Saturday, November 19, 2016

Do You See What I See?

Do you see what I see?

I was taking my class to Music this week, and this bulletin board caused me to stop and stare.  You could say I had a lightbulb moment.

Before I discovered the professional development potential of Twitter, I often wondered why few educators seemed to see teaching the way I did.  What I didn't realize at the time was I was not alone in my feeling of isolation.  There were countless other educators around the world struggling with some of the same issues I was.  What I also discovered as I talked with other teachers in my school about how Twitter has helped me is that they share my concerns.  We just weren't finding the time to talk about them and address them.

Why does it become more difficult each year to keep up?  Why is it harder for my students to listen each year?  Why does the spectrum of special needs keep growing?  Does anyone successfully keep up with app updates and mastering advances in technology?  

All these questions led me to the one question that spoke to me the most...

Why can't my students have more opportunities to play, explore, build, and design?  

I remember making in elementary school.  I remember dreaming of being a Mousketeer, and imagining that I was helping superheroes like Batman and Robin make the world a better place.  One of my earliest memories is of a stoplight I made in preschool out of construction paper.  I was so proud of that stoplight.  I remember walking around my yard holding it and feeling very accomplished.  I recall releasing Monarch butterflies in second grade and learning to love writing in third grade with Miss Etheridge.  In fourth and fifth grade I wanted to be Mrs. Aquaviva.  She had the most beautiful handwriting.  I have often wondered what happened to Mrs. Aquaviva.  

I remember being very upset in fifth grade when we were making a bulletin board for our teachers, and we had to change our original message of "Thank God for our teachers" to "Thank goodness for teachers."  This was the moment the seed was first planted for me to pursue teaching,  and it was also when I first realized I would be teaching in a faith based school.  

Three years ago I attended my first ISTE convention in Atlanta, and the world of possibilities of Twitter was opened to me.  I remember sitting in an auditorium of over 17,000 educators, and I received a tweet welcoming me to the Twitterverse.  That tweet came from an educator who would become one of my best friends I have yet to meet.  We now talk several times a week, sometimes daily, through Twitter and occasionally by phone.  He has helped me with challenges, dreams, students, and ideas.  I have come to see him as my coach.  If I had never tried this form of social media I would have missed out on so much professional and personal growth.  I would have missed out on one of the most meaningful friendships I have ever had.

In my early days of growing my PLN (Professional Learning Network), I came across the Breakfast Club #bfc530.  These teachers tweet every school day for 15 minutes and respond to one question about education.  Because of #bfc530 I discovered #EdCamps, teachers in North Carolina, teachers all over the US, teachers in Australia and New Zealand, and how to teach like a pirate.  Because of #bfc530 I rediscovered how much I love learning new things.

If I had never started tweeting I would never have met author Cheryl McNeil Fisher and been able to share her books with my students.  Her Skype read alouds with my class evolved into a school visit last May where she met all our K-2 students and was able to share her books and calling with even more of the students at my school.

If I had never started tweeting I would never have met Adam McKim who started an organization called Chat to the Future.  Because of our connection, my first graders had the opportunity several times to Skype with the orphan children in Uganda they were working so hard to help.

If I had never started tweeting I would never have discovered #aussieED.  I get up early on Sunday's so that I can connect with educators on the other side of the world who are dedicated to improving their calling for the sake of their students.  They suggest books and activities I might never have discovered without their point of view.  

If I had never started tweeting I would never have discovered the joy of Mystery Skype.  My students have been thrilled to play this guessing game with other students around the country.  The fact that they were practicing map skills during the game was unimportant to them.  They were connecting with other elementary students and suddenly their classroom was bigger.

If I had never started tweeting I would never have tried making time for Genius Hour and Maker Space in my classroom.  I would have never had the privilege of watching firsthand how these movements are great ways to build a community and teach my students to have meaningful conversations with each other. 


At this point, you're probably thinking, "Ellen, you've addressed this theme before.  What makes today different?"

On Thursday afternoon when I saw my friend and colleague's beautiful bulletin board, I was struck by how much I need Twitter, and how much I wish I could share it with more of my colleagues during the school day.  I was reminded of how glad I am that Twitter has expanded my point of view of the world, and how grateful I am for those who challenge my point of view. 

Currently, Twitter is a site that is blocked for security reasons at our school.  I've been asked to help write a proposal showing the benefits of Twitter for free professional development.  

I'm curious to hear from those of you who have Twitter as a resource at school.  What hurdles did you have to overcome to get access to Twitter, and what strategies have your IT people used to limit any security risks Twitter might present?

I have a dream of Twitter being available to all of my colleagues in our diocese.  When I think of how my world becomes bigger every day because of countless educators around the world cheering me and my students on, I want that for all my fellow teachers.  

A special shoutout to all my PLN friends who were at #edcampNJ today.  I hope to be with you learning in person next time:)

As always, thanks for supporting me and my students, and to my American PLN peeps, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 14, 2016

My Lovable Baseball Fan! By Joyce Mallory Deem

Mind you, now, I'm not complaining! I love the guy, even if he is a sports enthusiast.  And I certainly can't say that I haven't been forewarned.  He was coaching a Colt League team when we met.  But really, Mr. Durocher, 145 televised games! I ask you now, is that fair???

"Now, now," you say, "calm down.  It can't be all that bad."  Oh, no?  Want to bet?  Okay, let's take a typical evening when he comes home from work.

"Hello, Dear," I greet him.  "Have a nice day?"

"Uh, huh."  Down goes the briefcase by the door.

"Would you like a nice cool drink?"  I follow him through the dining roo, picking up the tie and jacket discarded there.

"Huh?  Sure." With a nonchalant click, he passes the TV on his way updsairs to change.  Five minutes later, beer in hand, he's entrenched in his easy chair, completely engrossed in The Lead-off Man (or whatever)'

I sigh and head for the kitchen.  Perhaps, I can get a few minutes attention at dinner.  Optimist!

So we sit down to dinner.  His eyes still have that glazed look and are glued to the living room set, which he can see from his place at the table.  Should I make the effort?  Oh, heck, why not?

"Dear!'  No answer.  "Dear!"  This time a little louder.  

"Huh?" comes his intelligent reply.

Ah, good, I did manage to catch his eye that time, but I'd better test him.

"The Smiths won a trip around the world for four," I sweetly lie.  "They want us to go with them."

"That's nice, Dear.  Oh, for Pete's sake!  He was safe by a mile.  Where are your glasses?"

Try again?  "Did you know that the Martins' house burnt down?"

"Yeah, how about that?  Come on, Ernie, get a hit!"

Oh, well, I sigh, "Have some more chicken, Dear."

"You bet!  How about that?  All the way.  What did I tell you?  It's a home run."

Now you may say that I must be exaggerating.  And, anyway, it can't be as bad as all that.  Ha!  Let me tell you about the night I asked him to barbecue steak for dinner.

"But, Honey, I'm watching the ball game."

"Can't you miss a couple innings?" I ask hopefully.

We compromised.  Moving the portable TV into the dining room picture window, he set up his barbecue outside so that he could see it from the yard and turned on his transistor radio for sound.

Then, there was the day we decided to take our two-year-old daughter to the zoo.  "Harmless enough," you say?  With transistor radios, are you kidding?  He had the earphone plugged in all afternoon.  And, of course, there's always the car radio for driving to and fro.

I guess his real coupe, though, was the night of the church dinner-business meeting.  Happily, he plugged in his earphone and passed along the scores to all the other envious males seated around us. One little boy asked, "Do you have another one of those (earphones, that is)?  My Dad would like to listen, too."

And to think I bought him that radio for his birthday.

"Okay," you'll conclude, "the season won't last forever."  And I agree.  It won't.  But then there's football (I understand Monday Night at the Movies is being replaced by Monday Night at the Football Game) and basketball and ice hockey and the golf tournaments.  Then there's horse racing and car racing and ...oh, you get the picture.

And, if that isn't enough, he's taken to coaching our two-year-old daughter in the art of being a fan.  She sits and watches games with him, hollering "Come on, Ernie, get a hit," clapping her hands as some guys pops out and shouting "He got a home run."  So far, she makes little distinction between teams, roots for them all and thrives on the excitement.

With two of them now, you can easily see that I can't win.  And, after all, what can I do?  As I said before, I love the guy.

I can see it all now as next Christmas approaches.

"Honey," he'll sweetly hint, "I've been thinking.  You know those little compact portable TVs?..."

And you know what I'm going to say?  "Forget it, Ralph.  Just forget it!!!"

Epilogue by Ellen 11/14/16

I found this piece recently going through my Mom's writings after my Dad and brother's beloved Cubs became World Champions.  It cracks me up that one of the first players I connected with was Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub himself.  No wonder my Mom was thrilled when I discovered Greg Luzinski and chose to cheer for her hometown Phillies.  I am posting this in honor of my Dad who passed away on 11/15/86.  I am certain he has been smiling a lot from his heavenly box seat these days.  The portrait was done in his memory by my uncle Hunter Mallory.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Dear Dad,

Dear Dad,

I miss you.  I miss having conversations with you.  I miss how you lived your faith daily.  Dad, you were always willing to help whoever needed your help.  You constantly reminded us that "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  Your actions consistently demonstrated your faith in God and your belief that God works all things together for good.

Tonight I am reflecting on my school year so far, and the amazing miracle you would have loved to have seen this past week.

I'm reading this book about conversation that reminds me of you.  The author is making the point that we are losing our ability to connect in person because of all these new devices that allow us to be connected all the time.  The iPad that I'm writing on is less than 5 years old, and it is considered obsolete.  The rush to have the latest and greatest device with means to connect never ends.  Lately I have felt the urge to write notes by hand.  Stationery doesn't need to be charged or updated.

I wonder what you would have thought of all this technology.  I think you still would have loved connecting and conversing in person.  My memories are rich with images of you having conversations with many diverse people.  I remember how you loved Mrs. Spangler from our church, and how you enjoyed talking to her during Coffee Hour.  She was like another grandmother to Jim and me.   I remember how you loved Mrs. Wilker's strawberry rhubarb pie and the grin on her face every time she gave you one to take home.  I see you and Mr. Oreshack wearing tan sports coats, smiling and talking.  I see you in the front pew with your tape recorder every time Mom sang a solo in church.  I see countless friends coming to see you in the hospital.  I remember Mr. Kern especially.  I see you talking to streams of people at the Oshkosh Air Show about your new found passion of stained glass.  I see you making new friends at that Air Show from far away like Bruce from Australia.  I see you teaching Jim and I how to keep score while watching your Cubs play my Phillies at Wrigley.  I remember how your hugs felt when my tears came on days when my Phillies lost.  I see you at extended family gatherings soaking up conversation with everyone.  

When I think about technology and conversation, my thoughts drift to my first grade students.  Every year listening seems to be more of a challenge for them.  This book is causing me to question my actions in the classroom a lot.  I need to stop multi tasking period.  Email can wait.  My students are why I teach.  

Sometimes my to do list blinds me to how important it is to consistently communicate to my students how special and important they are.  I need to figure out how I can change and grow to help my students improve their listening skills.  I need to slow down.  In my opinion, that should be at the top of the Common Core: teaching kids (and teachers) to slow down and listen.   

Today when I realized an online subscription to books had lapsed, I gave a parent a recommendation for library books because I couldn't print out a book for her.  The truth is I should be giving library book recommendations all the time.  I've come to favor convenience, but does convenience help my students become better readers?  Nope.  

The author of this book doesn't want us to dump our devices.  She wants us to reclaim conversation.  Keeping screen time in its place leaves more time to reconnect in person.  This leads me to that miracle I mentioned earlier.

I am so grateful that you introduced Jim and me to baseball.  My love for baseball has connected me with so many wonderful people.  Baseball conversations always lead to deeper connections for me with those people who love the game as much as I do.  Jim and I enjoy how baseball connects our past to our present.  It's the one common interest we got to share with you when you were healthy. 

Baseball connected all of us this week.

Remember that miracle I keep referring to?  On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, your Cubbies won the World Series.  We were all together to cheer for them.  You would love this team, Dad.  They have such a remarkable heart for the game and for each other.  Jim and I imagined that you were watching from a premium heavenly seat and that Ernie Banks was right there along side you.

If the Cubs can win the World Series, I'm inclined to believe that's tangible evidence that anything is possible.  We will get back to having meaningful conversations.  All these issues I'm pondering are opportunities for growth and not things I should be worrying about.  

I promise to slow down, listen more, laugh more, and always make time for people.  Thank you for giving me a love for baseball and for showing you me that your faith was your best legacy of all.  



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Still Small Voice

Some answers you can't get from Google.  Some situations you just aren't prepared for.  Sometimes you have to listen to that Still Small Voice.

Friday presented one of those moments for me.  I was so busy focusing on my first graders that it was not until mid week that I really processed all that had happened in Charlotte in the last week.  I still can't wrap my head around it. 

On Friday afternoon that Still Small Voice told me to read The Good Samaritan.  After reading this parable to my class, we started brainstorming ways we could help our neighbor.  While discussing this, one of my boys rose his hand and shared, "My Mom and Dad told me that we have a lot of problems in our city."  The worried look on his face broke my heart.  At that moment, I knew I had to be a reflection of the Gospel, not a reflection of me, a flawed sinner.  

The children's responses were heartfelt.  My first graders drew pictures of who they would help and how.  Some chose people they knew, some chose strangers, one chose to show compassion to a misplaced moth, and others chose to help injured animals.  Each child then shared their picture with the class.  They were eager to share their thoughts with their classmates.

I have been reflecting on this moment all weekend.  I don't know what my response would have been if I couldn't have mentioned my faith.  I like to think I would have brought up the courage of Martin Luther King Jr.  I don't know if my response helped to ease the worries of my students.  What I do know is I'm so grateful that I am able to teach in a Catholic School.  

This morning my pastor told us that there's a man walking around during the protests with a sign that says "Free Hugs."  In the midst of all this chaos, this man is giving out hugs.  I also didn't know that Billy Graham had sent a response team to help as well.  My pastor also pointed out that this presents an opportunity to spread the Gospel.  I hadn't even thought of that.  It's been hard to get past fear, concern, shock, and worry.  He also pointed out that every day is an opportunity to share the love of Christ.  We don't always remember that on the peace filled days.  

Moving forward, that's what I want to do.  I want to be a peacemaker in all that do.  I want to be a reflection of Christ's love.

Thank you for supporting me in my calling.  Thank you for helping me grow as an educator every day.  Thank you for answering my questions and for lifting me up on both the good days and the rough ones.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

May the Force Be with Us This School Year

The adventures I have had this past year would not have been possible without the generosity of  my friends and family.  I would not have attended my third ISTE without the support of my wonderful school, PTO, and Dad's Club.  As I imagine what this year will bring for my students and for me, I am filled with gratitude for all I have experienced so far in 2016.

In January I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a long weekend with two of my friends at Disney.  Every excuse I gave them for why I couldn't possibly leave town in the middle of January was met with a solution.  As result we had the most magical weekend going to all four parks, and we got upgraded to the Grand Floridian.  Since that weekend, those two friends have been there for me through the smooth and bumpy times, and I can't imagine my life without them.

In June, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to my third ISTE conference. Because of my generous friend and colleague I got to hike the Rocky Mountains and stay in a treehouse before the conference started.  I also got to see my friend Wayne who I hadn't seen since college.

ISTE is like Disney for teachers.  Having the opportunity to connect in person with so many educators I tweet with on a regular basis continues to improve my teaching. My PLN makes me a stronger person every day.  When I first heard of Twitter, I would have never believed it would become the single most valuable professional development tool for me as a teacher.

I remember thinking, "Do I really need to know what Donny Osmond did today?" I couldn't grasp the difference between users and hashtags.  My principal very patiently tried to explain Twitter to me at a conference.  Despite his best efforts, I wasn't a quick learner at first.

But when I realized that I could communicate with many of my favorite Phillies if I figured out how to tweet, I became determined to figure out Twitter.  I dug my heels in and decided I was going to figure out this tool.   In the beginning I didn't understand how my love of baseball would lead me to so many kindred spirits in education all over the world.

In July I got to attend a Phillies game with extended family and three teachers who I met through Twitter.  That game was also Photo Day so I had the opportunity to talk to and get my picture with many of my favorite players and coaches.  My teacher friends said watching me that day was like watching their kids at Disney for the first time.  I still can't believe I met the Phillie Phanatic.  This trip would not have been affordable without being able to stay with my aunt and uncle and without flying on Frontier Airlines.  The teachers who were with me that day encourage me on a regular basis and are only a direct message away when I need their counsel.

In late July, I drove to Atlanta to visit family friends and college friends.  Oh, and of course, I was there to see my Phillies:)  It is not lost on me that I am eternally grateful that my car did not start acting up on this trip.  I got to see my Phillies split two games with the Braves, met lots of courageous fans with amazing stories, and introduce my friend Jen to one of the Phillies broadcasters, Gregg Murphy.  My Phillies trips are always more special when I get my picture with Murph and have the opportunity to thank him in person for all the work the broadcasters to do to bring the Phillies home to us every game.

During my second game I got to sit next to 3 year old Cici. Watching her learn about baseball from her Dad brought back memories of my own Dad and trips to Wrigley with my Dad and my brother. She won't remember the day we met, but I won't ever forget it.  She asked me who my favorite players were.  Experiencing the game from her perspective made the loss to the Braves seem unimportant.

I was blessed with special time to visit with my college and family friends on this trip as well.  We shared our hopes and concerns and were reminded of how grateful we are to be in each other's lives.

My final summer adventure took me to just outside of Orlando.  My friends Tom and Shereen gave me a restful and fun filled weekend to finish out my summer adventures.  They took me back to Disney so I got to experience some of my favorite rides for a second time this year. We met Kelly from Ohio in the new restaurant Skipper's Canteen.  Her sense of humor was a great addition to our day, and the food was really good at this new Disney restaurant.

While waiting in line for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, I met a lovely family from Manchester, England.  The Dad teaches high school.  We hope to connect my students with their children for a round of Mystery Skype.  I got my picture with Chewbacca again. You can never have too many pictures with Chewy:)

Throughout the summer I was fortunate enough to attend numerous Charlotte Knights games.  Our city hosted the AAA Home Run Derby and All Star Game and I was at both of these games as well.  I definitely had plenty of opportunities to watch my favorite teams play my favorite game in person.

So today, on this Sunday before my school year begins, I am truly grateful for the opportunities I had to recharge and rejuvenate.  I grateful for all who support me on my journey to be a better educator and a stronger person each day.  I am grateful for my new first graders who I will meet on Tuesday.  I am grateful for God and the opportunity to share my faith.

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts, and for supporting me along the way:)  Happy First Day of School!


Slow and Steady, Ellen

I was driving home from a friend's house after dark. What I thought was a rock in the middle of the road turned out to be a turtle.  I pulled over, put my hazards on, and decided to get a closer look.  As I was checking out the turtle, trying to determine if he was alive or dead, or inclined to bite me, several cars sped right past me.  Before I mustered up the courage to pick up the turtle, a young man of college age stopped and asked me what was wrong.  I told him I was trying to determine how best to help the turtle get to safety.  He got out of his car, picked up the turtle without hesitation and put him on the grass on the other side of the road.  Before I could thank him he was gone.

At the time I thought this is exactly like it is for some of my students.  Sometimes they get stuck in the middle of the road.  Despite my best efforts I am unable to help them continue their learning journey without outside help.  Today I see myself in that turtle.  My car has been serviced four times in the last two weeks, and I am out of resources to fix it.  I am grateful for my friends and family who have rallied to help Ellen during this bump in her journey, but I would be lying if I didn't say at times I am very discouraged.

Strangely, though, this experience has also reminded me of some unshakable truths.  My life is completely in God's Hands.  All that I have comes from HIM.

I can walk to work, I have a pool in my backyard so I can still swim even though I can't get to the gym at the moment, and I can walk to the store.  Every time someone stops to ask me how I'm doing, that person has offered to help me.

I struggle with accepting help at times. This experience has reminded me that we all need each other's help.  I am choosing daily to think positively despite how impatient I am to have reliable transportation again.

So on this Sunday before I start my new school year, this turtle is doing her best to patiently wait for the right person to help her get back on the road again.  Thanks to all who are lifting me up during this bump in the road.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dear Zach Eflin,

I'm sure I surprised you when I told you just over a week ago that your first complete game and major league win brought me to tears.  Your second complete game had a similar effect on me this past Friday.  I appreciate your part in my Phillies story, and the history of the organization.  I'm crossing my fingers that I get to see you pitch in person soon.

I know the Phillies do it every year, but I'm still floating from experiencing Photo Day at Citizens Bank Park.  I know that I was only one of over 37,000 fans that day, yet I left the park feeling like I was the most important fan there.  I still have a spring in my step from having the opportunity to say hello and thank you to so many of my favorite players, coaches, broadcasters, and of course the Phanatic and Phoebe.  I'm especially grateful to my new usher friend, Glenn, who made sure I saw everyone on my list.  I felt like all involved were there for the sole purpose of helping me realize a childhood dream.  I actually got to hug the real Phillie Phanatic.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and first discovered my affinity for the Phillies when I was watching them play my Dad's Cubs.  They were really behind in the second inning, 13-2, I think, and Greg Luzinski was up to bat.  My Dad asked who I thought was going to win.  I said the Phillies.  They won 18-16 that day, and I have been a Phillie Phan ever since.  Thanks to Google, I know that day was April 17, 1976.  

My Dad took us to games at Wrigley when he could.  I don't remember a single score from the games he took us to, but I remember him encouraging me whenever the Cubs defeated the Phillies.  I remember that there was a picture of Ernie Banks smiling on the front of every score card.  I remember loving spending time with my Dad and my brother.  I remember defending Tug McGraw to some frustrated Cubs fans and Tug McGraw winking at me.  I remember thinking Ron Reed was the tallest man I had ever seen.  Experiencing Wrigley with my Dad and brother was where my admiration for pitchers began.

Last week's Photo Day was an opportunity for me to be that little girl again.  My teacher friends were there to watch the game with me.  

They said watching me experience this was like watching their kids experience Disney World for the first time.  My aunt, uncle, and cousins also came to cheer on the Phillies with me.  My family and friends were able to think and speak for me when my excitement made me speechless, especially when I went to say thanks to Greg Luzinski or to tell Ryan Howard how much my class loved his Little Rhino books.

 I loved reminiscing with my family about watching games with Granddad.  

The Phillies have been always been there for all of us.

While we were at the game, we had the pleasure of sitting in front of some very enthusiastic Mets fans.  I really enjoyed their banter, and I know my friends did, too.  The whole time I kept thinking there's a great lesson here.  Respect different opinions.  You don't have to see eye to eye with people to have a great time together.  This lesson definitely applies to education, too.  It's one of the most important lessons I hope my first graders learn every year.  One of the reasons I love this game so much is the number of people I've met who love baseball as much as I do.  Baseball connects my past, my present, and my future.  When I'm at the ballpark, I get to be Ellen.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some new Phillies fans who I hope to see at future games.  If you see a resemblance to Bryce Harper you're not alone.  I really enjoyed discussing our favorite players with them and soaking up the ballpark experience with them.

My aunt and uncle also took me to see the Fightin Phils play the Trenton Thunder on this trip, and we went back to Citizens Bank park on Monday to see the Phillies play the Marlins.  I roamed the park that day to take more pictures from different angles.  I had a second opportunity to say thanks to the pitchers and coaches in the bullpen.  I got to photograph the Phillies Wall of Fame and wonder where Jim Thome's plaque will go next month.

This is just a portion of my Phillies story.  I tell people every year baseball helps me through the two most challenging times of the school year, the beginning and the end.  I appreciate your struggles as well as your triumphs.  I am grateful for your efforts because they inspire me to keep trying regardless of how challenging things get.  

Thanks for giving me High Hopes:)

Your friend in North Carolina,