A Compassionate Pause


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them, humanity cannot survive”  — Dalai Lama

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete” — Buddha

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” — Unknown

It has been an incredibly hard week.  And, in the midst of the struggle, it has been an incredibly beautiful week.

The time around my birthday is always difficult for me because it reminds me acutely of the loss of my mother.  While it is ostensibly “my day,” I always think that birthdays are a time to honor one’s mother, without whom one would not be born, so I miss her a little more each September 29.

This year, that ache was compounded by the news that a close family friend had been wounded in an armed robbery.  When I heard the news, I was preparing to teach my classes on Tuesday afternoon, and felt my mind take over as my emotions shut down. Having dealt with traumatic loss many times before, I become what Brené Brown calls, an “over-functioner.”  I focus on what needs to get done and throw myself into those things in order to not deal emotionally with the event that has set my over-functioning into motion. I taught my course, not even acknowledging the news I had just found out, and subsequently left behind my laptop, an indication at my lack of presence during my lecture.

The next day, upon discovering the missing laptop, I was flooded with emotion.  It wasn’t the loss of the technology.  It was the compounded consequence of a loss of presence.  I was physically going through the motions of my life, without the presence I needed to actually live it.  Suddenly jolted back to myself by this instance of carelessness, I felt the pain and injustice at my friend’s injury, the gratitude for her life, the sadness at the world that we live in that such a dear soul would be shot for something as trivial as money by those clearly desperate for it, the pain of my own loss and grief, the lack of presence with which I so often go through the motions.

We found the laptop, but the greater gift was a return to myself. I went through the rest of my day, but I did so with intense waves of nausea and moments of grief as I felt what I had been delaying for so long.  Instead of pushing those feelings away, I was honest with my students that I might need a moment, and I reminded myself to breathe when I felt the emotions welling up.

Yesterday was my birthday.  In the aftermath of the emotions from the previous two days, I spent much of the day alone, receiving love and greetings from many friends via text, call or Facebook, and recharging myself in the solitude and indulgence of self-care.  After several hours of self-care, I rejoined my family, those I love the most in the world, and felt present and peaceful. It was a wonderful day.

This morning, I felt all the nausea return as the blissful retreat of my birthday began to fade into the memory of another work day.  I am still struggling with nausea as I blog.  I know I need to be still and breathe, pray a prayer of compassion and gratitude that the nausea won’t let me push it away unless I sit with it.  Indeed, when I do this, the sickness fades away and I feel present again.

We are all fighting battles.  Internal. External. Against things that we have caused.  Against things that we have no control over.  It doesn’t matter.  But this moment, and in this coming year, I hope to learn to take more of these pauses for compassion, for humanity, my own and that of the world, to feel my difficult feelings, rather than to push them away, because I believe that it’s the only way to truly move forward.

Starting to Break Down Silence

“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences.  Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.  And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put that fear into perspective gave me great strength.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself.  My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. ”

–Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”


I struggle deeply and daily with silence.

Each time a Black person is killed at the hands of law enforcement.

Each time a transgender person is killed for who they are.

Each time an undocumented immigrant is called “illegal” and told to go back to their home country, when this country, in fact, is their home country.

Each time a story about the refugee crises around the world comes through my newsfeed.

Each time I see blatant examples of Islamophobia and misguided generalizations about terrorism.

Each time a young person from the community in which I used to teach dies.

Each time someone scoffs at the ravages of mental illness and thinks that another should just “get over it.”

I see injustice and suffering and I struggle to speak.  My heart breaks but my voice falls short. I spend so much time questioning what to say, how to say it, whether it makes sense to say it, who will be my ally if I say it, who will I offend if I say it, who will I be selling out on if I remain silent. I wonder if I speak, if I will be revealing too many of my own connections to this issue. I worry about my spirit being broken at the responses that may arise.  I worry that people who know and don’t know me will misunderstand me. I worry that I will be silenced against my will as my words are used against me.

I struggle with silence and I suffer with this struggle.

But this struggle is part of my privilege.  There are some for whom my intellectual struggle is a life-and-death struggle.

Audre Lorde is right in her words.  I must put my struggle and fears in perspective lest I live a life of regret. I am blessed (and privileged) to be in a position where my voice may have greater weight with some than the voice of others.  It’s my responsibility to use that position to advocate for what I believe in, for the value of life, in spite of my fear.  If I end up maligned, misunderstood or persecuted for my beliefs, I will be in good company.

So, I will speak, and some people may not like what I have to say, but I hope they’ll approach me respectfully and we can talk about it, and perhaps agree or perhaps agree to disagree, but that we can open dialogue, take action and make change.

I have to start somewhere. Today, I vow to start with ending my silence.

Reflecting on Reflecting: It’s Always a Challenge


I’ve come to really love writing, particularly reflective writing through this blog (a long way from the early entries where writing was so difficult and arduous).  But,  at the end of the 20-day challenge, I’ve realized that it takes a challenge for me to devote the time I need to actually reflect.

I believe that reflection is key to professional development.  I value it in my personal and professional life.

But, why is it so darn hard unless I have some external goal to meet?


Time is a funny thing and time for reflection (and research and writing) are easily lost to the immediacy of teaching and family and the things that (literally) scream for your attention.

So, as I end this challenge, I am sure I won’t have time to blog everyday (in fact, I’ve got to go right now to tend to my toddler), however, my yearlong challenge will be to engage in a year of reflection and will make the time each Friday, as my own challenge to maintain reflection.

Gotta set goals and keep my priorities aligned with my beliefs if I am going to sustain myself productively.

Okay, gotta go to the baby now and get back to my weekend!

A Parent’s Perspective


When I first became a teacher, I was very young and several years removed from having my own children.  As a student, I had never received a call home from a teacher and, as a novice teacher, I was intimidated to reach out to parents, worried that I would either “get a kid in trouble” or get yelled at for “picking on” a student.

I learned, eventually, to take a deep breath, and work with families in the best interest of their students.  Parents became partners with me in helping to support and understand their children and I developed strong relationships with some parents that last to this day.

It helped a lot when I became a parent myself.


My parenting journey is unusual.  My twin daughters were students at my middle school who approached me to see if they could come live with my husband and me. The very condensed version of our story is that we agreed, they came, and we eventually adopted them.  With them came a complicated history and a new role of advocacy as a first time mother.  I had teachers in my own district who were both wonderfully supportive and harshly critical.  I made plenty of mistakes, as did my girls.

But, I was genuinely trying my hardest to do the best I knew how for their development as people, and to support them to be successful in school.

I also believe that my girls’ biological parents tried their best, and gave them everything they could to help them be successful in the best way they knew how.


Fast forward several years to my biological son (child 3 of 4) and his entry into school.  Because my son was born to me, and had, what I thought to be, a much less complicated history, I figured the transition into school would be simple.  Not so much.  For a variety of reasons, my kid, who initially struggled with change, has been in 4 different elementary schools in 6 years. In each, I’ve sought to develop relationships with his teachers and been an advocate for him to get an education that would support and challenge him.

This year, he’s been in a Mandarin Chinese weekend heritage school.  I don’t speak Mandarin well and couldn’t understand most of his teacher’s orientation.  It left me in tears.  Luckily, upon approaching the teacher, she was able to give me the most important information in English, and was kind and welcoming.  I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing there most of the time. It’s incredibly hard, makes me not want to be at school, and has me struggling with shame on a weekly basis.

My experiences have left me convinced of the important of home-school communication.  As a parent, more than anything else, I want to be heard and acknowledged. I want educators to know that I’m doing the best I can, and I actually have an important and unique perspective about my children.  As an educator, I want families to understand how much I care about their students and that I’m also doing the best I can.  I want us to work as a team to support their child’s development.  As a parent and an educator, I do not expect the other side to “give in to my demands” or “make my life easier.” I understand the constraints that educators face each day and the demands that parents feel in many aspects of their lives.  I have incredible empathy for both sides.

I share all of this because I have seen and experienced the pain of being misunderstood on both sides.  I’ve also seen the possibilities of powerful teamwork in support of students.  I hope we’ll choose the latter for our students, but also, in the spirit of our shared humanity.

Cultivating Time for Research, Writing, and Thinking


It’s so easy to lose a day. Or, at least, to lose track of a day.

For me, it’s easy to get lost in preparation for teaching.  I’m a teacher at the core of my professional identity and I always have been.


Teaching comes easily to me and is always gratifying.  Students respond well. I feel accomplished, satisfied in the fact that my students are getting the best of me and I’m helping to contribute to their professional growth.

But, I’m also an academic–a really nerdy academic who loves going to conferences and listening to deep thinkers tackle important issues around education.


And, for me, if I don’t start my day with writing, research and thinking, before all the “have-to” things for the day creep in, it’s unlikely that it will get done.

I’m writing this to remind myself to keep research, writing and thinking time sacred.  I can’t be the best me if I ignore a central part of myself and, as much as I love the naturalness with which teaching comes to me, I also am deeply fulfilled by the challenge of thinking and writing.

Honor, integrate and cultivate <3

Sense-Making & Note-Taking: Getting the GIST w/ a Twist


I had so much fun this morning working with a great group of English Language Arts teachers at the Escondido Union School District where I have been working for 2 of the last 3 summers as part of the Escondido STEM Integrated (ESI) team around cross-curricular project based learning.

Today, I got to be with all ELA teachers (a departure from our usual science & math heavy summer institutes) and talk about meaningful note-taking with them.  I was so excited to start my day with these teachers–even after a 2+ hour commute:

It was such a great experience, full of rich conversations about how we, as readers, engage in sense-making, and how we, as teachers, can get students, not just to take notes, but to make sense of texts in various ways:

After talking about our experiences (including successes and struggles) with helping students make sense of texts, we engaged in two sense-making activities.  One, a traditional GIST strategy and the second, a “GIST with a twist” using todaysmeet.com where teachers got to “tweet” (micro-blog in 140 characters) their GIST statements. Here’s a sample of the conversation (around a text excerpt from Reading Rhetorically):


The teachers then chose 2 GIST statements that they liked that were not their own and discussed what stood out to them about these GIST statements.

Using Todaysmeet.com (or social media as I do in my work at the post-secondary level) as a tool to help share ideas and make (more) public one’s thinking in an engaging and efficient way was awesome. I was bowled over by the thoughtful GIST statements and the depth of conversation with these wonderful teachers.

Now, I’ve got to switch hats and go teach in my own classroom, inspired by the work of these wonderful professionals and hoping to support my students in becoming thoughtful, engaged, reflective professionals themselves in the near future.

#Lovemyjob #Loveteachers


Getting through Today


My 16-month old daughter is the pinnacle of full self-expression.

This morning, she asked for a variety of items, and upon being presented with each, responded, giggling, “No!”

She responded with giggles, that is, until she didn’t, at which point, she began crying and thrashing about with unreserved and unabashed sadness and fury, as only a toddler can.

She kept crying and thrashing until I responded in the way she deemed correct, at which time, she calmed down, and began asking for more things.

Repeat cycle ad infinitum.


I love my little one with all my heart, but this morning, as I sent her off to daycare, I was demoralized.

I am so good at so many things, yet I am reduced to a jester throwing out all my best tricks to amuse and care for this tiny little being.

And sometimes, she still ends up with crazy hair, dirty hands and fits of frustration.

I came face-to-face with “not good enough,” and once that portal gets opened in one area of my life (today, mothering my youngest), it becomes a flood of barely held back self-conflagration about the other areas in which I don’t measure up.


I wish I could say that I bounced back right away, through reflection.  And, I guess I could, as I like to tie things up nicely and end on the positive.

But, the fact is that mornings like these are hard.  Today is hard.

Write What You Want to Write


When I was young, I would write for hours: historical fiction, young adult fiction (teeny-bopper young adult fiction because my more life changing experiences hadn’t happened yet, and it was all I knew), angst-ridden poems (real angst that now seems somewhat over-dramatized), pages of notes to my friends. I would write because I felt like I had something to say, because I wanted to, and because I loved being able to express myself in a way that would last beyond ephemeral spoken words or thoughts. I wrote to remember, to explore, and to create.

Then, I got sucked into writing what I thought I should write. Should for the sake of achieving. Should for the sake of value. Should for the approval of someone else.

Since then, it’s been harder to write freely.

I’m writing this now because this morning, I thought that I might write a “follow Friday” post on a few awesome organizations I ran across on my Twitter and Facebook feed.  While initially inspired by this idea, I realized that, given all that I have going on right now, this type of blog post was actually not what I wanted to write.

I wanted to write without restriction, structure or guidance.  Given that I’m trying to write what I’m supposed to write in my day job (mostly article manuscripts, e-mails and lecture powerpoints), I need this blog to be a space where I can write whatever is on my mind and what comes freely.  It’s my blog. My space. My choice.  Even if no one else reads, retweets and pays attention.

Because, you know what? My words matter to me and the act of writing what I want sometimes is the first step in my own mental liberation…and that’s pretty cool.

Focus on Identity


I’ve been struggling with rewriting a journal manuscript which has been rejected 4 times, in varying iterations.  The piece centers around my work with secondary literacy teacher candidates and the ways in which their perspectives and practices integrating literacy into their disciplinary lesson plans change over their time in my course.

My friend and colleague, Monica, who has read through drafts of this piece from the beginning and seen its transformation, today, suggested a shift in framing from one focused on notions of disciplinary and general literacy strategies to one focused on identity.


Of course.  Focus on identity. Because at the heart of all my work is identity.

Monica’s suggestion came at a particularly apt time, given that just yesterday, in class, we spent time sharing our literacy autobiographies with one another and responding in writing groups.

The literacy autobiography writing groups are one of my favorite times in the semester.  Teacher candidates share, in small groups, their literacy histories, in and outside of K-12 & post-secondary schools and connect their personal identities as readers and writers (or non-readers and non-writers) to their future professional identities as secondary teachers.

I am fortunate in that I get to read each one of their histories.

The literacy autobiography, as the first major assignment in this course, is an essential part of welcoming candidates’ identities into the classroom space.  Some have had strong, cohesive experiences with literacy throughout their home, school, and professional lives; others have struggled with literacy at various points in their lives: learning English; transitioning from home to school environments that were vastly different, or negotiating shifting demands in secondary and post-secondary classroom contexts. Some identify as readers and writers with great certainty, whereas others qualify that they are a reader but not a writer, or a reader in certain contexts, or that they simply don’t consider reading and writing a salient part of their identities.

Wherever they are at the beginning of the course, the voice and openness found in these initial assignments helps me to know who students are.  It inspires me to do my work.

Identity is the heart of my work.


So, it’s back to the drawing board with my manuscript that never seems to be quite there.  But, like identity, it’s a work in progress, one that will eventually be bounded by the (authorial) choices I make, but a piece that belongs within a larger context of my life’s work.

Going Up for Tenure–the Decision before the Decision


I’ve been struggling in the last few weeks with whether I should go up early for tenure or proceed on the normative timeline.

In talking with colleagues, the advice ranges from, “If you think you’re ready, go up!” to “If you don’t need the money, don’t feel like you need to put the extra pressure on yourself,” and “It’s really up to you and what works for your life right now.”

I know all of that is true, but I’m struggling with the sense that I would be selling out on myself if I don’t try to go up early vs. the intense time pressure during an extremely busy part of life and the school year vs. the time I’ve already put into crafting a tenure review narrative vs. a string of recent rejections.

I seriously change my mind every day–sometimes several times a day.

It is not a fear of failure and not getting tenure.  I know that if I put up my file early and I am denied, I am as confident as one can reasonably be that I will be granted tenure in the next cycle (my normative timeline), so there aren’t “real” institutional consequences for trying.  It won’t be a blow to my ego either, as I’m aware of the area in which my file could be improved that’s giving me reservation.

What I am struggling with is putting forth a file that fully represents who I am and my work over the time I’ve been at my institution.  While I am proud of my work, and in some ways, it speaks for itself, my reflection and narrative were rushed, and for someone who values the reflective part of the review process, that causes me pause. I have pieces that I want to see through the publication process that have been revised multiple times.  I have a rejected grant proposal that I want to revise (or at least pilot a study from) and submit to a new funding agency.  And, the urgency I’ve created seems artificial since I don’t need to go up early.

However, tenure promises certainty, stability, and a raise, which is always a great thing.  Beyond the money though, a sense of certainty is critical to my own sense of well-being and continuing the course I’ve started, working on projects that are truly important to me without the worry of having to prove myself to a review committee.

I just don’t know.  I have 9 more days to decide and I’m sure I will waiver until I send the memo saying that I would like to be considered for early tenure or until the deadline passes.  I know this problems is minor in the longterm scheme of things, but it occupies valuable space in my mind.

For today, though, I need to focus on connecting with my students’ literacy histories, my colleague’s paper draft and our next college meeting.  Just a pause here to unload these thoughts from my mind.