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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Podcasting: Why You Really Need To Try It!

Podcasting definitely pushed me out of my teacher comfort-zone.

It’s not that it’s unusual for me to take risks in the classroom. It seems like every other day I’m announcing to my students that today they will be my ‘test pilots’ for something or other.

Since I dove headfirst into digital teaching and learning six years ago, I’ve learned that it’s best not to over think what I want to do; rather, I make a plan, jump in, and modify as I go.

And I learn a ton from my students along the way.

I write often about my obsession with #hyperdocs and how creating and implementing this future-ready teaching pedagogy has transformed my work – and my students’ learning experiences. It’s true. I am having the BEST year of teaching ever, in large part due to my willingness to listen, learn, create, and trust in my students. I want them to be curious, life-long learners, and by intentionally using technology to enhance their learning experience I hope I’m not only being a strong role model, but also piquing their interest in things like blogging, video, and most recently, podcasting.

In my personal life, I’ve found podcasts to be soothing, intriguing, and revelatory; my favorites include Super Soul Sunday, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, NPR’s Code Switch and Up First, Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist history and On Being With Krista Tippet.

Most recently I’ve been hooked on educational podcasts as I bike to and from school, or when I’m puttering around my classroom in the afternoons – programs like The 10 Minute Teacher, The Google Teacher Tribe, The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, Teachonomy and The Ditch That Textbook podcast fill me with such hope and excitement that I often have to stop pedaling to save an episode or text it to someone!

So naturally, I decided my students needed to get hooked on podcasts – but not the ones I like…that’s not cool. Rather, they needed to CREATE their own podcasts!

How I Started Podcasting

I thought about this for three months. I went to several EdTech sessions on video recording and searched everywhere I could think of for ideas to get me off the ground with this project. I just wasn’t finding as much as I expected, and I began to think I’d never get it accomplished.

podcasting
Sometimes podcasting requires whole-body concentration and focus!

Thanks to the power of the internet (thank you, Twitter), my #hyperdoc friends Lisa Highfill, Scott Padway and Lisa Guardino, and a tech fairy (thank you, Brian) who showed up in my classroom mid-project, my students became legit PODCASTERS!

Of course, I had to create a hyperdoc to explore, explain, and apply the concept. I had to tie it to our ‘Approaching Adulthood’ end-of-unit performance assessment. I challenged myself to figure out the technical pieces, which mainly occurred when a kid ran into an obstacle (like background noise or echoes) and we had to get unstuck – and create soundproof recording spaces on a teacher’s budget!

podcasting
My attempt at creating a sound booth – Pinterest fail?

You can make your own copy of my Podcasting hyperdoc HERE.

Podcasting Results Were Awesome!

But I swear, I taught with a huge grin on my face for two weeks as I watched my students go from “eew…we have to hear our voice!” to “OMG this is my most favorite thing I’ve done in school!” And you know you’re onto something good when your students don’t even blink at the end of class bell and stay for 30 minutes after class recording and editing to get it just perfect!

podcasting
Creative sound booths…

Honestly, I’m sure I learned as much – if not more – than my students did during this podcasting experience. I learned to trust my instincts. To take chances even though there is a high chance for ‘failure’. I learned that my students are capable of extraordinary things (actually, I reinforced that), and I learned that teenagers have a huge VOICE and need platforms to show the world what they’re thinking.

Most students used WeVideo to create their podcasts.

Here’s a link to one of my favorites: The Difficult Lemon podcast

These kids came up with amazing ideas and thinking around the topic of ‘approaching adulthood’. Some did research about voting ages, driving ages, and drinking ages. Some interviewed their parents. One discussed the inaccurate portrayal of teens in young adult novels. Some thought about the impact of gender stereotypes, and others wondered about equality, rights, and identity crises.

Many were so good I strongly urge them to continue – wouldn’t you love to hear what teenagers are really thinking?

This team was the most technical – their podcast was titled “It Really Do Be Like That Sometimes” and was hilarious! Thank you, Brian Briggs (who has an awesome ed-focused podcast called “Check This Out” ), for the loan of the foam and microphone!

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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Facebook

Life and Death On Facebook

“We are walking each other home”

– Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

Hey there,

I should be at your funeral right now. A celebration of life, your memorial…I should be there. Except, I just couldn’t.

It’s been on my calendar and in the front of my mind since you passed two weeks ago. I figured I would slip in, soak up all the goodness and love people were pouring out in their tears and slip out, unnoticed.

And then this morning, as I was waking up, listening to the mockingbird outside my window and looking into the eyes of my mutt, so happy to see me, I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of it all. Despite how brave you were, how you surrendered your fear of death and embraced everything joyful about life, I knew that the best way I could honor you, sweet friend, was with words.

Facebook

You see, I dreamed about Disneyland the night after you died. At first, we were there and everything seemed fine. I had been elected some kind of ambassador to Disneyland and wasn’t quite sure why, because I never had that same feeling about it as you did. I know everyone says it’s the happiest place on earth but happiness was never my strong point.

When we first met in 1991, I was always the glass-half-full kind of girl. We were both fresh-faced teachers, barely adults, excited to be at Jackman together, not quite sure what the heck we were doing but pumped up to make things happen.

Suddenly, we were pushing through the crowds. I was smiling –  people were paying attention to us. You always had a way of lighting up a space, my dear.

PE teachers and English teachers don’t always gravitate towards each other, but being in the midst of a brand new school, kids who hungered for relationships and trying to build a community, we bonded.  That’s the way you were with everyone – your big smile, huge hugs, and endearing personality charmed everyone – especially our students.

Stopping mid-stream, I bent down and picked up a wedding ring off the ground and put it in my pocket. It seemed like someone must’ve dropped it but I wasn’t sure why and everyone was so happy I didn’t want to stop and damper the mood.

I only invited three work friends to my wedding in 1994 – you were sweet enough to come, helping me make my special day perfect. You just had a knack for that.

life and death on facebook
Pam and Carrie at my wedding – yes, she wore white!

We found ourselves on some sort of up in the air train or bus  – people kept sitting down and getting off, and at one point you leaned over and whispered, “I’ll be back in a second,” and you jumped to the side of the freeway. Another person came and sat down next to me – he had trouble with his legs. He was telling me how he couldn’t roll over and was having trouble with mobility.

John always liked you, you know. We were an unlikely pair, you and I – an ex-Goth girl turned English teacher, and an ex-basketball star turned PE teacher? Introvert and extrovert. Do you remember that time we went to CLMS with Ann and Tina? I’m pretty sure that was my first official work conference – all I remember is the laughter.

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The three PE teachers – and me, behind the camera. Unlikely friends.

 

People kept coming onto the bus, sitting down, getting up, trying to get going. I asked the man next to me where you were and somebody shouted, “She’s over on the other side!” and there you were, smiling that enormous grin that filled up the whole room. It was taking forever to get to Disneyland, the traffic was bad, and you started talking about all the challenges in life. The mom behind me was arguing with her son because he wanted to get off, go out on his own, and I leaned over the seat and told her I knew how she felt – I let my son move away and eighth grade, but he came back. I told her was all going to be OK and we kept on the journey.

I remember the last time I saw you. It was after I started teaching AVID, and came back to Jackman to see the program there, but I think I spent more time with you than anyone else. It was so strange walking back through the gates, across the quad and back into another time. I had become a mom by then, and you’d met Nat and were so happy with her. I remember getting back in my car, driving around the neighborhood, and thinking I shouldn’t let life get in the way of seeing people I really care about. I wish I’d listened to myself.

I didn’t quite know what to do so I got up and started feeding people. I was cutting a cake into little tiny bites, hoping it was going to be enough for everybody – and suddenly, the train stopped. We were finally at Disneyland, and everybody started pushing to get off the bus and I lost track of you. And I didn’t feel so much like people were paying attention anymore – it was just over, we were going our own ways, not unhappily or happily, just moving through the journey.

I found out you died on Facebook. Not what I ever expected to read the morning of April 9, 2018 – that your journey on Earth was over. I was shocked. You looked so strong in your photos, so happy. How could you be gone?

facebook

I’m going to miss you, Carrie.

You were brave with your life. I’m grateful that Facebook brought us back together over the last decade. I’m grateful I got to watch as you filled your life with happiness and smiles, and that I saw you adore your family, your travels with Natalie and your Ladd-strong battles with chemo. I love seeing pictures of our old friends from the beginning years – people you stayed connected with, but I let go. When I look at my wedding photos I can hardly remember the girl I was in 1994; it was before I even knew really who I was, but you were there smiling cheering me and John. I can’t believe I can’t return the favor, that I can’t finally drive across the causeway, pull up a chair with you in a garden, drink a pint and just laugh and remember and let you know how important you were in my life. I’m sorry my kids didn’t get to know you, and I’m sorry that they didn’t get to see what true bravery looked like. I’m sorry I left it up to Facebook to keep in touch.

But my dear, sweet Carrie, please know that you are carried with me into my classroom every day. You’re in my heart when my students need a hug or someone who will listen. You’re with me when I look into the faces of children who struggle to get to school or to simply smile.  When I see a teacher being goofy, dancing to their own tune at an assembly, I know you’re with me, too. And you’re there, always, when a teacher friend walks up, puts her arm around me, and gently says, “Hey, Jen”.

You’re all that, and more, Carrie. I hope you understand now why I couldn’t slip into your service today, and instead, I sit alone in my room, gazing out at the treetops, writing these words, glancing up at my calendar that reminds me that although this is the month we lost your body, your spirit will always be right here with me.

Until our souls meet again,

Jen

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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fear

Learning To Conquer Your Fear

 

Learning To Conquer Your Fear

I love this quote about fear from Pema Chodron:

“The on-the-spot practice of being fully present, feeling your heart, and greeting the next moment with an open mind can be done at any time: when you wake up in the morning, before a difficult conversation, whenever fear or discomfort arises.

This practice is a beautiful way to claim your warriorship, your spiritual warriorship.

In other words, it is a way to claim your courage, your kindness, your strength. Whenever it occurs to you, you can pause briefly, touch in with how you’re feeling both physically and mentally, and then connect with your heart—even putting your hand on your heart, if you want to.

This is a way of extending warmth and acceptance to whatever is going on for you right now.

You might have an aching back, an upset stomach, panic, rage, impatience, calmness, joy – whatever it is, you can let it be there just as it is, without labeling it good or bad, without telling yourself you should or shouldn’t be feeling that way.

Having connected with what is, with love and acceptance, you can go forward with curiosity and courage.”

~ Pema Chodron

fear

I use this image on my daily agenda at school – partly to remind my students to brave, but also to remind myself.

Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about conquering fear – it just sometimes looks a little different for me than it does for 8th graders. I love Pema’s idea of conquering fear as a way to claim both courage and kindness.

embrace change

For years I’ve been wearing a silver cuff reminding me to have courage – to look at each day and break it down, to find small ways to chunk out tasks and experiences and problems into manageable pieces.

Some days it works better than others.

I try to teach my students about time management, about self-advocacy, about believing that they deserve to be successful.

Some days my words are stronger than others. Some days they, believe me, some days they don’t.

“You’re still learning,” I tell them. “Excuses are useless,” I remind them.

I remind myself, too.

As teachers, we’re learning how to help kids experiencing trauma. We are begging for professional development to help kids with anxiety, to build relationships, to remember to put KIDS first, CURRICULUM second.

moms make awesome teachers

We’ve seen what happens when kids/young adults fall through the cracks.I’m sure that I spend more time with some of my students than they actually spend with their parents. I’ve got kids stopping by to say hello between classes, sometimes asking for a hug or sharing something they’re proud of. I’ve got kids who eat lunch on my beanbags or tables every single day, I think because they know it’s a safe, calm place.

I guess that’s one way they’re learning to conquer their fear – to find a community in a place where they know they’re not being judged or having to monitor their ‘likes’. They can just connect, just be there as is.

I love those lunch hours, knowing that I really just need to let them know they are loved and accepted and that they are connected to someone who cares.

fear
Me stepping out of my comfort zone – coding with my students!

I think that’s a pretty decent place to start learning to conquer fear, right?

Do you have any advice about conquering fear? I’d love to hear it – leave a comment below, or tweet me @mamawolfeto2!

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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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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