Foster Parenting

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday...2013

Here it is the end of 2013, and what a year it's been.  Like all years, it's been a mixture of good things and not so good things.  It's certainly been a year of personal growth for me.  I've learned the importance of saying no and giving myself permission to not be perfect at everything I try (or don't try because I won't be any good at it).  I've learned to listen to myself and stand up for myself.  I've welcomed being still and quieting the negative inner dialogue that often rears its ugly head.  In retrospect, the challenges I faced this year helped me focus on what was working in my life and what wasn't.  I worked on strengthening those things that work and letting go of the things that don't work so well.  The changes I've made have all been good.

Linda Baie has the following quote in her blog:

Rainer Maria Rilke:  "And now, we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."

I find that I keep going back to it.  Many changes await my family...some that I can plan for and others that will be totally unexpected.  Our house is up for sale, which means that we will be living in a new place next year.  It's a little scary and at the same time very exciting.  All 3 kids will be in different places in their lives too, as they move to new jobs, first jobs, and new universities.  

I used to fear the unknown.  I don't anymore. I've come to realize just how resilient I am.  I'm looking forward to the "things that have never been."  There are so many possibilities that will bring opportunities for trying new things and learning more about myself.

I wish all of you a very happy and blessed New Year!

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please go to their blog to read other slices.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Celebrations...Time

I want to thank Ruth Ayres for providing this space for celebrations.  

This week, I celebrate time, because this week I've had time to slow down and savor the things that make me happy.  I've had...

time with family.  All 3 of our kids are home and when they are together, they make me laugh.  They are so different in personality and yet, they are the best of friends.  We were able to celebrate Christmas with grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  What more could you want?  My husband had the week off, so we've been able to do some spur of the moment things that aren't always possible.

time to  bake.   I have a small sickness when it comes to baking Christmas cookies.  I go into a manic mode (my sister's words) and I keep thinking of "one more recipe to try."  Usually, I run out of time or steam before I get everything made that I want to make. This year was different.  I planned ahead, utilized my freezer, and made ALOT of cookies.  All in all, counting the biscotti I made for gifts, I made 26 different kinds of cookies.  (See, I told's a little bit weird).  However, I had so much fun and I've given most of them away.  

time for solitude.  Someone asked me what I wanted to accomplish over break.  My reply was to be quiet and listen for myself.  I've felt disconnected from myself lately because I've let outside pressures take over.  After I read Heather Rader's blog post last week, I knew what I needed to do.    Every day, I spend some time quieting my mind and doing nothing.  It's very hard to do, but it's so worth it.  I feel calmer and happier and more centered than I've felt in a long time.  I'm also finding time to read daily devotions and spend time in prayer.  These practices are helping to fill a void that's needed attention.

time to read.  I discovered Kirby Lawson this week.  How did I miss her?  I read Hattie Big Sky, which has been on my Kindle for a long time and immediately read Hattie Ever After next.  I'm currently reading The Quirks:  Welcome to Normal by Erin Soderberg and Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild.  It feels so good to carve out that time for myself.
This is my favorite place to read.

time for discovery.  My family has explored some new restaurants in Columbus this week.  We had dessert today at Dane's Desserts, which is owned by the mother of one of my students.  Delicious! After that, my husband and I walked through a downtown park that we hadn't been to in at least 25 years and then ventured to the North Market.  We bought homemade pierogi and Polish sausage, which I'll be making for dinner tonight.  (Why isn't it as fun to find different ways to cook broccoli?  It'd be much better for my waistline.)

time to create.  My children surprised me with handmade gifts this year.  Nothing means more to me than something that is homemade with love.  Molly and Annie taught themselves how to quilt and Zach taught himself how to knit.  I received a beautiful quilt and a scarf for Christmas.  Before I got busy raising three children and working full time, I used to be quite the crafter.  I sewed, made baskets, crocheted, etc.  I decided it's time to get back in touch with that side of me.  I've got knitting needles and a skein of yarn ready to go.  Zach showed me the YouTube video he watched (what did we do before YouTube?) and my night is planned.  Who knows, maybe next week's celebration will be hand knitted socks!  Ha ha!!

Before I end, I want to say thank you to everyone for their kinds words in last week's post.  They meant so much to me.  I saw my cousin on Christmas and was able to give her that great big hug I wanted to give her.  

I hope you have lots to celebrate this week!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebration Saturday

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for hosting Celebrate Friday.  Please check out her blog to read others' celebrations.

Today I celebrate...

I keep starting and restarting this post.  I'm struggling.  Someone I love dearly received devastating news.  I struggle because I'm far away, and there's nothing I can do for her.  I don't think there's anything anyone can do.

So as we prepare for Christmas here, tantalizing aromas dance through the kitchen, kids are home making me smile, we all feel a sense of happiness and contentment.  And yet, sadness tugs at my heart.  Where can I find the celebration?

For tonight, I find I am focusing on the love that overflows from those of us who hold her close.
Love that will soothe, giving her strength when she needs it most
Love that will fill the gaps that words cannot
Love that will heal when she is ready
Love that will return again and again
It is in endless supply
Always at the ready
To be given freely
As arms are opened to
Welcome her
Hold her
Support her
when she needs it most.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Google 20% in 6 Words

Last week Kevin Hodgson published 6 word thoughts from those who are participating in #nerdlution.  Unfortunately, I missed the call for people to share their thinking, but fortunately, I did check in the next day and found his Haiku Deck.  It is beautiful, to say the least.

I started to wonder what my students might say about their ability to choose their topics and ways to share their learning when we do Google 20%.  There is so much variety in what is happening in my room, which I talked about in an earlier post.  Not only is there a lot of variety, but there is also so much enthusiasm.  Every day I hear, "Can we do Google 20% today?"  They often choose to work on their projects during reading and writing workshop if time permits.

I showed the kids Kevin's Haiku Deck (combined with audio from the #nerdlution collaborative song) and talked about where the idea came from to use 6 words to tell a story.  They were intrigued and willing to give it a try.  It took a few attempts for some, while others got the hang of it right away.  I was impressed with their thinking.  I've not used Haiku Deck before, but decided to give it a try.  Thank you so much to Kevin for the inspiration and pushing my thinking with my students.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Celebration: Santa Workshop Fun!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

As I posted on Tuesday, I decided to give the kids choice in creating their parents' gifts for the holidays.  I dug out craft supplies from my basement and cupboards at school and made a quick stop to Michael's (so much for saving any money) and brought everything in on Friday morning.  They had been brimming with excitement since I told them my plan earlier in the week.  Every once in awhile, I would hear snippets of conversation about plans for Christmas gifts.  (For the first time in many, many years, every student in my room celebrates Christmas).

Friday morning was a blast!  They thought of things I never would have considered (which is always the case isn't it?).  Take a peek and see how much fun the kids had and all the wonderful things they created.

I hope all of you have a wonderful week of things to celebrate.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trying Something New

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please check their site for other slices.  

I've been wracking my brains for an idea of what to have my students make for their parents for Christmas.  From the time I started teaching in the mid 80s, I've always carved out time for my students to make something for their parents.  It's usually not Christmas themed, since I often have students who don't celebrate Christmas.  We've made ornaments, calendars, and for the last few years, I've had my students write I Am From poems.  I decided it was time to do something different this year, but I wasn't sure what it would be.  

I found these cute time capsule ornaments (made with fourth grade memories).

I thought about something with handprints or thumbprints.

Maybe coasters made from white tiles and Sharpies?

I even dreamed about it last night!  It was not a happy dream.  

Then, I started to think, "Maybe they don't want to make an ornament for their moms and dads."  Maybe they don't want to write.  Maybe some will want to make an ornament and others will want to make a book.  Even though I think a gift is thoughtful, doesn't mean my students share my thinking.  Knowing them, they probably have a better idea than I do.

Then I had another thought.  Was I crazy?  We've been doing so much with Google 20% and giving kids choice in their learning. What would happen if I gave kids choice in creating a gift for their parents?  What would happen if I brought in all of the unused craft items in my basement and put it all out and let the kids make whatever they want to?  What will they dream up?  What will they create?  Raising 3 creative children means that I have a lot of stuff still in my basement. 

There will be no rules, except that you have to clean  up your mess and share supplies.  If I have the supplies in the room, you can use them to make whatever you can imagine.  
So, Friday afternoon is going to be a mini Santa's Workshop in Room 114.  I'm excited about the possibilities.  Yes, it's going to be messy, but I've learned that messy is good.  That's when the best learning and creating happens.  

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  I already know what my Saturday celebration post will be.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Celebration Saturday: Celebrating Friends Old and New

Thank you to Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build. for hosting the Celebration Link up.  I invite you to visit her site to read other bloggers' celebration posts.

Our lives forever changed when we answered an email from our high school principal several years back.  It was an invitation to host a Rotary foreign exchange student for the upcoming school year.  I've always loved opening my home to others, so when this opportunity presented itself, I knew it was something I wanted to do.  My family agreed and we quickly replied that we would be a host family. We had no idea who would be coming and never in my dreams did I imagine the impact Rotary Youth Exchange would have on our family.  Three months later, we welcomed Sana, a 16 year-old girl from Pune, India into our home.  We fell in love with her immediately.  Since then, we've hosted students from Spain, Germany, Turkey and South Korea.  Each girl has had a positive impact on our family.  Because of our experience hosting, our daughter Annie, lived in Spain for a month and then spent last school year in Turkey.  Our family has grown to include so many people we never would have met if we hadn't said yes to that simple request 4 years ago.

Today I celebrate this wonderful group of people including all of the volunteers who work with the kids here in the US.  Many of them are now our friends.  They give hours and hours of their time to ensure that the kids who come to the US and those who leave the US for their own exchange experience are successful.

I celebrate the kids.  The bond they form is like no other.  They become each other's forever brothers and sisters.  Moving to a foreign country, navigating a new culture, and learning a new language provides an experience that not many can relate to.  These kids get each other, no matter where they come from.

Sana, our daughter from India.
Annie and Sana are still best friends.  They are there for each other no matter what.  Skype is a lifesaver when either one of them needs the other.  There's been a lot of time on Skype this week and for that I am so thankful.  Sometimes there are words that only your best friend can say to make things better.

I celebrate friends - old friends and new.  Today, we had lunch with my best friend from high school, her husband, daughter, and their Rotary Youth Exchange student, Siengpin from Thailand.  Every December,  students from the Ohio-Erie region take a trip to Disney World in Florida.  This area includes exchange students who live within a several state radius and includes parts of Canada.  Marlene (who is a first time host mom) lives a few hours away. Since they needed to drive Seingpin to Columbus, I invited them to lunch.  Chanju, our student from South Korea, was going on the same trip.  We were going to have an international lunch before the girls headed out.

From the left going clockwise:  Chanju, Marlene, her husband Chris, my husband Keith, me, Seingpin, and Abigail, Marlene and Chris' daughter.
As I sat at the table, I couldn't help but reflect on how amazing it was that here we were, all of us from different places, sitting together sharing stories and laughter as we learned more about each other.  Marlene and I, friends for the last 35 years, now have another connection.  Seingpin and Chanju will get to know each other better this week as they travel to Florida.  As they meet other kids on the trip, they will form new friendships that will stay with them forever.

I celebrate the weaving of cultures and families that span the world.  I celebrate friends - new and old - who touch our lives and leave us better people.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wonder and Explore: Google 20% at Scioto Darby Elementary

Can you imagine being told that you can spend 20% of your time at work pursuing you own personal interests?  You can research, create, build, develop, experiment...anything that is of interest to you.  Your learning is self-driven and you will not be evaluated on the final product.  You will learn for the joy of learning and share your learning with an authentic audience.

Doesn't it sound inspiring?  I can tell you from experience that it is.  The students in my school are participating in the Google 20% experience.  Based on the practice at Google where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time at work pursuing a project that has nothing to do with their job.  Interestingly, Google Scholar, Google News, and GMail resulted from Google 20% time.  We spend a few hours every month working on our projects.

In September, I started out by asking my students to identify topics that were of interest to them.  I asked them what they were passionate about.  My colleague had done Wonder projects in the past, which were free choice projects.  I tweaked her form and sent this letter home with my students.  The students made Wonder and Explore journals to keep track of their learning.  In addition, they have Wonder and Explore folders where they can keep loose papers.  We had our first Google 20% time in October.  My kids LOVED their time.  Some students worked in small groups while others worked independently.  One of the boys made a solar oven.  Several girls worked on learning a new language.  Some students chatted with the art teacher and focused on  learning new drawing techniques.

In November, I asked them to reflect on their learning.  They had the option to continue with their original project or explore something different.  I also asked them to prepare something for December to share their learning.  I created this very simple form to guide their thinking.  We had our second Wonder and Explore time right before Thanksgiving.  Some students continued their work, others expanded their projects, while others decided to pursue a completely different interest.  Some of the projects this time around include:

  • The history of Batman 
  • How do optical illusions work?  
  • How do lava lamps work?  
  • Continuation of drawing still life objects 
  • Extension of severe weather 
  • Learning a new language 
  • How are rocks and minerals formed?  

You can see we have a wide variety of interests.  Our next Wonder and Explore time is next week.  I'm excited to see what the kids create.  

I've gathered some resources that helped me get started.  

I'll be posting more as we go through the year.  Has anyone else tried doing Google 20%?  I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday: I Should Have Read Closer

Thanks to The Two Writing Teachers for hosting Tuesday's Slice of Life.  Please visit their website and read and comment on other Slices.

Today's post pokes a little humor at myself, and we all need a little humor, don't we?

I finally had a large chunk of time to do some professional reading last weekend and I finished Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts Falling In Love with Close Reading:  Lessons for Analyzing Texts and Life.  I LOVED it!  I especially loved the suggestion of beginning to teach close reading with lyrics from a popular song.  I couldn't wait to try the lesson with my fourth graders.  I asked my 18 year-old daughter for some suggestions.  I didn't want anything that would even suggest something inappropriate for fourth graders.  She said, "Katy can't go wrong."  She then told me to check out her song "Roar."  Well, I knew the song and thought that it would be perfect.  I found a video  from YouTube and I carefully scanned the lyrics to ensure there were no curse words.  Satisfied, I printed the lyrics and bookmarked the video.  I then made copies of the lyrics for each of my students so that they could mark up the text and write about their thinking.  I was looking forward to the lesson all day.  I knew that my kids were going to love it.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  I clicked on the link for the video and I got an error message.  For some reason, the site was down.  It was ok.  I found another link to the audio version of the song.  We were back in business.  I gave the mini-lesson and played a small blurb from the song.  Oh, my kids were happy. They were smiling and singing and bouncing along.  We talked about what we thought the message to the song was:

  • Stand up for yourself.
  • Never give up.
  • If you fall down, get back up.
  • Keep going, no matter what.

They were on the right track!  I was feeling really good about the lesson and I was looking forward to seeing how their thinking would deepen as they closely read the lyrics.

I handed out the song lyrics and gave the instructions.  "Read the text carefully.  Circle words or phrases that stand out to you. What do you think they mean?  What new ideas can you come up with when you think about the message of the song?"  The kids eagerly took their papers and got to work quickly.  I walked around the room, conferring with students about what they were noticing.  Everything was going really well!

Then one of my boys came up.  "Um, Mrs. Johnson, there's a cuss word on here."
"What? No there isn't.  I checked it." I said incredulously.  I had gone over those lyrics with a fine tooth comb.  I was sure nothing was inappropriate.
"Look," he said.  He then pointed to the fine print at the bottom of the lyrics.  And sure enough...

there it was...When I'm  Rich, You'll Be My B****.

I freaked out just a little and told the kids to scribble it out.  Of course, the room erupted into laughter and kids yelling out, "I need a Sharpie.  You can still see it."  Oh my...the lesson went downhill from there.  I decided to put it away for the day and told the kids we'd go back to it tomorrow.

 So, my great lesson kind of fizzled at the end (or maybe a better word is exploded).  The irony was not lost on me though.  Here I was, teaching a lesson on close reading, and I realized that it was me, who had not read closely enough.  Lesson learned!

Have you ever had a lesson go terribly awry when you thought everything was going well?  Please share you story in the comments.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I am an avid fan of Franki and Mary Lee's blog, A Year of Reading.  I learn so much from them and the opportunity to learn and build some good habits is being handed to me again.  As soon as I read Franki's post about the birth of Nerdlution, I knew I had to join.  Since spending a few days with writers at a Choice Literacy retreat this summer, I've been trying hard to write every day.  I started out well, but once school got started and the busyness set in, it's fallen by the wayside.  Same goes with exercising and trying to be more active on Twitter.  I'm thinking if I commit to 50 days and I have the support of a community, I have a better chance of solidifying these aspirations into real habits.  So here goes...

  • I am going to commit to writing every day for at least 30 minutes.  I am working on a book with Troy Hicks and some other teachers.  Yes, a real that I'm very excited about (and haven't really made public until this time).  I also have some ideas for Choice Literacy articles and my blog has suffered lately.  I want to post at least one more time a week about what is going on in my classroom.

  • I am going to work through the book The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nessbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall with my principal.  That is going to help me become more active on Twitter.  I've started putting Twitter talks on my calendar on my phone so I remember them.  I'll be on #titletalk tonight at 8:00 EST.  :)
  • I am committing to walking or exercising every day.  Since it gets dark so early, I'll either exercise before I go to school (which means working out to a video in my basement since I live out in the country) or take my tennis shoes and go for a walk right after school.  Who knows, it may give me more energy to go back and get papers graded or finish the work that always seems to be looming ahead.  
  • Which leads me to my final goal...leave school by 5:00.  I am taking back my personal life and focusing on doing something every day that feeds my soul.  Walking and writing both do that for me.  I have other hobbies too, that I'd like to carve out time for...reading blogs and taking time to comment, baking (it is cookie season after all), reading for pleasure, visiting friends, etc.  It's all of those things that will make me a better person.
I'm excited about this journey.  I'll be checking in on my blog and will be tweeting my accomplishments using the hashtag #nerdlution.  Feel free to join the fun.  You can read Colby Sharp's blog to get even more information.