Category Archives: blogging

Old Friends Are The Best

Women in Blue Blouses by Pierre Auguste-Renoir

I am visiting one of my oldest friends for a few days. We taught high school English together in Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago. We get together a couple times a year and have kept in touch over the years via the prevailing communications methods, starting with handwritten letters then moving on to email and text messaging. Now, we connect every day playing Words with Friends.

When we do get together in the same place, we pick up right where we left off: lingering over breakfast, meeting other friends for lunch, shopping at our favorite stores, watching old and new movies, chatting about our families, talking about our current reads and sometimes just sitting in silence, each with a book in our hands. It’s nice to have one person in my life who knows all about me and loves me anyway. Comfortable and comforting.

This is my first post-retirement trip, and I wanted to see if I could travel without a laptop without losing my writing momentum. I am typing this blog post on my iPad with an external keyboard. It is still a bit of hardware to tote but is lighter physically but also mentally. The laptop means work while the iPad is my ereader and entertainment device so turning it on has less pressure. The add-on keyboard just makes it easier for an old school typist to create text.

What Are You Going To Do?

Front Porch of an old house with furniture and plantsThe number one question I was asked when I told people I was retiring was, “What are you going to do?”  I wish I had had a more satisfying answer for the questioners and, honestly, for myself. I named my  hobbies including gardening, music, reading, crafting. A desire to travel. I mentioned potentially writing a book. But, ultimately, I didn’t know what I was going to do other than not continue doing the work I had been doing. It was work I loved, which made it hard to leave behind. But, the love had made it all consuming, and I knew it was time to take the next step even without being completely sure of the path.

Because of the holiday weekend, today seems like my first real day of retirement. So, what did I do? The usual morning routine of reading and journaling then feeding and walking the dogs. Rode my bike to the post office. Watched Wimbledon. Puttered around the house and garden. Ticked a few items off the to do list.

Now, as the afternoon wanes, I am getting around to doing the one thing I did want to accomplish on this first day of retirement: writing a blog post. And, in writing, I have come to a short time answer to the question: I have blogged on and off almost since blogs existed. But I never got into a regular practice. Now, I have the time, and I want to use at least some of it to establish that practice.

Not sure what I’m going to write about: technology, education, gardening, cooking, and pretty much whatever else takes my fancy.

Begin Again

Solomon's Seal and Dragonflies
A favorite spot in my spring garden

This blog post is inspired by two people. Tim Stahmer has been blogging consistently since the early naughts. I’ve had blogs setup as long as he has, but I never got into the rhythm. But, like many of us, he found himself feeling unsettled in this era of the unknown and it impacted his writing, partly because he wasn’t sure what to say.

Jennifer Orr, meanwhile, has been giving us all a glimpse into the world of teachers right now. As always, her courage to share her deepest fears and griefs and joys inspires me.

I started the year with good intentions and enjoyed blogging in January, partly because I gave myself permission to write about whatever I wanted. I posted a few thoughts early on in the crisis but, like Tim, I ran out of energy and wondered what I had to share.

I admire Jen’s courage to speak her truth. Through her eyes, we also see the lives of her students and their families. And, she reminds us that the wires and switches are about connecting people and supporting community. We can fix the technology problems, but there is an emotional toll that will be harder to repair. We need more teachers to tell their stories all the time but never more so than now.

So, to Tim’s question, what can I say? I think I’m going back to my January philosophy and writing about what comes to mind. I am back to baking regularly with two different sourdough starters. My flower gardens are coming together and there are lots of lessons to learn while weeding. Meanwhile, my husband is putting in extra tomato, squash, zucchini and cucumber plants this year,  thinking that our local community, a food desert, will benefit from fresh produce this summer. I will be channeling my grandmothers as I pickle, can, ferment and freeze. I’m back to reading after struggling with concentration.

For now, I’ll end with a potentially helpful resource for those who are struggling with connectivity. The Commonwealth Coalition, of which VSTE is a proud member, has created a wifi hotspot map for the state:

I like that one near me is at Moores Swamp Church. But it is a picture of inequity as well. Rural folks expect to drive longer distances for services but, at this point in time, Internet is like electricity. It needs to come directly to the house.

Keeping the Gaps From Getting Bigger: Randomly Connected Thoughts

I don’t know about others, but I have been having trouble mustering much energy or enthusiasm to do anything that required concentration. I’ve kept up my daily journaling (hard to break a habit of a lifetime) but putting together something for outside consumption seemed too hard. But, I do have a few public things I would like say:

Stop shaming teachers and schools for anything, especially if you were not actively involved in public schools on a daily basis prior to the virus. I have seen several pundits shaking their heads over printed instructional packets. One actually used the word “shame” to describe teachers who used them. They may not be the ideal pedagogy, but they are the lowest common denominator in a world that largely gave digital equity lip service until last week. Now, suddenly, educators are supposed to be transforming their education online despite a lack of devices, access and preparation. Schools are busy figuring out how to feed kids. Give them a break.

Read that again: schools are busy figuring out how to feeds kids. Our schools play a much larger role in the community than just teaching and learning, and we consistently underfund them, especially for the most vulnerable children and families. Ditto for public libraries.

Now is when we will discover the true gaps in our broadband access maps and surveys. If you are a teacher connecting with your students online, be sure to do an equity check now and then. Who isn’t showing up either synchronously or asynchronously? Is it because of access? What can you do to open access by using low bandwidth tools that are phone-friendly?

Just as they are feeding kids, schools are working on closing the equity gap. Schools  without 1:1 are doing what they can to get devices to kids. They are sending home mifis and keeping wifi up and running in schools parking lots. I’ve seen lots of tech coaches offering support for both their own faculty and generally for others. The Virginia Society for Technology in Education is offering just-in-time coaching in partnership with UnisonEDU.

There is so much more to consider here. Forget digital equity. I suspect many children in my low income community are being left home alone or in the care of older siblings as parents cannot afford to stop working. The library and community center where they accessed analog, digital and adult support are closed.

I have been meeting with VSTE leaders over the past week, and I am so proud of how they are leading their schools and communities. They were given little or no time or resources to prepare, but they, along with so many other educators stepped up, as they always do, because they understand that they are the first line of defense for so many of our children.

Be safe out there, my friends.

Begin Again: On Challenges & Change

YourselfAs at least one nice person noticed, I have been blogging regularly for the new year. I do personal writing every day but have never developed a public practice. For now, my goal is to post every day, but I am giving myself lots of space around topics. Just post.

I did miss yesterday and didn’t even think about it until I was tucked in bed, too tired to do anything about it. So, today, I begin again.

Begin again: Those two words come up often in the other practice I am establishing: meditation. I signed up for the 10% Happier app challenge that started this past Monday. The goal is to meditate 15 out of 21 days, but I am working on finding time every day. I want this to be more than just taking ten breaths, though, but a real meditation practice that helps me understand how my perspective impacts my world.

The basic lesson so far has been that meditation is not about emptying the mind, as that is impossible, but about getting still and seeing how the mind works, the ideas that appear and disappear, the paths we wander down and those we ignore, the emotions that arise and their impact on our thoughts and body. There’s a lot going on when we are sitting quietly with our eyes closed. And we should view all of it with self-compassion and a sense of curiosity.

I know schools are adding mindfulness activities and training to the curriculum and am interested in learning more about how they work. I plan to make this a focus of my reading and research this spring. It would be possible, I think, for this to do more harm than good depending on the approach. But, at a basic level, learning to be able to identify your state of mind and use mindfulness techniques to connect and tinker with that state could be a useful skill in a stressful world.