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,


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy Offseason!

The Cubs were coming to Atlanta.  My niece and nephew had never seen their Dad's Cubs in person.  My brother, niece, and nephew have been to several Phillies games with me in the last few years, and we watch our local triple A team, the Charlotte Knights, whenever possible. This would be their first experience watching their Dad's Cubs.

We piled into the car early Saturday with the intent of getting ahead of Atlanta traffic.  We were hoping to get a few autographs before the game, and I was hoping to get enough great shots of the Cubs that I could make them a Cubs photo book.

The June sun made the minutes we waited to see players seem like they were in slow motion.  The kids waited with their sharpies and their baseballs and were blessed with signatures from Kyle Hendricks and Tim Federowicz.  When my brother and the kids decided to go to their seats, I went over to left field so I could take some pictures of the starting pitcher and catcher before the game.  Unlike the rainy day we were at Turner Field to see one of my favorite pitchers, Roy Halladay, today we had blue sky and bright sunshine to see one of my brother's favorite pitchers, Jake Arrieta.  

Despite the heat we had a blast enjoying the game.  The Cubs won, I got lots of great pictures, and we enjoyed our hot dogs and popcorn.  It was pretty awesome to carry on the family tradition of baseball.

I have always loved baseball because it connects my past to my present and gives me moments to look forward to in my future.  I have loved the memories my brother and I share of baseball with my Dad before he got cancer, and that we get to share our love of baseball with his children.  I love the stories of players and their struggles and their triumphs.  I love that every time I turn around I make a new friend because of baseball.  I love that I get to combine baseball with my love of photography and share my photos with others.  Baseball allows me to forget all my concerns for a short while and get lost in the story of the game.  Baseball helps this teacher keep balance in her life.

I have always loved watching the pitchers because they direct the game.  The teacher in me can relate to the pressures they face.  I admire their strategy, confidence, and perseverance.  They have to keep track of multiple situations at the same time, and their success depends on how well their teammates support their efforts.  I admire their ability to adapt to change.  I admire their ability to learn from their mistakes.  

My goal every day when I walk into my classroom is to teach with major league effort.  I also have learned the importance of the offseason.  I wish all my teacher friends an awesome offseason!

Dear Bret Boone,

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs.  My Dad loved baseball and enjoyed sharing his love for his Cubs with my brother and me. 

One day my Dad and I were watching the Phillies play the Cubs on our 13 inch black and white television.  The Phillies were behind 13-2, and I think it was the second inning. Greg Luzinski was up to bat.  My Dad asked me, "Who do you think is going to win, Ellen?"  Without hesitation I said, "I think the Phillies are going to win, Dad."  

They won in extra innings that day, 18-16, and I have been a Phillies fan ever since. Thanks to Google, I know that day was April 17, 1976.  From that moment on, my Mom and I cheered for her hometown Phillies, and my Dad and brother continued to cheer for their Cubs.  

On special occasions we got to see games at Wrigley Field.  I don't remember any statistics from those games.  I do recall Ernie Banks smiling at us on the cover of every scorecard, my Dad teaching us how to keep score, and crying if the Phillies lost.  My Dad would hug me and reassure me that it wasn't the end of the world.  

One time he got us seats by the Phillies bullpen.  Some Cubs fans were teasing Tug McGraw about a recent aftershave commercial he had done.  I got mad and yelled at them and told them to leave my Tug alone.  I will never forget Tug McGraw winking at me when my Dad got me to sit back down.  I also remember watching Ron Reed warm up that day and thinking he must be as tall as a giant.

When the Phillies won the series in 1980, our Philadelphia family members sent me clippings and other souvenirs.  My Mom made signs celebrating the Phillies with Peanuts characters.  I was so excited to see pictures of all my favorite players and read about them.  I recall being upset when I discovered many years later that those clippings had disintegrated.  Fortunately, my original stuffed Phanatic from 1980 did survive my many moves:)

I started reading your book earlier this week, and I couldn't put it down.  For the two days I spent reading it, I was a child in Chicago again, my parents were still healthy, and I got lost in the inside stories of the Boone family.  It was the most wonderful respite for me.  I enjoyed your descriptions of your family relationships the most.  I believe this book isn't just a must read for Phillies fans.  Your book is a must read for anyone who truly loves the game of baseball.  I can't thank you enough for writing it.  I will continue to spread the good word about your story.

Please thank your brother and your Dad for me for being part of so many families' baseball stories.  While I was reading it, I really felt like I knew your Grandfather, too.

I am tagging many of my teacher friends who love baseball with the hope that they have the opportunity to read it this summer as well.

Thanks again. 

Your friend in North Carolina,


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dear Phillippe Aumont,

It is April 3, 2013.  My brother, niece, nephew, and I are making our way on a cloudy and chilly day to Turner Field.  It's my niece and nephew's first major league game.  I'm excited beyond measure because my memories of going to Wrigley with my Dad and my brother are some of my most cherished.  I can't wait for my niece and nephew to experience similar adventures with their Dad.  I know I will take a bazillion pictures...I'm always on a mission to get that one amazing shot.  I dream of sharing those pictures with Phillies charities one day.  

The four of us park, equipped with our rain gear and full of anticipation.  We know rain is a possibility, but we remain optimistic.  We stop to take pictures by Greg Maddux's number because my brother has been a Cubs fan his whole life.  Then we purchase our tickets and enter the stadium.  I pull out my camera as we approach the left field wall.  Our jaws drop in awe.  My hands are shaking.  When I am at the ballpark, my 9 year old self, who first became a Phillies fan because of Greg Luzinski, can't process her excitement.  At times, I can't even speak because I can't believe I'm watching my favorite team in person.  I start clicking away, amazed that so many of my favorite players are here.  

I think the teacher in me has always loved watching the pitchers the most.  I appreciate their ability to lead the game, their strategy for each batter, and the strength they exhibit in all circumstances.  I am inspired by their perseverance.

My niece and nephew are just happy to be here, holding their gloves, and taking in the beauty of the field and all the activity.  Because I am like a kid at Disney taking my pictures, forgetting my own problems, I don't see that you have thrown me a ball.  I drop the ball.  Before I have time to process that I have missed this opportunity to give my niece and nephew an amazing souvenir, you come back and throw me the ball again.  Thankfully, this time I caught it.  I am sure you have done this countless times in your career, but on that day, you made a lifelong memory for my niece and nephew.  I will never forget the looks on their faces. I can never thank you enough for giving me a second chance to catch that ball.

The Phillies didn't win that day.  We were so excited to see Roy Halladay, and we hoped he felt our support despite his struggles.  The rain at times was relentless, but we laughed ourselves silly.  We were excited when Chase Utley hit a home run, and I was thrilled to have the chance to thank Gregg Murphy in person for his efforts and the other broadcasters' efforts to bring the Phillies home to fans each game.

My niece noticed as soon as she looked at her program that she was born on your birthday.  Both of the kids drew me pictures when we returned to our friends' home where we were staying in Atlanta.  My nephew drew a picture of Roy Halladay, and my niece drew a picture of all the Phillies, including you, lining up to talk with the two of us.  

When I heard this Spring that the White Sox had signed you I was thrilled that I would have the chance to see you pitch again as a Charlotte Knight.  I made the mistake of assuming I would have the chance to thank you in person this summer.  

I am also grateful for the conversation we had a year later when I gave you pictures my first graders had drawn when you were an Ironpig.  You helped me get over my Phillies jitters that day.

I will always be a Phillippe Aumont fan.  I am confident that whatever God has planned for you next, you are going to be a positive influence on all those who cross your path. Thanks for all you did for the Phillies and for baseball.

Your friend in North Carolina,


Monday, May 16, 2016

It's the Last Inning, Ellen

Three weeks to go.  Fourteen days.

This is the time of year when I attempt to make lists so I won't forget anything.  This is the time of year when I fight the inner battle of self doubt.

Have I done everything I am supposed to do to help every one of my students make progress every day?  Have I continually encouraged the ones who continue to struggle?  Have I consistently thanked the ones who do what I ask the first time?  Have I remembered to challenge all of my students?

I struggle with thinking I'm just not enough.  I keep thinking I need more time and more help.  Both of these are resources that are diminishing daily and will soon run out.  At some point, I have to say, to myself, "Ellen, it's not about you.  It's about your students.  Of course, you're done.  It's time to celebrate another school year completed."

This is the also time of year when God sends me a downpour of reminders that I'm not alone in my journey as lead learner.  He reminds me that He has been with me every step of the way.  He reminds me that He guides all of our learning.

Those reminders for me started coming Friday morning around 9:30am, when a student from my first class of first graders showed up to help.  I had invited her to come for our last Skype with our @Chattothefuture friends in Uganda.  She helped me do some decorating in the hall and helped me get the classroom ready for the Skype.  During the Skype, she took pictures and encouraged my current students to share what they had drawn earlier that day with our friends in Kampala.  Her presence reminded me of how quickly time passes, and how much I need to pay attention to each individual child.  She is an amazing artist and will be a senior in high school in the fall.  When she was in first grade every assignment she turned in was a preview of how God was going to use her artistic talent to make the world a more beautiful place.  Watching her grow in confidence and compassion has been an honor for me.  I am blessed to know her and her family.

About an hour later two more mothers of my current students arrived to help keep the children engaged - especially if we had technical difficulties.  Shortly after my two grade moms from last year arrived and then one of my grade moms from this year arrived.  Six fourth graders came to participate as well.  My assistant principal was also able to catch a few minutes of our cross continents conversation.   Having so much support of my class as we sang and talked with our friends was overwhelming for me.  I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to share with my class this opportunity to serve.  I hope that I have the chance to thank the children in Uganda personally one day.  Their smiles have been bright lights for me in the last two years.  I hope to tell many more teachers about this project at ISTE this summer.  

Saturday morning our school ran in a local 5K sponsored by our YMCA. Our team had about 200 members.  Running has never been on my list of favorite things to do, but I will push my allergic asthmatic self for the sake of our students.  I will admit my lower half still hurts a couple days later, but as my principal reminded me today, it's a good kind of pain.

When I approached the finish line I heard more people than I could count cheering for me.  My friend brought me water and a banana.  Another handed me a fan.  Before I knew it I had found my balance again, and our students were everywhere.  We had the privilege of cheering for a woman who did the entire race in a wheel chair.  Watching her complete the race was inspiring beyond description.  

Saturday afternoon I had the privilege of watching my nephew play baseball.  He grows in confidence and ability every season.  What impresses me most about him is how grateful he is to have his family show up to watch him play.  His gratitude was such a gift, and I enjoyed having the chance to hang out with him on Saturday.  One of the main highlights of our adventures was him working on his somersaults in the pool.

Sunday I found myself at church surrounded by my friends.  They lift me up regardless of how I'm doing.  This small church community has become my home and my family, and I love Sunday's because of them.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses.  Philippians 4:13. "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength."  I know I'm not the only teacher who feels herself running out of energy, and I know I'm not the only one who struggles with self doubt.  My hope is that if you're reading this, you are encouraged to look for those bright lights in these last few weeks that remind you even when you feel isolated, you are never alone.  Our calling is sacred, and we're indeed all in this together.

We had Field Day today at our school.  I decided to read The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires and have my students create their own most magnificent things.  I hope you have a most magnificent "final inning" to this most magnificent school year.  As always, thank you for lifting me up each and every day and helping me grow as an educator and more importantly as a human being.  

You remind me every day of how blessed I am to be a teacher.