Friday, April 20, 2018

Millennials in the Workplace

Before I jump into this comeback blog post, I have to give a shoutout to my long-time friend, Connor, who inspired me to bring back F&F after quite the hiatus. The other day I checked my phone during lunch and I had to smile when I had received a text from him asking me some blogging and website questions “because fitness and froyo is so awesome”. If you’re an Instagram user, go give @shake_and_stehr (a double win in my book because his username is a pun using his last name) a follow. He’s gained quite the following in the home bartender world, and I have no doubt that the website he eventually starts will absolutely thrive. And when he’s famous, I’ll be able to say that Team Practice Safe Sets won a sand volleyball championship. And that he was my first kiss. The more you know.

Anyway, his random text inspired me to get back on my blogging game. I’ve actually got quite a few blog ideas saved on my phone, as I’m convinced that running inspires my writing. So, it’s a shame that I can’t write while running, because I do quite a bit of that running thing. Last night’s tempo run had both my legs and mind churning after what has been a pretty great week at work, so today I made myself sit down and hash out my thoughts.

I watched this video when it first went viral on social media (I’ll get to the irony of this statement in a minute), and it really resonated with me at the time. The term ‘millennial’ has developed such a negative connotation over the years, and while I certainly don’t think I embody all of the millennial traits, I definitely possess some of them. After all, I do love avocado toast. Though apparently, it’s the reason I can’t afford to buy a house.

The video is 15 minutes long, but it’s really worth a watch. Millennial or not. I watched it four times in one school day, and even though I could pretty much recite it by the fourth time through, I never tired of it. And I really wanted to be offended the very first time I watched the video, especially after the opening generalizations about millennials being lazy and entitled and unfocused, but the longer I watched, the more of myself I saw reflected in much of what Simon Sinek was saying.

So why did I show this video to my students, who technically don’t fall under the millennial umbrella? A couple of reasons. One, we just finished reading Jeannette’s Walls’ The Glass Castle in one of my classes, and we are in the middle of reading it in the other. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to add it to your list. You may have seen the movie, but I promise you the book is better. Her story is pretty unbelievable, but there is such a hopeful message to always go after your dreams and to not let your past define you. Anyway, one of the things that Jeannette has to deal with growing up is a father with an alcohol addiction. Of course, that is something that I have no doubt many of my students can relate to in some way, shape, or form. Though it’s not an immediate family member, and not something I was constantly exposed to in the same way Jeannette was, I was not immune to the effects an alcohol addiction had on my family. So, while it’s true that many of my students may know the effects of this kind of addiction, I felt very confident that they would be able to relate to another kind of addiction: one that fits in the palms of their hands.

No, not a calculator
The cell phone situation has been a problem since the first day I stepped into the classroom. It was a problem when I was student teaching. And as one of my students pointed out to me today, “it’s only going to get worse – not better.” This year has been a unique one for many reasons, but my students’ addiction to their cell phones has gotten out of hand. Before class, during class, after class, it doesn’t matter. It’s like they’re glued to their palms. I’ve had many discussions about it within my PLC, and in a recent PLC meeting as we were again discussing our frustrations, this video was brought up. With the theme of addiction present in The Glass Castle, it seemed like a perfect way to sneak in this important video about what our technology addiction is really doing to our society. I was admittedly a little nervous about showing my students a 15-minute video, for fear of losing their attention, but I was amazed at the engagement I saw in looking around the room. I was also a little nervous about how they would respond to the content presented in the video, but I was absolutely blown away by both their written and spoken responses. It was some of the most productive conversation we’ve ever had.

I felt pretty good about showing them this video – it didn’t feel preachy because when all is said and done, it’s a video aimed at my generation. Millennials in the Workplace. I told them to think about Gen Z in the School System. I also told them that they don’t have to agree with everything Sinek was telling them. It’s okay if something fired them up for one reason or another – either because they agree with what he’s saying, or because they wholeheartedly disagree. And it was nice to be able to share with them my own struggles – I, too, sleep with my phone right next to my bed, and the first thing I do most mornings is check social media. When I’m out to dinner with a friend and he or she goes to the bathroom, my first instinct is to pull out my phone and see what I’ve missed while I was catching up with a friend. I realize the absolute ridiculousness of that statement. I feel as though I do a pretty good job when it comes to relating to my students, but I figured this approach might lead to more thoughtful processing than just hearing yet another teacher give you a look and tell you to put away your phone.

I’m not going to summarize the video for you – I’m hoping if you've made it this far through my post, you’ll take the 15 minutes to watch and really listen to what Sinek is saying – but I do want to talk about how my students reacted.

My desks are currently arranged in groups of four, as my students are working on group projects. Immediately after the video ended, I had them log onto Google Classroom where they would find a few questions to think through and respond to. No right or wrong answers here, but I did ask that they back up their opinions with some sort of evidence. As I was walking around the room, a little part of me expected them to talk about how much they hated it. To my surprise, most all of them were in total agreement with all the information presented. One even went so far as to say that Simon Sinek is her spirit animal. It’s okay, I feel the same way about BrenĂ© Brown.

But many of them told me about how they go to camp and they’re not allowed to have their phones. And it’s admittedly tough at first, but then they’re so grateful to not have that distraction. Or how they went on a cruise and had no service for the week. And enjoyed their time spent with those around them. Or maybe how their phone broke, but now they’re learning just how much they can get done in a day when they’re not scrolling through Instagram every free second.

And some of their comments broke me. They admitted to having low self-esteem and little patience as a result of their constant attention to their devices and growing up in a world of instant gratification. They admit to having superficial relationships, and that their phones may provide temporary fulfillment, but overall they feel as though something is missing.

After reading some of their responses, I wanted to give each one of them a hug and assure them that it was not my intent for them to criticize who they are as people. As Sinek kept saying, they’re a wonderful, talented, and intelligent group of kids, who were just dealt a bad hand. But were they?

I’m on the fence. And maybe that’s because I’m one of these millennials. But the message Sinek was sending wasn’t about how awful technology is. I think technology is great. In both my personal and my professional life. We have so much information literally at our fingertips, it’s an incredible learning tool, it’s an easy way to stay connected to others as well as meet new people, and it’s enjoyable. It is. What I want my students to understand is that our addiction to these devices is preventing us from forming these deep and meaningful relationships. And I don’t want them to miss out on that. I may have x amount of Facebook friends (and I realize Facebook is archaic), but how many of them would I call in the midst of trouble? I’m extremely grateful for the true relationships I’ve formed — starting in elementary school all the way to the working world — and I want my students to experience that, too.

I want them to know what kind of message a cell phone — face-up or face-down — sitting on a desk sends to teachers. It’s the same message we as adults send to one another in a meeting. Maybe I’m not looking at it, but the temptation is still there. I want them to be all in. To be present in the moment. To notice and appreciate the little things that we don’t necessarily notice and appreciate when we’re distracted by a phone. I want them to know how to have a conversation with a peer or an adult. To make eye contact and really listen and to be grateful for their everyday — both the exciting and the mundane — and to not be envious of someone else’s highlight reel.

I told them that this change wasn’t going to happen overnight. I watched the video four times in one day, and I still went home and charged my phone right next to my bed, glancing at it when my dog woke me up in the middle of the night. I can’t give you data on how much of an impact this conversation will have, but in their words, not mine, they all assured me that Sinek’s 15-minute speech really opened their eyes and caused some serious self-reflection.

I’ve known this all year, but my students are bright. They’re probably brighter than I give them credit for, and they totally get it. Their analysis of this video and the connections they made absolutely blew me away. I think we’re all so quick to make assumptions regarding this digital generation, when they’re just trying to navigate the high school years with the tools they’ve been given. And I think, as educators, we’d be throwing away a wonderful opportunity to play to their strengths and interests in the classroom by banning devices and not having these conversations.

I know devices are a hot topic in the education world these days. And sometimes I want to gather up these dang smart phones and throw them out my third-floor window. And then hand each student a pencil. I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t know how many of them I really got through to. I’m sure that, come Monday, I’ll be starting all over again. We may not fully know the effects of these devices, but I’m fully confident in saying that my students have brains full of deep and meaningful thoughts.

Here’s to hoping this blog post ends the drought, and inspires me to push out the rest of the content I have running (pun intended) through my mind. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful weekend!

Monday, January 1, 2018


Happy 2018! I will admit that I was asleep before the clock struck midnight, though I did wake up to fireworks just after 12:00am. I’ve never been much of a NYE person – I’ve never really seen the point of starting this clean slate by sleeping away half the day and feeling guilty about how much I ate or drank the night before.  Add to the fact that I don’t love being on the roads with those who have had a little too much fun, I was perfectly content ringing in 2018 with a Harry Potter marathon. 25 and living the dream, right? When we were offered the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a big Airbnb in Austin, my friend made the joke that he would love to join, but that he’s already retired from New Year’s Eve, and I can totally relate to that sentiment.

Besides, gotta run!
Anyway, each December I always tend to spend time reflecting on the past year as well as dreaming about the year ahead of me. It probably comes as no surprise that I’m not so into New Year’s Resolutions, either. We all want to work out more and eat healthier, right? But over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing the hashtag #OneWord, and it’s the idea that instead of making resolutions that we may or may not stick to, we’ll pick out a word that will drive our upcoming year. I really loved that idea, and I started thinking about what my #OneWord might be.

I had a friend visiting from Oklahoma a few weeks ago, and while we were walking through Buffalo Bayou on a foggy morning, I asked him what his 2018 goals are. He said he wasn’t sure, and then he turned the question right back in my direction. I told him that I wasn’t so much into resolutions, but that two words that kept coming back to me were steadfast and persevere. Which have very similar definitions if you really dig into them. So I started thinking about how I could possibly combine those two words to make THE perfect word. And then I stressed myself out a little bit because I’ve decided to pick ONE word to frame my 2018. That’s a lot of pressure! And then I laughed at myself because that’s so typical of me – to get stressed out about something that truly should excite me.

And then the word “fully” came to mind. Maybe it’s cheating a little bit, as fully is an adverb that can be attached to many a word. But in 2018, I want to approach every task with a “fully” mindset –

Fully present. This is a big one. There are so many distractions around us. All the time. And I fall so guilty to these distractions. One of the biggest ways I can apply this goal is to be fully present in whatever I’m doing. When I’m at lunch with a friend, my cell phone will stay tucked away. When I’m talking to a student during lunch, I’ll put the cap on my red (or pink) pen. When I’m running, I’m running, and I’m not thinking about the other 48 tasks on my to-do list. When I’m in the classroom, I’m pushing aside anything else that I’ve got weighing me down and focusing on that day's objective. We live in a world where multitasking is worn like a badge of honor, and I think I’ll get far more satisfaction out of being fully present, fully focused, and fully engaged in the current task at hand.

Fully committed. I like to think that I am a 110% kind of person. As far back as I can remember, I have never been one to intentionally go at something with less than my best effort. To me, there is nothing worse than going into something knowing that you could have done more. If I’m going to commit to running a marathon, I’m going to do the training right. As much as I may dread Tuesday speed work. I want to walk up to the starting line feeling like I put in everything I had, ending on empty. And it doesn’t just have to be running. That’s what I’m committed to right now, but whatever else I may choose to commit to this year, I plan on doing it wholeheartedly.

Fully prepared. The classroom is what came to mind with this phrase. As tired as I may be at the end of a long work day, I should never walk into my classroom the following morning at all unsure of what that day’s objectives are. How they play out may be another story, but my students deserve a teacher who is fully prepared to fully prepare them – for the state test, for the next grade, for the courtyard at lunch, for college, for the workforce, for the real world. The same goes for my volleyball team. Volleyball season is a whirlwind, but I should walk into every practice and every workout fully prepared with a plan in place.

I want to forgive fully, love fully, and invest fully, so that I know others fully. I choose to be fully grateful and fully appreciative. I want to be fully satisfied with what I am doing, and how I am executing it. I am “fully” ready to take on 2018 – with optimism and hopefulness and purpose and humility.

A little part of me is thinking of having my students choose their #OneWord to drive the remainder of this semester. I have no doubt that some of them would know right away what their word would be, but I imagine this would be a challenging activity for many of them. It’s asking them to really look within themselves and think about what goals they have for themselves as we run full speed ahead into what is sure to be a crazy semester. I hope the start to your new year has been fully fantastic!

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Happy Thanksgiving to any of the readers that I might have left after yet another long hiatus from the f&f scene. But to say that this first semester has been crazy would be an understatement. I don’t know that I have ever been more ready for a break, and I know that I am not alone in that. Don’t get me wrong, this semester has been full of so many good things, but man, I feel like I have been running 100 miles per hour this entire first semester, yet I’m barely managing to stay half a step ahead of all that needs to get done. But I’m confident that this break – and the fact that I put school work aside after a full Monday of grading expository essays – is going to leave me feeling refreshed, refocused, and recharged to tackle the remaining four weeks of school with my freshmen.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday because it’s such a great reminder that I truly have so much to be thankful for. It comes at a time when I am tired and worn out and definitely not outwardly expressing my daily gratitude, and probably doing more complaining than anything, so Thanksgiving allows me to put my complaints to the side and reflect on just how much good there is in each day.

This year's thankful board

So, here goes another year of what I’m thankful for. I’ll try and encompass everything that’s been going on in my life since my last post, without giving a play-by-play of what’s been going on in my life since my last post.

It goes without saying that I am thankful for my parents. They are my rocks, and I’m not sure how I would have made it to this point without them. First, they so generously agree to watch my sweet pup throughout volleyball season, as my long hours away from home during those few months just wouldn’t be fair. They answer my every phone call, and they calm me down when I start losing my cool. Which, let’s be real, happened quite a few times this semester. In fact, when I called them feeling completely overwhelmed with everything I had on my plate, wondering how I was possibly going to cross everything off my never-ending to-do list without sacrificing too much sleep, they swooped in to help without even a moment’s hesitation. My dad did all my grocery shopping so that I would have a fully stocked fridge for the week ahead. He took a bulging basket of dirty laundry back home to my mom, who happily did all of it and delivered it back to me the very next day. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. And though they don’t necessarily understand what goes into all the running that I do, they always, always ask me how each run went.

Part of the reason I could never leave Houston is because I love having them just 20 minutes down the road. It’s always nice to know that I can always take the Westpark Tollway home, and probably be treated to dinner at Hungry’s.

I’m thankful for my incredible friends, who I haven’t seen as much as I maybe would have liked because right now, I’m hyper focused on this whole running thing. That they know my personality and that when I focus on some task or goal, I tend do whatever it takes to achieve it. That I’ve had to say “No” to a number of things along the way. And that’s hard for me, not because I particularly care about missing out on something, but because I don’t want my friends to think that I don’t care about them. But they still show up and they still call on me and they make sure to tell me I’m doing a good job. And I probably don’t tell them enough just how much they mean to me, but I’ll never stop being thankful for their listening ears and the endless laughter they provide.



This year, I am especially thankful for the city I call home. The city that I grew up in and that I share with millions of truly incredible people who were more than willing to lend a helping hand. A city that was absolutely devastated by 51 inches of rain, but that fought back with resilience and love, proving to the rest of the country and to the world that it is very possible to put aside any differences we may have and lend a helping hand. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on Harvey here, but I’ll always hold onto the fact that we are #HoustonStrong, and we showed everyone that you can never count out Houston, which brings me to my next point –

I am thankful for the unifying power of sports. I’m 100% talking about the Houston Astros, because this year, our hometown heroes absolutely #EarnedHistory. And it could not have happened at a better time. The Astros gave so many in this city something to hold onto; something to put their hope in. I know that I was brought to tears multiple times when interviews of the players after games focused very little on themselves, but instead harped on the idea that they were playing to bring happiness to the people of their city. I mean, they had photos of the devastation Harvey caused taped to the inside of their lockers so that they never lost sight of what was truly important. How can you not root for a team like that? And after living through the Lastros and the Diasastros era, this World Series victory was everything we could have hoped for and more. The games were purely fun to watch, though every minute was stressful, and it has been amazing to see the lifted spirits of my fellow Houstonians.

Throwback to 2010 and the red and black
I am thankful for pep talks and second chances and fall weather and surprise double rainbows and First Friday and harmless pranks and my fellow English teacher who stops by my room EVERY morning without fail with a “How’s it going, Pickles?” and stays for a few minutes just to chat. For group chats and the means to travel and opportunities to learn and grow each day.

I am thankful for meaningful conversations and handwritten notes and encouraging words and people who invest in me and who take the time to pull me aside and make sure that the smile I’m wearing is authentic, and not one that I’m simply hiding behind.

I am thankful for people who encourage me to dream big and chase goals and stretch myself in every area of my life. For library chats and donated pencils and Harry Potter marathons and dairy-free chocolate, because what would a day be like without it?
I couldn’t do a thankful post without talking about the fact that I definitely don’t take having a healthy body for granted. Most days these days are run days, and I can always be thankful for legs that continue to allow me to run. I cherish the well-executed runs that leave me feeling on top of the world and that all the hard work and sacrifice is so worth it, and I’m thankful for the failed runs that humble me and remind me that I can always work harder and smarter. Running has taught me discipline and focus and how to push myself and a whole lot about expectations and goals. I truly love this sport – the reminder to dig deep and the “me time” it provides, and I’m thankful for all that it has given me over the years – especially this last year and a half. I’m thankful for those who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself, and for a coach who shows absolutely no mercy when it comes to this seemingly crazy training plan, but also makes sure to tell me that I’m doing a good job every once in a while. I’ll continue to run as long as I love doing it, and I hope to never take it for granted that I can.
Chasing big goals, and being rewarded with an even bigger medal
I’m thankful for my job that, most of the time, doesn’t feel like a job. Whenever I tell people that I teach freshmen, they give me this look and say something along the lines of, “You’re so brave.” And that might be true, but I also know that I’ve got what I consider to be the best role anyone could have. I get to start out each day with a plan, never knowing what wrench is going to be thrown into it. Because there’s always going to be one. I get to stand among 128 students each day, talking about reading and writing and real-world issues, trying to help light the fire that’s already inside all of them. I get to listen to their stories, believe in, encourage, and challenge them, and hopefully be a bright spot in at least one of their days. Because they are definitely bright spots in mine. They make me laugh no matter what kind of day I’m having, and they truly mean the world to me. I get to stand outside my door each passing period and greet all of my current and former students, remembering that my crazy freshmen will one day mature. And though I’ll groan and grumble about having 128 essays to give feedback to, I’m thankful that they’re turning their work in.


And my job wouldn't be my job without the people I have around me. I work with some pretty stellar people who encourage me and push me and help me and ask the hard questions and want the best for our students. And I couldn't ask for much more than that.

I’m thankful that I get to wear multiple hats within Bellaire High School – that of a teacher and a coach. Volleyball has always meant so much to me, and I’ll never take for granted the sport that gives me infinitely more as a coach than it gave me as a player. And it gave me a lot as a player. Every year, when I get really overwhelmed with teaching and coaching and … adulting … I am reminded how much of a privilege coaching is. Sure, I get to help these girls improve their volleyball skills – and trust me, it’s amazing the progress each one of them makes from day one of freshmen camp to our final game – but even more than that I can help foster an environment of teamwork and hard work and inclusivity and positivity and focus and energy and determination and drive and encouragement. Every year I’m blown away by what these girls bring to the table, and my work day just wouldn’t be complete without them.

I’m thankful for neighbors, who, when you send out a post about desperately needing a bookshelf for your classroom (because this is the current situation),
more than come through. I’m thankful to be a Texas Longhorn (we’re going bowling, heck yeah!), for sunshine, for car insurance, that I can hold myself to a stand of grace and not perfection, for Wednesday phone calls with Gram, and that my brother nailed down a job in Houston post-graduation.
Finally, I’m thankful for who I consider to be the cutest dog in the world. My little Mack brings a tremendous amount of joy to my life, and I really don’t know what we did to deserve dogs. He has never met a dog or a person he doesn’t like, he brings a smile to the face of every person he passes on the street, and he is always down for a long walk through the neighborhood. He makes himself comfortable all up in my personal space, he begs for food like I don’t ever feed him, and he adds endless love and excitement to each day. He brings a smile to my face when I need it the most, and I’m a better person for being the owner of this floppy-eared nutcase.
And hopefully, I’ll continue to be thankful every other day of the year, too. I’ve found myself doing quite a bit of complaining lately, so I am determined to finish out this year with a “get to” mentality as opposed to a “have to” mentality. The mindset we bring to the table is half the battle, and expressing gratitude is such a little thing that can go such a long way.
I hope you and your loved ones have a fabulous Thanksgiving! I’m going to power down and enjoy time with my family and friends, and though this year we’re gathering around a table in a house hit by Harvey, I think I’ve got more to be thankful for than ever. And I can’t end this post without telling my readers how thankful I am that you guys still read my posts, as they tend to be few and far between these days. I love pressing pause on the chaos around me and sitting down to write, and the encouragement I get from the people who read f&f are the real MVPs.