Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Magic

at Two Writing Teachers!

No wonder ancient cultures believed in dwarfs, elves, nymphs, and fairies. No wonder they imagined spirits dwelling in the rocks and trees. How else could nature be so incredibly enchanting?
Sunset today over rippled snow dunes at our neighborhood park!
I've always thought snow was magic. When I was a little girl, my family would make snowballs from the first snow of the year, wrap them in foil, and save them in the freezer. Every 4th of July, we'd gleefully get them out and have a midsummer snowball fight in the driveway!

Yesterday I met a whole new kind of snow magic: snow rollers! After learning how rare they are, Husband and I braved the cold to explore these charming gifts from nature:
Look at the layers!
Perfectly shaped!
Scattered on windswept corners around the city, these rolled-up magic carpets make me imagine wispy, glittering snow sprites scurrying through the open fields, baling snow for some mysterious midnight celebration.
Just like snowflakes, each one is a little different!
Some open areas are covered in them, but other similar places have none at all. Fascinating!
Thank you, snow sprites, for bringing some extra magic into this cold winter!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Principal's Office

at Two Writing Teachers!
"... And you've got to help me get this blog thing going!" Just as I walked away, my principal's booming voice pulled me back. Has he been talking to my mom again? Good for him though, he's so interested in education reform... He needs to share those big ideas beyond just emailing the staff every once in a while!

Even as a teacher, the principal's office seems pretty intimidating. But for a few days last week, he waved me in at our scheduled times as if it were my office too. Instead of sitting across the table feeling small and nervous, I plopped my laptop beside his and we sat elbow to elbow as colleagues. (Well, colleagues who address each other as "Dr." and "Kiddo"... but still, colleagues!)

We brainstormed titles... and then brainstormed again when his first few ideas were already taken. Using my blog and my mom's blog as models, we customized the theme, played with the layout, and added a few essential widgets.

"Look, if you got Twitter, we could put a widget with your tweets! You could tweet out interesting articles, plus you could share your blog posts and more people would read them!" (I had been nudging him to join Twitter since the fall, and that emtpy-looking sidebar seemed like the perfect opportunity.)

"Really?" He raised an eyebrow and grinned. Now Twitter was on our to-do list too. The next day, after a quick lesson on tweets, hashtags, and following, @DrDonis was ready to connect with the world!

Next, pages of scrawled ideas took shape into a blog post draft.  We added labels and made hyperlinks as his eyes sparkled. "This is exciting! All these ideas laying around, and I always thought, 'What am I going to do with these? I'm not going to write a book!' But this, I can do this!"

Finally, after just a few days, it was time. What a rush it was when I hit that big orange "Publish" button for the first time... I held up my arms and took a dramatic deep breath. "Are you ready? Hitting that button is a big deal! Here we go! Look out, world!"

My principal is enthusiastic and he cares about kids more than anything. Now, he's also a 21st century learner. Please welcome him to the blogging world! I know his life as a learner and an educator will never be the same, because mine sure hasn't been.

It's incredible what one little SPARK can do.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sparking hope

"This is EXACTLY what I need!" shrieked M. as she read the invitation I'd just handed her.
"Yeah, I'm so excited!" giggled J, nodding.
"You're invited... to a special meeting for Spanish-speaking girls: Bring your food to room A15 for a special presentation about a new club for Spanish-speaking girls. Improve your life with activities that will make you a stronger, more secure, happier person! Learn to manage stress, strengthen your friendships, improve your self-esteem, and prepare for the future."
The next day at lunchtime, we were sitting in my classroom, enveloped in cheerful chatter that floated from Spanish to English and back again. As I softly brushed paint across the page, I could feel my shoulders relaxing, as if the paintbrush was channeling the stress out of me. Around the room, I could see it was having the same effect on the girls. Giggles mixed with lips pressed in careful concentration. Casual chit-chat and serious conversations flowed together.

One by one, we stood up to share our creations, and with them, our stories.

"This part is for the bad times in my life," M. pointed at the all-black top half of her page, "like when my uncle died, and my mom had a stroke." Mesmerized, supportive silence, even from the girl at the next table who has insisted for a year that the two of them can't get along. "But now my life is like this..." she gestured at swirls of color underlying a heart. "Kind of crazy sometimes, but lots of good things."

Special memories of family members and friends. Fond scenes of countries their hearts ache for. Losses and struggles. Hopes and dreams. 

Talkative, energetic S. painted a cross for her grandmother, who died shortly after she left Mexico. "She told me goodbye like she knew she wasn't going to see me again, but I knew I'd be coming back to visit soon. It's like she knew she was going to die."

Reticent, sometimes sullen C., who came from a school where her teachers told kids they were "too dumb for Algebra," stood up with shaky hands to tell us that her dad died when she was seven. "This is a rainbow... I don't know why," she shrugged... but I think I do. Rainbows are hope.

V. also split her painting into two contrasting halves. "Esta parte es cuando me siento triste..." (This part is when I feel sad...) "...y aquĆ­ cuando la gente me ayuda."(And here when people help me.") She beams at me with eyes that carry silent thanks across the room. She means me. With deep conversations and timely solutions to crises, I have helped her push back her blue-gray darkness and step into a world of bright colors.

What SPARKS of community for the first meeting! "I thought we weren't all going to get along," one girl told me, "But we did!" That's what courage and stories will do.

Thanks, 4L For Latinas, for helping me SPARK hope, change, and friendship for these girls! I can't wait to see where they will take us, and where their dreams will take them.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Little Word 2014: Spark

Shortly after I started blogging, I chose my first "one little word": a word that would build me and others up.

Last year, I had a difficult time finding my OLW... but once I found it, it permeated my year.

This year, my OLW came to me so easily that I don't even know how I found it. However, I think it's just what I need: it keeps last year's DELIGHT alive while challenging me to move forward with new intensity.
made with DoodleBuddy, although it's not as cool as Linda's art!

Like last year's word, "SPARK" is both a noun and a verb: something I want to be and something I want to do:
from my new favorite dictionary, Vocabulary.com
I want to SPARK change in my school: to set off a culture of student-centered teaching and prepare my colleagues to meet the unique needs of my ELLs. (To do this, I'll have to nurture my own SPARKS of courage!)

I want to SPARK a love of learning in my students: to activate curiosity and trigger lifelong reading and writing habits.

In all of this, I want to shine like a SPARK: emitting rays of delight and energy while spreading positive change.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Double Funfetti Snow Day Polar Vortex with my honey!

at Two Writing Teachers!
What is it about surprises that's so much fun? Why does just a little break from routine seem so magical? How do the words we use to describe our days have such an impact on the way we feel about them?

If our Winter Break would have been scheduled to last for two days more than two weeks, everyone would have been bored, whining, and itching to get back to school. But two consecutive days of magical robo-calls and a deliciously powerful meteorological term (who couldn't love the phase "Polar Vortex?"), and suddenly social media is full of adults giddily channeling their seven-year-old selves. From science experiments to just enjoying extra time together, there's certainly something special about having an unexpected free day due to some hysterical weather.
last night's weather... note the wind chill of -31 F!
The best part? Husband's work was cancelled too -- and for an engineer, that's a rare event! All day yesterday, I announced every event as "Snow Day ______ with my honey!" After all, even "Snow Day laundry with my honey" is fun together, especially when you're both usually at work!

When we got the notifications that we'd both get today off too, everything turned into "Double Snow Day _____ with my honey!" Then Husband realized that we could make the Funfetti Pancake Mix he got me for Christmas for brunch today... and got out the Star Wars pancake molds my uncle got us last year.
Double Snow Day Funfetti Star Wars pancakes with my honey!
"Funfetti" is such a fun word that I started adding that into all my descriptions, just to emphasize the FUN! So after Double Funfetti Snow Day dishes with my honey, Double Funfetti Snow Day video games with my honey, etc... it's been a fun two days! To cap it off, I can't wait to go eat Double Funfetti Snow Day soup with my parents... with my honey!

Wishing you all a Double Funfetti Snow Day Polar Vortex with your loved ones... or at least your own reminder to enjoy the little things in life!