Sunday, August 23, 2020

Prayer for 2020-2021

I ran into a former student today. “Mrs. Peterson?” she asked (it’s been years since we’ve seen each other).

“H? How did you recognize me with sunglasses and a mask…?”

“It was your voice…”

Your voice. Our voice...


Compassionate Heavenly Mother,

As we enter a school year unlike another, grant us grace—grace for ourselves, grace for our students, grace for their parents, grace for our coworkers. Remind us—constantly but gently—that every single person has been through so much in the last six months, including ourselves. Free us from the temptation of comparison, as we look at what used to be and what could have been. Rescue us from our own thoughts.

We are so anxious, Mama. Still, help us find creative solutions to meet every kid. We ask that we would feel a closeness and kindredness to our students that can only come from the Divine; that we would be flooded with renewed patience and understanding; that amidst all the unknown we would search for and find true JOY...the kind of joy that still makes room for hurt and anxiety and loneliness and can say, “Baby, I’ve been there. I see your ache. I know the pain. But I’ve come out the other side and I say let’s enjoy this day together.”

May our voices be a soothing salve to the hurting. May they find comfort and solace in our rooms—whether physical or virtual. Grant us the tenderness of a new mama. Open our eyes to see and honor the Light in every soul. Open our ears to hear each story. Open our hearts to let each story move us. 

Give us the words when we start to grasp. Grant us the wisdom when silence is needed. And give us the courage to sit and cry with the brokenness.

In the midst of the unknown, in the midst of the chaos, remind us that You are the God who sees us tossing and turning at night, the One who collects our tears and records them in Her book (Ps. 56:8). Remind us we are not alone. We are not unseen. 

Finally, I ask for what feels impossible right now. I ask for unity. I ask that we see both the humanity and the Divine in one another. I ask for less strife and more open doors. I ask for less talking and more listening. I ask for less judgment and more grace; fewer assumptions, more understanding. And start with me, Oh God. Start in my heart. Purify my heart so I can see the world through Your eyes. 


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Virtual Assessment Ideas

Type #1: Explain 

Have students take a test on their own (don’t grade the tests). Once they’re done, give students the key and have them grade their own. 

Ask students to make corrections and then create a video of their explanations of the three (or however many) most difficult problems for them. They may or may not be questions they initially got incorrect. Students should submit their initial test, corrections, and video. Grade is given on accuracy of grading, accuracy and cleanliness of corrections, and appropriate video explanations. Grade is not based on initial number of questions missed as this would encourage nefarious means. 

Type #2: Create

Have students create their own test, key, and solutions. Give detailed directions on number and type of questions. 

For multiple choice questions, have students explain why the distractors are good. For free response questions, give the students the questions but have them create the stem and the answer key. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Zoom with iPad or iPhone (so your kids still see your face!)

I wanted a way for my students to still see my face when I worked problems in front of them on a Zoom call.  I think it’s important for them to see my facial expressions and it’s important for me to be able to “look” at them.  You already lose so much via a Zoom call--I wasn’t willing to lose what little interaction I had.  I have an iPad and Apple Pencil, so I used the first method below to write on my iPad and share my screen (while also keeping the meeting open on my computer so my kids could still see me).  See photo below:

If you don’t have a tablet/stylus, you can use your phone’s camera feature to share (for example) a paper that you’re writing examples on.  Think of it as a document camera.

With iPad
  1. On your iPad, first add Screen Recording to your Control Center if you haven’t already (Settings>Control Center>Customize Controls. Push the green plus sign next to “Screen Recording”).
  2. Open the Zoom app and start the meeting from your iPad (this is important so that you’re the host on your iPad and not your computer so you can share your screen).
  3. Turn your video off (so you don’t broadcast an unflattering view of yourself…).
  4. Mute yourself.
  5. Click the “More” button on top right and select “Disable Audio.” 
    This will ensure you don’t have feedback/echo from having Zoom open on two devices open.
  6. Now switch to your computer.  Open Zoom and start the same meeting from your computer.
  7. On your iPad, let yourself into the meeting.
  8. Run the meeting as normal now.  Keep in mind, you are currently hosting from the iPad, so you’ll need to let people in through the iPad.  To share your iPad screen, hit the green “Share” button, then select “Screen.” The first time you will need to select “Zoom,” and then push “Start Broadcast.”  You are now sharing your screen and can toggle through windows as normal.  A nice feature is opening your camera app so you can show whatever documents, books, etc are in front of you.

With iPhone

  1. On your iPhone, first add Screen Recording to your Control Center if you haven’t already (Settings>Control Center>Customize Controls. Push the green plus sign next to “Screen Recording”).
  2. Open the Zoom app on your phone and start the meeting from your phone (this is important so that you’re the host on your phone and not your computer so you can share your screen).
  3. Tap anywhere on the screen to see menus.  Turn your video off (so you don’t broadcast an unflattering view of yourself…).
  4. Mute yourself.
  5. Click the “More” button bottom right and select “Disconnect Audio.” This will ensure you don’t have feedback/echo from having Zoom open on two devices open.
  6. Now switch to your computer.  Open Zoom and start the same meeting from your computer.
  7. On your phone, let yourself into the meeting.
  8. Run the meeting as normal now.  Keep in mind, you are currently hosting from your phone, so you’ll need to let people in through your phone.  To share your phone’s screen, hit the green “Share” button, then select “Screen.” The first time you will need to select “Zoom,” and then push “Start Broadcast.”  You are now sharing your screen and can toggle through windows as normal.  A nice feature is opening your camera app so you can show whatever documents, books, etc are in front of you.

Happy Zooming! I hope this doesn't have to last too much longer...

Sunday, November 17, 2019


I started practicing mindfulness with my students last spring.  I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on it from both students and peers.  My precalc kids from last year who lopped with me into calc this year asked (told) me to continue this tradition in calculus as well. I thought I would post my script here in case it's something you want to try with your kids.  I currently teach pre-AP and AP students but I have a colleague who does this with her on-level students as well, so I'm convinced it works for all learners.

I first set the tone of what mindfulness is and why it's so important, what focusing on the present can do for our brains.  I highly recommend showing both these short video clips (or something similar) to your students before you start this work:
I like to play quiet music or nature sounds in the background and turn off the lights.  I let my kids stay in their seats or get on the ground, but that's of course entirely your call.  Some background videos I've liked are the following:
Alright!  Here's my script.  It's not all my own words.  When I was looking for a mindfulness script, I couldn't find quite what I wanted, so I edited others' scripts and pieced them with  my own.  This at least gives you a starting point if you're like I was six months ago and just wanted something to go off.  I will post two other scripts at the end that I've used with minor modifications.

Start by settling into a comfortable position and allow your eyes to close or keep them open with a softened gaze. Begin by taking several long slow deep breaths breathing in fully and exhaling fully. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Allow your breath to find its own natural rhythm. Bring your full attention to noticing each in-breath as it enters your nostrils, travels down to your lungs and causes your belly to expand. And notice each out-breath as your belly contracts and air moves up through the lungs back up through the nostrils or mouth. Invite your full attention to flow with your breath. 

Take a deep breath in for 1, 2, 3, 4; now exhale out for 5, 6, 7, 8.  Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4; exhale 5, 6, 7, 8. Keep inhaling...and exhaling. Try to focus on your breath or the sound of my voice if you feel your mind start to wander.  Inhale...exhale. If you’re comfortable, place a hand on your heart and feel your chest rise as you inhale...and contract as you exhale. Inhale...exhale. Inhale...exhale.  Now take the deepest breathe in you’ve taken...and the longest breath out.

As you continue to breathe in and out, try to keep focusing on your breath.  

Inhale love; exhale resentment.
Inhale courage; exhale fear.
Inhale strength; exhale weakness.
Inhale joy; exhale comparison.
Inhale kindness; exhale resentment.
Inhale confidence; exhale doubt.
Inhale intentions; exhale expectations.
Inhale hope; exhale fear.
Inhale inclusion; exhale judgement.
Inhale forgiveness; exhale blame.
Inhale passion; exhale indifference.
Inhale grace; exhale the need for perfection.

And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen to the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply.
You can notice your feet on the floor.
You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness.
Notice your back against the chair.
Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath.
Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight. See if you can allow them to soften.
Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.
Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.
Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.
Then notice your whole body present. 

Take a couple minutes to focus on your breath, remembering that just being in the moment--not worried about the past or stressed about the future--helps your neural resources to grow.
After about 30 seconds: If you find your mind wandering, just notice that wandering, without judgment.  Then, bring your mind back to your breath.
Another 1-1.5 minutes of breathing.

May today be a day where you know you are loved and valued.
May you accept that love and give love.
May you know you are safe, cherished, and wanted.
May today be a day where you experience grace: both to give and to take.
May today be a day where you are connected with yourself and those around you: aware of one another’s needs and willing to both give and receive help.
May today be a day of joy and thanksgiving.

Take one more deep breath, and begin to bring your awareness back to the room.  Wiggle your toes and fingers. Gently open your eyes. Lights are coming back on.

Other scripts you may want to consider/modify for your classroom:
I would really love to hear from you if mindfulness is something you use in your classroom. I'm a newbie, but I'm learning! Also, Calm is an amazing app if you want to start practicing mindfulness personally...PLUS educators can get a subscription for free!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why I Teach

I recently had the opportunity to talk to the teachers new to our district about why I teach and why I teach at Union Public Schools.  I was originally going to try to write this in blog form (versus speech form), but my brain has made all its allowable decisions because...August.  So I’m leaving the speech as-is below:

I’ve been asked to talk to you about why I teach and why I teach at Union. And I’ll be honest, this intimidates me a bit because even though most of you are new to Union; many of you are not new to teaching. Many of you should be telling me why you teach and yet here we are. So bear with me and grant me grace. 

The first thing I want to say, whether this is your first year or thirtieth or somewhere in between, is thank you. Thank you for choosing this profession and thank you for choosing Union. The sacrifice it takes to be an Oklahoma public educator is not lost on me.

I am big on stories and backgrounds, so I’ll start with a bit about my family. I married my college sweetheart, Brett, who also works for Union. He’s one of four CPAs on the finance side and manages the payroll department here. Brett is the ever-calm to my constant state of heightened emotional frenzy.  I swear the man can defuse any situation in 7 seconds flat.  He is able to negotiate peace in just about any circumstance, which comes in handy these days as we find ourselves attempting to parent a 3.5-year-old, Jonas.  Jonas is our sweet miracle baby, who--like all three-year-olds-- keeps us on our toes and teaches us about love and patience on the daily. Jonas has also convinced me that no matter what age you are, we as humans can be simultaneously ingenious...and completely inept. For example, Jonas—for the life of him—cannot throw overhand.  He can be given extremely clear directions (“Put the ball in both your hands; put your hands over your head; drop the ball.”) and he still can’t quite manage it.  But the same kid can categorize cars by make and model no matter the color, year, or angle he’s looking from.

I’ve found my high schoolers are not too different.  I’ve caught calculus students taking out a calculator to multiply by one “just to check.”  “Just to check”?  Just to check what?  That one is the still the multiplicative identity?  That the foundation of our number system hasn’t changed since yesterday?  I don’t know.  Yet these same kids figure out the security guards’ schedule after the second week of school so they know when to park where so as to avoid a parking ticket. 

Smart when they want to be. 

These same smart cherubs figured out that our district-wide goal—100% graduation, 100% college- career-ready—could be used in their benefit too. “What are you gonna do, fail me?” I’ve heard. “100% graduation, remember?”


In the spirit of transparency: I was not too into our goal for a couple years. 

And then I heard this story, which I had heard dozens of times before. It’s about this shepherd who has a hundred sheep. He loves his sheep. One day, he realizes one of the sheep is missing so he leaves the ninety-nine and goes searching for the one lost sheep. When he finally finds it, he’s so overcome with joy and emotion that he drapes it across the back of his shoulders  He carries it this way--much like you would a toddler-- all the way home.  Once home, he runs to tell his family friends, “I found her!  My sheep was lost and now she’s found.” 

Look, I don’t know if that sheep wanted to be found or not. Maybe she was having a grand time on the mountain by herself. But the message of this story really helped me have a paradigm shift regarding our mission.  It helped me understand that “100%” is less about grades and more about people.  It helped me not only buy into our mission but embrace it. I now embrace the idea that we don’t leave anyone behind. I embrace the idea that every kid is worth finding and bringing home to the fold. And maybe most importantly, I embrace the idea that ninety-nine is not good enough. Now, that doesn’t mean we lower our standards; that absolutely does not mean we just put a passing grade in, because sometimes—quite frankly—kids also need to be allowed to fail safely. But that does mean that we personalize education here at Union—we meet kids where they’re at. That phrase “set the bar high and students will rise to your expectations”? It doesn’t sit well with me. Because it gives no allowances for stories and for backgrounds. Listen, there have been days when I wanted to chew a student out for earning a B while also doing a happy dance that a different kid made a D on the exact same assessment.  Kids deserve unique goals because kids are unique. They’re unique in their stories, their backgrounds, their current struggles, and their dreams. 

The reason I love working here at Union is because this is a district that understands that. My admin has had my back every single time I’ve said,  “Help me understand this story; help me personalize a plan.” I’m always expected to be a part of that plan to bring the student back to the fold, but I never, ever have to go it alone here at Union. I want to emphasize that. You are not alone here. Find those people who will support you and cling to them.  Mrs. Witcher was my principal my first year teaching here and I have clung to her ever since. I still call her when I need advice or just need to vent. And I know I can do so without judgement. Find your tribe and cling to them. 

Speaking of Mrs. Witcher, I remember when we built this beautiful addition that we’re sitting in now and she said to us, “One of the reasons we build amazing facilities like this one is because we believe all kids should feel proud of where they go to school.” And that statement there is so central to why I love teaching here. Here, we believe all kids should feel dignified when receiving their education. We believe that buildings like this tell our kids, “You are worth it. You are worth it whether you’re rich or poor. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian. You are worth it whether you live on the south side or the north side. You are worth it whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or you just got here. Welcome. These rooms were built for you. Our arms are open wide. Welcome to the fold.  Everyone’s in.  We don’t close our doors to anyone.”

Now when you look at our beautiful buildings, you may think we’re a pretty wealthy district.  We get lumped into the same category as Jenks, Bixby, and Owasso frequently.  The reality is that, on average, our families make $30,000 less each year than those that attend Jenks, Bixby, and Owasso.  $30,000 less every year.  And I have nothing but respect for those districts; I have dear friends who teach and send their kids there. But I mean just the fact that we get lumped in with those other schools is a testament to this district.  I’m here to tell you though:  not only do we get “lumped” with these schools, we are the district that often leads the charge.  Did you know you can take Differential Equations at Union High School?  That’s the class you take after Calculus 1, 2, and 3 all of which we also offer on campus.  Did you know you can get medical help if you live in the Union district?  Affordable healthcare.  Our national Congress can’t even figure it out.  But our district has.  Because, yes, we know education is a key out of poverty, but how can you educate the mind if the body hurts?  So accessible, affordable healthcare is made available to our community members.  Did you know that Union students can graduate with two degrees--an associates and a high school degree at no cost to them?  Did you know that we offer after-school music lessons to kids who can’t afford in-home private lessons? 

Occasionally people will tell me, “Union’s population has really changed the last ten years.”

And I always reply, “That’s true.  And we’re better for it.”

We may not have parents who can donate two million dollars to build a new STEM lab, but I’m ok with that.  It allows our kids see the intentionality with which we build, the care and the stewardship.  

That’s why I chose to pursue teaching and specifically chose to cultivate my craft at Union.  I chose teaching because I felt public education empowers, enlightens, and liberates. Everyone has a seat at the table. Everyone gets access to quality learning. That’s the script—that’s the calling—I chose. One of inclusion. One of love. One where everyone’s in. One that seeks to eliminate marginalization and end generational poverty through education.

The reason I teach is that I want to add value and dignity to students, sometimes for the first time in a long time. Sometimes just when they need it most. [1]I teach because of Cara, who lost her mom in elementary school and has since lived with her alcoholic dad and step-mom, the latter of which doesn’t speak to Cara. But Cara told me that the silver lining in all of this is that she was able to attend Union Public Schools. And that even though her childhood has been bleak; her adulthood is promising, due to the opportunities afforded to her through Union. Cara is will most likely be one of our National Merits this year. I teach because of Andrew, who struggled so deeply with depression and anxiety that he tried to take his own life. But courageous Andrew reached for help. And now he is a vocal proponent of mental healthcare, especially as it relates to teenagers. I teach because of Shirin. Just two years ago, Shirin was in a different district where she was bullied because of the color of her skin. No one looked like her at her old school so certain students thought that gave them right to be cruel. Shirin was bullied so severely that her mom pleaded for a transfer to Union, even though they didn’t live within our boundaries. The transfer was granted. Now Shirin has friends that look like her, and don’t look like her, who welcomed her with open arms. I teach because of Seth, who wants to be a high school math teacher when he grows up. 

I try to live by two philosophies: (1) there’s no such thing as someone else’s kid and (2) there’s a reason each kid on my roster is on my roster. That does not magically make it easy to like every single one of them. The veteran teachers can back me up on this: some of your kids are going to be hard to like (and they will probably manage to have perfect attendance).  But those are also the kids who need you the most. I will admit: there have been days in the past—and there will be days to come—when I didn’t want to step foot in my own room...because of that parent phone call or that situation blew up...and I just didn’t want to deal with him or see her again. But I’ll also say this:  somehow, those kids became some of my favorites. 

And that’s up to us: we write that narrative. We can continue to let that annoyance or even hurt fester inside us, or we can decide: I’m going to speak truth into this life. I’m going to be the adult who sees the good in this child, even when he doesn’t even see it himself: I will choose to see it and pull it out. I will be the adult who pleads the cause of my students, even when they’re too mad, too hurt, too exhausted, too overwhelmed to plead for themselves. I will be the adult who says, “Oh you can and WILL be someone great—someone who adds to, and not subtracts from, to our community.” I’ll be the adult who says, “The chains break here. You are free. Free to be yourself. You’re safe in my room. You belong just as you are. You matter. You’re here for a reason. You are not an accident. You are mine and I am yours and we are in this together.”

And some will respond right away and others won’t. Some will come with open arms, so ready for that love and others will continue in destructive ways...sometimes even to us as teachers. Sometimes we get hurt as teachers, right? We don’t talk a whole lot about that. But kids can really hurt us.

When that happens, we have a choice: step away and say “Not my problem,” (which I admit I've done my fair share of times) or lean in and remind ourselves: “Ninety-nine is not good enough.”

My utmost desire for you and for me is that this is the year we lean in.

May we see every kid. May we see them for who they were made to be. May we pay special attention to the ones who don’t want to be seen, and to the ones who feel  invisible. May we have the courage to show them—day in and day out—they are more than visible to us. They are our life. 

My hope is that this year you’re able to create a culture--a classroom--that you’re excited to come to and that your students can't wait to be in every day. That the kid who lost his mom this summer feels loved in your room. That the one who struggles with anxiety and self-harm feels worthy in your room. That the one who was bullied last year feels safe. That the shy one feels heard; the loud one belongs. That our labels dissipate and your students become...your kids. 

May this be a year where mutual understanding and learning take place. May we enter not as their saviors but as fellow sojourners. Yes, sojourners who have walked a bit longer, but travelers on the same journey nonetheless.

As one of my favorite writers said, In the end, maybe “we’re all just walking each other home.”

[1] Names and certain details of students have been altered to protect their privacy.