Once again I find myself sitting at my school desk thinking about what lies ahead. Summer went by far too fast - like it always does - and now it's time to plan for another year. Education, like shifting sand, is one of those things that is always changing, and I find myself constantly evaluating my curriculum. I look at how the previous year played out and make the necessary adjustments to fix what didn't work or improve what did. After all, that's what good teachers do - they think, they experiment, they fail, they succeed, they research, they re-think, they adjust.
So where does that leave me now? What do I want for my students this year? Obviously I want my students leave my class knowing more than when they first entered my door, but I want more than that. I want them to know more about the world around them. Yes, I want them to know more about technology and how they can use it to enhance their world. But I don't want to just teach about technology. Academics is only one small portion of being in middle school. I want to take things one step further and impact their lives for a life outside these four walls. I want them to know that they have a responsibility to not only me (and other adults), but to themselves as well. I want them to understand ethics (right from wrong) and how the words they say and the deeds they do affect the relationships they build with others. I want them to know more about themselves. I want them to be better individuals than when they started. I want to have a positive impact on my students so that when they leave middle school, they leave prepared to face an uncertain world. I want to let them know that I CARE. After all, they don't care how much you know until they know how much they care. In short, my ultimate goal is this: to make a difference.
This year I started something new with my 8th grade students. After experiencing some pain in my life and hearing about the tragic deaths of three teens who were so desperate they took their own lives, I knew I had to do something to help my kids. You see, I had learned a valuable life lesson as I dealt with my own inner pain, and I knew that what I had learned could be useful to these kids as well. I had to share my story so that they could learn what I had learned; joy can be found anywhere if we only look for it. Hence the birth of the JOY Project.
It is easy to get so caught up in our emotions that we fail to see the good things that surround us. When disappointment, trials, or pain comes our way, we tend to focus on the cause of it even though the answer for surviving and moving on is right before our very eyes. We get so soaked in our misery that it becomes a part of us. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Is it possible that we become so comfortable in our misery that we don't want to see a way around it? Unfortunately, yes. But the solution is simple. Look up! Look around! Find joy in the little things. When we begin to focus on the things in life that bring us joy or those things for which we are grateful, we will find that our emotions and attitudes are uplifted. Finding joy in the midst of a storm is entirely possible. We just have to look for it.
My 8th graders are now in their third week of the JOY Project, and I must say I am truly impressed with the job they are doing with it. The websites they have created are amazing! Each student has made his/her website truly unique. It is an absolute joy reading through the items they have included in their projects, and I find myself overflowing with joy as I read them. God has gifted me with some pretty amazing students and they are blessing me through their journeys to joy.
I may never know if the JOY Project makes a difference in the lives of my students. I may never know whether or not they learned the same lesson that I did. All I can do is hope and pray that the project wasn't all in vain. They may not need the lessons from this project in their lives right now, but somewhere down the line, when trials come their way, I hope they'll look up and remember to seek joy throughout the storm.
Finding joy when it seems there is no joy is entirely possible. I know. I lived through it. Maybe my students will find it possible as well.
Like it or not, things change. We left school last Thursday, excited for the upcoming five day weekend. We were headed into a long-awaited, mini spring break. Spirits were high. Warmer weather had arrived. Winter-migrating birds had returned. The grass was turning green again. Spring had finally come back to Iowa. Life was good and you could sense the joy on every face. Little did we know, however, was that change, major change, was just around the corner. Life was about to take an unexpected turn for us. A change that none of us would like.
Change often comes quickly and sometimes hits harder than we care to imagine. Change comes unexpectedly. Change comes whether invited or not. For us...on Saturday...change came.
A mere 48 hours after we joyfully exited the building for our long weekend, things suddenly changed. The change hit swift and hard. You see, we lost a sweet 13-year-old boy to a tragic accident. We lost a sweet, caring, energetic boy who always had a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye, and a spring in his step. We lost a beloved friend, student, and child of a colleague. Life as we once knew it is gone. Instead we are left to wallow in the wake of grief and loss.
Isaac Hoven - a sweet 13-year-old boy who loved life to its fullest, left us far too soon. He will be missed, and the void he leaves is immense. Now all that is left are the memories we have of our interactions with him. His presence with us is gone forever, but his memory will forever live in our hearts.
Oh my gosh! Could it really be happening? Could winter really be waning and spring arriving? Please tell me it is so! I hate the cold. I hate snow. Plain and simple, I hate winter. Winter is a very depressing time for me. Everything is brown and dreary. The trees drop their leaves and sleep for weeks at a time. The days are shorter and nights are longer. Even some of the birds and animals leave us for a while. I love spending time outdoors, but during winter it is too cold to spend time outside. However, without the dreary winter, spring would not be quite as magical.
Traveling home from a trip to Des Moines this weekend I spotted several large flocks of geese flying in V-formation, headed north. For someone who hates winter like I do, THAT, in itself, is a good sign! The weatherman is even cooperating - temperatures for the next 10 days are forecasted to be above normal. The warm temperatures are extremely welcomed. Signs of spring are showing up everywhere, and I am finding more to be joyful for.
In spring I find my moods much happier, my steps a little lighter. When I see a flock of geese flying in formation, I am amazed at the wonder of Mother Nature, and the intelligence of these big-bodied birds. We could all learn a lot from geese.
When geese fly in formation, the leader does the hardest work. It is his job to carve a path through the air. When he flaps his wings, he creates an "upwash" - the downward push of air as the body cuts through the air. The birds behind use the upwash to their own benefit. By putting their wingtips in the upwash, they get a "free-ride" of sorts. Their task is made easier by the efforts of the bird(s) in front. The birds save energy by using the good air from the bird(s) in front. When the lead bird tires, he takes his place further back in the flock and a different bird takes the lead. They share the workload so that each member of the flock takes his turn. But it doesn't stop there. Not only do the geese share the workload, but the ones behind honk "'words" of encouragement to those ahead.
If the human race would observe geese and take notes from them, we could learn a few things. We all need to do our fair share of the work and not simply get by on the "upwash" of those who lead. We need to take the lead once in a while and let those who lead take a rest. Sometimes we need to do what is difficult, but if we have supporters to encourage us along the way, we are more likely to be successful.
So, the next time you hear the chorus of a flock of geese flying overhead, take time to look up. Look up, enjoy the view, and think about the science behind the V, and let your heart swell with joy at the wonder of it all. Bring on the geese!