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Friday, October 31, 2014

Ghost Rail 100 (Julie's race) aka Commitment

Last weekend was an emotional one.  Sunday I saw my best friend finish her first 100 mile race while simultaneously my dad was rushed to the hospital.  Five exhausting days later and it is the first time I can actually sit down and reflect on Julie's accomplishment. I had been with Julie pacing her on her last two 100 mile attempts both ending shy of 100 at 75 miles and 60 miles.

Julie, along with Margaret, were my crew and pacers at last years PEAK 500 mile attempt.  I was able to complete 400 miles despite being very sick due to these amazing two women.  I would do anything to help either of them, and this past weekend it was seeing Julie to a finish.  Her husband Dave, Our dear friends Michael and Crystal and myself teamed up to pace her through the difficult 30+ hours of trail running as her three children cheered her on.  Actually, it seemed by the end of the race EVERYONE was rooting for Julie to finish. Finish she did...the last person to cross the finish line with an unofficial finish over the 30 hour cutoff, but we all agreed a spectacular finish nonetheless.  We had thrown money in to buy her a special Ghost Rail 100 buckle and she received a ceremonial railroad spike for her determination and grit.

What makes someone run 100 miles despite excruciating pain and exhaustion?  I am not sure I can explain it...even though I do it myself.   It is probably the same reason that makes a student put in 100% to ace an exam, or rewrite a paper until he or she feels it is their best piece of writing.  Or a child shooting baskets for hours in their backyard practicing until their parents call them in for dinner.  Or a teacher taking the time to drag a bagful of papers to Panera and spending eight hours on a Saturday reading and commenting on their students' writing.  It is the inherent desire to make a commitment and regardless of the difficulties stick with it until they have done their absolute best.

How do we teach a child to follow through on their commitments?  I think the more important question as educators is are we allowing our children the opportunity to achieve great things?  Or are we failing to give them these chances  because it requires that we, as well as our students, give 100% of ourselves?  What is your level of commitment?  Do you make promises and follow through?  Do you walk away when the going gets tough?  Do you make excuses?  Blame others?

I think it is good practice to ask yourself those questions when you see a child struggling....
Are you REALLY committed?


Monday, October 20, 2014

TARC Fall Classic aka why I finished dead last

Saturday I made my way to Carlisle Massachusetts to run the TARC Fall Classic.  I was running the 50K option which ended up being five, 10k loops.  I planned to run with Julie and our friend Brenda.  It was an extra special day because it was Julie's birthday and we planned to head out for dinner after.

I really love the variety of trails at Great Brook Farm. From the rocky ups and downs, to the fast twisty single track and grassy open fields I enjoyed every minute.  My typical 50k pace is around  five and a half to six hours.  This race took me over eight hours and I was one of the last runners across the finish line along with Julie and Brenda.
Yep
dead last...
and yet.....
I felt great and I am very pleased with the way the day went.  Could have I finished faster? Of course, but Julie has a 100 miler next week so we were running together for fun.  Her pace was slow and at times she was walking...in fact the three of us walked most of the very last loop just talking and laughing.

When I was younger I cared a great deal about my "time" and my finishes. Now I run solely because it brings me joy.  I rarely register to run races competitively as I prefer just going out for long runs on the weekends. So when I grabbed my number Saturday the goal was to stick with Julie for the duration.

Once I was out there Julie shared that she felt great but had "lead legs" so she was going to run slower then usual. I stuck with her but at times I just felt the need to explode and run my legs out.  Julie said to run ahead without her and then wait around for her to finish and head out together.  I decided to run three of the five loops at my pace.  So for loop two, three and four I left Julie after we started the loops and ran my pace right up to the finish line only to stop a few feet shy, turn around and run backwards on the course until I met up with Julie and run in with her. I ended up doing about 6 extra miles for those loops as well as confusing many athletes.  One moment I am far behind them, and the next I am passing them all only to turn around and  pass them again as I run away from the finish line.
 
Sure I could have finished this course at least two hours faster, but then I wouldn't have got in the extra 6 miles and I would have missed time on the trails with my friends.
When the results came up I was listed as dead last...a second after Julie.

Am I a dead last ultrarunner?

Sometimes...
if I choose to be.

Do I care about my "ranking"?
not really...

To me it is truly about the journey...
and not the destination.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lunch Groups aka why teachers should interact socially with small groups of students every day

This is my third year of holding lunch groups here at RAMS.  It started as a way for some of my shyer Lego Club kids to have a place to come where they could make friends.  It ended up being a place where LOTS of sixth graders wanted to come and play, socialize and when reminded to eat a little lunch ; ) Then I opened the CAD lab and allowed kids to come and do their work and or play engineering.com video games. and I found myself with two full rooms of kids having lunch.

The next year a group of seventh graders asked if they could come during lunch.  I said "why not" thinking I could still do my grading as well as work on curriculum when kids are in the room. When I started to get some eighth graders interested in coming during lunch I decided to make my rooms open to every lunch and recess/skills.  

I am in my third year of sharing my planning time with students and I think it has made a huge difference in my own teaching.  The reasons they come to my room may be different: doing school work, creating extra credit projects, playing Pokemon or Learn to Fly, but the common factor involves getting to know one another better. I can sit with them as they show me their extra credit project or a stop motion movie they made at home or even learn about their family from their Spanish project.  We have conversations about Star Trek, Doctor Who, and even our favorite candy.  We share stories about our pets, the sports we play, the books we have read. We even have conversations about the important things that middle schoolers face beyond grades and homework.  

I think I am very lucky to be a part of the Arts/FLA team here at RAMS as our planning time is set during the lunch periods.  It has given me an opportunity to get to know my students on a more personal level...
for example...
it is hard to fit our mutual love of Star Trek and candy corn into the curriculum : )

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cross Fit aka my return to middle school at age 44

Last week I started doing Cross Fit.  

Bob had been going to CF Resilience in Hopkinton 5 days a week for a few months.  He had been trying to get me to come and give it a try.  I had been hesitant as I had heard CF was a bit "clubby" or even worse was a "cult" lol.  I was afraid that I would not "fit in" with all the big power lifters (as I weigh 112 soaking wet and can barely do one pull up let alone those kookie kipping pull ups). Last week, with Bob's incessant badgering at an all time high, I decided to stray outside of my comfort zone and join.  

As a middle school teacher I suggest to my students to: 
1. Step outside their comfort zone and take a risk
2. Never judge someone by another person's words but instead take the time to get to know them on your own terms, 
3.  Realize there is no failure there is only learning.  

On my first day of Cross Fit I realized I was just like the "new kid" in middle school.

That first day I saw all the women my age (40-50) were in a group stretching. I felt uncomfortable just sitting down with them...what if they did not like me?  The younger fitter women were focused on stretching alone and I found them very intimidating as they looked as if they could bench press me with ease.  I dared not go near any of them. The fittest men were in a group discussing all their accomplishments. They were speaking a language that was obviously "CF"  (they could have been speaking Klingon for all I knew). I certainly wasn't going into that group! Even with Bob there I was scared I would make a fool of myself.  

When I teach I try to keep in mind that my actions, and more importantly my reactions to my students can have a far reaching effect on their sense of self.  I never want to see a child that is excited about school feel the sting of an off hand comment or criticism that is not growth based but instead dulls the light that is their love of learning.  It is scary to raise your hand and share your ideas.  It is scary to stand up and try to explain why you are learning something...to make connections to the bigger picture.  It is scary to open your self to the judgement of your peers and your teacher. If we want to celebrate risk taking in the middle school we must first create a SAFE environment...

When I stood in front of the WOD board where the coach lists the work out of the day I had no idea what we were going to be doing (Cindy! AMRAP! ACK...What does that mean?).  I looked around and everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing.  I watched them and followed their lead and when I could I asked Bob for clarification.  He kept saying, "so and so will show you"....but I was still worried...how do I know that the coach will know I need help? I am afraid to ask questions in front of everyone because then I am just taking up their workout time with my silly questions.  I don't want them to know how little I know...

When a student  struggles with learning it can be very difficult to call attention to yourself...to ask for clarification...it is much easier to just follow along with everyone else and pretend you know what is expected. 

Instead of asking for help I decided to just follow  a women that looked relatively fit.  I would just do what she did.  I grabbed the same weights she did, the same kettle bells and the same size box...
and then the clock started
and I was lost
I couldn't follow her because the weights were too heavy for me to keep up.  In fact my form was so off I actually felt like I was hurting myself.  People around me quickly noticed that I was not using good form, that I looked confused and soon the coach came over and said "lets get some different size weights for you Michelle" 
no one laughed
no one pointed
in fact people smiled at me encouragingly

I try to model what I hope my students will achieve by breaking down a project into steps and creating an exemplar as I introduce students to the steps. I think it is helpful not to just be given verbal/written directions along with an exemplar of the final project, but to also watch the teacher model each step of the process.  That is why I like to "be a student" and follow the engineering design process to solve the same problem that they are solving. 

The coach was so kind. He modeled each move for me and also gave me alternate ways of doing something so I did not feel any pain.  He showed me how to do the move...I did it and he gave me constructive feedback and I would try again.  I still made mistakes but with the lighter weights and the alternate moves I was able to complete the entire WOD!

One of the reasons I love teaching is every day I witness children who struggle to learn something stick with it and have success....there is nothing better in the world....

well

finishing my first Cross fit WOD came pretty close : )

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is it possible to teach empathy?

That is a question I have been struggling with since I started teaching 15 years ago.  Have kids changed?  Yes and no...without getting too specific I had experiences early on in my career that made me question my desire to continue teaching.  Experiences with co workers, parents and students where I questioned my ability to make a positive change or a difference  in my career of choice.  

I knew that a change needed to be made, but the change needed to start with me.
I had to look deep within myself to better understand how my beliefs and my actions played a positive or negative role in both my classroom and my school community before I could begin to address outside influences.
so
from my search within 
I found that
You can't teach empathy
there is no "lesson plan"
nope
You can't "teach it"
you need to "live it"....

honesty
integrity
owning your issues
being in control of your own truth
These are the things I hold myself to..

RAMS new spirit model is to "Be The Change"
I like this...
taking personal responsibility for making your school community
a safe place for learning..
an inclusive place..
a welcoming place..

I am the change...
through my actions
others will follow
when they see
first hand
that
it
works...