like exercise or adventure, can sneakily take the rightful throne of Jesus in our lives. So, as I reflected on each of the following pieces, I asked myself: do I view this as a gift and good thing that comes from the Lord, that he has given to me to enjoy? Or do I view it as mine, something I need apart from him? Asking myself this helped me to formulate my thoughts and sort through the rubbish to find the treasure.

My Yes + No List for 2015:
Here are the things I am saying YES! to in 2015:
-leaving school at a decent time, between 4-4:30, so that I can have enough time to beat the traffic, spend time with those I love, actually cook dinner, and have a life outside of engage in ministry, meet new neighbors, spend time with the Lord...the opportunities are endless here.
-working out after school with some coworkers that set up an after-school workout time when the new year began. I want to say yes to at least 1 day a week so that I can build friendships and workout with a group of people + do things I wouldn't do myself.
-yoga, yoga, yoga. I want to go at least 2 days per week. I love the energy it gives me and I view it as a gift from the Lord to get to pray to him as I meditate and take care of the body he has given me.
Namaste, my friends. This picture does so much in my heart. Andrew and I have talked a lot about adoption lately...our hearts have been stirring. We don't know what that means or if it ever will be, but just looking at this picture stirs it within me again. Other than adoption, this picture shows a smiling child in the midst of brokenness. True joy is not found in fleeting circumstances, but in the constancy of Christ.

-chronological Bible reading plan: I've never read the entire bible, nor have I ever been good at reading plans, so Andrew suggested to do this one together. We are still on target and are excited to study the word together.
-women's event planning at church. I have said yes to help plan our women's gatherings and our yearly retreat, and I have loved the beginning of this process.
-more family time. Our brother and sister have graciously pointed us towards this, and helped us recognize that our priorities have been off as far as how we spend our time with others. Even though we love our church family and our friends around us, our biological families will always be there with us throughout our lives, and it's important to invest in those relationships just as much, if not more, than with our church family and friends.
-a wall calendar that Andrew and I can physically see so that we can daily know our schedule and let our yes be yes when we make plans, instead of forgetting about them. Our phone calendar is out of sight/out of mind unless we open it up, and I just made a great photo calendar from Shutterfly that was on sale yesterday. Time to keep up with our schedule better!
-adventure! Andrew and I have decided that since the clock is ticking towards our future family growth, and as a way to invest in quality time in our marriage, we want to plan at least one adventure or fun activity per month this year that we do together that is more outside of the box that what we normally do. Next month, we are going to the ballet, and in March, we are going to see Stevie Wonder! When spring comes and the weather gets better, I know that we have more outdoor type adventures ahead of us: some things on my mind are camping (I've never done it!), hiking/mountain climbing, water rafting, and more. In June, we are going to Chicago with our friends Josh + Christin to explore the windy city we've never been to and to see U2 in concert.
-babies! We are saying yes to beginning to start a family in the year 2015. :) Whatever that looks like, we are putting it into the Lord's hands.
-paying off student loans. It has been 5 years since I graduated from TCU, and it's time to get these loans taken care of. Andrew and I have a plan now that he is back full-time at work to pay off debt aggressively, and we are excited to attack it before starting a family. We want to continue to be good stewards with what God has given us, and this is one way we can faithfully pay off debt that is owed while reflecting that our true eternal debt has been paid by Jesus.
-cooking more at home. Part of coming home at an earlier time is being able to cook more for Andrew and myself. We spend money on groceries but then the week escapes us and we end up throwing food away. We want to cook more at home to be healthier but also to be more responsible with our finances.
-being more intentional with writing letters & phone calls. I have an amazing mother who has always been a letter-writer. Her siblings and family are all letter/card senders, and my aunt Susie has always been a letter/card sender as well. I think that this is a beautiful practice that is escaping our generation, and I want to write at least 1 letter per month to the woman I am writing to who is in prison, as well as to 1 family member who is at a distance. I also want to make phone calls to the people I love who are far away, like my grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, and my old college friends. I called my friend Keri, a girl I was super close with in college, the other day on my way home from work, and we caught up for an hour. It was life giving and precious to talk with an old friend. I want to not just blast Taylor Swift on my way home but use that car time to invest in people's lives and maintain relationships.
-being a better aunt. I want to intentionally spend time one-on-one with my niece and nephew this year. I have always spent time with them and played with them when the whole family gets together, but last year when I got to teach them both private swimming lessons, it was so much fun to get to have that quality time with them! I want to invest more in those relationships, just like my aunts and uncles invested (and continue to invest) in me. Andrew and I hope to get to take them out for ice cream or to the mini-golf course or to a movie- just anything to build lasting bonds with Sami and Ben.
-blogging/writing/reading. It is so life giving to me to blog, write, and read, and to read other people's blogs and thoughts and books. I am saying yes to giving these things time in 2015.
-getting my lesson plans done during the week, and not on the weekends. This will save me time on the weekends to enjoy life outside of school and give more time to other things, and it will also help me feel more prepared for the week to come.

Here are some things I'm saying NO to in 2015:
-staying late at school. I'm just going to stop. Staying late feeds my need for perfectionism and control, things that are NOT life giving nor pleasing to the Lord. You have to start somewhere, and this past Friday, I cleaned and tidied up my classroom, sharpened pencils and picked up a little trash, organized my desk, plugged in iPads, and LEFT. at 4:00. No questions asked. I took my laptop and books with me and then lesson planned this afternoon for a couple of hours. I'm not saying that I want to always take work home with me- but driving home in horrible awful traffic around 5:30-6:00pm has been the death of me, and it has taken at least 45 minutes-an hour to get home. Not to mention, by that point I am overworked, overtired, and don't want to cook + go out with friends + counsel someone + anything. I am ready to just say NO to staying late everyday at school. I never am that productive anyway after school, and end up wasting a lot of time in between tasks. This will help me to pursue the Lord, my marriage, and relationships better, and will help me not feel a twinge of frustration towards my job.
-overcommitting ourselves during the week. Andrew and I want to say NO to having something on the schedule every single night. We are saying no to being over-busy and over-scheduled. We want time for ourselves/our marriage, for our family, and our friends- but in that order. The current order has been for friends/others, then ...not any of the others, really. And that's not how it should be. WE LOVE OUR FRIENDS! But, we need to be better about this.
-social media overload. I love Instagram, Twitter, and sometimes Facebook- but they can suck my time and life away. They can also feed my insecurities and make me feel like my life isn't good enough while comparing it to others. Not life giving! I have started to say NO to social media on the weekends, when I'm in the car with Andrew, or when I'm spending time with others. Just taking it out of my weekends has allowed me to spend the time I would have scrolling through newsfeeds and pictures to do other things, and it has also helped me break the habit of always opening up an app when I have a spare second.
-chasing perfectionism and control. All reasons explained in my post yesterday and in this post. It's time to stop chasing things that don't bring life and start chasing things that do.
(^Oh, do I love Ed!)
-needing the approval of others to feel secure. I want to get out of the habit of needing approval from my administration, or my students' parents, or my church leaders, or my family, in order to feel that I am doing a good job. I know that I am committed to the things I do and deeply passionate about them, and I want to truly live out the verse: "Everything you do, do it for the Lord, and not for man, for your reward is in heaven" (Col. 3:23).

Now, for the things that fire me up, that set my heart ablaze, that pour water on my thirsty soul:
-the thought that "Jesus is better"
-developing and molding the minds of young children
-the excitement of a science experiment
-long phone conversations with family + friends
-the seasons changing, and spring coming
-Andrew and I reading the word together
-praying for God to open and bless my womb, and the fruit within it
-the musical stylings of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran
-learning from my educator PLN on Twitter
-a good book, usually read in one sitting
-breathing through a good yoga class
-theological conversations with others, discovering things about Jesus together
-laughing and joking around with my sister, who is my best friend
-going on dates with Andrew, or cuddling up for an episode of Lost in our home
-waking up to the sun on the weekends
-going on walks and seeing friends + neighbors in Fairmount along the way
-swooning over my friends' babies, and getting to hold them or play with them and celebrate their sweet little lives
-coffee or tea dates with girlfriends, like my boba tea shop date with Bethany yesterday!
-encouraging notes or words from others, or giving those to others
-dancing, or watching others dance
-singing, or watching others sing
-texting a friend and them shooting you straight with love and truth
-a glass of red wine with Andrew or a good friend out on a patio somewhere

-the feeling of crying and desperation, and remembering that the ultimate healer is right there with you
All of the things above are good and beautiful gifts of life and love that God has given to me, and in each one of them I see glimpses of him- his creativity, his kindness, his mercy.
Do you know why I posted that picture right there? That my friends is a loggerhead sea turtle. Their mothers lay their eggs in the sand and bury them, and when they hatch they must fight for their life by running towards the ocean and making it into the water before a bird, animal, or other sea creature snatches them up. Out of several eggs, usually only 1-2 of these baby turtles make it.
They have to fight for their life.
This image is meaningful to me because I want to fight for my life, too, and to do that I need to chase things that bring life, and stop chasing things that don't bring life. I want to fight to be intentional with life, instead of just letting things happen out of habit. I want to make. things. happen.

What is your word for 2015? What would make your yes/no list for this year? Making these lists and reflecting on last year and focusing on what I want for this year has been so life-giving for me. I encourage you to do it, too!

On my next post, I will be thinking through some radical changes and goals I want to be making this year, as an educator, wife, sister, and friend. For now though, I am going to go read some of the book Andrew and I have to read for this weekend's church planting conference, and rest up so that I can go to school tomorrow. Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Worked and Didn't Work in 2014

On this windy but sunny Sunday, I am on my couch curled up with a cable-knit blanket, a cup of tea, and a thermometer as I anxiously check my temperature every half hour or so. Missing school tomorrow will be tough, since my room isn't totally ready for a substitute. That's what lesson planning on the weekends has come to- a feeling of unpreparedness and a bit of scrambling on Monday mornings. Without an ASPIRE team to plan first grade lessons with, these things take a lot more time than usual- but it is definitely something I want to aim for + change this year.

As I reflect on 2014, I think back on a year full of change, hardship, bottom-of-the-barrel-ness, and submission. I daily had to submit to the will of God to not take me out of the pit I was in, and see it as his love and goodness towards me. You see, God had a lot to teach me- and I had to be in the pit to learn it.

What Worked in 2014:

-Biblical counseling. I had never been to counseling before, and always felt that I wasn't weak or low enough to seek it out. Last year I battled those feelings as Andrew and I embarked on a journey towards healing and redemption with my anxiety and depression. I could not be more thankful for the time spent with our counselor as he pushed us towards Jesus, asked me hard questions, gave me amazing resources that spoke truth and volumes to me, and helped me move positively towards joy and believing that Christ is sufficient for my life. I realized how little I actually believed that, and it has been life-changing to know that Christ IS sufficient for my life- he is good, and I don't have to look elsewhere for satisfaction. And, the fact that he is good, means that he is also FOR my good- that anything that comes in my life is God's goodness towards me, even trial and tribulation, hardship and tears. God is good and he is for me, not against me, and clinging to this truth has been water to my soul.

-Reflective conversations with coworkers. Whether it was my old team at Foster Village, endless afternoons of bouncing ideas and thoughts off of my friend Jessica, or problem solving in my liaison Jeanette's office, reflective conversations held a lot of weight in my growth, mindset, mind shift, and learning last year. I was able to get out of my own head and let my thoughts and reflections fly, and had amazing friends to receive them and help me sort through them.

-Moving schools/changing jobs. It was a difficult transition at first, one that made me question everything I had done- had I made the right choice? Was this really for me? I had left Foster Village in a pretty fragile state, and the school year I was leaving behind had been my most difficult one yet. I loved my students at FVE, but this past year left me wondering if the teaching profession was truly for me. The passion and zeal I had once had was zapped after last year, and I spent the summer and time in counseling picking up the pieces. Needless to say, when I had moved I realized how much I missed all the students and relationships I had built at Foster Village despite the hardships, and I felt quite lonely as I began my journey as a Glenhope Gator. The position I have is in its first year of existence, and nothing like it exists nearby- which creates isolation + a feeling of being on my own island. I also had nothing to springboard off of, as no teacher had blazed this trail before me. I wasn't sure that this was the dream job I had signed up for, and I spent from August-November in this back-and-forth pendulum state of being as I dug into every resource + book + blog that I could to stay afloat. However, as the months passed and I came to absolutely love and treasure my students, it was in December that I called Jessica and told her, "It is back! My passion for teaching is back! I love being a teacher!" I think the first few months at Glenhope were reminiscent of my first year as a teacher in general- just laying groundwork and creating everything from scratch, but as I have grown this year I have learned where to look, what to prioritize, how to meet my kids' needs, and how to just plain enjoy my days with children in the classroom again. Moving schools was the change I needed to "begin again" (T Swift reference- one of many to come in this blog) and stretch my wings to see what I was truly capable of as a teacher. This job requires a lot of independence and critical thinking, creativity + problem solving + innovation to try to meet the educational and social/emotional needs of highly gifted students, but I have come to see that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else at this time. It's fascinating to be around these children who think and respond to things like I do, to see the world through a gifted lens and always want to explore + go deeper with things. I feel like I get to be the teacher I've always wanted to be when I am with them. So, despite the workload and the late nights, moving schools worked for me (and Andrew) in 2014. It helped my passion for teaching to return and it also helped our marriage in that I wasn't so distraught and distracted by the daily ongoings of school that I couldn't function or be present when I was at home.

-Un-Fancy. My friend Caroline Joy Rector is the author + creator of this amazing minimalist fashion blog and I have so much to thank her for. Not only has she helped me better budget + plan for my wardrobe, but her philosophies have spilled over into many areas of my life. For one, she has helped me to find and feel confident about my personal style, while being minimalist and not breaking the bank for clothing. As I followed her step-by-step process in building a capsule wardrobe, emptied my closet full of things that I never wore or felt-guilty-for getting-rid-of-but-I-would-really-never-wear-it-again type pieces, and discovered what clothing made me feel like ME- I now get up in the mornings to get ready for school or my day and have a choice of clothing that I absolutely love and feel best in, all with the purpose of having less but feeling like you've always got something to wear. Secondly, it has really helped Andrew and me as we look at our finances: I allow myself to shop for one season at a time, sticking to a budget, and then not shop for another 3 months until the next season rolls around. Win-win for both of us- I find a few new pieces for my wardrobe and he is happy that we stuck to a friendly amount. Lastly, un-fancy has also helped me battle comparisons and those self-imposed standards and fears that I put on myself and think that others are judging me for. I had a friend message me today as she was shopping for diaper bags for her soon-to-be little one, and she said: "I know it's striped...and I have so many things with stripes. But I am taking the advice from your fashion blogger and embracing that I love stripes, stripes are me, and it's ok to have lots of things with stripes!" Visit Caroline's blog (link above) if you are interested to know more.

-The eldership process. Andrew spent the last full year going through our church's candidacy for pastor eldership, and I was able to join him for many of the steps along the way. Whether it was at a training or equipping meeting, a night of fellowship and getting to know other pastor-elders at the church, or sitting beside him as he struggled through and grew through his assignments, I loved being able to support my husband in his calling. Andrew has felt the call to pastor a church since he became a believer at the age of 18, and 10 years later things are beginning to come to fruition. This process also strengthened our marriage as we were asked many tough questions and had to reflect on our relationship constantly. The pastor-elders of The City Church have been so gracious to us, and now Andrew is officially installed as a pastor-elder as of last week. We are both thankful for the growth we are both experiencing as he steps into this role.

-YOGA! In 2014 I took a yoga class over the summer and fell in love with yoga forever. I take classes at Karmany Yoga on Hulen, and the classes can be the best parts of my week. Sometimes accompanied by my friend Erin and sometimes alone, yoga was the exercise method I had been craving and looking for. I had tried gym memberships that never got used, and honestly, getting on a machine or lifting weights was one of the least appealing things I could think of doing. I knew I needed to stay in shape and keep my heart healthy and build muscle, but how was I going to do that in a way that didn't make me cringe? The power yoga classes I go to do just that. I get to build + lengthen + strengthen muscles, stretch + build flexibility, and slow down after a long day or long week. I am a proud yogi, and I love it.

What Didn't Work in 2014

-Time management. This stretches over many, many pockets of our life. My inability to manage time well in general makes this one particularly hard for me. We did not manage our time well in balancing time spent with family vs. friends (both of our immediate families are local, as well as our church family- and that's a lot to balance). We did not manage our time well in balancing time with others vs. ourselves (our calendar filled up so quickly each week, and we were often left without even one night alone to spend together). We did not manage our time well in balancing alone time- I am more of an introvert who, after spending all of my days with children and others, needs time to write, play music, read, go to yoga, sit at a coffee shop, and just decompress...where as Andrew is more of an extrovert, always wanting to be together or with others, and doesn't need as much alone time since he works at a desk all day and is often alone. We did not manage our time well in balancing work vs. play- there would be many-a-time when assignments for church or lesson plans or things we needed to get done were overpowered by time for play and recreation, but then on the flip-side, there would be many-a-time where assignments + work + lesson plans were over-prioritized and we went for a full week without any rest or time for fun. Overall, time management is a big goal for us in 2015.

-My over-worked summer. When school is out, a teacher really just needs to rest up for the next school year. I know that people often judge teachers for having a full 2 months off in the summertime, but it is so. necessary. I love everything summer: pools, water, sun, towels, sunscreen, being outside, parks, just everything summer. I feel like Olaf in that I could probably write a song myself about how much I love summer! And this past summer, I did not get to fully enjoy the season I love the most because I honestly worked for most of it. Truthfully, I love my friends, and I love their kids, and I love serving and helping them out- but I was exhausted last summer. I had originally set aside 2 weeks in June for teaching swimming lessons, and I don't want to seem ungrateful for what did happen because it was more than I expected and I was honored to do it- but what was supposed to be 2 weeks grew to 5 weeks, and what was only 2 weeks of swimming lessons turned to 5 weeks of swimming lessons + nannying my friend's kids across town 2-3 days per week. And then July rolled around and I had 5 weeks straight of training for my new job, and then school started. So, I did not get to really rest or recreate last summer, and I was beat when school began. As much as I love teaching swim to my friends' precious kiddos, it was a good/hard lesson in learning my capacity and when to say no.

-Chasing perfectionism and control. See that word up there? It's one of my words for 2015. I want to CHASE after my Jesus. I want to CHASE after the things that bring me life, not death. Most of the anxiety and depression I dealt with last year come down to these two things. Chasing them does not bring life. Chasing them does not bring joy. Chasing them is going against what God says is true: that Christ is made perfect in my weakness, and when I am weak then HE is strong; that God is sovereign over all things, and through him and to him and for him are all things, who could be his counselor?, who knows the mind of the Lord?; that I am to not boast in anything but the death and resurrection of Jesus; that I am an imperfect sinner who has been called and made righteous through Christ, and that Christ lives in me and I in him. None of those life-giving truths cater to chasing perfectionism and control. Not one. All that chasing those things did for me was drive me into a deeper pit and create more disbelief. Things I am still learning and fighting today.

My reflective Sunday is now coming to a close, and I need to rest up and watch a lot of Lost this afternoon to kick the low-grade fever I'm experiencing. I challenge and ask you these things: What worked or didn't work for you in 2014?

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Done is Better Than Perfect"

Good afternoon! I am writing to you from my little tranquil historic home in Fort Worth, Texas, as the sun is peeking through the blinds and Ed Sheeran is gracefully crooning over my computer speakers. Today is MLK, Jr. holiday, and my fellow coworkers and I have the blessing to stay home and enjoy this beautiful day in January, where the temperature is 71 degrees and the sky is a periwinkle blue. I love days like today, where I get to just stay in my pajamas and slippers all day, sip hot herbal tea, see my husband on his lunch break, not put on a stitch of makeup, and just have some time to enjoy breathing, living, and thinking. Oh boy, do I do a lot of thinking on these kinds of days.

Some days of thinking are healthier and more productive than others. Some days of thinking leave me in a big ball of stress or self-doubt. Today is one of those thinking days that is the former- healthy, productive, and positive.

I have spent the past 5 hours or so once again rearranging my class's scope and sequence for the rest of the year, planning out a PBL on historical figures in the US, contacting a teacher in Pennsylvania about Skypeing with her class to share information about our beloved states, and creating several documents to go along with everything. This year has been such a whirlwind of trying to combine elements of Gifted/Talented education and strategies into the Texas state standards and expectations. I have clung to my precious Bloom's Taxonomy verb charts and higher-level question stems, built a PLN on Twitter to connect with other educators across the world for their expertise, filled journals with pages and pages of ideas- to only then be frustrated to have to choose between the ideas!- and spent many dear hours piecing together units that try to be as cross-curricular as possible. Evidence below:

I have learned so much this year, and have grown tremendously as an educator. I admit that some days are easier than others, when I revel in the fact that I get the chance to use my own innovativeness and creativity to create learning experiences for my students that I would have loved as a child. Some days I wonder if the work will ever end. Sometimes the thought that I have so far to go and so much to do and build can paralyze me into inaction. I then don't take any steps forward, and end up even more behind than before.

But the other day I saw this when perusing Lara Casey's blog, as well as a blog by my friend Casey Chappell.


And my life, once again, was changed.

So often as a woman, wife, friend, and teacher, I think that everything I do needs to be done perfectly. And sometimes, this disables me from doing anything at all. I find that if I can't do it to the fullest extent that it could be, I shy away from doing it completely- and time passes, days go by, and I still haven't done it. This manifests itself in so many ways in my life.

"I can't sit down and write music...I won't have enough time to make it a good song." "I can't start the laundry...I won't have enough time to fold it all so it won't have any wrinkles." "I can't cook that won't taste as good as that blogger made it taste." "I can't teach this unit...I don't have a perfect lesson plan stuffed with higher-level Bloom's questions and GT strategies and Thinking Hats and FFOE and art/writing/any connections and I won't do this topic justice..."

Sigh. Paralyzed from taking any action. But now...I recognize that getting things DONE is better than getting them done PERFECTLY. Because, frankly, I'm teaching myself this as I write it- nothing ever will be, or can be, perfect. Ever.

Getting things DONE doesn't mean that I do them half-way or in an incomplete, lazy fashion. I get them done to the best of my ability and celebrate the fact that I at least tried. I at least completed the task, put in my best effort, and am moving forward.

This, my friends, is my theme for 2015. Make it Happen. Done is better than perfect. It is so growth mindset- don't you think? We can't keep growing if we are stuck in the same place disabled by our own perfectionism or self-imposed standards. Growth happens when we make things happen. Despite them being imperfect.

My colleague and saving grace this year, Jeanette, taught me about Growth Mindset, a philosophy created by Carol Dweck, earlier this year on the second day of school when I was crying hopelessly in her office. Growth mindset has utterly and indefinitely changed my life forever. You see, the whole idea is that we as humans are continually growing and changing. Where we are now is not where we will always be. The lesson we screwed up on today isn't the measure of us as a teacher- it doesn't mean that we are terrible and should never teach again. The fight I had with my husband isn't the measure of our marriage- it doesn't mean that things are in disrepair and that we will never come out of it, or that I am a failure as a wife. 

No, these minor setbacks, these mistakes, these experiences, are all to serve the purpose of helping us to GROW. That lesson I messed up in the classroom? Because of it, I now know: What to not do in the future, what TO DO in the future instead, and how to change or tweak the lesson to be more successful. Now the next time I teach it, it will be better. That fight I had with Andrew? Because of it, I now know: what hurts Andrew and what to avoid doing in the future, ways I can love and respect Andrew better, things I need to repent for and ask for forgiveness for, and a deeper appreciation for him as my spouse.

Growth. Viewing mistakes and failures as opportunities for growth and change. This not only has changed me as a wife, teacher, and friend, but also as a daughter of the King. He doesn't look down on me with utter disgust and disappointment like I've always wrongly pictured him doing. He looks at me with compassion and love, teaching me and constantly using my sin and failure to conform me into the image of Jesus, gently leading me back as his lost sheep to his grand pasture.

And honestly, the biggest charge I'm taking from all of this is to "set my mind on things above" and not on things of the earth. Just like Romans 8 tells me, setting my mind on the flesh- death, despair, failure, sin- worry, stress, setbacks, disqualifications, accusations- whenever I set my mind on those things, you bet they sure don't bring me peace. It is when I set my mind on things above- love, hope, growth, sanctification, beauty, trust, rest, life, endurance, perseverance, character, all wrapped up in my beautiful Savior- that is when I do experience true peace that comes from Jesus.

So, as I continue on this journey of life, growth, and change, I am following Lara Casey's charge to reflect on a few things: What worked in 2014, what didn't work in 2014, and my yes and no list for 2015. I can't wait to post these things as I reflect and think on them all, and for 2015 to be the year where I am no longer paralyzed by inaction, but invigorated and inspired to do, be, create, learn, explore, LIVE.

My Night With a First Grader

Every year, my school has a silent auction to raise money for our school's PTA. The items to bid on do not only include trips to DisneyWorld or massages at a local spa, but the teachers themselves offer up a night out (usually in a group or with a team). Children then have the opportunity to happily bid on an evening spent bowling, getting pedicures, or catching the latest G rated film with the person who earlier that day taught them a math lesson.

Along with my vertical gifted/talented team, we created a "Game and Movie Night" that children were able to bid on. I remember laughing out of surprise when I received word on who won a night out with me, the ol' teach.

*Charlie is a student who I can honestly say has the ability to challenge my own thinking while at the same time make me melt into a puddle. He is a bold and bright leader, the kind of kid who can rule the school. All the other kids like him, want to be around him, follow his lead, think he is funny, and so forth. When I go around in a circle each day telling my students individually "good morning" and "I love you," he is the student that doesn't say "I love you" back because it's just not cool for such a cool guy to do so. But every now and then he will let it slip without thinking and quickly cover his mouth and turn bright red and pretend like nothing ever happened. Oh, and his MIND...he is one of the most well-spoken, intellectual children I have ever come across at the age of 7. He has the communication skills of an adult and can explain some of the most intricate topics or define higher-level vocabulary like it's nobody's business. He is just all around a cool kid, and a joy to teach.

So imagine my surprise when he bid on a night with me! I, not being very cool, got the chance to hang out with this super cool kid along with my coworkers and their winning bidders. I was really excited for the opportunity to get to let loose and have a laid-back night with a student- to see him more in his element without the pressures of school and work and projects and such. The night came, and there Charlie was in the library, waiting for me with a wooden chess board in hand.

We ate pizza, had lots of chocolate, watched a movie about math (which our highly gifted kids couldn't get over and kept talking about need for Frozen when you have Donald Duck in Mathematics Land, you know), and played hilarious games. And we laughed. A lot. I don't know if I've laughed that hard in a long time. At one point I was actually crying and wiping my eyes. Charlie totally let his walls down too and had a blast with the other children, teachers, and me. And when your student's parent comes to pick him up at 8:30 pm and he says he doesn't want to leave or go silently cheer on the inside because you know that means they find time with you, or time at school, valuable.

I write about this night on here because I just don't want to forget how cool it was to spend time with a student outside of school hours and just be real in front of them. It made me reflect on how I want to be more "real" and transparent on a daily basis in the classroom, to let my students see the real Mrs. Rubinson- that I am a human being that can laugh, make mistakes and learn from them, have fun and relax and not constantly succumb to the pressures of test scores or perfectionism. I will never forget last school year when one of my students saw me laughing one day and mentioned, "Mrs. Rubinson, you're laughing! I never see you laugh." It struck such a powerful chord with me and I was determined to never let that be the case again. This year, laughing is a daily occurrence in our classroom- I make sure of it- because it's okay. Building relationships and classroom community isn't just about everything being perfectly timed and scheduled, or about rules and expectations constantly being followed to where humor and laughter can't be a part of your daily routine. I know my tendencies to always want to prove myself, to always want to appear to have it perfectly together, to always want to be in control of my surroundings- and those are tendencies that I don't want to pass on to my students. I want to pass on laughter. Love. Kindness. Honesty. Respect. Joy. Thankfulness for each day, even if a lesson goes awry or something falls apart.

My kids have taught me so much this year, as my students always do every year, and I thank them deeply for it. The perspective of 6-7 year olds can rival my own at times when their simplistic realities defeat my complicated tangle of distractions and mess of thoughts.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Right Thing is Not Always the Easiest

Ever heard this before:
"What is the right thing to do isn't always the easiest thing to do." 
Or some version of that type of saying?

I feel that this is a lesson we teach our students as they travel through our classrooms- teaching them to have courage, to stand up for themselves and for one another, to do the right thing even when it is hard. I know that I say things like this at least weekly, if not daily- and sometimes choosing the right thing to do is super difficult and it takes a lot of self control, perseverance, and understanding on one's part. These are things that we as educators should be teaching and empowering children to be able to do on their own, so that when the time comes and they are alone with a choice to make, they can make the right one.

However, I don't think this life lesson is one that needs to be forgotten as an adult, especially in the teaching profession.

A buzzword and common practice among educators today is collaboration. Collaboration is a beautiful thing that, if done well, can make the phrase "two heads are better than one" come to life. I had the pleasure of collaborating with an incredible colleague for 4 years at my past school, and it was a joy and immense opportunity for growth and learning to have someone next door to me to reflect daily with, share ideas with, bounce lessons off of one another with, share struggles and triumphs with. I know that because of the time spent putting our heads together I became a better teacher for my students, and we took our learning experiences farther than I could have on my own.

This being said, collaboration is a thrilling process that can result in brilliance, and is something that I miss this year being on my own little island. (I teach a self-contained class of highly gifted and talented first graders, and it is the only class of its kind in my district). However, collaboration is only worthwhile when it is done well. Collaboration is only true, worthwhile collaboration when members involved leave with new knowledge/understanding, a task to try, or learning of their own that they only could gain by the practice of respectfully sharing and creating new ideas with others. Collaboration is when every member of the group respectfully contributes meaning and experience to the task or discussion at hand, where ideas and thoughts of members are heard and respected by other members, where any existing problems are solved and solutions are created. Together.

How unfortunate it is when collaboration takes a wrong turn and a teacher's voice is silenced. It seems that doing the right thing for our students is often the unpopular thing amongst many others around us; where actually being positive about our job and teaching children, or desiring to try new lessons, or attempting a unique idea is frowned at, laughed at, scoffed at, or brushed off. That sometimes it is just the easier thing to stay quiet and aloof in a meeting instead of asserting your thoughts or ideas. That sometimes it is just the easier thing to go with the flow of a group instead of doing what you truly believe is best for children. True collaboration shouldn't result in those things, and when "collaborating" causes a member of the group to have to choose between what is right and what is easy, it shouldn't be called collaboration in the first place.

Today, I charge us, the educators of children, to just do it: do what is best for children, no matter the cost, no matter the opposition. In the words of Taylor Swift, haters are gonna hate- and we just need to shake it off. Because these kids are worth it. They are worth us doing the right thing for them, even if it means facing disapproval or unpopularity from others. When it comes down to it, what we do everyday affects lives. A student's life is precious. Think about that a second- it's a LIFE! A life, a mind, a soul, a heart, a person. This is a life that we are helping to build and shape, and if we truly value it, we need to fight for the very best for them.

It will take a lot of courage and confidence to be able to do this well and to always try to do what is right for children, instead of what is easiest.