Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 'isms

In the spirit of the New Year, and as if it's already the season of Lent, I've decided I'm giving up 'isms' in 2013.




And any other 'ism you can think of that promotes passivity and resistance.  And hate.  I hate Hate.  I think passivity and resistance together is lethal.  Instead, 2013 is a good year to think critically, question those in-charge, and mostly, keep people with these -isms at a distance.  In the wake of the aftermath from 2012 - a year of many good things, sprinkled with substantive struggle for a lot of us,  I still believe that the propensities for human goodness is everywhere.

So long 'isms.  If we meet again, I'll work my damnedest to get rid of you.

I'll be seeing more of you this year Peace, Altruism, Resiliency, and Compassion.  Happy New Year to my devoted and loving husband, and my spirited children!

[I said goodbye to my hair in 2012 and donated those locks to Pantene - a great way to lighten up for the New Year . . . ]

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Time to Plot

Winter vacation.  Just the time for plotting and planning the places I want to climb, and the means to get me there.  I spent a good part of this morning looking at the front covers of these guidebooks . . .

Instead of thinking about the means, I reminisced instead and thought about all the climbs I've done in some of these places and why I want to go back.  Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota have interesting terrain, but the real reason I want to climb there again is because I have such vivid memories spending time with people I adore and trust.  And I wouldn't mind getting back on some of the classic climbs I feel I made my personal mark on.  

I couldn't find the guidebook for Shelf Road or Clear Creek Canyon, but those are two areas where I would go back to in a heartbeat.  Plus, I have some unfinished business there.  Hueco and Rocktown and other places down south are top on my list if only I could convince myself and my bank account that quick weekend trips might be all I could manage at this point in my life.  

I love guidebooks!  

And I love winter vacation because some of my best scheming comes from this down-time.  Aside from  thinking about climbing, family trips, and weekend outings, there's also that marathon I'm running in June.  

I almost forgot about that.  

I love vacation, guidebooks, and plotting!  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

To Be Catholic

I've gone the cycles of wrestling and reconciling being a Catholic most of my life, and I admit that it's a hard thing to escape.   I've practiced the rituals and spiritual traditions of this faith for so long, I feel bound to it - like I have a responsibility to it, like I have a stake in being Catholic.

Frankly, I feel Catholic.  I really do.  My parents are Catholic, most all my Chamorro relatives are, and there's a huge world population that identifies with being Catholic.  When I had Misa and John-Pio, it was without question that they would be raised in the Catholic church, and currently, I've lived up to my self-induced responsibility from both a family and cultural standpoint.  They attend catechism every Sunday, we make the sign of the cross before and after prayer, and they identify themselves as "Chamorro Catholics."  In fact, they are so close to their godparents whom they refer to as "Uncle Nino," and "Auntie Nina," that they might have forgotten that their first names are actually Geri and Peter.   Their experiences have led them towards a belief in what Catholics believe, and attention to how Catholics practice.

I'm proud of how my kids have been influenced as Catholics, but more than that, I'm proud to raise them to be discerning and thoughtful about how they go about living out their spiritual and religious lives.  It can be such a hard line to tow these days here in Madison, especially because Bishop Morlino and I have never seen eye to eye, and I've been discouraged and outraged by his recent call to dismiss and punish the good works of others.  I'm not so shallow as to let this represent all of what it means to be Catholic, as actions and decisions by the religious have long had an effect on my conscience.  Admittedly though, Bishop Morlino leaves a bad feeling in my being.

I could not fake the season of Christmas without being open regarding this latest issue with Bishop Morlino.  I didn't want to go through a mass with him celebrating, and I was plotting the church we would attend for Christmas mass based on where he was not.  Frankly, for the past few weeks, I was feeling cynical and angry.  And one thing I know about these two emotions is that when I go there, I have to consciously wage that battle with myself to push through and out of it.

Over dinner one night a few weeks ago, I brought up the work being done by Wisdom Well . We looked at their website together and I shared about the retreat experiences I had with them when I first moved to Madison.  Then I shared the story published in the newspaper about Bishop Morlino's admonition against them.  Our discussion was frank and instructive, and closed with my personal sentiments about his decision and why I believe what he has decided was wrong and is still wrong.

And that was that.  I breathed a little easier.  My cynicism and anger lifted.  My kids chocked up another contribution to their developing consciousness.

I still didn't feel like going to a Christmas mass where he was celebrating.  So we went to another Catholic church on the isthmus with an amazing choir filled with harmonic and angelic sounds.  It followed all the goodness from the morning surprises and laughter of delight, and was especially heightened when, in the middle of the service, John-Pio leaned over to whisper in my ear, "This is really quite a fun mass, Mama."

That was just the boost I needed to feel Catholic all over again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Following Up

Days have passed and I'm still thinking about the people of Newtown, CT.  Some thoughts as Brad and I were talking  . . .

1) I want an assault weapons ban
2) I want a background check and waiting period before buying a gun
3) I want mandatory training for handgun safety
4) I want ammunition controls
5) I want government monitoring on large gun purchases like they do for fertilizer and black gun powder, now)
6) I want incentives to turn in weapons when the owners die
7) I want mental health monitoring
8) I want funds for mental health outreach programs
9) I want to find the loners, and I want people to help report loners
10) I want people to be brave and confident to be part of a "see something, say something" program

In all, I want us to make the gun culture uncool.  Use advertising, media and pop culture to stamp it into people's minds that guns are uncool.

That's what's on my mind.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I didn't feel the heaviness until I actually entered my classroom.  We kept the same routines and scheduled and saved time later in the day to talk about about the loss of 20 children and 7 adults and how Newtown, CT is changed forever.  

I believe it's safe to say we are all changed.

Heavy sigh.

One of our students sobbed while we showed the CNN video which was a lesson designed for students as a way to talk about the tragedy.  So visibly heartbroken, this young adolescent exclaimed:  "I don't want to talk or see or think about this anymore."  

A parent called and the first thing he said was, "Hey Ms. Naputi.  How are you holding up?  How are all you teachers doing there?"  That lump in my throat - the one I carried as I walked into the class, returned.  I heard it said that the blood relatives of kindness are compassion and consideration.  I certainly felt that from this parent.

And from all our students on our team - I felt their heaviness and saw their faces when we showed the slideshow of those sweet lovely children.

I'm exhausted today, but I'm going to rally.  Tomorrow is a new day with renewed hope and optimism that our nation is going to get better - I won't bring up the issues now because I'm still grieving and thinking about the children, the teachers, the school psychologist and the principal.  I'm still praying for the families and the community of Newtown.  But soon, I will write what I believe must be done so that this horrific event is never, ever repeated.  Ever again.  Ever.

Blessings to us all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December Highlights Already

I only noticed that November flew by because I couldn't wait for December.  Here are the highlights three days into the month . . .

My mom came for a quick weekend visit, with my nephew Erin as her escort.  It had been at least two years since her last visit, and since 2002 for Erin's.  With all the unique restaurants we have in Madison, we ended up taking her to bars.  She's a good sport.  Erin is my oldest nephew and for the first time, I felt like a true Auntie.  I think it's because he's now 30 and I have such strong memories of all my aunties from both sides of the family (Auntie Chai, Auntie Ana, Auntie Mary, Auntie Lou, Auntie Chai Duenas, Auntie Ella, Auntie Liz, Auntie Annie, Auntie Mary Paulino . . . ) who I've always respected and adored for select reasons.  I just feel like an "elder Auntie."  The time is now right?

Boulders celebrated its 16-year anniversary.  It was fun to share an important part of our life with my mom and Erin.  I'm proud of the journey Brad and I have chosen to take, and I'm happy that we could celebrate with so many nice people.

Misa only has three more plays left to perform and lordy lordy I'm counting them down.  She had a Sunday performance at the Barrymore Theater and it was special to see Annie & Stanley, Molly & Claire, my brother, Ruth, Chris and Daniel, and Stacey - all come out to see Misa's play.  I love my friends and family.

I registered for the Grandma's Marathon June 22nd.  

I have been thinking more and more about my plan to cut my hair off for a donation.  Stay tuned for details, I can't decide if it'll be before or after winter break.  I may have to put the question out to my students.

My mom and Erin left and I cried.  I miss them already.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Confiscated Notebook

I have three large files of notes written by middle schoolers that I've either confiscated or found.  Some hilarious and entertaining, a few informative, a dozen or so insightful, and several just outright mean. I saved them all, even the stupid ones. Lets face it, it's the most awkward time of a young person's life and writing notes serves a purposeful outlet.

There's something timeless about writing notes on loose-leaf paper and thoughtlessly or slyly passing it during instruction, hoping it makes it into the right hands.  Bored or distracted - it doesn't really matter, the fact is, adolescents record every detail going on in their brain. That much hasn't changed.

I grew up in the 70's when a foldable (that fancy way of folding notebook paper with a pull-tab) was almost as important as the content itself. I wrote about my parents, songs, teachers, cute boys, and what was happening after school or on the weekend.  I'd be embarrassed and amused if someone were to scrounge up an old note written by me.  I mean seriously, that's what middle schoolers do - they dump their every last thought onto a piece of paper for someone else to read.

Nowadays, notes still have some timeless qualities: written on crumpled up looseleaf paper with intimate details passed during the most inappropriate times.  As some things stay the same, there have been noticeable changes too.  I'm now collecting whole notebooks,  and instead of writing out of boredom, student notes are dotted with angst and cynicism.  There's a lot more graphic thoughts about sex and love, too.  And recently, I collected a "That Moment . . . " notebook, which is what I want to share here - a snapshot of one 12-year-old's mind fresh off her desk during academic instruction.

See for yourself how times have changed.

 photo 3-2 photo 4-1 photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indoors and Out

I could get used to two long weekends in a row. After spending most of our time indoors, we were happy to be outside in the Arboretum - our city gem of woods, prairie and wetlands, gardens and almost always wild turkeys and sometimes a hawk.  I love this place so much.

It's easy to get the kids outside, something I've always wanted them to value as much as me and Brad do.  So when being indoors playing games, watching TV, reading or making art gets way too comfortable, all I have to say is three words and they are quick to move - Nature Deficit Disorder - something I exposed them to long ago even when I knew they didn't understand even each word in isolation and a term I know explains only part of the problem.  These days though, we talk and read about things that contribute to healthy lives, and emphasize the significance of being part of the natural world.  That seems to go a long way for now.

Here's a little clip I made after discovering the Vimeo app on my phone. The kids and I put this together pretty quickly!

Thanksgiving Weekend - a good way to end a restful and wonderful weekend with family and friends.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Honest Thanksgiving

Misa . . . Misa . . . Misa.

I value direct and intentional thoughts.  Can't seem to get away from them in fact.  Yesterday morning for example, Misa asked, "Are you gonna color your hair again?  Someday?"  A slight hint of hopefulness in her voice, but mostly pretty unemotional.  Last night it was "Um. Mama?  If the word nincompoop means stupid, is it still okay to use it?   Cause I really like that word."  And this afternoon while at the Asian market it was, "No offense to you Mama, but this area of the store smells like Barty."  (Barty is my dad's dog.)

This morning though, this morning's first thought by Misa represented more than just a kid being direct and intentional.   Rolling over after ending up in my sleeping area, Misa stretched her arms slow and wide as she cuddled nudging her head under my neck, and said,

"Happy Thanksgiving Mama.  I'm thankful for your and Daddy's relationship."

At the end of this day, I'm thankful that I have a daughter who is direct, intentional and honest, because that expression of thanks is one I will hold close to my heart, mind, and soul forever.  I am so thankful for a full life of family and friends, for blessings, for my job, and for Brad - The Love of My Life.

(And for the record, I've been letting my hair grow out and get back to its natural color - grays and all, because before December 31st, I'm cutting it off and donating this mane.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Future Elections

Misa's question in the middle of the night (as John-Pio experienced a bout of the stomach flu, poor boy) was whether Barack Obama won. That was the last thing on her mind before drifting off and the first when awake.

President Obama is our president for four more years!

During breakfast this morning we calculated the number of years it'll be before they can fully participate in the presidential election process and vote.  This is what we wrote down:

Emma - 2016, 21 years old

Misa - 2024, 21 years old

John-Pio - 2024, 19 years old

By the time all three kids combined are of voting age, twelve years will have passed and I will be 60. Time will fly, that much I know for sure. In the meantime, I stand optimistic that President Obama can help restore a sense of civility to the public order and that my kids will continue to grow in their enthusiasm as they await their turn to vote for a president.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thoughts on Leaders

There is no doubt that the presidential election is on everyone's mind - in fact, my household, my kids schools, and my own school will all be participating in the election process over the next few days.  As the Leadership and Identity unit nears an end in my classroom, I'm hopeful that my students increased awareness about leadership qualities and actions lives on in their own lives.  If there's one thing I've learned from this teaching experience, it's that my students appear eager to lead.  And not only lead, but serve, too.  A person who marks this territory - leadership and service - with intelligence and humility, is one of my closest friends, Suzi Lee.  Here she shares her thoughts on leaders, and poses a question in the end.

One of the things I love about the English language is its subtlety. Words are similar and different by shades. One example is the word leader.

A leader can be minimally defined as someone who guides or conducts. But how do leaders differ from teachers, mentors, or role models?

To me, all are intertwined. A true leader teaches and inspires, encourages and challenges, and sets a high standard for others.

I have found that independent of title or role, great leaders share two common traits 1) self-awareness of their strengths and 2) ability to bring out the strengths in those they guide. Acknowledging your own strengths is something that too few people, especially women are encouraged to do. It’s not boastful or false to know what you are good at and to pursue it with passion.

Thus, people can be natural born leaders or develop their leadership skills over time. Their strengths can be intellectual, physical, emotional or a combination. The way the leader uses these strengths is how they are unique. A common example of this is how a teacher, whose main strength is often assumed to be intellectual, is instead remembered for their emotional connection with students.

Another important point is that since a great leader uses their strengths, leaders do not have to lead in all aspects of their lives. The president of a company may excel at managing large teams but be unable to teach on a one-to-one basis.

What are your strengths?  How could you use them to make a difference?

Suzi loves spending her time with family, friends and working as a cancer researcher. She is especially excited when family and friends join her climbing, biking, or just come over for dinner.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Growing into a Leader

Thankfully, leaders and future leaders today live right in my classroom at Sherman Middle School.  For this semester, my teaching partners and I wrote curriculum to coincide with the presidential election, focusing intently on leadership qualities and actions.  Students have been analyzing political, historical and pop culture figures to help them explore and answer essential questions related to leadership.   When I started thinking about people I wanted to talk to about leadership, a few came to mind right away.  One of them was Kelsey Livingston - someone I’ve known for a very long time and someone I observed make a mark on the world in more ways than one.  When I shared Kelsey’s piece with my class, they were engaged and curious about her work not only as a professional but as someone who exemplified particular leadership qualities and actions they have been studying.  Here, Kelsey taps into real-world applications to life and the world of work as she shares her ideas about leadership.  Enjoy!

When I was younger, I would have described a good leader as “in charge,” “having a plan,” “giving direction,” and “disciplined.”  I felt sure I was quite a good leader—as my family and friends will tell you, I am quite good at having a plan and giving other people things to do!

It turns out, though, that as I’ve aged my definition changed substantially. Here are some leadership characteristics that I have grown to value:

·      A leader takes initiative and recruits others. Many people become leaders unintentionally by identifying a problem or project that no one else seems to be addressing.  When a leader sees this kind of void in leadership, she or he steps up to fill it and starts taking action, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable.  Often, this involves recruiting others to join in the cause.  Rarely does one person have all the skills and connections to finish a project or address a problem themselves—it usually requires a team to achieve a goal.  A talented leader can help gather that team and harness their work.

·      A leader provides a framework and goals. The best leaders provide a structure that values the skills and the time of their teammates. Good leaders communicate to set expectations, provide benchmarks, and help the group get to know each other. By setting measurable goals, the team has something to aim towards, and they feel their time and input is valued.  A leader does not always need to create the framework and goals unilaterally, but suggesting these structures where they are otherwise lacking is valuable.

·      A leader listens and facilitates.  By definition, a leader has a lot of power.  When you are seen as the leader of the group, it’s easy to use your power to emphasize your own ideas.  I find that the best leaders don’t start a conversation by sharing their solutions—they step back and let their teammates share. They help to facilitate the conversation by explaining the project, setting a goal, summarizing ideas, and trying to draw the team to consensus.  Sometimes, it helps to mentally keep track of who has spoken, to be sure that everyone is given the opportunity to share. Leaders certainly share their own ideas, but their goal should always to find the best outcome regardless of the source.

·      A leader recognizes teammates’ contributions.  To become a leader in your group, think about how you can enable others. Talk with other members of the group, and get a sense for their interests and personalities. What skills do they have?  How can they contribute to the goal?  Try to work together to find things they’re excited about taking on, rather than just assigning them tasks.  And celebrate successes!  For example, if you notice a teammate who doesn’t typically speak up offer a good suggestion, consider writing him a note afterwards, or just saying in the moment, “That was a great idea!”  Don’t be afraid to be silly or over the top in your recognition of individual or team achievements.

·      A leader takes feedback well.  I went to graduate school to study the creation of interactive games and experiences. One of the most important lessons from this experience was to take feedback well.  During the in-process reviews, the professors gave feedback in front of the whole class.  Frankly, the people who looked most small-minded and defensive were the people who argued with the feedback and tried to justify their approach.  The ones who looked the most graceful and confident were those who listened politely and who said, “We’ll think about that. Thanks for your idea.”  This is not to say that you always have to believe or do what people tell you, but that learning to listen attentively and thoughtfully to other people when they are suggesting improvements to your work is both hard and important.

·      A leader chips in. There’s a poem I like called To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy.  She says, “I want to be with people who submerge /in the task, who go into the fields to harvest /and work in a row and pass the bags along, / who are not parlor generals and field deserters / but move in a common rhythm / when the food must come in or the fire be put out.”  A leader is the first to volunteer and is not afraid of the jobs that no one else will do.

·      A leader is fun! and the important and related A leader is not afraid to look silly.   There’s an episode of This American Life where Ira Glass interviews Cole Lindbergh, a 20 year old leader of the games division of an amusement park.  Cole motivates hundreds of teenagers who work for him by creating competition brackets, writing motivational songs, and directing music videos with his employees.  Winning employees get to throw him in the lake!  Needless to say, they love him.   Check it out:

To be honest, I have probably grown to value these qualities most in a leader because many of them do not come naturally to me.  It’s important for leaders to know their own strengths and weaknesses, and to value diversity in approach from other leaders.  As a leader, don’t forget to ask yourself, “How can I improve?” and “How can we do this better?” The best leaders I know are constantly learning, growing, and changing the ways they lead.

Kelsey is an organizer of diverse people in creative endeavors. At work, she is an Interactive Project Manager with Cortina Productions, creating games and touch-screen experiences for museums that excite people about learning.  Elsewhere, she enjoys travel, coding, theater, and trying new foods. It should also be noted that she makes a mean chess pie.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Life has been blending into a mix of everything good which makes me refer to my favorite quote,

You must act as if it is impossible to fail. 

That personal mantra has guided some of the most mundane decisions and moments for me lately.  Now when I say mundane, I'm talking about schedules and dinners, finances and everyday decisions that range from disciplining my kids to walking the talk with them and communicating that fine line it takes to create action at home, work, personally, and in the community.   I'm referring to the days when three kids need to be in three different places at the same time, and when the only way to make it work is to give in and say, "One of you is gonna be late."  I'm talking about uneaten lunches made with love and careful picking, and school papers that get returned a day later than the due date.  I'm thinking about the calendars that don't sync and the broken dishwasher and the thought I have from the corner of my brain that says, "We can do without," only to be hit by my conscience every time I don't bother to fill the double sink with soap and rinse water.  

I am trying to run a life that does not fail, and so everyday I proceed as if it is impossible to fail.  And even when I do, I know I'm personally not a failure;  I don't treat myself like a failure - I simply move on, turn my optimism on and appreciate the blend of this rich and busy life I'm living (and loving).  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nine Years Old

It started with last minute invitations sent out five days before today. Anticipation and energy fueled this day making it a perfect welcome to being 9-years-old.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Teenagers See it This Way

When I showed the short film, "The Girl Who Hated Books," I didn't expect the tangent I got.  Interested in student voice - an actual professional goal of mine this year, I let the discussion drift from my learning objective to something that turned into this free-flow conversation among the students in my literacy class.

Originally, I thought I'd show the film so we could analyze aspects of independent films.   Little did I expect that the analysis would target a socio-emotional part of the film rather than the art, animation, and purpose.  The thing that stood out to one student ended up resonating for a few more, then a few more, and before I knew it, students were in groups writing down the things parents do that annoy them.

We got there because the students agreed that the reason the main character, Meena, hated books was because her parents' intense affinity for books and reading, was at the expense of giving attention to Meena.  You'll have to watch the film yourself to determine why my students felt this way.

The Girl Who Hated Books by Jo Meuris, National Film Board of Canada

So in the spirit of student voice, here is how they expressed the part of the film that spoke to them most.  Teenage brains work in interesting ways.  Here's what you get.

Top things parents do that confuse or annoy their kid:

1.  They don't listen to our words, just to the way we say something.
2.  Make us get the thing they are capable of getting themselves (a drink of water, for example).
3.  Ask us the same question twice before we can even think of a response to it the first time.
4.  Ask too many "thin" questions.
5.  Wants us to do 4 things at once.
6.  They want us to be independent but then are overprotective.
7.  Getting a sermon after asking a simple question.
8.  When parents think we are texting the opposite sex when we don't even want a boy or girlfriend.
9.  When parents fight and bring their kid into it and then we feel blamed for their fight.
10.  When they say you're too young for this or too old for that (going Trick-or-treating, wearing a costume . . . ) but in our mind, we are just kids.
11. Parents can't be wrong even though they tell us to learn from their mistakes.
12.  We fight.  Two minutes later they say, "I love you," and are surprised when they don't get the same thing back.  We take long to forgive.
13.  Using big words to make a point.
14.  Quick mood changes.
15.  When they talk to my friends.  Seriously, my friends don't know what to say back.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

And How Did Your Week Go?

Adolescence: A period of storm and stress.

Duh, right?

This was evident in the yellow notebook I intercepted filled with entries written by a girl having a relationship with a really cute boy. It occurred to me that the relationship part was imaginary - completely fictional - though in tone, a bit hopeful.  The rest of her characters were not fictional ones at all.  They were students in my class, and her mixed thoughts were indicative of her fantasies and reality as she sees it.  Other than that content, most of her writing was formatted like journal entries, about the boring teacher, the dumb girl she can't stand, and how painful it was when someone stepped on her toe.  

The one and only low point of the week came when this picture was collected after a student reported a  kid drawing "disgusting pictures".   So tell me, was your week punctuated with this kind of nonsense?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Playing off of numbers is one way to get it done. A few years ago, in order to keep a consistent running schedule I started collecting miles that represent ages. If a friend or family member had a birthday, I would run miles for them - it kept me engaged and positive to know I was racking it up with them in mind. I'm going to start that again after December.

Today I set my alarm an hour earlier to do a 10-minute plank hold, 11 sets of 11 push-ups, and 12 pull-ups. That's because yesterday Misa said, "Mama you should do THIS challenge since tomorrow is 10-11-12. Then we started planning my 12-12-12 Challenge . . .

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can I "relate?"

Of the many beautiful things about teaching in public schools is that students are learning in integrated classrooms where diversity isn't feared, but embraced.  Teachers I know engage diverse classrooms in real-world applications, with student-centered instruction driven by problem-solving and sound decision making.  For English Language Learners, this kind of academic instruction often challenges them in ways we are only beginning to systematically address.  Rachel Clausen reminds us that the real guts of teaching in a school with a growing Latino population lies in the relationships we build with them and the friendships we encourage and foster between them.  Not only that - Rachel also emphasizes the idea that focusing on similarities rather than differences goes a long way towards "relating." Enjoy Rachel's authentic voice!  

“Es más cómo nuestra tía, maestra Clausen.  Le vamos a llamar tía.”  (“You are more like our aunt, Miss Clausen.  We are going to call you aunt.”)

I fondly remember a recent conversation when a small group of young Latino students I worked with decided amongst themselves that they were going to give me the nickname “aunt,” rather than merely teacher.  Here I was, a young white female working closely with Latino students, finding myself bonded to them in ways that culture, race, or experience could not explain.  If anything, my background in comparison to that of this group of young people could have created boundaries between us, but for reasons I am still discovering it brought us together and created bridges, and continues to on many levels.

Undeniably, it is invaluable to have role models for young people that can identify with them from a cultural, racial, or experiential standpoint.  Especially for students of color, those more obvious connections like being of the same race or having a common native language can create an immediate bond, opportunity for influence, and often deeper level of respect between students and school staff.  Students are able to see and hopefully hear from adults who have overcome many of the obstacles they may face in their education.  Such inspiration is necessary for so many of our students who too often hear negative messages about what their future holds.  To reiterate, having role models that can directly identify with students is irreplaceable.

However, being in a position where many of the students and families I work with may not appear to be “like me,” I have found there is a necessary effort to be made on behalf of the educator or service provider to build trust, foster respect, and hopefully build connections that go beyond the typical denominators we see in most relationships.  In my case, that starts with acknowledging that maybe I can’t “relate” to many of the experiences our Latino ELL’s (English language learners) have had.  I have never had to move permanently to a foreign country and completely unfamiliar culture.  I have never felt the pressure of learning a new language in order to function in my everyday surroundings.  I have never had to interpret for my parents, even while still unsure of myself of what I was hearing and/or saying, merely because I knew more of the language than they did.  I have never known what it was like to see some of my beloved family members leave me suddenly due to the immediate threat of deportation.   The list goes on…

 Nevertheless, I cannot afford to keep my focus on our differences alone.  I can acknowledge and appreciate our differences, but I have to also recognize the common ground we stand on, and incorporate this into my work with Latino ELL’s (and their families).  After all, we share a common love for the Spanish language and incredibly diverse Latino cultures.  We share a common desire to excel, as these are students often have an untouched desire to succeed and defy many statistics confronting their ethnicity.  We share a deep-seeded value of family and recognize that, when the “going gets tough,” family is really at the core of what we have and who we are.  We often share a heavy reliance on our faith and belief in the virtue of perseverance.   We share a desire to feel important for who we are, and where we come from.

When I combine both the appreciation of our differences and recognition of our similarities, something pretty amazing starts to happen in my work with both Latino students and their families: we begin to converse from a mutual foundation of honor and respect.  We begin to laugh together at experiences we’ve both had at misspeaking in one another’s language.  We begin to choose to learn from one another rather than avoid the unknown.  We begin to make the other person feel valuable for what they add to our lives.  We begin to form trust, new levels of communication, and bridges that would not otherwise be there.  What ends up happening, is we find the ability to “relate,” so much so that I guess you could say we can almost become “relate”-ives.  Or so my sobrinos (nieces and nephews) have told me.

Rachel Clausen is a Bilingual Resource Specialist at Sherman Middle School, where she supports Spanish-speaking English language learners and their families.  Outside of school, Rachel can be found mentoring Madison area teens through 12:11 youth ministries, volunteering at her church, watching Badger sporting events, and spending as much time as she with her husband and daughter.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pedagogy Buzz

Pedagogy has been a buzz word in education for as long as I've been conscious of my practice.  To know and understand how something is taught, and how students come to learn it - is, in a word, teaching.  I barely used the word over the past decade even though every one else has.  I guess I never needed a substitute word for what I inherently understood teaching to be:  an art, a practice, an ability, always changing and evolving.


This past summer I was part of the Hip Hop in the Heartland Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where educators and community leaders together learned the best practices in hip hop and spoken word pedagogy.

Pedagogy.  That word again.

This time though, pedagogy penetrated me like a blazing sun.  My time in the Institute brought all my years in the hood of National City, CA to the forefront.  During this short one-week frame, I recounted my memories of soul music, cruising Highland Avenue cool as can be crazy over the ostentatious show of low riders and antique cars, fashionable starched cuffed Levi 501's and baggy khaki chinos, block and neighborhood house parties.   National City raised us to believe it wasn't a big deal to be smart - everyone in the Granger and Sweetwater schools were just who we were - smart and cool without pretense, and mixing in with true diverse homies of the time as both friends and teammates integral to the NC pride.  That's something neighborhoods and schools north of us just didn't relate to - we were too far south, too close to the Tijuana border, too Brown and Black, too "ghetto."  Writing and coming together as a community of writers and thinkers invested in the art of urban pedagogy provided the open conduit for the latent oxygen to flow a bit more smoothly and effortlessly in me - able to acknowledge and face where I came  from, and do so in a safe and supportive environment where most others were doing the same.

I want to write more about this institute - particularly, Hip Hop pedagogy.  I'll save it for a next professional development post after I spend some time exploring with my current students their voices and realities.  For now, suffice it to say that pedagogy is more than just a buzz word in the field of education.  Particularly in the lives of teachers teaching urban youth, the efforts to take on complex issues affecting the lives of adolescents who themselves must find pathways to learn and understand their identity, is an art, a practice, an ability - always dynamic and always evolving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bilingual Education: A Philosophy or A Way of Life

Bilingual education is a hot topic in the spheres of education.  While various camps have questioned the effectiveness of it, most educators I know agree that not only is bilingual education fair and necessary, but bicultural education is a significant part of an English Language Learner's (ELL) life at school.  Shannon Longworth discusses the roles educators play as ELL teachers, along with the role of a student in bilingual education class.  On a personal level, I know Shannon as both a dedicated and intelligent educator, and a chauffeur from time to time during the school year.  If there's one thing that's true about her, it's that she commands respect in her quiet, gentle way of being, not to mention, her admirable skill of navigating her way through ice and snow in 2-3 inch heels!  Read her piece that identifies the various roles of educators and what it takes to be inclusive.  Enjoy!  

During my junior year of college I was asked by a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to write my philosophy of education, which was a challenge at first. Eventually I realized that my philosophy of education was quite simple; it consisted of the belief that all children have the right to a quality education in which they feel valued, their culture is appreciated, their strengths as a student are celebrated, and all of their needs as a student and child are met in order to reach the ultimate goal of education: developing students into productive members of society who can accomplish their personal goals in life, whatever they might be. When I considered what my role as a teacher should be in the educational world, I understood my role to be one of a guide in which I would provide learning opportunities that fit the learning goals and needs of my students, I would provide a classroom filled with a sense of community so that all of my students felt safe and accepted, and I would differentiate my lessons in order to meet the various learning styles of my students. Finally, I saw the role of my students to be one of becoming life-long learners who are committed to their education and their futures.

Now that I am an ESL/Bilingual teacher I find that my basic philosophy of education still applies to how I view bilingual education, however with bilingual education comes an additional set of goals and beliefs. First of all, one of the goals of bilingual education should be to develop and maintain students’ high levels of proficiency and literacy in their native and second language, while learning in the content areas. Bilingual education needs to respect the power of students’ first language and what that means in terms of their relationships with family members, the community, and their home culture. To take away that aspect of their life would not be developing them into productive members of society, but would rather deflate their sense of self and, in the end, ruin their chances of reaching their goals in life. A second goal of bilingual education should be to help students become bicultural. By doing so, more opportunities can open up for these students as they grow into adults who are able to function and maneuver in what often feels like two worlds, their home culture and the majority culture. Finally, bilingual education should encourage family involvement and tap into the funds of knowledge that students and their families bring into the classroom. By utilizing these funds of knowledge, teachers can make school a more inviting place for students and families, and truly empower our students as they learn and work towards their goals.

In bilingual education the role of the teacher is similar to that of the role of the general education teacher in that the teacher should act as a guide and provide differentiated learning experiences for students at all levels. However, often one of the roles a bilingual teacher takes on is that of an activist. General education teachers also act as activists for their students, however in a bilingual setting teachers often face situations that general education teachers do not in terms of the resources they are provided, or the inclusion or exclusion of their students and families in the school community. One way for teachers to help with the inclusion of their students with the rest of the school community is be collaborating with other teachers in the building. By collaborating with other teachers, whether it is with grade level teachers, specials teachers, or support staff, bilingual teachers can help their students feel part of the school community and help other teachers and students see bilingual students as a valuable asset to the school.

As for the role of students, their role in bilingual education is also similar to the “regular” education students. Students in bilingual education needed to be committed to their education; however they needed to be committed to their native and second language as well. In order for students to succeed in the bilingual program they, with the support of their teachers and families, need to be dedicated to the development of their proficiency and literacy in two languages. With the help and guidance of their families, communities, teachers, and schools ELLs can reach their personal goals, as well as the goal of becoming bilingual and bicultural.

Taking on the responsibility of educating our bilingual students should not solely fall on bilingual teachers, students, and parents. In order to utilize this model appropriately there are several key factors that need to be addressed by the district, administration, and staff. One critical component in implementing this model is to have an administration, staff, student body, and community that fully believe in the value of bilingual education and our bilingual/bicultural students. However, actions speak louder than words. We cannot stop at believing, we need to take our beliefs to the next level… making bilingual education a way of life.

Shannon Longworth has been a Bilingual Resource Teacher at Sherman Middle School for 6 years. She enjoys all of the activities that Madison and Wisconsin have to offer such as strolling around the square at the farmer’s market, hiking, camping, and sipping a beverage at the Terrace. Oh, and she loves working with kids!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


September is overwhelming.  And while schedules and activities are not any different in October, I feel like I am finally able to breathe.  Maybe it's that fall has come gradually and hopefully, and with the changing of seasons, I feel like opening the cage door to let in all the colors, the variety, and the newness.


The big picture!

So what's new here?  So much.  Since this blog is about climbing, culture, cheese and professional living, I wanted to say something about climbing.  Thanks to Katie, I actually got some consistent training sessions in and all I have to say is that I am not the only one who is out and about at 5:30am.  Bold and bright-eyed athletes are out there running and riding along the bike path, and the rowers are out in full form too.

In the climbing gym there was a lot packed into an hour-plus, and for me, it's been worth it.  Training gives me confidence and naturally, strength.  And I am pretty sure my mind has been opened to heel hooks, bumps, hollow holds, pull ups, frenchies, and maximum effort.  Basically, techniques and moves I often fail at during performance.

After this week, it's break time.  And then we'll train again after a little rest and recovery (mostly from our 5:30am sessions . . . )

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Know the Whole Student: Facilitating Content and Language for English Language Learners

If you ever wonder what real diversity looks like in Madison, WI, walk through the doors of Sherman Middle School. If you want to feel the power of inclusive education where students benefit from differentiating of curriculum and have access to a structured and engaging learning environment, I can vouch for my school.  And if you want to see real leaders of English Language Learners and teachers on the front lines of bilingual education, there is no doubt you'll find them there too.  In fact, Nichole Von Haden just happens to be one of those teacher-leaders at Sherman, and here she writes a smart and practical piece about ELL students and the effects teachers can have on their classroom and school experiences. Her knowledge is evident but it's her passion that brings the real challenges to the forefront. Read on and enjoy!

 A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with one of the first students with whom I’ve ever worked.  As part of a presentation for a new initiative at our school, she came to address staff about her experience as both a former student at our middle school and a high school participant in the program we are now adopting.  She spoke about her current status as a UW-Madison undergraduate in the field of neurobiology and her future goal of attending graduate school in the same field. Poised and professional in her demeanor and public speaking skills, this young lady is a shining example of everything I believe about structured academic language support for English Language Learners and the importance of bilingual education programming.  She hardly resembled the timid sixth grader I once helped support—the recent immigrant to the United States, who came to us understanding very little English.  I was her first line of support in her English-only environment.  At that time, I sat with her and translated her work so she could continue to learn, and through conversations in Spanish, I was able to assess her content knowledge, which could not be expressed fully through English.

 Based on my experience, I always knew this student was intelligent, so why am I surprised to see where she is today? Because what I, as an ESL/bilingual teacher, and what other teachers understand about content and language, in general, tends to be very different, and this has negative implications for our English Language Learners. Far too often educators intertwine specific language abilities with content knowledge.  Far too often we have this stereotypical view that if a student is coming to us from another country and uses a language other than English that s/he is somehow “less apt” or “unteachable” until s/he learns English.  Far too often, our English Language Learners are left behind due to standardized testing and classroom pedagogy that is culturally - and linguistically - irrelevant to them.  And altogether too often, students like the one described above, are a rarity — a success story — rather than the norm.

So, how do we change this?  How do we educators provide a learning environment that facilitates content AND language growth?  The answer is two-fold. First, we have to move away from the traditional deficit-based model approach to students’ learning.  We must see each student in terms of what s/he CAN DO, not what s/he cannot do.  Most of our immigrant and bilingual students come to us with a wealth of knowledge and competencies in their native language.  Because this foundation has already been created, our job as language educators (and we are ALL language educators) is to build bridges for them so that they can acquire the English they need to continue learning and express what they know and are able to do.  Even with very little English, there are many ways they CAN learn and demonstrate understanding.

Second, we need to actively construct a school and community culture that values multilingualism and multiculturalism — one that prides itself on mutual trust and respect.  For districts that are fortunate enough to have a sizeable population of students who speak a language other than English, Dual Language Immersion programs should be implemented and supported appropriately.  Such programs inherently build bridges between students of different home languages and cultures as they developmentally teach students content in two languages.  If this type of programming is not available, simple day-to-day appreciations of the linguistic and cultural diversity in our classrooms and our buildings can strike ripples that build into waves of asset-based pedagogy.  

Acknowledging students’ home cultures and funds of knowledge, as well as demonstrating a willingness to share about our own cultures and become students of our students, is crucial to fostering a positive multicultural, multilingual environment.  These fundamental changes will have lasting positive implications, not only for our English Language Learners, but also for us and our students of all backgrounds.  By implementing these changes, we will assure that our colleges, universities, and workplaces will be filled with lifelong learners who are both academically and socially competent, multilingual, and culturally-fluid.  Most importantly, they will be filled with people who value and appreciate diversity and know how to collaborate for a job well-done.  

Nichole Von Haden is a Bilingual Resource Teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District.  She is an avid reader and adventurous traveler.  Her most exciting travel experience was a 17-day, grant-funded trek throughout Southern and Eastern México, studying the ancient Maya and Olmec civilizations with her former teaching teammate.  Together, they co-authored an interdisciplinary unit of study that brings the experience alive for students as a “virtual fieldtrip” to the region.  Currently, she is dreaming up ways to make her next excursion, a trip to visit the ancient sites of Bolivia/Peru, a reality.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Do You Really Want to Teach?

As an educator in touch with many of my former students, I feel as if I'm on a constant wave of memories - most positive, some surprising, a few sad ones - but nevertheless, very rewarding.  And I don't mean that lightly.  I've been happily connected to Annie Hank for over a decade now.  Really?  It's been that long?  Once my 7th grade student, still our on-call babysitter, and now an educator herself, it's been so fun to watch her come into her own.  Here she reflects on her lifelong vision of being a teacher and what's coming to pass as she marches down the road with a sure-fire sense of self.  Enjoy this!  

Do you really want to teach?

Scene: It was my first day of class at Madison College. My teacher entered the classroom and
immediately noticed a middle-aged woman, who we soon learn through their not-so-private
conversation was a former student some twelve years ago. As the two catch up in front of the
whole class, it is revealed that the woman has returned to school because her previous plan of
working as a teacher had not turned out as she would have hoped. Cue the teacher bashing.
In an attempt to make the woman feel better I suppose and generate some laughter in the
classroom, my teacher proceeded to joke that she had a daughter who thought about being a
teacher. Said teacher asked daughter, “Wouldn’t you rather be a street walker or drug dealer?
They get more money and respect.” The rest of the class laughed. Fade out on me, shrugging
my shoulders and once again mustering up some reassurance that I had indeed chose the right
career path. End scene.

Throughout my pre-service teacher training and now as a licensed, but unemployed

(soon to be substitute) teacher, I’ve faced similar scenes as I found myself in last week. During
my experience in the field as a student teacher, the questioning often came from teachers
themselves. Disheartened by the political climate, the loss of collective bargaining, the looming
threat of accountability based largely on standardized test scores, and not to mention the day to
day pressures of being in the classroom, teachers sometimes questioned my decision to enter the
profession in this current state. I remember attending one of the early February 2011 protests,
standing on the steps up to the capital, listening to Mary Bell speak to what would later seem like
a small crowd. She recalled how she recently spoke to a group of pre-service teachers and had
a hard time looking them in the eye. She, the president of WEAC, was questioning my decision
to become a teacher. Couple this with the constant public attacks from the Rush Limbaughs,
the Scott Walkers, and the Average Joes of the world; it was a strange time to be a teacher-in-

As a girl who idolized teachers like her peers idolized sports figures and boy band

members, this was an unexpected question. Growing up in the liberal bubble that is Madison,
teachers, at least in my view, were always regarded with esteem and respect. Now, I faced
having to defend my decision to become a teacher. Although surprised to have to defend this
choice, I was experienced at responding to this sort of questioning. Growing up on the east side
of Madison, I had to stand up to loaded questions that went something like “You go to
Sherman?” or later “You go to East?” These were not so subtle jabs at what many outsiders
considered “ghetto” schools. These questions were often followed up by even worse insinuations
like, “do you feel safe there?” Outsiders never looked past the negative stereotypes to see the
beautiful diversity and life buzzing in these schools of mine. My eastside pride has amounted in
an appreciation for the underdog, the scrappy fighter; facing the outside bashing and
misunderstanding of the trials and challenges of the profession, becoming a teacher is just a new
part of my life that I am proud to defend.

Do you really want to be a teacher? Yes. Through all the questioning, I have never lost

confidence in my decision to become a teacher. Teaching remains the same at heart, no matter
how much others work to change and belittle the profession. Teaching, to me, is the opportunity
to connect with youth; the possibility of making a positive impact on their journey to adulthood,
the chance to help guide them along the way and help mold them into compassionate, accepting,
questioning citizens of the world. Teaching is a profession in which I find value, fulfillment, and
undoubtedly, challenge. I think the latter is the most common misconception about teaching; that
it is an easy job. Having just emerged alive from student teaching, I can tell you it is one of the
most demanding and testing professions. It’s not something you can pick up in a week or two or
that you can master in a year or two. I enter the profession knowing I have nothing on veteran
teachers for experience is so invaluable. I am hungry to grow and mature as a teacher through
time, reflection, collaboration and constant learning.

As hungry as I am, it is yet to be determined when I will get my first shot at the job. Just

having graduated from UW in May, I currently find myself in a limbo year. Committed to
working in the community where I myself was a student, I only applied to the Madison
Metropolitan School District. Due to the competitive nature of finding a job in Madison
combined with the fact that my license, Early Adolescence to Adolescence History, has turned
out to be somewhat insufficient, I have turned to plan B. For the time being, I will be subbing for
the Madison schools and working on credits at Madison College in order to attain my Broad
Field Social Studies License, which is more marketable but still a dime in a dozen. I have
channeled my optimism into my plan B. Although my favorite part of teaching is forming
relationships with students and watching them grow, as a sub, I will have to focus on my own
growth and development. I hope to transform myself into a fly on the district wall and take note
of great classroom plans, tools, and strategies so I can improve my own teaching. When I enter
the next hiring season, I plan to be a little more seasoned and well rounded through an additional
year in the classroom(s), added coursework in Social Studies, and more life experiences in
general. Until then, I remain confident in my decision to become a teacher and put all my eggs in
the MMSD basket. Hopefully someday soon an employer will reaffirm that decision!

Annie Hank is a native Madisonian and proud east sider who loves lazy mornings, gathering with friends, and retreating up north to camp or for a stay at her family’s cabin. She graduated from the UW-Madison this May with her teaching certificate and aspires to have her own history classroom that focuses on social justice issues, both past and present.