All Things New

Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah!

Psalm 117

From death to life. From grief to hope. Resurrection.

Easter Day reminds us that those who are cast down will be lifted up. That those things having grown old are being made new again. It is a reminder that all things are being perfected and made right by the hand of God.

For all of us today, my prayer is that God will meet us in our need, continue to restore the hurt and fear and grief in our hearts, and bring new life from what has become withered and tired within us.

Praise be to God!

O God, of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look on your whole church with loving-kindness. In peace, carry out your plan of salvation for us. Let the whole world see and know that those cast down things are being raised up, and things that have grown old are being made new, and you are bringing perfection to all things that you have made through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adapted from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

Fun Learning: A Working List

Schools across the United States are closed right now, leaving more than 41 million students without their regular daily routines and learning schedules. (link) There’s a lot of confusion and frustration and grief running through hearts and minds here in America, and adding the expectation of schooling at home onto parents’ full plates is not my idea of a good time.

There are so many ways that our children can explore and learn that don’t have to be formal educational experiences. To help you navigate all of the information out there, I’ve compiled a list of resources that I have used with my students and my own children to give them opportunities to learn and grow without breaking out workbooks. (Not that all workbooks are always a bad idea, but let’s be real. They’re usually boring. Especially when done in isolation.)

I found many of these over the years through Common Sense Education, one of my favorite go-tos for digital learning. The list is organized by subject and grade bands are provided, too. I hope you’ll find some of these to be helpful!

As always, I would encourage you to screen these apps, websites, and activities before giving your child access just to make sure it’s developmentally appropriate. :)

Know that I am rooting for you, mama, as you navigate this new normal. We’re all in this thing together.

Reading

Epic! (K-5) // A digital library collection to encourage a love of reading

TIME for Kids (K-6) // News magazine for kids on current events and informational text

Storybird (K-12) // For creating and publishing storybooks

Newsela (2-12) // Current news stories and text library, leveled for students’ reading ability

Grammarly (6-12) // Writing tips for improving composition skills

Math

CodeMonkey (K-12) // Game-based learning experience to help kids learn coding

Khan Academy (K-12) // Excellent resource for teaching, practicing, and re-teaching math skills

Prodigy (1-8) // Responsive math platform that adapts to children’s skill needs with game-like features

** Click here for more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) recommendations.**

Science

National Geographic Kids (Pre K-8) // Stories and beautiful images about the world and wildlife

Mystery Science (K-5) // Science activities and lessons based on big questions and children’s curiosity

Generation Genius (K-8) // Videos and lessons to get kids interested in science.

Google Earth (K-12) // Awesome for virtual field trips and world exploration

Social Studies

PBS KIDS (Pre K-6) // Loads of engaging content for children

Google Lit Trips (K-12) // Bridge the connection between stories and the places they occur

National Museum of African American History and Culture Learning Labs (K-12) // Helps children understand American history through the African American lens

Cast Your Vote (5-8) // Learn about the voting process and political issues

Race to Ratify (6-12) // Engaging game-based learning centered on the Constitution and persuasion techniques

Smithsonian Kids (2-12) // Interactive activities across many disciplines including US history, inventions, animals, and more

 

 

 

The Home Within Yourself

“My husband and I divorced six months ago. Shortly after the holidays last year, we ended our marriage. In many ways, I feel more relief than grief. Things had been falling apart for some time. And now that it’s all over, I am completely certain that we did the right thing.

Our separation and divorce were pretty nasty. Lots of accusations and mistrust. For my part, I have been able to shield our children – they are 6 and 9 years old – from most of the back and forth, but this has been a tough year for all of us.

Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and I am really messed up about it. I have never had a Thanksgiving or Christmas without my children before, and I worry that I won’t survive this separation. I know that sounds dramatic, but I don’t know how to do this.

I have family and close friends in town, but I am afraid that I’ll drag everyone down with my grief. I don’t want to fake-smile through the weekend. But I also don’t want to be alone. This is my conundrum. What the hell am I supposed to do?

I know you have done this before, so I am hoping you can give me some advice. How do I make it through this first holiday without my babies?

Thank you,

Lost”


Since I started telling the truth about my life, this is a question that finds its way to my inbox often. Figuring out how to do the holidays after divorce can be so scary and sad.

I first want to say a big “Congratulations!” to you. Making big life changes can be tough, and I think divorce is one of the most difficult things to do. It sounds like this was a healthy decision for you, and I applaud your courage.

You have done this hard thing, and now you will continue to do the next hard things with that much more kindness and tenderness and strength.

On this morning seven years ago, I woke up with a lump in my throat. I had dreaded this day for months. Within an hour, I would say goodbye to my boys as I dropped them off at before-school care just as the sun was waking up. And I wouldn’t see them again until the next Monday after school. All of those hours of family Thanksgiving memories – 123 hours, in fact – I would miss for the very first time. To say I was devastated would not be an overstatement.

On the way to school, the boys and I talked about keeping our Christmas tree up until at least January (it turned out to be February that year, and on purpose!), what presents we’d like to get our puppy and kitty cat. I kept my eyes forward and my grip tight on the steering wheel, channeling all of my focus on the drive so I didn’t have to think about how much my heart was breaking. At least not yet.

After saying our goodbyes and kissing their pink cheeks, I walked out of the school gymnasium toward our car, my body wracked with grief. Slamming the door shut in outrage at what my life had become, I did the only thing I knew to do that would release the pent up rage and fear and agony in me – I screamed “NO!” about a dozen times and sobbed. I beat the steering wheel, too. (That always helps until you accidentally hit the horn.)

The rest of that Thanksgiving holiday is a blur for me. I remember snippets here and there, but the one thing I know for sure is this: I survived it.

Wide Image

Lost, I know what it feels like when the anticipation of this weekend and all it entails is sitting so heavy on your chest you’re afraid you’re going to stop breathing. When your throat aches from screeching out anguishing cries in a whisper so your children don’t hear. And I am here to tell you it’s moments like these that wear down our rock-hard, jagged edges and soften us into the tender, open-hearted people we are meant to become.

On really tough days like this, my friend Bess would text me with some truth bombs. We all need to be reminded of the truest things sometimes, so here are some for you.

You are strong enough to weather this.

No matter how much they hurt, feelings can’t kill.

Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing.

Your people love you and want to shoulder your pain. It’s okay to let them.

…..

My first piece of advice to you is this: feel your feelings.

It is easy to self-medicate with a million things to dull our pain. But it never works, Lost. I have tried nearly everything there is, and I’m here to tell you: it. never. works.

So sit in your grief. Let it seep into your bones. And then share it. With a trusted friend, with your therapist, with the pages of your private journal… Whatever makes sense for you, do it.

Because this taking in and sharing of grief has transformative powers, I believe. Like the caterpillar that hides away in its cocoon, quite literally consuming itself
so that it can come back together again to emerge a butterfly, we must first become undone in order to be made whole.

And then, we must learn how to look inside ourselves to find that safe place, home.

For human beings, I believe the active ingredient in this process is grief. So hold this grief, this gift, tightly to your chest and let it shape you as you share it with those who are standing with you in this season.

One of the biggest challenges for me in parenting after divorce was all of the open time I instantly had when my children were with their dad. It is still a challenge, honestly.

For so many years, mothering consumed my time, my thoughts, everything. Because, well, it had to. Those early years of parenting demand so much of us physically and emotionally.

And then, in a breath, I had 122 days every year without my children. 122 days. That’s a lot of days.

At first, I tried to fill this time with things like browsing the aisles at Target, lining up dates or lady dates so I wouldn’t have to eat a meal by myself, or traveling to visit friends and family out of state. But after a while, that grew so exhausting (and oftentimes financially irresponsible, quite honestly).

One weekend, I had too much month left at the end of my money and had no choice but to stay home. I was admittedly nervous about this predicament I’d found myself in, but it turned out to be one of the most life-giving and replenishing weekends I’d had in a long damn time.

That weekend was the start of me learning to find a home within myself.

On Friday night, I fell asleep to an Austin City Limits re-run streaming on my laptop. Saturday morning, I slept in. Made French press coffee and scrambled eggs in smooth butter for breakfast. Took a long walk with Polly at a park nearby. Finished Cheryl Strayed‘s moving book, Tiny, Beautiful Things and bawled my head off in the best way. Sunday brought church and lunch with my parents and lesson planning for my classes the following week.

I cared for myself the way I would care for my best friend who was going through a crisis and needed a weekend to just breathe and be. It was uneventful and quiet and soul-feeding.

Lost, on the days when you find yourself in an empty home with nothing to keep you busy, learn to care for yourself as if you were your own best friend. It will change your life.

…..

Since that first Thanksgiving without my sweeties, I have had three more like them. It does get easier, but the ache of missing my boys never leaves. I still get choked up when I have to say goodbye for a break. Thoughts of them are always running in the background of my mind, and that’s okay. Beautiful, even.

As you walk through this first Thanksgiving without your babies, I hope you find comfort in your grief, remembering that experiences like these can be catalysts for growth and change that otherwise might be impossible. And I hope you find a home within your beautiful heart, remembering that all the love and care you pour out on others is meant to be poured out on yourself, too.

Yours,

Ellie

3 Self-Care Tips for Teachers

If you’re a teacher, you know the immense demands that the profession requires. You are committed to your students as if they were your own flesh and blood. You became a teacher so that you could make a difference, so that you could impart knowledge and life skills to children who will one day rise up and take the reigns of the world.

Tomorrow marks the start of my sixteenth semester of teaching. Being an educator is an important part of my life, and I truly believe I am doing holy, significant work. But if I’m not careful, my work-life balance can get out of whack pretty easily. The passion that you bring to your classroom every day is also the passion that can leave you completely empty of anything to give to other parts of your life.

I have a couple hundred friends and acquaintances who are in the business of caring for and educating kids, and I’m pretty sure each one of them over the next few months will feel like throwing in the towel. It’s part of the job for most people, but I’m finding that I have a lot more control over my burn-out status than I think.

Self care is one of the most important practices in the life of a teacher. You cannot pour yourself out to 100+ students a day if you don’t pour into yourself first. And while you can’t necessarily control things like course curriculum and state-mandated assessments that increase your stress levels, there are some things that you do have control over….

1. You have control over how much time you spend before- or after-hours at school.

If your school administration requires you to be at work at 7:45am, you don’t have to be at work at 7:15am. If your school duties end at 2:15pm, you don’t have to stay at school every night until 6pm grading papers. The amount of time you spend at school is mostly up to you.

Now, I know there are busy seasons like the first month of school and parent-teacher conference nights, but a bit of planning and class re-structuring will go a long way when it comes to how many overtime hours you put in.

nobody-2798850_1920Think about the teaching responsibilities that demand the most of your time. Jot them down on the top few lines of a piece of paper. (You’re a teacher for heaven’s sake. I’m SURE you have paper somewhere within three feet of where you’re sitting!)

Now, consider why these activities take up so much of your life. Is it because you don’t have a process for grading batches of papers? Or maybe you are teaching a brand new subject for the first time and are starting from scratch?

For me, the biggest time-killers are lesson planning/preparation and grading. I can’t do my job well and use the cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all lessons that are provided by textbook companies and curriculum writers. But I can take those resources and piecemeal them together to make something really special instead of starting from scratch.

See what I did there? First, I identified a time-killer (lesson planning and preparation) and the reason why I felt the responsibility required my time. Then, I looked for a shortcut… a way to work smarter, not harder and still be just as effective in the classroom.

I encourage you to go through the brainstormed list of teaching time-killers and see where you can make some changes so that you’ll have more time for things that really matter.

2. You have control over what you consume.

And no, I don’t mean chocolate and wine. (I mean, you do have control over those things, but that ain’t what I’m talking about.)instagram-1474234_1280Social media is a double-edged sword for teachers. There are lots of great ideas out there, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been inspired by Insta-famous teachers like @teachlikeyoumeanit. But from picture-perfect Instagram accounts to parents bad-mouthing their kids’ teachers on Facebook, it doesn’t take long for teachers to feel like they are at the bottom of the Perfect Teacher barrel.

I wish I could look you in the eyeballs and say this straight to your face, but this medium will have to do: That mess is a lie.

Your worth as a teacher is not based on how polished your classroom appears on Instagram.

Your worth as a teacher is not based on how polished your classroom appears on Instagram, nor is it based on how many rave reviews your students’ parents give you on Facebook group posts. Your value as a teacher is found in the person that you are and the passion that you bring to your work. At the end of the day, nothing else matters.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that social media is bad for teachers. It can be an incredibly powerful tool for communication and camaraderie and support. Just make sure that it stays in its rightful place. (Also, remember that those people are human just like you.)

3. You have control over your yes’s and no’s.

I learned from Brené Brown that boundaries empower us to give of ourselves generously to the things that truly matter. Giving generously doesn’t mean saying yes all the time to everyone and everything. If I never say no, then the things I am saying yes to don’t get enough of my effort and attention. Boundaries provide an opportunity for me to decide what matters and what can wait.

If I am already sponsoring an after-school club and am asked to help with another, I should probably say no. Unless only two people are showing up for my after-school club and the one my best teacher friend is starting would be a better use of my time. Either way, I get to decide!

The best teachers don’t do everything. The best teachers do a few things really well and know when to say ‘no’ to the rest.

The best teachers don’t do everything. The best teachers do a few things really well and know when to say ‘no’ to the rest. If you are tired or worn thin, your effectiveness in the classroom will decrease. Establishing healthy boundaries when it comes to your time, your attention to social media, and your commitments will help you create a more nourishing work-life balance. And it will also give you an opportunity to model for your students and colleagues what it looks like to hold boundaries and live a balanced life.

Like a fence protects what’s inside a property line, boundaries protect your physical and emotional health so that you can do the important things to which you’ve been called. Boundaries are not a punishment, just like putting up a fence around one’s home isn’t a punishment to those who don’t own the property. Establishing boundaries in your life is one of the most loving things that you can do, not just for yourself but for others, too. (For more insight into what boundaries are and how to establish them, you might want to check out this quick video or this book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend.)

You will face obstacles and challenges along the way, but I’ve found that the work of setting boundaries is always worth it. I know that you have the willpower to do this work because you are a teacher, and we are made of grit and determination and perseverance. By channeling the passion that you bring to your classroom to your own self-care first, I think you’ll find that you are more effective and more importantly, more happy.

It might feel like a lie right now, but you can put yourself first and still be a phenomenal teacher. Take a deep breath and lean into these principles and watch your world change from the inside out.