clearing out

Clearing Out and Making Space For Creativity

I spent the summer clearing out.

Clearing In Springtime

It started in May, actually, when my classroom began to feel like the walls were closing in. I needed space. Every day after school I would open something, fill the recycle bin, scrutinize and smile and either toss or find a new home.

 

clearing
What a mess…

I turned my classroom inside out before leaving in June; when I came back in early July after the carpets had been scrubbed clean and all 900 square feet felt fresh and everything was stacked neatly on top of my tables. So of course, I flipped it all around.

The back went to the front, the sides swapped spaces. Bean bags and folding chairs stacked in the center of the room on tables as I worked on creating more structure. I worked from the outside in, rearranging bookshelves and my teacher desk. I nestled new/old coffee tables in nooks with books and stools, and created AVID corners and reading spaces.

clearing
Starting to take shape…

Old paper ripped from the walls, became new blank bulletin board spaces. Wonder walls and student shout out spots smiled in anticipation of what would come in August… and I worked nearly all summer clearing out my classroom space until I could close the door and know that when school began August 27, I would be ready.

Ha.

Clearing At Home

At home, it wasn’t much different. The day after school let out in June, literally and figuratively, I opened drawers I hadn’t looked into for years. I pulled out all the linens and papers and blankets and stuff….and then I gently lifted them, breathed in the scent of memories and either gently folded and returned them to a place of honor, or let them go.

I knew what was propelling me, that life was tipping out of balance and only by clearing, by bringing awareness to the places in my life that I habitate and nest deeply, would I embrace all the change.

Before the end of July, I cleared out nearly every room in my house.  It was messy, and yes, a bit incomplete. There were tears of joy and overwhelming washes of memories that brought me down. I couldn’t go one room at a time; rather, I seemed to spiral from here to there depending on how the spirit moved me. It didn’t make much sense, but inevitably after I completed one part, an ease came over me. A sense of completion, of control, of calm.

Vaclav Havel said, I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.” Shedding layers of ‘stuff’ allowed me to shine a light on what means the most – it allowed the ‘absurdity and meaning’ of 22 years of parenting to merge and push me towards what was not only meaningful but possible.

Every Single Day

It became a daily practice. Like an addict, I fed on the need to bring balance and order. To create space for the change to wash in and out while my baby, my teenage son, wandered in and out of the house as he relished his last few months in the only home he’s ever known.

I spent much of the summer alone, in solitude. Aside from the obligatory summer excursions with the family (which I loved), I stayed at home, happily filling my days with clearing. 

May Sarton once said, “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone,” and for me, the intimacy brought with clearing out gave me time to think. What would this next phase of life be like, alone with just a husband and a dog and no children in and out all day? What would my teaching transform into? For 22 of my last 28 years of ‘first days of school,’ I’ve juggled being that teacher-mom, trying not to show how I was always feeling split in two.

Clearing and Creativity

And to be honest, I have no idea. Two weeks after dropping off C at college and starting the new school year the very next day, my rhythm isn’t there yet. I’m exhausted, edgy, eager, curious, nervous, and mostly cannot imagine how to jump-start creativity. Seems like with all this clearing, with all this open space I should be oozing with ideas and the time to bring them to the surface.

clearing out

It’s making me a bit frightened, actually. I want to force it into shape, to dump it all out and mold a plan that seems unmistakenly possible. Things need to fall into place before me, wide and clear and clean. I feel the call to creative work – the years and years under me, of thinking about this time and feeling the foundation that I’ve been building with this blog, with my PLN. with my pushing myself into something that while at times cloudy and obscure, it seems like might just be starting to glitter. 

Feeding The Call

The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” 

I don’t want to push down this clearing and cleansing and creativity that is opening right in front of my eyes. I want to jump in, feet first, and see where I pop up, to give myself permission to fill those empty shelves with new ideas and opportunities. And maybe, embracing the change for once, not shrinking from it. Just as the smoke is finally clearing from the summer skies, I know this will happen. Eventually.

Patience, Jen. Patience.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What To Learn When You Want To Grow

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

My own children have officially launched, leaving me wondering, questioning, considering how now to become the very best version of myself as I move into another phase, one without my children here to direct my time. It’s still important for me to learn and grow and progress.

I’ve done my best with my kids and now life is different, ready to teach me new lessons, I hope! But right now, I need to keep busy – actively trying to nurture my mind and develop as a person, or it’s highly likely I’ll just stagnate. This isn’t ideal when I really want to flourish in this next phase of life. This is why committing to pushing myself, going back to school, and taking up new interests and hobbies can be very much a benefit. But where to start? And what kinds of things should you be looking to learn when you want to grow? Let’s take a look at a few ideas I’m mulling over:

Learn A Language

One of the very first topics that can help you to grow and develop is languages. When you can acquire a new language, you’re really broadening your horizons and opening up your mind to new possibilities. If you’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, then this is something that you really should look to do. But do it in a way that really works for you. Book an online course, get a tutor, or even head overseas to master the language in the native country. Just do what you feel is best for you to be able to really grow as a person and speak a new language. I’ve been using Duolingo to work on my Spanish!

Learn A Craft

Or perhaps you’re not that interested in languages, and you’d rather learn a craft? Why not take a look at these crafts to make with DIY Joy and see if you feel inspired. From knitting to baking to even things like makeup artistry, here you’ll be looking to discover something that can give you a new skill for your own personal enjoyment, or inspire a new business venture for you. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me, but now that there are no children at home to eat my treats I’m going to have to bring them to school…

learn

Learn Coding

Right now, the internet and technology are so huge. So why not be apart of that and learn to code? Last year I used some coding hyperdocs in my classroom – you can try them out here. If you do have an interest in this area, coding is a great skill to understand for your own personal internet use and if you want to go into business too.

Learn To Teach

Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Now, this can mean that you do want to go back to school and get your teacher’s credential, or maybe start by volunteering in a classroom – teachers always need help. When you love learning, it’s highly likely that you’ll be passionate about teaching too. So why not look to share your love of learning with children or seniors?

Learn Business Skills

Another skill area to consider involves business. Have you always wanted to launch your own company? Create a blog to showcase your creativity? Then why not try it out?

Blogging has turned into a big side job for me – it’s amazing how much I’ve had to learn about marketing, social media, and growing my professional networks. Read up on business skills online and with books. Find key business solutions that allow you to prevent fraud with Jumio’s Netverify or create a website with Wix. Scroll through blogs and even think about getting your MBA so that you could start off on your own.

If you’re an empty nester like me, consider investing in yourself. Learn and grow!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Podcast In The Classroom With WeVideo – Get Started Today!

Podcast In The Classroom With WeVideo – Get Started Today!

I just finished filming a Google hangout with WeVideo for their Video Creator Rockstars group about how to use it to podcast in the classroom (blush) and it was so much fun, I wanted to share some of my podcasting tips with you!

The theory behind podcasting for students:

  • Give students a voice, choice, and agency
    • Teaching students require relationships, connections, and showing kids that you value what they are learning and how they learn it. Podcasting allows kids’ voice to come through on things they think are really important.
  • Teaching skills for the future
    • Podcasting is one of the communication tools of the future. Podcasts are a new frontier – and the possibilities are endless! Teaching podcasting allows students to practice the 4c’s of future-ready students: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.
  • Creating a platform for the entire year – and beyond!
    • Teachers could think of podcasting as a platform for sharing student thinking all year long – or in smaller chunks of units and lesson assessment.

The impact you see in kids making a podcast:

  • Excitement! Engagement! Creativity! Collaboration! Critical thinking! Communication! Fun!
    • When my class is podcasting it’s BUSY – and kids don’t want to leave the room! Don’t be afraid to have the whole class recording all at once – you can make inexpensive recording studios (see below), create a sign up sheet, scaffold in stations, use a closet for recording, or just accept that it’s not going to be perfect studio quality sound – it’s real-life background noise!
  • The belief that they could ‘do’ this – confidence building
    • When students can show what they know in different ways, it turns them into possibilitarians – they believe in themselves and their ability to shine.
  • Pride – positive peer feedback
    • When kids can share their thinking, with pride and control over the final product, and receive feedback from their peers, they are PROUD of their learning!
  • Storytelling – thinking through concept, creating an outline, following narrative arc
    • It’s important for kids to start with some sort of idea rather than just going off the cuff in their podcast. The trick is to not OVER SCRIPT – which happens. I like to have kids listen to and analyze podcasts for the storytelling elements, and see what they like and what they could duplicate in their own podcast.
  • The realization that it isn’t/doesn’t have to be perfect the first time – revision, doing it the best they can
    • Growth mindset? YES! Using their phones, WeVideo, and creating take after take helps strengthen the idea that life isn’t always done in one ‘take’ – redoing, rethinking, and revising are future ready skills we want our students to adopt.

Low budget ways to set up a recording studio:

  • Cardboard boxes and packaging tape
    • This is seriously low budget, but I think if kids start here they could come up with creative ways to modify their box to meet their needs.
  • Plastic milk crates with 12×12 foam
    • This method involves a bit of money, but not much. Amazon sells foam squares that are perfect liners!
  • iPhones, microphones, headphones
    • Not necessary, but if you’re doing long-term podcasting it’s a nice investment.
  • Beanbags as buffers
    • Something about covering their box in beanbags (pillows would work, too) not only made for better sound quality but provided a safe space for insecure first-time podcasters!
  • Tablecloth or sheets for kids to ‘hide’ under when recording
    • Some kids really like no one seeing them…and helps a bit with the sound quality.

Coming up with topics:

  • That’s up to the kids – it needs to be generated by them.
    • I like using our essential questions as a springboard, and then let them take it in any direction they like. They really should have ownership of the content!
  • Let them listen to lots of podcasts to engage their interest and teach them what a podcast IS.
    • Common Sense Media has lots of good suggestions for all grade levels.
    • Consider taking a poll on a Google form with any podcasts they currently listen to (see my hyperdoc for some ideas).
  • Consider making a year-long podcast that they can add to at intervals
    • I’m considering using podcasts as a requirement for them with each literature/novel unit. I could also see adding to it with their book recommendations, suggestions for next year’s students, or just sharing exciting news about being a teen!

The impact I saw on students:

  • Students were excited! Empowered!
    • They felt like they were really getting their voice out to the world…to other students. They said it was the best assignment they’d ever done!
  • Collaboration
    • I had a group of four who divided work into script writing, recording, being the ‘special guest’ and one doing most of the tech work
    • Another cool thing that happened was students who wanted to work alone ended up finding guest interviewees- their parents! I thought that was a cool way to expand the project.
  • Gives students a different avenue to show what they know.
    • Showing their passions really gave me insight into them as a person, and in fact, inspired me to encourage them to keep their podcast going!
    • It makes your textbook come alive! Use podcasts for assessment – use the tips in your textbook teachers edition for ideas, and then go from there!

Tips and tricks:

  • Don’t be afraid to start.
    • It doesn’t have to be perfect – making mistakes and figuring things out is part of the process.
    • Let your students teach you (and other students) all the tricks and tips THEY learn!
  • Better listening if it’s conversational – not too scripted.
    • Use an outline (see my hyperdoc for an example) and break it up into different segments. Long talking/reading gets boring. Encourage them to break it up with music, sound effects or switching topics.
  • Pairs are better than singles.
    • Most kids who worked alone tended to read a script and it sounded like an audiobook, not a conversational podcast.
  • Use Padlet to share links
    • This allowed all students to listen to their peers and ‘see’ what others were thinking. You could require them to listen to For long-term curation, consider using a Google Site that can be accessed publicly. You could also create a Google classroom and share the link with the kids to add their content.
  • Try a Podcast hyperdoc – (click the link to use mine!)
    • Hyperdocs gives the examples, an outline, scaffolding ideas, a rubric, opportunities to share publicly, and most importantly, a reflection form. Letting kids share what worked, what they would change, what they learned is crucial to help them think through the learning process.
    • Mini-deadlines are key!
  • Graphics are not needed
    • Unless they’re going to submit for RSS and syndicate their podcast publicly.
  • Let kids play with voices
    • For emphasis, for creativity, for adding interest to the topic being discussed!
  • Try a podcasting ‘field trip’ – 826 Valencia is one option
    • Submit kids podcasts to ‘real-life’ podcasters – and ask for feedback!
  • When kids get stuck…
    • Encourage them to problem solve it themselves. I like the “3 before me” rule…

Overcoming fears:

  • Kids don’t like to hear their voices…get over it
    • Honestly, this was the only fear I heard. Some struggled with workflow (they got so caught up in their ideas they didn’t get started). 
  • Keeping the momentum going
    • Divide up the responsibility. Create the podcast as a backchannel, and let the kids take over!

Rallying other teachers at your school:

  • Get it started
    • The other teachers will join you when they see your students excited!
  • Start a book podcast
    • Get the librarian or other English teachers to take it over and have genre months, author spotlights
  • Start a whole school podcast
    • Different departments could take over each month
  • Start a podcast for your program
    • AVID, SPED, GATE – share your specific stories

Excited to do a podcast? Here’s a link to my first blog post: http://jenniferwolfe.net/2018/05/podcasting.html

Here’s a link to my ‘Approaching Adulthood’ Padlet of podcasts: https://padlet.com/jwolfe14/x3u4y3gxt4or

Remember: Happy teachers will change the world! When you’re happy, your students know it – and it’s contagious. You’ll have a fun job and you’ll be giving students real-life transferable skills. You’ll show your students that they matter, that you SEE them. Our students have a voice – creating platforms for our kids to share are the best gift we can give our students!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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solo staycation

5 Tips For An Awesome Solo Staycation

Everyone Needs A Solo Staycation

It’s finally summer – teachers know that we’ve logged our hours towards summer vacation on all those afternoon unpaid meetings, late nights spent grading, weekends logged on to the computer creating lesson plans, and working through our lunch hours. One strategy I’ve used to keep centered as I raise two kids and teach middle school is the summer staycation. Staycations are another reason that summer isn’t just for vacation anymore!

solo staycation book
I’ve got a great list of books I read in 2017 – http://jenniferwolfe.net/2018/01/the-best-books-of-2017.html

My summer staycation is solo – no kids or husband allowed.  I build up to it each year, keeping a ‘to-do’ list of all those big projects I can’t seem to get around to while juggling my job, dinner, dishes, laundry and sports activities.  Sometimes the list involves a big project – painting a room, re-doing the garden, or cleaning the carpets – and sometimes it’s a week of ticking off the myriad of organizing and tidying-up projects I’ve wanted to conquer since last August.  Always it involves following a few simple rules to re-focus, re-group, and remember who I am.  

solo staycation

Solo Staycation Rule #1:  Be prepared.

The key to a successful solo staycation is to have an idea of what I want to spend time doing.   Keeping a list during the school year helps me remember those nagging projects that would simplify my life cleaning out a memory chest, organizing the digital photos, or cleaning out the pantry, for example.  Being prepared also sometimes involves scheduling some help – having a repair person come, or having a girlfriend spend an afternoon helping choose paint colors.  Plus, checking off items on my list feels great!

Solo Staycation Rule #2: Stay home.

For me, staying home for a staycation means spending time alone.  So much of a mom’s life involves serving others, so I take this time just for me.  I try not to spend too much time socializing or shopping – I like to hunker down with a stack of magazines, some great novels, and the Oscar-winning movies I never saw, and just indulge myself.  Staying home helps me focus on creating a happy home environment, and doesn’t break my budget!

solo staycation
Stay home on your solo staycation and take a walk somewhere you’ve never been before!

Solo Staycation Rule #3:  Plan each day.

I’m a natural planner – I like to accomplish tasks each day, and my staycation is no different.  Without anyone else to take care of, my ‘me-time’ is drastically increased (no dishes or laundry, and the house stays clean!).  The first day I tidy up like a whirlwind, leaving me hours of uninterrupted free time.  Breaking down mornings and afternoons gives a little structure, and gets me off the lounge chair!

Solo Staycation Rule #4:  Create a welcome
home celebration.

The key to repeated solo staycations is to ensure your loved ones know you missed them, and that you appreciate the time alone. Take the last day and cook a nice meal (with their favorite dessert), cut some fresh flowers, and update your Facebook status to elevate the excitement
of their return. Try this pasta recipe I demoed on TV a few months ago. The smiles on their faces when they walk through the
door will make you remember why you work so hard all year long!

solo staycation

Solo Staycation Rule #5: Don’t feel guilty.

Being a mom is easy – but being a great mom takes a huge amount of hard work.  Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself – you will reap the rewards tenfold by having a more centered, positive, cheerful outlook after having spent some time just for you.

solo staycation

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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four agreements

Four Agreements and Trying To Be Real

The Four Agreements and Trying To Be Real

Have you read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? I just finished my second read – I often re-read books in different periods of my life and find when I do, there is a reason.

This has been (and is still) a year of embracing change. It’s a year of as many endings as beginnings, of tears of happiness and fear of the unknown. Change is hard for me, despite how much I tell myself to embrace and enjoy and find the silver lining.

four agreements

And it’s not just with my children graduating and moving on to new stages of their lives. It’s not just me shifting from full-time mom to an empty-nester wondering how I’ll fill the afternoons and evenings without having a child wandering in and out of the house.

Part of is a shift in me – of stepping into a new phase of life where I’m feeling the gratitude of launching my children into the world, and feeling the thunder of a new shift happening in my career.

I don’t know what it is quite yet, but I do know the Universe is rumbling and gearing up, the earth beneath me is beginning to vibrate with possibilities I haven’t imagined until now.

I first read The Four Agreements years ago – I’m not entirely sure why I picked it up for the first time. Maybe it was one of those titles I’d heard about and figured I should read, for cultural literacy’s sake.

four agreements

It made an impression but never was a guiding force.

It surfaced again last month, finding its way to my bedside table and into my lap for morning reading. I took it a chapter at a time, slowly digesting the lessons and realizing I had been wrong – the four agreements really were guiding me, I just hadn’t been paying enough attention.

The Universe has a funny way of placing just what we need in our path. I’d been re-reading notes jotted down months ago while listening to Ali MacGraw’s Super Soul Sunday podcast (you can listen to it here) – after my first listen, I’d written about finding my true self, but now, thinking about her stories and Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements made sense in such a different way.

Living your authentic life, finding the gratitude of each day is wrapped up in Ruiz’s words, his urge to:

1. Be impeccable with your word,

2. Don’t take anything personally,

3. Don’t make assumptions, and

4. Always do your best.

Makes perfect sense, right? Or is it a case of ‘easier-said-than-done’?

In my teaching life and my personal life, these four agreements are there every day, intertwined with spirituality, kindness, compassion, and non-judgment. Trying to remember that connecting with those in my presence is where I find the deepest joy, and that really, our pain is all the same.

The Four Agreements:

Being impeccable with my word means pausing, thinking, and honoring the power of language. Words CAN hurt, but they can also soothe, comfort, warm and empower us. Being impeccable with my word means honoring the time when being silent is stronger than yelling, and when breaking my silence requires courage.

Not taking anything personally is hard. Teachers tend to take everything personally. It’s a profession where many, many people think because they went to school, they can tell me (and other educators) how it should be done. These types of comments force me to remember it’s not me – it’s them. If I take it personally then I am ‘eating their emotional garbage’, and allowing their beliefs to impact my own ability to life MY authentic life.

Ruiz reminds us that making assumptions leads us to believe an often false truth, all because we don’t have the courage to question. Finding our own voice, realizing that not everyone in the world thinks as we do, and breaking bad habits with clear communication puts us on the path to personal freedom.

Always do your best – in my teaching world, kids feel pressure to BE the best. But that’s infinitely different than DOING your best. I struggle with helping kids realize that when you feel you’ve done your best, that’s good enough. Compete against yourself, not others. Go YOUR extra mile, and then rest. It’s not an easy concept. The last words I say to my son as he leaves each morning? “Do your best” and “I love you”.  I feel as if it’s my best gift I can offer as he ventures out into his day; Ihope when he’s not at home next year, those two phrases echo in his mind as he learns how to make his way on his own.

I won’t be able to connect with him every day – I won’t even hear from him every week, I’m sure. But hopefully, if I’ve done something right, the four agreements have been absorbed into his being the way they have in mine.

Do yourself a favor this week – grab a copy of this tremendous book, and savor it. Make this post the reason to bring the four agreements into your life – it may just change your life.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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