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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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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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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embrace change

Being Brave Enough To Embrace Change

“Just where you are – that’s the place to start” ~ Pema Chodron

The next six months are a countdown in my life – or a count up, depending on how I look at it. That’s the issue right there, actually: am I brave enough to embrace change?

Ever since Lily went away to college Cam has been watching me – aware of my shifting focus from her to him, noticing my changing routines, a slight twist towards examining myself as the mom of a college kid, and as a result of his observant mom-study, he declared that he “realized how hard I took it when Lily left, so he needs to start preparing me now.”

Way to play on my anxieties, kid.

I suppose in his wisdom there’s some truth to his strategy. I DID take it hard – I knew it was coming, I tried to prepare, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in her convocation freshman year that I could start to verbalize what I was feeling.

I don’t expect a repeat next August when Cam moves across the country. Yes- he’s moving to Boston, just about as far as he could go from California. He was accepted early decision to his dream school, and without hesitation, he committed. Done deal, he’s going.

Early decision is kind of nice, except for the fact that instead of starting my empty next visualization in May with most of the other parents-of-seniors, he kindly gave me five extra months of it.

The silver lining? It made choosing my mantra for 2018 quite simple: EMBRACE CHANGE.

embrace changeI’ve been procrastinating on actually writing about the impending change for months. I guess that’s a strategy – avoidance, right? If I don’t think about it, it won’t happen…except, he’s 18 and reminding me daily that he’s an adult and that I should get used to it. As the days pass, he’s less and less patient with me, and I’m finding myself more and more often in my upstairs writing perch, candles lit, gazing out the window and wondering if I’m actually brave enough to break my own heart….as a mother.

Now logically, I know there’s no choice. My heart will break a little more each day, the cracks carefully covered with smiles and hugs and making his favorite meals. I’ll play along with the ‘when I”m in Boston’ talk, and remind him that roommates don’t like people who leave their wet towels on the floor. I’ll grin when he comes in for a hug now and then, and compliment him when his room looks clean and he goes out of his way to fill the gas tank. I’ll be grateful that he texts me from his girlfriend’s house, and rest easy knowing that at least her parents are getting to see what a nice young man he’s becoming during all the free time he spends hanging out with them, not us.

And I’ll let go of what’s no longer serving me – the story of all the things I thought I would do when he was little, the trips we never took, the books I never read aloud. I’ll let go of all that part that tells me what I should have done…and try to hang on to what I did.

I was recently listening to Cheryl Strayed talk about her writing and her reflections on motherhood, and she shared a story about making decisions as a mother that really resonated with me. No one prepares us for motherhood; we do the best we can with what we have, and hope that everything turns out ok. Along the way, we learn to navigate the rough patches, smooth the hurt feelings and wipe away the tears.

She reminded me of one of the most important lessons that motherhood has taught me: to do things that scare me and to let my kids do them, too. Making decisions for our children is a hard habit to break, even when we’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes when I tell other parents that my kids both chose colleges outside of California they tell me that they would never let their kids move so far away. I hear all sorts of excuses, but really, all I can think is how could I forgive myself if I never let them fly?

I have to be honest – I KNOW I’m brave enough to embrace change. I’m sure I will survive. I made it through Cam’s adventures at the ski academy, and Lily moving to Utah. I know that like all those other times when I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a child that was any older than they were at that exact moment – that just like then, I’m going to find that with change comes joy just on the other side. With change comes a new opportunity to push away what isn’t working and amplify what is.

I wear my mantras on my wrist, daily reminders of the words I promise myself. Courage. Trust the journey. Be here now. And now, embrace change. I trace my fingers over the letters, I twist and bend and alter their position but always, always the words are right there to remind me that yes, I am here and yes, I can.

Being brave enough to embrace change isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. I’m going to trust in that.

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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