Impermanence, COVID and This Present Moment

Posted on November 19, 2020 by

It starts again with the breath, the in and out that we rarely pay attention to. The impermanence of breath, the pause at the top of the breath in, the pause at the bottom of the exhale.

Somehow, every time I close my eyes, breathe deeply and ground myself, the breath brings thoughts of the impermanence of life – of me, of those I love, the job I do, the dog by my side, the moment. Tears trickle silently as I try to focus on anything else – usually unsuccessfully.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they’re not.”

Is this just another way of saying I’m middle-aged? That from now on, the shift from what I know is true and solid is somehow slipping into something more supple, more pliable? Is impermanence permanent?

My county, along with most of California, and increasingly, states across the country, find ourselves locked down again. The COVID ‘break’ that many people took is coming full circle, the relief of impermanence from the virus, just for a fleeting second, now takes an ominous turn. The permanence of family gatherings, of kids coming home for the holidays, of snuggling together on a rainy day in front of the fire now feels different. Less joyful, more anxious. The thought that Thanksgiving will always be a time for togetherness is certainly tucked away this year. I watch the line for my neighborhood COVID testing wind around buildings and parking lots, extending blocks and blocks on a sunny afternoon. The media reminds me incessantly to be safe, this won’t be forever.

Breathing in, my happy place – Carmel, CA with mom.

The permanence of the death counts, the positivity rates, the inescapability assault our senses. Shake our security. Heighten our fear.

Impermanence today

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death sure reminded many of us of life’s impermanence – do you remember back to January, pre-COVID? Twitter feeds and the thousands of posts on Facebook of him smiling with love at his daughter, and you can’t help but feel it. Reminders to just ‘tell someone you love them’ or ‘don’t hold back’ feel genuine and true…but also far too simplified.

Now, our vulnerable worry about going into the hospital and never coming out.

Turns out the Kobe messages may have been a somber prelude to the rest of 2020.

Life just isn’t that easy right now. We don’t always remember when we should. We cut people off in traffic and push for the shortest line at the grocery store, even when the person behind us has less to purchase. In our own little bubbles, we forget to lift our eyes to the server behind the counter and don’t take the time to write teachers a thank you or to send a quick text telling a friend how much they mean to us. Those who have gone before us are lost in a daily rush of to-do lists, rather than altars.

The present moment

How often do we notice the pause between the breath – the ending of the inhale, just before the beginning of the exhale? Do we forget to stop, to honor beginnings and endings, each extraordinary moment of our lives?

On a beautiful blue sky afternoon, I heard an unexpected whhhhooooossssssh and saw this out my window.

Impermanence is life. Nothing lasts, despite our resistance. We fight change, instead of embracing it. It’s unavoidable, yet we try to avoid change at every opportunity. We want our kids to ‘stay this age forever’ and wonder ‘how did the time go so fast’ when they celebrate their birthdays. We can be standing in line at the post office, on an ordinary day, and look up and see that suddenly we are the oldest one in the room. Perhaps the only one wearing a mask.

Or we can watch our parents die, gracefully slipping from the permanent place in our lives to somewhere much freer.

Planted narcissus after my dad died last fall…as they sprout, the robins return with moments of joy.

Much more impermanent.

Like the flow of the river or the breath of wind on our cheek, nothing stays – especially this instant, this presence in this exact moment is all that we have.

This present moment is all that is permanent. Let us begin our appreciation right here, right now.

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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HyperDocs and SEL: A Mash-Up at Fall Cue 20!

Posted on October 20, 2020 by

Fall CUE 20 is around the corner – are you going? If not, why not? It’s VIRTUAL this year, and you don’t even need to leave your couch!

This year I’m mashing up two of my favorite teaching topics – HyperDocs and SEL – with two of my favorite educators – Nicole Beardsley and Sarah Landis – and we’ve got 60 minutes of ways to connect hearts and minds!

Here’s a Fall CUE 20 session teaser:

Are you looking for authentic, relevant ways to integrate Social Emotional Learning into your curriculum? Do you want to create meaningful lessons to connect the hearts and minds of your students? Have you built HyperDocs? This session will help you increase academic achievement, improve student engagement, and build SEL into your classroom using HyperDocs! Using CASEL’s five core competencies we will explore, explain, and apply SEL using technology tools – and your students will see huge results!

Participants will design HyperDocs using templates and exemplars to build an understanding of and commitment to Social and Emotional Learning in their students.

Participants will explore their understanding of CASEL’s five core competencies, their impact on and importance to students, and apply them to building lessons using educational technology tools to increase academic achievement and improve student engagement.

– Don’t miss this session on Saturday from 11-12 – sign up at NOW!

Looking for inspiration?

To begin, this session at Fall CUE 20 will have TONS of free HyperDoc resources and ideas to engage students and build relationships! One of my favorites is this All Are Welcome lesson to help my students understand the concept of empathy. Also, students will connect with each other in a low-risk environment, and build narrative writing skills. You can make your own copy of this All Are Welcome Hyperdoc. Just remember to add in your own links to slides and the Padlet to personalize your copy.

Finally, you’ll feel GREAT after exploring resources to help you build more social and emotional connections in your teaching space!

Hope to see you this weekend at Fall CUE 20 – and remember, I’ll always share resources for FREE here on And if you want to explore more about HyperDocs, check out the website!

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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9/11/20 and the Country Crumbles Around Us, Again

Posted on September 11, 2020 by

Nineteen years ago I sat at this same desk, looking out this same window. I still get up at the same early hour, teach the same grade level, same subject. I still don’t watch the morning news, but now in 2020 it’s for vastly different reasons.

I have the same husband, same children, and even the same hair color – although, after the last six months living through the pandemic, it’s definitely showing signs of grey, appropriately matching the smoke in my California sky. and the emotions in my heart.


Nineteen years ago we realized that the world would never be the same – not for those of us living through the attack on the World Trade Center.

The attack on our citizens in our own country.

The attack on our sense of security.

In 2001, I still woke early – but then it was to find some ‘me’ time before my babies greeted the day and my focus shifted. Today, my babies are adults, living in some other house, in some other states.

In 2001, I’d never even visited New York, I had trouble imagining visiting many places with a three-year-old, a 23-month-old, a full-time teaching job, and just, life. Today in 2020, I imagine visiting my 24-year-old and my 21-year-old on Zoom, in between teaching virtual classrooms and a pandemic.

Now, in retrospect, I’m glad I made it to New York before 2020, before the idea of getting on a plane terrified me – not because I fear dying from more acts of terrorism like 9/11, but because I fear dying from the terror of COVID-19.

I fear never seeing those places I dream of visiting, those places that just six months ago awaited exploration and checking off my bucket list.

Did any of us ever imagine there could be a horror greater than 9/11 in our country? That more people would die in a week, a day, of a disease that COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED, than died on September 11, 2001?

Today, September 11, 2020, I’ll stay safe inside my house. I’ll still look out the same windows, still listen to the morning news, still prepare to teach 7th grade English, just like on September 11, 2001.

Today, though, I’ll stay safe from COVID and wildfires. I’ll look out at smoke and ask swirling outside my window, listen to the morning news not about unbelievable loss in New York City but this year, unbelievable loss across our country and our world.

I’ll still prepare to teach 7th grade English, but this year it will be from my ‘classroom’ down the hall, in front of a camera, unable to hug and comfort and look into the eyes of my students. This year, I’ll teach them how I’ll never forget that September 11 morning in my classroom with students. I’ll share with them how shocked and scared and silent we all were, wondering what would happen next.

But still, just like 9/11/2001, I’ll smile and still remind students that I’m there for them, to be a stable adult for them amidst the chaos, just like I did nineteen years ago.

Not at all like September 11, 2001 – but why do I feel the same sense of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and fear for my children? For our country?

What follows is a re-posting of my 9/11 reflection, written nine years ago – before the country crumbled once again before my eyes. Back in 2011, when the comfort of a decade of healing gave me a little bit of room to breathe. Then, looking back when an ordinary day was something we dreamed about.

Still, the same.

It may never be an ordinary day again. But now, in 2020, for vastly different reasons.

9/11: It started like any ordinary day. 

  After maternity leave, I’m still getting the hang of getting out of the house on time each morning. I’m up early enough to have some ‘me’ time – 5:30 a.m. – before the pitter patter of my 23-month-old boy’s feet signal the start of mommy-time. 

Must plan Cameron’s birthday party for next weekend, I think.Coffee made, candles lit, I start up the desktop as part of my morning ritual, eager to check email and read the news.   Having children broke us of our TV news habit when we realized they were transfixed with images of stark reality we were trying so desperately to shelter them from.  

  A breaking news alert flashes into my inbox – “Plane crashes into building in New York.”  Hmm.  I’ve never been to New York.  Worlds away from my cozy study.  I hope it’s nothing serious.   Pitter patter pitter patter…here comes my boy, blankie, and book in hand.  My heart thrills at the sight of his big round head.  “Make sister juice,” he chimes with a smile as big as any Cheshire cat. 

I switch off the computer, eager to start the morning snuggle and reading time.  It is just another ordinary day.   The 11-mile commute to school is nothing unusual.  I drive past the harvested tomato fields, crop dusters skim the highway.  Lesson plans fill my mind.  Exit right, then left, then straight down the walnut tree-shrouded road towards Douglass Junior High, where my 7th grade English students stand lined up, waiting for me.  

“Hey, did you hear about the plane crash?” they shout as I open the door.  

“Yes, I did,” I answer, and switch on the lights.  “Let’s get started.”  

“But, can’t we watch the TV?  I have an aunt that lives in New York, and I’m worried,” a child pleads.  

“TV?  When do we ever watch TV in class?” I respond with a smile.   ‘Let’s get started – it’s grammar day everyone’s favorite!”  

Moments later, an announcement is delivered by a TA telling us the grim news.  Not one plane crash, now it’s two.  What???  The Pentagon?  Three planes?  Buildings collapsed?  People dying?  But it’s just an ordinary day!  

Why don’t I have my cell phone?  This ancient classroom has no Internet; the only technology is the old TV mounted in the corner of the classroom. 

Where are my babies? Did Lily make it to kindergarten?  What the hell is going on? I want to go home…  

Thoughts flash through my head as I try to process what to do.  Thirty sets of eyes stare at me, searching for comfort.  I’m the teacher.  I’m in charge.  I know what to do? 

Frantic thoughts of my own children race through my mind.  Are they OK?  What will happen to us?  Are the terrorists on their way?  

Then I realize-someone is taking care of my children, just as I’m taking care of someone else’s.  I know what to do.  They need me to make sense of it.  That’s what I would want my child’s teacher to do. 

Reluctantly, yet desperately, I turn on the TV.  I have to know. I can’t wait all day.  

After two hours, no word from my family, I switch it off.  Business as usual – that’s what educators do.  Keep them calm, keep them busy.  I know it’s only going to get worse, and it’s only 10 a.m.   Two more hours and I’m done. 

As I jump in my little gold Escort wagon, I’ve never been so relieved to only work part-time; 11 miles fly by-not enough time to decide how to explain the unexplainable to my 5-year-old.  The radio news drones on and on.  Thousands dead.  The children.  The mommies and daddies who will never commute home again.  The parents who will never see their babies again.  The young people who will never have the joy of holding their child in their arms. 

It’s more than I can bear.  The tears stream down my face as I safely reach home.  It’s clearly not just an ordinary day.  

‘Mommy, why are you sad?  What happened at school today?” Lily whispers, her big blue eyes boring into mine.  How do I answer?  She’s only four.  Far too young to have to learn about such horrors. 

I tell her a story about a plane crashing and good guys trying to stop the bad guys. “Did the bad guy go to jail?” she questions.  

“No, he died,” I reply, choking back tears at her innocence.

“I’m sorry he died, Mommy.  But I’m glad that we weren’t on that plane.”  

“Me too, baby.  Me, too.” 

I realize it may never be an ordinary day again.

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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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3 Teacher Tips For A Strong Virtual School Year

Posted on September 6, 2020 by

Creating a strong virtual school year isn’t easy. Much of what we know as educators now feels uncertain, shaky, and in need of revamping. Relying on ‘what we’ve always done’ can no longer be our default – educators must transition into a virtual school year by retaining our core values as educators and then modifying what we KNOW is solid educational pedagogy to meet the needs of virtual learners.

Sounds like what we’ve always done, right? Differentiate to the students who walk through the door? Except for this year, they’re just (hopefully) showing up on the screen.

This doesn’t automatically discredit all we KNOW as educators. We are not suddenly all first-year teachers, lacking experience with building community and engaging curriculum.

So let’s work with what we have, what we know, and give ourselves a little grace. We WILL have failures – and we WILL have another day to get it right.

What do I know works for starting a strong virtual school year?

1. Keep it simple.

Kids (and their parents) want to know what they’re going to learn, how they’re going to learn it, and how the teacher will assess it. They want to know their teacher cares about them. They want to feel seen.

Keeping the start of the year simple, teaching the ways to navigate their web conference based classroom space AND their digital learning space doesn’t have to be boring – integrate your beginning of the year structures by using a new element of each virtual classroom. TEACH students to use chat to connect with each other and then with content. Breakout rooms should start with a low-risk activity, like Frayer-a-Friend – I love this one by Brian Ross using Google Drawing.

Remember, everything takes longer in virtual learning. I love to over-plan. I have always been MORE than ready, and that continues. But I’ve learned that pacing in a virtual classroom needs to slow down. Teachers cannot pace from body language cues anymore, even IF kids have their cameras on (which they often won’t, and that’s OK). Consider digital wait time as twice as long…not only is there a lag in connection speed, but it takes kids a minute to figure out how to unmute, or type their thoughts. And I’ll bet that every teacher has a different system for ‘calling’ on students, so they have to remember that, too.

Links fail – and so does the internet. I always have a backup link. Even when I’ve taught a lesson multiple times, there will be that one day when things will just…fail. When that happens, take a breath. Explain what’s happening, and switch gears. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not even that bad to look at learning from a new angle. If you’re really thrown by unanticipated failures, ask your students for ideas. They love to contribute. And when all else fails, there’s always the virtual fire drill!

2. Perfection is the enemy of DONE

Don’t fall into the Pinterest-worthy peer pressure. Clear and complete wins every time over cute and cluttered. Tying back to keeping it simple, spend your time creating engaging content rather than the most elaborate Bitmoji classroom that kids – and parents – can’t figure out and definitely won’t appreciate the amount of time you spent.

Make learning sticky by creating simple routines that embed content AND strategies slowly. Spiral the learning in the first few weeks so you’ve established the basic protocols, and then you can switch to creating lessons that STICK. Organize the learning, then repeat. Let kids EXPLORE concepts, get them excited to learn, and ENGAGE them with strong distance teaching pedagogy – you can read more about that on my previous post. One of my favorite engagement strategies is using Multimedia Text Sets – here’s one we’re using to explore the concepts of taking bold actions and risk/adventure. Just go to ‘file – make a copy’ and modify it as you want. Just remember to change the response form to YOUR Google account!

3. Create a safe space

Just like in the physical classroom with face to face learning, I want my students to know their virtual classroom spaces are safe. When kids feel safe, they feel seen and heard. When kids feel safe, seen, and heard, they’re more likely to take risks in learning.

To begin creating this safe space virtually, I create clear expectations and norms, involving my students every step of the way. Try using a simple Padlet like the one below with questions to get kids thinking about when they feel safe, seen, and heard. Teach how to respond and connect with online comments, or using a rating system where students can show their level of agreement with a classmate’s post. THEN have the class collaborate to write the norms they agree to.

Made with Padlet

This doesn’t have to be all in one day; in fact, I like to let it linger a bit as we go through the first two weeks. Virtual learning is new – we need to give kids time to sit with it and figure out what they need BEFORE we decide on how things are going to work.

Teachers, trust yourselves. This year should be looked at as a time to push forward the traditional boundaries of education, not rebel against them. Take with you what you know works for YOU. Focus on community first, not curriculum. Keep it simple – kids want to know you care more than they want to be impressed by fancy Canvas pages. Remember perfection is the enemy of done. It’s ok to build this as we go – we’re used to being flexible! And above all, create a safe space. Talk about growth mindsets, failing forward and taking risks. Remind your students that you’re right there with them, and let them know they are valuable.

We CAN do this – we WILL do this! And we WILL come out stronger on the other side.

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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distance teaching

Distance Teaching & Learning: The 4c’s for Making It Successful

Posted on August 2, 2020 by

Distance teaching and learning is different from face to face teaching and learning. It’s the truth.

I’ve spent the entire summer facilitating courses for educators on Digital Teaching and Learning. I’m seeing many educators start to panic about not knowing how to start thinking and planning about beginning a new school year online.

The COVID chasm I wrote about a few weeks ago is real, and it’s terrifying. Teachers everywhere are trying to rethink, remake, redo all that they’ve ever known about teaching. We know this may go on for a semester at more.

What are the 4 C’s of distance teaching?

In California, most districts are starting the year virtually. This requires us to reimagine our back to school routines. I believe there are 4c’s to define the best practices of distance teaching and learning: community, connection, collaboration, and competency.

Taking a look at each of these will help teachers breathe more easily. It will help parents trust the school system and ensure students have the best possible start to the 2020-21 school year.

Distance Teaching = COMMUNITY

So many teachers are frightened about never having met our students face to face and trying to create a classroom community. But think about it – how many virtual spaces are there where we connect with people we don’t see every day? Do you participate in social media groups? Have you taken online classes or done Zoom yoga groups? Did you ever use a VCR to do a workout, or maybe you’ve even done online dating?

Today’s kids see virtual communities differently. Fanfiction groups thrive and survive on the social connections and dedication of members. Classrooms can be the same! Social-emotional learning is important at the start of the year. It’s also crucial to embed into EVERY SINGLE lesson and student contact.

What does SEL mean?

Check out the CASEL competencies for detailed info, but in summary, pay attention. Ask questions. Listen to your students. Comment and give feedback. Show your personality. Crowdsource feedback and ideas from your students. I’m a huge fan of HyperDocs. I make sure that as I design every learning cycle I’m embedding deliberate entry points for student choice, voice, and feedback.

In synchronous meetings, use icebreakers, polls, discussion questions, photo sharing, read alouds, videos and games EVERY TIME.

It’s a ‘pay it forward’ way of thinking – that first five minutes you spend intentionally connecting with students as they enter your virtual class, while they’re ‘getting ready’ and as you end the session will PAY OFF BIG TIME! The conferencing space IS your classroom space – do what you’d do face to face.

Distance Teaching = CONNECTION

Connection goes hand in hand with SEL, and also should be extended to TEACHER connection and PARENT connection.

Teachers need to feel supported. They need to learn self-care strategies, how to set work/home boundaries, how to develop routines, and where to share their glows and grows. One way to create teacher connection is to curate spaces – my favorites are Google Classroom and Wakelet. Using Google Classroom to set up a safe space for virtual PD allows teachers to enter on their own or during virtual meetups. Housing articles, videos, tech tips, and discussion threads help teachers focus on pertinent topics while having access to resources and reflection time.

What’s Wakelet?

Wakelet helps curate collections of resources and can be shared, and/or curated as a community. I love sharing my collections on Assessment ideas, Google Classroom Tips, HyperDocs, and Diverse Reading Lists.

An added bonus of using Google Classroom and Wakelet is allowing teachers to explore new systems that can then be transferred to student use or creation.

Parents need connection, too – Wakelet would be a powerful tool to share tech training how-to videos, Google Calendar appointment sign ups, websites – really anything that you want parents to use to ‘see’ inside your classroom!

Distance Teaching = COLLABORATION

Distance learning shifts the way we collaborate. Students NEED to connect with others – collaboration on projects allows for shared critical thinking, communication, and a deeper connection with school – as long as WHAT they’re collaborating on is engaging, relevant, and rigorous. consider tech tools to foster collaboration like Padlet and Flipgrid. Check out this fabulous collaboration resource created by Steve Wick!

For teachers, collaboration through Professional Learning Communities, not just in your school but worldwide, offers opportunities to share academic, pedagogical, and personal ideas. Many social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are turning to groups and hashtags to connect educators; my favorite collaboration site is Twitter.

Educators find ideas via hashtags searches, groups, direct messages, and Twitter chats – in fact, I hosted a WeVideo Twitter chat on ‘Podcasting and Student Creativity” in hopes of sharing and collecting new ideas for student podcasting projects!

If you’re interested in podcasting you can see the archive of ideas here.

What else can teachers do?

Taking an online class, webinar, or book study helps teachers connect and collaborate over topics of interest. Also, it puts teachers in the point of view of students – what better way to ‘feel’ what it’s like for our own students to be in a virtual classroom! Consider getting Google Certified (Kasey Bell has great resources here) or taking tech tool certifications. Perhaps join your local CUE affiliate, or attend virtual conferences or edchats – all ways to not feel so all alone in distance teaching while making new friends at the same time (see, I told you community is built online!).

For students, authentic collaboration needs to happen in synchronous and asynchronous time. In web conferences, consider using breakout rooms, if possible. Many face to face strategies, like give one, get one, can be done in with the chat feature. Utilizing UDL lesson design with HyperDocs allows the teacher to build in collaboration within a lesson or unit using a variety of digital tools. Sarah Landis created a compilation of UDL resources in this slide deck!

Distance Teaching = COMPETENCY

Competency means taking a look at how we not only train teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff in best practices for digital teaching and learning, but also onboarding our students and parents with digital basics. We need to intentionally TEACH structures, tools, and systems to ensure student success. Also, creating a standardized design for students to access assignments in your LMS, writing, and recording directions for each assignment helps create strong organizational systems. Creating a teacher website to share access points also helps students achieve systematic competency.

Then, ensuring consistent lesson design that features frequent, familiar strategies like those found in EduProtocols can help students move from feeling overwhelmed with new strategies and content every time. Students know when a teacher says “Iron Chef” how to approach content. One of my favorite sites is using Google’s Applied Digital Skills. I can either use or modify their lessons, embedding digital tools into the curriculum, and building up my student’s digital toolbox.

How many tools do teachers need?

Teachers don’t need to have a new tool for every lesson. Just like cooking meals for the family, you don’t have to try a new recipe 365 days a year. Take the one you like, use content in a new way, and continue to modify. And always have a solid fall back – I call that lesson the ‘macaroni and cheese’ for when I need something solid and tasty to fall back on, that doesn’t require a lot of creativity on my end.

I hope sometime we can stop calling this experience ‘distance teaching and learning’ and just remember it’s TEACHING and LEARNING. Yes, our methodology may look different, but we need to remember that we have good strategies we already know – the trick is to switch them into a digital space. Trust your instincts. You can do this. You WILL build community in your virtual space. Your students are looking for you to show up and SEE them…whether it’s through a camera, on a screen, or face to face.

We’re teachers – it’s our super power!

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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