NOLA 2014

NOLA 2014

Monday, March 23, 2015

Google Educator...In Training

I have decided to pursue the prestigious Google Educator Certification. I began this mission with an ulterior motive...I want to apply for the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) program and learn from all of the innovative educators out there.  I first found out about the program when my school was selected for Apple's ConnectEd Grant, which will provide every student in my building with an ipad! Talk about exciting. But once that initial adrenaline subsided, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to make the most of it. My school is being given the tool of technology to help level the playing field for our students, I need to maximize this amazing opportunity.  As I began searching for what other 1:1 districts are doing--what's working, programs being implemented, I discovered one thing many of these leading educators had in common. Most of them are ADEs and Google Certified. I had never even heard the term. I guess, I'm probably considered prehistoric for not knowing. I use gmail. I "Google" everything. I'm on twitter. After reading and learning and connecting with some of these ADEs, I am even more determined to become part of this network of innovators in education.

I am still in the beginning phase. I have completed the Gmail and Calendar Exams and am currently going through the Sites Training. It's crazy what all these programs can do that I was completely unaware of! Can't wait to learn more.

I welcome any and all advice! Also, if you are currently a 1:1 school or classroom, what are you using? What's working? I'm especially interested in programs being used to help students struggling in reading and math.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Donors Choose: Building HEROES

Building Heroes 

Talented. Inquisitive. Sensitive. Tough. Complex. Eager. Confident. Timid. Challenging.These are my students.  They are not your typical kids. They are low performing (according to standardized tests).  Yet they love coming to school. It's safe. It's welcoming. I need to meet my students where they are and use what I can to inspire them.  My "Building Heroes" project will give them the tools of technology, and trust, to dive into literacy through blogging, reflection, and sharing our lives with one another.

Real World Application...Hello! The GoPro camera system will allow us to video our real lives, not just our school lives.  We will be utilizing all of the higher order thinking skills to contribute to our blog--from deciding what to use, evaluating its importance, reflecting on others experiences, asking relevant questions to better understand one another and learn. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Refocus and Re-Energize

Results are In
I feel like I'm at a turning point in my career again. Constant change is my only consistency and I need to change this. I am finding this out in my years serving as the Reading Interventionist on a high-need campus.

Working with students performing two or more grade levels below grade level expectations, watching them fail mandated district and state tests, and continuing to motivate them to not give up is often exhausting. Giving everything I have to my students and getting failing test results back crushes me to my core.  Hearing my principal tell me to look at the growth column, “All of your students received a 1 or a 2 in growth,” meaning they either met their expected growth or exceeded it by our state’s standard is supposed to make me feel better. I frantically go through the list of 116 fifth grade students and highlight all of my Tier 2 and Tier 3 students, physically and mentally falling lower and lower with every “No” I read.

And just when I feel crushed to the point of tears, I see a “Yes.” A “Yes” next to Dashanae’s name. That “Yes.” Dashanae passed her STAAR test. A part of me despises that test. Another part protests the excessive amount of standardized testing our public schools endure. How can a four-hour test determine your achievement? Your success? Your future?

For my fifth graders of poverty, taking a test may be the last thing they care about on that day. They face so many battles outside of school.  I have no idea how they cope.  

I mean, I can talk to my parents. I am not on medications one day and off the next. I know that I will eat dinner. I know I will sleep in my bed, in my home.

I have worked with Dashanae for two years. She was in fourth grade reading on second grade level. According to the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark reading assessments I gave her, she was at a Level L, which correlates to just below a third grade reading level.  She struggled with writing conventions, spelling, and grammar. She didn’t like reading. Or teachers.  She certainly didn’t trust teachers. She was constantly disrupting the classroom, no big infractions, but silly distractions that annoyed all. She was assigned to my Response to Intervention reading group. Her teachers were relieved to have a break from her for that 45 minutes each day.

I instantly liked her. It’s easy to like students in a small group setting. I find that often, they really just need someone to talk to or a minute, someone to listen to them. I took an interest in her life, in her person, and worked to get her back on the reading track. I’m not sure which happened first, her silliness prevented her from learning, or her struggles increased the silliness. We had our work cut out for us.  

As teachers, we read article after article on better teaching practices, classroom management, student engagement.  My key is building  a relationship with Dashanae, of caring and support. She learned to trust me, the  teacher who grew up in a different neighborhood with different circumstances and different experiences. I shared stories with her about growing up. I actively listened to her stories, and problems, and concerns. What I discovered was Dashanae was an amazing young lady, full of creativity and brilliant ideas. She was very artistic and her peers recognized her abilities and humor.

When she read with me, she naturally made connections to her life (a TEK that many students struggle with). She needed to share her thoughts as they came to her head.  I watched Dashanae make gains in comprehension and fluency. She began to love discovering new words. She took great pride in her ongoing list of vocabulary acquisitions she measured on an anchor chart in my classroom. Although she was making these gains, and learning to love reading and learning, she was still at third grade level at the end of fourth grade.  

Fifth Grade
When fifth grade began, I brought her to my room in September to assess her, and all of those gains we had made seemed to have vanished.  She was still just as creative, but her fluency drop greatly impacted her reading comprehension.  She hadn’t read a book over the summer. This  “Summer Slide,” was devastating to her progress -- and for me.

Two positions to take: Why bother? or Let’s get to work.

We started reading. I pulled out my childhood favorite Boxcar Children. She started out reading the words very choppy, but we began a new vocabulary chart. She related to the characters -- begging me to stay longer to read another chapter.  We moved onto another book. She could not put Sideways Stories from Wayside School down. Thank you Louis Sachar!  This book accelerated Dashanae’s growth spurt --  from learning to read to reading to learn. The entire reading group began talking about the book so much that other fifth graders were asking me for it. We laughed --  not just chuckled, but belly-laughed with tears --  and couldn’t wait to meet the next character in the book.  

I looked forward to working with her group. We began to feel like a real family. They asked if they could come read with me during lunch, we  formed “The Lunch Bunch”, eating and reading every Friday.  It was one of those books that none of us wanted to end.  When we finished, Dashanae proposed writing our own version starring each of us as characters.  They had just as much fun writing their chapter as reading Sachar’s.  Struggling fifth grade students loving reading and writing. It was amazing.  We went on to  Shiloh and Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus.  They were unstoppable.

Relationships Above All Else
It made me realize that it wasn’t the reading strategies I taught or the mini-lessons I delivered. It was the relationship I built with Dashanae.  Dashanae was often the scapegoat in her classes. It seemed as if even when other students were also talking, her classroom teachers singled her out. They grew tired of writing her up and began sending her to me. She liked coming, so her behavior continued.  A female Holden Caulfield at age 10. It’s difficult to find a connection with every student, but that is what an effective teacher must do.  Think in terms of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. It wasn’t a miracle worker,, it was a dedicated teacher, with the same affliction, giving Keller tools to pull herself out of her blindness.

If  classroom teachers would have made the time to really get to know Dashanae, and accept her humor, they could capitalize on it within their classrooms, like  our reading group did. We would listen to her crazy connections to her life, which evolved to connections to other books we had read, and eventually to world events and theme. Her thinking helped her entire group grow as readers and thinkers. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

As teachers begin the new school year, building relationships with students must be their biggest priority. Not just the students that are easy to connect with, every student. There is a Dashanae sitting in every classroom, waiting for a teacher to take a genuine interest in her, to awaken the brilliance within. The classroom is the only constant in many of their lives. Make it genuine, caring, and fun.

New Perspective, New Job
Dashanae’s success motivated me to create a summer program, STARR Austin, to combat the Summer Slide.  She’s  inspired me to do more.  I’d love to help teachers grow to further their growth in students exponentially.

I have envisioned what a school I helped lead would look like for a long time.  All of the great teaching strategies and programs and curriculum will get you nowhere without an environment of family, mutual respect, and high expectations.  Genuine, positive relationships will help every child succeed, every time. It’s worth the effort and needs to be given priority over all else. Thinking of Dashanae gives me strength when I feel I am getting nowhere.  I will remind myself of her when I’m in that final stretch to STAAR. I will continue to stay focused on my students and not tests. I will teach my students, not my subject matter.  Students are where educators find their true successes, not scores.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

What am I going to do with this sweet tooth?

So, I originally decided to do a Whole20 for the month of December.  But around the 7th I came down with a horrible headache that would not let up. I caved, and took some Excederin and decided to just stay Paleo until January and go for a Whole30 then.  After I was rid of the headache, my sweet tooth kicked in. Maybe you've already concluded that my hormones were at work.  I began searching paleo treats on Pinterest and found a new book to add to my wish list: Every Last Crumb by Brittany Angel. #EveryLastCrumb  The recipes look amazingly delicious. But I didn't have a lot of the ingredients on hand.

I came to a picture of Red Velvet Truffles from Plank, Love, and Guacamole.  Surely I could make these--No Bake, Hello! I picked up some beets at the grocery store. I never have them on hand, because I don't like the taste.  Every now and then, I'll throw one in the juicer with some carrots and apples. Anyhow, as soon as I got home from work, I peeled it and shredded it. (Have paper towels handy--they are juicy and hot pink.) Mixed up the other ingredients, balled them up, and chilled them in the fridge.  Melting the chocolate chips was the most tedious part of this recipe, which is awesome for someone who is new to baking.  Once the chips are melted, I dunked each truffle in the chocolate and drizzled the extra chocolate on top. I added sprinkles to a few in hopes I could get my daughters to try them. Success! If you're sweet tooth is acting up and you want to stay paleo, give these a try. Thank you #planksloveandguacamole

 Planks, Love, and Guacamole Red Velvet Truffles.

Here's the recipe from Planks, Love, and Guacamole


1/4 cup coconut butter

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup raw beet, packed, peeled and grated
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
2 tbsp unsweetened cocao or cocoa
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

For the chocolate coating:
1 cup chocolate chips (use enjoy life for dairy/soy free)
2 tsp coconut oil

1. Combine all truffle ingredients in food processor.
2. Pulse until smooth batter has formed.
3. Place in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to harden a bit.
4. Roll balls.  (makes about 16 balls)
5. Place balls back in fridge to harden for about 30 minutes, or until hard enough to coat with chocolate.

6. Melt chocolate and coconut oil on the stovetop on lowest setting, or use a double boiler set up.
7. Coat each truffle with chocolate. (*Optional- reserve 2 truffles to crumble on top of the truffles) If you have, place chocolates on a fine meshed cooling rack with foil underneath to dry so that the foil catches the dripping chocolate.
8. You will have extra chocolate to drizzle on top once the coated chocolate has dried a little bit.
9.  Allow chocolate to cool and store in the fridge or at room temp.

Friday, November 14, 2014

New Paleo Lifestyle...Let me back up a bit.

In July, I went to the doctor for a regular physical, blood work, check all my levels. I've been having more frequent headaches and a couple other concerns.  Turned out my vitamin B was low and my cholesterol was high.  I was baffled. I thought I ate a well-balanced, healthy diet.  I juice. I buy organic. I stick to the 5 ingredients or less rule on processed food. I exercise a couple days a week. What is going on?  Of course, my husband and I had just visited NOLA and ate some amazing dishes. But overall, I thought I ate well.

I started looking into how to increase Vitamin B and what I need to eat to lower cholesterol (I refuse to take meds for something I can control).  And Whole30 keeps popping up. I look at the restrictions--no dairy, no grains, no sugar, no legumes, and no alcohol. For 30 days.

My kids were in Michigan for their summer visit with dad. So, why not? I decided to give it a try. First big adjustment I had to make was to make myself eat breakfast, with protein and vegetables, not just fruit. I never would have thought to eat asparagus or cauliflower with my eggs before this. What a wonderful discovery.  I felt very tired and had weird cravings by day 6. I was ready to quit. My husband had been cheating during his lunch. But we kept going for a couple more days.  I found recipes on Pinterest and NomNomPaleo became my go-to source. I loved our meals and they way I was feeling. Unfortunately, with Day 9 came a migraine. I caved and took to Excederin and got a coffee from Starbucks. I live in a town with a very limited selection of healthy eating options out and was not cooking dinner. My husband and I had sushi. I am a Whole30 failure.  Neither of us were ready to start over at Day 1. But we did agree to stay Paleo/Primal, I'm not yet sure of the difference.  We have been successful with this plan and have not suffered at all.

I just had my 3 month blood work done to recheck all of my levels. My B12 was right on and cholesterol was fine. I have been eating eggs everyday and my cholesterol went down, guess I disproved that myth.  I do, now, take a Vitamin B12 supplement too.  I wake up every morning to a spray from Garden of Life and apparently it has helped. But what's crazy is I'm down TWO clothing sizes and have lost twenty pounds.

We have another trip to New Orleans planned for Thanksgiving. So I may attempt another Whole30 after the Holidays.  But for now, I leave you with a couple pictures and recipes of pure paleo deliciousness for breakfast and dessert. YUM!

Quick and Easy Breakfast of turkey bacon(Wellshire Peppered is my favorite, thought not Whole30), scrambled eggs with kale/garlic/onion/tumeric/s&p, sweet potatoes (leftover from dinner), plated with avocado(well limed) and cherry tomatoes. Okay, so easy and delicious, and such a better way to kick off my day than a piece of peanut butter toast and a banana.

But here is the killer! My husband's birthday was at the beginning of the month and he asked for a Pecan Pie.  Yeah right, say Goodbye to Karo Syrup.  But I pulled it off! No Karo Syrup. No Grains. and No Sugar. And it, too, was delicious.  Check out the recipe below.

Paleo Pecan Pie
For the Crust
   2.5 cups of almond flour
   1 TBSP of coconut flour
   1 egg
   A splash of very cold water
   3-4 grinds of sea salt
   3 TBSP ghee (not melted)

Mix all of the ingredients and roll into a tight ball, pack it as tightly as possible. It took me several attempts.  Then roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it's the size of a 9-inch pie pan and press it in. If it cracks in spots (mine did), just press together. You're going to cover it up with all things good. Bake for 10 minutes at 325.

The Pie
   2 eggs
   1 egg white--save the yolk for brushing on the crust
   Half a cup of Coconut Palm Sugar
   Half a cup of Organic Maple Syrup
   3 TBSP Melted Ghee
   A Splash of Mexican Vanilla
   2 cups of Pecan Halves

Whisk together all of the ingredients and pour into your crust. I saved out some of the pecans to arrange on the top.  Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees then cover the crust with foil and bake for 5 more minutes--it may take a little longer to not jiggle.

Try it! It's delicious.  I found a recipe for a bacon crusted pecan pie from Predominately Paleo that I'll be trying next!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Love Unexpected

I wrote this several years ago, but while cleaning out my Google Drive, uncovered this piece and thought I'd share it.

 Love Unexpected

 I was 32 years old. I thought I knew what love was. I had two children, two failed relationships, but surely I knew love. I suffered from my first broken heart during my senior year of high school, crushed and alone, but I recovered. It was nearly ten years later when I fell in love again, only the stars were not aligned. The circumstances surrounding us and our love were beyond less than ideal, they were controversial and many would say down-right appalling. I don't know if that heightened the romanticism for me or not, but it was a love I'd never experienced. It was risky and exciting, flirty and sensual, loving yet forbidden. He was 22 years my senior, my married neighbor, and childhood best-friend's father. Our relationship began in secrecy, stealing a cup of coffee together on the porch, bringing over a sample of dessert, a wave or a nod pulling out of the driveway. This progressed to arranged meetings at the lake, lunch dates, and overnight camping trips. He ended up leaving his wife and moving in with me. We were engaged to be married, in spite of the lack of approval. We had a daughter together, a perfect little girl. I was the happiest I'd ever been.

 March 19, 2008, he left me. I came home from work and his things were packed and his face was grim. He sat me down and explained that he loved me, but what we were doing just wasn’t right. Heart break senior year had nothing on the hurt and loneliness I felt. I couldn't eat, sleep, work, breathe. I was shaken to the core and devastated. Everyone told me time was what I needed and things would get easier with time. So I waited, and wallowed, and tried to go on. The following year I got a job offer 1500 miles away and jumped at it. Some might say I was running, but I saw an opportunity for a fresh start, in a new place, with no memories of the love I thought I lost. I had no family where I was going, so raising my girls alone was exhausting and my work was demanding, but it kept my mind occupied. Work and my girls became my sole focus. Being a single mother was not what I had envisioned for myself, but it was my reality. I felt like I was finally establishing my own identity. I felt free and empowered. I was doing what I loved (teaching middle-schoolers), in a cool new city (San Antonio), and trying to give my girls great experiences and show them how strong a girl could be. I didn’t need anyone. I had my girls and my career, convincing myself everyday to be satisfied with that. I was successful most days.

 March 19, 2010, I had a date with a stranger. Ironic, I know, realizing this is exactly two years after my world came crashing down (A fact I realized at the end of my date, making it even more spectacular). My mom was visiting and gladly volunteered to watch the girls. Nervous, anxious, giddy, hopeful. Trying to maintain no expectations, I drove an hour north to meet the stranger. Let me preface this by saying, though we had never met, we had exchanged facebook communicato, instant messages, emails, and even real old-fashioned conversations via telephone for several weeks. I pulled into the parking lot of a Tex-Mex restaurant at the exact time he also pulled in. As he approached me, my stomach churned with anticipation. We ate, told real stories (not the cheesy, getting-to-know-you-but-not-really-revealing-anything stories), meaningful stories of the experiences that made us who we were sitting there together at that table. The date moved on to a local music festival full of good tunes and people-watching, but all I saw was the stranger who no longer felt like a stranger. I leaned in and stole a kiss just before it was time to leave. It was the best date I've ever had. So many feelings were rushing through my body, excitement, anticipation, and I guess, relief. Before this date, I promised myself that I would be okay. I didn't need a partner. I had my daughters and could love them enough to negate the need to share my life with anyone else. I convinced myself of this. But now, I'm left to wonder if maybe I could have it all. This time, perhaps, the stars were aligned.

 The next couple months, we spent every weekend together. He lived 8 hours from me and made the trip every weekend. As the school year came to an end, my belongings were boxed up and began gradually making the return trip with him every weekend. It didn't matter that we hadn't known each other for very long, or that I hadn't even seen the home where I was moving my family, that I had no job lined up, that I was a city girl and the town I was moving to only had a post office, it was happening. This was LOVE! Me, the girl who swore it off, found it, as everyone always says, when I wasn't looking.

We were married that July. It wasn't entirely easy. My adjustment to "BFE" was difficult and is still progressing and digressing, depending on the day. His passage from bachelorhood to husband and father of two is a continuous learning process as well. Oddly enough, all of the changes have felt so natural. I love this man more than I ever thought I could love someone (that didn't come directly from my body). Loving someone selflessly and completely and honestly is the most amazing feeling. I love the way his arms feel around me. I love that I can tell him anything. I love that he cries when I'm upset. I love the way he flares his nostrils before he says something he deems witty. I love how he strives for perfection in raising the girls. Love doesn't seem like a powerful enough word to evoke how I really feel. The word "Love" is thrown around casually and doesn't come close to my adoration for my husband. I know I'm not the only person to feel this way, but I also know how rare it is. I found it and am not letting go. I think that the hurt I felt back in 2008 forced me to find myself, discover who I was, what I wanted, and really made me grow up...which led me to finding love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Using the Juicer...What took me so long???

Okay, I have had a small citrus juicer for quite sometime and never used it. My mom gave me hers and I decided it was time. Not sure what took me so long.

Bought 6 large oranges, cut em all in half and gave it a whirl today.
I've never been a big oj drinker, but let me tell ya, I will be drinking a lot of it from now on.

Once I had a pitcher of the most beautiful and fragrant orange juice I'd ever seen, I was left with a container full of pulp. The juice was so freakin' good, it seemed a shame to waste.

I decided to give Orange Poppy Seed Muffins a try. So glad I did.

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
1 Cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup orange pulp
handful of poppy seeds

Mix together dry ingredients, Make a well.
Beat egg, and add milk and veg. oil.
Pour wet ingredients in the well and add Pulp. Mix together with a fork.

The dough will be lumpy. Pour into lined or well-sprayed muffin pan. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350.
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We like ours sweet, so we whisked together some of the orange juice with powder sugar, creating a glaze, and poured it over the muffins. YUM.