Growth Mindset Moment

I find myself having a lot of these moments nowadays.  Since it’s my first year teaching 6th grade English Language Arts, I have been planning lessons with activities I am not sure will be a success.  I mean, the lessons go wonderfully in my mind.  But, you never know unless you try.

The week before we were to return to school after the winter break, I wondered what I would do with my students on the first day back.  I knew I wanted to do a writing genre study on memoirs.  I had been inspired after reading the book, Writing With Mentors: How To Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts, by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell.

I also knew that I wanted to engage my students in a way that would motivate them to learn.  I didn’t want to come back to school after the break and fall into the same routine. . . read the story and answer the questions.  Another goal I had was to utilize the technology being stored in the back of my room.  I have access to a Chromebook cart, and I volunteered to keep it in my room to be shared among the other 6th grade language arts teachers.  The cart sits back there untouched.  The Chromebooks are locked up like inmates in a high security prison.  Someone needed to break them out.  I resolve to incorporate them into my lesson at least 2-3 times a week.


We have only been in school for 3 days, but I feel energized and excited about teaching.  Already I have found myself making statements like, “We are going to give this a try and see how it works.”  I am trying to encourage a growth mindset in my students, so I feel it’s important for them to hear me say those words and to let them know when something didn’t work.  (Click here to read a past post of mine for more information about growth mindset.)  Sometimes I announce, “Growth mindset moment!”  I also tell them that I have a plan for next time.  Several times I feel like I have failed miserably and I think to myself, “Well, that didn’t work.”  However, that’s the beauty of teaching 5 periods.  By the time my last period rolls around, I have been reflecting, refining, and tweaking the lesson.

In the past, I would have been too afraid to try anything new if I didn’t know the outcome.  I remember having a conversation with my friend, Linda, a few years ago.  She is the epitome of a person who embraces a growth mindset.  I mentioned my fear of failure to her.  She said she was not afraid of failing and saw it as a learning opportunity.  I looked at her and wondered how she could live that way?  Today, I feel a lot like Linda when something doesn’t turn out as I planned.  I ask myself, “What can I learn from all of this?”

This afternoon at lunch, a fellow teacher commented, “This week is going by so slowly.”  For me it’s just the opposite.  This first week back from the break seems to be flying by.  Maybe it’s because I am excited about what I am teaching.  Maybe it’s because I made a commitment to use those darn Chromebooks more often.  Maybe it’s because of all my growth mindset moments.  Whatever it is.  I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow.  🙂


Birthday Eve

It has been a long time since I have posted anything to my blog.  I have been meaning to get back to writing, and I have a million and one excuses for why I took a break.  But, as one of my favorite celebrities, Cesar Millan (aka the Dog Whisperer), says, “Don’t try, just do.”  I figured the eve of my 50th birthday was as good a time as any to try and get back into the blogosphere.  Yes, you heard me right.  It’s the night before my 50th birthday.

I was having a conversation with a student today.  Somehow she heard my birthday was tomorrow.  She asked me if I was excited, and of course I told her I was.  However, I am not excited about birthdays in the same way I was in my teens.  I remember looking forward to the day when I would be another year older.  I would even count the days until my birthday would arrive.  I realize as I get older, I don’t anticipate as much.  Instead, I look back at the year and review.  And when I hit a milestone birthday, like 50, I tend to look back and review the whole decade.  Am I the only one who does this?  God, I hope not.

As I reflect back on my 40s, I realize that I have accomplished and achieved many of the goals I set for myself personally and professionally.  The 40s were awesome.  I can honestly say I am comfortable in my own skin.  I am not as concerned about what other people think of me.  My confidence level has increased compared to my 20s or even 30s.  These days I am all about enjoying myself and trying not to worry so much.  Be happy and celebrate life.  These are the things I would tell my younger self if my present self wrote a letter.

In an effort to celebrate the end of my 40s, my friend (and neighbor), Nicole, gave me the idea that I should do something special for myself every month on the 19th.  She told me this 6 months before my 50th birthday.  So, every month, I gave myself a treat.  Here is a collage of the things I did for myself to celebrate me.  I documented it on Instagram.

glass of Pinot Noir, a ride on a San Francisco trolley car, movies with friends, nonfat dairy-free yogurt, a swim in Mission Bay with Nicole, chocolate mousse cake from Cheesecake Factory

All of this leading up to tomorrow.  I know now that reaching 50, and everyday beyond that, is a gift.  I will not take anything for granted.  I will appreciate all the little things and be thankful for all the big things that happen in my life.  I will not forget to say, “I love you” to the people that matter most to me.  I will remember to be kind to myself.  If I can do all these things, my 50s will be spectacular!

Happy Birthday to me!!  🙂

Happy Anniversary, Power Posing, and New Beginnings

It’s been over one year since I started my blog.  In fact, I published my first post on 8/8/13.  I realize I haven’t posted anything lately.  I just haven’t found a topic I thought was interesting enough.  After school got out in June, I was busy packing up my classroom and moving into my new office space at a different school.  I wanted to be all moved in before I left for my vacation in July.  After my vacation, I went back to school.  It’s been busy.  Basically, after returning from my vacation in Hawaii, it was back to work.

Last week, I attended the last two days of a math institute given by my school district.  Math leaders from all over the district met over two days to plan the district-wide professional growth day which would focus on math practices.  I would have to present two sessions.  One was on math discourse and the other was a polygon investigation.  I was able to remain calm while others around me expressed their anxiety.  I think it had to do with having presented to a large audience last spring for the SDAWP Spring Conference.  I was not nervous at all, except for right before I was to present.  During the institute, one of the consultants shared a video about power posing.  All it takes is two minutes of power posing to raise your confidence and lower your stress.  Who knew??

Amy Cuddy talked about not belonging.  Boy, can I relate to this feeling.  I started my job as a district math coach this week.  I spent most of my time at my mentor site which just happens to be the largest elementary school in the district.  My first order of business is to build relationships with the people on staff.  It’s been difficult, and I find myself missing the people I had connections with at my previous school site.  I am thinking this is pretty normal.

I felt odd not prepping for the first day of school, which is tomorrow.  It ‘s the first time in 25 years where I wasn’t getting ready for students.  I felt like I needed to be doing something, a task of some sort.  Instead, I organized my office space.  I prepared for my next staff presentation by doing research in the many resource books I received.  I don’t know why I felt guilty.  Everyone in my building was “working”.  I was working, too, but in a different way.  It was strange.  I managed to take a picture of my office and the sign I created which I hung on the door.


I am excited.  I know I made the right choice in applying for this job.  All I have to remember is to stay positive and do my power poses.

A glimpse into my office

Home Again

Ahh, it’s good to be back home again.  My family and I spent ten wonderful days in Hawaii for a family vacation.  It’s amazing how relaxing a vacation can be.  We spent a few days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the island of Oahu.  After that we spent a week in a rental home in the area of Hawaii Kai which is very close to Hanauma Bay.  I posted many pictures from my trip on Instagram as a way to document what we were up to.  We had a wonderful time, but it is nice to be back home again.

In some ways I was sad to leave Hawaii.  I realized that leaving would mean I would have to get back to work.  I think part of the reason why I loved being in Hawaii was the fact that I didn’t have a schedule.  I had no job to report to, and I didn’t have to set my alarm clock to wake me up every morning.  Going back home meant leaving paradise and facing reality.  I wonder if I would still view Hawaii as paradise if I had to live and work there.

One night, as I was enjoying the sunset on the beach of our rental home, I met one of the neighbors.  He happened to be walking his dog, and we struck up a conversation.  He voiced his opinion about how living in Hawaii was different from vacationing in Hawaii.  He commented about how island living could get somewhat boring.  I guess if you have seen and done everything the island has to offer, what else is there?  I totally understood what he was talking about.  I guess that is the allure of traveling.  You get to experience all the place you are visiting has to offer.  Then, you can come home.

My favorite place on vacation was the hammock in the backyard of the place we rented.  It was truly relaxing, and I spent a lot of time on it.  It gave me a chance to enjoy where I was.  I didn’t think about work once.  I truly could appreciate the moment and enjoy.  I can’t wait to get back to that hammock.  I hope it happens sooner rather than later.


Summer Learning

My brain is about to explode!  I know it is summer vacation, but I have used the first few weeks of vacation for my own personal learning.  I started out reading two amazing books.  The first one is by Carol Dweck, entitled Mindset The New Psychology of Success.

The first time I had heard about this idea of mindset was during an SDAWP writing conference.  One of the presenters talked about fixed mindset versus growth mindset.  I won’t go into too much detail, but this quote is taken directly from the Mindset website.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Reading this book had a profound impact in the way I view things.  As a teacher, I want to make sure that I encourage the growth mindset in my classroom.  As a parent, I want my daughters to understand the importance of a growth mindset in their learning.

When I finished this book, I read the book Drive, by Daniel Pink.

Wow!  This book also made me more aware of the ways we use extrinsic rewards to motivate.  Here is a youtube video that outlines his findings.  However, I would highly recommend you still read his book.

Again, reading Pink’s book made me think about the implications of student engagement and motivation.  How can I as a teacher make sure that students are involved in their learning?  As I read the book it reminded me about all the work I did last year with my Genius Hour time.  That whole experience lit a fire within me.  How amazing would it be if I could create that spark in all subjects, not just Genius Hour time?  What impact would that kind of learning environment have on students?  It’s a lot to think about and implementing this inquiry-based learning would be hard work.  But man, it would be so worth it in the end.  Learning can be fun.

I also signed up for a massive open on-line collaboration (MOOC) through Stanford University.  This MOOC was about how students learn math.  It is not a free course, but anyone can sign up to take it.  Here is the link to the site.  I thought this course would give me some insight on how to teach math in more meaningful ways.  I was not disappointed.  Although I am not going to be teaching in my own classroom next year, I can still use the ideas I learned in my math coach position.

Finally, I know I have mentioned before that I am going back to school to get my administrative credential.  I just completed a course in school improvement leadership.  In this class we talked about change theory.  We discussed the benefits of Professional Learning Communities and formative assessments.  We learned how to create effective school growth plans.  I just finished the final project and wrote a culminating reflective essay about my learning in this course.  It feels good knowing that is one less thing for me to complete.

Did I mention that I feel like my brain is about to explode??  The beautiful part is that all my learning is connected.  The principles I learned in each activity overlap with one another.  I think I need to take a break from all this learning and read something light.  However, I ran into a former colleague of mine, and she was so excited to talk to me about a book she was reading.  It’s funny because I had just ordered the same book and it arrived the other day.  It’s next on my list of school books to read.  The book is called The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham.

I can’t wait to cram more knowledge into my already packed brain.  🙂

It’s Official

My room is packed up.  Lights are off and door is locked.  Keys are turned in to the office.  Today, I officially checked out of the school that I called my home for the last 16 years.  It was strange leaving, knowing that I would not be returning there to start the 2014-2015 school year.  I am going to be a Math TOSA (teacher on special assignment) for my district which means I will be going to a new school next year.  Packing up was difficult.  I got rid of a lot of things.  I needed to downsize tremendously because my new room is more like an office and not a classroom.  Files were sifted through.  Duplicates were tossed.  It was hard trying to figure out what to save and what to get rid of.  Teachers are notorious for hanging on to stuff.  I finally had to tell myself that if I hadn’t touched the item in the last 3 years or more, then I should get rid of it.  My dilemma is that I don’t know where I am going to go after my year as a TOSA is up.  So, I wanted to hang on to certain books and resources in case I am back in the classroom in two years.  I had a lot of boxes and thought I would need to rent a storage unit for a year.  For a small, closet-sized space it was going to cost me over $1,000 to store.  Fortunately, my friend, Nicole, came with me when I was ready to move out of my classroom.  She talked me out of bringing my shelves and my plastic bins/crates.  We combined boxes and downsized even further.  I am happy to say that I didn’t need to rent a storage unit after all.  Everything I packed is now at my new school.  🙂

I am reflecting on my 16 years at Shoal Creek Elementary-home of the Otters!  I was one of the original staff members who opened the school so many years ago.  I am going to miss the people I worked with.  Everyone there is an amazing teacher.  I have learned from each of them and have improved my teaching practices as a result of my interactions with them.  I have so many happy memories that I am taking with me.  It will be strange not seeing my friends (who I think of as family) next year.  I am also going to miss the students.  They are the main reason why I love going to work each day.  I am going to miss the smiles, hugs, and love notes that I often received from them.  I managed to save a few in my file box.  I know when I am feeling low, I can read those notes to remind me of why I am doing what I do.  I am truly going to miss the connections with teachers and students at Shoal Creek.

Although driving out of the parking lot and away from the school was bittersweet, I know this new adventure is going to be a great experience for me.  I am excited by the possibilities of being a math coach for teachers.  I am still not sure what my new job entails.  It’s a work in progress.  There will be lots of opportunities for messing up.  But, I am learning that mistakes are necessary in order for growth to happen.  So, next year, I am going to embrace all my mistakes.  I am going to remember to persevere.  I am going to make the most of my opportunity.  All I can think is that my new job is going to be AWESOME! 🙂

A New Adventure

I am on my way down a new path in my teaching career.  Three weeks ago I made a last minute decision to apply for a Math TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) position.  I had heard about the position last month, but thought against applying.  I have so many things going on in my life, and I felt going for the TOSA job would be too much.  However, the day before the application was due, I decided to at least apply for it.  The process would be a good learning experience for me.  After reading the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck.  I am trying very hard to embrace the growth mindset.  The problem was that I made the decision to go forward with applying the night before I was to turn in all the paper work.  Fortunately, I was able to gather all the necessary papers and recommendations and turn my application in to the District Office by 4:00.  A few days later I received a phone call for an interview.

The interview went well, I felt.  I had prepared by thinking of possible questions I thought the interviewers would ask me the night before the interview.  I got to my interview a few minutes early so I could go over my notes and meditate before-hand.  I was calm, and I was ready when I was called into the little room.  There were four people on the interview panel.  It helped that I knew two of them.  It’s always nice to see a friendly, familiar face when you are in these stressful situations.  I was able to answer the questions thrown at me.  Then, I was asked to watch a short video clip and provide feedback.  I thought that was interesting.  I liked that there was a task involved instead of just answering questions.  The interview ended, and I was told that we would hear who was selected the next week.  I forgot to ask how many people had applied, but I knew they were going to select five to serve as math coaches for the district.

The waiting game is difficult. It was Tuesday afternoon when I decided to just go home early from work.  I was exhausted, and I wanted to spend some time with my three kids.  I am normally at work until about 4:30, but on this day I left work around 3:15.  I think I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t heard anything yet.  I arrived home, talked to my daughters and helped with homework.  The house phone rang at around 4:00 and my youngest daughter, Allison, picked it up.  I was thinking to myself, “Who is calling me at 4:00 on the house phone?”  Most friends and people I know call me on my cell phone.  My daughter handed me the phone and it was one of the interviewers calling to tell me I got the job.  🙂  However, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about making it just yet.  Things had to be completed on their end and a formal announcement would be made.  When?  I did not know.  So, I went to work the next day unable to tell my friends.  That was the most difficult thing to do.  I was so happy and wanted to share my news.  When they would ask me if I heard anything, I had to say no.  My friends were starting to get a little angry about them not letting me know anything.  Finally, an email was sent to the whole district announcing who the math coaches would be, and I could share my story.

Wow!  I still can’t believe it.  This means I will be spending next year out of the classroom.  Instead I will be coaching other teachers and supporting them with their math instruction.  Because our district is focusing on the Math CCSS, they are trying this new model of math coaches.  I don’t think it has ever been done in my district this way.  I explained at my interview that I did not profess to be a math whiz.  In fact, I was a bit of a math phobic as a kid.  I saw math as a set of rules and formulas that I had to memorize and remember.  I could never remember!  It was only as an adult, when I took my math methods courses in college for my teaching credential that I understood how important the conceptual foundation of teaching math was.  It began to make sense to me.  Even though I am not a math guru, I love teaching math.  I know. . . strange.  My husband joked with me when I told him I had applied for this job.  He said, “You do know this is for MATH.”  He knows math is not my strong suit.  However, I am thinking I won’t necessarily be teaching math concepts.  I will be coaching other teachers on best mathematical practices.  I am just guessing, because I don’t really know yet.

Now the hard part really begins.  I have to pack my classroom up.  I have 25 years of stuff to go through.  The good news is a few years ago, I moved from one classroom to another and got rid of a lot of things.  But, now I have to dwindle it down even more.  I have already been told by my husband that I cannot bring my boxes home.  There is just no room at the inn!  🙂  I don’t know what I am going to do.  I may have to think about renting a storage unit.  The other thing I am wondering is how this is going to affect my work with the San Diego Area Writing Project.  Since I am no longer in the classroom, I will not have a chance to practice writing strategies with students.  In my interview, I explained to the panel that writing was another passion of mine.  I am hoping I can incorporate what I have learned about writing instruction and merge it with math instruction.  I am going to work hard to accomplish that.  I think it will be just as beneficial for the teachers as it will be for students.

The position is only for a year.  After that, I will have to return to the classroom.  But, who knows?  I will be done with my administrative credential work (I hope!).  Then, I may be on an altogether different path in my teaching career.  For now, I am just so happy to be on the path I am at the moment.  I can’t wait for all the growth and learning that is waiting for me.  It will be hard work, but I am also hoping it will be fun and fulfilling.  We shall see.  🙂