Monday, August 31, 2015


Today is the last day.  

I have blogged, every single day, since September 1, 2014.  Today is Day 365.

The primary focus was intended to be my life as a Teacher of the Gifted (Not the Gifted Teacher), and I have attempted to stay at least loosely tied to education in each and every entry.   I've bonded with a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that extends far beyond Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, have joined Twitter, participated in a Twitter Chat.  Last week, I co-moderated a Twitter Chat at the invitation of the moderators, who I now count as colleagues, even though we've never met face to face, or heard each others' voices.

What I have learned about myself has been amazing.  What I have learned about my profession is profound.  What I have discovered about the abilities of my students -- when I DAILY paused to reflect on my classes at the end of each day - resulted in what can only be described as the best year, ever.

I've been teaching at Donegal for 17 years.  I dreamed about teaching, starting at about age 4.   When I do career surveys with my Information Literacy students, the survey bot always recommends teaching high school or college in the top two.  I know I am doing what I was created to do, because I really do love every single minute with my learners.

But, the Best Year Ever?  Yes.

Spending every single day writing something positive about my job (I hate that word...)  daily adventures, has created a mindset -- (dare I say a GROWTH MINDSET?) that frames every single day in positivity. Had I journaled in a notebook each night, I would have been inclined to list frustrations, vent anger, and create a record of hostility and arduous days that should be forgotten, instead of immortalized.  Have there been days where I've been reduced to tears in frustration?  Absolutely.  Have I felt worthless?  You betcha.  Overwhelmed?  More times than I can count.

Fortunately for me, I didn't count them, so I don't know.

What I do know is that I am a happier person for having typed this journey.  As far as counting, as of this afternoon, 37,245 views have hit this blog.  I don't write for an audience, most of the time.  I write for myself.  The blog has started some interesting discussions, has connected me in conversations with family members that I barely knew a year ago, has encouraged at least four of my friends to start blogs of their own, and has served as a portfolio of achievements for the 2014-15 school year -- all bonuses that I hadn't considered in the beginning as well.

The folks at Te@chthought brought this challenge to social media, and continue to do great things in their encouragement of metacognition in the classroom.  Edutopia and Mind/shift are now regular reads of mine, all serving to motivate and inspire me.   Inspiration is key to success, right?

Charles Young did a 365 project that I view as phenomenal.   I don't know what the inspiration was behind his decision to create 365 paper structures in his city, yet it is evident to me that he did so with precision, care, and presumably, a lot of reflection.  (Check out the pictures, this is only a small representation of his total project!)

My husband has challenged people in his congregation to try something new.  (He took up knitting, just to prove he was a risk-taker, and asked others to do something equally whacky.)   

Perhaps it's a Heydt thing that causes me to ask you "What sense of  personal accomplishment is out there, waiting for you to discover? "

Because you're doing yourself, and potentially someone else, a huge disservice for not taking the plunge.  Take a stand, make a commitment, and do something for 30 days.  (And then add 11 months....).  I predict you'll be surprised by the results. 

For today is the last day of the first year of blogging. 

And tomorrow is the first day of year number two. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saving Big Bucks on Books.

Recently, Kristin and I took my grandson, Carter, to see the Minions movie.  We headed to Regal Cinemas, with the wonderful recliners for seats, and I chose to pay $7.99 for a bucket of popcorn larger than those sold at KFC.  It was only 80 cents more than the paper bag full of popcorn.  And it was refillable.  (Ha!  WHO eats that much popcorn?  I'd love to know how many people go back for more.)

My logic for this purchase was motivated by the fact that I knew we were going to be sitting in reclining seats, and that a four year old, (okay, and his 54 year old Beanie and Aunt Kristin), are likely to easily knock over a light paper bag, while the bucket will sit flat.

Yes, I chose to spend a full eighty cents on popcorn insurance, assuring that there would be no tears, or loss of story line, while watching the movie.

Movie popcorn aside, I'm not a big fan of overspending for things with huge profit margins.  Case in point, college textbooks. Kristin is now a senior in college, and after 11 1/2 semesters between she and her two brothers, we've done some serious experimenting on how to save on textbook purchasing, saving literally thousands of dollars over the twelve college years.  It takes a bit of time, but it's worth the bonding experience.  Last year, after a particularly wonderful evening of saving nearly $600 between the bookstore price and our actual out of pocket, we wrote this tutorial, and shared it on Facebook.   Using this formula, this year's total out of pocket for the semester was less than $150 for all textbooks, including shipping!  Given that a number of former students are followers of this blog, and not friends with me on Facebook, I thought I'd offer a second edition.  (Get the textbook reference?  I crack me up.)

The statistics are staggering.

Most colleges have their bookstores online, and many have already linked the required textbooks for your student's classes directly to that site.  If this is the case, start there.  Sometimes the college bookstore IS the cheapest place.  But not all the time.  Once you have the list of books you need, take care to note the edition needed.  Make sure that you are searching for, and buying, an edition that will work for the professor teaching the class. 

Gather the ISBN from each book.  It is located on the title page of the book, on the back of the book at the barcode, or on the bookstore or other site (like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.)

We usually use two computers.  One signed in to the university bookstore with the list of books and the baseline of the college bookstore, and the other with several tabs open.  It's not entirely necessary, but if you have them in the house, use them.

TAB #1:  google
TAB #2: Amazon
TAB #3: this year it was that was most successful.  We've also had success with thrift  Some will pop up as affiliates of Amazon.

1.  Locate title and ISBN.
2.  Type ISBN into google, and hit SHOPPING tab.  You should get a list of available copies of the book.  Make sure you are not clicking on an ADVERTISEMENT at the top of the google page.
3.  Copy and paste the ISBN into Amazon and compare prices there as well.  We almost always buy used books, and often the ones that are only listed as "good".

4.  Pay close attention to shipping costs.  If you're a PRIME member at Amazon, you've already got an advantage.  Many of the independent sites offer free shipping.  That's fine if it is 3 weeks before classes start -- not so fine when it is 3 days, because most shippers use media mail which can take up to 10 days.  (And more, if it is coming from overseas!  So watch the location of the book before you buy!)

5.  Identify some similar sellers for some books.  For me, it was worth it to spend a couple of dollars more for a book, knowing that there were more than one coming in a package from a closer location.  (Shipping from MD vs OR, for example).

6.  If you are not already signed up for, DO THAT!  (And use me as a reference, so I get the cash!)  Bookbytes, some Amazon transactions, and many other online purchases will get you CASH BACK.  This morning, I was able to get 3.5% back from Bookbytes on top of the 1% I get from using my Discover card.  On Amazon, part of my order supported the Donegal Foundation, as I've elected to donate a percentage of sales there through their "Smiles" program that supports non-profit organizations.

It's worth noting that sometimes there is a CD that comes with the book -- so make sure that it is included before purchase.  Also be wary of European editions -- although that only happened to us once, and it turned out not to be a problem.

Consideration should also be given for the cost of shipping.  Sometimes it's worth paying a couple of dollars more from one vendor, if they cut the shipping charges on multiple books. 
We've never rented textbooks or ebooks, although some of my former students have.

When I first posted this on Facebook a year ago,  some former students had some great advice, so I'm adding that here:

Chloe:  I would also recommend that when you purchase a textbook to not be afraid of older editions. This is advice that depends on the subject and professor, but almost every semester there has been at least one book that I purchased which has been an older edition. I have never ran into any problems apart from a few page numbers being off, but that is easy to get around just by checking what the syllabus says you should be reading about. Usually social science and history textbooks fit well into this category. This might not work as well for a math class where you need to do specific problems or examples. If you need to read an area of a specific textbook that isn't in an old edition, try going to the library as many colleges keep a copy of each textbook that is being used.

Remember Ebooks! They are not always cheaper but at times they have been for me. I have saved at least $50 through the purchase of Ebooks over physical copies. I would recommend this mainly for books which are intended to be read from cover to cover, such as an English book. I do not recommend Ebooks for textbooks that have a lot of graphs or pictures unless you have a device that can easily handle the images in a large enough screen.

Also remember to use other people and see if they are willing to sell or let you borrow their old textbooks. This works especially well for core requirement classes and ends up saving many people money as you can exchange and borrow books.

Lastly, look into CLEP exams at your college and see if there are any subjects that would fill core requirements. In May I taught myself Micro and Macroeconomics and my college accepted my CLEP scores. I had had no prior instruction in either of the subjects, but I got college credit for taking one exam! I saved over $1600 (what it would have cost to pay the overload fees for taking more than 5 classes and the cost of the textbooks) as well as my sanity. Not all colleges accept CLEP exams so check with the registrar's office or your adviser to see if the college does. They can save you time, money, and possibly help you graduate faster if you can get a couple of credits worth of general education classes done. The exams are essentially AP Exams without a written component.

Shannon:   I used as a starting point, usually. You search for the ISBNs, and it brings up that book on a bunch of major sellers (Amazon, Chegg, etc) so you can compare prices! Also helpful if you want to eventually sell the books. It can compare selling prices too!

Lucy:  Also when selling books back wait until textbook buying season starts. Then use comparisons of the various trade-back programs. Prices can vary up to 10 dollars on one site in a day and over 30 dollars across all sites. I have seen a book go from 50 dollars to 100 to 70 in the course of a month. NEVER sell books back at the end of the semester, that is when the worst prices are offered.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kindred Spirits.

Kindred Spirits.  Yes, that is who teaches in the classrooms in my school.  We've made it through the first three days, aka the first week, and have wandered in and out of each others' classrooms, noticing structure, behavior plans, classroom goals, organization techniques, and room arrangements.  

We all know that creating a streamlined, attractive, and well-communicated learning environment for our students makes the rest of the job so much easier.  

Last year, I touted the wonderful influence of the characters at A Lunch.  This year, the dynamic group has been split up -- with some of us actually assigned to cafeteria during the coveted A Lunch slot. It's not bad, it's just different.  And those of us who no longer eat together realize that lunch is not the only time to connect with colleagues, once you realize who is in the building before or after school - for that is when the unhurried collaboration takes place.

The green chairs, aka the INNER CIRCLE,  have unwittingly called to other teachers as they've walked down the English wing hallway, the neon green beckoning them to enter.  I think the green is bright and cheery, and am confident that my quest to get 26 matching chairs by visiting 11 CVS stores in 2 counties has been worth every minute of my time.  The green chairs are my current research project -- and my colleagues are individually trying "something new" in their rooms as well.  For some, it's new technology, for others it's encouraging inquiry, and still others are working to improve executive function and communication skills of students. 

We can't all try everything at once.  We get that.  The cool thing is that we respect and communicate with each other, sharing success stories, and offering encouragement through our enthusiasm.  I know that I fail, miserably, at the whole classroom structure thing.  I can barely keep my own desk clean, let alone track the belongings left behind by the dwellers in my room.  

So right now, I am queen of the chairs. I can talk about their value, and their success.  Down the hall is the most amazing Mindmap of the Odyssey, created by a few English teachers one afternoon, because of the sheer love of the story, and the desire to draw students in with a visual representation of the journey.  Upstairs, the science department works to create an environment/lab similar to the real world organizational structure of labs inhabited by professional researchers.  

If we all taught the same, it would be a boring place, and there would be little to discuss at lunch.  Instead, the Spirits call, silently, to connect colleagues at the exact moment they need connecting, offering the perfect tip or strategy to improve a struggling situation.

It's all about listening for the whisper.

Friday, August 28, 2015


It's official!  We have the first week of school under our belts, and will have two weeks completed prior to Labor Day.  Granted, students were only with us for three of the five days, but the names are starting to match up with the faces, and the personalities are beginning to shine.

Given that I teach half-credit courses, I only see each class every OTHER day, so three classes have seen me twice, and two have seen me once.  We've had a day of learning to relax, focus, breathe, and focus a bit on thinking, and most of the classes have already worked as individuals or in small groups to practice their Analyzing Relationships skills, while creating something for me woefully bare walls.

For the Themes in Lit. folks, the first round of shared SCAMPER characters were presented.  A simple assignment -- identify a character owned by Disney, and work with two other people, and their characters to:

Put to other uses

and create a new character.  This assignment gives me a chance to watch kids get to know each other, readily identify the leaders, perfectionists, "I don't think I'm creative"s , and other personality traits and styles.  It's a BREATHE lesson, with a lot of thinking, laughter, and a first attempt to get back into the groove of creative thought and exploration.

So here are the candidates:

It was awesome to watch the process, and even more amazing to see high school students discover that they felt confident drawing -- especially since the assignment was about the PROCESS, not the perfection of the product. 

Next week, I get to do it two more times with the two other classes.

Meanwhile, the White Books already have entries in them, and the metacognition journey has begun.  Welcome to the 2015-16 school year.

(Oh, by the way, did you know that most of the kids in my freshman class were born BEFORE 9/11?  Talk about time-flying reality checks...)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Zen. Just Zen.

Two spectacular days.  I saw my principal in the cafeteria, while working lunch duty, and he asked me how my day was.  He seemed a bit taken aback by my enthusiasm.  Usually at this point in the year, two days in, teachers are tight-lipped, with cautious optimism.  The secret to my happiness this year?

My PLN Zen.

After two consecutive days, I have met all of my assigned students in all five class sections.  My greatest challenge will be to remember which discussions took place in which class, so that I am not redundant when leading Socratic discussions.  This is an interesting time of year, as I get to see class members come together and gel as a group.

Period 2, led by White Book Lover, Taylor, BEGGED for the issuance of the magical books before I had planned to distribute them.  Can you see the Zen on Taylor's face?  It does a teacher's heart good to see such love for metacognition. 

Bare Books (aka the White Books) give exactly what we all hope for:  infinite possibilities for the school year.  Given that this is my second year using these amazing tools for learning, it was especially fuzzy-wuzzy to have the book lovers in my room introducing the newbie members to the class to the white books, without me having to convince anyone of their value or importance.

My PLN (Professional Learning Network) ,that has expanded exponentially in the last year, has led me to challenge my reservations and structure -- and all for the good.  Green chairs, "standing" tables, a stash of lap blankets in the closet, and the magical white books, all create a less than traditional classroom that welcomes learners and encourages learning, with an emphasis on the individual learners reflecting each and every day on their metacognitive process.

I'm in my happy place, in Room C108.  It's not to say that there aren't bumps in the road, or times of frustration, or times when, well, there just isn't enough time.  For some people, buns in the chair and feet in the sand is the perfect happy place.

Who would have imagined that mine is a neon green camp chair in a circle of high schoolers, talking about thinking, after a summer of thinking about thinking?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lessons From First Day Freshmen.

I'm 54.  That's not a secret.  (And if you didn't already know it, you could easily find the information on the internet.)  Today the freshmen came to school.  (Along with the sophomores, juniors, and seniors.)  They experienced their first high school assembly, and were bombarded with rules and regulations for this new phase of life.  Textbooks, syllabi, and other tools were distributed, filling the backpacks to the weight limit.

As promised, I tried something different this year.  None of my students has a syllabus yet.  They may not really have an idea what Information Literacy or Themes in Literature is all about.  Because today was about acclimation and finding a groove.  The green chairs created the newly-named "Inner Circle," where everybody could breathe a bit, get to know each other, and become a community.  The original intent for the Inner Circle was to encourage communication and Socratic discussion in the Themes in Literature classes, but my schedule has a grand total of four minutes for me to transition from the Gifted and Talented Themes in Lit group to the academic Information Literacy class filled with 9th graders.

So after taking attendance, and doing the Activating Strategy SNOWBALL FIGHT with the "Two Truths and a Lie" paper, I invited the 9th graders into the Inner Circle to try to use their innate Information Literacy skills to decode the information shared by their classmates.  It was one of those days when the Activating Strategy BECAME the lesson, because the connections were so powerful, and the mojo of the class was all in sync.

At the end of class, kids were invited to write a one sentence note, telling me anything that they thought I should know about them on a 3 x 5 card.  I didn't read the cards until the end of the day, and I'm glad that I waited.  Amid the ever-expected, "I hate school,"  "Basketball is life," and "I don't like reading," where some surprises.

 I marched this one down to the Performing Arts director, and she made a note to reach out to her to try out for the play.  (The student is new to the school!)

I can't guarantee that I won't EVER call on her, but I now know who I shouldn't push too hard publicly...

YAY!  Someone who might want an acceleration or enrichment challenge!!

This class is amazing.  I like reading, too!

And then I found this:

You bet.  We're going to get you through this school year.  And yes, I will check on you.  In fact, you may be getting a laminated pass to Tribe Time.

The last card in the pile....

I promise I won't.

I know I've taken more homework home today than the class did, and that's okay.  They had a lot to teach me today, and I have a lot to learn.

Even if I am 54.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Shock and Awe.

According to Wikipedia:  "Shock and awe (technically known as rapid dominance)

is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight."

 Shock and awe also applies to the feeling that first-time parents of high school students feel during freshman orientation, which happened today.  (It also applies to teachers, like me, seemingly going about their own business on this day-bef0re-school-starts, when suddenly discovering incoming freshmen of particular favor in the hallway outside her classroom...)

Yes, indeed.  Tomorrow is day #1 for students.  Despite tomorrow's status as my 17th Day #1, it's all new all over again.  

Yesterday was the annual "Welcome Back Breakfast" hosted by the district, and followed by a day of meetings and training.  While greeting teachers at the door as they entered, I encountered a school board member, who handed me a ziploc bag containing frogs, snakes and lizards.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Seventeen years ago, I gave these critters to elementary gifted students, using them as motivation for good classroom behavior.  "Don't forsake your snake,"  "Don't forget your frog,"  "Don't lose your lizard."  They knew the drill, and it stuck.  So well that her daughter had kept these treasures, even leaving them behind when she was married this past May.  

 Tomorrow is as different as 1999.  Instead of being in five buildings, I am only in one.  This year will feature no midday drive to another school, no multiple ages and grades outside of the 9 - 12th graders at the high school.  There isn't a big demand for preservation of frogs, lizards or snakes among the high school population.

Today the Linkcrew did what they do best, welcoming almost 90% of the incoming freshmen in a wild morning of fun, team-building, and touring the "massive" facility that has intimidated them all summer, walking through their schedules and identifying where each and every class is located.  I vacated my room for about 2 hours, working in the copy room across the hall, while giggling, shrieking, and other tomfoolery emitted from my classroom.  

Yes, parents are in shock that they are the parental units of high school students.  Students are in awe, and now recognize that fighting the oncoming school year is futile.  I don't expect that frogs and lizards will play a huge part in my day tomorrow.  (Although turtles have caused a bit of a disruption on at least on occasion, but that is another story for another day.)

Tomorrow is Day #1.  There's no countdown, just alarm clocks to be set.

(And Morgan will probably have to leave her birthday hat at home.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Teaching Ignorance.

Ignorance.  Sure, I ignore a lot of things.  Dust on the table, numbers on the scale, the slow countdown on my dashboard to the inevitable gas tank refilling chore.   All of those things, along with all sorts of skills that I lack, (Knitting?  not my thing.  Running?  wish I understood the fascination...), are things left undone or sporadically attended to, as I choose to do something -- or anything -- else.

If you want to motivate me, consider some sort of competition or challenge.  I thrive on that.  Not enough to want to come in first in a marathon, you understand, but creating a sense of competition defines purpose for me to accomplish the goal.  Similar encouragement can be garnered by asking a question that has no answer, or asking for data that isn't readily available.   

I am motivated by the unanswerable.

This is why I spend so much time on Facebook -- I try to scroll on, ignoring the "You won't believe what happened when..." articles, only finding myself scrolling back to see if it is as unbelievable as they say it is.  (Most of the time it isn't.)  After all, I don't want to awaken in the middle of the night wondering what I missed.  Call it latent curiosity or uncertainty.  I've seen something that I can't unsee, and at some point it will rear its ugly head demanding an answer that is reasonable enough for me to dismiss the knowledge and get on with my life.

Curiosity killed the cat?  An odd expression.  Probably also why they are "given nine lives."  And there is no creature more curious than humans -- especially humans who are given the chance to know more than their teachers.  So what about using IGNORANCE as a strategy for instruction?  After all, there is a lot of knowledge to impart - probably more than we are capable of meaningfully teaching in the 900 hours a year kids spend in the classroom. 

Think about it:

"Answers don't merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones."

In an article in the New York Times today, Jamie Holmes makes the case for Teaching Ignorance.  Read it.  And then ask yourself how much time you spend thinking about something that HAS an answer that is generally accepted by society vs. that which has a sketchy answer, or now answer at all.  Because it truly is in the unknown that we learn.  Through questioning, through manipulating, confronting, analyzing, arguing, evaluating, and making sense of what we've discovered. 

Now I am left with a challenge - to teach ignorance - and a question.  What are the THEORIES of ignorance that need to be taught?

Certainly a Higher Order Thinking Skill (HOTS) that was omitted from my training today.  Lucky for me, I don't teach cats, I teach students.  Students who will be thinking, and questioning, for many years to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing in Pencil.

It's Sunday, and school starts for the teachers tomorrow.  (Never mind that we've been there, in clumps of three or four, or ten or twenty, pretty much all summer -- except for when the floors were being waxed and caution tape forced a real vacation...)  A week from tomorrow will be August 31st.

AKA, Day 365.

Yes, in eight days, I will have blogged every single day for an entire year.  Although I had two guest bloggers in that time, I wrote (and rewrote) introductions for both of them, so I still contributed.  (Mr. Drescher wrote about his lifetime of learning, and Cathy Cuff Coffman shared reminisces of her gifted program in the 70s.)  Both offered perspectives that I could not.  Certainly, we have similar experiences, or are able to relate to some of what each of them shared, which is what makes the whole idea of social media and its ability to connect the seemingly unconnectedness in all of us to elicit nods, tears, laughter, and other emotions.

A week from now I plan to tell you about how much this experience has taught me, and how it has changed my life.  But today, I find myself wondering whether there even IS such a thing as life after blogging, and "How Much is Too Much?"  Various entries in this blog have been read by someone more than 36,000 times over its life.  This boggles my mind, so I push that number, and its real, or imaginary, potential significance, to the back of my head, focusing, instead, on the future.

Because tomorrow is Day #1 (or #3 for those of us who took advantage of summer Schoology training in August), of 189 for the 2014-15 school year.  Right now, the book is blank, offering limitless possibilities.

Yes, I'm still feeling the zen.  And I'm writing in pencil.

Because ink makes things permanent, limiting possibilities, and causing mind-boggling frustration when the schedules change.  And just like those two days in the last year, where I relied on a little help from my friends, I know that teaching is a shared experience, that every day is a new day, and that my colleague-friends are right there with me, with infinite laughter and support.  And pencils.  Many, many pencils.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Lily Pads for Zen, or Twenty.

One goal for the year.

Stay ZEN.

Honestly, I don't know exactly what the world's definition of "zen" truly is, any more than I know whether the world's definition of "love" is the same as mine.  This summer has been the Summer of Zen.

I've done thing purposefully, I've done things with no intended purpose.  I've scheduled a week full of planned days, only to let each and every plan change, allowing something else to happen.  I've taken moments to sit with people I've never chatted with before, and dined with people I've only known prior to this summer of social media.  I've taken almost every day with a calmness that has allowed me to go back to school feeling refreshed and ready to challenge the juggling that awaits me.

I've seen the emails from administrators, I know there are schedules that must be followed.  A syllabus is expected in each class, along with an Essential Question, and Activating Strategy, and a Summarizing Event to tie everything up in a neat little bow, to be carried forth by the students as they leave my classroom.  There will be assemblies, class meetings, and rules to be reviewed.

But first, I will sit with my students, in chairs the color of that relaxing frog up at the top of this page.  And we'll find our zen in the first day of school from our lily pad chairs, as we plot and share dreams for the year.   

It's been a summer of magical thinking, and teachers shouldn't be the only ones in control.

So on Wednesday I will say, "We'll have 89 other days to do the learning, but Day #1 is about finding yourself, sharing who you are, and where you want to go."

Because this summer I learned that every good adventure begins with a road map -- even if you toss it aside along the journey.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Baby on Board

Today was the last day of summer vacation.  I had my last leisurely breakfast of the summer with one of my kiddos headed off to be a freshman at Williams this fall.  Michaela hasn't started the checklist of shopping for the new dorm room yet, trying to figure out what she TRULY needs, and confidently realizing that the room at school, while slightly larger than her room at home, will contain TWO bodies and their possessions.  Given that she's just returned from six weeks in Europe, she's pretty adept at living small.

Somewhere along the evolution pathway for education, back to school shopping became an event. (Perhaps, even a sport.)  Teachers start gathering 10 cent notebooks, ridiculously cheap gluesticks, and crayons and markers as early as mid-July.  Bed, Bath and Beyond (aka BBB) (which truly lives up to its name) has pre-printed LISTS  of all the purchases necessary for the perfect college experience.    These lists create a hype similar to that fostered by the greeting card industry on February 14th.  You're not sure why you have to buy, but feel that it's obligatory.  Parents of elementary kids are seeking the perfect lunchbox and backpack ensemble. 

"Why are the beds longer?" Michaela asked, as she scanned the list of recommended purchases sent to her from college.  Good question.  I believe it's all part of the BBB hype, forcing college kids to purchase new sheets, convincing them that the ones they already own are sub-standard.  It's the first conspiracy theory of college.  (Chances are pretty good that your sheets at home are "deep pocket" sheets, which will perfectly fit that longer mattress in college, which is probably the thickness of a panini.)

Yes, there are many minivans headed out this weekend.  Some are filled with mommas looking for a lunchbox for first graders, some are filled with families taking their freshmen babies -- and maybe even some of their hand-me-down furniture, to college, and still others are filled with teachers scrambling to make that room more than perfect for their new kiddos.  It's about making someplace new feel like home, and making a place for memories to be born, whether it be kindergarten or that very first dorm room or apartment.

It seems like just yesterday that those vans sported yellow window stickers bragging about the "Baby on Board."

It's still true.  The carseat and diaper bag may have been replaced by the furniture from the family room, a color tv, and the carpet from the guest room, with little room to see out the back window at all.  

Which is a good thing, because the only way to look at this point is straight ahead.  (That way they don't see the tears in your eyes.)

One more thing...

Earlier this week, I tossed the gauntlet (for a second time -- okay, maybe third or fourth), encouraging my friend, David, to work through the massive changes in the dynamics of his family as he sends his firstborn off to college.  Heck, Mere had already stepped up to the blogging challenge, why not David?  

And so, another blogging newbie was born.   Visit David at I'm still in Charge Here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Go ask Alice.

It's Thursday, and students are slated to walk through the door of my classroom next Wednesday.  That may sound like I have a whole week to get my act completely together, but anyone who teaches knows that my time suddenly becomes the "district's time" very soon, as I give up the hours of creative manipulation of time and space in my classroom, attempting to create an optimum learning environment.  

As I've been slowly moving into the reality of the 2015-16 school year, each day I seem to be a little more of a juggler.  You know, those guys/gals who toss balls, bowling pins, chain-saws, and the like, in the air, attempting to keep more things flying than in their hands?  They start with two things, slowly adding another, and another, until, well, soon, there is a whirling pattern spinning in front and above them.  Yes, I'm pretty sure that the number of things currently juggling through my head is similar in quantity to the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese.

Teachers are not the only ones who feel this kind of overwhelming pressure this time of year.  Parents are filling out the obligatory paperwork, and shopping at Staples, clicking their heels in anticipation of uninterrupted cups of coffee in a few short weeks.  They're also being shamed into creating perfectly wonderful, interactive, nutritious and well-balanced lunches, for fear of criticism by whomever seems to care or monitor those issues.  The Today Show billed this as "Everything your child will need to succeed," as they head back to school.

My dear friend, Leslie, responded on Facebook almost immediately after the airing of the Minion Sandwiches, questioning what is really important when it comes to the success of their children.  Today, she went a step further, with an Opinion piece in the local paper entitled "On Minion Madness:  Elaborate School Lunches and Mom-Shaming."

So what do our kids need to succeed?  Fancy bulletin boards, super technology, the perfect Activating Strategy?  Probably not.  The key to success for each and every student is AUNT ALICE.  (please read the link above to understand the reference!)

Much like Leslie's Aunt Alice, years ago, David Letterman coyly suggested that the government balance its budget by creating the "Department of Louise."  Headed by a housewife in rural Iowa, the DOL would be responsible for approving any and all expenditures.  "I'm calling from NASA, and would like to spend $12,000 on a screwdriver."  Clearly a NO response from Louise.  "$20,000 toilet seats?"  Not a chance.  Who would even consider asking Louise from Iowa to approve such nonsense.

So what do Alice and Louise have in common?  Common Core?  NO, NADA.

Common Sense.  The willingness and capability to see practical as logical, and children as children.

And guess what?  It applies to teachers as well.  We need to step out from behind the lectern and to stop attempting to juggle a ball-pit full of responsibilities.  We need to ignore the glitz and the glamour, and impress our students, first, with the compassion of Aunt Alice and the common sense of Louise.  Inquiry begins with teachers, inquiring about their students.

In 2013, Mind/Shift asked "Do you Have the Personality to be an Inquiry-Based Teacher?"

"When a teacher comes out from behind the lectern, leaves the front of the room, kneels beside a student to coach them through a problem, offers feedback designed to promote confidence and perseverance, and becomes a true partner in the learning process, the relationship between teacher and student automatically shifts. It’s no longer about telling; it’s about listening, observing, and creating the channel of trust that opens up a personal connection between two individuals."

Common sense + Human Empathy = Academic Success.

Even if the kids aren't "Advanced" on the standardized tests at the end of the year, they'll still be better prepared to carry forth in this world, having learned two of the best life lessons possible. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

With a little guidance.

The last time I woke up, it was 3:30 am.  This never happens in the summer, unless my subconscious (or maybe my unconscious) self is trying to resolve an issue.  Final schedules have been mailed, and it's becoming real.  Gifted kids struggle, when it comes to scheduling.  (And I hate that I am trying to qualify and classify them in one group!)  We do our best, in February, to choose a challenging and exciting series of courses for the following school year.  


Opinions change, passions change, plans to challenge a course are abandoned or added,  topics for competitions like National History Day are announced, and the seemingly-perfect schedule seems anything but perfect.  And so the emails are sent to teachers, case managers, and guidance counselors, requesting something else.  Something PERFECT.

This time of year, guidance counselors are the unsung heroes of happiness for so many students.  Creating or modifying a schedule is something very similar to that manipulative game called RUSH HOUR, where one thing shifts to make room for something else, while still trying to fill an entire schedule for the given year.  They listen, they twist and turn their computers into some sort of magical origami way, and hand a schedule across their desks that are the very best that they can be.

I love that my students are so caring and attentive to their schedules and their success.  What I love even more is the team of guidance counselors -- in my school and in many other schools, that go above and beyond to make dream schedules a reality for so many gifted learners.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rigorous and Relevant.

Several years ago, our then-superintendent seemed to use the word RIGOR in nearly every discussion about curriculum, planning, and pretty much anything related to teaching.  While there are many people who cringe at certain words -- MOIST, for example -- RIGOR is a word that generates something like nails on a chalkboard to me.  (It makes me think of dead bodies, or zombies, with rigor mortis setting in.)  Most of all, the word rigor seems to like to pair with the word WORKOUT, generating sweat -- or MOIST skin.  

So on this 93 degree day, after arranging and rearranging my classroom, meeting with the newbie teachers, and rethinking virtually everything that was a certainty in my world yesterday, I was greeted with an invitation to "Add Rigor to Anything."  If you are a teacher, you owe it to yourself, and your students, to consider Terry Heick's suggestions, as you ramp up your game for the fall.  

So what will make things rigorous?  The reality is that it won't be the same for everyone.  As much as I hate to admit it, rigor = academic engagement, and ultimately academic success.   Sure, that sounds like a line from a professional development slide.  (I may even use it in one sometime, if I can get the word RIGOR to come out of my mouth without feeling like I am choking...)  Learners will retain more information, transferring material into long-term memory for recall at a later time, maybe even connecting that information to some new knowledge to construct meaning.

Is it possible to allow students to define and choose their own path of challenge?  Sure.  If they understand divergent and convergent thinking, are willing to share and defend opinions, and use research from the experts to support their defenses.

But first, they have to stop being afraid to be "wrong", and have to learn not to stare at the classroom teacher waiting for a nod of approval to support their opinion.

Opinions matter.  Rigor, and rigorous and meaningful assessment can only happen if students are first willing to take risks, with their eyes focused on a purpose, instead of a grade.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hanging On.

 When I was a kid, one of my mom's friends commented about her son's great career aspiration.  Trash day was his favorite, as he found the perfect window seat to watch the garbage trucks come down the street, slowly dumping trashcan after trashcan into the back of the truck.  He was enthralled, and could barely take his eyes off the process.

"When I grow up, I want to be a GARBAGE MAN!"

His mother prodded for several months, hoping to sway this desire, until he finally explained his reasoning.

"If I am a garbage man when I grow up, I get to HANG ON THE BACK OF THE TRUCK and pretend I'm a FIREMAN!"

There's no arguing with that logic.  All the benefits of being a firefighter, with none of the heat, I guess.

Whatever you want to be... just be happy.

We've heard the phrase, "be whatever you want to be, just be happy."  Maybe it didn't come from your parents, but it certainly is familiar from a sappy sitcom or two, resonating with a wonderful learning-experience ending.  The world needs firefighters AND garbage men.  It's easy as a Teacher of the Gifted to admit that, and then suggest exactly which class in the high school should be tapped for recruiting interested volunteers.  (Clearly not THIS classroom, move along, move along.)

This morning I encountered "On What to Be", in the Huffington Post, which hit me squarely between the eyes as I was mapping out the career unit for Information Literacy.  It provided a lot of restructuring, as I've gone through my day today, considering the goals of this young author, and thinking back to the would-be firefighter/garbage man of my childhood.  Before you read the article, read this one quote:

"What I want out of life is to live simply, honestly, and humbly. My ambitions are to show my children that they are loved and to make the world around me a little better, a little more beautiful, and a little more peaceful. In my heart, I feel like this is a worthy way to spend my time in this world."

 WOW.  How could any parent argue with those ambitions?  How could any HUMAN argue with those ambitions?  A simple balance, where one works to live, instead of living to work.

BUT WAIT.  Does your perception change, if you knew that the very individual who wrote those wonderful ambitions is a GIFTED kid, with all kinds of potential?  And what do we "Teachers of the Gifted" owe to encourage our high ability students, who, by the way, may have the cure for cancer ready to spill out of their brains with just the right encouragement.  When, as teachers, is it okay for us to let an "underachieving student" underachieve?  

What do we owe our students, ourselves, and our society? 

 The author of the Huff Post piece, Kelly Quirino, goes on to say:

But there will always be a small piece of me that finds fault with my aversion to ambition—a little voice that tells me I am wasting what I have been given, that what I am is not enough. 

Do we have a right to steal happiness from the best and the brightest, for the ultimate betterment of society as a whole?  Please read the article.  And lose some sleep with me, on this one.

 These are the things that mull in my brain as I cut out letters, and staple bulletin boards together, preparing for the first day of school.  What do I really want for my students?  How should we define success?  And is it up to us, as teachers, to decide the answer to either of those questions.

The room isn't finished, there are many tasks to be completed.  I'll muse for another 8 days, and then I'll be too busy teaching to rethink, or burden myself with guilt. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

(for the second time)

There is some quote about inspiration and perspiration that makes sense.  Quite frankly, I just don't remember what it is.  My car thermometer reads 101 degrees, and I've just returned from the second shower in 8 days.  (And I'm not talking rubber ducks, here -- last week it was a bridal shower for our soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Bailey, and today it was a baby shower for our soon-to-be-born granddaughter.  Granted, her mother, Jennie, did most of the gift-opening, as Baby Heydt does not currently have much womb left in her current living quarters to store her swag.)  Both events were great fun -- especially collaborating with the moms of my daughters-in-law, to make special memories.

Somehow, I am an adult.  So much so, that my children are now adults as well.  Does it scare you to think that an adult doesn't always think she should be the trusted adult in a given situation, due to lack of experience?  

Yes.  Me, too.

So after cleaning up, and hauling home the leftovers from the aforementioned shower/tea party, (and ordering pizza), I logged on to Facebook to find news of another blog in the world.  I've spent a fair amount of time encouraging others to blog, mostly because of the extraordinary changes that happen to happiness levels while blogging -- which you will be able to read all about, come August 31st, 2015.  Meanwhile, let me share a conversation with a former colleague from last weekend:

I'm looking for inspiration. If I were to start a blog about teaching, college lessons, post-college life, being/trying to be an adult, and anything else I would want to write about, what should I name it?
I've been thinking of starting one for a while, but can't hone in on one good blog name.
Help me, inspiring friends.

Yes, that pretty, young, smart, student teacher from down the hall is all grown up.  Meredith is a hoot and a half, and I've enjoyed keeping in touch with her.  On top of that, she WANTS TO BLOG, and what seemed to be stopping her is a title.  

Susan Heydt Mere Ze Doats, and Other Musings.
Like · Reply · 1 · August 2 at 5:49pm

Heck, her screen name is Mere.  I thought it was cute.

Mere M. Sa I adore reading your blog and inspired me to also create my own! Moriah also thinks I should start one. Unfortunately, I have commitment issues and can't commit to one blog name tongue emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · August 2 at 5:52pm

Susan Heydt smile emoticon Feeling the love. Don't let the title hang you up. Heck, call it HANG UPS.
Like · Reply · 1 · August 2 at 5:55pm

Mere M. Sa You know...I really dig that. How are you so full of magic?

I'm not sure why Meredith considers me to be full of magic, but it must have rubbed her the right way because today she came out of the blogging closet, so to speak, and wrote her first blog entry.

And she calls the blog - HANGUPSBLOG.

Yes, I am about to be a grandmother (for the second time), and a mother - in - law (for the second time), and I am now, officially, a blog-inspirer.  I feel that things come in threes, and that there is at least ONE other friend out there for whom I can be labelled "blog-inspirer, so that I may add (for the second time) to my resume.

It's what we, as teachers do, every single day.  Inspire.  I've been on summer vacation, and need some help getting past the perspiration thing, and back in the INSPIRATION game.  I'd love it if there were more INSPIRATION than PERSPIRATION in my life right now -- even if there is a heatwave coming this week.

What's your hangup?  Go for it.  Oh, and let me know, and you can be mentioned as the blog-inspirer (for the second time) here tomorrow.  Meanwhile, go read Meredith's entry, and cheer her on!