clearing out

Clearing Out and Making Space For Creativity

I spent the summer clearing out.

Clearing In Springtime

It started in May, actually, when my classroom began to feel like the walls were closing in. I needed space. Every day after school I would open something, fill the recycle bin, scrutinize and smile and either toss or find a new home.

 

clearing
What a mess…

I turned my classroom inside out before leaving in June; when I came back in early July after the carpets had been scrubbed clean and all 900 square feet felt fresh and everything was stacked neatly on top of my tables. So of course, I flipped it all around.

The back went to the front, the sides swapped spaces. Bean bags and folding chairs stacked in the center of the room on tables as I worked on creating more structure. I worked from the outside in, rearranging bookshelves and my teacher desk. I nestled new/old coffee tables in nooks with books and stools, and created AVID corners and reading spaces.

clearing
Starting to take shape…

Old paper ripped from the walls, became new blank bulletin board spaces. Wonder walls and student shout out spots smiled in anticipation of what would come in August… and I worked nearly all summer clearing out my classroom space until I could close the door and know that when school began August 27, I would be ready.

Ha.

Clearing At Home

At home, it wasn’t much different. The day after school let out in June, literally and figuratively, I opened drawers I hadn’t looked into for years. I pulled out all the linens and papers and blankets and stuff….and then I gently lifted them, breathed in the scent of memories and either gently folded and returned them to a place of honor, or let them go.

I knew what was propelling me, that life was tipping out of balance and only by clearing, by bringing awareness to the places in my life that I habitate and nest deeply, would I embrace all the change.

Before the end of July, I cleared out nearly every room in my house.  It was messy, and yes, a bit incomplete. There were tears of joy and overwhelming washes of memories that brought me down. I couldn’t go one room at a time; rather, I seemed to spiral from here to there depending on how the spirit moved me. It didn’t make much sense, but inevitably after I completed one part, an ease came over me. A sense of completion, of control, of calm.

Vaclav Havel said, I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.” Shedding layers of ‘stuff’ allowed me to shine a light on what means the most – it allowed the ‘absurdity and meaning’ of 22 years of parenting to merge and push me towards what was not only meaningful but possible.

Every Single Day

It became a daily practice. Like an addict, I fed on the need to bring balance and order. To create space for the change to wash in and out while my baby, my teenage son, wandered in and out of the house as he relished his last few months in the only home he’s ever known.

I spent much of the summer alone, in solitude. Aside from the obligatory summer excursions with the family (which I loved), I stayed at home, happily filling my days with clearing. 

May Sarton once said, “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone,” and for me, the intimacy brought with clearing out gave me time to think. What would this next phase of life be like, alone with just a husband and a dog and no children in and out all day? What would my teaching transform into? For 22 of my last 28 years of ‘first days of school,’ I’ve juggled being that teacher-mom, trying not to show how I was always feeling split in two.

Clearing and Creativity

And to be honest, I have no idea. Two weeks after dropping off C at college and starting the new school year the very next day, my rhythm isn’t there yet. I’m exhausted, edgy, eager, curious, nervous, and mostly cannot imagine how to jump-start creativity. Seems like with all this clearing, with all this open space I should be oozing with ideas and the time to bring them to the surface.

clearing out

It’s making me a bit frightened, actually. I want to force it into shape, to dump it all out and mold a plan that seems unmistakenly possible. Things need to fall into place before me, wide and clear and clean. I feel the call to creative work – the years and years under me, of thinking about this time and feeling the foundation that I’ve been building with this blog, with my PLN. with my pushing myself into something that while at times cloudy and obscure, it seems like might just be starting to glitter. 

Feeding The Call

The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” 

I don’t want to push down this clearing and cleansing and creativity that is opening right in front of my eyes. I want to jump in, feet first, and see where I pop up, to give myself permission to fill those empty shelves with new ideas and opportunities. And maybe, embracing the change for once, not shrinking from it. Just as the smoke is finally clearing from the summer skies, I know this will happen. Eventually.

Patience, Jen. Patience.

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What To Learn When You Want To Grow

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

My own children have officially launched, leaving me wondering, questioning, considering how now to become the very best version of myself as I move into another phase, one without my children here to direct my time. It’s still important for me to learn and grow and progress.

I’ve done my best with my kids and now life is different, ready to teach me new lessons, I hope! But right now, I need to keep busy – actively trying to nurture my mind and develop as a person, or it’s highly likely I’ll just stagnate. This isn’t ideal when I really want to flourish in this next phase of life. This is why committing to pushing myself, going back to school, and taking up new interests and hobbies can be very much a benefit. But where to start? And what kinds of things should you be looking to learn when you want to grow? Let’s take a look at a few ideas I’m mulling over:

Learn A Language

One of the very first topics that can help you to grow and develop is languages. When you can acquire a new language, you’re really broadening your horizons and opening up your mind to new possibilities. If you’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, then this is something that you really should look to do. But do it in a way that really works for you. Book an online course, get a tutor, or even head overseas to master the language in the native country. Just do what you feel is best for you to be able to really grow as a person and speak a new language. I’ve been using Duolingo to work on my Spanish!

Learn A Craft

Or perhaps you’re not that interested in languages, and you’d rather learn a craft? Why not take a look at these crafts to make with DIY Joy and see if you feel inspired. From knitting to baking to even things like makeup artistry, here you’ll be looking to discover something that can give you a new skill for your own personal enjoyment, or inspire a new business venture for you. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me, but now that there are no children at home to eat my treats I’m going to have to bring them to school…

learn

Learn Coding

Right now, the internet and technology are so huge. So why not be apart of that and learn to code? Last year I used some coding hyperdocs in my classroom – you can try them out here. If you do have an interest in this area, coding is a great skill to understand for your own personal internet use and if you want to go into business too.

Learn To Teach

Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Now, this can mean that you do want to go back to school and get your teacher’s credential, or maybe start by volunteering in a classroom – teachers always need help. When you love learning, it’s highly likely that you’ll be passionate about teaching too. So why not look to share your love of learning with children or seniors?

Learn Business Skills

Another skill area to consider involves business. Have you always wanted to launch your own company? Create a blog to showcase your creativity? Then why not try it out?

Blogging has turned into a big side job for me – it’s amazing how much I’ve had to learn about marketing, social media, and growing my professional networks. Read up on business skills online and with books. Find key business solutions that allow you to prevent fraud with Jumio’s Netverify or create a website with Wix. Scroll through blogs and even think about getting your MBA so that you could start off on your own.

If you’re an empty nester like me, consider investing in yourself. Learn and grow!

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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field trip

Plan A Class Field Trip – The Results Will Be Transformative!

Hands up – who wants to take a whole class of kids on a field trip to New York, also known as the Big Apple? No? What about another big city?

field trip
When my daughter was in my class, we took this overnight field trip to Monterey, CA!

Field trips ARE a lot of work, and even more stress, but you can run an educational trip to New York (or modify this for any location, really) effectively, and I’m excited to show you how. In fact, to help you get everything right, I have come up with the guide below:

field trip

Risk Assessments and Paperwork

Before we get to all of the good stuff like choosing where to go and what to see, its vital that you get all of the paperwork done. Yes, I know that paperwork is the bane of teachers’ lives and field trip paperwork is the worst of all. However, it is essential both to ensure the kids have as safe a trip as possible and to cover yourself as well.

In particular, make sure you have completed a risk assessment and submitted it to the school or group leader that approves them well before the trip. Also be sure to have information on kids that have allergies and other illnesses, as well as emergency contact details for all. You’ll be confident that even if something does go wrong, you will be able to deal with the most straightforward way possible.

field trip
Field trip to NYC!

Plan Your Field Trip

Once you have all the dull paperwork out-of-the-way, it’s time to consider your field trip in more detail. In fact, it’s a good idea to think about where you would like to take the kids and what educational benefit each site or venue has.

Want to link your Big Apple visit directly to a class project such as immigration or population? If so, then sites like the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, as well as Lady Liberty herself should be on your agenda.

Of course, you don’t have to have a direct link to a particular project for your visit to New York to be educational. After all, there are many cultural sites to visit as well that can link to the curriculum such as a visit to MOMA, and even taking your class to see a show on Broadway, an activity that would be good for young musicians, dramatists, and dancers alike.

field trip
Even riding the subway is fun on a field trip!

Major Sights On Your Field Trip

Of course to be able to plan your field trip effectively you need to know what is available for educational visits and experiences in New York.

Luckily, you will find that the major sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and One World Tower all have specific sections on their website that you can get access to ahead of time to find out more information and get some resources like lesson plans to use. Similarly, many have guided tours led either by professional tour guides or recordings that will make sure that the kids will get the most out of their visit while they are there.

Field Trip Cultural Attractions

In term of cultural attractions, New York is brimming with options too. Firstly there are ‘the big three’ Museums: MOMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim that host a wealth of exhibitions and workshops that would be an excellent educational experience for kids.

Then there is the theatre district in Manhattan, with its famous playhouses and a range of musicals, plays, opera, and more modern shows.

Of course, it can help a great deal to pick a piece for your class to view that is suitable for their age range and topic interests. For example, you can see the musical Kinky Boots in New York City now on Broadway, a production that could be great for students that are studying music, the 1960’s, gender roles, and even British culture.

There are of course plenty of other show to choose from as well including Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, among others.

Emphasis On Fun

Lastly, but not least, if you are in New York for more than a day with your class and you have done the educational ‘big hitters,’ you may want to take them to some of the more purely fun places too.

For the younger kids there is now a Legoland Discovery Center in Goshenand for kids of all ages, there is Luna Park on Coney Island. Bronx Zoo is another excellent choice that is both fun and educational as there are many exotic species here including giraffes, sea lions, and even polar bears.

My best advice is to think of something that makes your destination a fantastic choice for your class and might even change your whole teaching experience when you return home from your educational field trip!

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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hyperdoc PD

Hyperdoc PD: It’s What’s Happening This Summer!

Hyperdoc PD – have you heard of it?

It’s summertime, with days free from bells and lesson delivery and grading, maybe you have a little more time to catch up on PD? Personally, I love ‘pajama PD’ – PD I can do from my backyard garden table, while waiting to catch a plane, or at night in my jammies before I go to bed. Honestly, there are so many options for teacher PD that don’t involve going anywhere (although that’s super fun too); during the open days of summer I love utilizing Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to learn and create new ways of engaging my students – especially around hyperdoc PD.

Next year, I’m moving from 8th grade English (16 years…) to 7th grade (haven’t taught 7th graders since 2001)…and this is a perfect opportunity to up my lesson planning game. I’m excited to look at new strategies to go with my new content, and figure out ways to best create English classes that are hands-on, exciting, noisy and FUN!

hyperdoc PD

Hyperdocs?

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, Twitter channel or Facebook page, you’ve heard me mention hyperdocs and what a game changer they’ve been in my teaching. I’m a self-taught hyperdoc creator – meaning I’ve worked and collaborated and read and modeled my hyperdocs after the pedagogy created by the Hyperdoc girls: Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis.

hyperdoc PD

 

Do you need some hyperdoc PD? Hyperdocs are NOT just docs or slides with links – they are a way of utilizing current educational pedagogy to help kids engage, explore, explain, apply, share and reflect on their learning….and they’re AWESOME and HIGHLY ADDICTIVE! They are a way of packaging learning and teaching through sound educational principles – thinking through lessons and units from beginning to end, considering any curriculum standards and assessments through creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication strategies. Hyperdocs can be created for ANY content, ANY grade level, and best of all, ANY type of learner.

Curious?

Another cool resource for hyperdoc PD are the HyperDoc Hangout ON AIR; check out mine that was filmed in February 2018 with Kelly and Lisa. We invited a special guest student to testify about the power of hyperdocs, building relationships and engaged learning, too!

Want some FREE ideas?

So, are you ready for hyperdoc PD? Want to see some hyperdocs to use in your classroom? Check out my teaching/parenting resources page for some samples. I’ve also written a few posts about hyperdocs:

 

Also, for templates, tons of SHARED FREE hyperdocs, and lots of ideas to get you thinking, you need to visit Teachers Give Teachers, a website created by the Hyperdoc founders to create a community of sharing where teachers aren’t paying each other, but creating, collaborating, thinking and communicating together for no motive other than improving education for our students. If you haven’t checked out their website, hyperdocs.co –  go there NOW!

I’m excited to share with you – drop me an email if you have something you’re looking for. If I don’t have a hyperdoc for it, maybe we make our own hyperdoc PD session together!

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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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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