Goal Setting: Making Human Connections in the Classroom

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. – Henry David Thoreau 

As I sit at my computer to type, I am sure that I join many fellow educators across the world (and all education stakeholders) with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing, and continue to face, in 2020 due to the Covid-19 virus.

If you would have told me back in the middle of March, when we closed up our school buildings due to a rising pandemic, that our lives would still not be back to normal by October, I would not have believed you. Though, what does normal mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. 

When I think back to the spring, I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become a new way I participate in professional development and communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators.

As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are currently experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to record the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source document for future generations.

I am thankful to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we have not been heavily impacted by Covid-19 and that we were able to go back to school face-to-face. However, we also are providing an online option for students that the teachers in our district are instructing. Our union and Board of Education were adamant about not outsourcing these services. While it does create multiple layers of extra work for our staff, it is putting our students first by making sure if they decide to change their learning platform (to either f2f or online) their transition will be relatively seamless since what our students are learning f2f is exactly what our students are learning online.

Our weekly school schedule includes a Flipped Friday where our f2f learners stay home on Fridays to also learn online. This prepares our f2f learners for online instruction, in case we get shut-down again. This preparation should help us transition a lot easier to distance learning. While we did not feel prepared last March when our buildings were suddenly closed for the rest of the school year, we feel confident that we have a solid plan in place for the 2020-2021 school year.

In addition, our learning plan includes the wearing of masks at all times, hand sanitizers at the entrance of all classrooms and multiple areas in our buildings, all desks facing the same way, smaller class sizes, and each student is given a Chromebook to take home and use for the school year.

Unfortunately, our area has recently seen a spike in cases of Covid-19 and many school districts are closing up their f2f learning for two weeks (some more). So we are being extra diligent to make sure our students and staff are safe.

In September I began my 20th year in the classroom. While I have many tried-and-true lessons, I always like to introduce a fresh lesson to my teaching tool box. So this year I took inspiration from a friend of mine who is a teacher in a neighboring district, Paula Diedrich.

Not only is Paula a dear friend of mine and teaching mentor, she is also a fellow blogger at https://hatofmanycolors.wordpress.com/

Paula blogged about a 50-4-50 challenge that she undertook to celebrate turning 50. She came up with a list of fifty things she wanted to accomplish. Check out Paula’s List. 

Since I am going to be 50 this coming June, I have been thinking about Paula’s list and wanted to design my own. So I invited my students to join me in coming up with their own goals.

In a nutshell, this is what I told them:

2020 has been a challenging year, and depending on how you look at it, Covid-19 may have taken many things from us: The end of the school year, time with family/friends with health problems/compromised immune systems, opportunities to travel, income/jobs, spectators at sporting events (our students are only allowed 2 fans at sports contests) etc.

However, maybe Covid-19 presented you with opportunities: More time with immediate family members, an organized house and living space, time to exercise, time to read books for pleasure, home cooked meals etc. Regardless of how you view the pandemic we are experiencing, 2020 taught us to appreciate the moment we are in because things can change suddenly.

Since I teach sections of both 9th and 11th grade English I gave my students a couple of different options:

1. If you have just had a birthday, or have one coming up you can choose that number (since you have the whole year to accomplish your goal). For example: 14-4-14 or 16-4-16.

2. If you don’t have a birthday until several months and want to start right away, you can create a list of 9-4-9 (9 for 9th grade) or 11-4-11 (11 for 11th grade). This gives you the entire school year to accomplish your goal.

3. If you don’t celebrate birthdays, or are feeling extra ambitious, you can choose 21-4-21 for for 21 Things You Want to Accomplish for 2021. 

Have fun with your list and make sure your goals are realistic, but also creative! They should be measurable goals (we discussed what a “measurable goal”looks like…)

My students were encouraged to create a presentation with a variety of multi-media approaches (video, photo rich slideshow, audio/podcast, music/rap or lyric based, or a visual piece of art (example: vision board).

My students and I discussed that we are never too old to learn new things about ourselves, others, or the world around us.

Many of the 9th grade students are brand new to me, so it helped me learn something about them and helped make a human connection. (In fact, I learned about a lot of things during their presentations. My 9th grade boys taught me all about weight lifting! 🙂 ) Throughout the year we will revisit our goals and it may include adjustments and plenty of reflection.

I loved that Paula’s blog gave me something to show them and it provided them with evidence that humans are in a constant state of learning.

I thought the discussions that I had with my students about Paula’s reflection were especially beneficial. Paula did not beat herself up because she didn’t accomplish everything on her list, nor did she make excuses. She ruminated over her successes and challenges and found patterns which revealed important aspects of her life, and even her relationships. We discussed how these revelations could help Paula set future goals.

As writers we know that reflecting on our writing is essential, and I believe that by teaching our students to do this, we are helping them to be reflective about other aspects of our life.

I want to thank Paula for helping me make a vital human connection with my students this year – and in the days ahead.

As we journey through our role of teachers during these challenging times, I think it is important to show our students and ourselves some grace. As I approach my 50th birthday, it gives me wings to think of all that I have yet to discover in life. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with my students both face-to-face and online this year and I hope they feel they same way about the physical and digital classroom that we share. We have so many lessons to learn together.

In case that other teachers want to use this idea in your class, I’m sharing a few student examples. These three students dazzled me with the Vision Boards that they created.  I hope they inspire you as much as they did me.

I loved the adaptability of MP’s vision board with her goals for her Junior year. I love that Morgan made a “moveable” board with push pins that she can add to and rearrange as the year goes on. I encouraged my students to make personal and academic goals.   We discussed how self-care (managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and proper hydration and nutrition) can impact grades and success in school. I loved that Morgan created health related goals for herself as well.

In class we discussed how many families had to cancel spring break plans and summer vacations because of the pandemic. Yet, the bright side was that many students said their families ventured out to enjoy all the beautiful, scenic places around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Cameron LaChance created a Vision Board for the 11 local places she would like to visit in the UP for her Junior Year. After all, the UP is the perfect place for a Staycation. Local friends, how many of these places have you been to?  

I loved Hayden Eberle’s 3 dimensional Vision Board.
Her project really struck me as a creative way to kick off her freshman year. I cannot wait to see what other neat projects she produces and I really want to see photos of her cat in a costume. 🙂 

I wish all of my fellow educators a safe school year. The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Wash your hands, check in on each other, and do not forget to do something each day that brings you joy. ❤

BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal)

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word ENCOURAGER aptly describes my role as an educator. I encourage my students to read, write, and to record their impression of the world. I try to instill in them the belief that our stories and our voices matter. Our writing is our way of making our thinking tangible – it is truly our fingerprint. Our writing is a time capsule that can chart our personal, academic, and professional growth as human beings.

Our district recently unveiled our Continuous Learning Plan and our teachers, like others across the country, have been engaging students in lessons via online platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, DoJo, and Google Meet.

While I have been a blogger for years, I admittedly struggle with technology. Since I live in a rural location – I too had issues at first with “Equal Access” when it came to internet connectivity. However, thanks to a data boost to my Verizon jetpack, I believe I have the issues ironed out.

I am thankful for a strong network of administrators and  colleagues for the guidance and support as we navigate these challenging times. I have to give a huge shout-out to my best friend and fellow English teacher Heather Hollands for helping me come up with ideas to help keep ourselves and our students connected and engaged for the remainder of the school year. She helped me develop a plan to have students create a Pandemic Journal and a plan/log for daily reading. (Heather credits Kelly Gallagher http://www.kellygallagher.org/).

I have used this blogging platform to help model a “Pandemic Journal” to my students over the past couple of days. It gives me a way to publish my writing and hopefully connect with other educators and writers. This blog was part of my the professional development goal that I set for myself last year. When I created Glitter and Dog Hair I had no idea that I would be using it in this capacity. It is exciting that I can use it to help publish not only my writing, but the writing that my students create as well.

Here are my posts from the past couple of days. I am proud to say that I even traveled out of my comfort zone and made a couple of videos to let them know I am thinking of them:

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember
Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

My instructions to my students for their Pandemic Journal were the following:

Dear Students,
We are living through a history making moment—right now! Today, tomorrow, and the days that follow will be captured in history books. Some day, you will share stories with your children and grandchildren about living through the challenges we are facing in 2020. Because these days are historical, it is critical that we not let these events pass without capturing how they affect you, your family, your school, and your community.

How we are documenting our days – on paper, on canvas, on social media, on video – will one day become a primary resource for others to reflect on. As I often say in class, “Our writing is a time capsule.”

Since you will be “schooling” from home, I will describe here the activities to be done outside of our classroom. Here are your daily writing and reading plans: 

Daily writing (via a paper notebook of some sort) 

You will be asked to write at least a page a day in your writer’s notebook, capturing your thoughts, questions, comments, and concerns about the events that are unfolding. I want you to capture this history—your history—any way you’d like. Try to spend a minimum of an hour per week writing, hopefully more! Below are some suggestions for your daily writing, but you do not need to follow them. Feel free to generate your own thinking.

Some possibilities for daily writing:
●  Capture how this virus has disrupted your school year —including sporting events, concerts,   assemblies, dances.
●  Discuss how your daily life has been disrupted or enhanced (more time with family, family dinners etc.)
●  Share the effect it has had on your friends and family.
●  Write reviews of movies, television shows, podcasts, video games, etc., that you are turning to for entertainment during this time of social isolation. ●  Respond to any idea about the crisis you find interesting. You can respond to an article, a
broadcast, a Tedtalk, a tweet, a photograph, a podcast, a film, an Instagram (or another online) post, a TikTok video, a political cartoon or meme, a song, a conversation—anything that spurs some thinking.

As the days unfold, you will be able to find new aspects that encourage reflection. This story changes every day. Be creative: Write across genres: poetry, dialogue (just capture a conversation between people), description: zoom in on a moment you experience; discuss songs that capture these events for you; find and respond to charts and graphs worth thinking about. Or perhaps you’d like to make a scrapbook. Another idea is to write and mail a letter to a grandparent or other person who is lonely or missing you. 

Flex your voice and take risks. Be honest. Try to create writing that you will be interested in re-reading years from now. Chronicle your thinking as we navigate these uncertain days/weeks. Do not forget to record the date on every piece you write.

*Thank you again to Heather Hollands for the inspiration.

Yesterday my students started submitting their Pandemic Journal entries. One of my 8th grade students, Abigail McCabe, took my breath away with her journal response. Abigail had already impressed me with her sophisticated writing, but her writing still caught me off guard and brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Abigail for this gift. You made me remember once again why I am so fortunate to be an English teacher.  You’re a talented writer and visual artist and I knew that I had to share your response with others.

We are going through challenging times and yet, at a young age, Abigail understands the importance of stepping outside our human realm to allow nature to help heal and show us the way. Abigail’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite Louise Gluck quotes.

“It’s a mistake
to think of them
as birds, they are so often
messengers.”
~Louise Gluck

With Abigail’s permission I am sharing her entry with you. Here are her powerful words:

Beyond the Window

During the quarantine, the birds have been reliable, always coming and going, unphased by the panic of the outside world. Nestled in the everlasting pine-bows, their safe haven.

I stare distantly outside my window. The pine trees sway in the gentle breeze as the birds flutter absentmindedly around the newly filled feeder. They come and go in a timely manner. Chickadees arrive early after the sun’s early rays skim the treetops, leaping and fluttering from branch to branch. They begin their distinct and sweet call at eight, then leave at one.

Chickadees have always reminded me of my Grandma, whom has now passed. Perhaps it’s their soft coos that echo beyond the birch trees or the carefree and curious glint behind their dark eyes.

Petite Goldenfinches stick in groups of five, landing in synchronization on the snow-coated deck outside the large, smudged window. They descend down from the higher branches at three but never stay for more than an hour and a half.

When the isolation leaves me feeling hollow, like a roughly tumbled rock with a single omar– I open up the door, slinking out into the dappled sunlight, and sit quietly. I listen for the soft murmur of the wind, the slow rippling of the lakeside, the rhythmic dripping of the ice– so delicately clinging to the eve of the house. Most of all, the stories the birds tell– not with their sorrowful melodies as the snow begins to fall, but the air sifting between their feathers like sand as they skip like a rough pebble through the air. I, hardly breathing, lost in the chorus of selective silence, patiently wait. I squint against the sun, of which now is skimming the surface of the icy wasteland that meets the decaying pine-needle and mossy quilt at the abrupt shoreline. Out over the ice-glazed lake, small shoals are still visible under the surface of semi-transparent desolation. I turn my head, the ice rippling as a lone duck pulls itself out from the ice-infested waters.

I breathe deeply, the air crisp and bitter from the cold, but the sun warm and radiant- maintaining the balance– of which is like an orbit– both hot and cold interdependent on the other, there is no judgment of hot without the cold,  as of, no life without death. A cycle. Plagues in themselves are a cycle, masquerading behind face masks, a timely balance of panic and composure.

Photo Courtesy of Abigail McCabe

Please feel free to comment on and share this post.

Thank you to Abigail for generously allowing me to share your writing.

To all reading this post ~  please stay safe, healthy, and seek ways to discover joy in your life. ❤

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember

“I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.”
-Mary Oliver

I never imagined that our hoop house would be my new classroom. However, we’re living through some interesting times. I thought our food plot would be a unique place to record a video for my students to show them what my life is like outside of the classroom.

My husband said this is definitely my “Teacher Look” or “Teacher Lady” as he affectionately calls me.

I guess that yesterday’s distance learning translated to Bog boots since it is mud season in Michigan (plus, we have chickens – enough said). 🤣 Yet, it was a photo worthy moment because I even applied makeup and ran a brush through my hair.

The world is our classroom after all!

We have been out of school since March 13 due to the Covid-19 virus. It has been surreal to say the least. This week I started an on-line Pandemic Journal with my students. I wanted to model to them what their journals may look like so I am stepping outside my comfort zone and am creating videos in hopes I can make a connection with them.

This was my video today (I will type the journal entry below):

April 21, 2020

A reflection from my Facebook social media post on Thursday, April 16th at 3:51 pm

“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” ~ Anita Diamant

The above was the last prompt I gave my students before the world seemed to slowly turn upside down.

I’ve kept this quote in my collective memory and I have thought of my students often, but I had to remove myself emotionally from the reality of what was happening so it didn’t hit so hard. I was trying to hold things together like those knots on that beautiful necklace. I kept distant from my feelings and denied myself the opportunity to mourn. Guarded. We all mourn differently.

Today I took the drive and the awkward steps into my classroom. It was quiet but it still felt like home. It comforted the rawness around my heart.

My mailbox offerings left a lump in my throat and were the catalyst for warm tears. Finally the tears. Packages for my students – Outrageous Request Letters granted. We must wait until the “Shelter in Place” order is lifted.

I gathered my remaining plants. The geraniums I winter each year in my classroom. I grabbed several on our last day – not sure what the coming days would hold. When I returned today I didn’t expect any signs of life, but green still resided in a few of the pots. With some TLC a couple of them will recover.

I will take these packages and the green leaves as a sign of hope. A promise that better days are coming.

The anxious knots in my stomach are not in vain. They too are signs of life. Signs of compassion and a softness that makes a teacher a force to be reckoned with.

My colleagues and I are entering a new phase of our career – a part not fully developed or chartered. We are making maps. We are defining our new roles.

My empty journal is a ready for words. My students and I will guide each other.

We will write our stories –
so we,
and others,
can remember.

My weary classroom plants.

Outrageous Requests granted. I will have to post about this assignment – it’s my favorite!

Signs of life. The plant on the right is loving the TLC.

We still have a lot of snow on the ground!

Our hoop house is one of my favorite places to getaway and focus on growth!

Here is yesterday’s video: