Thursday, May 29, 2014

What I've Learned This Year

It's getting crazy up in here. 

There are only days left of school, family weddings and graduations looming around the corner, and it's been in the mid-80s for a few days in a row. We might be a little distracted, people.

I recently took students to the Walker Art Center, namely the sculpture garden. Have I mentioned how GORGEOUS it's been outside?

I would like to say learning outside is highly underrated.

Spoon Bridge - Walker Sculpture Garden
It takes all my self-control not to skip around in the sunshine.
As my students reflect over the school year through various projects, it's only natural for me to reflect, too. Here are the top THREE things I learned over the 2013-2014 school year.
1. If You Give Them Books, They Will Read -  I instituted a huge read-fest this year with my students. I required my 7/8 graders to read 15-20 books and my 9-12 graders to read 20-25 books. Over the summer, I accumulated as many books as I could, and planned on getting more.
I read Book Love by Penny Kittle and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer, as she's better known in teacher circles.) I was so pumped, but unsure what to expect from my students.
I was blown away. I'm not kidding when I tell you that some of my students read 100+ books. On their own. They inspired me, astounded me, and motivated me to keep looking for titles they would love.
Now I know almost every single student's "book personality." I know Kenzie will want romance and Brandon will want military. I know Chris will want fantasy/adventure and Tim wants action and suspense. It's so fun to find a book and know the exact kid to match it with.
When they leave my classroom, I will have given them the tools to become life-long readers, and that makes me eternally happy. It all started with collecting books in my classroom. We have an AMAZING school library here, but unless I have great titles at their fingertips, they won't be as excited about reading.

Here are a couple of my students' favorite trilogies:
2. There Is Enough Time -  I used to think there was not enough time in the day to do everything I wanted to do or to be everything I wanted to be. I'd whine about how I didn't have enough time to make dinner or finish laundry or read or write on this here blog o' mine.
The thing is: that's an excuse. There's enough time. I have as much time as the next person, and I am the only one who really gets to decide how to use it. Like I said to my students today:
I've never looked back on my life and thought,
Man, I wish I'd watched more television .
 I have enough time. I might not manage it as well as I should, but there is enough of it.
3. Act the Way I Want to Feel - This is something I think I first realized in my 20s, but then I forget and have to remind myself. If I want to FEEL happy, I need to ACT happy. If I want to FEEL energetic, I need to ACT energetic. For some reason, this works!

For example, after school is a classic bad time for me. I'm snippy, frustrated, and just plain tired. But when I smile and act silly intentionally, suddenly I become lighter in my mood and am generally more pleasant to be around! (This thought is also talked about more in a great book by Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project.)

I dare you to try this. I'm always amazed when it actually works.

What about you? What have you learned this year?


Friday, May 02, 2014

What I Read in April

I am coming to you LIVE from the first week of May, where I am pondering the reading I did over the past month. Here is the skinny:

Let us first begin with the children, since after all, they are our future. (Sing it, Whitney!)

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman is a funny, clever story about a father going out for milk and coming back with a raucous good story about the adventure he had while holding onto the milk for dear life. The illustrations really make this book, I must say. My kids giggled reading it, so there you go.
My favorite pigeon is still up to mischief in this latest from the genius that is Mo Willems: The Pigeon Needs a Bath! My 7-12 grade students love it when I read these pigeon books. Someday, I hope to have the complete collection. They also said this was probably the best pigeon book out of all of them!  Good to know!

Blessed fiction - that escape from reality. I read Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, which was a bit of a departure for me. I don't usually enjoy historical fiction or "old-fashioned" novels, if that makes sense. But I am intrigued by Edgar Allen Poe and his life, so this was fun for the English teacher side of me.


If you enjoy suspense and romance, this book is for you. Taking snippets of reality from what we know of Poe, the author suggests a connection between the infamous writer and another woman who captures his attention. Although I wouldn't recommend it to my students, I enjoyed the suspenseful pacing and description of the time period.

I would say my favorite books this month were in the non-fiction category. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider and Restless by Jennie Allen.

Pretty safe to say I loved both of these books -- these are women I understand and connect with.
  Tsh Oxendreider takes us on a journey with her family across oceans and continents, trying to live life ON PURPOSE instead of chase a middle-class syllabus of predictability. Although we all can't travel like Oxenreider's family did, we can learn to stop reacting to our circumstances and start creating the life we desire.

Have you ever wondered how to make sense of your life's journey? Do you feel restless in your faith, wondering where to go from here? Restless by Jennie Allen helps readers line up all those loose threads of our lives to see a bigger picture.
This is a book to mark-up! YES! As I filled in the pages with different moments, places, and people, I could see my purpose coming into view much more clearly than before. It confirmed some callings in my life, and opened my eyes to other possibilities.
This is a great book to do with a friend or a small group because sometimes we're too close to our own lives to see a pattern. A good friend can come along and give us a new vision.  

What have you been reading lately? Are your kids into a series right now or have a favorite picture book?
Stay tuned! I feel a book giveaway coming on!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Does One "Teach" Worship?

This is the first year we have had a class called "Worship Band" at the marvelous school where I teach.
When we first started talking about this class, we weren't completely sure what it would look like or what our goals were. It was clear that we wanted students to grow musically and spiritually. But how would that happen?
We introduced them to new artists like Dustin Kensrue and Gungor. We gave them books like Worship Matters by Bob Kaufflin. We prayed. We brought in guest speakers who have been leading worship for years.
It's never been perfect, but beautiful things have happened. We have talked about what it means to enjoy the presence of God. We have laughed, gotten frustrated, surprised each other, and laughed again.
When we stand together and worship the Lord, there is a spirit of joy and freedom that only comes from the moving of the Spirit. We have found beautiful things rising out of the dust.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Inspiration in a Cave

You need to know Amanda and Abner. They are the married duo that make JOHNNYSWIM.

I know, what kind of a name for a band is JOHNNYSWIM? There are several stories online to suggest where the name came from, but I don't know if I believe any of them. It doesn't matter in the end, anyway. They could be called DUCT TAPE DISCO and I would still love this music.(Quick, someone take that band name. That's gold.)

I heard about them through Brady Toops, who posted much praise after one of their concerts. I took a listen on iTunes and grabbed the little EP "Heart Beats" right away. (Yes, you need this. Now.)

How can you not love a couple who love Jesus and can play/sing like this?! I think one of my favorite parts is her swaying in joy at the beginning. :)

This video is from the Bluegrass Underground - a sweet venue in the Cumberland Caverns of Tennessee. How beautiful is that?

I'm giving you a heads-up because new music - Diamonds - comes out on April 29th. Do yourself a favor and pre-order on iTunes to get the songs "Diamonds" and "Home."

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Turning Anger into Action

What's made you flaming angry lately?
Did you slam the steering wheel?
Write a passionate letter?
Vent to your Mama?
Whatever it was, follow the path of that anger until you find out what is at the core. And guess what?
There's your passion, sister. 
Here's what really burned my cheese recently: some statistics I found on the Literacy Project Foundation website:
70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last year.
(Please go support Barnes & Noble if you've ever loved me at all.)
6/10 households do not buy a book in a single year
44% of American adults do not read a book a year
(I blame Netflix.)
42% of American college graduates never read another book (for pleasure) after college.
(Now I'm weeping...)
These are the facts and they make me sad. This is why I do what I do. Parents who don't read have children who don't read. The cycle continues until a reader is built. My classroom must be a place where students can develop into the readers I know they can become.
Kids begin loving books and stories, but by the time they come into my classroom, most of them have lost that love. They haven't been surrounded by great books.
They haven't had anyone who cared enough to find the books that would light them up inside.
Disclaimer: I know that in the grand scheme of love and life, finding books for your kids seems like another task on your never-ending To Do List To Be An Awesome Parent. (Can we just agree to throw these away, please?) The pressure to do this job well is overwhelming and I am not on a mission to pile on another bag o' guilt.
The thing is: it's easier than you think. Go to the library. Read books in front of your kids. Buy books. Go to Goodwill and buy a bunch. Talk to the teachers and librarian.
If you put a lot of good books around kids, they WILL read. Maybe not at first, maybe not with joy, but they will read. I've seen it happen over and over again.
Those statistics shocked and angered me into a greater passion for what I do as a teacher. If something is making you angry, perhaps it is the fire you need for action.
We need your fire - light up the world with the passion that makes you come alive.
Your turn: What's made you angry or passionate this past week?


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Forgiveness, Freedom, and Ted Dekker

It seems like there is always a student of mine reading a Ted Dekker book!

I've only read House (written with Frank Peretti) and Thr3e, but it took me a long time to recover! My students love the suspense and gripping mystery in Dekker's books and keep me up-to-date on which ones to get into my classroom library.

His most popular among my students is probably the Circle series with the titles Black, Red, Green, and White.

His newest book, Water Walker, comes out on March 18th.
Wouldn't you love to read an excerpt for free?!
Dekker's book explores the theme of forgiveness and the freedom that is found when you give that gift to someone else. It makes me think of the times in my own life when forgiveness has been a gift that I've withheld. I have kept my bitterness in my pocket and held tight to my pain as if that could be a healthy choice.
Choosing to be whole and healthy means letting go of the rocks in our pockets, so to speak. We drop them into the dust, and make the decision to forgive the hurt and pain.
If Christ offered forgiveness from the cross, who are we to think we shouldn't offer the same?
Holding on to hurt binds us up and keeps us from full, abundant life. We have the key to the chains. We can unlock these shackles and forgive. It doesn't excuse or erase what has happened, and it doesn't make it okay overnight.
It's the beginning of freedom.
I can speak from experience - forgiveness isn't always a one-time event. I have had to choose forgiveness continually when my mind goes to the hurt, like a song being played on "repeat."
What about you? How has forgiveness changed you? How has BEING forgiven changed you?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Boy on the Porch

John and Marta woke up one morning to find a boy sleeping on their porch.
They aren't sure what to make of his mysterious ways - he doesn't speak, but only taps to communicate. What he can't SAY he makes up for with ART. He finds joy in painting, playing instruments, and using his imagination.
When no one comes for the boy, John and Marta are left to wonder: Should we keep him? Put him in school? Report this to the authorities?
What will become of the boy on the porch and not that he's almost a part of their family, how could John and Marta ever live without him?
A great read-aloud for any age!