Celebrating Dog Piss?

Ruth Ayres celebrates each week with other teacher-writers who link up and share celebrations for the week.

Discover. Play. Build.

Today after showering I noticed my dog nudging her new bed across the floor. With her nose, she was scooting her bed incrementally across the floor. I moved the bed to the other side of the room for her, and she continued to nudge it some more. As I gazed down at the brand new bed making its way under the Christmas tree, I noticed the puddle and smelled the smell–yes, my sweet Annabelle had urinated all over her brand new dog bed. This dripping dog bed leaving a trail of urine down the hallway and onto the floor and bathmats. No longer feeling clean, I tackled the mess feeling futility because once the dog decides she doesn’t like a bed, she probably will just repeat her pissing protest until I decide that the old ratty dog bed is better than the protest pad.

As I spent an hour cleaning the magnitude of mess: the living room floor, the dog bed cover, the dog bed cushions, the bathroom floor, and the rest of the urine trail, my mind eventually wandered to what has been on my mind for the past week and that is what will be my ONE WORD for 2017 or my OLW for 2017? You may wonder how I went from dog piss to my One Word–suffice it to say, I meandered. And you know what, I’m okay with that. Meandering led to insight.

Looking at the molding of the bathroom floor and thinking about how I’d like to prepare this house for resale took my mind to what I think my word will be: INCREMENT.

As I thought of how getting ready to sell a house can be such a long process, I also thought of how incremental growth has been huge for me in transforming my outlook on life and my teaching practices. Earlier in the week, I thought maybe my word would be chunk or focus or consistency or routine or to-do (is that 2 words). I wanted my word to be one of those things that I think will get me to better prioritize and to be more deliberate.

Scrubbing the bathroom floor,  I thought of lasting change over the past 5 years;  lasting change is made by small steps, by incremental growth, by continuing the process, by making small steps towards bigger growth. I thought of my words of the past: 2016-deliberate, 2015-prioritize 2014-balance, 2013-sacred

Yes, today I  celebrate dog piss because it led to new insight as well as what I think will be my OLW. Whether I’m preparing to eventually sell a house, or changing habits and routines, or trying to find balance in life, I have to build my growth on the foundation I have and make small incremental changes in order to build on who I am and where I am and sustain changes that help me as I continue to become.


Yes, increment. Small steps forward. Lasting change. Building towards betterment step by step. I think of Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher, who says to innovate like a turtle–as one who has spent much of life like the hare with spurts of unfocused and scattered energy leading to unfocused and scattered success, I now see the wisdom of the tortoise whose incremental steps lead towards success and victory. Whatever lasting changes I’m trying to make, an incremental system based on small changes over time seems to be what my brain truly needs to sustain change. Slow and steady wins the race.

And even obstacles and stressors like dog piss that might put me back a step or two can eventually lead to forward movement as I pause and look for meaning before I continue taking small steps forward.

Vocabulary.com celebrates increment, too.

From https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/increment 


Consider expanding your vocabulary by a small increment, or increase, each day. Increasing your vocabulary by an increment of just two words a day means you’ll learn more than 700 new words a year!

Increment is often used in the context of a series of regular increases, so this word comes in handy whenever you’re expanding or improving something over time. Maybe you contribute to your bank account in modest increments each week. Or, when working out at the gym, perhaps you increase the number of sit-ups you do by a small increment each day.   




A Giant Timer

Today I celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes:

celebrate-image Each weekend teacher-writers from all over the world celebrate the week.

Today I celebrate insight from a good plan well-executed. When charged with 15 minutes to share at NCTE, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to spend each minute of my roundtable presentation. At first, I was afraid I couldn’t do what I needed to do with the limited time I was given. I knew that for me 15 minutes was merely a segment of class time where I’m talking too much and the kids aren’t talking enough. When I executed my plan, I paid attention to the giant timer on the LCD screen and made the best use of my time.

My Insight

My mentor/friend/former boss/sometimes nemesis advised me as I prepared, “You have a good plan, but you have to stick to your timing and keep your focus!” This man is not really my nemesis (not anymore anyway)–he is the person who continually challenges and pushes me to focus on overcoming my weaknesses. So here I am applying insight from 15 minutes and the advice and support I received to the bigger picture.

  • A Giant Timer: There was a giant timer projected for each rotating roundtable I presented. I need to be aware of the time I have in each class, each day, and each week. And, I need to stick to my timing and keep my focus.
  • The Plan: The plan/to-do list needs my attention each day. Not only do I need to make it. I need to look at it and check off what I do.
  • My Focus: The challenge of prioritizing my focus continues to be a struggle for me in all areas of my life.
  • Feedback: I need to continue to seek feedback in order to do what doesn’t come naturally to me.
  • Belief: At first I didn’t think I could pull off a 15-minute presentation, but in the end, I nailed it. Believing is the first step in achieving.

As the new  year approaches, I’m thinking of what my One Word/One Little Word will be for 2017, and I think my answer is somewhere in this insight I’ve gathered here.

I understand that I need to have flexibility and adaptability in all areas of my life because things come up that require me to change my focus. At the same time, I need to see the writing on the wall and envision A GIANT TIMER as I plan and prioritize and make time for what’s most important in my life. If I can make the most of a 15-minute presentation, I need to seek out new ways to make the most of each 15-minute block of my day in all that I do.


Yes, today I celebrate a giant timer that made me aware of each moment.  In reality, we are all given a limited amount of time, and we should strive to make the best use of each moment of each day.





Details Matter

I’ve always struggled with the details touting that I’m a conceptual/big picture person. In school, I got Cs when I couldn’t memorize the path of the Big Mac through the digestive system, when I got isolated definitions confused, and when I couldn’t remember the sequence of historical events. I bombed multiple choice tests that asked me to know that one isolated detail. I could show what I know when given a chance to write out answers, but I second-guessed myself and lacked convergent thinking skills.

I suppose that’s why I’ve always liked that quote about the devil being in the details. It works when I rationalize the t not crossed and the i not dotted.  Of course, when I want to better myself, create new habits, or solve a problem, I need to zoom my focus in on the details I detest.

While on the road today, I began to think about how my big picture visions will never be realized without conscious attention to details. And then, I had the epiphany, “Details matter.” Details matter in first impressions, teaching lessons, parenting children, serving others, working on a team, and achieving goals. Details are the ubiquitous force that move people forward.



Take a look at the quote below:


Innovators build off other designs by focusing on the details in all that they do.

A habit of mine has always been to ask the big picture questions. Absorbed with answering the whys and the hows, I sometimes neglected the what. I have sometimes neglected the details.


They key for me is giving details attention without agonizing over the questions that get in the way of getting stuff done. Also, I need to realize what details matter, what details need to get done, and what details can wait.  I suppose that leads me back to challenge myself to prioritize.focusonthedetails

Letting go of  useless details that cause my wheels to spin, that distract me from what’s important, and that get in the way of me. When my wheels are spinning and when I’m distracted, I need to acknowledge that and work to refocus the situation whether with students, colleagues, or a shiny light of distraction.

Yes, I need to not let the useless details take over,


so I don’t miss out on the world around me and this beautiful life I have.


Details matter. When I csee the details and connect the dots, I get a better appreciation of the big picture.  The vision might propel me forward, but without the details, the vision is never realized. After all the big picture is actually art created by design–a design that is the sum of all the details.

Moral and Pedagogical Compass

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hCoudy memories in my mind that rarely surface–my first few years as a teacher. With all the changes in teaching and life, rarely do I think back to my windowless lemon yellow walls of 1995, my first year as a teacher.

The other morning when I awoke thinking that I had just gotten a great big hug of support from my ILT from 1995, I was confused. My instructional lead teacher from my fist job, Beverly, whom I haven’t seen since 1998, entered my dream at my current school, we rushed down the hall to greet each other, and we gave each other a long hug. 

Since I’m not a hugger and since Beverly doesn’t roam my halls, I was baffled. Initially, I thought it was a sort of hug of mutual support saying, “I’m still here,” but after awhile, I thought about my first years working with Beverly and knew there was more for me in this subconscious encounter.

Beverly had about 20 years in the teaching profession when I first met her. I am in my 20th year now. I am not an ILT like she was; however, I am a teacher leader. Perhaps the dream hug from Beverly should remind me of the person she was for me when I began teaching. Perhaps in this era of data, differentiation, TKES, CC , high stakes, and new initiatives I am forgetting to be to others what Beverly was to me.

Perhaps the hug I woke up to is a sort of wake up call to me. Here is my takeaway thinking of the “hugs” I received from Beverly:

Build on the good. Thinking back to my first few years teaching, I had a lot to work on, but Beverly helped build on the good in me. Her push was always positive and encouraging.

Be hopeful. Beverly was not a naysayer. She wasn’t a cynical veteran poopooojg the system. She was grounded but looking forward.

Be in the present moment. Beverly didn’t spend time talking about the way things were in the good old days. She was present in the present moment.

Remember the little things that make people happy. Beverly had a bowl of candy on her desk. I used to grab a piece when I walked by. Once I sighed that there were no Werther’s. After that day, she made a point to stock my favorite.

Anticipate and ask. Beverly paid attention to what her teachers wanted and needed. Our new teacher meetings and our grade level meetings focused on what we wanted and needed. She anticipated our needs, and she delivered.

I looked Beverly up. She is still teaching–she is teaching teachers at the college level. My goodness. She has over 40 years in, and she is still welcoming teachers to our field. Yes, the landscape is different now, and the stakes are higher. Still, though, people are still people, and teaching is still teaching. Each day I make the choice to teach. As long as I choose this, I should remember and apply  all that has helped guide me through my years of teaching as a sort of moral and pedagogical compass.

The Power of a Leaf Blower


In metro Atlanta districts, school begins at the beginning of August,  so for many teachers this week is fall break. I’ve been looking at lots of beach pictures of my teacher and parent friends feeling a little jealous that I’m not getting away from my world and relaxing on a beach listening to waves and feeling the ocean breeze.

Today as I stood holding my mom’s leaf blower clearing off her patio, I smiled a big smile and realized that I was exactly where I needed to be and that because of my work today, my mom would be happier tomorrow. The loud noise, was like a wave machine of white noise drowning out the noise in my head, the noise of my thinking too much sometimes irrational thoughts the noise that takes me places I’d rather not go.  At that moment, I knowingly smiled visualizing my mom’s return to her house after her trip home to Iceland for a month. I visualized her seeing her freshly mowed grass (courtesy of my husband) along with the work my son and I did today. She  would notice the fresh flowers on the table as well as the clean patio. She would open the refrigerator and find fresh food. I continued to clean with the loud white noise in some strange way whirring through my mind cleaning out the clutter. As I stood blowing the leaves, the white noise drove out jealousy and selfishness and pride. I was left with the desire to do right for the right reasons. I began to think of times I’ve served seeking recognition, times I’ve given to receive, and times I’ve served because it’s part of a job or role.

Right now I’m visualizing myself with a leaf blower in my house, in my car, and in my classroom as I try to clear my mind of the thoughts that get in the way of my doing what needs to be done with the right mindset. Perhaps this is a call to clear my mind more often, a call to seek silence (or at least white noise), and perhaps a call to more prayer and meditation. This also shows me that I don’t have to stop to find the silence. I just have to find a way to clear my mind. Funny, the power of the leaf blower to help me find happiness in a moment.


Pretending to be Normal


Tonight I pretended to be normal. I think I even looked normal. Casually, I sat next to another soccer mom, and we chatted for an hour and a half while Sarah practiced. I let my papers remain in my bag, untouched and ungraded. I didn’t even pretend to grade papers to assuage my guilt. I didn’t reach into the bag.  NOT ONCE! I didn’t lift my grading pen. NOT ONCE! I didn’t answer any emails. I sat and talked and watched the team practice. I enjoyed just being there. I enjoyed being present.

Basically, I pretended to be normal. I let go of my frazzled overworked self. I let go of the things unfinished. I set aside my teacher identity (well, except for a few slip ups in conversation). I allowed myself to be normal. I allowed myself to be present. I let myself stop and relax.

The masquerade is over. The papers await.  In a little bit, I will wield my pen and grade some more, tap on the keyboard and plan some more, look at some resources and read some more, go to the LMS and post some more.

I think I need to pretend to be normal more often. Normal might be boring, but at this point in my life, I think I’d like a little boring.

Maybe I shouldn’t open my school bag; maybe I should watch mindless TV. Maybe I should indulge in more normalacy. I used to talk of a “school free” night where my husband and I wouldn’t grade papers or do any schoolwork. Maybe the school free night needs to come back to my house. The whole family could pretend to be normal, and we could celebrate Normalacy Night.

Not sure I can do it, but right now the idea sounds like something I’d like to try.

Normalacy. Presence. Relaxation. Stopping. Family time. Yes, these sound good.

Don’t become concerned. I won’t stay normal long. I’ll just play the role every now and then.




square-imageLast spring my optometrist called the vision I get with contacts 20/Happy explaining to me that to get the reading vision there would be a slight compromise of distance vision and vice versa. This is just reality for me as I age, and I had no choice but to compromise a bit and then figure out what worked best if I wanted to wear contacts.

There was a learning curve in finding 20/Happy. Dr. Mays at TrueVision worked with me for several weeks to help me find contacts that would be comfortable and would allow me to see kids down the hall as well as read the fine print on student rosters. The first pair of lenses didn’t allow me to see the fine print, so he tweaked and adjusted the lenses. The second pair of lenses were not comfortable and made my eyes dry out. Finally, in the end, we found a pair of lenses that did the trick. Yes, 20/Happy was achieved. Perfection wasn’t possible, but the key was we worked together and found what worked best. It helped that he had been through a similar ordeal with his own eyes and could empathize, but in reality, what helped most was that he was positive, patient, and persevering and that he was willing to work with me over several weeks. He also was strategic in that he looked at what didn’t work as he sought to find my 20/Happy place.

Today I want to consider how applying  20/Happy to my world is really important. You see just like my eyes changed my world changes, too. This year, for example, I have 2 new preps, a new grade level of students, a new principal, and new team of teachers for collaboration.

I can’t expect to find my 20/Happy place right away. Even if I have an understanding of what my vision is and am working with amazing people, none of us can expect perfect acuity right away. Finding and maintaining the sharpness of vision and the keenness of thought takes time, positivity, patience, and perseverance; yes, there is a learning curve in finding what works because most of the time I have to work through what doesn’t work in order to find what will work.

And I suppose I should remember that the lenses from which I see the world are far different than the lenses from which others see the world. My perspective is but one perspective and to truly have acuity of vision and thought, it takes people working together with a shared vision, understanding, and compromise.

A few days ago I was cursing the learning curve and thinking that I didn’t have the patience to deal with things not working seamlessly and with my vision not matching reality. I was thinking that I wanted a quick fix, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the learning curve.

Yesterday I thought of my 20/Happy place and the learning curve of finding that place. Yes, patience, perseverance, positivity, and compromise. Perhaps that’s what will help me find the peace of a 20/Happy place. Not perfection of the world as I see it through my lenses, but a world where I allow for compromise and yield to a reality that is much bigger and much less myopic than I am–this is where I am looking outward  as well as inward and seeking keenness of thought and acuity of vision. I suppose I have to be able to see what is close up as well as what is in the distance in finding my 20/Happy place.

Here’s to hoping we all  continue to  accept the learning curve as we seek to find our 20/Happy place in all things.





Nicknamed Freight Train



Bonnie and I with Coach Howard

Nicknamed Freight Train way back in high school because I used to go wide-opened full throttle on the basketball court often times unaware of the damage a freight train can do. Freight Train is the name my coach used that would make my face turn red and make me want to hide under the bleachers when yet another unnecessary foul turned the tally to 5 automatically benching me.

Nicknamed Freight Train back in high school because I thought I was bigger than I was and had relentless courage. Foul to stop the clock–no problem. Guard a girl a foot taller than I–no problem. Take a charge and fall on the hard floor–no problem.

My freight train name is something I never really thought about in my life until a few weeks ago when I learned that my coach would be at my 30 year reunion. And then, I thought of what a freight train I have been in life: impulsive, aggressive, willful, and reckless. I thought of how I could have curbed my freight train attitude and had fewer problems. I tried to make meaning of how I could have shied from my nickname.

After a moment of aggressive play, Coach Howard used to tell me I should blow my whistle to offer up a warning. Driving home after the reunion I thought about those words and refined my thoughts about my freight train life. Being a full on freight train is not the problem. In fact, that relentless and passionate  pursuit makes me a powerful force. The whistle is the key. The whistle is the warning, “Ready or not, here I come! Be prepared.”

Yes, on one hand being a freight train could mean a foul and could cost the team points and in life cost me points. On the other hand, though, being a freight train can mean a courageous full on  forward pursuit as a teacher, friend, mom, daughter, sister, wife, etc.

I am a Freight Train. There is no denying it. There is no taming it. I’ll let you know when I am coming. I’ll blow the whistle as a warning.

Sometimes I will stop and refuel. I’ll give myself a rest, and I’ll give you a rest, too.

I am who I am–there is no denying it. My power is undeniable. Now I realize that  I must wield this power carefully. It is most effective when well-executed.

Perhaps I should look at the railway map, chart my course, plan my trip, blow my whistle, and forge forward.

Nicknamed Freight Train back in high school–I will no longer look down if I hear that name. Power and passion well-executed–an undeniable force when on the right course.

Using my powers well and using my powers for good–yes, that is the answer. Listen for my whistle! Here I come!

Letting Go of Me & Embracing My New Team


Trying to embrace, understand, and celebrate change–yes, that’s what I’m  trying to do. I’m not up for a full on celebration of change, but I am up for celebrating new insight that comes with change.

My new school year is marked by changes. New grade level. Two new preps. New principal. New collaborative groups. New classroom. New students. Old students who have changed and aged. New age group. New school improvement plan. With these changes, I am in a different sort of role–I am not the head of a department. I am not the person who has taught ELA in my grade level for the longest. I am not even the line leader of car rider anymore.

I think back to the moment last year when my former principal entertained the idea sitting across from me at his desk saying with a subtle smile/smirk,  “Maya, I’d like to see if you can be an indian and not a chief.” I’m not sure what my response was out loud, but inside I contemplated it for a second and thought of how nice it would be to have less to do, yet I avoided going too deep in thought about how that would impact me.

Fast forward…back to school…chieftain headdress removed. A mere papoose. On the grade level, I sort of relish in the change and letting go of leadership because the group is organized, their systems are well though-out, and the structure is perfect for 8th graders. Being the youth of the tribe isn’t a bad thing. The systems and consistency make sense, and operations is not my passion.

Now I’m presented with the role of indian in other areas. I am no longer department head, I am no longer the voice of experience, and others aren’t always listening (or at least pretending to listen) to me. In spite of my 19 years of teaching ELA and in spite of the fact that I have the most ELA teaching experience in the room, I feel like the newbie.

This new role demands humility and causes a shift in my perspective, but it also allows me to to reflect back and look forward while I truly consider the present.

When I stopped to think about this originally, my youngest child syndrome emerged.  As the youngest child and an impulsive and passionate one, I had no sense of timing but had a lot to share. I felt snubbed when my voice was shut down even if I interrupted grown up conversations or the news or something else. When I began this post, I made a list of all that I needed to remember as an indian (my timing is important, there’s a right time for me to share, my voice is important, the show is not mine, I can be too much, I need to conform, and I should learn how to lead from following).

Then, I stopped. thought of some recent reading I have done and had an a-ha moment. The answer is in what makes a team function well.  I realized my list about me wasn’t the answer. The answer is from the Google Analytics team. The answer is in the productivity book I read by Charles Duhigg entitled Smarter, Better, Faster. I might not be the leader of the team, but I think if I change my mindset to “team” mindset, and I share with my collaborative team what I learned from the book I read that we can all agree if we  work towards an atmosphere that embodies the 5 traits of top teams, we will work better together.

Here are the 5 top traits of teams:

What I say and what I do should embody these traits. I should spend some time blogging each of the 5 as I try to better who I am as a member of a productive team.

Want to know more?







Professional Hammocker

Professional Hammocker that is the job for me. Right now I think I could make a career out of finding the perfect branch, altitude, and scenery. Yes, I think I will be a career hammocker. This week I have hammocked  in several trees on Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island, at the boardwalk of the condos, and at Cumberland Island.

Friends, if I don’t make it back to town for preplanning, you better look up. You might find me in a tree hammocking, relaxing, and rejuvenating instead of in my classroom unpacking, organizing, decorating, and planning.