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.   






Yesterday  while walking the dog together, Sarah and I looked for signs of spring. Beautiful blossoms everywhere. Honestly, I hadn’t noticed much of the color before I took the time to walk and take pictures. The vibrancy, the new life, nature’s miracle unfolding and becoming anew, and I had been oblivious. Yesterday, though, I noticed the myriad of colors bringing luminous life to the otherwise sort of drab neighborhood.





In a moment, I decided to capture the yellow dandelion for no reason other than its vibrant color and the way the flower was low to the ground but still such a vivid splash of color.

Now I wonder: why the dandelion?

The dandelion, a pesky and hard to control but vibrant weed.

When I’m criticized, I internalize and see myself as the pesky weed, the dandelion not as the azalea,  dogwood, or tulip.

I think of what Jon Gordon wrote about perspective and failure, and I think about the nature of the dandelion. The dandelion is strong, resistant, and hardy. It may not shine as brightly or stand quite as stately as some of the above flowers, but it is in its own unique process of becoming, and there is little one can do to keep a dandelion down.

When Jon Gordon writes about looking back on failure, he explains that he realized that he wasn’t failing that he was instead in the process of becoming. What a great perspective, one that the dandelion close to the ground seems to subtlely state in its strength and its hardiness.


Tonight the frost might kill the tulip and the other flowers, but tomorrow the dandelion will reign. The dandelion is in the process of becoming. Yes, I’m a weed you can’t get rid of–constantly regenerating, growing, and becoming. Take that pesky failure. I am the dandelion. I am becoming.




Bells & Whistles &/or Nuts & Bolts


Bells and whistles.

Wow!  Look at that!  Whoa–get a load of the stereo in that car!  Blaupunkt–wow–turn it up!  That stereo rocks! I can’t wait to drive around campus listening to that. I can imagine those thoughts racing through my brother’s mind before he bought the stereo along with the car. Oftentimes, as consumers we are wooed by the bells and whistles, the extras that make something stand out. I learned the hard way that Hunter remote control ceiling fans will not last as long as the simpler ceiling fans with an old school string to pull, but I indulged in a ceiling fan with that “bell and whistle” that seemed so cool at the time. What I have found is that bells and whistles often overshadow the essentials of so much.

The bells and whistles  of a lesson may have the potential to transform a lesson from good to great; however, if the original lesson is not solidly formed with all its essentials, then there is not a solid foundation on which to build.  Of course, I am attracted by bells and whistles–the shiny stuff that glitters: the engagement factor, the perfect video clip, an engaging and timely text, the perfect real world connection, and the infusion of technology. Yes, these things have the potential to increase engagement and impact learning; however, bells and whistles are a cacophonous noise of distraction if the essential components of a lesson aren’t present.

At some point, you or someone you know well has been lured by the “bells and whistles” of something:

  • In the 80s, my brother bought a lemon, a Volkswagen Passat. While there were some warning signs, the bells and whistles wooed my brother; the car had a rocking Blaupunkt stereo. As a family, we joked that at least he had the stereo to listen to the many time he was broken down for hours on the interstate.
  • In the late 80s, I bought a bedroom suite of cheap black lacquer furniture that shined and shimmered, with trim of a grey marblesque design, a  geometric sort of design of mirrors, and shiny gold pull handles. My sister’s boyfriend criticized me for buying junky furniture, but I didn’t get it. All I saw were the bells and whistles of having furniture that looked good. I failed to notice the cheap construction of furniture that would begin falling apart after one move.
  • Last year, I decided I really wanted to improve my lesson closings, so I blogged about endings that would WOW my audience and wow me to the extent that I would never want to end a day without closing my lesson: Endings that Don’t Suck, Engage, It’s All the Rage, Thought Provoking Questions to End a LessonEndings that Don’t Suck, Part II, QR Closings, and From a Fizzle to a Finale. Even as I tried to frame my closings around the nuts and bolts, I found myself searching for the wow factor/the bells as my first priority.  In the end, I didn’t create lasting change in my practice. I created a some cool tools that I could plug in occasionally to end a lesson, and I fell short of impacting lasting change.

Fast forward to February of 2016, the students survey data indicates that there has been no improvement in the areas of closings on student surveys under the item, “My teacher takes time each day to summarize what we have learned.”

I could give you a litany of excuses to why that score is again lower than I would like:

  • One class surveyed was the lunch class–there isn’t time for closing.
  • I run out of time.
  • With all the differentiation going on, I’m not sure how to close a lesson.
  • We do different sorts of closings, so I’m not sure if the kids see it as a summary.
  • Summarizing a lesson seems like regurgitation, and that’s boring and falls short of the challenges I set forth in each lesson.
  • Did I mention that the lunch class was surveyed?

All that said, I believe my excuses need to be laid to rest along with my search for bells and whistles in everything I do. If I have too many bells and whistles, the kids miss the point as they are distracted by the noise that I’ve created. Furthermore, they won’t find what’s essential.

Admittedly, I have been distracted by the bells and whistles as I look for what shimmers and what shines. The bells and whistles are the add ons, and I can’t add on to something that’s junk.  In other words, I need to ground myself in the practice and habit of good closings before I try to add to them. If I fail to do that, then, I, too, will fail to find what’s essential. If I try to refine a practice I haven’t mastered with consistency, my bells and whistles are like the cacophony of a Blaupunkt stereo attached to a lemon of an automobile.

Before I get distracted by the bells and whistles of engagement as I try to fulfill my vision, I need to focus on the substance of the work that needs to be done. I need to be deliberate about creating a routine of consistent closing practice that focuses on making sure my students get what they need to master the content/standards. Once I’ve established that with fidelity, only then should I add the bells and whistles. I could suffice it to say that I am continually realizing that the nuts and bolts of lesson construction must come before (or at least work alongside) the bells and whistles, and perhaps I’ve found the root cause of the lesson of dots that I cannot connect and the underlying cause of a lesson that my principal refers to as “too busy.”






Mentally Tough Teacher

Discover. Play. Build.
I celebrate Ruth Ayers at ruthayres.com for encouraging celebration and positivity.


Convincing myself for so many years that I was tough was counter-productive, counter-intuitive. Now I realize, being tough did not mean what I thought it meant.  Life continues to show me how wrong I’ve been and how wrong I sometimes continue to be.  Being mentally tough does not mean being mentally stubborn, dismissive, or arrogant. Being mentally tough is all about being present, letting go of my junk, living in the moment, and relying on God. Gordon writes of 20 ways to get mentally tough; I applied this to my teaching life.


20 Ways to be a Mentally Tough Teacher 

  1. USE SETBACKS TO REDEFINE YOURSELF. When you encounter a setback in teaching,  think of it as a defining moment and seek the takeaway that will lead to future growth and success.
  2. EMBRACE ADVERSITY–WALK THROUGH IT AND KNOW IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING GREATER. When you encounter adversity (behavior, motivation, management, conflict, whatever else), remember, the best don’t just face adversity; they embrace it, knowing it’s not a dead end but a detour to something greater and better.
  3. STAY POSITIVE WHEN YOU FACE NEGATIVE PEOPLE. When you face negative people (students, parents, coworkers), know that the key to life is to stay positive in the face of negativity, not in the absence of it. After all, everyone will have to overcome negativity to define themselves and create their success.
  4. WHEN YOU FACE THE NAYSAYERS, REMEMBER THE YES SAYERS.  When you face the naysayers (both young and old), remember the people who believed in you and spoke positive words to you.
  5.  WHEN YOU FACE CRITICS, TUNE OUT THE CRITICISM AND TUNE INTO FOCUSING ON BECOMING YOUR BEST. When you face critics (those who only see your weaknesses or who just don’t get you), remember to tune them out and focus only on being the best you can be.
  6. FROM YOUR HOUSE TO YOUR CLASS–WALK IN GRATITUDE AND PRAYER. When you wake up in the morning, take a morning walk of gratitude and prayer (from your doorstop, to your drive, to the parking lot, to your classroom). It will create a fertile mind ready for success.
  7. FAITH IS GREATER THAN DOUBT. When you fear, trust. Let your faith be greater than your doubt. Like Martin, recognize those fears, name them, cast them out, trust in God, and shed the doubt. 
  8. FIND THE LESSON IN FAILURE. When you fail (a lesson is unsuccessful, the test scores are not what they should be, an evaluation is less than satisfactory), find the lesson in it, and then recall a time when you have succeeded.
  9. ENTER THE BATTLE VISUALIZING SUCCESS. When you head into battle (that class, that student, that parent), visualize success.
  10. PUT YOUR ENERGY IN THE NOW. When you are thinking about the class or lesson or test that did not go well or worrying about the next class or lesson or test, instead focus your energy on the present moment. The now is where your power is the greatest.
  11. DON’T COMPLAIN–SEEK SOLUTIONS. When you want to complain about a student or teacher or parent or principal or standard or assessment, instead identify a solution.
  12. WEED OUT DOUBT. CULTIVATE POSITIVITY. When your own self-doubt crowds your mind and the tasks at hand seem too great, weed them out and replace them with positive thoughts and positive self-talk.
  13. WHEN DISTRACTED, CLEAR YOUR MIND & SEEK THE ZONE. When you feel distracted (when you are tired, sick, struggling or being evaluated), focus on your breathing, observe your surroundings, clear your mind, and get into The Zone. The Zone is not a random event. It can be created.
  14. WHEN ALL SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE, LOOK TO GOT AND REALIZE ALL IS POSSIBLE. When you feel all is impossible (that the bar is too high, the summit is unreachable), know that with God all things are possible.
  15. WHEN YOU FEEL ALONE, REMEMBER YOU’RE LOVED AND SUPPORTED. When you feel alone (just you and that daunting task of meeting each kid where he/she is and meeting all his/her needs and moving each forward), think of all the people (including the kids, parents, coworkers, family) who have helped you along the way and who love and support you now and realize you are NOT alone.
  16. WHEN YOU’RE LOST, PRAY FOR GUIDANCE. When you feel lost in your own school/content/class (in a lesson, a day, or a year), pray for guidance.
  17. WHEN YOU’RE TIRED, DON’T GIVE UP–ALWAYS FINISH STRONG. When you are tired and drained and the next break seems miles away, remember to never, never, never give up. Finish strong in each lesson, each day and each year. 
  18. WHEN YOU FEEL DEFEATED, SEEK THE STRENGTH OF GOD. When you feel like you can’t make it through the class (much less the school day, the quarter or the year), know that you can do all things through God who gives you strength.
  19. WHEN YOUR SITUATION IS OUT OF CONTROL, PRAY, SURRENDER–THEN, FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.When you feel like your situation (the class, a student’s motivation/ability/behavior/work ethic, the standards, your resources, the evaluation measure), is beyond your control, pray and surrender. Focus on what you can control–let go of what you can’t.
  20. WHEN YOU FEEL PRESSURED, DON’T LET STRESS DEFINE YOU. INSTEAD REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE A TEACHER AND SMILE, HAVE FUN AND SIEZE THE MOMENT. When you’re in a high-pressure/high-stakes situation (when the next test ominously looms around the corner, and the daunting task of preparing the kids for this ominous task is haunting you), remember to not let that stress define who you are. Instead, remember why you became a teacher, and then, smile, have fun, and still enjoy each moment of teaching. Life is short; you only live once.  In spite of all that is thrown at you, quit counting the school days, and quit counting the days until that test. Be present to your students and to what they need.  SIEZE THE MOMENT!


At first when I encountered Jon Gordon, his positivity was too much for me, and I was critical of his writing, but now I see the difference that positivity makes, so as I read his blog, Tweets, and books, I try to reserve my cynicism. I enjoy the narrative, at times shaking my head at the naïveté of the protagonist, until I see how I am like a bit like the  protagonist and in need of a lesson. Then, I try to embrace my part in the story.

Like Martin, I feed the wrong wolf at times letting what others think about my teacher identity define who I am and/or get me down. When I see a negative comment about a moment in my classroom as a commentary on who I am anything but mentally tough. I do not want to feed the combative snarling, growling, and whimpering canine; that’s for sure.


This is not who I am, who I want to be, or who I’m destined to be. Seeing the wall as unscalable,  I let myself be defined by what I think of myself and what others thing of me. When I try to climb the wall focusing on the obstacle without seeking God’s help, the wall is insurmountable.


Other writing about Gordon deals with  falls and setbacks/cha chas. Also, related to Gordon: Driving the Bus (9/9/14), My Greatest Asset will NO Longer be My Biggest Obstacle (9/15/14), Obligation or Opportunity (6/9/15), and From a Fizzle to a Finale (7/6/15).


The original list about being mentally tough:




This week I’m celebrating perspective, namely the changes in my own perspective. The other morning I read this quote on Facebook:

The words resonated with me, and I shared the quote with a comment directed to my teacher friends, “Yes, I Cha Cha a whole lot these days. Embrace the Cha Cha; it makes us better. I might even call it the TKES Cha Cha.  Yes, embrace the Cha Cha, my friends. Let’s dance! Happy Thursday!”

In a day and age where a former student who wants to be a teacher is told by every teacher other than me that she should not be a teacher, in a day and age when Nancie Atwell wins a million dollar teaching award and tells young people not to become teachers, in a day and age when a teacher’s resignation letter/vent goes viral, optimism is missing in our field.

I will be the first to admit that there are problems in education. I will be the first to tell you that the current culture of assessment and accountability is flawed.

At the same time, I also assert that there are parts of the current culture that have made me a stronger teacher. For example, I look at steps backwards as opportunities for growth and opportunities to renew my perspective.


Last year I told my principal that I was learning to cope with compromising pedagogy to do what he asked of me. Today I see the situation differently. Now I see who I’ve become as a sort of Darwinian adaptation–yes, perhaps who I’ve become is about ensuring the survival of teachers with positivity. At the same time, I have learned to see things through the lenses of others. When my principal zooms his microscopic focus on the details and the data, I don’t just pay lip service to his words, instead I try to switch from my telescopic focus and hone in on his microscopic focus. This helps me adapt and refine; this makes me a more well-rounded teacher able to gain perspective. When I look at the challenges of teaching through that lens, no longer do I feel as if I have compromised pedagogy–instead I feel as if I have refined it.

Perspective. I woke up Thursday morning with a quote about the dance of stepping forward and  backward being comparable to the Cha Cha.  Of course, that is the day of a TKES evaluation from my principal. Not feeling the part of optimist as he sat in my room–instead I felt the pacing was off, the opening was too long, and the logistics of the lesson were in need of work that my brain could not figure out in time for the day. After the visit, I thought about how I both dreaded and longed for the constructive feedback. One one hand, I thought I would hear about being busy and scattered. On the other hand, I wanted to ask questions about logistics, about how to get feedback for some of the steps I saw as bungled Cha Cha steps. I wanted to hear how the strategic brain would have planned and executed differently. My cynical side has waned–now there is a teacher seeking feedback in a new way. Looking for the opportunities. 

We should all be dancing the Cha Cha. We should all allow ourselves to step backward in order to gain perspective and help us move forward. I’m not into dancing, but I am all about gaining perspective and adapting to become a better teacher and to help my students learn. I love how I find myself continually challenged to see things differently.  Today I found myself more open and less cynical. I celebrate optimism. I celebrate the Cha Cha. I celebrate being an educator. If tomorrow I had to choose my major, I would still choose this.


I Still Choose This

Check out other slices each Tuesday at https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/.
Check out other slices each Tuesday at https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/.

Smiling faces friendly greetings

Lots and lots of meetings

Energy all around

Smiles abound

The excitement is here

for a new school year.

Okay, so my poem is cheesy, but it really represents the tone at my school now during preplanning. My cynical side is not fueled because the tone is positive and the energy is palpable. I find myself rejuvenated and ready (well, not really because there is still much to do). Interesting how the right people in the right place can make all the difference in a school’s culture and climate. Interesting how a tone shift can transform people. Next week I will begin my 19th year of teaching, and I feel like the cynicism that has stalked me for years cannot find a home or even temporary shelter in me.

At a recent meeting away from school, I had a conversation with a cynical someone who often pushes my buttons. Instead of disengaging, I engaged, and our conversation went in a positive direction. Driving home after the meeting I wondered how much of the cynicism of past conversations I have fed succumbing to the negativity and allowing others to  pull me down.  Sometimes I internalized the unkind words, yet other times I would lash out. In retrospect, I think that many times the way I react to that negativity causes it to fester. I’d rather be the balm that heals than the bacteria that infects. Otherwise, I am in danger of being the negative one infecting the climate.

A few days ago, a former student and her sister (college and high school) came by to see me. Both are considering teaching, and both have had several teachers try to talk them out of the profession. Not this teacher.

I’d like to think that as long as I’m still teaching I will be passionate and optimistic in spite of the challenges I face.  I look at the faces of future teachers and new teachers and see potential and passion. Why would I try to dissuade anyone (who has what it takes) from going into teaching? We need these people. Our students need these people.

If I lose my passion, lose my optimism, or become a naysayer, then I’d like to think I would find something else to do with my days. Yes, I can list the litany of challenges teachers face with a negative spin on them, and I could possibly talk someone out of teaching. Conversely, I could talk about the challenges we as teachers embrace putting our hears, souls, and minds into reaching and teaching kids. Also, I could put my time and energy into working with others as we find ways to turn challenges into successes.

Last week, I drove through the downtown traffic for three days. I thought about what else I could have done, who else I could have become. I thought about hour lunches with clients instead of 20 minutes to wolf down my food in a school cafeteria. I asked myself what if I had to do all over again. Unequivocally I could answer that I would still choose this (and not just because of the Atlanta traffic). Each day I make the choice, and I choose to teach.

Yes, I still choose this.