purge party

It’s A Purge Party – And You’re Invited!

Back in May, a few weeks before school let out for the summer, I decided I needed to have a purge party. In the last 27 years, you see, I’ve taught a huge variety of curriculum and grades, I’ve gone from overhead projectors to DLP to Chromebooks and devices, and yet my paper files were still there, haunting me from five huge, overstuffed beige metal filing cabinets.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support…and fortunately, as every teacher knows, there are ALWAYS kids who love to help.

Grateful, tired teacher with purge party helpers.

Here’s how the purge party began:

I thought it would be simplest to start with my bookshelves. This year I returned to dedicated time for READING in my classes, and boy, did we all love it. Every day starting off with 10 minutes of relax and read helped us all to calm down, focus, and get lost in stories. And as a result, I bought new books…which meant purging titles I have had for decades. I didn’t think it would be too big of a deal – books are books, and surely I could make some space without too much heartache.

Letting go of books, to me, is like leaving old friends – and I realized just wasn’t up to that part of the purge party, so I asked some of my most voracious readers if they’d like to help…and boy, did they help!

We purged out an entire bookcase, and then she ORGANIZED what was left! Best of all, as I tried to sneak back some beloved titles, she reminded me that, “OMG, Mrs. Wolfe, you have TOO many books about baseball…and no one is going to want to read that one -just get rid of it!”

This is one huge reason my purge party was a success – I was reminded that while I might feel huge attachment to the books in my room, kids in 2018 have different tastes and I needed to make room for more current titles.

A few other students caught on to the idea of my ‘purge party’ – and to my huge surprise, volunteered to come back the day after school was out to help.

I honestly couldn’t believe they showed up. I HAD promised them a treat from Dutch Bros….but to show up eager to help at 8:30 a.m. the first day of summer? I’m the luckiest teacher…

Another sweet purge party helper!

Here’s how the purge party went:

The purge party went something like this: I open a file cabinet drawer, said just recycle everything, they look at me like I’m crazy, and then proceed to fill my green bins over and over and over with 27 years worth of PAPER.

I tried not to hyperventilate. I tried not to dig through the file folders and workbooks and transparencies, and just let them PURGE.

purge party

It was hard clearing out all those memories; I’m transitioning back to 7th grade ELA next year and this felt like the perfect time for purging. I’m grateful to be surrounded by loving students willing to not let me look back, and instead keep supporting me, pushing me forward and reminding me of the fun year they had. And not one part of that ‘fun’ came from those metal drawers.

In truth, I haven’t even touched those five filing cabinets for years. I was trying the ‘if you don’t see it/touch it/use it’ theory to make purging easier for me. I was never again going to teach French, or Yearbook, or 7th grade History…and if by some chance the Universe sent that curriculum my way again, I was now opening up the possibility for something new to enter.

It was a long, emotional day for me. The kids ate pizza, got caffeinated and silly and somehow, by 2:30, the purge party was done. Most of the kids stayed the entire time, supporting me and each other as we cleared out the old and made way for the new possibilities. I’m not sure any of us were really ready to leave, actually. 

The purge party continues:

The success of my purge party inspired me to continue at home. This summer, I’m starting to clear. I’ve done some drawers and closets, and already made two deliveries to the donation center. I’ve brought bags of books to the Little Free Library around the corner. I’m scratched by rosebushes by clearing dead debris in my garden. I’m spreading new mulch and propping up lilies that bloomed so big they fell over.  And I’ll be honest – I’m feeling a bit anxious about it all…just like watching my classroom memories disappear into the recycle bin, my home holds 24 years of memories. I have to learn that right now, clearing out doesn’t mean the feelings are going; instead I’m allowing space for possibilities as we enter this new phase at home and embrace the empty nest.

So this week, on my solo staycation, I’m taking the quiet time to pay attention to the places at home and life that are out of balance and making a daily practice to purge, to put away, and to allow the light to shine in and on and through, one minute at a time. 

I hope you’ll join me on this one. I could use some friendly energy to help me ride out the flood of memories I’m sure will come. I’d really rather not have a purge party for 1! Give me a shout out and let me know if you’d like to be here with me in spirit!

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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Holocaust

The Holocaust and Big Questions For Our Children

We’re studying the Holocaust in my classroom right now. I knew it was coming….middle school kids are in that developmental phase where they mimic what they see in the media. They parrot their parents or family members, not always realizing what is coming out of their mouth.

Very often, that can be problematic at best.

At worst, it can show the hate that is simmering in our country. It can spew the language of division, and mimic the actions of those adults who should know better, but don’t.

I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

In the last three weeks, it’s happened at my peaceful little school. Anti-LGBTQ language. Symbols of hate carved into bathroom stalls. Girls coming to me sharing stories of sexual harassment from male classmates…all this simmering beneath the surface of our children.

They look to us for guidance, but we don’t always know the right or appropriate thing to say. They look at the news, the media, and see people in their country showing hate, bringing guns to schools, using words to demean and disregard and dismiss behaviors. They want us to find the villain, to get back to ‘normal’. 

And so somehow, inside my tiny classroom, I need to shift course. I need to model more love and acceptance without showing my own anger or fear or disgust at the actions of people around me and in our government.

So I teach and weave in lessons of history, of courage, of love, and yes, of the power of hate. The power of hope, and helpers, and believing that deep down, people really are good at heart.

Holocaust

Teaching The Diary of Anne Frank at the end of the year always makes me a bit uneasy. It’s not a ‘light’ story by any means, and as we are heading towards celebrating a year of learning together, it often seems out of place in the May curriculum.

Until this year. I need my students to understand the power of hate.

I want them to know why the Nazi symbol holds such venom and what the Star of David, identifying Jews and ultimately bringing millions to a horrific death, teaches us about faith.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

I want them to know when they see these images that there is a backstory – and to understand why we must lock bathrooms and be vigilant and intolerant of hate and violence against each other.

Some of you might think that they’re just kids – they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mimicking what they see on social media, or repeating what they hear without processing.

And I’d say you’re right – and that’s precisely the problem. Why are they seeing these images and hearing language of hate and intolerance in 2018, decades after we should have learned this lesson? Why are they watching leaders and decision makers act with disregard for those that aren’t in the 1%? Why are they seeing images of citizens of the world herded into temporary shelters, or no shelter at all, simply because they seek a life without persecution for living their authentic selves?

I want them to ponder the big questions the Holocaust brings to mind – questions like “What do you gain when you stand up under adversity?” and “Who is worse – the attacker or the bystander?”

I want them to learn about the unknown heroes of the Holocaust – those folks who aren’t famous for their actions, except to those they helped.

I want my students to talk about why we sometimes feel superior to others. I want them to think about their legacy – even though they’re only 13.

This is our time to rise up, teachers. Don’t dismiss the last few weeks of the school year – leverage them. You’ve spent months developing relationships with your students. Take advantage of that. Use these days, weeks, or hours with your young people to explore what’s happening in their world – our world. Talk to them about what they see and hear. Ask them to think critically about local, national, and global issues. Guide them to meaningful media to learn about the world and then communicate their beliefs to an audience. Do a podcast. Write a blog. Shoot a video clip. Give them a voice.

We already know we’re not solving the problems. We already know that the hatred and gun violence and #metoo movements were formed on the backs of our inability to make change happen.

And we already know that we still have a chance, still have an obligation to our children.

So parents, teachers….do something. Teach someone. Talk to the young people in your life. And most importantly, LISTEN.

If you’d like a copy of my Diary of Anne Frank hyperdoc, including text sets about the Holocaust and Judaism, click here. Share it. You don’t have to be a teacher (or a student) to learn from it. You just need to have a desire to make change happen.

We are really better together. We really should be better.

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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