Sparks of Joy #SOL21

Every morning I pause and write one thing I am thankful for from the previous day in my journal. This practice sets my intentions on the positive and begins my day seeking sparks of joy. Two from this week particularly caused me to smile. And of course they are tied to reading and writing.

Board Books for Big Brothers and Sisters

When a family welcomes a baby, we give the student a board book to read to their new sibling. Included with the board book is a letter congratulating them and encouraging them to read a book everyday to their new brother or sister. We also have a letter for their caregiver highlighting the benefits of reading aloud, along with tips for the first twelve months.

This particular student beamed when she talked about her new brother, Cannon Matthew. She shared with me how she was responsible for feeding him in the car and how important it was to make sure there was milk in the nipple of the bottle. She told me that he was too little for her to hold now, but in a few weeks, she would be able to wrap her arms around him.

These exchanges remind me of the importance of making time for each student and their life stories. They are bubbling up with things to share with us. Pausing from the rush of the day and taking time for just one student is so important.

I hope in a few months this book will be tattled and worn from its use.

Haiku

When she saw me walk past her classroom, she jumped up and ran to the door. “Mrs. Bless! I have something to show you.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out the smallest piece of cut paper. “Please read it.” I read her haiku aloud. I commended her writing and told her how peaceful it made me feel. I thanked her for saving it to share with me.

The next day, this student was having a rough day and needed to take a break in the office. I shared with her how thankful I was that she showed her haiku to me the day before. I even explained to her my daily ritual of writing down something I am thankful for each morning and that on that day, I had written down that I was thankful for her and her writing. Her eyes brightened and a small smile was visible (even through her mask). Yet another example of the importance of relationships and connections with students. They need us, and we need them!

New Lunch Routine #SOL21

Push

I impressed the button on the upper left side of my phone and the familiar image of my husband and I, arm and arm smiling, popped up.

Slide

A quick lift of the thumb brought up the home screen.

Tap

Three rolling sets of numbers appeared.

Adjust

Up/down/up/down until it was just right. 0 hours 30 min 0 sec

Press

My thumb tapped the start button.

30:00, 29:59, 29:58, 29:57

Today starts my new lunch routine. I ambitiously prepped five salad jars last night layered with made from scratch chili lime dressing, rotisserie chicken, cherry tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce. I painfully counted out 6 Triscuits. Is that really all there are in a serving size?? And threw in an apple for a little sweetness at the end. Lately, I’ve been having an internal debate about which variety of apples are the best. It’s always been Honeycrisp for me, but recently the Cosmic Crisp has pulled into the lead. This week, I’m having Honeycrisp since they were a tad cheaper at the grocery.

29:34

I move to the tall table in my office. Part of my new routine is that I will not eat at my desk and work. I am intentionally taking a 30 minute lunch away from the pull of school work. I shake my salad jar and coat the juicy chicken with the spicy dressing. Next, I dump my salad on a plate and begin loading my fork with a piece of chicken, tomato, lettuce. I strategically space out my Triscuits and savor each one.

17:15

I grab my apple and head out into the hallway. Finding the closest exit, I step into the open air. Ah, 68 degrees. A bit breezy, but I’ll take this any day. My feet pound the pavement as I walk 2 laps around the perimeter of the school building. Watching kids play on recess, observing the high school students rush to their cars on their way to lunch, hearing a few birds up in the trees. All sights and sounds to refresh my mind.

0:00

The apex timer plays. I scan the building for the closest entrance. Time to get back at it. I am ready for the second half of my day. A healthy lunch and 2,000 additional steps have given me renewed energy to make it the best afternoon available to me.

Additions for tomorrow: my book to read while I eat, walking shoes, an umbrella in case of rain, my earbuds to listen to a book or podcast while I walk, and the discipline to make this a habit.

The End Begins #SOL21

Today is the first day of the last quarter, of the last semester, of the last year of my son’s public school career. 44 days, 9 more weeks, 9 more Mondays. I know these weeks will fly by, but I sit this morning seeking to cherish this final lap in the race of becoming an adult.

Today will be a return to a somewhat normal schedule. Hybrid learning is over. All the students will be in the building at the same time, generating spring energy throughout the halls. I don’t think there will be the typical “senioritis” this year. These students have longed to be back together, to experience the everyday moments of high school existence…tired Mondays, laughter over a spilled drink, the pressure of getting to class on time, huddling over a funny video on Youtube, groaning over yet another assignment. While also still holding out hope for the extraordinary moments…prom, senior picnic, graduation, open houses, farewell parties.

44 days. Here we go!

My After School Routine #SOL21

I push open the exterior door to the school, step out into the fresh air and remove my mask. Loaded with my lunch bag, school bag, and usually at lease one additional bag (of books), I walk the 100 feet from my school building to my house. Crossing 27th Street, I attempt to shed my school worries and distractions, and put them on hold for the next 15 hours.

beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeep…I enter the door code and step into the respite of home. I find Josie asleep in the laundry room. She begins to stretch and roll on her back as a hello and request for a belly rub. My bags make their way to their assigned spots, often never opened and just picked up again the next morning.

I brew my afternoon cup of coffee, change into sweat pants, and give myself an hour to reset. Settling in to my spot on the couch, I catch up on the days events on social media, read the next few chapters in my current book, or write. Josie comes out of her lair and hops up next to me. She know our routine. This sacred hour rivals my morning time. I need it. I need this buffer between my school life and home life.

When the hour is up, I’m ready to tackle the next parts of the day. Usually a walk or some form of movement, working on dinner, and other household responsibilities.

What is your after school routine? How do you reset after a day of work?

Just Words

He ducked into my office quickly as the day was beginning. My mind was on a million things. It had been quite the first quarter. I was teaching 6th grade math online, recording writing lessons each day for 3-5th grade, answering tech calls from parents, helping teachers administer NWEA for the first time, and trying to stay afloat with other responsibilities I had as our instructional coach.

I’m sorry to interrupt…I’ll just take a minute of your time…I don’t want to embarrass you, but I want to let you know that you are the most positive person I know. You have been given so many responsibilities this year, and have done it all with a smile. No need to respond. I just wanted to let you know. Thanks for that.

He was out of my office in a flash. Less than one minute. Nothing fancy. No perfectly worded card. No flowers. No gift. Just words. And those words made all the difference in my day.

That was weeks ago, and I still sit thinking about those words. I am humbled by them, thankful for them, but also convicted by them. I need to use my words in this way more often. I need to intentionally take time to build others up, affirm the good work they are doing. It makes a difference. Who can I find to lift up today?

Pandemic Parade

cars, trucks, jeeps, convertibles
balloons, streamers, posters, inflatable whales
honking, waving, smiling, crying

teachers in vehicles
students on corners with signs
families on balconies of their apartments
siblings in the back of cars, feet dangling 
parents holding children in their arms

we are so proud of you
we miss you
#rocket strong
stay safe
rockets always find a way

we love our teachers
we miss you
can we come back yet?
future schmitt rocket
we miss school
go rockets

this is not how it is supposed to be
our hallways are silent
yet our streets are full of families
waiting to get a glimpse 
of their teachers driving by

we are full of hope
yet full of sorrow
my heart did not realize the longing
until i saw your faces, smiles
i miss you
when can we be together again?
august is too far away
and dare i say later?

Tomorrow #sol20

Dear Students,

Tomorrow you should be walking (though we know you rarely walk) through our doors. You should be sharing your spring break stories with us, or complaining about how you did nothing and missed us. You should be hugging friends you haven’t seen for over a week. You should be skipping down the hall, arm and arm with your bestie that you’ve missed so much.

Instead, you will be staying at home trying to navigate online learning while having a houseful of other learners and workers. Some of you will be heading to the waiting area at school at your scheduled time to pick up your device and other materials. Others will be at home with no resources to get the supplies you need. Many of you will wait in the car line to get your lunch from a brown sack.

No one wants this. We want you back at school. We want to see your smiling faces, and not just through a computer screen. We want to hear your grand ideas and attempt to answer your thoughtful questions. We want to be able to give hugs and high fives to welcome you back to your home away from home.

Tomorrow will be hard.

With Love,

Your Teachers

Doing the Hard Work

I stood at the “Meet the Staff” board in the hallway and perused the friendly pictures. What did I notice? Individual snapshots of the staff members standing by a brick background with tall green shrubs and welcoming smiles. Next to their picture was a self portrait, and below their picture was their name, title, and three words that describe them. All arranged neatly on a black background. It was very visually appealing.

But what caught my attention was a grey paper with hand drawn student faces and a bold “Meet Staff” on the side. The paper went on to ask Who am I? and described the process by which teachers created their displays. And then these words that resonated with me:

We ask children to sometimes do difficult things so we wanted to show that we too do things that feel vulnerable and are hard because there is value in the challenge.

This reminded me of writing. We need students to see that we do the difficult work right along side them. That we understand when they can’t think of what to write about, or feel their writing is not good, or struggle to focus. Through our practice as teacher writers, we can encourage, share strategies, and build a community where everyone is doing the hard work.

Say My Name, Say My Name

“Good Morning, Mrs. Bless. How are you today?” Tom says with a smile. Sometimes he is wearing his heavy coat, bright orange stocking cap, and thick mittens. Some days he is holding an umbrella with his rain slicker and boots on. Not matter what, every single day, he greets me by name and with a cheery disposition. Every. Single. Day.

This simple salutation starts my day on a positive note. If it has been a particularly hectic morning, Tom’s demeanor reminds me to take a breath and welcome this day ahead of me, to welcome the possibility that this day holds. His positive tone prods me to address our students in the same manner when they enter the building. Greeting people with a smile and a “Good morning” does matter. The simple things are important.

In addition to his perky morning salutation, Tom says my name. That simple, acknowledgement means something. It says, I know you, you matter, you are important. Names are a struggle for me. I know a lot of people say that, but it bothers me when I don’t know someone’s name. I have recently moved from the role of a classroom teacher with 25 names to learn into the role of instructional coach with over 600 names to learn. I want to be able to walk down the hall and greet students by name. I know it is important. I’ve got some strategies I’m using to try to learn every name. Is is a slow process, but a worthy one.

One Blessed Block

Much of my life happens in a few block radius. You see, I live across the street from my school (I am actually sitting and looking at is a I write this blog.), one block west of our middle school, and caddy corner from our high school, where my husband teaches and coaches. My kids have spent their educational years one block from every school they have attended.

Simplicity matters to me. Low stress daily living matters to me. I love the thought that for a majority of my week I don’t need a car. What is it about cars that raises my blood pressure? I love that I step out my front door every morning, lunch box and school bag on my shoulder, I walk one block, and Tom (my friendly crossing guard) is there to guide me across the street to my school.

I feel blessed that this is my life. I have walked to more football games, basketball games, track meets, open houses, etc. than I could count. I have run home when I’ve forgotten something, provided a key when someone has be locked out, checked on a sick child during my prep, and so much more. I am beyond thankful that I live my life on One Blessed Block.

My second home