’tis the season to be….grateful

Today my school is hosting its largest Admission Event of the season. Each year, dozens (perhaps hundreds) of families from in and around Boston descend on our parking lot and cruise through our hallways catching glimpses of the daily life of the students. In a parallel universe, teachers in the classrooms, and hiding away in the nooks and crannies of the study spaces, work tirelessly to complete lesson plans, start their end of term comment writing, make finals, grade last minute assignments and prepare to grade finals just created. This week is the stuff of nightmares! We have to be engaged and engaging to our prospective new families and to our current students who are heading into final exams and we have to do our best to tackle the mountain of work in exactly 7 days when all the due dates converge! Yet, despite the frenzy, I am feeling super grateful today. This place is so special to me because of the way it approaches teachers, grows teachers, nurtures relationships, shares curriculum content, and challenges and loves its students. Yes, I might be a shut-in this weekend but there are so many awesome moments that make-up for the onslaught of grading ahead of me.

My goal this week which I am putting out there in the world is to have no lingering work over the week of Thanksgiving. My goal is to leave my laptop behind and take a full week off after this mania. And I write this now while I could be working on my work…..so procrastination is real, but now the need to get started feels more real.

Also, a dear friend had a baby this morning and how can you not feel grateful when life welcomes a new human to the world!! Cheers!!

They Escaped!

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram enjoying photos of babies, food, and Kaelin’s cat when I saw a momma friend post about an “escape the room” review lesson she had hatched for her history class. Immediately, I became obsessed with the idea! My ninth graders have been killing it this year raising the bar on their writing, content comprehension, debates, and analysis. Wouldn’t it be fun to approach the end of the Civil War unit in a playful way for them? This question led me deep.

6db.jpg

Deep into a hole of puzzle making and code ciphering that had me babbling “sic semper tryannis” and buying Mexican Cipher Wheels from Amazon. What could the topic be for the escape? Would the escape the room help them better understand history or would it just be a distraction? I racked my brain through these questions and reached out to faculty across the building for help thinking through the objectives and meaning behind the escape. The topic came the easiest. The class would need to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the past, this topic was always covered by reading a textbook and doing a little discussion about the magnitude of the assassination before moving on to something else. But what if instead of this very small/insignificant approach, we jazzed it up and got the students to feel the rush of emotion to prevent the event and the confusion of following the manhunt? The scenario thus became:

“You are group of elite army special service officers. You have just witnessed the signing of the Articles of Agreement in which the Southern Confederate Army officially ended their hostilities against the Union. You have been tasked to deliver the formal documentation to the White House. While traveling from Appomattox Court House to President Abraham Lincoln, you are ambushed by a group of hooded riders who blindfold you and take you to an undisclosed location. Along the way there, you pick up bits of their discussion from the front of the wagon about plans to “Cut off the Head” of the Union so that the “South May Rise Again.” Left alone in the holding cell,  you need to uncover how to get out, where the surrender document is hidden, and what plans you need to stop in order to secure peace and protect the United States of America!”

And then I stopped blogging for two weeks because it was time to create 10 missions, clues, red herrings, objectives, ciphers, puzzles, and everything else in between. It felt like an incredible undertaking and I lost myself to the process all the while hoping that on the day of execution the students would be challenged, would gain deeper knowledge of the events leading to: the assassination, the timeline, the co-conspirators, the manhunt, the plot, the motivation, and all else in-between. And using technology would allow students to visit the locations with Virtual Reality. My framework then became for:

  • Students to work in collaboration with another to problem solve and work together towards a common goal
  • Students are able to review key concepts, themes, battles, and events leading up to, during, and immediately following the Civil War
  • Goal for students to be engaged in the content in a way that is respectful, motivating, and team-building
  • Have students understand the timeline of events leading up to the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, learn about the motivation, the assassin, visit the physical space of Ford’s Theater, and learn about the co-conspirators
  • Have students reflect on their approach, reflect on their default collaboration behaviors/mindsets, and discuss how they were challenged in the process


The process was maddening. I am thankful David is still married to me once I climbed out of the craziness. On the morning of, I arrived to school an hour in advance to set up the room, played Civil War themed music over the speakers, and welcomed in the students. It took them the full hour to work through the puzzles. They laughed, they struggled, but ultimately they escaped.

9th grade projects

BVR has opened a new Research + Design Center. It gleams, it shines, and it is full of amazing spaces and technology that will allow students to play, learn, and design in a setting that feels like a fast-paced silicone valley start-up. Last year, my juniors played with the laser printing and 3D printing for History class. It might not seem like history is a “natural” or “organic” fit for this kind of design or these kinds of products, but my 11th graders took up the challenge and visualized history beautifully.  In the process they showcased their research and creativity and learned the skills needed to manipulate these advanced technologies as well. It was pretty amazing and I was utterly impressed by what they could generate with simple guiding principles and time and support to execute their ideas. This year I wanted to set the goal of challenging my 9th grade to a similar project idea early in the term so that they can (a) feel ownership in this new space (b) feel confident using these new tools (c) cement a deeper knowledge about the history covered (d) be creative designers of their knowledge and research.   It was a daunting idea but it felt like something I wanted to at least try. Here is what happened:  (using colonial data they visualized regional characteristics and presented the comparative data of today)


Swing of things

The hardest day of going back to school is the first Monday after the first school day. The few days of that first week are exhausting  but there is an excitement that fills the air as kids reconnect with their friends and as faculty navigate the transition with their classes and colleagues. It is probably one of the best times of the year because everything feels fresh, new, and inviting. I love when I buy a brand new planner and those first days are living life like a brand new planner: a clean slate and fresh start. The first Monday after though….

It is still exciting, it is still new, and the energy definitely has me thinking big picture planning, like when will I get my classes into Research + Design Center to use the 3D printers and laser cutters. BUT it also hits me that we are doing this for the next ten months. There will be an alarm going off at 5AM now regularly. There will be grading stacks that get bigger before they get smaller. There will be parent meetings, emails, and to-do lists around every corner. This casts a little shadow over me. I know my mantra is “one by one it all gets done” and I know I will get into that mindset and just do what needs to be done, but today I am pausing a little in the reality ahead. I am taking a deep breath, drinking my coffee maybe a little shower than normal, and telling myself that it is okay, it is going to be okay, and you can do this.

By October, these feelings will have subsided (I hope)and the routine of it all will just be. Until October, I need to brace for the roller coaster of emotions that have me flying high after an awesome class but running low when tackling the “after hours” work of a teacher. And, of course it takes time to figure out how to carve out the most important space of the day: that mental space to put everything down and just be present with my family from the time I walk through the door to the kiss goodnight for Owen and Henry. And then giving myself permission to not forget that David and I need to make time for each other through this chaotic return to life during a school year. That our house and home is only as strong as our relationship which also needs to have space, time, and a kiss. I would love to find a podcast where working moms share their life-hacks for “doing it all,” knowing that we cannot really do it all but we can sure as heck try and get pretty close to a balance that leaves us feeling good about who we are and what we are doing and less like we are mediocre at it all. Do you know of any?

Until then…one by one it all gets done.

soaking up the end

In less than 24 hours the official start of year nine of teaching begins. Am I ready for it? Yes, I am excited about the start of the year. The students are always buzzing with excitement as they reconnect with their classmates and settle into their new classrooms. Am I sad for my summer vacation to end? YES! This was a good summer. With each day and week that ticked by, we got “better” at being mobile, heading out, packing the right number of snacks, tackling fun with errands or house chores, and reveling in our time together as a family. I always worry about rebuilding my teacher muscles. It is hard to go from talking with my kiddos and husband to talking to dozens of students and faculty a day. It is hard going from tackling laundry, cooking, and fun times with the kids to doing all of that AND working full-time. Tonight I feel overwhelmed. Tomorrow I am sure things will feel normal-ish but right now, I am anxious to see how we manage it all again and just keep telling myself, “We did this only 12 weeks ago!” Instead of dwelling on these tumultuous feelings, I am going to focus on my boy squad and sneak away to swing at a playground because tomorrow will inevitably arrive. Today though is for summer vibes.

The beginning of the wait update

So here we are day 5,929 of our great baby wait. At least that is how it feels sometimes. Throughout this pregnancy our medical team has pumped me up with hopes of an early delivery: we will have to induce you for the baby’s size, we will have to monitor you for your thyroid, we will have to induce you for fears of shoulder dystocia, we will have to monitor your sugar levels. All these little “red flags” that were tacked onto my appointments gave me the hope that perhaps this time, my baby would come early instead of weeks late. But, this little dude is quite comfortable and each concern sheds away with each passing day. From “let’s just get you to 35 weeks,” we are now hearing, “you can go all the way to 42 weeks!” And, yes I am delighted. I am thankful that we are healthy and that our complication risks are minimizing. I am thrilled that throughout the long months of gestation this little guy and my body got stronger and more adaptable.

BUT, I am SO ready to meet him. Henry and David talk about the little one all the time, and play in his room, and read books about the baby arriving. We have EVERYTHING ready to go from crib to carseat to clothes to burp cloths, to that dreaded double stroller. And now we wait. My new feeling is that instead of an April baby, this little dude is holding out for May, haha. So what am I doing to avoid the painful staring at my belly?

The potty training chronicles are on-going and have been an oddly welcomed distraction!  Henry is doing really well with it too. Almost all of his activities make it to the bathroom and he is getting better and better at telling us. It is really sweet to put him in “big boy undies” and see him playing downstairs and having so much fun. I no longer see him as a “ticking time bomb” waiting to ruin my couch! This weekend to keep our minds busy we are planning to head downtown for a little visit to the North End and some touristy sight-seeing because WHO KNOWS when we will be able to do that again once the new member joins us and on Sunday I am going to my first fitness conference with my fellow coach Nikki. It feels like this mix of teaching, mothering, and coaching is just what I need in life these days. I am busy, and motivated, and feeling strong and healthy (although definitely achy by night fall, I cannot lie that this belly is a burden by the end of the day!). David always has hobbies to keep him busy and to keep him from spinning his wheels. When I was pregnant with Henry it was the summer and I felt very lonely just waiting for Henry to arrive and eventually  I felt crazed. But this time, while the wait isn’t fun (because come on little guy don’t you want to meet earth-side already!?!?!) it is much much more manageable with everything that fills my life and day and I am so thankful to feel like I have real ownership over my day.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.21.22 AM.