The past week has been a tough one for sure, as we continue to digest the news of my mom’s cancer diagnosis. As I wrote last week, we don’t know what this journey is going to look like. We were reminded of that very fact on Tuesday when Mom was admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals due to dangerously low sodium levels. Fortunately, she was discharged about 24 hours later as her levels reached an acceptable level. On Thursday, she received her second infusion to strengthen those cancer-riddled bones and her first round of immunotherapy to treat the cancer.
There is much to be thankful for here: my Dad is right by Mom’s side; my siblings and I are a tight-knit group and stay in close contact through multiple texts and phone calls each day; family from near and far continue to reach out and offer love and support; the Corner Tap community remains as supportive as ever; and folks from the community of West Point continue to reach out with offers to help in any way they can.
Our world has been set on its side (apologies for the dramatic expression!). I have been reminded, once again, that the world ain’t straight. In August of 2021, I shared the following quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls:
“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. Never will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.”
In order to straighten things out, we (humans) try to find order. We try to maintain control. We try to plan so that we can maintain that control.
In an attempt to maintain some sense of control, I find myself leaning into my routines. Routines provide the structure I need to make the world feel a little straighter. In a post from October of 2021, I wrote:
“As I creature of habit, I like my routines. I run four days a week (the same four days: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday); I walk the remaining three days. I eat the same breakfast each morning, I make sure my coffee maker is set each night for the following morning’s brew, and I don’t go to bed until my lunch is packed. I go to bed at about the same early time each night, with a book in hand. My morning routine is the same: up at 4:00 and exercising by 4:30, shower, breakfast, prep for the day, listen to a book on the drive to work. Routine, routine, routine. At the same time, I take great pleasure in the variation that comes with each new school day: I am frequently with different grade levels in different buildings with different instructional focuses on different days. My contradictions abound.”
In addition to the routines described above, I am really, really leaning into the routine of being grateful. I do not allow myself to get out of bed in the morning without taking 5 deep gratitude breaths: I think of at least 5 things that I am grateful for. There are often repeats, but that’s OK. In addition, when those daily challenges arise as they inevitably do, I do my best to acknowledge the difficulty (it does no good to ignore it) and look for what I’m going to learn from it.
On a drive home from a visit with Mom in Iowa City, my sister, Jenny, and I were having a marvelous conversation (It’s always a marvelous conversation with Jenny!). During that conversation, I described to Jenny some techniques I’ve been utilizing during challenging conversations at school. I will continue to build on those techniques so that they become solid routines. The techniques? Nothing new to those who practice mindfulness: deep breaths, awareness of self, feet flat on the floor.
In the Classroom
Speaking of routines… it is those classrooms routines that make for smooth sailing for students and teachers. They are critical for structure, establishing an environment of security and predictability, and mutual accountability within the classroom community. Most important, those routines allow students to access their frontal lobes and learn at high levels.
Visiting classrooms across our district is a part of my job that I treasure and am over-the-top grateful for. I am granted the gift of adding to my teacher toolbelt by watching all of the amazing teacher moves used by our staff. I get to witness the routine of teachers greeting students at the building and classroom doors with warm “Hello’s” and smiles, classroom mini-celebrations when a student(s) achieves proficiency on a learning target, total participation techniques where all students are held accountable for the learning, regular practice with complex text, and students leading their own learning by tracking progress and articulating the process.
THE Classroom Management Course outlines three simple steps to assist teachers in setting up routines and procedures. First, they explicitly teach the expected procedure, step-by-step, providing ample practice, often with non-content material. After explicit instruction, teachers lead their students to rehearse expected procedures. Finally, teachers reinforce expected procedures with specific praise for carrying out the procedure correctly, and specific redirects as needed.
Routines and Travel
Bill and I were able to take a quick trip to Colorado over the weekend to celebrate the wedding of our nephew, Colton. Travel is great, but sure can mess with a person’s routines! Leaning into established routines as much as possible helps to make things feel “straight.”
It was easy to lean into gratitude during the trip: we had excellent travel conditions; I had a great travel companion!; we saw a different part of the country which served to increase my gratitude for the lush green vegetation we have in southeast Iowa; we spent time with family; and we enjoyed a beautiful wedding ceremony. In addition to gratitude, I made sure to maintain that early-morning exercise routine. Without those routines, I would have missed the following: