Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jayden Mills- A Passionate Student Leader

Social media allows us to be friends with folks we have never met face-to-face. To get to know their values and their hearts.

One such friend is Chickasha High School student, Jayden Mills. He is active on #oklaed chats, and we professionals have learned a lot from his positive posts. On Facebook he is a vocal supporter of his school and he often highlights these. 

I know him as an articulate, passionate example of the best of Oklahoma public schools. 

His latest piece shows you what I mean,

The Future is in Our Hands...even the title of his blog tells you about his positive message to the world.

Jayden is every teacher's dream:

" I will be an avid learner, always willing to take in information because that it the only way to be able to understand public education and its status in our state. I will have an open mind because, of course, 
simply learning information is useless unless you choose to let it change you- 
being open minded is the only way you can communicate with people and be productive.
I will respond to change with a positive attitude 
because, does responding any other way actually accomplish anything?
 I will pay attention to what is going on in our legislature, 
especially to that which pertains to public education.
 I will vote."

I taught for 39 years, and loved being around strong, positive students. I loved watching them influence their classmates with their passions. I am sorry Jayden was not in one of my classes...we'd've had a great time, for sure. His enthusiasm for learning is genuine. His commitment to making the future bright for us all is real. 

Jayden challenges us all -- his fellow students, the adults in his life, educators, parents. We owe it to him and to his classmates. We must participate. We must be informed. We must vote. To do otherwise lets down Jayden and all the other students in #oklaed.  He will be our guide.

"We must find ways to be active. Because right now, your state legislature is getting ready to give money from Public Education to private schools (with no accountability) in the form of education savings accounts. 

Because right now, your state government continues to make monetary cuts that are damaging the quality of education Oklahoma students receive in more ways than one. If you’re a parent, then these are your children. And if you’re a student, then it’s you.But regardless of your relation to education- if you’re an Oklahoman, then this is your future.

If you’re not registered, register. Whether you register a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, please register and please vote. And vote education.
Be aware. 
Be active. 
This is our future."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2015 Top Ten Books...and Honorable Mentions.

My Top Ten Books of 2015
I set a lofty goal for myself on for my reading last year: 175 books. What I didn’t anticipate was packing up a home we’d lived in for 14 years, buying another, and moving. That seriously cut into my leisure reading…and my leisure! But with the help of audible books, and my volunteering at a elementary school and middle school in Norman, I eeked out my goal.

LOTS of books, and most of them I rated at a 4 out of 5…I liked a lot of books, but didn’t love them. I seldom finish books I’d rate 1 or 2, but often stick it out for 3’s

My Top Ten include five fiction, five nonfiction, one reread (no, I didn’t include To Kill a Mockingbird, even though I did reread it), and including my ‘Honorable Mention’ books, four audible books.

So, who didn’t make my Top Ten? Some amazing authors: Sarah Vowell, C.S. Lewis, John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, Hunter Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Judy Blume, James Patterson, John Grisham, Donna Tartt, Nicole Krauss, Ray Bradbury, Tobias Wolfe, Jodi Picoult.

What DID make my list? Books that moved me…made me laugh or cry or shiver. Books that taught me something deep about myself and the world. Books that made me proud…or ashamed…to be human. Instead of reviewing each again, I will link to my initial review, and just provide a short impression here.


All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr – a novel set in occupied France during WWII. Two young characters take us through their lives: a blind French girl and a young Nazi soldier. One day brings them together.

The Alex Crow – Andrew Smith is one of the most inventive authors out there…this is a time-bending, place-bending, mind-bending story of redemption and survival. I will gladly go anywhere Smith’s narratives take me…I’m in good hands.

Read Between the Lines  by Jo Knowles – the cover says it all…a day in the lives of several characters, either students or teachers at one school…and each vignette ends with…that bad word. The voices were pitch-perfect, as was the frustration the suffered.

The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood– a British murder mystery that gave me chills in the middle of my summer walks…depraved, twisted and suspenseful. Set in a perfectly seedy rooming house full of secrets. Loved the ending.

Shotgun Love Songs  by Nickolas Butler – I never would have heard of this one, except it was an audible deal. Set in the upper Midwest, several narrators, all friends from high school, wrestle with becoming adults and doing the right thing. I recognized these characters and this place.

Honorable Mention: American Gods  by Neil Gaiman– another audible. The production was masterful, with different actors performing characters’ words. But the story and the allusions and the quest…they were magnificent.


Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson – breathtaking…Leningrad, WWII, Stalin, and one incredibly talented composer. Dimitri Shostakovich does battle with them all through his music, especially his Leningrad Symphony. We must never forget.

Hoosier School Heist by Doug Martin, an online friend. -- As a native Hoosier, I read with dread what reformers have done to my home state. I read with deep fear what I see happening in my adopted state, who seems to be a few years behind this deliberate dismantling of public schools.

Stonewall by Ann Bausum – WHERE was I? Summer of Love…summer 1969. Stonewall Inn in NYC was the scene of an early skirmish for gay rights. I read, horrified that I was only now learning about this blatant overreach by authorities.

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Written in 1992, I fear nothing has changed for children living in poverty. Kotlowitz followed two brothers and their mother in the nightmare of the Chicago project. This was my reread – another audible. Something so intimate hearing these words. Our children deserved, and still deserve, better.

Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins – Yes, Hunger Games and Gregor Suzanne Collins. This picture book is a touching memoir of the year her daddy went away to Viet Nam, and how her family lived without him. Collins never breaks her tone or voice here. Impressive.

Honorable Mention

The Teachers We Need Vs. The Teachers We Have by Lawrence Baines – a Norman friend and OU professor. Baines analyzes alternative certification paths to teaching while explaining clearly that the US is the only country that tolerates any but a rigorous, challenging path. He taught me that by many standards, TFA is downright demanding.

I love the fact I am an omnivorous reader…hard to categorize. I love that I have given myself permission to read whatever catches my fancy…it may be a recommendation from a friend, or a great book cover, or an intriguing book blurb.

This year, I’ve readjusted my goal down a bit, but will not change a thing. I’ll let books find me and move me.

Monday, January 11, 2016

So, How Can I #GiveItBackOK?

Ever since it was obvious that our lawmakers would not put the brakes on the tax cut, even in the face of a revenue failure inching toward $1 billion, we on social media started grouching about how much we did NOT need the average $29 tax cut, and how we knew schools needed the funds more.

Rob Miller has written about #GiveItBackOK, and so has Rick Cobb. Rickand Tegan Sexton were interviewed for one story, and Jeffery Corbett for another. Legislators are joining the call…Jason Dunnington and Emily Virgin have pledged to #GiveItBackOK. And that’s all happened in the past few days.

Now it’s clear…tax cuts will happen. Funding for schools and other social services will be cut. Things are going to get ugly out there. Our anger grew and a movement was born: #GiveItBackOK – the challenge to donate our tax cut directly back to our schools. It’s gotten lots of attention and play on the media. Our colleagues have been positive and proactive: We don’t mind paying our fair share, in fact, we insist.

So, what can you do to get involved? Well, start by figuring your potential tax cut. Oklahoma Policy Institute has created a handy calculator. Find out how much you’ll be forced to receive.

Then, donate that to your favorite school or school district.

Here are some of the ideas I’m seeing on FB:

·         Donate to the school district lunch program. In trying to alleviate cuts to schools, the OSDE cut our state’s matching funding for the school lunch program by 30.28%. Check with your district office and see if you can earmark your donation to hungry kids.
·         Donate to your school’s general fund…that’s what schools use to buy paper, pencils, supplies, printer ink. Those funds will take a huge hit in order to continue funding vital services.
·         Ask your child’s teacher for a wish list of supplies and buy all of them and more
·         Ask the music and art teachers if they could use some help. My granddaughter’s art program funds itself by selling candy bars between classes…and that was before the revenue failure.
·         Join your PTA or PTO and donate to their efforts.
·         Does your district have a school foundation? Donate!
·         School libraries have been hurting for years, and this will be hard on them. Donate to the library and invite the media specialist to get the books students have been asking for.

This list is just the beginning. What other ideas can we brainstorm? If our elected leaders are content for schools and students to suffer, that doesn’t mean we have to let it happen.

So, what are other ways we can use our tax cut to help our public schools?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Despair to Hope

Despair and hope. Two sides of the same coin, part of the daily life of a teacher who cares deeply…or is it?

Despair is a heavy-duty word. I never felt despair in the classroom. I DID fee frustration, irritation, confusion. I did feel bewilderment, sadness, and yes, anger.

#oklaed challenged us all to write about despair and hope as we face 2016, and the Legislative Session of 2016. I’m finally ready to face that task. Other bloggers jumped right onto that challenge, as I lagged behind. Rob Miller offered the original challenge.  Scott Haselwood, Meghan Loyd, Rick Cobb, Mindy Dennison, Michelle Waters,  John Thompson, and then Rob answered his own challenge. I told you I was late to this party. So many great ideas here. My take is a bit different, and I hope it adds to the conversation.

Frustration/Despair – Our policy makers do not seem to work for us. They seem to align themselves with other interests, not schools and children. That’s not my frustration…or at least it’s not my whole frustration.  One would think that would inspire educators to get out and vote for pro-education candidates, to search out office-seekers who have ideas for strengthening our schools, for partnering with educators, for working together for our students. Instead, educators have abdicated their civic responsibility, and I’ll say their ethical responsibility to be active in public life. We, as a group, don’t vote. 18% -30% of us show up at the polls. Is it no wonder we are considered irrelevant by lawmakers? Why should they listen to us when we rally at the Capitol? When we send frustrated emails and letters? We are irrelevant because we don’t vote. And when we do vote, many of us do not vote education as our top issue. I’ve heard the excuses: I’m so busy with school (I get that! Teaching is exhausting if you do it right), I don’t know the candidates (You know, teachers read and study for a living…I think we could do some research), I always vote for this social issue or that social issue (Look closely at the politicians espousing those issues and ask yourself if they might be using your concerns for their own purposes and manipulating you), I forgot to register to vote in time (NO EXCUSE!).  
Being an informed education voter does take some time, but there is help. You are not alone. League of Women Voters Oklahoma  is a good source of information about elections, including dates, registration details, and candidate-supplied information about issues. Check out their site…bookmark it. I’m a co-founder of a Facebook page called Oklahoma Education Voters. We surveyed our members and found their top education issues, and we try to find articles and research to inform our members about those issues. There are regional Parent Legislative Action Committees around the state, two in the Metro area. They regularly share information about education issues, and once ‘graded’ legislators’ commitment to public education. There’s an app for that. OAEC 55th Legislature works on iPhones and Androids. It updates after elections, and it gives us information about the Legislature, the leadership, the members. It includes photos, which are invaluable when I sit in the Chambers and watch debates. Addresses, emails, and office numbers are all there on one app. I rely on it throughout the Session. The OK Legislature page is kind of clunky, but it’s worth investigating. You can find your legislators, search for bills, find committee schedules…and track bills. You can follow #oklaed bloggers, Rick Cobb, Rob Miller, and BlueCereal are especially vigilant about following legislation and legislators. You can follow #oklaed on Twitter and join the Sunday evening chats…all stakeholders are welcome. Many local politicians have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. You can follow them and see what’s up on their feed. Join your PTA and attend meetings. Become active in your support of public schools. Don’t find yourself on the BadVoter list.

Hope – My example of hope begins in frustration. Oklahoma was once a top-five leader in the number of National Board Certified Teachers in the classroom. Our support program was probably the best in the nation. Scholarships, support meetings, networking, and a sizable stipend if we stayed in the classroom. I know for a fact that inspired me to stay put in my class, contributing more to my family’s finances than I could have otherwise. The stipend was a mini-stimulus package every year as we spent our funds in Oklahoma. Recently, though, that support from policy makers has eroded. Scholarships were stopped, then the amount was dropped, then the number of scholarships to be offered was cut, and most devastatingly, the stipend was drastically cut from $5000 to a $1000 salary bump, with strings. Our program has suffered as a result. Whereas we used to certify 100-200 National Board Certified Teachers every year, last year we celebrated only 13 new NBCTs. During “The Troubles,” it was even bleaker than that. But that is NOT my example of hope.

Yesterday, Education Leadership Oklahoma, the office charged with NBCT support, held its statewide meeting for new candidates just beginning their NBC journey. It was a considerably smaller group than in years past, but we were there…candidates, trainers, Regional Coordinators. Early on a snowy Saturday, ready to commit ourselves to become better teachers for ourselves and for our students. Teachers who could have been sleeping in chose to meet and wrestle with the intricacies of National Board. Teachers who told their stories with pride…with humility. Teachers who are ready to hold their practice up to the highest Standards in the profession. Teachers who are already accomplished, but want to become even better. The energy was palpable. Teachers committed themselves yesterday to do everything they can for their students, to become the best—for their students. Certainly not for the potential of $70 more in their monthly paycheck. I was so proud to be an Oklahoma educator, surrounded with people ready to do the hard work of analyzing and reflecting on their work, to be brutally honest about what works and what doesn’t work in their classrooms.

Is National Board back to its glory days, when I held support meetings of up to 50 teachers? Not yet. But Oklahoma’s teachers are still answering the challenge to improve and learn. They are working on their own time for their students. They are still striving to be the best teachers they can be.

In the face of a revenue failure, in the face of lowest per-pupil expenditure in the region, in the face of funding cuts this semester, in the face of neglect and distain from some policy makers…teachers showed up Saturday. They worked together. They committed themselves and their whole hearts to their students.

It made me so proud to be a teacher in Oklahoma as I saw the enthusiasm.

Thank a teacher tomorrow, and tell them we appreciate their devotion to our students. They are my hope.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sonder -- My Word for 2016

Sonder – As I searched for ‘my’ word, I searched a site that promised beautiful words…and I found sonder: 
...the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness”

Immediately I thought back to my childhood and the train trips I took with my grandmother to and from Kansas City and Los Angeles…wonderful trips through towns I’d visit as an adult. Every time the train would slow going through a town, I’d smash my face up against the window to look at all those people I’d never meet…people walking out of shops, riding their bikes home, eating dinner, doing homework. I was deeply aware of a connection ‘through a glass darkly.’ We were all terribly human, but we knew nothing about each other. Our lives only intersected for that moment as a child making a blurry mess on a train window searched…for what, she didn’t know. It was sonder I was experiencing…that feeling that we were all alike and all unknowable.

If I choose sonder as my word, what will that impel me to do, think, say? How will that drive me through 2016? How does that matter?

I want to recapture that feeling of wonder as I work with others, remembering they are rich, complex people whose lives are unknowable…I want to respect and honor their lives as important. I want to work with others, knowing much of their lives and hearts are and always be secret and hidden. I can appreciate them without understanding. I can work with them, without agreeing on every facet of our lives. I can give them their separateness.

I don’t have to feel slighted or frustrated when others don’t respond the way I think they should…they are living their complex lives…as the stars of their story. I’m rightfully a bit player in their story. And that’s the way it should be.

I will face my year with wills and won’ts

I will

  • Respect
  • Listen
  • Honor
  • Appreciate
  • Look for commonalities
  • Find the intersections in our lives
  • Find patience for others
  • Assume positive intent
  • Look for ways to contribute
  • Step back and breathe

I won’t

  • Take things personally
  • Assume others understand me
  • Brood
  • Feel hurt
  • Assume others are ignoring me, meaning to slight me
  • Assign motives to others’ behavior or words

Focusing on sonder will allow me to find my own truth and let others find the same.

The children who visit the elementary library where I volunteer have rich, complex lives…they need me to stop and listen. Their insights are keen. Their feelings are real. Stopping to visit and really visit will show them I care about them. That I want to hear a bit of their story and spend a moment or so with them.

Adults deserve the same respect…my silent acknowledgment of their truth and their stories will help me keep a balance, and help me focus on our common goals. I don’t have to be a main character in their story. It’s fine to be a walk-on. I can still contribute.

Some policy makers may present a challenge. And I think I need to face that challenge. A person who disagrees with me on policy is not an evil person…he or she works from a different story, a different complex life. I cannot begin to know or understand, but I don’t have to in order to look for that connection.

Even now as an adult I people-watch, making up imaginary lives for strangers I see on the street. Even now, I love reading fiction because I am allowed to participate in rich, complex lives of totally fictional characters.

And then I learned it’s a totally made-up word with no etymology. It was invented, as Shakespeare invented words he needed, by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. I love that title as much as I love the word ‘sonder’.

But I’m sticking with my made-up word, because I so deeply identify with the concept. I’ve felt it my whole life…feeling separate and apart, and yet knowing others felt the same.

So, wish me luck as I face my year with sonder and respect and patience and trust.