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4 Ways to Thrive in the New Year


Without Hope we live in desire.
                                                                                                         ---Dante Aligheri

December is the darkest month of the year for me---literally, scientifically, and emotionally.  Whether it's the lack of sunlight, the solstice, or the yearning for loved ones that have passed, December always finds me reflective and melancholy. It's a time of looking back over the year, a time for taking stock of the living I've done.  

This particular December has felt particularly dark.  It is my first December, my first Christmas, without my mom. My mom was the queen of Christmas.  Memories of my childhood converge into grand collages of Christmas pageants, choir rehearsals, mom's soprano voice, cookies, fancy family dinners with her best china and cloth napkins.  And salt and pepper shakers. Who knew that decorative salt and pepper shakers in Target could bring a person to such tears that strangers would offer Kleenex and hugs in the housewares aisle?

Last year at this time, I was thinking and writing about finding balance in my teaching and personal life.  And then, the day before my birthday, January 24th, my bright and brilliant mom died.  I spent the rest of the year teetering on life's balance beam.  And here I am again, another December.  When I look back over this past year, there are four behaviors that I practiced that helped me survive, and yes, even thrive, during my grief and upset with the world at large.  

Grounding


When school, family, and life in general became overwhelming for me, I sought out experiences that I knew would ground me.  What I mean by grounding is this: The feeling one gets when they lose all track of time and space...the times when you are most yourself because you are engaged in something you love.

For me, that means I must move, and it must be outdoors.  I used to train for and run marathons because distance running "cleaned out the attic" of my mind.  I can't do those distances anymore.  But I walk.  And hike. And it must be on a trail in the woods somewhere.  I go to city parks, county parks, and state parks around me.

It also means that I might pick up my Native American flute or sit for hours at the piano.

In the spring or summer, it means that I have my hands and feet in dirt, digging and planting.

Whatever I choose, when I'm done, I can better handle what life is throwing at me.  I can breathe again.

This past year when I felt panicked or anxious, I went into the woods. It works.

Here are some popular grounding activities that many people use:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Hiking
  • Playing an instrument
  • Creating art
  • Crocheting/knitting
  • Playing with pets
  • Bread making
  • Gardening


Here & Now

A second strategy I tried was to focus on the here and now.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is extremely difficult for me.  I think I was born thinking about the future.  I have a mountain climber personality: I always focus on the summit ahead. In my year of grief and other scary "stuff," I learned to center my thoughts on the day...not the week, not the month, not the year, not the decade (yes, when I'm anxious, I go there).  Some days, I found myself self-soothing, "It's okay. Right now in this moment, you are fine. You have everything you need."  

Sound silly? I feel a little silly admitting it to you. But, it worked.  As a very anxious teacher who is greatly concerned about her contract, her job, her country, her family, her pets and friends, her own well-being (this is what my mind was doing on a regular basis), I needed to remember the present moment.  When I did this, I often found that it was pretty wonderful.

Gratitude

I practiced gratitude daily.  This past November, my sewer pipes had to be dug up and replaced with materials that tree roots would not destroy.  On my dime. Big money. And yet, I thought about what could've happened had this happened in the dead of winter in January or February when the ground is frozen solid.  It would've been a small catastrophe for me. Michigan's winter temperatures have been brutal over the last five years.  Gratitude. 

I sound like a self-help guru. A little. But in the past year, writing about my gratitude helped me be less of an Eeyore.  Remember Eeyore?  He is the beloved but depressed donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  I whined less.  I recognized the "good stuff" I have in my life.


Get-To's

This last behavior is my favorite, because it has had the most impact on me.  We all "have-to's" in our lives. I have to take out the garbage. I have to grade 30 writing prompts. But I noticed that when I replaced the words have to with get to, the task and my angst around it, changed.   I get to take out the garbage. I get to grade my students' writing prompts.  The change in language fosters a change in my mindset.  On particularly bad days or weeks, I planned some "get-to's" that helped me get through.  I would soothe myself with, "Just one more hour, and then you get to go home and walk Gracie. "   At those especially stressful times, I noticed that my get-to's were about self care.

Looking back over this past year, grief has taught me many lessons about myself, my values, and my beliefs. I would be lying if I said that I'm sad to see 2016 end.  I feel an intense relief that this year is coming to an end. My wish for you and yours is that you thrive, and that you find the tools to do so.  I've created a little "somethin'-somethin'" to help you in your new year.  It's free and for the taking.  Simply click the picture below.  

May your new year be prosperous, happy, and full of peace and love.  And if it isn't, my wish for you is that you grow beyond your wildest dreams. 




16

An Existential Tug-of-War: Making Thinking Visible with Tuck Everlasting



I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting-something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world...
                                                                                                           -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

In the midst of the fire-storm that is American politics, one of my heroes died.  Natalie Babbitt died on Halloween this year.  I can't remember the first time I read Tuck Everlasting, probably because I've read it about 20 times over the course of my teaching career.  But I knew from the first read, that this was one of "my books-" a part of my personal text set that defines my life as a reader, writer, teacher, and human being.  I knew, because when I had finished it, I felt so torn, so sad and dissatisfied. I wanted Winnie to choose differently, and yet I knew she had chosen wisely.  And in my heart and mind, I could imagine the Tucks still wandering: Angus, tired of living; Miles, searching for purpose; Jesse, looking out for more good times; Mae, putting one foot in front of the other with acceptance.  Here I am, about 20 years after first reading the book, and the Tucks are still wandering.  I reread it every year, whether or not I share it with my class.

It Had Been A While

I had planned to read a different mentor text with my students, when I read that she had died.  We've been talking about leadership, Civil Rights, and what it means to find a purpose in life. So after reading about her death, it felt right to honor one of my favorite authors in my classroom.  Rereading it with a new class, the first read in five years, felt like coming home.  

I began by reading The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever retold by Selina Hastings.  I love beginning my character study unit on Tuck Everlasting with this book.  It tells the folktale of a man who visits old men and crones to find the secret to living forever.  He loves his life so much, that he wants to prolong it. However, in doing so, he finds that he loses everything that made his life wonderful. At the close of the reading, I ask students to write about immortality, if they would choose it or not, and why.  This time was no different than any other time.  The majority of my students chose immortality.  Many cited that it would be fascinating to learn new things, see into the future, that they would be very wise because they would have so much knowledge of the past, too.  My thrill seekers stated that they'd have a great time going on risky adventures.



What made this novel study different this time around was my inclusion of Making Thinking Visible routines. After reading the first few chapters of Tuck Everlasting,  students re-examined their thoughts on immortality.  I asked them to take a stand. We used the Tug-Of-War routine.  Each student wrote his/her name on a post-it and placed it on our tug-of-war graph. 




Students divided into two discussion teams: Yes and no.  Each team discussed the reasons for their choices, writing them on speech bubbles. 




The teams presented their reasons to each other, and students were allowed to switch sides if the persuasive dialogue changed their thinking.  We practiced the "At first I thought...and now I think..." thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible to frame our changes in thinking.  There were students on both sides that changed their stances. We revisited our tug-of-war after each chapter.  We re-evaluated our stances and changed our post-its accordingly.  However, if a student moved her post-it, then she was required to explain why her thinking had changed.

The Reading Continues...

As we we made our way through the novel, we explored the varying viewpoints of Jesse, Miles, Tuck, and Mae about immortality.  It was my first time implementing  the Viewpoints Thinking Routine with this novel.  As each character came forward to talk with Winnie about immortality, we charted their feelings about immortality on a graphic organizer. This enabled us to compare and contrast the characters' points of view.

When we got to chapter 19, the chapter in which Mae hits the Man in the Yellow Suit to protect Winnie, we used our 4Cs routine to delve more deeply into Mae's character and actions. I previously wrote about using this routine for our grade-level P.I.G. (pretty important goal).   This time, I used it to also teach my students how to paraphrase evidence from the text to support their thinking.

It was during this discussion that the goosebump moments came. One of my students, an English Language Learner, said that  Mae Tuck reminded him of Perloo  from Perloo the Bold by Avi (our last mentor text), because both character begin as quiet and meek. But then, they both become warriors at the end, in their own ways!  I'm not making this up. That was truly what he said.  
A student works to find evidence for his thinking, using the 4Cs thinking routine.
What made his comment so remarkable is that this child began fifth grade reading two levels below grade level!  That is the power of these thinking routines. I'm consistently seeing remarkable changes in my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. That child is now reading at grade level!

As our discussion about Mae continued, my own thinking about her deepened.  Students found her to be the most surprising character of the novel, because out of all the Tucks, she changed the most.  She went from someone who appeared to accept immortality; someone who chided Tuck about his melancholy; someone who mothered her boys.  She became a protective warrior.  I had never thought about Mae this way, until now.  

I was so sad when I heard of Natalie Babbitt's passing.  Tuck Everlasting still lives on in my mind.  The characters make me ache.  This time around, I choked up when Angus stood in the Treegap cemetery reading Winnie's tombstone.  My voice cracked as I read his words, "Good girl."  That was okay.  I think Natalie would've been pleased with us.

You can read my previous post about our P.I.G. with the 4Cs thinking routine here.

Be sure to check out these visible thinking routine resources (some are free). They will change your teaching and your students' learning! Simply click the pictures.


           






 This month, I've linked up with some phenomenal educators. Be sure to stop by their blogs by clicking the pictures below.  You won't be sorry!

















   
   

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