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I’m OK. And that’s OK.

What would you say is your area for improvement?

I’ve been asked this in countless job interviews, and still I have no appropriate answer.

“Well, I can be disorganized. I mean, not at work. Like, I get all my work done, but there is a pile of laundry on my son’s bed that hasn’t been folded for three weeks. That kind of disorganized. The kind that prioritizes well enough to know which tasks HAVE to be done and which tasks would be nice to have done. By someone else. Or by me in several years. But seriously you should hire me because I am an amazing employee who totally follows through on tasks.”

Or maybe I should say, “I’m honest. Like brutally honest about my failures and successes. And I will tell you if there is something that is bothering me because I don’t like conflict. Oh yeah, that too. I decided a long time ago that conflict affects my overall health and well being so although I am naturally a conflict avoider, I have learned to be confrontational in what I hope are loving and kind ways.”

“Also, you should hire me because I am an amazing employee who gets along with everyone.”

And then there is the very honest answer of “Well, to be honest Leonard, I would say that every area is an area for improvement. I’m exceptionally hard on myself, so hard on myself that very often I don’t even start a project because I’m so afraid that it won’t be good enough. So I end up paralyzed and anxious. Also, I’m an amazing employee. Who gets things done. And you should hire me.”

A few years ago I was in a team meeting with my twenty coworkers (yes, despite all of the above, I still can sometimes manage to get hired). It was around the holidays, and our boss was giving us a present. She spoke to us about the changes that had taken place in the organization, and about how those changes had necessitated changes in our coaching practice, and as was to be expected, this led to insecurity and fear about our competency and our value.

Then she told us that she wanted us to know that we are all there because we are incredible coaches. And that it is alright not to be perfect. It’s OK to be OK. In fact, she wanted to give us permission to be just OK, and to keep showing up and keep doing the work even if it was just OK.

So she gave us each an ornament that said, “Okayest.”

We were the okayest group of coaches.

I was thinking about that ornament this week when my stress level was rising and the list of tasks that needed to be done was growing and I was feeling like the worst version of my disorganized self and my non-confrontational self, with my honesty working to beat up by brain.

I sent a text to my friend to say that I was DROWNING and could she please send me all of the love and a life preserver through her phone.

And she wrote back, “Start with the fun thing. Create it. You want it to be perfect and that’s why you’re in your head.”

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

It can just be ok.

OK is OK.

Which, I think, is what I should say next time I’m asked that question at a job interview. Something along the lines of, “Well, there are a lot of areas for improvement, too many to list here, so let me instead say that I promise to be the okayest employee you have ever had.”

I mean, I probably won’t get the job, but the other answers weren’t any better.

In the meantime, I will be trying to be the okayest version of myself today. Imperfectly and average and enough.

Time to get started.



What I Learned at 4:00am Yoga


On summer solstice I went to do morning yoga at 4:30am.

I think I’ve already made my point about how I am NOT a morning person. Not even a little bit. But there I was, at 4am, driving down the Eisenhower Expressway toward my bliss.

The yoga and meditating went for two and a half hours and I was tired for the entire time. The. entire. time.

Also, no bliss. I had no real aha moments, except that I am not really good at sitting still for long periods of time. This was not so much an aha moment, but rather a confirmation about what everyone who has ever met me already knows.

Anyway, so one of the poses that we did during early morning yoga was to put our left foot under our butt, bend your right knee in front of our body, and hold our hands in prayer position at our heart. For twenty two minutes.

I’m not exaggerating about the twenty two minutes part. The instructor actually said, “And we will be doing this for twenty two minutes.”

I think it is important to point out here that, being a person of size, it is hard for me to go to yoga without something to prove. One might argue that this is the whole work of yoga for me, and I would probably agree. But if the instructor says that we are holding a boat pose for twenty two minutes, I am holding that pose for the whole damn time.

To prove that I can. To prove that I belong there, with all my glorious rolls and curves.

So I put my left foot under my rear, and I went to bend my right knee and immediately got a charlie horse. I was just about to try again when I looked over at the people around me and saw that several were lying down, covered in blankets, and NAPPING! I didn’t know that napping was an option!

Well, immediately I put my legs down, or rather, my leg flung out in front of me in response to the spasms moving through it, narrowly avoiding my fellow yogis. Then I spent the entire twenty two minutes of the pose thinking about why it is so difficult for me to admit when maybe, just maybe, I am not able to do something perfectly.

One of the things that we love to say in education, especially we who are the innovative/edtech types, is that failure is one of the most important parts of learning.

Wow, do I ever believe that is true.

Until I’m the one who fails.

Then I think that failure totally sucks. Then I think it is the worst. Then I avoid and wail and kick and scream at it. WHY ME?!?!?!

I’m in the middle of working on several projects and overwhelmingly the answer I am getting on all of them is, “No. Not interested.”

And I know that someone once reminded me that J.K. Rowling submitted the manuscript to Harry Potter four hundred and twenty thousand times before someone actually published it. But when it is me who is getting the rejection letters, without any assurance that I will ever become J.K. Rowling, and a fear that I will forever remain just J.K….

Well, I hate it.

Yoga is good for role playing these life moments. You think you’re just getting a charlie horse in a ridiculous position, but you’re actually understanding something fundamental about the way you see the world.

I looked at the two women lying on the ground, taking a rest, and I wondered if it would be so bad to just sit for this one pose. Instead of forcing things into place when they were very unwilling to oblige, to rest for twenty two minutes.

No, I did not lay down. I’m not that evolved yet. But I sat there. I sat there frustrated and sad and angry and rejected. I sat there mad that I have something to prove and meanwhile my fellow yogis are napping. I sat there mad at myself for being unwilling to lay down and nap.

But I sat there.

I wanted to get up and leave. I wanted to decide that two hours of yoga was pretty much as good as two and a half hours of yoga.

But I didn’t leave.

In the words of Brene Brown, I stood my sacred ground.

Or, sat my sacred ground.

This is what it is this week. It isn’t a winning week. I have no trophies to display. I have no accomplishments to report.

Except, that for twenty two minutes at an absurdly early hour of the morning in a yoga studio in the west loop of Chicago, I didn’t do the pose the teacher asked us to do.

And for now, that is good enough.



I’ve Decided I’m Not Going To Live My Passion

I have recently become aware of yet another deficit in my life.

I am not living my passion.

I went to the library yesterday and I browsed the new release section. The library is one of my favorite places, because it is like shopping, but free! And since I have about the same chance of reading a book I buy vs. reading a book I check out from the library, it turns out that the library is a better option for my budget and all around mortgage-paying-ability.

Now to talk about my failures.

There were beautiful books, with jackets wrapped in shiny fresh plastic, all bearing the label of their release date. And it seemed that the books were nearly obsessed with explaining the secret of following your passion, unlocking your inner magic, going on retreats in the woods for a year without bug repellant as an exercise in finding out what really matters to you, eating only sap from a specific Cyprus tree to find your true calling.

I picked up each one, and I held it in my hand, and for a brief and fleeting moment I imagined what it would feel like to own each book. To have, in my own hands, all of the answers I have been searching for.

Because let’s be honest. A few hours after that trip to the library, it took a herculean effort to get my son’s shoes on so we could go out the door and get to Target. Which is, if you are not already aware, the place I go when I feel sad.

I could use a little bit more finding my passion and a little bit less finding my Cartwheel app.

Unfortunately I don’t think any of those books mentioned trips to Target as one of the steps toward finding your inner wisdom and true destiny.

I have spent the better part of this year reading these books. Because I so desperately want to know more about what it is that I was created to be. Every one of the amazing quotes about “be who you were created to be because what the world needs is you, being you” or variations on that theme make my heart say, “YES!”

Immediately followed by a little bit of panic, because I realize that, while the book was fascinating and the quote inspiring, I still don’t know what that one thing is.

But standing there in the library, holding the fifteenth book that deep down I knew I would never read, I made a decision. I am NOT going to go searching for my one passion.

I am over it.

I’m sick of feeling like I’ve missed the boat to success and that all of the opportunities are passing me by because I didn’t buy (or check out) the right book, didn’t apply for the right program, didn’t shake hands with the right person.

I have been running myself ragged toward a goal that I have not even set, a destination I have not charted.


I’ve had enough. I give up.

Trying to live my passion and find my magic has felt more like living my anxiety and finding my inner angst.

I’m giving it a rest. Or I’m going to try to.

And in the meantime, maybe there’s other things I want to do.

I want to live with gratitude. To get up in the morning thankful for another day with my eyes open. Even when some days that morning comes much more quickly than I want.

I want to live with awareness. To notice when I can’t seem to put my cell phone down to enjoy the fact that my son is holding up his art project. To forget the phone at home when we go outside to play.

I want to live with kindness. To take a deep breath when a friend is late for a meeting, knowing that I am far more often making others wait for me. To give without expecting a return.

And those three things alone seem like enough to fill a lifetime, one with or without passion.

Last weekend my family was in town for a visit. It was 90 degrees and our window air conditioners were losing the battle against the heat. In response, the adults sat around the twenty dollar inflatable pool that we’d purchased for the kids, and hung our feet in the water, drinking beer, while our children splashed and screamed and played.

I turned to my brother and said, “I feel like this is the most luxurious thing in the whole world.”

And it was. Family, together. Talking, laughter, play.

In that moment I had no more clarity about my passion than I had the moment before. But somehow it just didn’t matter.

It was enough.






Why I Might Become A Morning Person

I have a new dog.

Every morning around 6am he starts shaking his barrel of a body, whining, and, if neither of those work, licking my face until I get up to take him on a walk.

I am not what you would call a morning person.

Usually I pull on whatever clothes I wore the day before, sliding into my sneakers and stumbling out of the house before my brain has a chance to catch up to my body and say, “No thank you.”

I never regret taking this morning walk, though some days I avoid it anyway, nudging my husband awake. And sometimes my husband wakes before me, returning from the walk before I know he’s gone.

I am not what you would call a morning person. Or even particularly outdoorsy.

But there is something magical about the early morning, before the city is awake. My feet keep moving one in front of the other while my mind uses the drumbeat to sort thoughts. It works while I observe with fuzzy curiosity. Sometimes surprising me with what is unresolved from days, weeks, or years past. Sometimes releasing tears as I remember a friend that I have lost.

I let the tears run. There is no one sitting on their front steps to observe me wipe my eyes.

My dog trots alongside me, leash slack until we turn onto a street that has been previously unexplored. Then he uses his fifty-six pounds of muscle to strain with all his might, desperate to inhale the scents of a single blade of grass that holds the key to this time and space.

My dog is not only a morning person, he’s an all the time person. The world is forever new, forever now. He jumps up with excitement each time I reach for his leash, even though it is a now-familiar dance we play each day, even though my human mind so easily finds it mundane.

I wonder sometimes if this walk is the most important thing I do each day.

If my work is my feet’s prayerful pattering. If my job is to say yes to my own forever new, forever now life. To be filled with gratitude for a single, delicious blade of grass.

It is almost enough to convert me to the morning.


Education Teaching Tuesday Teaching Tip

The Subversive Innovator

Last week I was able to meet with some teachers who are doing great things with technology in their classrooms. We had a meeting to talk about how tech can live in our schools, and part of the meeting was asking them to create a vision for what digital learning could look like in their school in three years. We had five minutes of silence as they typed their responses and read the responses of their colleagues. And then we discussed.

And the first comment was, “If only it could actually be like this.”

Which was followed by nods of agreement, and then several comments about why this could never work. I totally get this. I get the feeling, I get the sentiment, and I get the frustration.

It reminded me of a conversation I was part of several years ago, sitting in a room of mentor teachers, all with a student teacher from the University of Chicago in our classrooms. The mentor teachers were brought together for training, and to be told about the end of the year “project-based learning” unit that was required for our student teachers to complete. We all sat there, watching the implementation gap grow between what our student teachers were expected to do, and our school expectations.

After a series of comments, most of which were explaining why this project-based learning could never happen, one of the facilitators said, “I understand that there are challenges, and that this will live differently in each school setting. But I also believe that we have enough talent in this room to figure out how to be subversive within the system to bring what we know to be best practice into our classrooms.”

The subversive innovators.

You know, the ones who are doing really cool things, but maybe doing so on the down low, with little fanfare, largely uncelebrated, so as not to bring too much attention, so as not to make too many waves.

south chicago model
(The finished product of my student teacher’s project-based learning about our neighborhood)

It’s close to the end of the school year, so for today’s Teaching Tip, I wanted to give a few ideas of how to bring innovation, creativity, and fun into the classroom, even if time is limited and expectations are high.

1.) Find your squishy time

It’s different in every classroom, but there are moments within each day that are under-utilized. The time right after lunch, the time between lunch and specials class, the time right before the end of the day. I usually know when I’ve hit up against a teacher’s squishy time because when I ask to see their schedule, and I point to a specific spot, and they get really non-specific about what is happening during that time. Or they get defensive (often because they’ve already identified this time as squishy and are putting it to good use!) That’s the time do get creative. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes. SO MUCH can be accomplished in 5-10 minutes.

There’s also squishy time within the content, like changing the end of unit assessment to a performance task, incorporating one center rotation focused on student choice or interests, or using the math drills at the beginning of the lesson to incorporate calisthenics, as one of my teachers does with her 4th graders.

2.) Get student input

When bullying got real in my class, I held a class meeting to explain the situation to my 3rd graders and ask for their input. Honestly, the biggest reason was that I realized that the problem was bigger than what I could solve on my own. Their ideas were pretty fantastic, including a system of bully tickets, kindness tickets, a bully poster campaign, and a bully prevention leadership team. It was so much better than I could ever imagine, and it was completely different than what I would have developed.

More importantly, it worked.

It can be helpful to start with a shared problem, and help students to come up with solutions. One teacher I work with is using the end of the year time to do a study on the elections because his students kept asking questions about a certain candidate and why he was doing so well in the polls. Another high school math teacher presented the problem that many buildings in their city were not accessible for wheelchairs, and the class used what they had learned about angles and measurement to build ramps for local businesses.

But the point is, if it isn’t clear where to start in innovation, ask the students. I guarantee that one of them will have a far better idea than anything I could blog about here.

3.) Follow Through

making rocket launchers(Making rocket launchers in science)

This one is the hardest for me. I am great with ideas. I have a million ideas a day. Seeing them through to their completion is always the hardest part. And it’s the same with innovation.

There are a few things I’ve seen help with this.

One, setting a deadline. Put an end date on it and do as much as possible to prepare for that deadline and keep it a fixed mark. Deadlines are great motivators.

Two, push for a product. It can be a letter, a drawing, a photograph, a robot, a recipe. It can be almost anything, but there should be something to show for the time that is given.

Three, carve out time to share. Yes, learning is fun in and of itself. But it is also super duper fun to get to talk about what you’re working on with other people, and show them what you’ve made and created. The first thing I do when I create something new is share it to social media to get feedback. Why should the classroom be different? If there isn’t time to do a show and tell in class, take a picture and create an instagram bulletin board, or twitter feed for comments.

The best part of the end of the school year is that usually there’s more squishy time available to do fun and engaging things in the classroom. And students are antsy to do high impact, high engagement activities. (AKA, everyone is squirrely and behavior can take a nosedive!) Why not try something new?

For ideas about some of the incredible things happening in classrooms around the country, check out this AMAZING TED talk from Stephen Ritz, about how he started a gardening program for his middle school students in the Bronx. (And if you can get through it without crying, I don’t believe you.) Then just go ahead and keep on watching this TED Talk Playlist of inspiring teachers.

And for the record, my innovating time started with right after lunch. I gave students five minutes of choice time to do any silent activity they wanted to do. And from there, we snowballed.

It doesn’t take a lot, it just takes a step.


Education mothering PARENTING

My Guilty Mother’s Day Treat

By way of explanation of how things have been going lately, let me simply say that my son has been introduced to Happy Meals, and that we’ve lost no time in catching him up on what he’s missed.


Some of this was because we went on a great vacation to Florida, and haven’t totally caught back up to the pace of life. Some of this is because our work schedules have been changing and busy, some of this is because my BFF, Mr. Tired, has been hanging out with me a lot more lately, staying way past his welcome.


Mother’s Day is always preceded by Teacher Appreciation Week, a week I take pretty seriously on this side of the profession, because as a teacher there were a lot of times when I felt pretty under-appreciated.


But Mother’s Day–well it’s never been that big of a day to me. I still feel like I’ve just barely started wearing my mother hat, so it doesn’t occur to me to capitalize on such days. When I got flowers from my in-laws (and chocolate covered strawberries that are DELICIOUS!) I felt a little like my teachers, who had genuine surprise and befuddlement on their faces when I showed up in their room with chocolates and candy.


In other words, I think Mother’s Day is still about MY mom, about the moms who actually know what they’re doing, not the moms who are still deciding whether to pull into the McDonald’s drive-thru again, or go home and scrounge up a meal of pinto-beans and brown rice, the two ingredients I know for certainty are in my cupboard. (I know I’m gonna hear from some of you veteran moms here, telling me that this never changes. Understood.)

If I am sounding harsh, I guess I’m also feeling a little harsh about myself lately, too.

Last Monday was a challenging day at work and I came home and needed a BREAK. I’ve been doing sketch notes, so I spent a lot of the evening practicing my handwriting, and different ways to drawing icons and banners. Our family dinner consisted of all three members of the family plugged into a screen, a situation I promised myself would never happen.

It happened.

As bedtime approached, my son put down his iPad (or rather, the iPad he has decided to call his own) and said, “Should we go upstairs and play, Mama?” And so I set the timer on my phone and promised myself to be fully dedicated to paying attention to my son for the full time we were upstairs.

We ended our time with my son crawling into my lap as I asked him about his day. His face lit up, and he looked like he was sitting in Santa’s lap, telling him what he wanted for Christmas. He was so excited to tell me about his day, or rather, about all the things he loves to do best, which is what usually happens when we ask how his day has gone. “Um…I went to the park, to the library, to Grandma and Baba’s house, talked to Nammy and Papa…”

The joy on his face made me cry. I felt so sad that I hadn’t stopped what I was doing sooner and paid attention to him sooner, and shut our screens down to have a decent family dinner, etc, etc, etc.

The guilt set in.

I’ve been thinking about guilt a lot lately. How many times it feels like being a full time employee makes me feel like a part time Mom, and whether I should feel badly about that, should feel empowered about that, should try harder to “Lean In”, should work harder to protect my time at home.

And mostly I feel all of those things, and then go hang out with Mr. Tired, who understands my woes.

To add insult to injury, there has been this breathtakingly beautiful video going around on the Facebook, written by Nichole Nordeman, a music artist I love. It’s called “Slow Down” and is all about how quickly our children grow up. She sings, “I am your biggest fan, I hope you know I am, but do you think you can somehow slow down?” All the while the video shows photos of children reaching all of their developmental milestones, catching each moment perfectly.

It’s beautiful. Seriously, it’s beautiful.

But it hasn’t helped with the whole guilt thing.

And this is the point where I feel like I should say that you shouldn’t feel guilty. Right? That’s what we do for people we care about, we help them to stop feeling badly, we come alongside and tell them that they are an amazing mom, that they are doing the best they can, that they are beautiful and strong.

All of those things are true.

But that isn’t what my friend said to me when I told her about the guilt I’ve been feeling lately. Here’s what she said:

“Rachel, maybe you can reframe guilt. Guilt is a powerful motivator. It helps us stay connected to one another, it reminds us that our time is limited. Guilt has its place.

But when guilt has done its job, you need to set it down. When you’re going out to hang out with your friends or you’re getting some time for yourself, write the word guilt on a stone, and put it in the garden on your way out the door. Lay it down.”

OK, so that “friend” is actually my therapist, but wow.


I look at this week, and there have been some reasons for me to feel guilty, some ways in which I don’t feel like my life has been in balance, some places of disconnection to family and friends. And then there has been some guilt I’ve hung onto, guilt that has kept me from enjoying the moments that were mine to enjoy.

There were definitely some moments when I kept the guilt stone in my pocket, instead of dropping it in the garden.

It’s Mother’s Day, and it’s beautiful and sunny, and I am full of hope for this day. Today I am writing the word guilt down on a stone. And I can hold it during breakfast with my husband and my son to remind me that I don’t need to be checking my cell phone as we eat, that there is nothing so important that can’t wait another hour.

But later, when I leave for work tomorrow, when I go hang out with a friend, the stone stays behind.

It isn’t perfect, it doesn’t solve everything. But my pockets are full right now, and I want to know that their contents are things I actually want. If guilt is gonna be there, then let it be there for a reason.

It’s an unlikely Mother’s Day present, but I’ll take it.


Assessment Education Teaching Tuesday Teaching Tip

Choice in the Classroom: 4 Ways to Give Students Agency

I recently was able to attend an incredible conference in Berwyn IL school district 100. Their iEngage conference featured a site visit to classrooms full of student-centered learning. And it also featured one of my favorite tech speakers, Jennie Magiera. Jennie spent one of her sessions talking about the need to incorporate Play and Choice into our teaching. You can see a great Sketch Note of this session here.

Recently I’ve been in a reading desert, but when I do read, it’s been in the pop sociology/psychology genre, making my sociology teachers from college proud, I hope. (I know I’m not the only one still paying back all those students loans after graduating college with a sociology degree.)

One of my favorites in this genre is Daniel Pink’s DRIVE. The book is all about what motivates us to act. And Jennie’s words reminded me that one of the key motivators that Pink talks about is choice. In his book, Pink gives four ways that you can give choice, and he does it alliteratively, so I thought I’d share those with you, with examples of teachers have used each one.

1.) A Choice of Task

This one can be tricky, if you’re trying to make sure everyone is learning the same ideas. However, there are some great strategies to make it happen. In one class I recently visited, the teacher gave the students a list of fifteen math problems. The students got to choose two problems to solve. They were then able to choose their technique for solving the problem (#4).

Within an ELA classroom, the choice of task could be as easy as choosing which book to read. Or as involved as choosing a social issue, researching it, and coming up with a project to influence change, as was done in another classroom I visited. Some students chose to write letters to politicians. Another chose to do a poster campaign to stop bullying within the school.

At another conference I went to, two teachers presented about giving students 20% time like Google does. This incorporates a lot of the 4 T’s, but the basic gist is that for an hour every week students are able to choose the project they’d like to work on. One student learned how to code and designed their own website. Check out this video about Genius Hour. (And maybe you only can have Genius 5 minutes, but how great will those 5 minutes be?!?!)

(Whew, I can’t watch this video without getting teary and excited.)

2.) A Choice of Time

How much time will the project take? When is the project due? Several teachers I work with let students set the due date for their projects (within reason). They can create the timeline for when certain components will be completed. For big projects, one teacher posts a calendar in her room and students sign up for the day they’d like to present or the day their project will be complete.

If you have technology in your classroom, creating a shared calendar between you and your students can help facilitate this.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.44.45 PM

For tasks like cleaning up or organization, asking students how long they think it will take and giving them the autonomy to decide how much time they have can change whining and complaining and stomping feet (just me??) into a game. how long will it take

3.) A Choice of Team

look you give friend

This one is easy–give students a chance to choose which people they get to work alongside, or if they want to work alone. I saw one teacher have a “mix and mingle” and students got to walk around until they’d found their team. Another teacher used a shared google doc with two columns, and students could sign up and someone else could sign up to be their partner.

Or maybe your students are more like me, preferring to work solo if that is an option.

If you want some more ideas about grouping students, check out this great article from Genia Connell about ways she helps students get into groups. One of her ideas is to put different students on speed dial! Then she can say, “Go to your speed-dial 1 partners” and students pair up with the person they chose in space 1.

speed dial 1

4.) A Choice of Technique

The last is to give students a choice of how they complete their work. I think there are so many ways that this can be done, but I’ll name a few. When I observed the student I talked about above complete his math problems that he chose, the second part of the assignment was to explain how he solved it. He was able to choose how he explained his answer to his teacher. He chose to make a video with Photo Booth, but other students made a slide show, one student was using Explain Everything to do a screencast, and still other students were writing out their thinking. The key was that each student was able to chose themselves how they wanted to do the work.

student photobooth

Other ways to include choice of technique is by incorporating choice boards. Kasey Bell of Shake Up Learning has some great resources for differentiating based on learning menus and tic-tac-toe boards. She even provides templates! Teachers design the boards so that the students have to make tic-tac-toe, but no matter which way they do it, they will be getting a chance to get some content input, and then given a chance to demonstrate content mastery. Not only can the student choose how to make tic-tac-toe, but they are also able to have choice about how they want to show they’ve understood the concept. (Seriously, check out her site, it’s full of great stuff.)

When I think about it, a lot of jobs are easier if I get to choose the technique I want to use. Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing, but if I get to use really nice cleaning cloth and good smelling spray, suddenly I’m willing to wash windows! I know one teacher lets her students choose the kind of writing utensils they use. It does mean she gets some work turned in completed in highlighter, but the students were excited to do the work!

It’s not surprising that CHOICE is such a powerful tool for teaching, and it’s not hard to make small changes to make sure students (or teachers) are able to have agency and voice in the learning process.

Comment below with any pictures or ideas you’ve used or seen used in classrooms! (If you want more info about Drive and Daniel Pink, check out this great RSA Animations video of the key ideas in the book. So worth the time!)

fathering mothering PARENTING

Top Chef Parenting: Pack Up Your Knives and Go

Top Chef is my current favorite TV show. It’s exhilarating to watch incredibly talented people brought to their limits while making really yummy looking food, episode after episode. I’m fascinated by Padma’s outfits and have totally bought into the drama that the editors so deftly create, left to wonder who made the best food and who has to pack their knives and go. And except for the couple of seasons when the contestants are mean, it’s usually good clean fun.

One of the recurring themes on Top Chef is that none of the chefs like to bake. Baking challenges are met with groans and cuts to side interviews with one of the chefs saying something like, “Baking is the WORST. I knew this day would come. I might go home today.”

As best I can tell, the reason so many chefs dislike baking is that it is so hard to get feedback on whether or not your cake or souffle will turn out. At least not until it’s too late. You can taste the batter before you put it in the oven, but until that toothpick is inserted, it’s hard to know if your food will cook through, your bread will rise, and your flan will set.

For example, I once made chocolate chip cookies, a recipe I have pretty much perfected, and they were completely flat, except for the chips. I realized too late that the baking soda was old. How could I have known that by tasting the batter? And if I had tried to pass those cookies in a competition like Top Chef, you better believe I’d be sent packing.

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with anything?

Well, for one thing, I have been baking a decent amount lately, and it has got me thinking to how alike living is to baking. And more specifically the living I’ve been thinking about lately is parenting.

One of the hardest things about parenting is that it’s really hard to tell if you’re doing it well or not. I mean, you reassure yourself over an evening glass of wine that the child is safe and fed, and that counts for something. But you know all the while that there’s a 100% chance that there will be things that you don’t get right, wounds that your child will bring back to you and hold in your face in two decades, quirks that you find endearing that your child finds intolerable.

It’s inevitable and it’s terrifying.

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old-

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old?

I have never been the type to read parenting books. I get overwhelmed as soon as someone introduces me to any multi-step plan guaranteed to give results. Usually the step one assumes a level of proficiency that eludes me (like have a clean home or car, just for example). 

I am always hyper-aware of the Tom Colicchios of the parenting world (or really, of the world) ready to critique and nitpick. Not that I even need a Tom Colicchio. Most times I do a pretty good job of tearing myself apart without any help.

What I guess we’re left with is a whole lot of ambiguity. Gilda Radner has a great quote, “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”


Truthfully, I rarely think of ambiguity as delicious. Annoying? Yes. Scary? Absolutely. Delicious? Not so much.

But also, ambiguity is inevitable.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it would look if I loved myself as much as I loved my son. How would I talk to myself after eating a full chocolate bar? How would I respond to myself when our bedtime routine still sucks after two and a half years? What would I say to encourage myself when I meet yet another person who seems to have arrived at my life goals and is five years younger than me?

What would I say to my son when he says that he just isn’t sure if the cake is going to turn out or if he’s just a bad baker and should pack his knives and go home?

For one thing, I think I would say to stop listening to the Tom Colicchios.

Instead of feeling like I’ve failed at life for eating a candy bar, I might say something about how delicious candy is, and how sometimes it’s good to let ourselves have a treat. Instead of hiding my shame about bedtime, I might comment about how nice it can be to get in the extra snuggle time.

And when the toothpick comes back gooey, I might just say the cake needs a little more time to bake. The story isn’t finished yet. That we don’t know what will happen.

I might say something obnoxious about delicious ambiguity.

The truth as best as I can tell is that parenting is a lot like baking. There’s a lot of waiting and hoping that we’re using the right recipe along the way. And there’s no real set bake time, or guarantee that we won’t have really bad baking soda.

But baking is also fun. There’s the smell of the melting chocolate, the calm of kneading bread, the peeks into the oven to see if the top of the cake is brown, the sneaky spoonfuls of raw cookie dough. And there’s the promise, the hope, of a beautiful warm baked good at the end.

If this whole life thing were up to me, I’m not sure there would be a lot of ambiguity. I’m a little like the Top Chef contestants, preferring the immediacy of cooking to the chemistry of baking, not wanting to have to wait and see, preferring instead to get instant results.

But maybe it’s good it isn’t up to me. I imagine we’d miss the chocolate cake.





Where are the angels? A letter to my son

To My Darling Son,

The other night I was putting you to bed. We were reading The Jesus Storybook Bible, and we opened the book to the picture of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary and telling her that she was pregnant with a baby who would be named Jesus.

You sat with fascination, staring at the pages, eager to listen. I read about the angel and you pointed at its form, surrounded in light.


Turning the page, you protested, “Where the angel go? Want to find the angel!”

I know you were telling me that you wanted to see the picture of the angel again, and we turned back a page so you could see the artist’s rendition of the celestial being once more. But I’ve been hearing your little voice saying those words ever since.

One of my biggest sadnesses is knowing that you are born into a world that will, sooner or later, disappoint you.

From the time I knew you were in my womb, I’ve been a mama bear, working fiercely to protect you. When we heard your heartbeat, I turned to your daddy with tears in my eyes and told him it was the bravest sound I have ever heard.

Every day you continue to bravely explore the world. And it breaks my heart to know that as you discover the world’s beauty, you will also discover the world’s pain. You will hear the stories of when hatred or bitterness or jealousy win over love and forgiveness and charity. You will have your own stories of these sadnesses.

I cannot protect you from this.

And so my hope for you is this: that you will never stop asking the question, “Where are the angels?”

When the pages turn, when the darkness comes, when the loneliness or the despair is close, and you cannot see the angels anymore, my prayer is that you never forget that not seeing them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That the beauty is in every moment, even the most painful ones, if you keep on looking.

That day, reading the story, we kept turning the pages, and you saw the picture of a baby. And I told you the story of a baby named Jesus. A baby whose heart beat bravely like yours. A baby whose mother must have, like me, held him in wonder and awe. A baby whose life was also filled with joy and sorrow. A baby who shows us that love still wins in the end.


Today I picked you up from daycare and you ran out into the cold April weather. You laughed when we stepped in a puddle. Looking up you pointed, and said, “Look, Mama, it’s RAINING!”

You are a constant reminder of what is beautiful in this world.  

I am so thankful I have a lifetime of looking for the angels with you.

I love you,


Education Teaching

Teaching Is Like…(My Top 9 Analogies)

Tomorrow teachers across Chicago will pick up their picket signs and march through the city in a “Day of Action” to demand equal funding for Chicago schools and a fair contract for CPS teachers. I support CPS teachers for the hard work they do each day. In solidarity, I offer you this (hopefully funny) look at the job of a teacher.

Teaching Is Like (My Top 9 Analogies)

1. Teaching is like being at the grocery store with your child while they throw a tantrum. But instead of strangers walking by, your boss is standing next to you, watching. Also, she is scoring you for how you de-escalate the situation. That score will be 25% of your 360 evaluation.

2. Teaching is like being told by your boss that you have to give a huge presentation to the company’s most important clients. The presentation is all day, so you will not have paid work time to prepare for the presentation. Also, you eat breakfast and lunch with the clients. 

3. Taking a sick day while teaching is like working a double shift so that you can get a shift off the next day.

4. Teaching is like winning an incredible case for your law firm, and as a bonus for your hard work, getting a pizza lunch.

5. Teaching is like getting hired at a new job, only to find out that you are responsible for providing your materials, writing your own work manual, and becoming an expert in your field. Also, while you’re doing that can you keep an eye on thirty 7-year-olds?

6. Teaching is like showing up to work in your professional attire to inspire…then finding yourself an hour later on hands and knees, cleaning up someone else’s vomit.

7. Teaching is like being hired for your expertise in biology, but finding out that part of your evaluation will be based on your interior decorating of your laboratory. Extra points for good handwriting.

8. Teaching is like only working ten months a year. Unless you count the two months you spend planning for those ten months.

9. Teaching is like doing the most important job, every day.

Chicago teachers, I support you tomorrow and I support you every other day, too. Thank you for taking a stand not only for the teaching profession, but also for our students, our schools, and our city.

P.S. If you’d like to join me, feel free to share you own #teachingislike in the comments below or on twitter. Tag me @teachreadmom

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