Barely Breathing – Getting Started

I am one week into my Zen project. I am hoping to learn how to use meditation and mindfulness to decrease my stress, learn self-regulatory strategies and become more present in all elements of my life. My ultimate goal is to calm my busy mind with the hope of increased hours of sleep.

So far, I have done a lot of reading and online research. I listed the resources I have located in my previous blog post. I have been only using two of the resources so far: Headspace and Stop, Breathe and Think. I definitely prefer the Headspace app. I am dreading finishing the free 10 sessions as I am fairly certain that I will end up paying for a subscription to this service, as I am enjoying and learning a great deal from it. I am learning more about myself and what I need as I learn about meditation as I explore the tools that I have found.

My needs:

  • A soothing voice
  • Clear instructions, with specific things to focus on
  • Sequential lessons, building slowly in complexity
  • A focus on self
  • Metaphors that I can understand and that work for my busy brain
  • Simple steps
  • Guided meditation – I am nowhere near ready for independent practice yet – I still need direct instruction!!!

A key difference between Headspace and Stop, Breathe and Think is where you are asked to focus your attention. Headspace encourages me to consider my breathing and the thoughts that wander into my focus as I learn to meditate. Headspace has been very gentle in its guidance, so far. The voice is incredibly soothing, and even after long pauses, it does not intrude. There are simple explanations and metaphors for how we think and how we attempt to wrangle our thinking. I can see my thoughts as “traffic” – a busy street with all of my thoughts rushing by. I can see myself attempting to direct that traffic, control it, and I can even see myself running (screaming) after a wayward thought-car. Having that picture in my mind makes it easier to step back and imagine myself sitting at the side of the road, observing the traffic of thoughts, but staying less involved. Headspace encourages me to be gentle with myself, and it even gives me time during a meditation to allow my brain to wallow in the crazy if it wants to. Stop, Breathe and Think has not been enjoyable. In fact, I stopped my last session with 3 minutes still on the clock because I had become irritated. I find the voice to be a bit more intrusive, and the pace is ridiculous! The meditations flit from one thing to another, and I can’t keep up. The ideas are HUGE, and I cannot relate. In the space of a less than a minute, I am asked to imagine myself filling with peace, then I need to fill the room with peace, and then I need to see that peace spreading over the world. What??! I found myself feeling panicky at the end of these meditations, like I had not yet done my job. One feature I did like from this app is that it encourages you to perform a check-in for mind, body and emotions before it offered customized meditation options for you. I may look at this app again when I have more experience, but for right now I need to walk away.

Going forward, I need some measurable details. Since my ultimate goal is increasing my hours of sleep, I will be looking at my weekly averages.

Baseline average: 5 hours 22 minutes of sleep

First week (January 18 – 24): 5 hours 54 minute of sleep


A one-day snapshot of sleep efficiency as captured by Fitbit Force. Is it nap-time yet?

A one-day snapshot of sleep efficiency as captured by Fitbit Force. Is it nap-time yet?


Hanging with the #pdppposseRC

I was excited to connect with @mlleballen and the #pdppposse from #edci336 through BlueJeans on January 22 to chat Middle School book clubs. I was surprised by the number of people in attendance – a great group to meet!

I feel like I must first start by apologizing for the number of interruptions on my end – it was my prep block, but a closed classroom door actually means “welcome, come on in!” in Middle School!

I had an opportunity to hear about the books that everyone else was reading, and I got to add a couple of titles to my “must read” list. I discussed a few books that I often suggest to my readers for Literature Circles or Book Clubs, or just as great reads. I may have left a few titles off of my rapid-fire list (thanks your patience, #pdpposseRC!). Here are some of my favourite titles:

Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin

Schooled – Gordan Korman

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda – Tom Angleberger

Pig Boy – Vicki Grant

Out of my Mind – Sharon Draper

A Mango Shaped Space – Wendy Mass

The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke

Some of my favourite authors for Middle School readers are on that list: Wendy Mass, Sharon Creech, Gordan Korman and Jordan Sonnenblick.

Some of the group had heard about using Orca Currents as a resource for high-interest, low-vocabulary reads. Pig Boy is an Orca Currents selection, and I usually offer at least two choices. (My other favourite is Daredevil Club by Pam Withers) I love Orca Currents books, and even my keenest readers are drawn to them. My suggestion is to pre-read any Orca book before recommending it to a student reader, as some of the content can be a tad explicit!

One of my favourite resources for learning about great books and authors is Twitter. Great hashtags to follow include #nerdybookclub, #GRA (Global Read Aloud), #titletalk and #TLchat.

I have participated in the Global Read Aloud for the last two years. Last year we read “Out of My Mind” and this year we are reading two books from the list. During the actual #GRA15, we read “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. It was amazing! My students tweeted to many other classes and the author herself often responded to us. We will be reading “Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer Holm, which was another #GRA15 option, starting in the beginning of February. This book ties in well with #geniushour, inspiring wonder, innovation and determination. The Global Read Aloud project only happens once a year, but I usually read aloud to my Middle School students year round. I think that it is important to share quality literature with your students, to model reading fluency, to share how I think a I read a book, and to explore the tangents, the imaginary worlds, and the emotions that a well-written book elicit. Sometimes I plan attached activities for my read aloud, but often I choose to read/listen/discuss a great book for the love of reading. Make time for it!

Thank you for including me in your meeting, #pdppposse! I enjoyed the chat. Many of my happiest moments teaching have been when a reluctant reader FINALLY finds a book that they truly love. I loved seeing the dedication you are all putting into creating reading magic in your own classrooms. I am looking forward to hearing more about your journeys and adventures!

Choosing a #LearningProject

In our #tiegrad course with Alec Couros, we’ve been given the opportunity to choose any topic we’d like to study as a personal learning project. I blogged previously a bit about that here. I settled on the Learning Project fairly quickly, but had a great deal of difficulty settling on a topic. I made a huge web in my classroom and worked my way through my passions, needs, interests, and questions in a similar way that I usually ask my students to explore as they select their #geniushour projects. My whole class got involved! They were so excited to help me choose something, and it was humbling to hear some of their ideas. For example, I KNOW that I struggle to throw a ball well in softball, but it’s a little embarrassing to have a student point it out as an important skill I should spend 50-100 hours developing!

My brainstorming web. My students' ideas are in orange, my ideas/my husband's ideas are in blue.

My brainstorming web. My students’ ideas are in orange, my ideas/my husband’s ideas are in blue.

In the end, only the ideas that I was truly passionate about and genuinely interested in pursuing made it onto my web. My ideas were written in blue, and my students’ suggestions were written in orange. I clustered my ideas around some central themes: Music, Technology, Art, Languages, Zen, etc. I was surprised to see myself so drawn to music and art. I have always loved music and envy people who are able to bring such beauty through sound. I do not have a lot of skill in the area of art, and struggle to make myself understood through images. I am grateful to teach Middle School, as the students laugh at my stick figure drawings and support my efforts to draw straight lines.

My top contenders for Learning Projects may surprise you:

  1. Guitar: I have access to guitars, Bryan Jackson was offering Beginner Guitar a sessional as part of his class, it seems like a great opportunity to learn. I live near a beach. Can’t you just see me out there practicing at sunset, illegal beach fire keeping me warm, gathering a small but appreciative crowd?
  2. Singing: When I sing, people run away. Maybe these are unrelated events, but I am becoming suspicious. I love to sing, but I am pretty terrible at it. I love listening to amazing singers, and am drawn to stories told through song. The downside with this is that I believe that it will take more professional intervention and possibly way more than 50-100 hours to teach me how to sing.
  3. Speaking Spanish: my husband can speak it, I’ve tried to learn in the past, and there are MANY resources for learning foreign languages online. Huge benefit! I can’t wait to go back to Cuba, and actually have a few words in my vocabulary.
  4. Piano: I would love to know how to play. Again, lots of helpful online resources, but I think that actually having a piano or keyboard would be essential.
  5. Meditation: I have done some Yoga in the past, but only used it really for strengthening and lengthening my muscles, I always feel energized after doing it, not relaxed. I need help to calm my mind, and meditation has been suggested to me frequently!

In considering which topic to explore further, I knew that I needed to narrow my list into things that:

  • Were actually manageable
  • Would serve me immediately
  • Bring me joy
  • Have resources available
  • Would suit learning publicly

Drumroll please….

I selected meditation.

I have never been a good sleeper. Even from my first, fresh days home from the hospital, I kept everyone awake. I still do. Comparing Fitbit stats with my friend today, we compared our restless “Sleep” minutes over the last month. She averaged between 9-16 minutes of restlessness. I averaged between 140-190 minutes of restlessness each night.

My mind is always working. I worry. I fret. I practice conversations – that never actually happen. I find “being in the moment” a challenge. I don’t listen well. I move quickly, think quickly and rush around constantly.

My goals: Slow down. Be mindful. Meditate. Be present. Be still. Develop my own self-regulatory skillset. Listen.

And above all: Breathe.


Reflective Teaching – Day 30

Te@chThought‘s Day 30 Challenge is: “What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?”

I’d like to view this question as a teaching bucket list! There are a variety of ways that fear presents itself in relation to teaching or careers in general: monetary, starting over, losing seniority, retirement planning, learning new expectations, new bosses, etc. These are reasonable fears and concerns.

So, my no-holds-barred Teaching Bucket List would include:

  • teaching in another country – preferably somewhere tropical – I am truly drawn to Cuba…?
  • teaching in Northern BC. I would love some snow play days
  • stocking my classroom with the technology needed to provide learners with choice
  • teaching outdoors
  • teaching on a sailboat – Have you seen “White Squall“???
  • exploring more Montessori principles while teaching in public school
  • teaching in Scotland
  • teaching high school
  • blogging about my teaching regularly
  • team-teaching a multi-age group
  • opening my own school – a rural, one-room school house
  • teaching without a set schedule. I am not sure what this would look like, but I would like to believe that it would follow some sort of Distributed Learning model, but with even more flexibility for student needs.
  • trying some of the Waldorf principles and stream a large group of learners for several years.
  • finding a way to incorporate more play or tinkering at the Middle School level
  • collaborating on a long term learning experience with a buddy class – where travel and meeting in real life are a part of our plan


Reflective Teaching – Day 27

Te@chThought‘s Day 27 Challenge is: “What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

Whew, right now my weekends and the all-too distant holidays play the role of bonus “catch-up” time. Teachers in BC are only two weeks into teaching after a period of job action. So, it still feels like the beginning of September. I am tired every day! My mind is completely overwhelmed with the problem-solving that begins every school year: who are these learners? How can I best support their efforts? What plans do I need to work on? How do they fit together? Do I need to make changes to our classroom lay out? How can I ensure that they feel welcome? Why is my room such a mess still???! What could this space be like if we got rid of all of the desks? How should I review math concepts in order to best meet the needs of the most learners? What book should I read to them? Will they like me?

My mind does not stop when I get home. It does not stop when I lay down to sleep. If anything, sometimes the questions get louder!

And, that is only one piece of the puzzle. I am almost half-way through a Masters of Education program. And I am enrolled in TWO courses this term. I have class meetings regularly. And homework assignments. And blog posts to write – I have not completed any of the three that I thought I would have done by now. I have Twitter to respond to. Blog posts to read. Two text books to read and respond to. A book club. A MOOC. A Literature Review to craft- um, and I guess I will need to actually begin reviewing that literature!

The most important part of my life is my family. My wonderful husband has not yet complained that the cookie plate (that was full all summer) has not been filled in over a week. And that I am too tired to be any fun. My dogs, however, have been giving me “guilt eyes” and needing extra cuddles to make up for our new time apart.

My weekends are filled with work right now. That is a necessity so that I can keep up with the academic and workplace demands. Balance will eventually be restored. I know this. I am COUNTING on this!! Soon my weekends will be times where I can recharge my batteries, devote some time to planning fun learning opportunities for my students, learn things to help improve my practice, AND spend time with my loved ones and do the things that I love to do.

Reflective Teaching – Day 10

Te@chThought‘s Day 10 challenge is:

Share five random facts about yourself.

  • I love to read
  • I love to swim and usually swim in every body of water that I encounter
  • I am a former volunteer fire-fighter/first responder
  • I have quite tiny feet for my height
  • My favourite flowers are Sweet Peas and Lilacs

Share four things from your bucket list.

  • Go back to Cuba to celebrate our wedding anniversary
  • Sail on a liveaboard somewhere warm. Maybe the South Pacific?
  • Eat lobster on the East Coast
  • Dive historic shipwrecks

Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator.

  • to extend a growth-mindset into more areas of my life
  • to narrow down my Masters topic!
  • to listen to my learners (past and present) to ensure that I am growing as an educator and providing dynamic and inviting educational opportunities

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.

  • Laugh: too many to count! Middle School is hilarious. The “inside jokes” keep me going. Unexpected phrases that have little meaning to others, but cause uproarious laughter whenever they are uttered are priceless! Some examples include: “base-jumping bacteria”, “we’ve got the sauce” (screamed in the IKEA “start the car” fashion), “squirt”, and “Ducky”.
  • Cry: the times that I could not find my way in. The students I was unable to support in the way that they needed. The relationships that never quite gelled. The kids who didn’t feel connected to the classroom community.

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.

  • I have an outstanding family. My parents work hard and care deeply about my brother and me. We had a great childhood. My husband is an incredible man. He supports me and encourages me in my journeys. I am surrounded by loving, thoughtful and generous people. My family taught me to read, gave me a love of play, keep me young, and encourage me to celebrate – often. I feel blessed.

Reflective Teaching – Day 9

Te@chThought‘s Day 9 challenge is “Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

It is difficult to think about personal accomplishments as a teacher. I think that it is a deeply ingrained habit in most teachers to contemplate the things that we still need to do. We think of the learners that we wish that we had more time with. We think of the daily accomplishments of our learners and make plans for tomorrow.

My favourite shared accomplishment this year was unexpected. I had a student make a big impact on the very first day of school when I was taking our new Middle School students on a tour of the opportunities available in their new school. We had reached the library and he HATED the library. He was adamant that I could not make him go there, and that he would be very unhappy if he was forced to go. He told me that he had never read a full book. He did not intend to start participating in school-wide silent reading this year. I asked him to give me a chance to help him find a better book.

He was not interested in reading for a while. But, eventually we found a book that got his attention. Then, we found another one. Books became part of our daily conversation. He was eager to write reflections about his reading, and demonstrated insightful thinking and complex connections in his writing.

In the Spring he stood at his desk and loudly confessed about how much he LOVED reading! He laughed and said that the library was his favourite place. He was unhappy when I ended Silent Reading each day. He walked and talked more confidently and became eager to match other readers to “better” books. He was excited about this new discovery and uncovering a previously unknown academic strength.

I cherish this memory. I don’t know what led him to his negative feelings about reading, but his new love of reading is an #eduwin! Earning this learner’s trust is something that I carry with me. This is why we teach.