Friday, June 19, 2015

A New Chapter In My Life

Play this song while reading this post.

The breeze is swirling my hair into my face. The perfume of pine needles envelopes me. The warm sun makes my eye lids heavy. Suddenly, the music rushes me back in time, to a different place, that's not really all that different.

Fifteen years ago, I worked and lived in Yosemite National Park. Although I worked full time and spent as many of my waking hours hiking, there were times of solitude. My favorite locale was about a quarter mile from my dorm. I would take my chair, my discman (yes, this was pre-iPod days), pencil, and paper. I would sit near the mighty Merced River and write.

Between prepositional phrases, I would raise my eyes to the grand granite cliffs. A dragonfly would dart in front of me and divert my gaze. The breeze would loosen tendrils from my ponytail. The aroma of pine needles and sunscreen greeted me. The music echoed the sounds of birds in the forest, blurring the lines between digital and reality. And I wrote on.

I wrote to heal. I was still healing from five years in an abusive relationship. I had been stripped down to the core and left with no self-esteem, confidence, love. Writing helped me. I mostly wrote notes of encouragement to myself but I did occasionally write notes of encouragement to others. You see, helping them heal helped me heal.

And here I sit, today. Instead of granite cliffs, my view is of a beautiful pine-covered mountain. I still smell the sunlight on the pine needles. Birds echo the sounds of digital birds from my CD. And I'm still writing.

But, I have started a new chapter. No longer do I write prose to restore what was lost. Now, I write lesson plans to restore what was lost.

I have been called out of the public education system and into behavioral health (and healing). I write lesson plans for teachers, to show them how to embed Social Emotional Learning into everyday lessons. To help them restore what was lost.

The sun is the same, as is the breeze. A dragonfly just darted by. The view is similar, as is the writing. A new chapter in my life. But, not really all that new. More like an extension of a work begun fifteen years ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Run With Endurance

Meet my friend Kate.  
Oh, you've never heard me talk about Kate before?  
Well, that's because I met her on the trail.  
After running/walking 13.1 miles together, we're besties now.  

The morning started cold.  Real cold.  My toes were actually numb in my running shoes.  
Before the racers lined up, the announcer told us about how she ran this trail 8 years ago.
And fell.  60 feet.  And shattered her pelvis.  And spent 2 sub-freezing nights alone.
"Stay focused", "follow the orange ribbons", "be careful" they told us.  
We would soon find out why. 

Here is a topo of the trail.  Notice the first 4 miles are uphill with a gain of about 1,000 feet.  
Notice also the sheer drop from mile 8.5 to 9.5.  We'll look at that later.

What they don't tell you is, the first four miles (uphill) are in sand. Sand!  
From this pic, you can see that we had just come up the canyon.  It was still cold in the shade. 

At about 0.5 miles, we could hear the sound of a flute.  A Native American flute.
Turns out, it was Kokopelli, the figure you see on petroglyphs in the Southwest.  
Kokopelli is thought to be the god of fertilization.  Legend holds it that if a woman hears
Kokopelli's flute, she is to run, lest she become pregnant.  "Run!" the flute was telling us. 

Look at the tops of those canyon walls.  Soon we would be running atop them. 

This pic shows the trail coming out of the canyon, onto the top of the mesa.  
It was at about this point that the trail became very rocky, full of boulders.  
We had to scramble over some boulders five feet tall.  

We came around a corner and spotted this beauty.  

After we summitted the Saddle, the trail was relatively flat, but still sandy.

Around another corner and we spot these beauties.  

Soon after we left the arches, we came to the edge of the canyon.  Look down.  
Do you see a "trail" on the right side?  Yeah, that's a road.  

Yeah, yeah.  It's a marathon.  We should have been running.  
But with views like this, how can you NOT stop to take pics?!

The trail ran so close to the edge.  It was easy to see how our announcer had slipped and fallen.
From here, we started our steep decline.  
From here to the road, it was pretty much jumping down from boulders.

Some of the boulders were so big, there were volunteers on hand to help us make it safely.  
Speaking of volunteers, they were the best!  
As you could see from the pics, the trail was pretty remote.
Some volunteers had to travel to their aid station the night before and camp out in order to be ready for us by race time.  Thank you volunteers!

And here's the road.  Really?  Uphill at mile 10?  
We really didn't think this through, did we?

After we crested the road, we turned off and entered the river. 
Yes, I just said "river".  We were told the river would be knee-deep.
Um yeah.  The water was up to my rear end!
And cold.  And it lasted for one entire mile.
Did I mention it was cold?  
Kate and I yelped every time it got deeper. 
Once again, my toes were frozen.

Going Home!
Disclaimer: NOT our pic!
Unfortunately, the race photographer is taking FOREVER publishing the pics.
I would love to show you a pic of Kate and I as we crossed the finish line, 
holding hands high above our heads.

Janine and I at the Finish Line Party.  What fun!  
Good food.  Live band.  Smiles all around.  
Can't wait to do it all over again.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Architecture of Accomplished Teaching

The Architecture of Accomplished Teaching.  National Board candidates and teachers know this double helix well.  They are accustomed to using the upward spiral to impact student learning.  I would like to posit that National Board candidates use the highly reflective practice when reflecting on their own journey to certification.

When accomplished teachers look at the architecture for their students, they start with their students.  Who are they?  Where are they now?  

Then, said teachers set high goals that are appropriate to those students at that time.  As the teachers deliver instruction, they are constantly revisiting the goals and the student.  Is the student making progress?  If not, where is the breakdown?  

Through reflection, the accomplished teacher sets new goals and the upward spiral continues.  

But, what about using the architecture on yourself?  Is it not true that you, a National Board Candidate, looked yourself in the proverbial mirror one (or more) years ago and asked yourself, "Who am I?  Where am I now?  What are my goals?"

No doubt you had several conversations with yourself and maybe even with an advisor; a confidant.  You set worthwhile goals and you worked hard to achieve them.  Hard.  "National Board Certification is easy," said no teacher ever.

Through deep reflection, you honed your craft, tweaked your practice.  It is safe to say, you are not the same teacher you were a year ago.  And here's the beautiful thing: you never will be the same, just as the butterfly cannot become a caterpillar again.  You are transformed.  

And here we sit.  The day before "score release".  The day you thought would never come.  Today will probably seem like an eternity.  Might I suggest you use today to thank the people who helped you come so far?  Maybe your family really stepped it up and took over household chores while you typed. and typed. and typed.  Maybe it was a colleague who listened.  A mentor who guided.  No matter the scores tomorrow, you know you could not have come so far were it not for them.

But, what happens tomorrow?  For some, it will be the affirmation of a lifelong passion.  Certification.  How wonderful that must feel.  

For others, it will be the realization that there is still more mountain to climb.  The double helix continues upwards.

Advanced Candidates, don't look at your score as something that is "less than".  Look at it as "more than".  More than it was a year ago.  

What do we do as accomplished teachers?  We look at our students where they are now.  Look at yourself.  You have come so far.  Where are you now?  Where do you want to be?  Look at your scores.  Where is there room for improvement?  For me, it was Entry 4: Documented Accomplishments and two assessment center exercises.  Yes, I too, am an Advanced Candidate.

Set a worthwhile goal for yourself.  Work to achieve that goal and reflect on your practice as you continue to move up that double helix.  Continue climbing until you have reached that summit!  

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Results From My First Year of National Board Certification

Two years ago, I climbed a mountain.  I knew it would be hard.  I knew it would bring me to tears.  I also knew it would be worth it.

Two years ago, I started my journey towards National Board Certification.  I can honestly say it was the hardest year of my ten-year teaching career.  It was also the most worthwhile.  As I critiqued my practice daily, I grew as a teacher.  I reflected and adjusted constantly.

Even though it was by far the hardest thing I had ever done, I climbed higher and higher.  I knew that I had to reach 275, but I didn't know how high I had actually climbed.  See, I climbed so high, I climbed into the clouds.

When the due date came, I sat along the trail.  Still in the clouds, I didn't know if I had reached the summit.  Until November last year.

The clouds parted last November and I could see the summit.

photo credit: 

I missed it by 14.  Fourteen out of 275.  That is approximately 5%.  So close.  So, so close.  I thought I would be devastated when I found out that I had missed the summit.  But, amazingly, I wasn't.  I know how hard I worked that year.  I know that it was all worth it when I look back on my students and their growth.  I also know that I have two more attempts to achieve National Board Certification.


I just finished my second year of National Board Certification work.  I climbed higher still into the clouds.  Closer and closer to the summit.  I sit again a midst the clouds.  Waiting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Scores

It all boils down to this.  Scores.

Or does it?  Is the destination the ultimate goal?  Or somehow, was the journey the goal all along?

My scores for National Board Certification will be released soon. I will either be labeled a Nationally Board Certified teacher..........or not.  Scores.  Labels.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn't nervous.  But, it's good.  I think to myself, is this how my students feel every summer, awaiting their high-stakes scores?  Waiting to be labeled?

Is that what it's all about?  Absolutely not!  I tell my students, from the first day of school to the last, that I love them.  That they are smart.  That they are capable.  Scores have never, and will never, change that.

You, my friends, were my support along my journey.  You told me how smart I was, when I didn't believe in myself. You told me that I was capable, especially on the days I didn't feel like it.  You helped me hear the Voice of Truth.

I realize, looking back now, that it was the journey that made me an accomplished teacher.  Every student honed my skills; some more than others.  I am not the same teacher I was when my journey began.  For that, I am thankful.  Not because it has made me a better teacher just for the sake of being better, yet, for my students' sake.  My intense focus on my teaching enabled me to hold on to those students slipping through the cracks.  For that, I am thankful.  I was also able to help my highest achieving student reach even higher than she thought was possible.  For that, I am thankful.

I want you to realize that only about half of the candidates achieve on their first attempt.  Many candidates come from schools and districts with other nationally board certified teachers on staff. Some districts hire consultants whose sole job is to help candidates.  I teach in a small, rural district and did not have that level of support.  I don't want you to be disappointed if I did not achieve on my first try.  We set lofty goals, my friends. 

As I sit along the trail, waiting, I rejoice.  Rejoicing because I have come to realize my weaknesses.  I know where Susan ends.  Anything that comes after is pure God.  It was God to begin with, as this is His talent in me.  His plan and purpose for my life.  But from here on out, it's 100% God.  Amen.  "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Think About Such Things

I have sinned.  I have sinned against some of you.  Please forgive me.  I am happy for you.  I am.  Now.

But I wasn't yesterday.  Yesterday (and to be honest, for about 3 months), I wasn't.

See, many of you have bought new (or new to you) vehicles in the last 2 months.  They all look so nice.  Sporty.  Clean.  Good gas mileage.  Did I mention sporty?

Meanwhile, I am driving my mom van.  Yes, you know the one.  My signature white mom van.  The anti-thesis of sporty.

I started down a dark path of envy.  I was envious of your vehicles.  I started to rationalize reasons why I deserve a newer vehicle.  I started to think of all the reasons why I need a newer vehicle.

And then I came across Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble,whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I was convicted immediately.  I knew I had to stop my current way of thinking, which was really just making me more bitter and unhappy, and change to thinking of what is true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable.  Excellent or praiseworthy.

I started to think of reasons why I love my mom van.  I instantly came up with a dozen.  Knowing my sinful nature, I knew that I would be prone to revert to thinking of why I deserve a newer vehicle.  So, I printed out the praiseworthy reasons why I love my mom van.  I clipped in the van in a location where I will see it daily.

  1. She's paid off.
  2. I don't worry about spills.
  3. I don't worry about scratches.
  4. I can fit all the boys' friends.
  5. I can fit all the boys' STUFF.
  6. She is comfortable for traveling.
  7. She can drive through ANYTHING!
  8. She's dependable.
  9. She's good on gas.
  10. She's safe.
  11. She has tons of charging stations.
  12. I can change the seating in 12 positions.
Finally, think about such things.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

T+1 Year: The Results

It's hard to believe it's been a year.  It seems like just yesterday that I was waiting for the doctors to come out and tell me the results of the surgery.

This year has been an amazing year of growth for Joe.  He has so much energy that he runs circles around me.  I'm fine with that.  It's like watching a walking running miracle every day.

Mayo Clinic is nothing if not thorough.  Joe went through an entire week of testing before the transplant to see if he was eligible for the surgery.  Since the transplant, he has done routine blood-work and doctor visits.  However, yesterday, marked his one year birthday.  With that, comes more testing from Mayo; biopsy, blood-work, 24 hour blood pressure monitor, bone density, etc.

All the tests boil down to kidney function.  So, what is his expected kidney function?

It's been said that we start to die the minute we are born.  This is true in regards to kidney function.  Although every body is different, there is an easy formula to estimate kidney function.  Start with 100% and subtract 10% for every decade (  For instance, Joe, in his mid-40's, should be at 65%.  Give or take.  When he was diagnosed two years ago, he was 11%; a horrible number.  One year later, right before the transplant, he had slipped to 8%; a fatal number.  Kris, Joe's donor, also in her 40's, should be in the 60% range.  However, her tests came back at 96%; an amazing number!  Mayo, the leader in transplants, said they had NEVER had someone her age with that number!

It seems reasonable to think that when you remove one kidney, you divide the function in half.  However, the kidneys are amazing and they know when they are the only filter.  They start to filter more and can reach filtration rates similar to that of two kidneys.

So, what is Joe's function?

84%!!!!  In fact, Joe is doing so well, the doctor told him that he doesn't have to come back for an entire year AND he doesn't need any more biopsies!!!!!!!!  Praise God.

where Glory meets my suffering