Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Assignment: 6 things to do this break to prevent burn-out




What's your restoration plan? I mean, despite the holidays and travel and grading and planning and presents and stress, how do you plan to be ready to return in January to school rested and restored and ready-to-rock?

Well, I have an assignment for you. I gave a similar one to my students, with only slightly different rationales.

1) Go for a walk. Outside.
The weather may be cold and wet, but exercise, fresh air, and natural light are good for you, preventing brooding. If you're like me, and work in the Northern Hemisphere, there's a good chance that you've been going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark only to balance grading, family, and holiday preparation. Your mental health and circadian rhythm will thank you for taking a walk outside in a natural setting. I've got such a kick out of walking in the morning this week -- in daylight nonetheless!

2) Express gratitude.
Sure, if you express gratitude to others, their day will be better, holiday spirit, yada yada. But expressing your gratitude by writing a heartfelt card, or calling  someone to let them know why you appreciate them, will help you be more positive and happier. Positive and happy teachers are good for students.

3) Read a book.
And not just one for school. You need to read books of your choosing for pleasure, just as your students do. Regular reading for pleasure improves vocabulary, life satisfaction, and empathy. It's hard to focus on our intellectual growth on days you're facing a class of 30, but it's worth it when you can fit it in to keep learning and growing. Yes, I also want you to talk and model that growth to your students in January. We have a chance to model adults who read for enjoyment and show that we expect to keep growing in reading, writing, life.

4) Make plans.
And not just lesson plans! Yes, you'll get caught up on planning and grading -- so you can start fresh -- but also plan activities for spring to anticipate and look forward to stay a balanced, sane professional by planning times this spring that you won't teach. You'll be a better teacher for doing other things. As Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate advocates, we have to cultivate outside enthusiasms in order to bring our best selves to our classroom.

5) Sleep.
Getting enough sleep reduces stress and improves immune function. You were probably sleep-deprived before break. Take care of that.

6) Do the things that fill you up. 
Everyone's list will be different. Mine includes time with my children and nieces and nephews, writing, painting, hiking, and reading. But come January, it behooves you to know and do your own list now. Finding meaning in your life is twice as likely to lead to life satisfaction than material wealth. We teach because mentoring kids, helping them grow, choosing a purposeful life inspires us more than a big paycheck. We will be better at it, if we also nurture our other purposes during this winter break.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Using intrinsic motivation to nurture good writing

Recently, I had the pleasure with David Cutler to speak to Rae Pica from Studentcentricity, BAM Radio's Internet educator radio show. Radio interviews are fairly new for me; I haven't been on the radio since Jennifer Moranda and I hosted a sports radio show in high school!
David Cutler and I on Studentcentricity, BAM Radio


The interview pace zinged almost faster than my brain, but Cutler and I agreed on so much! Students need real writing tasks that they help choose with real audiences and real feedback. We both teach a class devoted to publishing (the Modes of Writing has been producing great stuff!) and trust that our students can handle real feedback that helps them grow as writers.

Please give the 10-minute radio interview a listen. I could use feedback on how to improve my performance in that particular format; it's so different that than an elevator speech or hour-long professional development.

You can read more about these ideas at Twitter:  @SpinEdu, @RaePica1, @BAMRadioNetwork, and of course, me, at @AmyKConley .

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Zombies and Halloween and fake blook

I would love feedback on this essay and poem pair to improve them and get them ready for publication. Please give me feedback in the comments.

I want to have a serious discussion with you today about zombies.
Although I like science fiction and fantasy, my identification with particular characters has never been strong. I’ve never felt the need to buy elf ears, vampire glitter, Star Trek uniforms, or Renaissance dresses. Perhaps my sense of whimsy is broken. But in the last decade, I have developed a fascination for zombies in my media: Day of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Walking Dead, etc. It wasn’t clear to me why. I don’t believe in actual zombies. They lack glamour for a good Halloween costume.  I dislike the genres of horror and goth usually. And yet. I needed to laugh at them, to shudder at their sudden flesh-eating appearance on screen.
I eventually made the connection that I associate methamphetamine users with zombies. The pallor, the twitches, the inevitability of their decline after the changing bite, the lack of thinking, the walking. And maybe that link, even subconsciously, explains zombies’ popularity in pop culture rising alongside the methamphetamine epidemic.
I taught for six years in a very small, rural Western mountain town in Trinity County, California ravaged by meth. I knew the walkers; they were my former students. I estimate I’ve lost 100 students to meth in the last 14 years. I’ve also had two success cases, students who tried but then pulled themselves out to have families, jobs, lives. But there’s been a lot of deaths, too many promises to come clean followed by shaking, sweating, and walking the streets at 3 am, too many babies born too tiny and addicted, too many dropouts and lost teeth. At the ten year reunion in three years, the class of 2007 will be 1/3 fewer than when they entered high school 15 of the 45 are dead. A different type of attrition than normally discussed with educators.  I read the news to discover my former students in stories about house fire fatalities, suicides, car accidents, missing persons, until I had to stop reading the news.
Meth may be slower than a zombie apocalypse, but just as inexorable. And more surprising. Students know meth kills, rots organs and teeth, makes you old at 20, dead by 30. And some still do it. We educate about how meth is different; they vehemently declare, “Never,” and then, somehow, walk the streets at 2am with a blank stare.
I don’t know how to stop the tide. Education isn’t doing it.  I understand that when you’re young, poor, hurting, a quick, cheap joy is still a joy in a world where there are few. And addiction and long-term consequences seem very small and far away. Maybe the answer is fighting poverty as well as meth? I do know that when faced on the street with a former student that doesn’t seem to really see me, everything I know to do is inadequate to the scope of the problem.
I do know that it sometimes helps me to picture fighting the spread of tweakers by imagining ninja fighting and shotgun blasts to rotted brains. As gory and unrealistic as zombie fighting is in the movies, it seems simpler than fighting the reality of methamphetamine use in our communities.


Hopes for a bottle of blood on Halloween

My fingers stained, propylene glycol and red #40
Running down their faces,
I’ve made another batch of zombies.
I can do it in three minutes now:
Grey base, black eyeliner for scars, spray blood, liquid blood, black lipstick.
And I will open up myself, my fears.
For them, for students from the last decade.
Gone. Too self-destructive and reckless to make it to adulthood.
For Blank, burned alive in a trailer fire cooking meth.
For Blank, pistol to the temple in boot camp.
Blank, ran into a tree this last weekend. Drunk. Still.
Blank, shotgun to the head 10 years ago, screaming about incest.
Blank, bikini, 4-wheeler, and Bud Natural Ice.
Blank, 104 mph on 101.
Blank  and Blank, hitchhiking in the back of a tweaker’s truck.
Blank, heart attack at 25. Just another way to say death by meth.
I doctor up my current students as zombies to talk about how much I fear their
Self-destruction. I’ll talk about the dangers of meth and drunk driving, that being
So careless with their lives is a form of suicide.
I make them look dead now,
hoping I can protect them from themselves later.
Who knew a bottle of blood could aspire to so much?

And tomorrow. Day of the Dead.
Someone once told me they pray to their dead, a village of their deceased, every November 1st. And I wrongly imagined that everyone I ever knew that died lived together in some Dia De Los Muertos graveyard bestrewn with flowers. Together. My grandparents feeding my former students cornbread.
I can’t shake that thought.
My village is young and stupid, and I loved them.
We could hold class, put on Prom, and I could do their make-up for Halloween.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books and movies to use with children when thinking about positive psychology

Books matter.


I know you know this. But as adults, we have an opportunity to put books in kids' hands that change their minds about themselves, their minds, their emotions, and their futures.


The stories inside our head shape our reality, and the stories we read help shape those stories. As the research of  positive psychologists Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, Carol Dweck, Edward Deci, and Richard Ryan illustrate, how we think about the events of our lives affect stress levels, feelings of control and competency, and positive feelings about ourselves and others. The story we tell ourselves matter. We can fill kids with stories about understanding and accepting emotions and finding new strategies when faced with obstacles.


I would love to hear more suggestions as well. Please comment below with other children’s media that help use the big ideas of positive psychology with K-12.

Talking about, naming, accepting, and discussing strategies for dealing with  emotions helps kids navigate their world.  These works give children of different ages ways to talk about their feelings.


A book for young children,  When Sophie Gets Angry, explains an anger trigger for a young girl and the strategy she uses to calm down, opening up conversation with your youngster on how to cool down.:


The movie Inside Out helps, not only, name emotions but urges us all to deal with all of our emotions, even the ones that aren’t fun.:



For older children, The Giver science fiction novel, explores the personal and societal cost of trying to prevent negative emotions. :





Carol Dweck’s growth mindset has almost become jargon in education circles, but stressing growth and finding new strategies can empower children.
With younger children, likable protagonists who learn about themselves when they let go of what was supposed to happen, like in The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, and learn new strategies to overcome obstacles, like The Most Magnificent Thing, help them discover that they can choose how their brain grows by what they practice, like in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: biking, reading, interacting with friends or all of the above :

For older children, it can help to explain that their brain is changing as fast as their bodies, like in The Owner’s Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain.:


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Some Eleanor Roosevelt quotes to fuel your weekend inspiration

Do something every day that scares you.
Happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product.
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.
People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Exciting 2015!

You haven't heard from me in 2015, because I wrote a book proposal for my book Teachers, Mindset, and Motivation: Connecting kids to their positivity, passion, and purpose for Rowman & Littlefield. Contact me to read a sample! I'm excited to get feedback and help teachers connect students to their positivity, passion, and purpose.