My Next 3 – Missions Edition

I picked my Twitter handle @tchlrn_ak over 6 years ago to acknowledge that teaching as a profession (and life as a whole) isn’t just about teaching, it better be more about learning. And for me, that is mostly going to be in Alaska. Well, this #widowteacher is on her way home from Bolivia right now, and this blog has now come to the intersection of faith and profession, of Christianity and public schools, and of vocation and calling. Come, jump in the van, and take that turn with me.

People preparing to use vans and go to the mountains.

The Missions team in Cochabamba


The Bible is very clear about the role of missions in a Christian’s practice:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:18‭-‬19 NLT

and

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:10‭-‬11 NIV

A Christian really can’t argue this one. Christianity spread in the Middle East as hundreds of Christ’s original followers obeyed that command; it spread throughout Europe and Africa and Asia and the Americas for the same reason. It continues to spread, and will continue to the ends of the Earth.

If you had told me a year ago (in the midst of our cancer) that I’d be serving Jesus in the Andes Mountains con mis hermanos en Cristo, I would have said you are smoking crack. If you’d told me two years ago before the Big C made itself known in my husband, I would have nodded and replied, “You know, that would be cool someday. Maybe when I retire.”

No, how about over Spring Break, just nine months into widowhood. God’s ways are not ours, indeed.

El Cristo de la Concordia

El Cristo de la Concordia, overlooking Cochabamba, Bolivia


For the four of you who have followed my blogging since the beginning, you know I like the “Next 3” list. It helps to focus one’s direction, so here are my Next 3 for missions:

1. Keep learning Spanish/reactivate French.

2. Find out how to $$ support Punto de Gracia in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and set up a regular contribution.

3. (Broad) Parent my children to the point where we can take a family mission trip by Summer 2022.


The details…

1. Keep learning Spanish/reactivate French. In January, I started using Duolingo. I got sick at the end of March and fell away from it, but even just those three months gave me a much better shot at communicating in Bolivia. And by the end of the week, I was looking to use what little I did know whenever I could. I’m sure I sound like a two-year-old with a funky speech pattern, but I can keep learning. Plus, I honestly think if this trip had been to a French-speaking country, the *8* years of classroom French would have come back.

Even if it is childish speech, I know that speaking Spanish and French opens up so many countries and ministry possibilities.

2. Find out how to $$ support Punto de Gracia in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and set up a regular contribution. Dropping my American self into the poor city of Cochabamba put a lot of things I know about world economics into perspective. Granted, it doesn’t take much to see how blessed I am to live where I do and with the resources I have. Somehow, there is a way to support my Bolivian church in an accountable manner that doesn’t ruffle any international feathers. I’m going to figure that out. (Si, mi iglasia boliviana. Seems I am collecting churches because I have one in Seattle, too, plus my home church and the church of my youth.)

3. Parent my children to the point where we can take a family mission trip by Summer 2022. Jesus meets us where we are to give us what we need. While I thought He would meet me in my widowhood (He has, but…), He meets me more as a mom. My children already love Jesus, and my teen is already active in ministry, but it doesn’t end there. It can’t. There is so much more I know (and don’t know) to do to parent them to God’s glory. So I am going to do that and part of that will be to serve Jesus together on mission by Summer 2022.

It would be reckless to roll back in to Alaska and announce we are doing that NOW, and I spend enough time in Proverbs to know what happens to fools. (Parenting deserves its own “Next 3” but I’m not up for that, somewhere over the Caribbean Sea. But I am reading “Raising Kingdom Kids” by Tony Evans and finishing that book would be on that Next 3 list.)


Sanctos

In a longer story I may someday share, on Monday, April 29th, I was asked to take some time to see if God had something to tell me.  The reasons I even have a “Next 3-Missions Edition” is because it turns out, God did have a few things to tell me:

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Proverbs 29:7 NIV

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire. Proverbs 29:17 NIV

So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:11 NIV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3 NIV

Take up your cross and follow me. – Jesus, from Matthew 10


A week before the trip, I could finally verbalize at least one reason why I think God ordained this mission trip for me, or me for the trip: to trade the sorrow of grief for the joy of serving Him. Becoming a widow in one’s 40s isn’t in any wife’s plan. But God is so faithful when we put our trust in Him, and my joy in the Lord IS my strength. I return from Bolivia as happier than I have been for a while, not because the trip was beautifully amazing but because God is beautifully amazing.  I return with a clearer understanding of who Jesus is and why we serve Him:  If you love me, feed my sheep. John 21:17

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10,000 ft in the Andes

Con mi vida quiero adorar
Todo lo que tengo y lo que soy
Todo lo que he sido te lo doy
Que mi vida sea para ti
Como un perfume a tus pies

“Make it Better”

I’m texting back-and-forth with a student who is done with her class, her school, her education. 

(For the record, I don’t actually text with students.  We communicate via email.  See Frederick Lane for lots of good reasons NOT to privately text students.  But this exchange did happen and this graphic looks better than the actual artifact.)

There is much going on in this student’s life which colors her perspective on things right now.  But do not miss the point that she feels her school is broken and she wants someone to fix it.

ECE2SEAK brought together a room full of fixers.  Teachers who get that students are the center of the classroom and know how to make that happen.  In another life, it would have fired me up for the school year;  as it is, I was pleased to be included in this group of educators knowing that deep down inside, I did belong in the room…even if I didn’t have a lot of current evidence of awesomeness to back that up.

Regardless, I have been at the vanguard of innovative instruction for a while so even in my limited functions as Widow Teacher, I have strategies.  One is borrowed from Vicki Davis, from whom I stole the idea of a “next three” list back in 2015.  The idea is to always have three new things at the ready to innovate in your classroom.  You can read my original post here, which is actually mildly embarrassing because I’m going to list two of the things again:

  1. Blog more.  Maybe even on a regular basis.
  2. Bring more accountability into Genius Hour through self-reflection, presentations, and other tangible, “gradable” products.

And I’m drawing a blank for a #3 right now.  Impact special education at the state level?  Figure out what Personalized Learning looks like for a student with an IEP (which should be pretty personalized as it is)?  Bolster student self-reflection opportunities and abilities?  Read a book or three about anything extra extraordinary in education right now?  

Great ideas, but let’s be real:  I’m giving myself a pass on having three next things.  (Widows get to do that, by the way, do anything they want.)  Managing the holiday/end-of-semester season will be a grand enough accomplishment.

“Make it better.”  I guarantee more than one student at my school, in my district, in the state, is crying out the very same thing to teachers, just like Sad Student.  For her, I made it better by printing out the standards for that class, helped her analyze what was left to be done for the semester, and then pushed her to go and make a plan to get that done in a way that she wanted to do.  (We’re all about Personalized Learning in our district, right?)  She’ll end up doing more work than her classmates to meet the standards, but it *is* her choice.  So maybe that’s it…

     3. Make it better.

ECET2 in the Last Frontier

ECET2 Alaskan-style ended with a teacher telling us why she was there:  she wanted a little change.  A keynote speaker highlighted change, too:  be the change.  In sessions, we were asked, what one thing can you change and be fired up for on Monday?

Reactive grief doesn’t let you fire up for change on Monday.

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Trying to look contemplative before Saturday’s sessions, not grouchy!

The room and participants brought a buzz of excitement for their practices.  I heard nothing I blatantly disagreed with, which is often the case at other training or conferences:  I’ll listen to speakers and wonder, are we talking about NOW in the transformative age of technology?  Or 1997.  At ECET2, all the ideas were student-centered and embraced by teachers seeking to be better than the day before. The content refreshed and rejuvenated the crowd.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you refresh or rejuvenate.

One phrase used multiple times was that teachers have their own silos, and you teach in a silo.  I smiled because my husband would say that every teacher – even myself – has her own fiefdom and woe to any who cross into her realm with intent to change her laws and challenge her power.  We heard stories about other teachers who would probably never seek out an event like ECET2 and how this group of teacher-leaders has to interact with that other group.  I wanted to shout out, especially to the special educators of whom I heard stories, how dare you let the system run the INDIVIDUALIZED plans you are supposed to have for students.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you shout out at errant educators.  (Or, at the least, it’s not a very good idea to do so.)

As the lists of attendees came out, I saw all of my district’s rock stars and self-depreciatingly wondered how I made that list.  My #1 Cheerleader would have corrected that self-talk quickly: “I wish my teachers had been more like you, Robanne.”

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel super confident about anything.

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From a session about telling your story by Pegge Erkenoff

ECET2 Southeast Alaska WAS an encouraging event: I saw “the spark” in colleagues I’ve known for years and those I met this weekend. My own practice was validated and revalidated, and I do have some ideas on how to make those practices better.  I ordered three books to add to my stack and actually have the time to read them now being done with graduate school.  Refining the art of teaching brought joy to so many people at the convening who will take that back to even more students throughout the region.

Reactive grief doesn’t let you feel joy in much of anything, including your calling as an educator.  (It’ll come back.  Eventually.)

Let me tie it back to students:  you, even you rock star teachers, can deliver the most amazing lesson/module/task/option to a student but if something else is going on, say their ACEs are flaring up, it isn’t going to matter.  Be compassionate and meet them where they are for the day.  Then when they are ready, the amazing stuff will still be there for them.

Entr’acte

I am at #ecet2scak this weekend.  It is a teacher-led conference, and the acronym stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers.  In other words, rock star teachers come together to share what they do and build networks of awesomeness.  It’s a nationwide thing created out of the desire to raise teachers up through the sharing of stories.

Stories. I feel I’m at an (the?) entr’acte of my teaching.  This convening, as they call it, is the last thing my husband knew would happen in my career, and the last thing that gave his encouragement and enthusiasm about me attending, since he was my #1 cheerleader.

How does one do amazingly awesome teaching and learning when one’s #1 cheerleader isn’t around to soothe the doubts and provide counsel from a non-education perspective?  How does the next part of the story unfold when written through the hole of grief?  If I decide to figure it out, this blog might have another section dedicated just to holes of grief.  But the reality is that grief is now part of my teaching whether I want it or not because it is part of me.

To bring it back to teaching, how does a student get through the struggles of becoming a grown human without a cheerleader?  What holes do students cleverly carry throughout the day, wanting to or not?  What does the next act look hold for the students who drag trauma with them from class to class?

How does one make it without one’s #1 Cheerleader?

Trauma-Informed Everything

trauma (noun): a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

Trauma-informed teaching is a new term that represents what good teachers instinctively know:  a child isn’t going to learn to the best of his or her ability if they are dealing or have dealt with trauma in their life.  If a child lives in a home where there is violence and fear, her brain isn’t going to function at full capacity.  A teen who stays awake all night to keep her abuser from coming into her bedroom yet again probably isn’t going to stay awake too well in class.  Children who only eat food at school because there is nothing else are not going to have stellar Mondays.  Good teachers know that learning will not be the most important thing in these students lives when survival is on the line.  Great teachers will take the time to do something about it.

What about the children whose father’s terminal prognosis from Stage IV Kidney Cancer came to pass a lot sooner than anyone expected?  Living with a parent who has a chronic illness is stressful enough, and many families who have this prognosis do approach it as a chronic disease:  something to manage.  Priorities change, foci change, benchmarks for success change.  Great teachers work with these students to individualize for their educational needs while also helping meet social and emotional needs.

Summer 2017 in Seward, Alaska

When the passing comes, though, children react differently depending on developmental stages.  The seven-year-old takes everything seemingly in stride while feeling “a little bit sad” that her dad has died.  The nine-year-old is angry, going through all of dad’s things, pushing the boundary of established rules yet trying to step up and be helpful around the house.  The 14-year-old retreats into Netflix and laughs some of mom’s weak jokes about being a single homeowner and tries not to let the sadness overwhelm her by hanging out with a trusted friend or two.

It isn’t just trauma-informed teaching we are doing.  It is trauma-informed everything.  Because their mom is also in the midst of a great trauma and things aren’t going to run as well with a sub in her classroom as it might otherwise.  Her students are concerned and her colleagues are compassionate.

We knew my husband’s kidney cancer would shorten his life but we most certainly did not expect it to be over on Labor Day 2018.  Not when three weeks prior he had been healthy enough to travel back home from Seattle where he’d been doing treatment for six months, reconnect with his friends through visits, and transition to being a stay-at-home dad.  We expected a few more years at least of this and us being a family of five with a dog.  In twelve years of teaching at my school, we’ve only lost two parents and those were a while ago.  Three students lost a parent over that weekend, nevermind their teacher mom.

Trauma-informed everything.

Great teachers do something about it.

We love you, husband and dad.  Thank you for taking care of us so well.

Ed Stading
1966-2018

An Honor

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See this beautiful guy?  He’s an Inupiaq hunter, retelling his success on the ice.  He drums and sings in a sing-song voice, calling, chanting.  Perhaps it is a seal he’s followed or maybe a walrus.  Regardless, he’s already been successful.  If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be masked up and drumming;  he’d be out hunting.

Thursday night I joined four other amazing teachers from my district to be honored by British Petroleum as Teachers of Excellence.  The energy company (since of course, it isn’t just oil now) honors teachers each year and has for over 20 years.  The honorees receive $500 for their school, $500 for themselves, and a free college class about natural resources in Alaska.  One teacher is chosen as Teacher of the Year and is given $1000 for continuing education.

It was an interesting process.  First, a teacher is nominated by folk (I suspect the more, the merrier) and then invited to complete an interview form.  I’ve heard of teachers balking at that step and I suspect there are plenty that decide not to continue.  You know why?  It’s HARD for teachers to talk about all the great things they do!  For real, we are just doing our job.  The memes, “I don’t mean to brag but I totally _____” and the blank is something pretty easy and normal come to mind with I think about this.  It’s just what good teachers do!

My daughter told me later that the district should make a school of only BP Teachers because everyone’s classroom sounded so amazing.  Rightly so!  I want to be in their classrooms, too!  Congratulations Carlyn Nichols, Will Chevernek, Jen Booz, and Staci Wells!  Please brag about what goes on in your classrooms and come alongside other teachers so that every teacher in our schools knows how to be a teacher of excellence.

We had a day’s notice to have some words prepared if we were named the Teacher of the Year.  I ended up writing mine on the back of a parking receipt in addition to the words a student gave me to say:  Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!  It’s what I do, involve students.  (The Potterheads in the crowd chuckled when I did actually say them last night.)

Being a teacher of excellence doesn’t come without a support network of excellence.  Thank you to my students and parents, community and colleagues, district and PLN.

I joked with my husband later about now being beholden to BP but that isn’t correct.  If anything, I’m bound to teachers and helping them all establish excellence in their classrooms. Like my soapstone hunter, it’s time to dance it out because I have a story to share.

 

 

Fake Winter

What does a Texas girl do in the middle of the summer when the temperature soars to 100 degrees or more?  Makes a fake winter, of course.  All it takes is an A/C window unit and a good book that presents a setting far different than the sweltering sidewalk outside.

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From Wikipedia, this is actually from Winter 1881 that Wilder fictionalized in The Long Winter.  (Train, 2017)

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder was perfect for curling up underneath the air conditioner in the front room (my sisters and I would actually fight over that spot, the only cool spot in the house).  In the book, the teenage Laura and her family fight to stay warm during an excruciatingly bitter winter in the early 1880s.  Quite the opposite set up of me trying to stay cool in Texas summer.

Two images stay with me from that book.  First, it was so cold, the nailheads in the attic always had frost on them in the morning.  I can see little white circles in a line on the slanted roof!  What kind of winter causes that?  Brrrrr.  The other is a scene where Ma decides that to have fuel for the fire, they would twist hay into sticks.  And so they did…twist after twist after twist.  My poor Texas mind could not wrap around such a scarcity of fuel, nevermind the cold that would require it.

During my first graduate degree, I took a Children’s Literature class.  Pretty much the only thing I remember the instructor specifically say to me was about this book.  “You should read it as an adult,” she said.  Having lived on the North Slope of Alaska, now I do know what a long winter is like and yes, that book is a different read.  But it will always take me back to summers in Texas.