Monday, January 16, 2017

How Do I Let My Light Shine?

Tomorrow I will be teaching my first graders about Martin Luther King Jr., and asking them what their dreams are.  

As I think about teaching this lesson tomorrow, I'm reflecting on a dream of mine.  I started dreaming of this last summer when I had the opportunity to meet more of my global Twitter teacher contacts at ISTE.  I have been hesitant to put this dream in writing because I don't know where to start in figuring out if it's possible or not.

Today I've decided to take a leap, and ask some questions, and see what feedback I receive.  I am hoping for some light, some direction, and good counsel.

I would like to collaborate in person with teachers I've connected with in other countries.  I realize that this will be a major financial challenge, and it could take me two years to save.  I need to connect with administrators in these schools to see if they would be open to me visiting their schools and working with their teachers.

What I would like to learn is how teachers in other countries personalize learning for their students.  I would also like to see what service projects students in other countries are working on and share with them my students' experience with service.  Long term I hope that my travels would further connect my own students with more classes globally.

I've grown so much from the support of the educators in my PLN.  When I've had the opportunity to meet these educators face to face it has strengthened our connections.  I'm dreaming of meeting their students and having conversations that extend beyond a convention center lobby or conference session.

So, PLN, I'm asking for your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions.  Please direct message me on Twitter if you have any ideas on how to help me make this dream a reality.

I'm so grateful for your wisdom, humor, and daily support of me and my students.  Thanks for shining your light on my calling.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Print Will Your Paws Make?

"What print will your paws make?" It's been our PTO's slogan for the last two years.  (Our school mascot is a wildcat.). Lately I have heard it in my head as often as I hear my first graders say my name.  Those of you who teach K-2 can appreciate how many times that is:)

Since writing my last post I've been thinking a lot about various people who have impacted me for life.  I was reminded of my friend Tese's impact on my life today when I was talking to my brother. As I mentioned in my last post, Tese passed away far too early from leukemia. My brother lost one of his best friends from high school this weekend to liver disease. Listening to my brother process the loss of his friend and reflecting on how much I still miss Tese, I am reminded that there are no guarantees.  We only have today.

"What kind of print am I making on the people I meet today?"

I struggle with answering that question sometimes.  When I'm facing the every day challenges teaching presents, I wonder if I'm doing everything possible to make a positive print on my students. I wonder if I've consistently encouraged my students to shine their light, to help others, to empathize, and to make a lasting positive impression on the people they meet.

For the past two school years my first graders were blessed with the opportunity to help our @chattothefuture friends in Uganda.  Skyping with the children in Kampala impacted all our hearts. When I realized that we weren't going to be able to help those children because the organization was going through some transitions and didn't need our assistance, I knew I wanted to find another way to continue this kind of service project with my first graders.

This past week I spoke with Lindsay Pigford from the Kula Project.  My students will be helping families in Rwanda.  I have been following the work of the Kula Project for a couple years now, and I'm excited to see what connections and growth will come from introducing my first graders to this organization.

This video gives you a glimpse into the Kula Project's mission.

If you are trying to find service opportunities for your students I encourage you to check out  I'll keep you posted on my first graders' efforts.

As always, thanks so much for reading.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Toothpaste, Tortoises, and Hares

Boys and girls please join me on the carpet.  My 26 students start to ruffle their way to morning meeting.  Some students sprint to guarantee a front row seat.  Others take their time sauntering to join us.  "My class has its share of tortoises and hares," I think to myself.

"Who would like to help me with our lesson this morning?" Instantly 26 synchronized hands pop up.   I scan the crowd for just the right volunteer. 

"Johnny, would you please come up to the front?"  Johnny has been crawling in the back area of the carpet I refer to as South Carolina.  My first graders find this humorous since our school is in North Carolina.  

"Ok," Johnny replies with some hesitation.  As Johnny makes his way through the maze of his classmates to join me at the front, I pull my lesson materials out of my morning meeting bag.  My supplies consist of a paper plate and a small tube of toothpaste.  

"Johnny, please open the toothpaste for me." Johnny opens the toothpaste as his classmates are still struggling to find a  comfortable seat on the carpet.  "Now, Johnny, I need you to squeeze all the toothpaste out onto the plate." 

"Are you sure about that, Miss Deem?" Johnny asks.  "Yes, I'm  sure,"  I reply with a grin.  Johnny sees my smile and starts to squeeze.  As Johnny coats the paper plate with toothpaste the other children chuckle to each other as they watch eager to see what becomes of Johnny's toothpaste pile.   When Johnny finishes squeezing the toothpaste he hands the plate back to me.  "Okay, Johnny, now I need you to put the toothpaste back in the tube."

"But I can't, Miss Deem."

"Would you like to ask a friend to help you?" I ask.

As you might have guessed, Johnny wasn't able to get the toothpaste back in the tube or to get any of the kids to help him do it.

"Thank you, Johnny so much for your help.  Please have a seat."

"Boys and girls, our words are like this toothpaste.  Once we speak them, we can't take them back. If we don't choose our words carefully, they make a mess that can't be cleaned up."

"Miss Deem, how do we clean up our mess?" Susan asks.

I'm sure many of you have used this demonstration in your classes before.  I don't recall who first shared this idea with me.  What haunts me about this lesson is Susan's question.  How do we clean up our mess when we speak without thinking?

I have a friend who taught me how to clean up my mess.  

He taught me to always choose kindness even when confronted with meanness.  He taught me to turn towards Christ when I'm lost.  He taught me that family and friends are the best gifts we receive.  
He taught me that C.S. Lewis was right in the The Four Loves. Lewis writes that there are four kinds of love that make life meaningful.  Christmas commercials would have you believe that romance is the most important kind of love.  Lewis writes about romance, but he also goes into great detail about the value of affection, friendship, and charity.  My friend is kindness in action.  He is happiest when he is serving others.

My friend's generous spirit and gift for hospitality have uplifted me on more occasions than I can count. He helped me through my first Christmas without my mom.  He has helped me though personal and professional challenges.  He taught me to make every day an occasion to celebrate.   He taught me to love with my whole heart.  He taught me "a friend loves at all times." Proverbs 17:17

I am filled with gratitude for my friend's example.  I am blessed to know and love him.  Most people know him as Fr. Christopher Senk.  To me he will always be Padre.  Thank you, Padre, for being you:)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pay Attention, Ellen

I've been thinking a lot about paying attention lately.  

Every year I look forward to Advent.  When radio stations started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween, I decided to embrace it and see it as a reason to have a longer Advent.  Every year I look forward to sharing my childhood memories of Advent with my students.  I look forward to seeing the singing Salvation Army guy at our local grocery store.  His name is John, and he mans his red bucket every year with radiance.  He greets everyone with Christmas carols and blessings for a Merry Christmas.  His commitment to helping others has made a lasting impression on me.  Every time I go to the store I wonder how many people's day he has brightened that day.  He has become part of my Advent.  Without knowing it, he is helping me prepare my heart for Jesus.

This year Advent has me reflecting a lot on past Christmases, too. 

Recently I was talking with a friend who was up early waiting in line to obtain that special Christmas gift for her child.  I told her that one of my favorite Christmas memories was of the year I was in first grade. My parents and I made ceramic ornaments together.  I'm not sure why my brother didn't make any.  (Maybe it was because he was four years old at the time.) :)  I remember loving the activity and cherishing the extra time I spent creating with my family.  What I can't tell you is what Santa brought me that year.  What I didn't know at the time was how much my parents were struggling financially.  My Mom had planned the ornament activity to add some magic to our Christmas.  I'm certain she and my dad sacrificed a lot of financial resources to make my brother's and my Christmas wishes come true that year.  What I remember most is the invaluable time I spent with my family.

I also remember our first Christmas without my Dad.  I know it took great courage for my Mom to prepare for that holiday.  She gave me a glass bookcase to house my collector dolls.  My Dad had always wanted to make me one, but his cancer prevented him from making a display case for me.  Every time I've looked at my dolls in that case since, I am reminded of how much my parents loved me.  I'm reminded of how my father fought cancer bravely and without complaining for 3 years.  I'm reminded of how my Mom worked full days and spent her evenings at the hospital with my Dad.  I'm reminded that the best gifts I've received in my life aren't housed in that glass bookcase.

About a month ago, I had the privilege of a quick visit with my friend from college and her son.  They were beginning a week of college visits.  Her son has Friedreich's ataxia, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that affects the neurological system.  This condition will make it increasingly difficult for him to walk and could shorten his lifespan.  What I witnessed while they stayed with me was incredible courage.  My friend is determined that her son live his life to the fullest, and their whole family is invested in helping spread awareness and support for finding a cure.  They are choosing to trust God as they face this together.  She reminded me of the importance of facing my problems head on.  I can't climb the mountain if I'm not willing to hike to the foot of it first.  Without knowing, she and her son also helped me prepare my heart for Jesus.

Every morning before I go to school I pray for patience with my students.  I know I'm not alone in my fear that I fall short sometimes, especially this time of year.  

Teaching in a Catholic school is a privilege, and I love the extra activities we get to do.  Our schoolwide prayer services on mornings we don't have Mass are something I look forward to every year.  I love having the freedom to play different Christmas songs that focus on different parts of the story of the Nativity.  Lately, I have wondered if I'm getting too distracted by my to do list to savor these blessings.  Lately, I have wondered if I'm missing the light these special activities give to all of us. 

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It's a holy day for Catholics, and we don't have school so that families are able to attend Mass.  As I have had time to reflect today, I have promised myself to slow down, pay attention, and let my light shine more.  My tasks will get done.  They always do.  My first graders will never experience Advent as a first grader again.  I want them to remember decades from now that Advent at school was a special time of anticipation, joy, and light.  I want them to leave first grade faith filled and encouraged.

Today also is the birthday of one of the most courageous friends I've ever had.  She taught me to stand up for what I believe in, to not be afraid to take risks, and to use my gifts to help others.  Her life was short, but her impact on mine remains.  She fought leukemia with courage.  I miss her every day.

I am beyond grateful that Tese was my mentor and my friend.  Her support and love continue to impact my teaching and my life.  I am stronger because I knew her.  I dedicate this post to her.

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.