Give And Take

It's almost Earth Day 2017, and this little puppy that we kept for a few days over spring break has me reflecting about give and take.

It takes a lot to care for this little girl. 
She wanted required pretty constant attention.
And while we (minus our cat!) loved having her,
I'll have to admit that I was grateful to give her back, too.

Life is like that, for sure.
Give and take.
Someone needed our help, so we gave.
Next time we need help, we'll take.
But in the meantime, I love the reminder
to give thanks ...
and take nothing for granted.
Life is too short.
It's too short to forget to say thank you.
It's too short to forget to lift people up in prayer.
It's too short to miss a chance to be kind.
It's too short.
Time and time again we're reminded of that ...
It's too short to hold on to grudges 
and refuse to forgive.
It's too short to not keep our promises.
It's too short to not be ourselves.

Yet time and time again we forget.
We take things for granted.
We think we have forever.
Heck, we think that for sure we have tomorrow.
And sometimes we do.
But sometimes we don't.

What would change if we lived as if we didn't?


I'm thankful for the opportunity to keep Lizzie for that long weekend. 
I'm blessed to have friends who trust me with their family pet. 
And I'm grateful for my cat, who doesn't take up nearly as much time and attention as that active little puppy did.

So how are you living a life of appreciation,
of give and take,
of service and love?
What are you rocking?
Where could you get better?
Whom could you affirm, celebrate,
honor and thank?
What are you waiting for? 


Otis Grows

Every once in a while, a publisher reaches out to introduce a new author and title to me. Sometimes it's love at first sight, other times I'm not instantly enamored. Since there was something odd but endearing about this onion called Otis that made me want to peel back the layers and learn more, I asked to talk with author Kathryn Hast about her intriguing newcomer Otis Grows. Thank you, Kathryn, for your insight; best wishes as Otis makes its trek around the world!

1. Otis Grows begins with an odd premise: that an onion is the son of a flower and a chicken. How did you come up with the idea, and what do those groups mean to you?

Yes, it’s a bit bizarre. But in some ways most children’s books are, right?  I mean, bunnies don’t talk, there’s no such thing as a Truffula tree, and we’re humans, not Muggles. I think one of the cornerstones of childhood is the ability to suspend disbelief, to see past odd anthropomorphization, for example, and find instead empathy via character. I studied magical realism a lot over the course of my MFA, and there’s surely a bridge there, but the story actually began as a dream my dad had. He told me about it, I laughed, and penned a few stanzas as a joke. Returning to it years later, I saw the story as a way to highlight the absurdity of American cultures in conflict, which seems to be happening at such an escalating level.

2. Do you think the theme(s) could be a bit heavy for kids?

It’s a good question. The book is not for everyone. I created it with a fundamental worldview that books are not just for entertainment. Social scientists and educators have been reporting for years that active learning is what works. By contrast, passive learning is when you attend a lecture, when you’re read to… but when you engage and explore concepts actively, the stimulation ensures a richer learning experience. Accordingly--in my view--books can and should lead to conversations. And sometimes those conversations aren’t quick or easy. If it takes a parent and child months to get through my little, forty-page book, I feel I will have done my job.

3. Most children’s books have a targeted age group. But you insist that Otis Grows is for all ages. Why is that?

While many children’s books adhere strictly to age and/or reading levels, I think there’s something to be said for using playful language, which may or may not be elevated. The word “inverse,” for example, is not really for kids, but when you couple it with “of course” and “war’s curse,” and when you provide visual context, kids can get the gist. They’re smarter than we think. Also, it’s always been my hope that adults would enjoy my books, too. How many of us with young kids wish we could read more? How many of us prioritize our kids’ exposure to books over our own? It’s always been my hope that adults can find reflection and meaning in my books. That would be great.

4. What would you say the central message is in Otis Grows?

At a very superficial level, simply: growth. Development. I’ve always been drawn to Bildungsroman as a literary genre, but of course “coming-of-age” can encompass any number of things. There’s a scene in Otis Grows that resonates with me as I enter my forties: it’s when Otis comes back home to see his dad, and from a distance, his father seems “old.” That little piece of Otis’s growth is what speaks to me right now in my life, but others may find pause in the “odor of growing older,” in the realization of the beauty all around, or in Otis’s gained physical height and awkward stature.

5. You’ve mentioned your other books. What more can we expect from you?

My illustrator, L.M. Phang, is currently working on our next collaboration called Batty Betty. It’s about a giant who dances by herself with a red basket. There are some beavers who deride her, and then a tuba and a banana who forge a friendship amidst the “crazy” world they live in. ...So right, if there are objections to an onion having a chicken for a mom, there’s plenty of concepts to critique in this one, too. But I hope people can see past that. You know, Beckett had people living in trashcans; Kafka made a man turn into an insect. I do not claim (or aspire) to be giants such as they, but I do hope for a world where there is more literature, for everyone, including kids.



Inspiring Hope

I've been thinking a lot about inspiring hope lately. 
It's my one word for this year
and it's an amazing gift.
Life-changing even.

Hope is woven throughout this guest post I wrote with tips for 
helping kids move through and beyond tragedy to tranquility.

Click the image to go to the post.
Then my friend Sylvia invited me to guest post at her beautiful blog
Learning With Mrs. Parker and, sure enough, more connection. And hope.

Hope is a must when life challenges and overwhelms.
It's pretty much a non-negotiable in seasons of sadness.
In fact, without it there is no light at the end of that tunnel.

This week has been so so dark for my friends at Ross Elementary.
Thursday night as I was presenting a parenting workshop there, tragedy struck and complications from an injury sustained in a collision just outside the school took the life of one of their third graders.

In an instant, life changed for all of them. Forever.
A mom and dad lose their baby girl.
A brother loses his sister.
Grandparents lose their granddaughter.
A class loses their friend.
A ukulele club loses a musician.
A ball team loses a team member.
A school family loses a Roadrunner.
A school counselor loses a superhero. 

There's no way around the fact that her friends and family are in excruciating, unimaginable, unspeakable pain. And the hard truth is they are going to have to lean into the pain in order to go through it and to ever get beyond it. It won't be fast and it won't be easy. There really are no words at a time like this. 

But there is hope.  

In what has to be the most difficult decision ever, the family decided to donate this young angel's organs to save the lives of five children. Just as heaven got its newest angel, five beautiful children for whom things seemed hopeless got the gift of hope for a chance to move forward and live healthy lives. All because of Kelsey. And when I shared her story with our daughter Kaitlyn, she said that she is planning on signing up as an organ donor when she renews her license next month.

So tonight, dear reader, I'm asking for your fervent prayers,
for warm thoughts and wishes of peace, comfort and healing 
for the Ross Elementary school family
and the many friends and relatives of the young girl,
a sweet, joyful soul who lived a lifetime in just eight years,
and who, at losing her life, manages to give 
life-inspiring hope to others.


Dental Work, Spiders & The Why

 Today, a reflection about fear. My thoughts about this started on Friday, at the dentist appointment I'd put on the calendar for noon. Goodness only knows what I was thinking, scheduling dental work on my lunch break. I guess I'd conveniently forgotten how afraid of visiting the dentist I really am. I actually envisioned getting that cracked filling taken care of and returning to school for the afternoon. It wasn't until we noticed a spike in my blood pressure that I recognized and acknowledged my edgy emotions. I was in tears before the hygienist even finished applying the numbing gel. When the dentist came in and saw me struggling, our conversation went something like this: 

Dr. Hicks: Are you okay in here?
Me: Yes, I'll be fine. The taste of that numbing gel just shocked me and caught me off guard (I fibbed a little to dismiss the fear).  
Dr. Hicks: It's okay to be afraid. It's actually quite common, normal even. Everyone's afraid of something. For me, it's spiders.
Me: Really? I take pictures of them. 

She found that almost as gross as I found the taste of her numbing gel.

I took it as a sign when I watched this ambitious arachnid building her web this weekend. And I smiled, knowing I'd survived that nerve-wracking dentist visit. 

It wasn't as bad in hindsight as it was in real life; I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the why. As the dentist and I visited, waiting for the first shot she'd given me to numb my jaw take effect, then waiting for the second shot to help that first one get the job done, I attempted to explain how my experiences with the dentists of years passed had not always been very pleasant, how during one visit, in particular, my procedure had required six shots, one of which had hit a bullseye straight into a nerve center and sent me soaring straight up out of that chair (and not in a good way!). 

Dr. Hicks listened, then responded by walking me through the anesthetic procedure, teaching me about how and why they are trying to hit the dead center of that nerve web to better ensure that the entire jaw numbs. It made so much sense. All of these years, I thought that the other dentist had messed up. 

Don't get me wrong. 
I still don't like it. 
But somehow knowing the why really made a difference.
Understanding it put me at ease better than ever before
and helped me better tolerate 
the poking and prodding,
the drilling and filling.

I wonder if that's how it is in school, too, if knowing the why
would make a difference to the what and the how.
If it could measurably increase engagement and motivation.
If it would greatly change processes and outcomes.

For the record, I didn't go back to school that afternoon.
I went straight home to take a nap, relieved that it was over
and thankful to have a dentist who would take the time
to patiently educate me, 
to entertain my questions,
and to process the why.

What would knowing the why do to diminish fear and
increase productivity for you and your students? 


GRANTing Wishes

Today I'm still on Cloud 9 because yesterday was a special one for me personally and professionally. Personally, we went with our son Joshua on his graduation pictures photo shoot. John had the idea of recreating this Father's Day picture from when he was in first grade, so I snapped one on my phone while the photographer was setting it up.

The professional shot will look better, for sure, but this will give you a glimpse into the fun that we had hanging out and reminiscing with our senior.

Earlier in the day, our Education Foundation surprize patrol came by and granted a lot of our dream-big wishes in a big big way.

This year, our awesome AP Wendy and I decided to write a grant
and guess what? It was fully funded!

Our grant idea came from our friends at North Pointe Elementary, a 2013 National School of Character; we called it 
Building Character By The Book: 
Principal's Picks For Promoting Our Pillars.
It's kind of like a book-of-the-month club.

We were encouraged to break large grants like ours into small grants so that school stakeholders could get in on the fun and buy a grant. Two of our months, September and May, were adopted just that way, one by a parent of one of our students, the other by our former Principal. The Education Foundation decided to fund the remainder of the grant so that we could start in September with our Principals Pillar Pick Program.

Our school will be receiving 25 copies of each of these books, one for each month of our school year. In September, for example, when respect is our spotlight pillar, members of our leadership team will go to each classroom to read Do Unto Otters aloud, briefly discuss it with our learners, then leave a copy with the teacher for enrichment activities and as a possible take-home reader to foster that school-to-home connection.

I'm super excited about this new program and I'm feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for a Foundation and a community that supports what we do in our character building.

Happy April.


PBLs: Engineering Experiences

As we head in to Joshua's last 9 week of high school, I find myself reflecting on the projects that he really connected with and enjoyed during his days, months and years at Friendswood High School. 

Hands down our favorite from junior year is when he built this boat. 
With these two teammates. 
From cardboard. 
And clear packing tape.

Photo courtesy of FISD
I know it made a splash with Joshua because he chose to write about it for his college and scholarship essays.

After seeing this picture on Twitter and curious about this project-based learning experience, high school teacher & blogger Brian Sztabnik asked to interview Joshua. Here's what our son had to say.

1. What was the assignment? In a team of three or four students, build a boat (designed to withstand the weight of two high school students crossing the school's pool) out of only cardboard and clear packing tape.

2. What unit was the assignment situated in? AP Physics - the Archimedes Principle.

3. What permissions, clearance, scheduling, etc was needed to complete this activity? The teachers had to schedule time in the natatorium for the boating race. We students had to schedule weekend meetings to build our boats from cardboard boxes.
4. What instructions were provided to the students? Click {here}.

5. What content-area learning occurred during this activity? Testing the Archimedes Principle (buoyancy). 

From Mr. McGowan, the Physics teacher: Boats come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, some have trouble going the same direction as others. Have you ever wondered how a large supertanker filled with oil can float? Objects submerged in a fluid such as water appear to weigh less than they do when they are not in the water. The liquid exerts a buoyant force on the object. Archimedes is credited with discovering that the buoyant force on an object is equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. He is said to have discovered this principle in his bath while trying to think of a way to determine whether the king's new crown was gold or a fake. Legend says that he ran naked through the streets shouting, "Eureka." Archimedes Principle also applies to floating objects. An object floats on a liquid if its density is less than that of the fluid. For our supertanker to float it must displace a volume of water equal to its weight.

6. What soft skills did students demonstrate during this activity? We had to work together to make calculations, design and draw their boats. After we submitted the initial report and boat design, we had to talk to each other to plan and then schedule work dates. We had to cooperate and be flexible, working around other school projects, activities like band and cross country, and work schedules. The process of building the boat took negotiation and teamwork, for sure. When one of the four members failed to show up, the three of us who did all of the work had to discuss what, if anything, we needed to do about that. 

From Barbara: When I, as the mom of the student who hosted the boat-building sessions, asked the senior in the group how this project has been for him, he answered, "It's been fun; it helps that I have some nice guys to work with." The other teammate, a junior, responded, "Joshua's sometimes in a big hurry and we have to slow him down, but other than that, it's been good."    

7. What does project-based learning mean to you? It's kind of fun to do the projects, but it's the reflection piece that really stretches us to extend our learning, to think more deeply about it, to grow from it. There's also an assessment piece that forces us to take a critical look at our work.

For example, we had four boys, but only 3 showed up. Ever. Except for to the actual race. In the report, we had to grade ourselves. We gave ourselves each a 10 but when we gave the teammate who never showed up a 2, it dropped our scores to an 8 each, even though we showed up every time and did all of the work. (If we would have given him a 1, our scores would have dropped to a 7.5) So we really learned the importance of showing up and being a responsible team member. 

8. Could this learning have occurred in other ways? What was gained in the process? What was lost? We really didn't think our boat would make it across the natatorium pool. At all. We worked really hard to give it a good try, but we remained skeptical. Then on Sunday when we checked our boats in and saw ours compared to others, we thought we'd done a pretty decent job building it anyway. We were pleasantly surprised that our boat made it across in 38 seconds and could have gone back and forth a few more times. We ended up in 7th place out of 50 boats. I was disappointed we didn't land in the top five, because then we'd have gotten extra credit, but being in the first heat, we just didn't know how fast we'd have to paddle to get a competitive time.

9. How time consuming is it to do activities like this in class? We spent about 21 hours of out-of-class time on this project, which counted as a major test grade.

10. What other project-based learning do you do? We haven't really had a lot of these in school; I'd say Science Fair is another significant project-based learning I've done. Senior year we did a Poetry Museum in AP English IV. We had to research a poet, study one of his poems, find complementary artwork and music, analyze the poem, make a brochure and a visual presentation, recite the poem, and present our research in class and at Poetry Museum Night to an audience.

We are so grateful to the passionate educators who engineer experiences for our kids to encourage them to think and grow outside of the {cardboard} box.

What project-based learning experiences do you offer at your school?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...