What is life all about anyway?

Solidarity … one month later

updated March 14, 2018

IMG_2011.jpgWhen I originally sat down to write this, I thought I was going to write about what Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School means to me, but I can’t get through that without tears … because without Douglas High School, I wouldn’t have any of the most important people in my life —my friends, my husband, or my children. I wouldn’t have learned the true joy of being a coach, a mentor, and a teacher. MSD was the first place where I felt I belonged. I would be someone completely different if not for my 11 and a half years at Douglas, and I happen to really like the person I have become.

IMG_1873.jpgI spent more than a quarter of my life at Stoneman Douglas, and the last of those years were in room 1231. It’s been nearly six years since I could claim to be an Eagle. However, as my colleagues and my former students and cheerleaders have reminded me over these last 28 days, once an Eagle, always an Eagle. So, today I am an Eagle, with my heart pumping burgundy, black and silver.

IMG_1916.jpgThere has been no moment more surreal than sitting next to a former student, MSD class of ‘04, at the BB&T Center for the Town Hall hearing everyone chant MSD. As the former cheerleading coach, I had only the fondest memories of hearing those three letters chanted en masse, but then, there we were, chanting for some other reason … How did this happen?

I was an English teacher at MSD, and I am a writer in my spare time. Basically, I love words, and I try to get other people to love them, too. Solidarity, for instance. What a wonderful word, what a beautiful concept for us today.

IMG_1996.jpgBut what does it mean to stand in solidarity with MSD?

I hear that this issue is too political, too partisan, and too polarizing. This is curious of course. What, exactly, are the two sides of this issue?

On second thought, I’m not even going to entertain that question because there are not two sides of this issue. There’s just one side: keep children safe. At all costs, keep children safe.

There are these other words that I’ve noticed recently. They are malignant words and phrases that we have allowed into our discourse about education. Yet they have no business mixing in with students and their learning. They are phrases like: Code red. Lock down. Bad guys. Active shooters. Blood shed. And mass shootings. They are words like PTSD. Victims. And massacre. Are we in a war zone?IMG_1885.jpg

Children and guns should never occupy the same space and schools should be safe havens –each classroom should be a different sort of sanctuary, colored by the personalities of the educators and students within them. School may not always be fun, and it may often be difficult. There should be struggles and failures and successes and all the regular ups and downs of growing up. School should never be violent. Those struggles should not include burying peers and patching bullet holes.

Inaction and silence are no longer options. We must find a way to transcend the politics, partisanship, and polarization of America. We must find a way to stop turning everything into a contest between winners and losers –at least, no ESPECIALLY, when it comes to our children.

I’m going to forget those other words that speak to the divisions in our country. I’d simply rather be positive, passionate, and proud. I’d rather be an Eagle.

There is a saying that our children don’t inherit the world from their parents but that parents borrow the world from their children. I’m sorry to say –and this isn’t news to you– we’ve made a mess. We allowed the status quo to continue, and we didn’t hold our lawmakers accountable. We didn’t demand the answers that the students from Douglas have so masterfully done. We have failed, and we’ve done so with devastating consequences.

The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas is only one of many –how can this be true? Still, I ask myself, how can it be true that I am saying the words Stoneman Douglas in this context? It is a punch to the gut. Every. Single. Time.

Yet, I am one of the adults who made just a few phone calls and sent just a few emails after all the other mass shootings. It had to hit me this close for me take up the charge.

In my first draft of this, I shrunk away from the problem and slipped around it. I posted it, but it felt insufficient. So now, despite my own apprehension, I am going to say what I feel needs to be said.

We cannot delude ourselves into believing that the extremists who hold our legislators hostage have the Founding Fathers’ intentions at heart. Not a chance. The extremists’ attachment has nothing to do with amendments and constitutional rights because, before the Constitution told us to secure blessings and promote the general welfare, the Declaration of Independence told us that we have inalienable rights –life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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No. The extremists aren’t worshiping the second amendment as they proclaim. That’s just a cover. It’s camouflage to hide a darker and nefarious commitment to profits and bottom lines. It really is that simple when you boil away the proselytizing.

Apparently, they haven’t yet made enough money selling handguns and hunting rifles. Apparently, those profit margins aren’t high enough. Apparently, they haven’t made enough money equipping our police and military.

No. They need more, so they pretend to care about constitutional rights and terrify their followers into thinking that “someone” is going to take their guns. And they keep the fear going by saying that we’ll need those weapons to protect us from the possibility of tyranny.

What irony. That tyranny is here, but it’s the NRA who are the tyrants. These obvious extremists are the tyrants from whom we and our children need protection. The gun lobbyists meet every definition of tyrant. They extort our legislators with the threat of withholding funds.

What can be done to help our legislators break free from their dependence on these tyrants? Certainly, some of the legislators must be voted out of office if they refuse to recognize the toxicity of the tyrannical NRA. But there must be others who crave independence and who crave to crawl out from under the darkness of those extremists so that they can see lighter and brighter days. So, now, I’d like to imagine better: that we’ve already excised the NRA’s influence and outshined their power. After all, their time is up.

You, the students, our children, our future, the almost-adults and young adults, are stepping up in ways that the adults of my generation and my parents’ generation have failed to do. And, it’s not going to be easy.

Sensible gun control is possible. Safer schools are possible: they are an inalienable right. People may not always agree on the best ways to make schools safer; in fact, there are many things we can do in addition to sensible gun control. We can work to improve the quality of and access to mental health care. We can demand more funding for our public schools? After all, an investment in our public schools is an investment in our own future.

But there are so many of us who are ready to follow your lead, bolster your efforts, and support you as you take this on because YOU can make a difference. It’s not too late. You aren’t entrenched. You are beholden to no one, and the key is to make sure that you stay that way –independent from this gridlocked mess that answers to the bottom line instead of beating hearts of our youth.

We must listen to opposing points of view with the intention of finding the common ground, and there is common ground — there is a purple space where the red and the blue mix together. It’s a beautiful shade of purple. Find it. It exists where parents, like me, imagine the unfathomable. It exists where husbands and wives imagine loss. It exists when we force ourselves to confront the possibilities of inaction.

This means that you must not fall into the patterns of the past — our patterns. The winners and losers. The fear mongering and hate.

Use your education and truly show up to every conversation as an informed citizen with an open mind. Stay calm. It’s hard, and I’m asking you to do something I rarely have the strength to do myself.

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And be prepared because you’ll make headway. Sometimes in small moments and sometimes in big ways. So, when you find someone who can agree with the basic premise that all children deserve to learn in a safe space that is free from violence, ask that person to do something to help make it happen. Be ready to tell them what they can do. Not everyone is ready to pick up a sign and become an activist, and that’s okay, but they might write an email. They might register to vote. They might sign a petition. They might donate to a good cause. Every contribution, regardless of size, matters.

And you all matter so much.

Be positive. Be passionate. Be proud.

Go Eagles!

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journey in publishing, Writing

WIP. Work in Progress.

In my last blog post, I promised (threatened?) to share the story as I attempt to publish the manuscript I’ve been working on.

Back in early May, I sent what I thought was the completed manuscript to a freelance editor, who has intimidating credentials.  Right off the bat, she told me that she didn’t love third person for my audience. Gulp. How can she know this after only three chapters? I thought.

A few weeks later, she wrote to tell me that everything was going really well. Just that one line. Ugh. What does “really well” even mean?

Then, on Monday of last week, I received her editorial letter: a global edit of my novel; 18 single-spaced pages of questions, critiques, and areas needing improvement. I put that thing away for a full 24 hours. I needed to mature really quickly before taking it all in.

The next day, I still wasn’t ready. Kept away from it for another 24 hours.

Finally, I called her, and we talked through it for a while; the whole time, in the back of my mind, I struggled with the real question: is it good enough to keep going? I never asked her that question, though. I hedged around the edges: is the voice strong enough? what are your thoughts if I tried first person? what did you think of this character? And so on, and on, and on.

I hung up the phone and can’t say that I felt any better or worse for the conversation — and I found a quote — I like quotes — to summarize my thoughts on the matter (see pic).

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I spoke with a dear friend (and fantastic beta reader). I thought about it a lot, and a new question started bouncing around in my head: Can I rewrite 400 pages?

Not should — can? And the answer is obviously yes.

So a week ago today, after I drove through the afternoon showers that are so typical of Florida summers, I arrived in Orlando for my first ever SCBWI conference, unpacked my stuff, and started rewriting my novel in first person present tense. My editor was right. I started to love the manuscript a little more.

The next day, I attended a day-long novel comprehensive and received some excellent feedback on that very first page that I had hammered out a few hours earlier. If there was a health meter (I’m imagining myself in some weird nerd writing fantasy video game), I would have earned another heart.

The day after that, I attended a day-long young adult session and rediscovered a forgotten thread of my novel: the talisman that had been such a critical symbol in my very first draft had faded away after too many revisions (thank you Lexa Hillyer for that reminder). Another heart in the meter.

My health meter is fully charged now. I’ve written four more chapters, I’ve raised the stakes at every step of the way, my characters have more depth, I know my novel’s logline (thank you Bruce Hale for that exercise!), and I think I finally get it.

It?

That it doesn’t matter if I should write or rewrite or cut or add or … or … or. All that matters is whether I want to. That’s why I’m writing, because I want to. And that’s  why readers read, because they want to.

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Another valuable lesson from the last few weeks? Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary sport. I always imagined myself as having these unique experiences — the heart wrenching debate over what tense and point-of-view, over how much physical description it too much; in fact, it’s a heart-wrenching debate over every conceivable detail, every word is a decision. That’s exhausting, but going to the SCBWI Conference and being in a room of people who can commiserate on these “problems” so unique to writers (#writerproblems?) was affirming. Writing is not a solitary sport.

So, the journey continues …  and the manuscript status is updated to WIP. Work in Progress.

 

 

journey in publishing, Writing

The Journey Begins

That title is a lie.

The journey began a long, long time ago when I was a weird little girl who stayed up late to write stories while hiding under the covers of my bed. I wrote stories in my head even when I wasn’t able to write stories on the paper. I wrote by the light of a brass flashlight (circa WW2) that my grandfather had used to signal Morse code to other ships, which meant that I had to hold the button to keep the light on. My thumb would throb from pressing that tiny button as one long dash, but those stories kept me from sleep.

Then, I took a long, long break from writing when I was trying not to be a weird young woman. I’ve never been content without creating, though.

I’ve returned to myself. Now, I’m old enough to realize that it doesn’t matter if I’m weird and wise enough to realize that Dr. Seuss was right all along: those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter. The time will pass anyway, I thought. So, some years ago, I participated inNaNoWriMo, and I “won.” (If you aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, check it out.)

IMG_4649.JPGSeveral years have passed since I decided to put on my big girl pants. I’ve written over half a million words, and I’m sure half of those are going to be scrapped and half of what remain are going to be rearranged until my fingerprints have been worn off from tapping the keyboard. Somewhere, buried in those half a million words, are three novels and some interesting, authenticcharacters that I would have loved to meet in my high school English classroom.

Now, I have a manuscript that I am going to try to publish. That’s the journey that begins here. Not the writing — no, that’s been happening for my whole life. Isn’t that the truth for all writers? Everything we see, hear, feel, taste, touch — everything we LIVE — becomes the letters of our stories.

Am I brave enough to share the saga of trying to get this, or any, manuscript published? Perhaps. We’ll see. If you come back, you’ll see.

ed tech in practice, Lifelong Learning

Thoughts on Implementing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: Lessons Learned

Storytelling has “stickiness” to it that will help students learn, but implementing a digital storytelling project can be a daunting task. For more about my experiences creating a digital story, please read here. In creating my own digital story several years ago and then including similar (albeit less involved) projects with my students, I have learned the following lessons:

  • It is easy to underestimate the length of the final video. I estimated that my video would be three and a half minutes long, but, without adding anything to the original pre-production plan, the video is seven minutes.
  • The nitty-gritty details in producing a digital story can consume a lot of time. I will strictly limit the number of elements (transitions, titles, stills, music, sound effects, etc.) that students are permitted to include.
  • Production could easily overshadow story. Although I am confident that production highlighted the quality of my story, I can see how my students might get lost in producing and forget that the story is the central objective in digital storytelling.  Therefore, through limiting elements and focusing on the story core, I will endeavor to keep the story as the central focus.
  • Advance access to an excellent rubric is vital. As long as the rubric reflects the learning objectives, students should be able to focus on the most important aspects and not get lost in the details.

To view my video, visit either link below:

ed tech in practice, reading responses & reviews

Response to ‘Conversations at a Crucial Moment’

I chose an article from one of the National Council for Teachers of English journals, College English, titled “Conversations at a Crucial Moment: Hybrid Courses and the Future of Writing Programs.” For the first few pages the author, Catherine Gouge, builds support for her argument that college writing instructors need to begin considering how to blend their composition courses.

Throughout the article, Gouge refers to hybrid courses rather than blended courses, but her definition of hybrid courses is congruous with blended learning (Gouge, 2009, p. 340-341). She quotes Todd Taylor’s list of ten principles for incorporating instructional technology that I believe are worth sharing here:

  1. Keep people first.
  2. Identify and build from program principles.
  3. Start simple.
  4. Invest heavily in hands-on instructor training.
  5. Revise strategies for instructing students.
  6. Consult with others.
  7. Expect the crash.
  8. Consider access.
  9. Be critical of technology.
  10. Use technology as a lever for positive change.

(as cited in Gouge, 2009, p. 343-344)

Gouge goes on to outline the advantages and disadvantages of hybridity. She notes the usual: flexibility, increased student interactivity, increased student accountability, financial benefits, development of marketable real-world skills, etc.  Notably, two of her listed advantages were new to me: first, she points out that the asynchronous communications among students and faculty “transforms learning from a one-time event to an ongoing process;” second, she uses anecdotal evidence to indicate that the challenge of a text-intensive hybrid course serves as a mini-composition course itself.

In her section on the disadvantages, Gouge points out that “the voices that are most noticeably absent in the existing literature on hybrid pedagogy are those that are critical” (p. 347). She lists the usual culprits of resistance to technology and lack of training and access.

Gouge moves on to discuss specific programs and focuses on ICON (Texas Tech University’s Interactive Composition Online Program). The ICON system is simply fascinating. This hybrid system involves multiple document assessors to grade papers anonymously. Through a complicated course management system, the program is able to allow an essay to be scored with comments anonymously and independently two times (or three, if necessary based on score differences).  She lists many criticisms of the ICON program.

In her concluding remarks, Gouge returns to a more general discussion of hybrid courses. She asserts that “the most important principle to keep in mind in approaching any programmatic design process, especially a hybrid one is that no teaching medium is a guarantee of student learning” (p. 357).  School-wide success with such programs requires support and training for the entire institution – students, teachers, and administration.

The most powerful “take-away” I had from this article came in the conclusion: “students need to understand as clearly as possible what to expect from the course and why the course is structured the way that it is” (p. 358). In other words, students need to know why some portions of class are saved for face-to-face while other portions of class are online. As obvious as this statement may be, I believe this is a significant question to keep in the forefront of one’s mind when making instruction choices regarding a blended classroom.

Much like this discussion post I have written, Gouge’s article took a lot of words to say, well, not very much. So, what was the main idea? Blended learning, like any other instructional strategy, has advantages, disadvantages, requires teacher training, and must be incorporated in an effective and meaningful way in order to maximize student learning. I was hoping that the article would be a bit more “how to” rather than analytical and anecdotal.

Work Cited

Gouge, C. (2009). Conversations at a crucial moment: Hybrid courses and the future of writing programs. College English, (71)4. Retreived from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CE/0714-march09/CE0714Conversation.pdf