Breathe For Change (B4C): My Journey to Becoming a Wellness Champion

IMG_0074 1On June 14th I began a literal and metaphoric journey to—Breathe For Change. As a classroom teacher who has been feeling like she’s been dangling by the thinnest thread at the end of her rope, I signed up for Breathe For Change hoping that this professional development would transform me in a way that would leave me feeling EQUANIMOUS (having or showing equanimity; even-tempered).Before beginning the training very little information was divulged—probably to keep many of us from cancelling and running back home with our proverbial tails between our legs. At any rate, I knew the focus of each day and where the training would take place—Riverview (an hour drive from my home in Land O’ Lakes)—not really complaining, but making a note of the distance. I did not anticipate two, sometimes three, yoga workouts in one day. I did not expect to shed tears nearly every day of training. I did not have any idea that I would walk away with love in my heart for so many complete strangers. I was completely caught off guard by the amount of teaching we were expected to do in such a short amount of time. But alas, it was all worth it.Day 1: Transformation of SelfToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to cry; really, get it ALL out!
  2. First: take care of self!
  3. Get out of the Comfort Zone!

The first thing I wrote in my B4C journal was the word: EQUANIMITY. From the beginning, my intention (a word that carries very different connotations after our Philosophy Lesson on June 26 (Day 12)–more of that to come later) was to maintain a state of equanimity: evenness of mind; composure. On this day we learned that we cannot take care of anyone else until we first take care of our self. During my first official journal entry I wrote: “Many variables have brought me to B4C. First and foremost, I desire an internal change…My intentions for myself are to be more equananimous [I have since learned that the correct adjective form is equanimous—even English teachers make mistakes:)].This desire for an internal change was expressed in front of a small group of strangers (Robbie, Kathryn, Michele, Blake, Carol, Ciara, Yael, and one familiar face Amy H.—love you girl). Amidst a face full of tears and a mostly inaudible cracking voice, I admitted that I didn’t like the person I had become in recent years. I had become this hateful and judgmental person who rarely, if ever, saw the good in anything and anyone—especially myself. As for my well-being, I desire a more balanced life: emotionally, physically, and mentally. I’d also like to add that I had a very narrow view of yoga, having written, “…yoga consists of movement-based exercise where breathing is at the center of every movement…[and] To ‘live yoga’ off the mat I believe I’ll need to keep coming back to my breath. To unionize my mind-soul-body; I need to create opportunities to ‘just breathe.’” And at the end of the day, our Philosophy instructor, Yael, made the point that we should try and think of yoga as: “Less of a quest and more of a rediscovery”.Day 2: Breathe For Beginnings (Building the foundation for wholeness)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Give up control.
  2. Respond; don’t react!
  3. Speak your truth!

During the Transformational Workshop on new beginnings, we journaled about our vision for ourselves. I wrote, “My vision for myself is to live in a fully equananimous [aren’t you glad that I finally learned how to correctly spell the word—equanimous] space—mentally, physically, and emotionally. By the end of the training, I want to be the woman who is not rocked or bothered by life’s ‘hiccups’—unexpected and/or disappointing occurrences/instances.” Shortly after writing this we had to identify obstacles that were preventing us from actualizing our vision. I noted that mine included, but were not limited to, my beliefs/judgments about others and myself, my set ways (stubbornness), and my desire to have things BE a certain way—and have my way be accepted by others.Later that day during meditation I wrote my intention for my meditation practice: “…accept ‘what is’ by responding to, rather than, reacting.” Again, this goes back to the idea of equanimity. If I am accepting what is, there is no need to react, only to respond—without judgment.During Philosophy we examined the “Pathways to Union”—the yoking of our minds and bodies. After a discussion in small groups, we spent additional time contemplating and reflecting on the pathway that would get us to the “stretch zone”. So let me back up for a minute. Back on day one we were introduced to graphic consisting of three nesting circles. The innermost circle consisted of the Comfort Zone—the place where no learning occurs. The circle just beyond the inner circle is the Stretch Zone, the place where learning occurs; a zone that is characterized as being uncomfortable. And finally, the outermost circle is the Panic Zone, another zone where learning does not occur—probably because our brains aren’t malleable when our emotions are in a state of panic. All that being said, the pathway I chose was jnana yoga—which deals with knowledge and intellect. This path to union asks us to ponder “Who Am I?” An answer to that question should include an exploration of The Vedas, Upanishads, and other sacred/spiritual texts. As someone who loves to learn and gain knowledge, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of yoga.Also, during this day we learned to be Mindful Listeners as we bared our souls to strangers who became our “accountabilabuddy” (love you Kelly R.)—a B4C term. For ten minutes straight we opened up to the truth of what has been holding us back. As we spoke, our partners did the best they could to simply listen (no gestures of agreement; no facial expressions—simply listen). And when the ten minutes were up, they took the next three minutes to reiterate what they heard—without judgement or agreement. This was truly a moving experience. Listening has evolved.Later, during Anatomy, we examined our “body story”. I accepted the truth that I have had few moments over the course of my forty-one years on this planet where I’ve had positive things to say about my own body when I look in the mirror. And the truth is setting me free.Day 3: Breathe For Creativity (Living Your Fully Expressed Self)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Listen to Lil’ John!
  2. Trust the process.
  3. Observe and accept my breath.
  4. Practice…

Today’s unofficial song of the day was: “Outta Your Mind” by Lil’ John. No, that wasn’t the song the B4C trainers were playing at the start of the day, but it became my song of the day after our Transformational Workshop (Thank you for listening and encouraging Lori D.).We answered the journal prompt: “What’s holding you back?” Easy one: ME!—my thoughts to be more precise. I wrote: “…All too often I get caught up in thinking and lose out on the doing. I allow my mind to wander to the past or to the future, and in doing so, I lose the precious space that is NOW.”Once we’d identified what has been holding us back, we created a list of ideas/solutions we could use to assist us in successfully moving beyond this stronghold. I do want to point out that we were encouraged to list whatever came to mind—never dwelling on the practicality or the potential absurdity of the idea/solution. Having pointed that out, I’ll share the five items I circled (most called to) and the three times I starred (the craziest). My list of five (most called to) included: read, go to a park and listen to others’ conversation(s)—don’t judge me, that could be some great material for a book;), say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, use Jeremiah’s count to 100 meditation strategy (more on that later), look/listen to the Atlantic Ocean all day long. The list of the three craziest ideas included: say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, listen to Morgan Freeman talk all day long, and scream all day long—about everything and nothing in particular. After we’d completed the evaluation of our ideas, we communicated them with our partner (Lori D.). The next step was to create our Action Plan. This plan consisted of a title, a three to five sentence description, three tangible actions steps, two external obstacles/resistances, two internal obstacles/resistances, and the support we need to succeed. My plan follows:

  1. Title: Operation “Get Outta My Mind!”—inspired by the Lil’ John song, “Outta Your Mind”.
  2. Description: Operation GOMM is meant to help me let go of my overactive mind. When I GOMM I’ll be able to live in the present moment—no longer thinking about the past or the future. Operation GOMM is the impetus for being fully in the present moment.
  3. Action Steps (3 tangible):
    • Listen to Lil’ John’s “Outta Your Mind.”
    • Go outside and enjoy the presence of other living beings—take a mindful walk.
    • Meditate by counting to 100–repeating the process, if necessary.
  4. External Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Time of day (may be at work or it could be unsafe to be outside)
    • Other’s around me may be unnerved by my presence
  5. Internal Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Laziness/Lacking Motivation
    • Too many obligations
  6. Support: Friends to venture out with, time to “just be”

Later that morning Jeremiah, our Zen Master and Meditation Leader, made a statement that resonated within me. He said, “Begin to build a relationship with your breath.” He went on to say that “what you resist, often persists”. This was a FOR REAL aha moment for me. When practicing meditation in the past, I’ve tried to stop thinking about something—never actually acknowledging it, but trying to suppress it and make it go away. And here was an entirely different, and yet freeing, message to embrace the thought(s) that arose. After a brief meditation, I wrote in my journal: “Practice—that I word is so important. Rather than try and reach a state of “perfection”, I want to remember that this is about practicing—practicing on focused breathing, practicing on coming back to the breath, practicing staying in this present moment.” And then I wrote, “We aren’t practicing to get anywhere other than where we are right now. Just BE HERE!”And if that wasn’t enough, Yael took us on a journey through the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Again, my first inclination of yoga was from the aspect of Asana. I had no idea just how deep the roots of yoga expanded.

  1. Yamas (first of two limbs that offer moral and ethical guidelines)
  2. Niyamas (second limb offering moral and ethical guidelines)
  3. Asana (the practice of physical postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath work and energy control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory control/awareness)
  6. Dharana (one-pointed concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation—the merging of individual and universal consciousness)
  8. Samadhi (beyond consciousness; towards enlightenment)

There is such depth to this idea of Yoga that I know we’ve only just scratched the surface. I am fascinated and eager to dig deeper.I have to add that during Anatomy I wrote the following in my journal: “So…I should truly be nicer to my feet. They are so very important. Tonight—my feet get a massage on me!” Truth be told, I try to massage my feet with Lavender Oil (mixed in Almond Oil) every night before bed. It feels good and smells good!During SELF (Social Emotional Learning & Facilitation) we examined Trauma Informed Teaching. I admit that I am not very knowledgeable about this. If anything, I’ve probably done some emotional damage to my students with my the tone of my voice and mood swings. I hope that I am better able to facilitate a sense of community in my future classrooms.Day 4: Breathe For Gratitude (Appreciating the Gift of Life)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Three Collective Breaths will transform 5th period!
  2. A gentle touch changes EVERYTHING!
  3. Use energy wisely.
  4. Appreciate more.

Today was revolutionary. Our Transformational Workshop was fo very filling and emotional. We created two circles. Members of the inner circle were prompted to close their eyes. Once our eyes were closed, the facilitators made statements—“Touch someone with whom you’d trek to Mt. Everest”. Members of the outside circle then walked around and gently touched those on the inside circle with whom the statement applied. First of all, physical touch is powerful. But an appreciative touch is truly transformative. Being part of the inner circle was both scary and liberating. Being touched was affirming in so many ways. There we were, for all intents and purposes—exposed. And yet, when someone came along and touched us, it was assuring to know that we were seen without pretenses.When Philosophy came around, we examined the Yamas (the “ethical” precepts of yoga). The Yamas can be considered the principles or guidelines of Yoga. There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed). We were tasked with journaling about which Yama we most need to explore. I chose Brahmacharya—not just because I need to practice saying it correctly, but because this precept asks us to use our energy in well-served ways—not impulsively or compulsively—which I have been prone to do. It also calls us to create and maintain healthy boundaries—again, areas I need to work through. Our manual noted it quite succinctly, “Anything that causes turbulence in the mind and stirs the emotions might be seen as violation of Brahmacharya”. There it is. This is confirmation of my overactive mind that then causes the emotional storms that I’ve let send me to moody extremes. If I’m living yoga off the mat, I certainly must learn to use my energy wisely.Later that day Yael shared some pearls of wisdom that immediately resonated within me. She quoted Tony Robbins, saying: “Trade your expectations for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” All too often I’ve let my expectations about the future cripple me when things didn’t turn out as I had expected/desired. Accepting this reality, I believe I can walk into the future with more appreciation for the singular moments that unfold rather than anticipating the unfolding of my expectations. This is especially true for me in the classroom. I want so very much for each of my students to succeed, and I have high expectations for their level of performance. But I know that it would be best to reframe these expectations to appreciations—appreciate them for showing up EVERY DAY, appreciate them for making an effort EVERY DAY, appreciate them for who they are in the present moment, and being hopeful that they’ll be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.Oh yeah, when I returned home that night, I shared how moved I was by the Transformational Workshop. It lead to a heartfelt conversation with my guy. We talked about physical touch and objectification. And at the end of the night we enjoyed a gentle and long embrace; it really does feel wonderful to be touched, to be embraced.Day 5: Transformation of RelationshipsToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is revolutionary!

In today’s Transformational Workshop we learned about Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This was by far the BEST tool for me to walk away with (and yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition). Anywho, NVC has a basic four-step approach and the materials we were given included a sheet that listed basic feelings and basic needs to help us prepare for the practice discussion.

  1. Observations (what you observe that does or does not contribute to your well-being).
    • “When I see/here…”
  2. Feelings (how you feel in relation to what you observe).
    • “I feel…”
  3. Needs (what you need or value—[rather than a preference, or a specific action] that causes my feelings).
    • “…because I need/value…”
  4. Requests (the concrete actions I would like taken)
    • “Would you be willing to…?”

The workshop began with our examining our relationships. Later, we split into partnerships (thank you Heidi) and practiced the NVC process. For my practice I had a conversation with my guy and expressed the following:

  1. Observation(s): We (my guy, his daughter and myself) rarely spend quality time together. You and I do things together and then you and your daughter do things together, but it’s rare that the three of us do something together—that doesn’t include sitting in front of a TV or movie screen and is not distracted by electronic devices.
  2. Feelings: I feel angry, isolated, and disconnected.
  3. Needs: Because I value quality time, my strongest Love Language, I need communal time, interaction, and a peaceful living environment.
  4. Request(s): Would you be willing to work together to ensure that we (all three of us) spend quality time together at least once a week?

Heidi and I took turns playing the role of each other’s significant other as we practiced the NVC process. And by the end of the day I had made up my mind that I was following through with the real thing when I got home. I even shared my intention (there’s that word again) with my Mentorship Group, This Is Us!243496ef-0857-4baa-898d-cfc124ebc196Finally, I felt like I was making real progress. I had a new practical tool that I could, and would, use to talk through things that were bothering me—things that I would normally let ruminate and cause me mental and emotional turbulence—a violation of Brahmacharya. At any rate, I did follow through with NVC that night when I went home and I’m glad to say that an emotional weight has been lifted. We had the talk and now we’re making the necessary steps to build a sense of “family”. Our talk lead to us agreeing to eat dinner together EVERY Thursday—no TV or electronic devices at the table. And we’ll engage in one activity a month that we can all agree upon.By and large, NVC is a practical tool that I can use at home and at work. I can even see my students benefitting from using the process to work through their interpersonal relationships at home and at school.But NVC wasn’t the only thing we learned about on day five. We explored the Niyamas—personal observances; the second half of the moral/ethical guidelines of Yoga. The Niyamas include: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (burning discipline), Svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (spiritual). The Niyamas are the “personal practices” that relate to our inner well being. When we journaled, I noted: “I think Saucha will serve me well in relationships at home and at school/work. A literal and metaphoric cleanse is certainly needed.” As the area of purity, Saucha is about keeping our bodies and environments clean and pure. More than anything, I need to be more mindful of what I eat and how it is impacting my body and mind. Likewise, I feel the need to declutter my surroundings. Less is more!Day 6: Breathe For Presence (Exploring the Best Gift of All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Quiet is still my favorite sound.

So, the day started with us being FULLY PRESENT, aka, we were encouraged to be quiet—not communicate with those around us. For someone who has spent a great deal of her childhood and adult life alone, I wasn’t really bothered by this exercise in presence. However, there were times when I was a bit unnerved—moments when I wanted to say “thank you” to someone or acknowledge their presence.During the Transformational Workshop we partnered up and soaked up one another’s presence without saying a word. The time I spent in Amy H’s presence was indescribable. It’s amazing what you can express without uttering a single word. It is also amazing what you can feel from just “holding space”—another B4C term that I’m totally using from here on out. Oh yeah, we also took time to engage in some Mindful Eating during our Presence Workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed this activity. In reflection, “There is a beautiful quiet present in one’s presence.”During Meditation today we learned about seven Mudras (seals/gestures)—a symbolic hand gesture that channels the flow of energy. Each mudra we learned about was presented in connection to the seven Chakras—energy centers in the body.

  1. Bhumisparsha Mudra: associated with Chakra 1 (Muladhara, the root Chakra); this mudra grounds us.
  2. Ksepana Mudra: associated with the 2nd Chakra (Svadhisthana, the sacral Chakra); this mudra is a gesture of pouring out and letting to (of negative energy).
  3. Abhaya Mudra: associated with the Manipura Chakra (solar plexus); this mudra cultivates strength, fearlessness, and protection.
  4. Garuda Mudra: associated with the Anahata, or heart Chakra; this mudra inspires creativity and cultivates collective energy.
  5. Shankh Mudra: associated with the Vishuddhi Chakra, throat chakra; this mudra calms the mind and enhances communication.
  6. Hakini Mudra: associated with the Ajna Chakra (third eye); this mudra focuses the mind, promotes concentration, imagination, and precise thinking.
  7. Jnana/Gyan Mudra: associated with the Sahasrara Chakra (crown of head); this mudra aids in dissolving the ego, cultivating concentration, and increasing mindfulness.

I am most interested in using the mudras to cultivate energy in more useful ways—being intentional about the Brahmacharya Yama I pointed out on day four.Day 7: Breathe For Compassion (Vulnerably Opening Our Hearts)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Just Breathe!
  2. I desperately need to extend some compassion to myself.
  3. It’s a great thing to be a GOAT (Greatest of All Time)—thanks Kristin!
  4. I am full; I am overflowing!
  5. Be happy HERE!—How we are in our bodies shapes our reality (thanks Jeremiah)!

“…as we increase our ability to love ourselves, we enhance our ability to extend love to the partners, family, friends, colleagues and students in our lives”—B4C Manual.As we began our Transformational Workshop I compiled the following list to define compassion:

  • Extending empathy
  • Showing concern
  • Active listening
  • A held hand
  • A warm embrace
  • A smile; a nod
  • A kind word
  • Understanding that we all have “those moments”

Later we identified Limiting Belief(s). I wrote,

  • “I am less than because I don’t have children.”
  • “I am not full, complete, and whole—lacking nothing.”

The feelings that arise with these limiting beliefs include: disgrace, anger, sad, shame and disappointment.And I use sarcasm and keep others at arms length (emotionally and physically) to “feel better” about myself.Once these statements/confessions were written in our journals we extended compassion to ourselves and one another through an activity. In groups of five (Lynnette, Jennifer, Kristin, Asia and myself) we were each given an opportunity to share our Limiting Belief, the feelings we associate with it, and our coping mechanisms—all the while mindfully listening to one another and then supporting one another with our presence. Thereafter we were given three minutes to speak to ourselves with compassion and encouragement. In the circle of my friends I opened up fully and completely. For the first time I shared the honest truth out loud, but with love, with compassion. In that circle I was fully supported and loved. Supported with physical touch, one of my partners (Lynnette) spoke support and love into my spirit. Speaking my truth out loud for the first time was the first step to extending compassion to myself. A step that will undoubtedly allow me to extend compassion to others.After this very transformative moment, we explored the Chakras (wheel of light/energy that runs through our physical and subtle body) during Philosophy. While I’d heard about Chakras before, my eyes were more fully opened when our Lead Trainer, Yael, outlined what each Chakra would look like in terms of deficiency, balance, and excess.

  1. Muladhara Chakra (root)
  2. Svadhisthana Chakra (sacral)
  3. Manipura Chakra (solar plexus)
  4. Anahata Chakra (heart)
  5. Vishuddhi Chakra (throat)
  6. Anja Chakra (third eye)
  7. Sahasrara Chakra (crown)

For instance, I believe that an imbalance exists in my Anahata (heart) Chakra. Deficiencies are characterized as: antisocial, critical, loneliness, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy, and narcissism. I definitely acknowledge my overly critical nature towards myself and others—some compassion is assuredly needed to balance this chakra. Also, my lack of empathy towards my students has made for unpleasant classroom interactions in recent years—again, some compassion is so very needed to bring this particular chakra into balance. And well, I get into my moods when I don’t want to be bothered by others—sounds like antisocial to me!Day 8: Breathe For Communication (Fostering Deeper Relationships)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Lions, Rabbits, Wolves, Turtles and Eagles—oh my!
  2. Emote: to show emotions.
  3. When you receive the message, hang up the phone (thanks Yael)!

Today’s Transformational Workshop began with us making a list of our strengths as communicators. My list included:

  • Written words
  • Attentive listener
  • Speaking when it seems most valid (not hogging a conversation)
  • Expressing body language
  • Facial expressions

Later we identified growth areas for communication:

  • Tone
  • Expressing good despite the bad (focusing on the positive)
  • “Bottom lining it”
  • Getting things off my chest (at the moment it arises) rather than bottling it in

After our journaling we had to choose with which of the following animals we most identified: wolf, eagle, rabbit, lion, turtle. I chose the turtle. Why you ask? Like the turtle, I have a hard exterior and soft interior. Like the turtle, I sometimes take my time doing things—I’m patient. And like the turtle, sometimes I come out of my shell; other times I enjoy the solitude of my interior space. We did some additional journaling to identify: our strengths, our challenges/weaknesses, our contributions (to other animal) and our needs (from other animals). In our animal groups we created a graphic to synthesize the information. It was so truly comforting to be around like-minded individuals. What wasn’t so comforting was verbalizing this information with everyone else—but hey, sometimes a turtle has to come out of his/her shell.When Philosophy time came around, I made the following declaration in my journal, “[My] #4 Chakra needs some alignment. I believe it begins with loving me. Each day I will verbalize one thing I love/appreciate about myself.”And then we had a day off. Yes! One might think that I would have used the day off to simply relax, take it easy. No! I got up and when to a Fire Flow yoga class at Chi Yoga. When I returned home I did get a few loads of laundry done, and I finally washed my STANK hair. But I didn’t take a nap at all. Actually, I suggested that my guy and I go for a bike ride later that evening. I may not have done much relaxing, but I did enjoy the day “off”.Day 9: Transformation of Community Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Connection is key!
  2. Stay woke!
  3. Show up, Speak up, Team up! (Thanks Betsy)
  4. That’s “A[we]sa[m]na”!

This day began with us devoting energy to a community with which we feel called to be of service. Based on comments and interactions from the previous eight days, a number of groups (People of Color, LGBT, Teens, Special Needs—to name a few). And after choosing a community, we broke into small groups and created an action plan. I walked away thinking about what I was breathing to cultivate in my future classrooms. My BFourC’s include breathing for: consideration, courteousness, compassion, and a sense of community.While contemplating the upcoming school year I thought about the possibility of a Yoga Night (perhaps during or after Conference Night). I thought about the bringing Yoga to the HOST program. And then I thought about Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (an organization with whom I recently worked) and I wondered if I could build a new relationship centered around yoga, meditation, mindfulness and SELF.Despite the fact that my principal got transferred to another school, I’m hoping that our new leader will still be interested in the Walker Wellness program that could certainly include yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices.During Meditation Practice we “manifested with our emotions”. This idea brought on some anxiety. Since day one of the training I had been trying to manage my emotions and sitting with myself and my emotions. Nevertheless, our Lead Trainer Jeremiah calmly reminded us that meditation is about three basic components: Observe (our feelings), Interpret (the feelings by accepting them and not trying to resist them), and then Respond (to these feelings with compassion). Sounds simple, but it isn’t exactly easy. However, I was able to work through the feelings without my overactive mind hijacking my meditation practice. Small victory!And once again, the Philosophy session was enlightening. Today’s focus was the (5) Kleshas (thought patterns that inhibit us from experiencing union).

  1. Avidya—represents ignorance (of the self); we forget we are divine; focus on outward attachments
  2. Asmita—the ego; it’s about living “the story”
  3. Raga—focused on attachment; idealism
  4. Dvesha—aversion; internal resistance
  5. Abhinivesha—fear of death; characterized by existing; concentrating on the unknown; lacking trust

We officially became yoga instructors today as we worked as a community to teach a sixty minute class. This essentially gave each member of our Mentorship Group about five minutes to cover a segment of the class. I was responsible for teaching Supine Poses and Forward Folds. Basically, I lead the group through Happy Baby, Supine Twists, Staff Pose and Seated Forward Fold. Not bad for my first go round.Day 10: Breathe For Inclusion (Cultivating Well-Being for All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Use Three Collective Breaths at the start of every conference.
    • After allowing my emotions to rule The Worst Conference Ever this past spring, I believe that this small gesture has the power to transform interactions with parents and students.
  2. Being a “teacher leader” doesn’t always mean that one has to have a title; I can make a difference in my classroom.
  3. May you be safe; may you be healthy, and my you extend compassion to those with whom you come into contact.
  4. Listen to the Beatles: “Let it Be!”
  5. While in Chaturanga Dandasana, elbows should never be lower than your hips—light bulb moment—right Wendy!
  6. Maha= great (peak pose)—approached from the Backwards Design Plan

Today we explored the idea of privilege as it relates to cultivating an atmosphere of inclusion. This was a unique day as each person considered their relationship with privilege. While journaling I noted, “Privilege gets to make the bulk of the decisions regarding Curriculum and Instruction and Pedagogy—regardless of one’s inherent qualifications, most often that is. As for class culture, privilege doesn’t dictate, but can if one [the classroom teacher] is not ‘awake’. The same can be said for family engagement as well. Awareness and ‘awake’ness can stifle or enhance a classroom culture or family environment. STAY WOKE!”More than ever, I think this workshop solidified that I am a champion for the underdog, for individuals who’ve been on the “outside looking in”. That being said, I journaled, “I am committed to supporting my peers with creating tools: emotional and physical, that will help their overall wellness. I am also committed to encouraging a classroom culture that is built on compassion for ‘other’!Today’s High Note—Meditation: I commented, “Today’s session was DIVINE! I caught myself ruminating on planning for the 2018-2019 school year, and I compassionately pulled myself back in to awareness of my breathing [and said to myself]: ‘I know you’re excited…but let’s try and focus on our breathing…”. That was pure self-compassion at work. PROGRESS!In Philosophy, we examined the question: “How do I live yoga off the mat?” For this exploration we learned about the sacred duality that is Yin and Yang. Yin (the moon energy) graphically expressed by the black space encircling the white dot, is characterized by stillness, coolness, contraction, inward, soft, introspective, “feminine”, and rest—to name a few. On the other hand, Yang (the sun energy) graphically expressed by the white space encircling the black dot, is characterized as outward, extension, openness, active, hot, aggressive, “masculine”, and motion—to name a few. And when it comes to balance, I listed the following:

  • Self-care
  • Asana
  • Cooling Breath
  • Nature
  • Macrobiotic Diet
  • Nostril Breathing

So, now I’ve got the tools and the know how—“Do or do not; there is no try!”Speaking of “Do or do not; there is no try,” we learned some incredibly beneficial information during Asana today. Teaching middle school English is a cake walk compared to teaching yoga! Before B4C, I had tried putting together a yoga sequence, but wasn’t aware of this “peak pose”—the pose that your are essentially working towards at the climax of the class. So we split up into groups of three (Lori D., Mell, and myself) and we began planning a class with this “peak pose” in mind. We anticipated that we’d be teaching this lesson soon. We were mistaken. After the planning and excitement, we soon learned that we’d be teaching another class, but the class was with a partner from our Mentorship Group. And just like that the Turtle Power Trio was disbanded and the “One-Legged King Pigeon” class was but a mere memory in our journals. But also, we did unearth that the key to teaching yoga involves a three-step process:

  1. Identify the breath associated with the movement (inhale or exhale)
  2. Explain which body part(s) are moving, and in which direction (left foot back)
  3. Name the pose (in English—and Sanskrit if you’re on top of your game)

It was during this practice session that I realized I need a LOT of practice if ever I want to not sound like a blubbering idiot in front of anyone crazy enough to trust me to teach them yoga.Day 11: Breathe For Collaboration (Working Together for Greater Impact)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Channel our thoughts in ways that SERVE us.
  2. Shift the narrative
  3. I’m co-teaching a yoga class in three days, THREE DAYS—Kristin!
  4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable—thank you Jillian Michaels!

Today’s Transformational Workshop has left my memory. However, I did make a note during Anatomy to try and notice something positive about my body each day. Today, I’m loving my freckles and moles. I also decided to challenge myself to focus on what’s right and not on what’s wrong.And today Kristin and I began preparations for our sixty minute class “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”—a challenging journey to Crow/Crane pose.Day 12: Breathe For Social Justice (Using Wellness as a Vehicle for Social Change)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Stay mindful of my intentions!
  2. Be willing to fail!
  3. Give…give without the expectation of getting in return.
  4. Move through “it”, not past it—regarding the thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.
  5. Get ready to teach another class—SELF!
    1. I’ve got Mindful Movement—the “official dance of the state of Florida—the Sun Dance”!

Okay, today was mind-altering. Two important questions were posed to us: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? If I consider my role as a teacher with regards to these two questions, the answer seems simple. I’m providing my students with the skills they will need to be critical readers and well-versed writers. And why am I doing this? It darn sure isn’t for the money. It’s because I want to give back. I want to ensure that my students have what they need to succeed. I want them to feel equipped and capable of handling anything the world my dish out at them—academically and socially.Before our Transformational Workshop got underway we noted the tools that we’ve been given. I listed:

  • Non-Violent Communication (NVC)
  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Mantras
  • Mudras
  • Asana
  • Workbooks
  • Mentorship Group—This Is Us
  • B4C Family
  • SELF strategies

RESIST                              REFORM                                 REIMAGINE                             RECREATEFor the Transformational Workshop I confessed how socially unjust I’d been to my students. If I have learned nothing, I have learned that B4C has given me the strength to admit the truth without judgment (Thank you Brittney, Ashley, and Heather).It was once again during Meditation that this idea of intentions began to take new form in my mind. As we delved into unearthing Karma Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita, Yael said, “Find the thing that you’re willing to fail at…Have a willingness to fail before we succeed.” Ouch! She seriously said that to us. That’s REAL TALK! I’ve toyed around at this idea of publishing a book or two, but I’ve made minimal steps in turning that into a reality—a reality where rejection letters amount to my willingness to fail.She then noted five important factors:

  1. Don’t be afraid of hurting/killing
  2. You cannot outrun Dharma (cosmic duty; life’s purpose; your “why?”)
    • Found between our unique gift/skill and what the world needs
  3. Inaction isn’t possible
  4. Evil is in intentions; not actions
  5. Karmic yoga (tenants to consider)
    • Requires us to be in a place of pure intention
    • Don’t work for a reward
    • Don’t be attached to an outcome; release attachment

With all this newfound information, we made a list of five (or more) things that come “naturally” to us; things that we are “great” at; things that we’ve been told that we do “well”.My list included:

  • Making others laugh
  • Write well
  • Blatantly honest
  • Inquisitive
  • Give others things to think about
  • Say things other people need to hear

Next we considered an answer to one of the following:

  • What are you passionate about; willing to fail at?
  • What would you march on Capitol Hill for?
  • What would you put on a Billboard?
  • What would my captain say?

My Billboard would read: “Show appreciation to those around you: hold doors, say ‘hello’, say ‘thank you’, have a giving heart.And then we wrote a short response: “If money wasn’t an issue…I’d write and publish books (humorous) with embedded messages about humanity…write books that hold truths, but tackle them in a light-hearted way.”How does Dharma relate to social justice?“If I’m doing what I’ve been called to do, then I’m doing it from a place where I’m not trying to get something [in return], only to give [with pure intentions]”. And with that my good friend Asia shared some profound words of wisdom that resonated with me. Thanks Asia; I’m writing to that one person—me!I’ve got a micro move to make—time to dust off A Dictionary of a Middle School Teacher’s “Favorite” Words.Day 13: Integration and RenewalToday’s takeaway(s):

  1. There will always be something intriguing to learn during Philosophy.
  2. Like increases like.
  3. Opposites bring balance.
  4. Choose room-temperature water over ice-cold water.
  5. It’s okay to smile.

And then there was Ayurveda. Prior to B4C I’d had some exposure to Ayurveda. Having read several of Deepak Chopra’s books, I’ve been intrigued by this ancient mind-body health system from the East.According to Ayurveda there are three doshas—operating principles: Vata (air & ether), Pitta (fire & water), Kapha (earth & water). When I returned home, I found my copy of Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide. On January 21st, 2017, I completed the Ayurveda Mind Body Type Test. The results were: Vata (85), Pitta (106) and Kapha (61 points). I’m a Pitta-Vata type. What does that mean? In short, here are some of the characteristics:

  • Medium build
  • Strong
  • Muscular
  • Quick movements
  • Good stamina
  • Assertive
  • Welcome challenges

Let me just say that today’s Anatomy lesson was the BEST. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the human body—it’s pretty important if one is planning to teach yoga. That being said, I found the information about the Nervous System (The Observer Energy) so very relevant.The lesson started with our examining the difference between reacting and responding. So, that was a hard slap in the face. Before B4C, my go to was to react. I hardly ever took the time to respond. In all actuality, if something went wrong (as was pretty common), I immediately reacted with some form of dissatisfaction—most often visible in my facial expressions.If nothing else, today’s lesson gave me the encouragement I needed to tap into “The Observer Energy”.Day 14: Breathe For Harmony (Experiencing Universal Connection)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Honor All Bodies
  2. Kristin and I taught a sixty minute class!

One of the most important aspects of teaching yoga has been learning how to communicate modifications without sounding like an ass. And today we were given some vital information.B4C’s Approach to Modifications:

  1. Do be honest!
    • Understand that our body isn’t the standard; better yet—there is no standard!
  2. Don’t assume!
  3. Do know the student is in the driver’s seat!
    • Provide space and choice
  4. Do be helpful!
    • Provide options
    • Guide them to the right variation for them
  5. Be mindful of your language
    • Be inclusive
    • Be accessible
      • “If it’s in your practice…”
      • “If it feels good or right for you…”
      • “Your hands might be…”
      • “Feel free to play around with…”
  1. Provide alternative postures
    • Most accessible to least accessible
  2. Regard props as tools
  3. Provide adjustments
    • Back
    • Floor
    • Wall
  4. Assess/Identify the current challenges
  5. Ask for permission to make adjustments (friendly demeanor without judgment)
  6. Observe and consider what might work
  7. Offer/Suggest modifications
  8. Check in (ask questions)
    • What are you feeling/thinking?
  9. Reevaluate
    • Provide continued guidance

Day 15: Breathe For Playfulness (Living With Lightness and Joy)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to have fun—actually, it’s a necessity to have fun!

Our Transformational Workshop began with us returning to our playful roots. With some good music we danced our way to happy. This turtle was fully out of her shell!And here is how we channeled our inner playfulness:

  1. Duck-Duck Goose
  2. Yoga Charades
  3. Yogi Says (variation of Simon Says)
  4. Massage Circle
  5. Selfies with J. Bones
  6. Sing-A-Song to Yo’ Hommie (not the name, but that’s what I’m calling it)
  7. Mandala creation
  8. Mentorship Group Poster
  9. Rock-Paper-Scissors Chakra Evolution

Oh my goodness! We had so much fun. I didn’t want it to end. It seriously proved that, EVERYONE, irregardless of their age, should stop and play for a half an hour every day. Better yet, let’s follow in the steps of the NFL and promote Play60–but that sixty minutes should be playing one of your beloved childhood games (like Badminton)! Yeah!Day 16: Breathe For Inspiration (Igniting the Fire Within)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Be the observer of impermanence!
  2. Embrace change!

During Meditation I wrote, “This journey has brought me to a place of peace and stillness. Mentally I’d been a ‘wreck’ during meditation, but I’ve begun to use my breath as an anchor. I can elongate my breathing and find inner stillness.” That is a far cry from where I was mentally and emotionally on day one.Our esteemed Meditation trainer, Jeremiah, left us with three pearls of wisdom:

  1. Practice (that word has a new connotations since B4C)
  2. Love your wandering mind (accept and redirect—with compassion)
  3. Remember to tell yourself: I am my best teacher.

In our last and final group circle I mentioned that “There is something absolutely beautiful about change.” That was/is an honest truth. I’ve been changed over the course of sixteen days. I chose Breathe For Change, and it chose me. Together, with the help of the B4C staff, and the open-hearted educators who also chose to transform their own lives, we have only begun this journey. Though the sixteen-day training has commenced, our new lives have just begun. Some people got “their lives back”, others got their “peace” back, and still others got back to the heart of their True Self. Whatever it was that was gained and/or lost during those sixteen days, we can all say that we’ve been transformed from the inside out.And now, the Journey to the Center of Yoga has begun! I hope to see you somewhere along the path (remember, I’m a turtle)!IMG_0073 1

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Teacher Appreciation: A Teacher Shows Her Appreciation (pun intended)

Teacher Appreciation: A Teacher Shows Her Appreciation (pun intended)

Sharon M. Draper, the 1997 National Teacher of the Year and popular young-adult author, consistently reminds me in Not Quite Burned Out: But Crispy Around the Edges “Teaching is often maligned and denigrated by the media and the general public for being a thankless job that offers no rewards…we need to be reminded of the small pleasures and simple joys of working with young people, to overshadow the negativity we see portrayed about our profession” (2001).

As usual, I’ve got an axe to grind and this is my forum/platform to express my thoughts and feelings. Let me first note that I’ll do a little complaining (as is customary and healthy), then (partly in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week) I will (hopefully on a positive note) share the qualities/character traits that I most appreciate in my students, and finally end on a positive note by reflecting over the school year—which has finally concluded as of 12:25 p.m. today.  Hip-Hip-Horray!

Grinding the Axe (Thanks Marie [aka Bestie]!)

We (educators) serve a purpose—shaping and molding the minds of the next generation(s)—or at least those are the lies we tell ourselves to keep our heads above water. However, more often than not, we are the first to be crucified, persecuted or called out for our wrong doing. Rarely are teachers acknowledged for the “good” we do—like babysitting the kids that these modern-day parents don’t even interact with (I digress, for now). In recent decades teachers have been in the news for assaulting children, for having inappropriate relationships with children (which is exceptionally high in Florida—just saying), and for not supervising children (because we can’t be inside the classroom and out in the hallway at the same time—I’ve got your back Mrs. Lesh). Never is there news about a teacher having gone above and beyond to ensure that his/her students are amply prepared for life (our district’s mantra for the past three years).

At any rate, for the past ten years I have worked in one of the nation’s largest school districts in Florida. And in these ten years I have experienced the “highs” and “lows” of teaching. There have been moments when I’ve wanted to walk out my classroom, go straight to my vehicle and literally drive off into the sunset—which is absolutely beautiful down here. And then, there have been moments when I’ve walked out of my classroom at the end of the day beaming with elation at the enjoyment and enthusiasm that my students (and myself) recently experienced from one lesson or another. Lately, however, there have been more days when I’ve wanted to never return than days when I couldn’t wait to come back. I’ve come to regard these moments as the “normalities” of teaching. Let me set the record straight by pointing out that there is nothing “normal”, or sane, about teaching. Hell, those who endure this profession for longer than the national average of five years cannot be labeled as “normal”—and as such, we deserve free counseling and/or access to cognitive behavioral therapy, at least a unlimited yoga and meditation for the duration of our teaching careers. The only thing that is “normal” is that each day brings new challenges—some rewarding, some not so much.

As this fifteenth year draws to a close, I’ve been doing whatever I can to “survive”. No, it isn’t my worst year on record (by the way, that was the 2015-2016 school year—and another bag of worms that won’t be expounded upon at the present moment). But, it also hasn’t been the best (because when the BEST YEAR EVER arrives, I’m quitting at the end of it). It started out promising in many ways; however, as time elapsed, I began to feel those all too familiar pangs of frustration and burn out. Similar to my first ever year of teaching where I was ready to throw in the towel, but “couldn’t” because I’d just gone $26,000 deeper in debt to obtain a Masters in Education—one that is not currently recognized, nor financially compensated for by current employer. Now, fourteen years later I’m back in this all too familiar place. And what do I do when I find myself “here” again? I get advice from my friends—the living, breathing ones and those that are bound.

Before you let your mind start wandering with my reference to “bound” friends, understand that I do not endorse the mistreatment of others. Let me make it expertly clear that my “bound” friends are those with which I share my beloved namesake—books. Books are my friends and have been since I was knee-high to an anthill (bad analogy—whatever). Anywho, moments like this allow me to escape into the pages of a book (mostly non-fiction these days) and lose—or perhaps find—myself among the words that give me solace, hope, inspiration and comfort when I’ve been beat down. I recently began reading The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. In the first chapter, “The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching,” the author noted, “…good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of a teacher” (2007). Through a series of anecdotal accounts, the author draws the conclusion that “good teachers” are inherently true to themselves. In short, “…good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity [that] infuses their work”. After some contemplation and reflection, I have taken comfort in the fact that I am authentically me—in and out of the classroom. My personal agenda as a black woman suffuses every decision I make as an educator. There is so much that I hope my students (all of them—regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic standing, religious beliefs, sexual and/or gender orientation) gain from spending 185 days with me. I want them to find their unique voice as a writer, but to also leave being a bit more sure and confident with who they are as individuals—and to not be afraid to be different.

I appreciate students who: Express their unique “voice” 

During Teacher Appreciation week, one of my students gave me the BEST Thank You card EVER. What made his card the BEST EVER was the unique and thoughtful response he crafted. Recently, we began our exploration of Shakespeare and his comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because our students have limited exposure to Shakespeare and Early Modern English (Elizabethan English), they tend to shy away from the reading of his plays (yes, I’m that teacher, the one who will push them to take on a challenge—with the proper guidance, of course). Alas, they soon learn the futility of their fears because at some point in their lives they have to read one or more of his plays. And because we “care” about them, we make every attempt in Middle School to give them the skills to break down the text in a manner that allows them to understand the plot—and thus appreciate the humor embedded in Shakespeare’s works. Okay, so now that you’ve got some back story, I hope you can understand why the card featured above put a smile, and not a scowl, on my face during Teacher Appreciation Week. rahim

Not only did this kid properly use apostrophes, but he added the right Old English suffixes to make his missive absolutely one of a kind. And that is exactly what I wish for each and every one of my students. And, aside from his proper use of Shakespearean language, I am most appreciative of the following phrase, “…being the most real of mine own teachest’rs”. That line really goteth to thine heart (the cold, dead thing faintly beating in my chest).

I appreciate students who: “Keep it Real”

Real is all that I know to be. Being “real” is what has made me both adored and hated by present and former students (and some of their parents—since we’re really being real). But being real should be at the heart of every teacher. If we are to truly make a lasting impression on our students, we must give to them from our truest self. And that is what Parker Palmer was getting at in the first chapter of his acclaimed text The Courage to Teach. Also, I will never be the teacher that doles out hugs and high fives. And I am SO perfectly okay with that reality. I will never be that teacher who gives out grades to undeserving students (despite the constant meetings and passive-aggressive emails and talks from our school’s administrators). My students know from day one that “I Don’t Give Out Grades, YOU Earn Them”—not because I have a poster on my desk that says this, but it sure does help to remind them. They know this because I tell them (and their parents) this Truth during Open House. Here’s my Truth: I have had to work for everything I have (accomplishments, possessions and pain alike). Nothing was handed to me (except maybe a hard time—which I freely give to ALL of my students). And because of this fact, I believe that EVERY student needs to work (preferably to his/her greatest capacity) to earn a grade. Those students who produce little, if any, work tend to earn less than satisfactory grades.

I appreciate those who: Have a Diligent Work Ethic

On the other side of that proverbial coin: students who are diligent tend to earn higher grades. Carol Dweck points out in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise” (2006). Dweck’s words are part of my email signature at work. It serves as a reminder that I am a person (educator) with integrity. And as such, I’m not going to give a kid a grade just because he or she showed up to class. I don’t get a paycheck for “showing up to work”. I earn it by planning lessons, delivering those planned lessons, and by collaborating with colleagues (many of whom I’d rather ignore than talk to). I earn a living because I show up every day ready (and sometimes, not so ready) to teach and learn with my students. Later in chapter one of Palmer’s book he shared, “If the work we do lacks integrity for us, then we, the work, and the people we do it with will suffer” (2007). These words are poignant. They explained why Sales and Retail Management served as jobs for me and why I’ve made a career of Teaching. I learned early on that I was not successful at selling things that I didn’t believe in—clothes, shoes, and resume databases. It was/is impossible for me to be “authentic” in environments where I lack integrity. I sold clothes and shoes to make a living; I sold resume databases to get away from selling clothes and shoes. But these words also get at the heart of another student document and feedback to a student’s comment (an expected criteria on the Article of the Week, or AOW). In short, I have a great deal of respect for resourceful students as their resourcefulness is a byproduct of their diligence. Kids who Rick Hanson would call resilient. In his most recent book Resilient: How to Grow An Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, he point out: “Mental resources like determination, self-worth, and kindness are what make us resilient: able to cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of opportunities” (2018).

I appreciate students who: Are Resilient

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been at this gig for fifteen years now, or because I’m a pit bull; but the following comment sent me into a tizzy. How dare a student, whose mother is a “teacher”, have the audacity to state that her teachers don’t care. ashleyAs my response indicates, I do care. I just don’t care in the ways, methods, strategies, etc. that this particular student desires. Some of my dearest teacher-friends care so much that they make breakfast for the students who’ve done their part to earn A’s and B’s over the course of the school year (love your Rex). Another one of my teacher-friends cares enough to call parents when their kids have done something good (love you Marie). Caring just so happens to be one of the IB Learner Profile traits that we reiterate with our students since we are an IB World School. And yes, I did make the statement at the beginning of the year that I needed to work on being more caring. I meant it in a joking manner (with a pinch of truth). Anyone who knows me intimately knows that my feelings run deep. No, I don’t go around sharing my feelings like some Elementary school teacher (no disrespect to Primary teachers), but I am convinced that a certain level of personal distance needs to be exercised when working with 8th grade students. And now that my sense of “caring” has been questioned, let’s talk about those teachers who “care” so much that they don’t ever read through their student’s work, but will quickly give them full credit for work that is neither complete nor well-written. This year one of my school’s objectives was to push feedback-driven instruction. Not to blow my own horn, but I am the poster child for the feedback-driven classroom. Nearly every assignment I give comes back with some form of feedback if it isn’t collected for completion. There is absolutely no way to read through EVERY assignment, and because of that, yes, some things just get collected/reviewed for completion. But let me make it very clear that those completion assignments aren’t collected very often. Besides, if EVERY assignment was truly scored based on the quality of writing, there would be few students who would be passing. Nevertheless, one message I try to impress upon my students is that quality trumps quantity—ALWAYS!

I appreciate students who: Express Depth of Thought

In the chapter titled, “How to Think”, educator and author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough succinctly stated, “…most people won’t tell teenage girls (especially the together, articulate ones) that they are lazy and the quality of their work is unacceptable. And sometimes kids need to hear that, or they have no reason to step up” (2012). And with that statement Paul Tough instantly became one of my educational heroes and his book(s) became one of my “bound” friends.

At the beginning of the school year I decided to engage in an Action Research Project—“There is no FEAR in FEEDBACK”. In years past students have seen, and responded to, teacher feedback (written and verbal) as negative. That being the case, my intention has been for students to remove the negative connotations surrounding the constant feedback I provide over the course of the school year. My objective was to use dedicated time (two days a month) towards conferencing with students one-on-one to provide students with verbal feedback. As a secondary measure, written feedback was provided for students—which was absent of a score point or letter grade for written assignments. Furthermore, it was my hope to provide students the opportunity to meet in small groups (3-5) to engage in student-led conferences with their peers. During these student-led conferences, peers would give and receive verbal and written feedback specific to the writing situation or task. By setting aside consistent, regular, and dedicated opportunities for students to meet with the teacher and in small student-led groups, it was my hope to foster and develop students’ written expression/clarity of ideas. And in the end, students would look at, and feel differently about, feedback.

Okay, so that was the rationale behind the Action Research. If you ask me whether or not ALL of those components were implemented, I cannot in good conscience say that is true. I had lofty goals, and learned that this process of changing my students’ mindsets is an on-going process. Nevertheless, I am pleased to note that at least one of my students (one of those girls that Tough mentioned in the quote above) made some improvement. The feedback form is one of many where I continuously noted that this student’s Commentary lacked depth of thought. Week after week, assignment after assignment, until finally, mid-way through the fourth and final grading period she finally went beyond the literal and simplistic. But what really impressed me was her final Independent Reading Project (IRP). Students chose one of five products to complete after the reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The student created a board game based of the play. It was exquisite, and I told her so right after I looked it over. The craftsmanship and depth of thought that went into her directions proved that students can (and do) rise to the level of expectation(s) that we set for them. We’ve all heard the adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so building a new Mindset in adolescents shouldn’t be expected to change overnight, or even of the course of a school year. But that will never stop me from trying.

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What I’ve Learned the Past Fifteen Years

Towards the end of each school year, I tend to do some form of reflection in an effort to improve upon my practice. This year my reflection inspired changes in my Open House Power Point Presentation. I changed up my game by adding the following slides: “’Keys’ to Success”—which is essentially a list of actions that will help students meet the demands of a teacher who challenges her students rather than allowing them to fester in their mediocrity, “What ‘caring’ looks like in room 510”—inspired by the student’s comment about wishing her teachers cared, “I respect…”—a list of character traits that I admire in my students, and “Pet Peeves”—a list of traits that will certainly put you on the train to losing my respect and only interfacing with the Angry Black Woman, the Hulk that resides within me. Even though I don’t feel like I can do this—teaching for another eighteen years (the point at which I will be of retirement age), at the very least I need to ensure that I am doing this with fidelity and integrity. Parker Palmer challenged me to ponder the following…

“…teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability…If a work does not gladden me in these ways, I need to consider laying it down”—Parker J. Palmer

Today, on my fifteenth “Last Day of School” we (my students and I) ended the year differently—with yoga and meditation. I took a chance, and was rewarded with a fulfilling dividend—a positive response from my students. At the start of the day, I moved the desks to the outskirts of the classroom, placed yoga mats on the floor, and spread out my fairy lights. The ambiance and the student’s reception made for the BEST Last Day on the record. Each class entered the room with a mixture of surprise and bafflement. By the time the period ended, the students were relaxed. A few even expressed their newfound interest in yoga and/or meditation. I’ve reflected and drawn the conclusion that you can teach an old [downward] dog new tricks.

yoga

Almost every day I consider laying this down. And nearly every August I return to teaching hopeful (even if only on a miniscule level) that the upcoming school year and its students will yield fulfillment and pleasure (I know–silly rabbit– tricks are for kids). For now, I’m not yet ready to call it quits. But I’m damn sure ready for my eight weeks of a teacher’s three R’s: Rest, Recovery and Red wine.

Can somebody point me to the wine cellar, please and thank you?!

The Morning Process: Mourning in the Morning

morning (mawr-ning) noun 1. the first part or period of the day, extending from dawn, or from midnight, to noon; 2. the beginning of day; dawn.

mourning (mawr-ning, mohr-) noun 1. the act of a person who mourns; sorrowing or lamentation; 2. the conventional manifestation of sorrow for a person’s death, especially by the wearing of black clothes or a black armband, the hanging of flags at half-mast, etc.

In a 2013 article titled, “The Sacred Experience of Grief and Mourning”, Amy Brown, a R.N. in Gynecology-Oncology shares her experience of losing patients and sheds light on the grieving process. She expands Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s linear five-stage model of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and explores the Four Tasks of Grief and Mourning introduced by Dr. J. William Worden. The task model differs as it is non-linear and the tasks may be worked through simultaneously. The new model includes the following tasks:

  1. To Accept the Reality of the Loss
    1. This first task involves facing the reality that our loved one is gone and reunion with them (in this lifetime) is impossible.

When I awoke this morning, I had finally accepted the reality that reconciliation with my once and former beloved was highly unlikely.

  1. To Process the Pain of Grief
    1. There is both physical and emotional pain involved with grief. This experience is different for everyone and is deeply rooted in attachment theory.
    2. Attachment Theory, developed by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, attempts to understand the intense distress experienced by infants who have been separated by their parents.

The past two weeks have been devoted to my processing (emotionally and physically) the fact that my beloved had ended the commitment. I have processed with hypnotherapy, with singing, with writing, and with talking (candidly with friends and family).

  1. To Adjust to a World Without the Deceased
    1. The three areas of adjustment after a loved one dies are external, internal, and spiritual. External adjustments involve everyday function; specifically, how the griever will adjust to day-to-day life without the deceased…Internal adjustments involve the sense of self…there will be challenges to one’s self-esteem, self-definition, and sense of self-efficacy…The third area of adjustment is that of spirituality in terms of one’s beliefs, values, and assumptions about the world. The death of a loved one can challenge our fundamental belief systems. Many people search for meaning in the loss of their loved one and in the process, they may leave their church or seek out a church or spiritual discipline for the first time in their lives.

Over the course of the past two weeks I have done my best to not “insert myself” into my beloved’s life, but more and more often I have found myself sending him emails and text messages in an effort to remain connected. Since we have never seen each other daily, I haven’t been too overly bothered by not seeing him. I have however been adversely affected by not hearing his voice. I broke down and called him last Saturday as a result. In terms of the internal adjustments I have been reciting positive confessions each day in an effort to redevelop my self-esteem and self-worth. I have also re-submerged myself in The Word in order to see myself as God sees me—which also serves to realign my spirituality.

 

  1. To Find an Enduring Connection With the Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life
    1. This task involves emotionally relocating the deceased so that the griever remains connected with them but at the same times goes on with life…When people are able to incorporate the influences, values, memories, and inspirations of their deceased love one into their new patterns of living, the transformation can be very endearing and humbling.

Because my beloved is not physically deceased, I have had to emotionally “relocate” him into a place where I cannot easily access him—out of sight, out of mind.

Not all deaths are those that consume the soul of the physical body; some deaths are those of the relationship variety. Yesterday I wised up and cut off all communication with my once and former beloved. After finally accepting the truth of his actions (inaction actually), I determined that it was time to sever ties and truly move forward with my life. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz cautions his readers on the issue of lies as they relate to the second agreement, “Don’t Take Things Personally”:

Don’t expect people to tell you the truth because they also lie to themselves. You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you. When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do [don’t say or don’t do]. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid. They are afraid you will discover that they are not perfect…If others say one thing, but do another, you are lying to yourself if you don’t listen to their actions. If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for a while, but your heart will eventually heal. Then you can choose what you really want. You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make right choices.

Last night I deleted every email, text message, picture, and I “unfriended” him on Facebook. When I awoke this morning, I began my morning (mourning) process. After two weeks of emotional torture, I had drawn the conclusion that this man had no intentions of reconciliation. While a recent email response gave me a glimmer of hope with his “Maybe. I just need time to heal and clear my head [,] so maybe one day I can forgive;” his inaction said something else completely. When I finally listened to his actions a day later, they didn’t match up.

(Me) Your comment about forgiveness weighed heavy on my heart.

This morning I wrote an article about Forgiveness on my blog.

Here is some of what I wrote…

(Beloved)

Maybe once you forgive all of the folks that hurt you in your past

[it] may free you for your future.

Not hold all that inside.

(Me) I don’t hold any ill-will towards anyone.

If I did, I wouldn’t be able to write as much as I have lately.

(Beloved) Ok.

(Me) But have you forgiven me?

(Beloved) Most certainly.

I had been listening…but what I heard wasn’t making any sense to me. Why would someone who has supposedly forgiven me “…need time to heal and clear [his] head so maybe one day [he] can forgive”? That question wracked my brain. Immediately my mind returned to the words of Don Miguel Ruiz, “…listen to their actions”. His action(s)/inaction was saying very clearly that he was toying with my emotions and had no real intentions of reconciliation. While he may have sent intermittent text messages and random emails in the past two weeks, he had not once called me in the two weeks since pulling the plug on our relationship. And when I did reach out to him, he was emotionally distant and his responses tended to be short, vague and nebulous.

My movement through Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five-stage model:

Sunday, May 31st: Denial over the relationship’s end

Monday, June 1st: Anger and Bargaining with my Beloved

Everyday: Fighting depression

Saturday, June 13th: Acceptance of the relationship’s end

heart beat

Time of Death: 06/13/2015

Citation:

Brown, Amy. “The sacred experience of grief and mourning.” Journal of Gynecologic Oncology Nursing 23.1 (2013): 10+. Academic OneFile. Web. 13 June 2015.

Home Sweet Home

Judy Garland said it best while in character as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

country roads

Growing up in an area known for its poverty (fiscal and emotional), I have found it difficult to express a sense of pride in my West Virginian roots (and don’t get me started on my “African-American” roots). In my travels if someone asked me where I was from I’d of course respond with the truth (however half-hearted), West Virginia, but I tended to lack the gumption to say it with any vigor. And aside from that, many people would then go on to say, “Oh, Western Virginia. That’s nice.” Of course, I would get a little flustered by their lack of geographic knowledge and typically spout out that “No, not Virginia. West Virginia, it’s a state—ironically enough, west of Virginia. It was once part of Virginia, but succeeded over the issue of slavery—or so say the history books we read in my childhood.” But it was like my words fell on deaf ears because it seemed that so few people knew about the state that I called “home.”

Earlier this morning I woke up and decided I needed a run. While I was on my way down the steep and winding hill, I ran into one of my childhood acquaintances—a girl (woman now) who used to live just two doors down from us, but who had subsequently purchased a house around the corner with her husband. When she (Misty) finally recognized who I was, we stood in the middle of the road and talked for a few minutes. It was a pleasure to hear about her life (as a married woman with kids) and about the evolution of our old neighborhood. Our conversation ended with the typically pleasantries and an invitation to stop by for a longer chat before I headed back to Florida in a few days (something I most assuredly plan on doing).

When I finally reached the bottom of the hill I put in my ear buds, turned on my ipod, and started my GPS watch. I really didn’t know how far I planned to run, just that I needed to clear my mind. As I ran past familiar landmarks, it brought back memories (some pleasant, some not so pleasant). I passed by closed houses and businesses. I ran over crumbling sidewalks, and what I saw were the continued effects of poverty. It saddened me that my hometown had become the skeleton of a once robust man. But more than anything, my run reminded me that home truly is where your heart is. Years ago I vowed to never return to West Virginia as a resident because I felt I had emotionally “outgrown” the state. However, I realized that I can always return to this place and feel the love and joy that comes from familiarity. True enough, the last time I had lived here was over fifteen years ago and I didn’t really miss the place, but I have realized that I missed the people I call friends and family.

Since returning home for a visit I have taken a few wonderful naps (and I’ve only been here a day). I’ve regained some of the appetite I lost over a week and a half ago. I have reconnected with family and friends. I have grown to appreciate my rural upbringing. I have made peace with my impoverished roots. And I have even shed some emotional baggage.

While Saint Petersburg, Florida is now my “home”, my heart will always be tethered to Charleston, West Virginia.

I can hear the voice of John Denver in the trees whispering: “Country roads/take me home/to the place/where I belong/ West Virginia/mountain momma/take me home/country roads.”

I Lost God; He Didn’t Lose Me

People lose all sorts of things: keys, money, books, track of time, socks, memories, games (contests), their minds, etc. Funny thing (in an ironic sort of way)—I seemed to have lost God somewhere over the past year. I know it sounds like an extremely strange statement, but it’s my truth. I’ve never spoken with someone who claims to have lost God, but I’ve had countless conversations with people who have lost one or more of the aforementioned items. Nevertheless, over the course of a year I have lost God—lost my ability to talk to God, to feel His presence in my life, to believe in/have faith in God, to pray to/speak to God, to meditate on His inspired word, to commune with other believers, to trust His word(s)—in short, I’ve simply lost Him.

 

And yet here I am wondering: is it even possible to lose God? Seriously, if we take God’s inspired word, The Bible, as Truth, then perhaps I’m delusional in thinking that I’ve lost God. But bear with me as I attempt to rationalize my current situation. In The Message translation of the bible, Deuteronomy 31:6 states:

 

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them [doubts, circumstances, setbacks, shortcomings] a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”

 

If God, my God (because at one point in time I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior), is striding ahead of me, is right there (here) with me, how can I have lost Him? But I’m being real here, being completely honest and transparent.

 

I have lost God.

 

If I accept Deuteronomy 31:6 as Truth, then God hasn’t left me, hasn’t lost me—I’m the one in this relationship who has lost Him. And yes, it is a relationship. Despite the fact that I cannot touch God like I touch/feel other human beings, cannot have a conversation with Him as I do other human beings, cannot see Him like I see other human beings (or can I?), that doesn’t necessarily negate His presence, nor his being real. Yet and still, therein lies my dilemma. I want to believe God’s word. I want to believe that the words of the “Good Book” are true, but much of what I have seen and/or experienced over the course of my existence on this planet has left me questioning the truth of His word.

 

Let’s get back to business. If God is all and in all, then God is everywhere. And if God is everywhere, how can it be that I have lost Him? Again, let’s look at what His word says. Colossians 1:16-17 in the King James Version (KJV) reads:

 

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

 

Again, let’s break this down. If God is the creator of all things (present in heaven and earth, visible and invisible), then He exists in all things and that means that God is more than a “presence” one feels in a church (house of worship) and there is more than one way to feel him, see him, commune with him, to know Him.

 

But I have lost God.

 

Seemingly out of nowhere, I broke down in tears this afternoon in the midst of a conversation I was having with a close friend (in her car of all places—I guess where shouldn’t matter, but it was just odd how it all happened). She was sharing her walk with me when the flood of tears escaped my eyes. We were reflecting on life, being raw, being honest about our feelings when I simply allowed my truth to come out. I said:

 

“I’ve lost my way; I’ve lost my peace and I don’t know how to get it back.”

 

My friend looked me in the eye and said something that touched my heart more than she may ever know. She said . . .

 

“We all have to find our own way to God.”

 

Such simple words, but words with such a great impact. She went on to say that she has found God in nature and in a fiction book. She told me about this book that she had once read. The book, The Shack, by William Paul Young, had forever changed her relationship with God, had changed her life. And it was then that something inside me “broke”. All my life I had been trying to find the magic formula to make situations and circumstances in my life bend to my will. I would look at a person and try to figure out why things had seemingly come together for them and pattern my attempts at life after theirs. Still yet, I would gaze upon another and try to emulate their formula and all to no avail. My friend was right; we all have to find our own way to God. We all have to find our own path to peace and perhaps that peace doesn’t come instantaneously, or after a confession to a priest, or after our first, second, or ninety-fifth prayer to God. Perhaps our path to peace, our path to God happens after a lengthy uphill trudge full of stops and tasks along the way.

 

So here’s my truth: I’ve lost God. But I’ve heard that it only takes one step to once again find him.

 

Maybe I’ll find him in the midst of meditation (another suggestion from my great friend), maybe I’ll find him in His word, maybe I’ll find him in nature, maybe I’ll find him in a work of fiction, maybe I’ll find him in the spirit of another human being. Right now it matters more that I find Him and not so much where it is that I find him. Today, I’ve made the decision to seek Him; won’t you do the same? Isaiah 55:6 (The Message) urges us to:

 

“Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand.”

 

So despite the fact that I’ve lost God, I am going to do everything possible to find him.

 

One last thing. Before my friend drove off today she said that we (she and I) were going to commit to verbalizing His word even when we don’t completely feel it with our whole heart. Though I seemed to have lost God, I’m going to try and find my way back to him through His word. And if that doesn’t lead me to him, I will try another route. Truth is, I’m determined to find my way back to him and I won’t give up until I’ve found the peace that is associated with knowing Him.

 

I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I’m trusting that:

 

“. . . the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your [my] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (KJV).

“Let’s Do Brunch” from The Misadventures of Sister Girl

Really?

Joker, don’t act like you don’t know what you’re working with.

 

What time are you having me over for lunch/brunch?

Excuse me?

 

I’ll be over around 1:30 unless you have any objections.

Sure I had objections.  Your Honor, I have objections.  Hell, I had a variety of objections.  But I was unable to express any of them.  For reasons unbeknownst to me I didn’t curtail what I knew in my gut to be disastrous.  I was flirting with the devil and it excited me, ignited me, and invigorated me.  Hell, it turned me on.  That, and the little (mad bad, wrong choice of words) stunt he pulled with the picture. Why couldn’t I be honest enough to stop him from coming over?  Why wasn’t my rational mind resisting what it knew to be danger (danger Will Robinson)? 

Address please

14382 Cypress View Lane

Apartment 107

 

Hit me up if there is something you need me to pick up. 

K

 

I put down my phone and ran around my apartment like a mad woman.  My apartment looked like the aftermath of a tsunami disaster area.  A ridiculously busy week at work had left me with little time to tidy up my place.  I couldn’t let Davis see my spot looking like this.  I had three hours to cook, clean, and appear presentable.  Hold up!  Why am I worried about impressing a man that I’ve known for years?  Why am I getting bent out of shape when I know him—well, know/knew of him?  At any rate, I spent the next two hours cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, dusting furniture, mopping, and picking up a week’s worth of clothes from nearly every square inch of my apartment.  With only an hour to go I rushed to the store for fresh fruit, a couple bottles of wine (my stash was low), a bottle of champagne, and orange juice.  I needed something to calm my nerves and a date with one of my battery-operated toys wasn’t going to fit into my already tight schedule.   Nevertheless, I somehow managed to get things together just before Davis arrived—late (thank goodness). 

A strong rap on the door pulled me from the nearby kitchen.  I stood on my tippy-toes to catch a glimpse of him through the peephole.  If he was looking raggedy I could pretend not to be home and hopefully dodge a bullet.  Fat chance.  Did he look that good in high school? 

“Hello sir,” I said as I pulled the door toward me.  No, he definitely didn’t look that good in high school.  He stepped into the small foyer and enveloped me in a hug—no, an embrace.  The warmth of his body ignited a small fire down below.  He stepped back and sized me up and down.

“The years have been kind to you.  You look good.”

“Thank you.  You seem to be aging like a fine wine,” I said with the back end of my statement drawing a smile on my face.  With that, he turned around taking in the atmosphere.  Was his butt that tight back in the day?  “Please have a seat on the sofa.  Help yourself to the fruit.  Would you like a mimosa?” 

“Yes, please.  Let me guess–your goal is to get me tipsy so that you can take advantage of me.  Right?”  He asked with a laugh. 

“You got jokes.  I’m not sure how to take advantage of the willing,” I counted as I walked back into the kitchen. 

“Let’s get this straight right now,” he began. 

I looked at him sitting there.  As he opened his mouth to deposit a strawberry I noticed that the goatee on his dark-chocolate face was newly trimmed.  Time had been on his side.  He had assuredly aged, but it was a mature look that fit him well.  And the muscles I detected (from our recent embrace) under his shirt were certainly saying my name as he then lifted his wine glass from the coffee table.  Yep, he’s going to get it.  

The Power of Prayer

“Their minds had been infected with the evil [propaganda] that had spread across the country [Rwanda], but their [Hutu extremists] souls weren’t evil.  Despite the atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy . . . especially when that child was trying to kill me . . . That night I [Immaculee Ilibagiza] prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart.  For the first time since I entered the bathroom [genocide “sanctuary”], I slept in peace.”

–from Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiz (with Steve Erwin)

I read the words and felt immediate conviction.  Perhaps my inability to sleep soundly (without waking at the slightest sound or movement) is directly related to my efforts (or lack thereof) in praying for others.  Sure enough I have a prayer life.  At times I have been more fervent than others with my prayers.  But I’m talking about praying from a deep place within.  I’m talking about praying for more than myself, the safety and well being of my friends and family; I’m talking about praying for those who have brought anguish and pain to my doorstep.

When I was younger I was often confused by the language found in my bible (King James Version), I sought to know The Word, but found myself struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar string of phrases.  As I grew older I found solace in the myriad of translations that were made available.  I still read from the King James Version, but now I find clarity in reading from the Amplified Bible as well as The Message translation.

Luke 6:27-28 (KJV) calls us to “. . . Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

The Amplified Bible translation of the same verses reads, “But I say to you who are listening now to Me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred, Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you].”

The Message translation of Luke 6:27-30 notes, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.  If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it.  If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.  If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.  No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously.”

That call to action can seem like a pretty tall order when you are carrying the load of hurt, pain, anguish, hatred, and/or malice in your heart.  Just recently I began reading the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.  Ilibagiza tells the harrowing truth of how she survived the genocide that ripped through her homeland of Rwanda in 1994.  The text is not typically one I pick off the shelf; decidedly so, I have been on a science fiction high as of late.  Nevertheless, I just began a unit of study with my 8th grade students on the challenge of social justice.  While the unit of study initially called for the students to form literature circles and read about the Holocaust of European Jews, my school’s media specialist and I made the executive decision to expand the readings to explore stories of global genocide (fiction and non-fiction).  We found half-dozen-or-so titles that cover acts of genocide from across the globe and spanning the past eighty years.  Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell is one of the books on my student’s list.

By now you may be wondering where I’m going with all this.  It’s actually rather simple.  When I reached part two of the text, “In Hiding”, I was confronted with a harsh reality similar to that of Immaculee Ilibagiza—a heart that contained hurt, hatred, and unforgiveness.  At this point in the text Immaculee is hiding in a small bathroom in the house of a sympathizing Hutu pastor in her village.  One of six women in the cramped space, Immaculee comes face to face with the reality that she must forgive, and pray for the souls of the Hutu extremists hell-bent to rid Rwanda of the Tutsi tribal minority they believe are out to gain control over the government.

The conviction hit me square in my chest.  How could I continue to harbor feelings of unforgiveness (hatred and malice) and not pray for those who have despitefully used me, when this woman who suffered a far worse experience, was able to do so in the midst of her turmoil?  Right then and there I put down the book and began to pray for those individuals who I felt had wronged me over the course of my life.  I prayed for God to forgive me for the things I had said and done to hurt others.  I prayed, not because I so desperately want a night full of peaceful sleep (earnestly I do), but because I want a life of peace.  We have been given life in an effort to make the world we live in better.  Each one of us has something to say and/or do that will leave this world better off, not worse off.

Despite the fact that Immaculee Ilibagiza went through a living hell in Rwanda, she has been able to use her experience to heal a country–a world that is fractured.  I have been moved by her experience.  Though I have not yet finished the book, I am looking forward to the additional lessons–morals that it holds for me.

Every book that I read leaves me different.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a work of fiction or non-fiction; I am never the same person after the book is finished.  The same is true about the individuals who bless us with their presence.  Every friendship changes me.  Every experience of love (breath taking and heart wrenching) has changed me. I firmly believe that we should take away something positive from every person, every experience we encounter—good and bad.

I’ve been challenged to live differently, to pray differently.

What “take aways” have you gleaned from acquaintances, books, enemies, experiences, friends, family, movies, songs, etc?

The Art of Revision: Life’s Metaphor

This school year I have tried very hard to help enlighten my 8th grade students to the fact that understand revision is an integral part of the writing as a process in their writing.  For a number of them revision has meant means to rewritinge  what was alreadypreviously written.  Yet and still And still yet, for other students revision is about erasing what they considered to be “mistakes”.  For the remaining faction, they acknowledge that revision is about neither of the previous ideas—it is an organic transformation on the page.  Over the years I have personally and professionally connoted revision with: adding, removing (as in strikethrough), rearranging, rewording, and/or replacing words on the page.  However, getting the bulk of my students to this place of writing enlightenment has been nothing short of a chore—a challenging chore. 

Today, February 25th my students must complete a state-mandated writing assessment—FCAT Writes.  They will have sixty minutes to write a drafted response to an arbitrary persuasive or expository writing prompt (situation).  For instance, the following is an example of the “tasteless” writing scenarios to which an 8th grader might be subjected.

  • Eating healthy foods is important.
  • Think about why it is important to eat healthy foods.
  • Now explain why you should eat healthy foods.  

With prompts like this it’s a wonder that students haven’t already revolted and formed a coup to overtake the state and federal government demanding educational reform.  But that’s a different post and you don’t want me to get started on education reform.   

 

In preparation for the assessment I had an epiphany: give every student a brain eraser as a symbol of their power prowess as writers.  Here is what the brain eraser symbolizes.  First, it is a literal symbol of the student’s greatest tool on this assessment.  Their brains house everything the students need to be articulate written communicators.  Second, the eraser is symbolic because I literally don’t want my students to erase anything off the page.  Because students have no resources from which to source how they will support their writing, their one and only resource during this assessment is their brain.  Thus, my rationale for So I purchasinged brain erasers for my students. 

Yesterday, I gave each student a “gift” to encourage them to do their best.  It was a simple token: a note with a reminder about revision and an inspirational quote from one of my favorite researchers—Carol Dweck.  

Image

I gave my students a “pep” talk after passing out the note and brain eraser, their gift.  I told them that if they erase (instead of strikethrough) they might take away something the reader would benefit from.  I also mentioned to them that everything they need to be successful is inside their brains—no, not the little erasers, but the brains housed in their heads.  Finally, I encouraged them to bring back both their brains for the assessment.  I want them to place the eraser on their desk throughout the test to remind them that they don’t have to erase, just add, remove, rearrange, reword, and/or replace.  Honestly, I really want them to be reminded of the fact that they should revise: anything they write on their allotted two pagesbefore time is called.  I’m not sure if my “kind gesture” and “words of encouragement” will be enough to spur them to higher heights, but I figured it was worth a try. 

—hence why the eraser is glued to the note.I don’t want them to erase anything.  To erase something from the page is to permanently remove its existence.  And here is where the art of revising becomes a metaphor for life. 

If I erase the fact that I filed for bankruptcy at age thirty-two, and a few months later went through a home foreclosure, I haveam eraseding (from the pages of life) the lessons I’ve learned about money management and my “needs versus my “wants.  Furthermore, if I erase the two abortions I have had, I will have also erased the lessons learned about humanity and the value of human life from my life’s pages.  If I erase from my memory my parents divorce, I erase a personal struggle that has strengthened my resolve in life.  I erase the pain and deny myself the opportunity to get grittier.  I could literally go on and on about the myriad of personal experiences that I would eagerly love to permanently remove from the pages of my life, but if I do thato,  so I do so as a detriment to my personal evolution.  To permanently erase people, things, places, experiences—both good and bad—from the pages of our lives, would alter who’ve become as a result of those same very people, things, places, and experiences.

Life is meant to be revised—added to, rearranged, reworded, and replaced.  We should constantly add love and good people to our lives.  We must sometimes rearrange our plans to make way for better opportunities.  We sometimes reword who we are after we’ve evolved.  And there are also times when we replace the painful memories of the past with the present blissful moments.  Revision is an art that we develop over the course of a lifetime.  The best writers know how to craft a masterpiece because they know how to revise.