Slow Down

Today I learned an easy lesson in an unfortunate way. Slow down!

Life can be a blur of activity at times. Sometimes this is stressful but often I tell myself I like the cozy feel of a full schedule. Almost always, however, here comes a moment that reminds me of the need to slow down:

Take this morning. We arrived in France from the U.K. yesterday and settled into our cozy little gite:


Justin was tickled by the metal spiral staircase. Knowing my general proclivity for common household injuries and my clumsy nature, I was less so but still admired its beauty.

Fast forward to this morning. It’s 5 AM and I’m waking up, mildly confused as to where I am (that happens a lot this year) but with a sense it’s important to get right up. As I ride my brain begins to remember: I’m in France and I have a school visit today! I quickly grab my iPhone, Apple Watch, universal charger, and start to head downstairs.

But not before dropping my Apple Watch, face down, on the metal spiral staircase. At first I’m worried about the deafening echo more than anything as I’m trying not to wake Justin. It’s only a few minutes later as I go to put on the watch for some yoga that I see it’s tragically cracked glass…and then realize it also will no longer unlock.


Sigh. A litany of regrets streams through my mind before I can think otherwise: “WHY was I carrying so much? I know how clumsy I am, was it really necessary to take everything in one trip?” / countered by “well…yes. You were trying to be thoughtful and vacate the bedroom quickly and quietly in one trip so Justin’s sleep wouldn’t be interrupted… / cross-countered by “well a lot of good THAT did since you then dropped metal on metal, waking the dead AND breaking an expensive apple product”…and so on.

Suffice it to say, focusing on yoga after this was a challenge. But apparently a worthy one, as now, an hour later, I feel I’m learning a lesson that I always need to re-learn: sloooooow down. Single task. Focus. You have time to do what matters to you. There’s nowhere to be but here; there’s nothing to do but this.

đŸ€·â€â™€ïžTake that for what it’s worth and be careful with your things friends!

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Listening in a Chaotic World

Hey there everybody…

As some of you may know, I’m currently on a sabbatical from my job as a middle school Spanish teacher. It’s a pretty dream situation: I wanted to tag along and travel with Justin when he was invited to any number of amazing international conferences to speak, so I pitched an idea to my school district:

  1. I will travel to a variety of countries, visiting primary and secondary schools in each destination in order to learn about a variety of education systems, and share what I learn with colleagues and community members as I go through a blog, and various social media channels (twitter, facebook, and instagram)
  2. While in those countries, conducting school visits, I identify teachers who are interested in forming meaningful global relationships with our teachers so that all of our students can have contextualized, developmentally appropriate opportunities to develop global competence, cultural sensitivity, and friends around the world, often through leveraging our 1:1 digital laptop program.

To my intense surprise and pleasure my school district accepted my sabbatical proposal, and now I’m living my dream, traveling from country to country, with pit stops at home to recover and repack, and then continuing on to new destinations. While this sounds magical and without difficulty, I assure you it has had its share of hiccups, including but not limited to:

  • extreme anxiety regarding my ability to cultivate contacts in schools abroad, successfully schedule school visits, navigate unfamiliar cities and public transportation, and language barriers that prevent me from competently communicating my sabbatical work and goals. (note: all of this has been fine. that in no way stops me from (still) worrying about all of it, incessantly.)
  • extreme anxiety regarding my fear that others are judging me for taking a sabbatical “just 10 years into teaching” (which I totally get, yet totally don’t…teaching is hard. Always. Arguably, teaching is actually harder in your FIRST 10 years than your later years, since there is such a steep learning curve for new teachers. Still though…I DO get it, but I fear the judgement of others nonetheless, because what others think of me, regardless of whether it really should, matters very much to me. Possibly this need to justify on some level my reasons for taking a break at this point in my career is why I’ve written an article entitled “Why Every Teacher Should Take a Sabbatical” and published it personally and in other publications for teachers online.)
  • organizational and motivational challenges regarding scheduling travel to 10+ countries in one school year, including flights, places to stay, schools to visit, things to do and see in each place (because you can’t just stay in when you’re in Oslo, Norway in high summer! You have to go out! Every night! Until you drop of exhaustion! Or else, FOMO!)
  • struggling through what I refer to as the “hangover effect” of leaving one job for another. Although I haven’t exactly “left” teaching, I’m not in (my own) classroom for the first time in a decade, and this is a change and strange. I’ve learned this year that any change, even a positive one, is a stress on the system. So, particularly during the “hangover period” of growing accustomed to being self-directed and organizing my own time (rather than letting the waterfall of chaos that is teaching wash me along), there was a lot of stress.
  • Related to that stress…the difficulty of learning to listen.

And, after a characteristically verbose introduction, that’s the topic today: Learning to Listen in a Chaotic World.

Guys. Our world is a mess. Whether you think of our current political situation stateside or zoom out to encompass issues on a global scale like climate change…it’s tough not to notice how chaotic life is becoming on our planet. And something about this year and seeing life in a variety of countries around the global has exacerbated my awareness of the chaos. Traffic alone in a variety of cities I’ve visited, from Osaka, Japan to San JosĂ©, Costa Rica to Lima, Peru was so unrealistically terrible that I found myself realizing that we really probably are the last generation to live the way we do. The kids growing up today are destined for a totally different reality than what we have today. Our current rate of contamination is simply unsustainable. It’s easy, in one’s own city, to learn times of day and routes to avoid the crush of rush hour traffic, and thereby fool oneself into thinking “it’s not that bad”. But, let me assure you: it’s bad. It’s very very bad. And that’s only one tiny issue: traffic. The sheer number of issues in our world and the ensuing chaos that results is enough to make me feel physically ill at times…often triggering a stress migraine or at the very least an elevated heart rate or sweaty palms (and pits! let’s be real! ha!)

Anywho…the world is chaotic. I think we can agree. And something about the human condition, I think, makes us always turn inward and feel that OUR specific worlds are the MOST chaotic. And maybe that’s true in a way; after all, we are all so self-involved (yup, even the selfless ones among us, to some extent), that we are always wired to be somewhat more concerned for ourselves than we are for others. So if you take the chaos of the world at large and then add on your own personal stressors of life in your particular country, state, city, and the spheres in which you move (work, home, “play”) and the different people you interact with in each, the relationships you are building and/or maintaining in each context, and everything that goes along with that…it IS truly chaotic. (Side note: when I was little I looooved to read, so I learned a lot of words without hearing them aloud. For example, I earned the word “chaos” this way and for years pronounces it ‘cha-os!” in my head. Still do to this day. So “chaotic” is “cha-oh-tic” 🙂

How do we cope?

We learn to listen.

I know, I know that’s infuriatingly simple shit. But the tighter I find myself wound, the more I find that the simplest things are the best ways to cope and combat the chaos.

Today I listened to a rather hippy-dippy yet beautiful, guided meditation podcast by Tara Brach, entitled “Listening to the Song – Part I” (Part II – come at me! Ready!) While the lessons in this 50-minute gem were too numerous to count, here were a few of my key takeaways:

  • Being listened to is one of our greatest needs as human beings.
  • When we listen, really listen, to others, we give them the gift of allowing them to express their sense of self.
  • We are, on some level, afraid of our own self not being recognized or remembered. This is why, when we have conversations, we often fail to really listen, and instead focus on planning our responses.
  • To truly listen, let go of responding / planning a response. Let words be, let ideas hang, give the gift of presence/interest/engagement to others when in a conversation. This will be awkward…when the other person pauses or waits for your response, you may not have one if you are truly listening and not planning. That’s ok. Let it be.
  • Engage with the mortality of other mortals by listening
  • My own thought – not really in the podcast – practice first listening to yourself. If you are anything like me, you sometimes have a helluva time figuring out what your heart really wants or needs in a given moment.For me this can be for anything from not being sure if I want to read a book or watch a show on Netflix all the way up to whether I’m not sure I want to remain a classroom teacher or embark on a new adventure or career change. It’s a little ridiculous how difficult it can be to truly tune in to yourself and just listen.
  • Have an anchor to bring you back to the present – simple, effective ideas from the podcast included: returning to your breath, becoming aware of a body part like your hands and relaxing them, or having a few words you repeat to yourself like a mantra to remind you to be here now.
  • Once you have practiced listening to yourself, practice listening attentively to someone you care about very much, e.g. a spouse, a child, another family member, a friend, a student, a colleague. Focus exclusively on him or her anytime you are interacting. Some ideas for how to really do that include:
    • maintaining eye contact,
    • being aware of your body language and the message it is sending about your level of focus and engagement in the conversation (i.e. lean in to increase proximity, cross legs towards, not away from, the individual, etc),
    • when discussing matters that are somewhat emotional, rather than thinking of your own experiences and responses and/or advice you can provide, simply state back to the person what they are saying, maybe in your own words. (e.g. “I hear you saying that you’re really stressed about project X. That must be really stressful, huh?”) <- This seems so basic and unnecessary but try it, and I promise you’ll be surprised at home much it helps people open up to you. Got this strategy from Gretchen Rubin, happiness guru, who got it from the book “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk”, by authors Adele Faber  and Elaine Mazlish 

I encourage you to stick in your headphones on a hectic weekday morning for yourself and get a little zen to start your day – great during a commute too: Tara Brach, really any of her meditations, but the ideas in this post came from the episode:  “Listening to the Song – Part I” from Feb. 22, 2017.

How about you? How do you tune out the chaos in the world around you when needed and find ways to listen? I really struggle with this, and in fact often become combative and argumentative in situations that don’t even call for it, so I am very eager to learn a wide variety of strategies to encourage me to listen thoughtfully.

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I’m still alive! (2016 Edition)

Oh hey, world! I just sorta forgot about this blog / got super busy / whatever other excuse you’d like to insert here! So sorry about the 2? year break there!

Life is going well. I’m on a dream sabbatical for the 2016-17 school year and it involves traveling around the world to a variety of countries to learn from different education systems and set up meaningful global collaborations for our teachers and students.

So far, @searls and I have made it to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan, and Singapore! Coming up this spring: Costa Rica and the U.K….and hopefully Spain, France, and perhaps one more Spanish speaking central or South American country! I’m in heaven and Justin is ever so patient and supportive, despite just wanting to be at home with his PS4 and many devices.

This year has also been handy to check off lots of things I’ve been needing to do for, oh, half a decade, including getting a gum graft (😖) and sinus surgery (đŸ€•đŸ€§). It is rather amazing to breathe out of my nose for the first time…maybe ever? Or for sure since third grade when my dad bought old blue, a very blue Oldsmobile station wagon with terrible “new” (actually used) car smell. I remember deciding to stop breathing out of my nose and I guess I just applied the decision to my entire life. Turns out when you fail to use your nose for 2+ decades and already were predisposed to sinus and ear issues, you just CANT use it anymore without intervention. So having the time to ameliorate these health issues, among other things, such as living out my passion for travel while contributing meaningfully to my profession and school district, has me on a mission to spread the good news of Why every teacher should take a sabbatical.

In the spirit of maybe actually posting again before the close of this decade I will keep this short and sweet (or as short as someone as naturally inclined towards verbosity is capable of), close for now, and wish you a lovely and cozy holiday season with the people you love, including all the feels and copious amounts of free time to whatever your lil heart desires. ❀

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Why we need to slow down our lives

Love so many of the ideas here! Are you busy? Then force yourself, counter-intuitively, to slow down!

As technology accelerates our lives, many of us feel an urgent need to slow down. One seductive solution: A secular sabbath. Pico Iyer makes the case, in this meditative excerpt from his new TED Book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

The idea of going nowhere is as universal as the law of gravity; that’s why wise souls from every tradition have spoken of it. “All the unhappiness of men,” the seventeenth-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.” After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that “Half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.” Or, as they sometimes say around Kyoto, “Don’t just do something. Sit

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Book Overview / Recommendation: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

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The Obstacle Is The Way  by Ryan Holiday

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this book, but I am so happy I did! It has been the shove I need to get past some “woe is me, why did this happen to MEEEE?” questions I’ve been fighting with for a little over a year. This book shut all of that down by clearly laying out 3 black and white philosophical disciplines in the tradition of Stoicism.

1. Perception – how we see and understand what happens to us (fair and unfair). It doesn’t matter what the obstacles are, but how we see and react to them, and whether we keep our composure in the face of them, or, even better, thrive because of them. Relates to our still overactive, primal fear response – we can perceive danger in negative situations and allow ourselves to sweat, feel stressed, or let fight or flight kick in, or we can learn to understand and filter those primal feelings and become disciplined in the art of perception so that we can clearly see what action to take in every situation. Perception is the discipline of the mind.

2. Action – the movements and decisions that define us. Action must be undertaken with “deliberation, boldness, and persistence” because “Thise are the attributes of right and effective action. When something undesirable happens to you, how do you respond? Most of us fail because we opt not to act. We let our fear overtake us and we act powerless or expect someone else to act while we ignore it or pretend it will go away, hiding behind the idea that it’s too risky to take action. “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Action is the discipline of the body.

3. Will– our internal power, fortitude, and wisdom that cannot be affected by the outside world and suffering. The ability to resign ourselves to less-than-ideal circumstances without giving in to negativity or resorting to hopelessness and despair. The art of amor fati – a love of fate –choosing to love everything that happens to you, good or bad. The idea that everything happens for a reason, and if eventually you’re probably going to eventually reach that conclusion anyway, why not choose it now and choose to feel good in every trial and tribulation? The will is discipline of the heart and soul.

Besides the 3 disciplines above which are defined, redefined, and redefined over and over in a thousand ways that make them easy to grasp and understand, the book is peppered with engaging and interesting (true) historical and modern-day anecdotes of powerful figures who overcame adversity through force of will, controlled their perceptions ,and took action in their lives to move themselves forward and live a full and productive life. Some of the figures that make an appearance include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Heraclitus, Plutarch, Socrates, Cicero, Montaigne, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, John D. Rockefeller, Margaret Thatcher,  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Malcom X, Thomas Edison,  Thomas Jefferson, Laura Ingalls Wilder,  Steve Jobs, among many others.

This book feels like a lesson in philosophy, mindfulness, and history all rolled into a how-to guide for taking real action and living a fuller life. Next up for me is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. What are you reading and finding fascinating?

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Summer of Spanish

It was the “Summer of Spanish” this year for us. First trip was to the rain forest of Costa Rica. We’re talking Jurassic-Park sized plants here:

2014-06-21 15.04.49         2014-06-22 13.25.13

After a break to recover for a few weeks, we were off to Spain for a friend’s wedding and general Europe-y exploration times. It was delightful, if a little devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables.

2014-07-10 05.28.28      2014-07-11 19.16.05

A new school year is just a few weeks away, and I am equal parts dreading and anticipating. Trying to enjoy my free time and lack of anything specific to do while feeling slightly stressed about all I COULD be doing. Alas…this is the life of a teacher.

So thankful for the time to travel and explore the world with my better half. ❀

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Summer Reflections


I have so many things that I’m thinking and learning right now that are rolling around in my head, and it has suddenly occured to me that my poor little blog has seen very little action of late. I thought it would be a good start to at least list them all here so I keep them in mind and keep exploring them systematically over time.

  • standards-based grading (I’m co-hosting a google hangout #langcamp #langchat on the topic with @garnett_hillman next Monday evening 8 PM Eastern / 7 PM Central if you’re interested!)
  • digital badges and gamification (I’m not sold on this but think it has potential, particularly for Middle School learners which I’m transitioning to teach this fall after 6 years at the HS level)
  • teaching English grammar to ELLs (graduate course that is absolutely blowing my mind and making me want to a learn a lot more about the nitty-gritty of Spanish grammar too!)
  • basic computer programming and web design including HTML, CSS, and Ruby on Rails.

I’m busy trying to learn all of these things and relax at the same time while also thinking about how my new age group will differ from my older learners and how to modify the curriculum to bring in some of my new interests while still not trying too many new things at once.

Basically, my brain hurts. But in a good way, kind of like when you start exercising again after a hiatus and have muscle fatigue. Ugh, hurts so good.

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I found it interesting so I thought if share-seems like lots of people found me searching for ideas for how to sub plan effectively. I’ll try to post more ideas on that topic as well as on my new edtech interest: using an iPad mini in the foreign language classroom! Happy 2013!!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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First post from my new iPad mini!

My husband is a computer programmer & lover of all things Apple. We are also dinks (double income, no kids). Therefore every time Apple releases a new product we pretty much become first-day adopters. This is how I find myself posting to my blog for the first time in several months via my brand new iPad mini:


Now, with the exception of accidentally posting prematurely, I have to say is device has me more excited than usual for potential use in education! A few reasons why I think the iPad mini may be a game-changer for teachers & students:

size: the iPad was a big step in the right direction but the mini is even better: more lightweight, easy to hold in 1 hand, and for some reason easier to type on for me? Also there’s something to it being smaller than an iPad but larger than a phone that maintains its legitimacy as a learning tool- if I am not yet ready to allow my students to have their phones out at all times I can’t very well have mine out, even if it is for an educational reason. The iPad mini solves this problem- it’s clearly not a phone!

iCloud: everything is everywhere all the time. While I recognize that as an early adopter, I may be further along this curve than most, I think its fair to say that in 5-10 years or so services like iCloud and Dropbox will have more or less eradicated the “I forgot it” excuse from learning environments. I also think that because kids will have the ability to work from almost anywhere we will see a gain in their engagement in learning outside of school & in their overall productivity!

intuitive & fun to use: iPad mini’s size makes it fun to carry around and easier to slip out & use, particularly for receptive tasks like reading, than other devices. It’s interface is so similar to the iPhone & iPad that kids will have no trouble picking it up & intuiting how to use it from day 1. This may also be a great way to welcome teachers in who have historically been reluctant to use technology to augment their teaching.

apps! As w high school spanish teacher I’m already thinking of apps I can use in the classroom to facilitate instruction with students and out of the classroom to enhance my professional productivity. A few that come to mind that I’ve used on other iOS devices & look forward to exploring on this new device include:

Dropbox – if you are a teacher & you’re not using this yet please contact me to invite you. Your life will be forever changed for the better- Dropbox allows you to sync your files between different computers & devices so that flash drives are a thing of the past. Imagine starting a document at home, saving it to your Dropbox, and finishing it at home that night. Then you log in to your classroom computer & your finished document is there too, ready for your lesson! Great stuff! Plus when you invite friends you get extra storage for free (they start you with 2 gigs free!)

Simplenote this is my go-to note-taking app for absolutely everything, from grocery lists to documentation of student needs and IEP info, to links to quotes & lesson ideas. It pairs well with Notational Velocity for a desktop app (syncs your notes via the cloud)

PowerTeacher Mobile– this is the grade book application used by my school district. The original iPad app wasn’t great (slow, not so intuitive) so I’m hoping it may have some improvements in place now. I actually find its mobile web app much more useful on a daily basis. You can find it by simply typing the normal URL for your attendance in safari & then saving it as a shortcut that winds up looking like an app on your iPad!

VoiceRecorder – sadly the native iPhone app didn’t get carried over but there are a wide variety of third-party apps available in the AppStore, including this one which appears to let you take notes within the app as well. This has a lot of potential for streamlining my oral assessment process with kids!

Doceri– remote desktop app with potential to be used as a wireless slate with your smartboard, this is another app that I tried a few years ago & was disappointed in but think may now be more fully conceptualized & easier to use. I love the idea of being able to walk around my classroom & write on my iPad mini & have it show up on my interactive whiteboard. Plus, I think this has a lot of potential for student engagement because teachers can simply pass the ipad off to students & have them contribute ideas that way. This year, in particular, I would really benefit from this feature, because my classroom is rather small & crowded & I have rather large classes, so it is just awkard at times for the kids to physically get up & walk to the smart board to write on it.

These are just a few of the ideas I have in mind! What so you think? Will the iPad mini become a part of your life as a teacher? If so, how do you plan on using it? Please share any thoughts or questions!

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