September Monthly Summary

Instructional Firsts

September, like the rest of 2020, has been a month of many great changes.

Zoom panic
Zoom joy

I had many moments of Zoom panic and Zoom joy this month as I learned more about my students, set expectations for our virtual meetings, and co-facilitated parent meetings.

Here are some of my favorite instructional activities (for the Holy Trinity, character traits, narrative Writing, 4th grade place value, 3rd grade multiplication and division, D.C. museums (Social Studies), writing dialogue, reading poetry, vocabulary study, and understanding emotions) that I shared with my students through the Seesaw app:

Building Bridges

As a non-affiliated Christian working in a Catholic school and attending an Episcopal seminary, I want to take a moment to celebrate some of the most beautiful things I’ve noticed about these two traditions. As members of one body and one eternal church, I am proud of the way these communities glorify God, and honored to worship God alongside them.

  • My Catholic school: healthy reverence for God’s mysteries, faith in God’s supernatural power, meeting God through art, respecting the dignity of the poor members of my neighborhood, bilingual love of immigrants in this neighborhood
  • My Episcopal seminary: respect for the activity of the Holy Spirit as revealed over centuries, openness to hearing God’s voice across disciplines, importance of agreement to develop a formal cannon, international bent, dignity for other faiths

Lord, please tear down any barriers in these communities that stand in the way of individuals knowing you and receiving a fresh revelation of your love. We want to know you as you are, and we love you. Amen.

Unexpected Victories

This month, I was blessed by:

  • a conversation with a like-minded school leader who is hoping to put together a network of vibrant, spirit filled educators and leaders
  • as a new member of staff being invited to host a Vocabulary A-Z training for teachers at my school
  • interviewing members of the Mount Pleasant D.C. community and gaining more perspective for how race and identity have formed (and/or resolved) local conflicts
  • discovering potential opportunities to gain credit hours for my studies
  • Successfully attending mass and figuring out how to ask for a blessing instead of receiving communion (as a non-Catholic)
  • new levels of mutual warmth and rapport between myself and students’ parents
  • receiving many donations of plants to make my classroom as peaceful as possible

Contextual Study

As a project for seminary, I will be studying my bilingual Catholic school community for the next 7 months in the form of a Contextual Study. This study is segmented into distinct modules which will examine my school from a number of perspectives including history, statistics, the surrounding community, theology, spirituality, and leadership. Through interviews, learning more about the school history, and attending to current units of study, the purpose of research is to determine the effect that a communally constructed common memory can have on an educational institution’s identity and current student scholarship. As of one month into this project, I have been able to dive deep with colleagues into conversations about school identity, been humbled by the vibrancy of my community’s Catholic faith, and seen firsthand areas of our ongoing needs. I have begun to pray that the communal self-reflection inspired by these interviews will open up new doors to celebrate the wonderful work of my community, even opportunities to apply to grants that will address some of our greatest needs. This Contextual study has also become a de facto internship in school leadership, as I am working closely with my very supportive principal to understand the logistics of running our school.

In order to support my research practically, this month I:

  • created and began sending a consent form for interviewees electronically through Docusign
  • developed partnerships and met with a group of teachers from my school and the surrounding area who will advise my project
  • began interviewing individuals over Zoom
  • and shared updates with my research advisor at VTS

Simple Pleasures

  • The beauty of the bilingual mass I attended with other teachers at my school this past week, and Francisco the cat, who was determined to distract me from it
  • The grasshopper I saw munching on a yellow flower in Rock Creek park
  • Riding bikes with a friend through the National Arboretum (in spite of coming home to an untimely sunburn)
  • Guessing people’s nationalities by eavesdropping on the National Mall
  • Learning to make smores in my toaster oven
  • Praying with D.C. Anacostia residents as we gave away groceries with Wounded No More

What I’m praying for:

How you can pray for me:

  • Please pray for continued health and protection as small groups of students begin coming back to school on October 12th
  • Please continue to pray for financial freedom!
    • As the school year started, several tutoring jobs I had taken on dissipated. I have understood this to be a response to a prayer I had prayed asking whether God wanted me to pursue tutoring as a vehicle for financial provision. Prior to these jobs ending, I had been sensing that my schedule might not be able to handle the strain of additional work, and God answered my question by closing that door. Praise God, who will find another way to provide.
    • As of today, I am still planning to apply for scholarships in order to pay for seminary. I am sensing an invitation from God to apply to one scholarship primarily, but it feels like a risk to apply for less. Please pray that God will give me discernment in which scholarships to apply for and confirm or deny this impression, so that I will not waste any energy and time (which is in short supply these days).
  • Please pray for an ongoing issue I have with a medical bill. Last year amidst great emotional turmoil and due to a toxic workplace culture at my previous school, I received counseling services at Christian counseling organization. Due to misinformation and miscommunication that this organization has denied to take accountability for, there has been an ongoing dispute between the two health insurances I had at the time (since May). After speaking with the insurance companies, both are cooperative and willing to work together to cover the bill, but this provider is unwilling to submit the claim due to a technicality (despite being invited to by the insurance companies on various occasions). The provider is trying to demand that I cover the bill out of pocket, which is not a financial possibility at the moment. Please pray that God would send a quick solution to this problem, which has already consumed so much of my time and energy.

Looking Ahead

As September draws to a close and many students return back to school, I am excited to meet many of my students in person! In many ways, it’s been a crazy-making, fruitful, and unexpected start to the school year. I pray that whether my students are together or apart, whether school plans stay the same or change, we continue to focus on God and the finished work of the cross.

Take care,

Haley

Classroom Design 2020: Stirring up the Peace of God

As I’ve been preparing to welcome small groups of students back come Mid-October, I’ve been as intentional as possible to create a calming classroom space. Here are some elements I’ve chosen to include to develop that kind of atmosphere for my students.

As many plants as possible

With the help of a handful of donors, some local Facebook groups related to plants, and more, I’ve been able to secure about 10 plants to grace the tops of my bookshelves. As COVID-19 has made the prospect of students’ sharing printed books more daunting, it is much more likely students will be reading books on websites like Kids A-Z. With fewer books on display and greater mental/emotional strain on both students and teachers, my plants have become a priority.

With a toy brontosaurus guarding our ivy and the leaves of the golden pothos trailing the floor, we are more than ready for students to develop their stewardship through plant care.
I am have added this light-changing essential oil diffuser with the hope that when students are overwhelmed, allowing themselves to be captivated by the calming lights will help them feel centered. Please pardon the spilled mulch. 🙂
Year after year, students have loved planting seeds in the soil of this terrarium, watching seedlings grow roots, and gradually tending them.

Scripture on the Walls

May our students be captivated with wonder for the beauty of God’s word! In order that they will love the Lord with all of hearts, souls, strength, and entire beings, love to share verses on the walls. In addition to teaching about God in conventional and unconventional times of day, Deuteronomy 6:9 advocates for “writ[ing] them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”. With two posters of verses from the Psalms, one from Jeremiah, and another from Hebrews, I hope that these verses will lead my students into productive day dreaming about the majesty of God.

These books are a reflection of my three focus areas for this year: faith, nations, and the natural world.
Verses from Hebrews and Jeremiah guarding the going in and coming out of our storage closet.

Focus on the Nations

This year, I’ve sensed such a real opportunity to teach my students to pray in intercession for the nations. I’m hoping to use National Geographic Kids country profiles and other resources from Kids A-Z to focus on 2-3 nations per week, teaching several facts about each as we intercede for them in prayer each morning. Just as I want my students to internalize their responsibility to steward the Earth through plant care, I hope that they will internalize a responsibility for the nations and Church worldwide through prayer.

With God’s favor, I found this complete puzzle for free on a curb in our neighborhood! Not even a piece was missing, and several students and staff in the building were able to take a brain break from their tasks to help me construct it.

What next?

While our control might be limited as to the contexts of teaching and learning, it has been obvious from our first month of digital instruction that the students are still learning! Some students who even struggle to remain focused in a 20 person classroom have even benefited especially from learning at home. As we learn new ways of being together, accepting that there may be a time to refrain from embracing, we can celebrate knowing that again there will be a season where we can enjoy learning in person.

My favorite children’s book (that features illustrations with art from around the globe) has a timely word for this season.

Designing a Coronavirus Compliant Classroom

Starting a new job this year has been nothing if not eventful. But after a warm welcome and a week of meeting my colleagues, I was finally in my classroom! The bare walls and open floor plan cried out, “So…what about coronavirus?”

At this point, nearly every active teacher in America has been reflecting on the CDC’s classroom coronavirus recommendations. In order to design a healthy, sustainable space (and before moving in all of my teaching supplies), this was the challenge:

  • Desks should be spaced 6+ feet apart
  • There should be only one line of traffic to the cubby closet (like a loop)
  • Most previously shared materials needed to be placed in small kits for individual use
  • Students should not be facing directly opposite one another
  • There should be plenty of sanitizing products and masks available for use

I am happy to say that my school has been nothing but supportive in supplying masks, that we have more than enough school supplies to design individual kits, and that most high traffic areas of the classroom are relatively easily to label. As an independent school with just under 220 students and 25 teachers, creating cohorts of 9-10 students to attend school biweekly was comparatively simple.

But what about student seating?

Now it was time for math. With large measuring tape, a set of 1 inch graph paper, a ruler, protractor, and writing tools, I began creating a model of my classroom.

First, I took measurements of my classroom with a tape measure. Ultimately I learned that the classroom was 22 x 29 ft, which is considerably larger than many of the classrooms of my colleagues across D.C..

Next, I used 1 inch x 1 inch graph paper to construct a model of my classroom. Scaling my model to 1 inch = 1 foot, my model became 22 in x 29 in. I then created scale models of the trapezoid tables (2.5 ft x 5 ft x 2.5 ft x 2.5ft) we have (using a tape measure for length and width, and a protractor to determine that the corners of the tables were 60 degree angles). Important stuff.

Third, I played around with the trapezoid table construction paper pieces until I was certain that atleast 5 feet was between each of my students (in this model, lovingly portrayed as glue sticks. Because I’m hilarious, I represented myself as largest glue stick. I even drew a little smile on the lid with sharpie).

At this point I gave myself over to humor and created bookshelves, scale models of my rugs, and labeled the exits and entrances. With a little feedback from my vice principal, we settled on this tentative design.

Ultimately, by the end of this activity I felt like I was designing a doll house, and any concerns I had had about coronavirus were considerably relaxed.

While coronavirus is intimidating, I feel confident that we have what it takes to have a wonderful, safe school year. While the small size of my school, the cohesion of the staff, and the wisdom of our leaders has made it so that this current classroom design fits coronavirus guidelines, most people’s schools probably won’t make drastic changes. Especially for the neighborhood I work in, which is a coronavirus hotspot for D.C., I sincerely hope that parents, school leaders, policy makers, and politicians keep these limitations in mind in making informed decisions for the public good. Project accomplished! And yes, I will still be keeping all these cut outs to tinker with for when and if plans change.

If you know a teacher who would benefit from designing a coronavirus-friendly classroom, feel free to share this idea! You can download the graph paper template I used here.

Last of all, if anyone has technical expertise in creating apps, I can’t tell you how many teachers around the world would probably benefit from a classroom design app that is pre-loaded with the CDC’s classroom environment guidelines. If there was ever a time for app designers to serve educators, now would be great!

In my next post, I will be exploring how I have repurposed classroom shelves (which are now empty of shared student materials) to create a verdant, tranquil space.

Until next time,

Haley

Nearly Nine Months of Trusting God

God’s faithfulness to me this past year in providing answered prayer cannot be understated. Here is a brief summary of how God met me in my convictions and used obedience for radical change.

October 2019: Decided that I would be leaving my previous District of Columbia Public Schools teaching context. I did not know it at the time, but this would eventually lead to transitioning into a religious education context.

November 2019: Ending a relationship

December 2019: Applying for Virginia Theological Seminary to pursue a Doctorate of Educational Leadership in Educational Ministry, Moving into a new apartment.

January 2020: Starting to search for a new job (for the following school year).

February 2020: Accepted into seminary! Various ongoing health struggles due largely to chronic, work-related stress.

March 2020: Coronavirus closes down schools. FINALLY getting a chance to emotionally and physically rest (quarantine was an answer to prayer)!

April 2020: Starting Spring/Summer coursework for seminary.

May 2020: Distance Learning in full swing.

June 2020: Getting off dating apps for good! Deeper levels of surrender with job searching.

July 2020: Finally finding my current job, teaching 3rd and 4th grade all subjects at a bilingual Catholic school in my neighborhood. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would include starting every day in prayer and helping design curriculum to teach about the Holy Trinity and the gospel. Major budget overhaul! Committing to online training through Global Celebration School of Supernatural Ministry (GCSSM). Securing my principal’s support for a 9 month long contextual study on the history and culture of my school, thereby positioning myself to learn many things about school leadership.

August 2020: Starting my new job, finishing up final papers for summer seminary coursework, and beginning to find more tutoring jobs for supplemental income.

Praise God for his faithfulness this past year! I am excited to see what God will do next. One area I am trusting him for in faith is by providing income for me to pay my seminary tuition for this coming year (about $6000 due in May 2021-August 2021). I am believing that God will remove this obstacle because as it says in James 5:16, “the prayers of the righteous availeth much”.

In order to offset these costs, please join me in praying that I will find:

  1. High paying tutoring jobs
  2. Scholarships

Due to the fast-paced nature of this season of life, I am planning to write a monthly newsletter to ask for prayer and share important updates. If you are interested in signing up to receive updates, you can sign up below!

Finally, “(May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Until next time,

Haley

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