boundaries

Boundaries For Strong Self-Care: Creating and Keeping Yourself Happy and Healthy

Do you struggle with boundaries?

This morning I woke up to a tweet from one of my favorite educators, Pernille Ripp. She asked, “What is one thing do you to take care of yourself as an educator?”

I was the first to respond.

I quickly tweeted, “Set strong boundaries between home and school”, and she immediately replied, “I need to do that”.

boundaries

Wait – what? This educator/mom/ author agrees with me? I just assumed someone as accomplished as she would have figured that out, but then, I remembered – when my kids were young, it seemed impossible to set (let alone keep) those boundaries.

Teaching can feel like a 24/7 job.

And while dedicated educators always seem to have their next-most-awesome lesson idea simmering in the back of their mind, or are hoping that one special kid has a decent afternoon/night/weekend and comes back to school the next day, just like the old cliche about the oxygen mask, we really MUST practice strong self care to be at our best for our life-altering jobs as educators.

boundaries

Life can be tough, there’s no denying it. There are so many negative things in the world that can really get us down – even turning the tv on nowadays is depressing enough. Having said that, there are also so many incredible things around us that unfortunately, we miss because we are so preoccupied with the bad, but that’s where we need to focus and engage. Don’t let yourself be consumed by things that don’t deserve your time and attention. Instead, learn to unwind and do something that is worthwhile, like finding a hobby – something that you are truly passionate about.

It didn’t take teachers long to share their self-care tips; here are some of the best ideas:

Creating Art

Art is a tool that allows us to capture things and freeze them in time, in our own unique way. The beauty of this is that there aren’t any rules. Essentially you can do whatever you like, and no one can tell you whether it’s right or wrong, because that just doesn’t exist. You are in total control of what you do, so let your creative juices flow out onto a blank canvas with colorful paints and see what you’re able to create. Free your hands from tension and let them sculpt and mold clay into a structure that makes sense to you. – Whatever your form and medium may be, express whatever you are feeling at the time. Be honest and open, as that is when true magic happens.

Create & Construct

Listening and Playing Music

Music is a beautiful thing that not only stimulates our ears but our soul. It has the strength to bring back fond memories from a time that feels like centuries ago, even smelling the air from that very day. It’s exceptional, and it helps us to get through some of the best times, and some of the worst times in our lives. So think about being able to create that very same experience by playing an instrument yourself. It doesn’t have to be as hard as you may imagine either, for example, there are sites out there like easyukulelesongs.com that give access to what you need so that to play your favorite tunes. Why not stretch a bit, explore the world of music and pick up an instrument?

Music is a higher revelation...

Read, Read, Read

Reading is an underrated hobby that everyone should adopt. It allows us to delve into a world that is so different to our own, giving us the chance to live vicariously through the characters in books. People don’t realize how far stories can take them until they pick one up, only to find themselves not being able to put it down unless absolutely necessary. It’s a way of escaping reality for a while and drift off somewhere else. The best thing about it is the fact that reading can happen anywhere: on the sofa at home, on a bench in the park, under a tree in the forest, on the bus to a destination, in the bath eating strawberries, or in bed snuggled up (my favorite).

boundaries books

Another one of my favorite educators, Kelly Hilton (a co-creator of #hyperdocs), shared this hyperdoc lesson focused on TEACHERS, not students – but I can see the possibilities for making it apply to kids, too. Heck, every person who struggles with boundaries could benefit!

Why not share this with your teaching staff/friends/favorite educators who need a reminder to find ordinary things in life to discover the extraordinary pleasures that are right in front of us?

boundaries hyperdoc

Click HERE to make a copy of Kelly’s “Self-Care for Educators” hyperdoc, including a self-care plan, compassion-satisfaction-fatigue self- test, and self-care ideas.

What do you do to practice self-care and set boundaries between work and your personal life? Please share your tips below, or tweet me at @mamawolfeto2 .

I’d love to learn from you, too!

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 does a woman need to be happy?

Write Happy Poetry This Month! Simple Ideas For Any Writer, Any Age

It’s National Poetry Month! Einstein and I disagree slightly about what a man or woman needs to be happy – what would your ‘happy’ poem sound like? This is a fun, simple type of poetry to write and share with your students; just imagine the possibilities! They could adopt different points of view, write as characters from a novel. Have them create hand-drawn images, or search and add digital images based on poem keywords to add a visual element. Combine poems into categories, write group poems…the possibilities are huge!

Please share your/your class poems in the comments, or send me an image of how they turned out! Feel free to use this post as a starting point.

Einstein said:

Happy

A table, a chair,
a bowl of fruit and a violin;
what else does a man need
to be happy?

what does a woman need to be happy?

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought we should flip his ideas a bit:

mamawolfe’s version:

A bench, a book
big snowy mountains and coffee with cream;
what else does a woman need
to be happy?

~mamawolfe

happy

Check out my other poetry ideas here, and please share your results! I’ve also got some awesome poetry hyperdocs – let me know in the comments if you’re interested in them!

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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happiness hacks for October 2017

Happiness Hacks For October 2017

Woohoo! October is wrapping up! If you’re a teacher, October is THE LONGEST month, and ends on a lovely day/days/week full of sugar, hyped-up kids, costumes and MORE SUGAR! Plus, it’s the month with the lowest energy for teachers and students…I’m happy to see the calendar change for November. But to end the month on a positive note, I’ve collected some of my favorite tips to share with you – enjoy my Happiness Hacks For October 2017!

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Happy At Home

I kept super busy in October – for teachers, the ‘honeymoon’ is wearing off and the grind towards the end of first quarter begins. For teacher-moms, it’s a double dose of stress – especially for me this year, when my ‘baby’ boy is writing college essays and applying early decision for his top school…trying to avoid overwhelm amongst all this goodness is huge.

I’m a huge list maker by nature, and with the launch of Google Keep a few months ago now I’ve got both digital and hard copy notes..but it was getting a bit much, I must admit. I love the Google Keep notes for on-the-go voice typing of things I don’t want to forget, but I’m most productive when I’ve got a paper to-do list right in front of me. But when that list is front and back….I needed to make a change. I decided to try my classroom workflow strategy of must do – should do – could do to help me prioritize at home, and it worked! I used the large, lined sticky notes to prioritize tasks and move undone lists to the next week without having to rewrite everything. I can’t say the lists are eliminated, but I can say that I’m not as overwhelmed with trying to remember what needed to be finished by when, and even dreadful chores like filing the FAFSA were somehow completed early! WIN!

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time

I’m still determined to make my Goodreads 2017 challenge of completing 37 books…my free time is slowing down, but I still cherish my reading time. All screens are going off by 9:00 p.m. each night, and if I still have some brain power left I’m turning pages. In October I chose two books that had been languishing on my shelf for nearly a year – The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage and The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. In a fit of procrastination late one night, I decided to search Goodreads to see which of my ‘shelfie’ books had the highest ratings and start there. These two were tops – for good reason.

The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage caught me completely by surprise – I originally bought it because of my love of Nicaragua and wasn’t disappointed. Gage smoothly weaves elements of the Nicaraguan culture into her generational narrative of three independent women, connected by blood and history. At times I was comparing it to Isabel Allende’s great novel The Japanese Lover – the flashbacks blending in a historical narrative alongside contemporary Nicaragua deepened my understanding of the country’s disturbing background while solidifying my love for the joyful, loving culture I’ve come to adore.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, however equally compelling, was one of the hardest books I’ve read in years. Winner of the Dayton 2010 Literary Peace Prize, Night Women echoes the writing of Toni Morrisson’s Beloved (one of my all-time favorite books) in the telling of the story of Lilith, a Jamaican slave living at the end of the eighteenth century. This is not an easy read, and is definitely a commitment of time and spirit – but honestly, as difficult as James’ realistic, sometimes horrific, descriptions of life as a female slave were, forcing me to want to avert my eyes at the words on the page just to let the images flee my mind, I absolutely could not put it down. The Washington Post describes The Book of Night Women as ‘darkly powerful’ for good reason. In today’s turbulent times, this story sheds light on the history of slavery what we might not want to see, but must understand.

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Wise Words

happiness hacks for October 2017

Have you heard of Brad Montague? How about Kid President? You really need to. Brad created the video series featuring Kid President about five years ago because he wanted to make the world a more awesome place, and I absolutely fell in love with their short messages. Three years ago Brad inspired me to engage my AVID classes in #Socktober – an annual drive we do to collect socks for people living homeless in our community. It’s such a cool thing. Last weekend I was near happy-tears while listening to Brad give the keynote at the fall CUE conference- his message to all adults about “how can I be a better grown up?” and becoming a “Possibilitarian” full of “Wisdom, Wonder, and Whimsy” hit just the right vulnerable spot in my heart.

happiness hacks for October
Oh yeah – I got to meet him, too!

So often lately we’re hearing about all the horrible, unkind, mean-spirited actions going on in our world. Daily I see kids coming in my classroom full of sadness, fear, and anxiety. Listening to Brad speak reminded me that it is my daily responsibility to “to create things the way they could be” – in my home, my work, and my community. Be sure to check out Brad’s website, Montagueworkshop.com/wonder,  and see his joy-full rebellion in action! Here’s one of my favorite Kid President videos – I show it in my classroom every year:

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Teacher Hacks

Teachers, I’m obsessed with Hyperdocs, and everything they’ve done for my students. Did you catch my post about teaching writing with hyperdocs?  The more I learn, the better my teaching gets – and I wanted to share a cool hyperdoc I got from my friend Kevin Feramisco, who got it from the original creator, Heather Marshall (that’s how hyperdocs work, folks!). I’ve struggled with teaching 8th graders how to integrate quotes into their writing, adding intros and explanations, for years. Finally, this hyperdoc on quote analysis nailed it! I love how kids first take the quote and break it down – critical thinking about the speaker and audience, context, significance, literary devices, and connections, then ‘putting it all together’ with an assist from some academic language frames…brilliant! Then, I had students share their analysis paragraphs on Padlet and taught them about how to comment…by reading other people’s writing the magic began happening fast! I started with four quotes from the novel we were reading, (one quote per hyperdoc) and by the last one, they were writing and commenting like rock stars! You can #filemakeacopy of my adaptation of the hyperdoc here.

Feel free to adapt, change, adjust the hyperdoc to meet your needs – just keep our names there, and add yours!

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Something Yummy

pumpkin bread

An amazing recipe for Pumpkin Bread, of course! from Alton Brown – found on my fave new app Food Network’s “In The Kitchen”. I’ve made this recipe several times using canned pumpkin and omitting the nuts – it’s devoured in a day! The link will also take you to a fun Alton Brown video showing how he makes this super yummy recipe!

Happiness Hacks For October 2017: Listen Up, Podcast Lovers

Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation Series has become my go-to podcast at the end of a long day, or when I just want to relax and not think about teaching or writing or parenting…it’s just soooo good! Her interviewees are so intriguing, the podcasts are fairly short (under 30 minutes) and it calms me down and makes me think about life in the big picture. I find myself jotting down ideas to delve into, or texting a link to my friends who would enjoy a particular episode. Check it out – it’s well worth your time.

I hope these Happiness Hacks help ease you into busy November!

Love,

Jennifer

Background on my Happiness Hacks series:

Years ago I started a gratitude journal – just a daily addition to my morning pages that documented the ordinary things that I was grateful for – simple things that made me happy.

During this time I read Gretchen Rubin‘s book, The Happiness Project – Gretchen’s writing and podcasts inspired me to create what I hope are monthly lists of ‘happiness hacks’ – small, simple acts or moments in life that bring me happiness and maybe they’ll rub off on you, too. You can read my essay inspired by Gretchen’s other book, Happier At Home here. 

In June 2017 I started with my first set of ‘happiness hacks’, and loved the responses I received on the post and on social media. Turns out, you do things to make yourselves happy, too. 

You can read my past “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For August 2017: Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

Happiness Hacks: July 2017 To Bring More Gratitude Into 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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Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

I was at a school district meeting tonight, surrounded by mostly women, many of them my age, give or take a few years. In response to a request to ‘list five aspects of our identity we would like to share with the group’, it took me less than a second to reply. “Mother”, “woman”, “writer and teacher” quickly topped my list, and I discovered that for most of the women I talked to, ‘mother’ was easily the most common descriptor. I honestly didn’t think much about it. I’m mamawolfe, mom to two, teacher to thousands, writer of stories about life in and out of the classroom.

moms make awesome teachers

It hit me first after talking to the teacher-mom of a kindergartener who identified herself as a ‘friend’ first – and after talking to me, she wanted to change her mind.

And then another woman spoke up, surprise and a bit of concern in her voice. I recognized her as a middle school teacher, and I was startled by her surprise at the numbers of self-identified mothers. She appeared stymied by the idea that we educators would not only be shouldering the responsibilities of mothering our own children but of our students as well. The overwhelm in her voice and the shake of her head struck me.

Isn’t that what mothers do best? Isn’t that why moms make awesome teachers?

Being a mother is my top priority, my deal-breaker. It’s nothing to hide behind or even consider some part of myself that would tie for first place in my identity line-up. It’s not that I always imagined myself as a mom or a teacher for that matter; I never really imagined myself as much of anything when I was younger. But after spending the last 27 years with other people’s children – then going home to my own – I slowly discovered that being a mother has not only brought out the best parts of me, it’s brought those best parts to my classroom, too.

I was a teacher long before I was a mom. I remember barely being ten years older than my students, mystified when their parents would ask me for advice about how to manage their teenage children.

Honestly, I had no idea. I remember thinking, Aren’t parents just supposed to know that stuff? Ha! Little did I know…

By the time I became a mom I was six years into teaching but kept on going. I remember 9/11 and wondering what would happen if I was off to work and never came home again. I thought often about how hard I worked to teach other peoples’ children and wondered if I  put as much energy into my own.

I struggled with the teacher-mom balance for years – until I embraced it. I am a mom first, then a teacher.

A first-year teacher recently asked me for advice on managing life and teaching, and the first word I thought of was BOUNDARIES. To be a successful working mom, to not feel as if I’m successful in the workplace without sacrificing my kids, I realized I needed strong boundaries – barbed wire type boundaries, with “NO TRESPASSING” signs dotting every five feet or so. Teaching children, serving families, is all-consuming for me. Keeping clear that my own kids come first, then my school kids has eased my guilt about not being able to always be everything for my students. But over the years, I’ve discovered that the lessons I’ve learned from being a mom have shaped who I am as an educator – and I’ve realized precisely why moms make awesome teachers.

Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

Moms make awesome teachers because that they live the most important part of the job: moms know what it means to put kids first. Moms know how to wrap their arms around their child and make them feel safe. Moms know that nothing good happens when kids are tired or hungry or feeling sick. Awesome teachers know when kids feel loved, they do better at home and in school.

moms make awesome teachers

Moms know that being first isn’t always best and that sometimes we all need to take a breath and try again. Moms know that sometimes life gets in the way, that the dishwasher doesn’t always get unloaded and the printer runs out of ink right around bedtime the night before an essay is due.  Flexibility is a huge part of life; awesome teachers look at the big picture, not the setbacks.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that kids come first, always, that all kids are still learning, and there are lots of ways to tie shoelaces and they all keep shoes on feet. Awesome teachers know there is not only one “right” way to do things, and individuality keeps us thinking.

Moms know that kids can be raised in the same house by the same parent with the same rules and come out to be entirely different humans and that oftentimes gender has very little to do with identity. Awesome teachers love their students unconditionally and teach them where they are.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that sometimes the best thing to do is close the textbook and get a good night’s sleep. Awesome teachers know when to push and when to look in students’ eyes and tell them it’s OK, let me help you.

Thank you to all the awesome moms, amazing teachers and brave students out there – you make a difference in my life every single day.

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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flexible classroom seating chair

Flexible Seating: Something Cool From My Classroom

I don’t know why it took me so long to jump into flexible classroom seating. After 27 years of dodging clunky desks, tripping over backpacks and watching kids fidget uncomfortably in their hard plastic seats, I had had enough.

I’ve had classes as large as 38, and it just was too hard to fit that many desks in my small classroom.  I needed more space, and so did my students! This year, my middle school students came back to school with flexible classroom seating, and it’s been amazing! To help you jump in, I created a how-to list for flexible classroom seating.

Step One: Start small.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

When I first began teaching a reluctant reader class years ago, I noticed how physically uncomfortable my students were when I asked them to read for an extended period of time. Middle school kids come in all shapes and sizes, and I figured if I could create a more comfortable space to relax and read, I’d at least get them in a good mood! I ended up purchasing four Big Joe bean bag chairs from Amazon – they’re designed for dorm rooms, and fairly durable.

The first year my kids fought over them every day, so I came up with a ‘bean-bag rotation’ chart which did the trick. At the end of the year, I asked the PTA for funding for a few more and built up my first flexible seating. When other teachers saw the way the kids would relax and focus, they even brought in old bean bags from home that their children never used. I’m up to at least a dozen this year, and they still are the preferred place for reading and collaborating.

Step Two: Look for deals.

flexible classroom seating chair

I started scouring the internet for cheap, functional furniture and seating. I found these foldable chairs for $5 each and discovered these stools on Amazon. My local Goodwill has been an amazing source for items such as clipboards, pillows, and various durable furniture. And since I live in a college town, there are always discards around for free! I’ve heard the free pages on Facebook are a great resource, too. I put an ad out on our Nextdoor Neighbor app and had a few donations trickle in that way.

Step Three: Ask for help.

flexible classroom seating

When I thought about getting rid of 20 desks and replacing them with tables, I got a bit nervous. I knew my students would be more comfortable with tables as flexible classroom seating, but how would I find enough? I started asking family and friends if they had anything they weren’t using anymore or wanted to donate to my classroom. I was surprised by the number of people who had old folding tables and chairs in their garages!

Also consider asking your custodian, the principal, and your students’ families for donations – once you put your wishes public, I know you’ll be amazed at what turns up. Remember, you can always replace a table or chair if something better comes along. I even put contact paper on an old card table I was given and it looks awesome!

Step Four: Watch what the kids gravitate towards.

flexible classroom seating chair

Just like with the bean bags, I started small and watched what the kids did. I noticed who liked stools, who needed a spinny chair, and who wanted to plop or flop on the bean bags. Not only could I determine some learning tendencies (the kid reading on his belly every day clearly needed some tactile stimulation to focus) but I also could see who was assertive (they usually claim the folding chairs) and who was easy-going (they just sat wherever there was space). I have one upholstered armchair that rotates and I’ve noticed certain kids really like to sit there and gently move as they read and write, so I’ll look for more of those. I’d also like more two-seaters for those who like to constantly collaborate.

Step Five: Decide what battles you want to fight, and let go of the rest.

Like anything new, there are going to be challenges and unexpected events – and awesome surprises. Many people thought I was a bit crazy to attempt flexible seating in middle school, but I did it anyway. I established expectations around the beginning of class (students must be at a table for attendance/mini-lesson) and that I would announce when flexible classroom seating was ok. I created a seating chart – I actually let students choose their seats for the first month, and then I’ll rotate them around once I get to know them. I advised that they should try multiple locations and seats.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

I carefully organized the room into learning spaces – I have an AVID college corner, a row of bean bags by the classroom library, boxes of clipboards and headphones near the back, and even turned an old shelf board into a lap desk. I stationed a fan by the spinny chair and let kids sit there and feel the cool air when they need to calm down. At first, I thought I would arrange the seats with certain desks, but I noticed the kids moved them around during the day, so I let that go. Sometimes kids have been under tables, and sometimes they whisper more on the bean bags. Occasionally they crowd too many bodies onto the ottoman, but we’ve made it work. I think on my feet a lot, but I’m also able to really get more connected and it feels less teacher-dominated and much more student-focused since I’ve used the flexible classroom seating.  I’ll never go back!

This post was first published on The Educator’s Room website. Visit The Educator’s Room for the latest and greatest hot topics in education.

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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