Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busy Season

My senior year of college I had quite a few friends who were off doing an internship at one of the "Big Four" Accounting firms as part of a five-year Master's program. And I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "busy season". Long days and late nights and a to-do list that never ends. And I will admit that I rolled my eyes every time I heard that phrase, but then I realized I’ve got a busy season of my own. And it goes from the beginning of August until the beginning of November.

On August 1st, I will say adios to my summer vacation. I’m used to my summer ending that first week of August because hello, volleyball season. And I am so grateful to have the opportunity to remain involved with the sport that gave me so much growing up. But every year, in the middle of juggling PLC meetings with volleyball practice with a pretty focused training plan, I make a hysterical phone call to my dad about how I just can’t do it. Complaining about how there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and how there’s absolutely no way I’m going to get it all done. And every year, believe it or not, I end up getting it all done. Sometimes my sanity is compromised, but my little pink notebook helps me keep my life in check.

Anyway, in true Kelli fashion, this year I approach this upcoming "busy season" with a list. A list of big picture goals I’ve got for myself so that I can not only remain focused, but so that I can also find enjoyment in the things that really do bring me so much joy.

Be present. I know I’ve touched on this before, but this is an area of my life that I can most definitely improve upon. There are so many distractions all around us, and more often than not I find myself giving into them. I spend so much of my time thinking about what’s coming next that I either don’t give all that I’ve got to the task at hand, or I don’t enjoy or get anything out of what it is that I’m doing. So, when grading papers, when reading a book, when having a lunchtime conversation with a student, when catching up with friends over dinner, when running a drill on the volleyball court, when engaging in a Twitter chat, when logging miles on the treadmill or at Hermann Park, I want to focus on being present in that particular moment, on that particular task. Something tells me I’ll not only be more productive, but that I’ll also be much happier.

Never be too consumed with my own stress to lend a smile or a good morning or a thank you. I’m an introvert to my core and when I’m stressed, my first instinct is to turn inward. I’m not one to ask for help or tell people how I’m really doing when asked, when sometimes a quick conversation is all I need to help shift my attitude or perspective. I’m lucky to be surrounded by some truly incredible people each and every day – my family, my friends, and the people I work with. And I’d be crazy not to tell each one of them how much they mean to me, and how much I appreciate their encouragement and support. Because let's face it, we're all busy, and we've all got a lot on our plates. 

Say yes, don’t fear failure, but also be sure and find balance. For so many years the thought of failure absolutely paralyzed me. It still scares me a little bit, but I’ve failed enough times along the way to know that there are always side roads on the path to success. I hope to never find myself choosing what’s easy and convenient, but instead saying “YES” when presented with something new and exciting. With that being said, I also don’t want to let all that’s out there overwhelm me. That goes for teaching, coaching, running, lifing (I think I just made up a word, but I did it for the parallelism) – it’s so easy to play the comparison game, to think that you don’t measure up to the teacher across the hall, to the coach on the other side of the net, to the fit and fast runner flying past you on the Rice Jogging Trail, to the girl with the punny and perfect Instagram post of her hipster Houston dinner that leaves you realizing you’ve eaten leftovers for the past week and a half. It can be super tempting to try and tackle every big, new, sexy idea that is presented to me, and that’s also a direct path to crushing feelings of stress. Instead of playing the big, showy comparison game (because as cheesy as it sounds comparison truly is the thief of joy), I am going to focus on picking a couple of things and putting my energy into doing those things well.

Escape the negativity. You know when you’re surrounded by people who are complaining about this and that, and suddenly you’re complaining about something that you didn’t even know bothered you just so you could join in on the pity party? Yeah. This happens in the teachers’ lounge, at brunch with my friends  (and for the record, brunch has to be my least favorite meal of all time), and so on and so forth. It’s well known that negativity breeds more negativity, and I really don’t have a lot to complain about. So I’m just not going to anymore. Because nine times out of ten, in the time I spent whining about something, I could probably do something productive about it.

Learn how to say NO. And not feel bad about it. This one is going to be really hard for me, but I also think it’s going to be super necessary. Because not only am I not one to ask for help, I tend to be one to try and find a way to help other people out when asked. I truly love it when people ask me for help because I like to think that people find me reliable. But more than that, I hate to think that I'm letting other people down. I'm an absolute people-pleaser, and I love giving the gift of my time and effort to try and help make someone else’s day run a little bit smoother. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to lend someone a helping hand, but doing it to the point of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is no longer doing it out of a place of joy. It turns into resentment. And this certainly won’t turn into my “Year of NO!”, but I am also going to be more deliberate about who and what I give my time to.

Making lists like this totally help me organize the crazy mess of thoughts that are all jumbled up in my mind. And obviously these are pretty open-ended goals that can apply to so many areas of life – and okay, they’re pretty geared toward teaching, coaching, and running if we’re talking about my life – but just putting fingers to keyboard is so therapeutic for me as I plan out how I am going to use my last week of freedom. I think about August 1st with a mix of both fear and excitement. Nervous about how I’m going to make it all work; excited about a new crop of players, students, and goals to chase. It’s a given that I’m going to be tired. It’s a given that there are going to be hard days, but it’s also a given that I’m going to learn a lot.

Bring it on, year four. I’m ready for ya. Nothing worth having is easy, but that’s what makes it all a little bit more fun.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Random Questions

It has been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything on the f&f scene (I've bean busy traipsing through Chicago), and while I definitely can’t promise regular posting from here on out, I do have a couple of posts up my sleeve. But first, let’s keep it fun and light-hearted with a little Survey Sunday action.

1. Do you make your bed? After listening to Admiral William McRaven’s speech at my 2014 University of Texas Commencement, I make my bed every single morning. Not only do you start each day with a task completed, but if you happen to have one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, at least you’re coming home to a made bed.

2. The first car that was officially yours? A 1992 Lexus – this car turned 16 the same year I did.

3. Three grocery items you don't run out of? Bananas, chocolate, peanut butter? I don’t know – I’m pretty good about not letting myself run out of any of my favorite food items. I’m one of the few people who enjoys making grocery store runs, so I don’t blink an eye about making a couple of trips a week.

4. When did you start doing your own laundry? Judge me, but I didn’t learn how to do my own laundry until I left for college. My mom and Granny always did it for me up until that point and I’m very grateful for that.

5. If you could, would you go back to high school? But have I really left?

6. Can you parallel park in under three moves? … No. If parallel parking is my only option, I drive around and around until I find an actual spot. This was especially problematic in Austin, and it drives my friends absolutely crazy, but I was in that sweet spot where I didn’t actually have to take a driving test in order to get my license.

7. A job you had of which people would be shocked to learn? A dorm resident assistant? Actually, that’s probably not too surprising.

8. Can you drive a stick shift? Nope.

9. Guilty TV show you watch? Okay, I love the show The Middle. Seriously, I can watch episode after episode after episode – it’s just such a portrait of the real American family.

10. Would you rather be too hot or too cold? That’s a tough one – I experience both extremes in my classroom on the reg. Probably too cold because as much as I hate layering up, that’s always an option. Being overly warm is the W O R S T. You’re sweaty and sticky and then the headache starts.

This was a cold day
11. Sweet or Salty? Salty. Once I start in on a bag of popcorn, there’s no stopping me.

12. Do you enjoy soaking in a nice bath? In theory, yes. But I almost never give myself that luxury.

15. Do you consider yourself strong? Are we talking physically or mentally here? I would say yes to both, with the physical emphasis being on my lower body. When you’re a runner, every day is leg day, am I right?

I got to meet Kathrine Switzer - the strongest woman around
16. Something people do, physically, that drives you crazy? SLOW WALKERS. Maybe I walk unreasonably fast, but come on, people.

17. Something you do, physically, that you are sure drives people crazy? When I’m nervous I play with my rings or I twist my hair.

19. Favorite childhood sport? Soccer.

20. Do you talk to yourself? Oh, absolutely. Sometimes I even answer myself. I have no shame.

21. Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles? Honestly, I really don’t. I’m always amazed by people who can sit at a table for hours so carefully putting each piece in its proper place.

22. Would you go on a reality show? YES. I would never make a Bachelor appearance, but I would 100% go on American Ninja Warrior.

I'm ready, don't you think?
23. Tea or coffee? Neither one.

24. First thing you remember wanting to be when you grew up? Teacher. That’s the honest truth.

25. No matter how much money you have or don't have, what are you an absolute snob about? Kindness.

And with that, I'm off to get a jump start on today's activities. As it turns out, the miles aren't going to run themselves, and my apartment certainly isn't going to clean itself. Have a good one!

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 – 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!