Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Make the Change

It’s always so hard for me to open up blogger after a hiatus like this. Granted, this is definitely not my longest hiatus, but remember that time I made a goal for myself that I would write one post a week? I applaud myself for sticking to that for four months, but here I am, a month after my last post. But, May got crazy, as May typically does, and blogging was the first thing to go. And you would think that because it’s summer vacation I would be able to do this on a more consistent basis, but I took one look at my bank account and told myself that if I want to continue traveling and running (because whoever said running is cheap therapy has definitely not bought a new pair of running shoes or a new watch or the myriad of accessories that go along with this "cheap" sport lately), okay, and shopping at Anthropologie – so sue me – I better suck it up and teach at least a little bit of summer school.

So, while it was certainly no three-week trek through the beautiful country of Argentina, I managed to keep myself busy by teaching what I like to call STAAR Boot Camp. It was draining, to say the least, but I appreciated being able to stick to a regular routine. I got up to walk Mack, hopped in the shower because we’re at the point in the year where any sort of physical activity requires a change of clothes, and upon arriving home, took the pup on yet another walk before parking it on the couch in preparation to hit either the running trail or the pool. These summer temps have encouraged me to bring back the one-piece tan, but have really messed with my running training plan. But I'll save that for later.

Anyway, just because I was on the work grind doesn’t mean I haven’t allowed myself to have a little fun this summer. I cultured myself by visiting the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts (and displayed my maturity level when I absolutely could not handle the sculpture of a woman giving birth),

Natalie puts the size of these sculptures into perspective
as well as the Pixel Forest exhibit, which was much more up my alley.

I have finished reading seven books and am starting in on my eighth,

I wrapped up another season of sand volleyball with Team Practice Safe Sets (we went out of the playoffs in a most disappointing fashion, but we will certainly be back), and a couple of weekends ago one of my college roommates came to town and four out of nine members of the Clubhouse were able to reunite and spend the weekend catching up with one another. I had a lot of fun being a tourist in my own city – we ate a lot of delicious food, did a little bit of shopping, spent some time relaxing by the pool, and we even sat front row at River Oaks Theater (we had a little too much fun at dinner, whoops!) – a Houston landmark.

I have spent some time cleaning up my apartment, I’ve done a good amount of dog- and house-sitting (if you need a laugh, ask me to tell you the story of how I locked myself out of the house and had to climb the fence in the pouring rain),

I have done a little bit of planning (read: brainstorming) for this upcoming school year, and I have even done a little bit of work in the kitchen. I like to think that I’ll get these recipes posted, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here.

Anyway, now for the meat of this post. I know, I’m long-winded. But earlier I mentioned that my runs were suffering as what I think is a direct result of the weather. If you have never visited Houston, just know that summer means two things: hot and humid. And rain, which only adds to the humidity. Man, I couldn’t do anything. My heart rate would skyrocket at even the slowest paces, and I had a hard time running consecutive miles under what I would normally consider to be a moderate pace. And if I did manage to do that, I would stop and walk before starting the next mile because my whole body was just shot. I began dreading each workout – forget about the Brooks tagline to “run happy”. That was not happening. And it definitely showed on my face. I started getting inside my own head and really started doubting my big goal: Boston.

My first ever race
I did not want to take to the treadmill. I don’t know what it was, but the treadmill more than intimidated me. Actually, I do know what it was. I was scared of what the treadmill would tell me about my running ability. As much as I hated running in 80+ degree weather with a dew point almost as high, I liked having the weather as an excuse for why I couldn’t do a workout. That sounds horrible when I put it on paper, but our minds are a funny thing.

The views are nice, though
At some point I realized that I was tired of using the weather as an excuse for why I couldn't do a workout. It’s like this headline flashed across my brain: You've lived in the great state of Texas for all 25 years of your life, and there's zero chance that it's going to get any cooler. Either you're going to stop pouting about it, or you're going to have to change something. 

I was also tired of having to do an entire outfit change in the middle of my long runs that were literally happening at a snail's pace because I was so sweaty. Nobody has time for that much laundry, you feel me? Anyway, once I admitted these things out loud, and I was told that the weather outside should scare me more than the treadmill does, I decided to make the change. I pushed fear to the side and picked a treadmill at the gym. And while I am still wiping up an impressive amount of sweat, this seemingly simple change has made such a difference. Instead of feeling defeated before and after a run, I feel strong. I know that I've got a long way to go when it comes to achieving my ultimate goal of qualifying for Boston, but not only have I actually logged some good miles, my confidence in my running ability has done a 180. I’ve made a change and I’m starting to see results. I even got an "A" after reporting back on how today's workout went. Funny how that works.

Also, shout out to my girl Taylor for finally releasing all of her songs on Spotify. That was huge.

I talk a lot about running on my blog because it's a huge part of my life. It's not my entire life, but it has taught me a lot of lessons that can be applied to other areas of my life. Such as teaching and coaching, which makes up another large chunk of the Kelli Tomlinson puzzle. I have a couple of “big goals” for this upcoming school year, but one of them is that when something isn't working, make a change. If my students aren't engaged, or if they aren't understanding something one way or if I find myself doing something “just to do it”, it’s on me to do something about that. With running, the “easy” thing for me to do was run my familiar tree-lined route, knowing in the back of my mind that I had a ready-made excuse for why it didn’t go well. The hard thing for me to do was turn on the treadmill and crank out a tempo run at a pace that I hadn’t seen in awhile.

It's so easy, especially during volleyball season, for me to do what has always been done with the curriculum. It’s all right there for me, and it doesn’t require a ton of effort on my part. But I want to challenge myself to make whatever learning happens in room 327 relevant and powerful. I want them to get something out of it and not just feel as though they are doing busywork. I want them to learn how to think critically and know that it’s okay to struggle and work outside their comfort zones. I feel as though some of my high school years were wasted – I spent so much time worrying about the grade I received on an assignment that I couldn’t tell you half of what I learned in some of the most interesting courses. There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be discovered – and so many of my students are ready to take on the challenge! – but in order for that to happen, changes have to be made. That's not to say that it will always be easy. Or that progress will always be immediate. I've run enough miles to know that not all of them are going to leave me feeling like I can conquer the world. But if we want to see results, we've got to at least give it a try.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Year Three

Well, when I lock up room 327 at the end of the day, my third year of teaching will officially be in the books. Which is exciting, but also, how did that happen? How am I at this point? In many ways, I feel like a mom who has to make what feels like 10,000 game time decisions every single day. I've given out more band-aids than is probably reasonable for an English class. Is fighting the cell phone battle worth it today? Should I give this kid a hard time for not bringing a pencil? And not telling me about it until we are 25 minutes into class? And then other days I'm the one updating my friends as to what all the cool kids are saying these days. One of my favorite memories of the year is when a student told me I was being extra. That's when I knew I was doing my job. Though I will never let go of on fleek, I think it's safe to say that this year was lit.

Anyway, I'm still finding it hard to believe that it's really the end of May, and that yesterday I waved my third group of freshman out the door. The end of the year is always a little bittersweet because, while I absolutely welcome the break, I'm also going to miss the ~120 students I watched grow and (somewhat) mature for the last 180 days. I became invested in their lives, and they in mine. For instance, they knew my Monday afternoon routine of running five miles through the surrounding neighborhood because I had club volleyball practice on Mondays and didn't see the point in going home just to get caught in traffic driving to Memorial. And I knew all about spring football and Russian class and the movies I told them I would go see but undoubtedly never would, so I wasn't too mad when they spoiled the ending. 

And now they're sophomores and I hope they know how much they mean to me. That I find so much joy in seeing how far they have come from the awkward, shy, nervous students they were on the first day of school, to the still slightly awkward, but more confident and relaxed students they are now. Sometimes maybe too confident and relaxed - to the point of making me want to pull all of my hairs out, but not a day went by that they didn’t put a smile on my face. And I’m proud of who they are as people as well as who they are as students. I’m proud of the way they engaged with the texts we explored this year – some of them for the first time in their lives. I’m honored that they chose to share their stories with me, because their stories are powerful and they absolutely matter, and I’m thankful for the way they let me learn along with them. So many times this year I found myself saying, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” It was empowering for all of us. They saw me being vulnerable and realized that they’re not expected to know everything right off the bat. They realized that it’s okay to try and fail, as long as they’re learning from these mistakes and trying again. They saw that getting outside of their comfort zones is a good thing - in fact, it's where the magic happens. And they loved being able to show and explain to the teacher how to do something. Which, I won’t lie, wasn’t always easy for me. But once I let go of the idea that all of the control had to rest solely in my hands, I realized how much more authentic the learning was.

And I think when I look back on my third year of teaching, that’s what I’m most proud of. I’m proud of the authentic learning that took place in my classroom. Of course, I still focused on the objectives that would be covered on the STAAR test, because in the grand scheme of things, many of those skills really are important. But I also tried to do things that would help them build skills they will likely use in the future. Research and analysis and learning how to go back and dive deep into a text. We learned how to compose emails – what not to do: have an email address that looks anything like rockinbrunette32@yahoo.com – we connected the texts we were reading to events that were happening in the world around us, and we even dabbled in the very new-to-me world of coding. It is truly a different language, but it absolutely amazed me as to how quickly so many of my students picked up the skill. And yes, it is kind of cool to say that my students were coding in my class, but what was even cooler to me was that when I took a step back, I watched my students go back into a particular scene in the text, and I listened to each group analyze the characters in Romeo and Juliet so that their virtual reality recreations really matched up to what was happening in the play.

I didn’t always know how something was going to turn out, and yes, some of my attempts were total flops. But on most occasions, my students blew my expectations totally out of the water. They owned their learning and they took pride in their work. It is my greatest hope that they saw value in what they were doing, and that maybe it was hard at first, but it was so much more meaningful than halfheartedly completing a go-through-the-motions worksheet.

It’s crazy to think about where I was in my first year, and how far I’ve come as I wrap up my third. While I’ve still got so much to learn, I owe so much of my transformation to the incredible people I’ve got around me. From my English 1 PLC to the English department to technology gurus to administrators to teachers and clerks all over the building, so many of them have helped me in one way or another and I’m grateful for every single one of them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again, but I’ve got a job where I don’t dread Mondays. I know it's in my job description to teach them, but each year they teach me so much more than I could ever dream. And that has made all the difference.

I feel like I grew as a teacher, and I witnessed each one of my students grow as learners. And of course, my learning (and hopefully theirs) doesn’t end with the school year. My mind is already churning with all that I can do to make the next school year even better for my students. And while I’ll probably tackle quite a few of them this summer, there’s a reason teachers have this break. There’s definitely time for a little bit of rest and relaxation. I’m excited to start in on the stack of books that has been collecting dust these past few months, to work on my weird tan lines, to eat lunch with people my own age every now and then, and to keep on running full speed ahead. And I mean that on a couple of different levels. Have a fantastic long weekend!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spring Weather

Happy Sunday, everyone! We have had the most wonderful weather weekend (hey, alliteration!) here in Houston, so I made sure to soak up every minute of it before it gets too unbearably hot in the coming weeks. Between our playoff baseball game yesterday (headed to round two! And the girls are headed to round three.), a couple of runs, lots of dog walks, and sand volleyball, I've got quite the interesting assortment of tan lines going on right now. But I'm certainly not complaining, as outside time is my favorite time. And as far as I'm concerned, this weekend was perfect.

I'm currently typing this as I watch a nerve-wracking game four of the Rockets/Spurs series, in which the Rockets need a win before we return to San Antonio. I actually attended game three on Friday evening with Sarah - a big Spurs fan - and despite the outcome, had a fabulous time. It was my first Rockets playoff game, and the atmosphere was eclectic. We had seats in the nosebleeds, but that didn't stop us from cheering on our respective teams. I'm hoping that my cheers from the couch help bring Red Nation a victory tonight!

And now, a random collection of survey questions. I'm trying so hard to keep up with my one-post-a-week goal that I set at the very beginning of the year, and sometimes, this is all I've got time for! Once summer hits I'll be more consistent. Probably.

What is an embarrassing moment in your life?
I have had too many of them to count. But after teaching high school, I’ve learned to shake off most embarrassing moments. That being said, nothing will erase the embarrassment of throwing up in the hallway during 3rd period last year. My students were super sweet and ran to get an Assistant Principal, which honestly probably made it all the more embarrassing. So, beat that.

What personal item would you save in a house fire? (After saving your family and pets.)
Hmm, probably my laptop and any photos I could quickly grab. Perhaps my charm bracelet. I know “things” can be replaced, but things that have sentimental value would be hard for me to part with.

What is your most treasured memory?
Wow, I have so many memories that I treasure. My high school volleyball career – specifically my senior season will forever hold such a special place in my heart. Studying abroad in Barcelona for almost two months was an incredible experience, as was traveling solo through Argentina. My first half marathon, as well as my first marathon, will always be treasured. And so many moments from my teaching and coaching career could win this award, too. So, I think it’s fair to say that I can’t pick just one.

What would make a perfect day for you?
Easy – it would be jam-packed! It would start off with a walk with the pup, a long run through the park (preferably with sunshine and temps in the 50’s), a delicious lunch at Local Foods with my friends, hammock reading at the park, dinner at Hungry’s, and some sunset sand volleyball. Just like the good old days.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? (Living or not.)
I have been asked this question before, and I think my answer changes every single time. I think I would choose Kerri Walsh Jennings, though, because she is literally perfect in every single way.

Would you like to be famous? If so, how?
Would I want to be a celebrity who has every single move scrutinized and commented on? Nope. Would I want to be famous for being an athlete who excels at my sport? Absolutely.

Do you rehearse your phone conversations? If so, why?
… No. I actually hate talking on the phone, and I avoid it if at all possible. And conversations rarely go as planned, so if I am caught talking on the phone, I’ll just go with the flow.

Where would you like to be in five years?
What a question. I actually had every intention of writing myself a letter on my 25th birthday to be opened when I turn 30, as that’s the age I will hit in five years. Yikes. That didn’t happen, but I see myself living in Houston, continuing to teach, and possibly finishing up a Master’s in School Counseling if that if something I really choose to pursue. I don’t know if marriage and kids are in the plan for me, but if they are, hopefully I’m starting to settle down and think about that. I hope to have run the Boston Marathon, to be on my way to a new fitness goal, and to have seen a few more parts of this world. That’s a lot to accomplish in just five years, huh?

Which fictional character do you believe is the most like yourself?
I would love to say Hermione Granger, but she’s far too clever for me. Maybe Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz? She was the first to come to my mind.

What is one thing you have always wanted to cross off your bucket list but haven’t yet?
I want to visit all 50 states in the United States. I may even add to that running a half marathon in all 50 states. I’ve visited 18 states; I’ve run half marathons in five.

Half Marathon in Portland, Oregon
Where do you go when you need some inspiration?
This is a very open-ended question. I turn to friends, I turn to family members, I turn to co-workers, I turn to books. It totally depends on the situation, but one of the above never fails to turn my mood around. And you know who always manages to inspire me? My students.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Wow, I have been given some stellar advice over the years. Right now, I think my favorite piece of advice is to trust the process. While that particular piece of advice was given to me in relation to running, I think it applies to every season of life. Not everything is going to make sense or go our way the first time, but you have to trust that what you’re doing is going to get you there in the end.

What is your favorite season?
This is such a hard question for me! I’m a fan of every season for a variety of reasons. I love summer because … it’s summer. Time off, and fun summer activities make up the majority of my days. And I can finally catch up on some of the things that I haven’t accomplished all year. Fall is great because it’s football season (Hook ‘Em!), and the weather finally starts getting a little cooler. Winter can be dreary, but how can you not be happy when surrounded by so much holiday cheer? And spring is probably the best season weather-wise. So, my answer is: all of them.

Cake, pie, or muffins?
To be honest, I don’t love any of these three desserts. Pie from Royer’s Pie Haven in Round Top, Texas is pretty dynamite, and I’m a big fan of my zucchini oatmeal muffins – not to toot my own horn or anything – but that’s about it.

What does your blog name mean?
Forever a running joke among my friends. Fitness is obviously something about which I am extremely passionate. Healthy is a lifestyle, and I try to do something active every single day. And it is a joy to be able to share that passion with others. I am quite the frozen yogurt enthusiast, but to go a little bit deeper than that, I think the “froyo” part of my blog name shows that I’ve got a little bit of fun thrown into my life.

And with that, I’m off to stress clean over the Rockets game. Run As One!