Monday, January 4, 2016

Currently in *2016* -- Big Things A'Coming Ya'll!!!!

OMG I might just be the world worst blogger....
Long story short, 2015 was one of the most trying years of my life - complete with a fall that left me with 8 staples in my head...  (Long, embarassing story I might share with ya'll later). Between all the tests I've been through, along with a class assignment change, I just felt depleted and unable to put my heart into this blog.

However, another OMG is super in order right now because.... as soon as the year that epitomizes the saying 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger' ended, I became the luckiest woman on Earth when my now fiancee proposed!!! There was NO better way to start off a new year of amazing possibilities, and I am feeling super blessed and obviously living on cloud nine right now! hashtag all the feels ever hashtag I know I'm using hashtags all wrong

So, I'm back, and ready to kick some serious 2016 booty!!!!
After a lot of soul-searching, I've decided I want to 're-invent' this blog a bit, and focus not so much on fitness, but more on teacher advocacy and teacher self-care. That can involve fitness, but my main goal for this blog, and this budding little brand of mine is to 1)create awesome products that help teachers spend less time planning and more time living(!), 2)advocate for all teachers, with some real talk about the current state of the public education world - for better and worse, and 3)cultivate a community of rock star teachers that build each other up.

With that being said, I wanna kick off my 2016 revamp with a quick Currently linkup.
So psyched to be back in the teacher-blogger world full of inspiring teacherpreneurs!!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Active Teacher Tuesdays Linky!!!

Teaching's a hard job, but finding work-life balance is even harder and finding time to stay fit is virtually impossible....but we're teachers...we're superheros right?

So, it's time to motive each other and hold ourselves accountable to spend some time each week to get up and active!

Share what you've been up to the past week, or what you plan to do to stay active!

Grab the image below, plug in what you've been up to (open it up in Word, PowerPoint, or Paint and just add a text box over it), and then link back up to join the #FitTeacher tribe!

What to Do When Working Out Sucks

Way Back When...

So, here's a little history about me. When I was in high school, we HAD to play one sport every season. This, to me, was torture. I hated sports. I hated exercise. The thought of running literally brought me to tears. I wasn't overweight or even really out of shape. I just hated competitive sports. Before high school, I was into dancing and gymnastics. These weren't deemed sports by my high school, and so I was thrown into a world where I was basically forced to do activities I hated and that made me feel bad about myself every single day.

So, to say I developed a serious aversion to fitness was an understatement. I could care less about the health benefits of anything active. I held on to my past experiences with being active, and naturally associated fitness with punishment. I avoided it at all costs, and for a long time had a serious negative view of myself as I watched friends running races, or participating in various competitions. The more I compared my inaction to action, the more negatively I viewed myself and the greater my aversion for fitness became. My thought was: Why am I so lazy/bad/unhealthy/sad that I can't just suck it up and punish myself enough to run a marathon like those awesome people?

Fast forward ten years and I'm writing a blog post all about fitness. Funny how life works...

Let's talk real facts

OK, so you decided it's time to start getting active. You dust off your gym membership, google the nearest park and start walking or running. Or maybe you get some motivation to try that workout routine you pinned on Pinterest months ago. You push yourself to complete said workout, perhaps you've even logged several weeks worth of workouts, but you can't shake the nagging feeling that quite honestly, you just DON'T want to do it. 

This is most of us as we begin our fitness journey. It sucks, but we're motivated to make a change. So we deal with the suck. But soon there will be a day, or a week, or month where we start to realize dealing with the suck just isn't worth it. 

So what happens now? 

Multiple Choice Time:
A. Give up and go home. This 'working out' thing just ain't for you.
B. Push through it. No pain, no gain, right?
C. Umm, duh....It's much more complicated. 

So, obviously, C. For me, if staying active to be a permanent part of my lifestyle, it HAS to be enjoyable, at least 90% of the time. I've read so many fitness blogs that are like "Push past." OK, yea...there's times when you want to beat your personal record. There's days when you'll run an extra mile, do an extra rep, or add extra pounds to your lift. That feeling is super empowering and those are the days that make you excited about living an active life. 

But, having that mentality for every workout doesn't work for everyone, especially those just starting their fitness journey. I think it's unhealthy - mentally and physically - to "push past" in every situation. Not only could you seriously injure yourself, it's not sustainable. If every workout is this horrible chore, you're going to find excuses to avoid it.This is basically where I was, mentally, in my high school story. I hated the physical activity I was doing but had to "push past" and keep doing it. It didn't help me in any way to continue to do an activity I hated doing, and instead I developed some seriously unhealthy views about fitness, being active, and even my self-worth.

So, instead..its:

Workout Reflection Time

 Yes, I'm serious. You don't have to break out a journal or anything (though if you want to, that's awesome!), but if you find yourself in a situation where working out is feeling like a punishment, it's worth taking a few minutes to reflect on your fitness journey and where you're headed. It's basically like going on a road trip and getting lost. Would you really continue driving if you have no clue where you're going (well, besides if you were my boyfriend), or would you take the time to pull over, check your GPS, or even your old school map from the dashboard, and get re-focused. Your fitness journal is no different.

Some important questions to ask yourself during your workout reflection:

1) What is my ultimate goal? 
Go beyond the general goals of wanting to lose weight, or get healthy. Push yourself to find a goal that is personal to your and your life. Perhaps you want to be able to coach your child's basketball team, or run a race that supports a cause close to your heart. When you connect your fitness goals to your 'real' life, fitness is no longer an isolated thing. It becomes a part of who you are. Remember: your goal is YOURS. It should not be for anyone else, or compared TO anyone else. When you own your goal, you own your workout. 

2) What about this activity do I really enjoy?
This question can be about how the activity makes you feel emotionally, but I would challenge you to identify what physical movement in your body you enjoy as you are doing it, not just after. Does yoga help the muscles in your spine lengthen and feel more relaxed? Do you enjoy how running helps deepen your breathing? I personally love how kettlebell swings lengthen and pull the muscles in my core and back. The point here is to identify what is enjoyable about physical movement. While you can always enjoy and celebrate your workout when you complete it, it's key to enjoy the workout as it is happening. When you identify and focus on this aspect, you begin to view the movement, and the exercise as a treat, rather than a punishment. But what if you can't even find ONE single thing that you physically enjoy during the exercise....? Don't worry, keep reading....

3) What other activities can I try that I haven't yet? 
It's no secret - most women are focused on cardio and that usually means treadmills, cycles, ellipticals, and other  hamster on a wheel type machines. If this is what's holding you back from working out, then it's okay to let it go and find something else! You can still reach your goals with weights (my personal FAVE), yoga, zumba, and all the other amazing new ways to stay active. If you've never ventured further than the treadmill, now's time for a (walking) lap around the gym. Look at every single machine. Check the schedule for upcoming classes. Don't be afraid to go to the weights section. Every gym has trained staff that, at minimum, can guide you on how to properly utilize a machine or free weight. No gym; no problem! Spend 5-10 minutes on Pinterest, and you can find every kind of bodyweight routine imaginable. The point here is that there are SO many ways to move your body, and especially when starting out, it is important to be respectful of your body and the exercises and movements that your body enjoys, that motivate you and help you reach your goals.

Exercise should NOT be a punishment, or a chore. Being active should be enjoyable! 
Finding movements and exercises that you enjoy, building a variety of workouts in your routine, and allowing yourself to deviate from your "plan" depending on how your body feels is key. Some days you may need to walk instead of run those miles. That's better than no miles, right? Accepting where you're at in your fitness journey, and focusing on enjoying the journey to a better you is what will create change.

This is not a battle of how much suckiness can you deal with, but a journey of finding activities that help you become a more vibrant, healthy, well-rounded version of yourself. 

I'll be real: All that I just said above is really hard work. Like, super hard. 
Before I began lifting weights, my only workout experience was treadmills and ellipticals. I hated both because I had no goal in mind, and I was bored. I hated myself because I couldn't run fast enough, or far enough as other people. So I frequently quit, because no one wants to constantly do something they feel unsuccessful in.  

It took some serious soul- and internet - searching for me to identify my ultimate goals, besides just looking good naked. I decided I wanted to complete an elite obstacle course race because, for me, that is one of the coolest ways I can prove to myself my mental and physical toughness. That goal is all about ME growing as a person. After that, I accepted that I'll never be a marathon runner. I have friends that do long-distance running, and it was hard to accept that I would never get to bear that medal along with them. However, I don't just don't enjoy running. After 5 miles I'm bored. That's just me, and I accept that. Trying to push myself to run 26 miles was a losing battle because I didn't enjoy it, and I didn't want to continue to associate exercise with negative feelings. 

After letting go of someone else's goals and finding my own, I went into experiment mode. I did it all. I payed serious money for all kinds of workout routines. I literally tried every single machine in the gym, just to see if my body enjoyed the workout. I stumbled across kettlebells and finally found my niche. But yours might be hot yoga.. or pole dancing...or crossfit...or ultimate jump roping or water aerobics. (and trust me, I've tried them all in my fitness journey.) Maybe you just need to take it outside instead of being cramped in a gym.

Seriously, this is your time to find something for YOU that you can enjoy. YouTube, and Pinterest allow you to at least test just about every kind of physical activity known to man with little cash. And if you haven't, get on Groupon and Living Social to get discounted rates for a drop-in class.  I continue to be amazed at the amount of neighborhood parks that are adding areas for working out, and Google will be your best friend in locating them. And if you live near a beach, mountains, or other awesome scenery then 1) I kinda hate you because I'm jealous and 2) take advantage of the FREE beauty you have right next to you, and take your movements outdoors. 

Mind-body connections and other earthy-crunchy stuff

Hopefully by now you see the gist of this post is more about your emotional relationship with fitness,and less to do what you're actually doing during your workout. There is no magical pill that will make me suddenly LOVE running long distances, and I'm okay with that. 

When you find an activity that truly fits with you, you'll know it because you suddenly feel more vibrant, not to mention you won't dread lacing up your sneakers to go do it. When you carve time from your busy life to do something that you love, you can't help but feel more fulfilled, self-aware and grateful.

I'm not saying the road to finding the 'perfect' exercise will be an easy one, but know that you're not alone! This blog is created EXACTLY for those of us on our fitness journey. Jump into the comments sections to share how you #OwnYourWorkout and what activities are keeping a smile on your face these days (...but, uh..keep it PG rated please) ;)

Keep it active,

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Alternative Assessments 101

So maybe you're a new special educator, and you've been told students on your caseload are taking alternative assessments (most likely it's some random acronym specific to your state - mine happens to be LAA1). Perhaps you're a parent who has a student in the RTI or evaluation process, or has an IEP and you want to know more about the "alternate education track" people keep mentioning. Or maybe, just maybe, you're a general ed. teacher, who just wants to know more about all those crazy acronyms you hear your SpEd department talking about. Either way, you've come to the right place!

This post is meant to demystify some of the confusion, and provide some resources for educators and parents alike.

Just a little background: when I became a special ed teacher, coming from the gen. ed classroom, in the middle of a school year, I was told my students were taking this LAA1 test, but I had no idea what this test was, or how to prepare my kids for it. That's kinda like saying to a math teacher, "teach some kind of math, your kids will be tested on it and your job performance is based on how they do." With so much they needed to learn, I was at a loss for how to hone on the key skills to ensure my students would be successful. So, with limited information, I turned to trusty Google and my states DOE website to find more information.

This is just a bit of the information I've gained since then. I hope you find it helpful!

Part One: What ARE Alternate Assessments?

With the implementation of Common Core, there are TONS of blog posts floating around about curriculum mapping (a fancy term for your year long plans), and how to fit all the content required for success on Common Core standardized testing in one year. It's hard to walk around any school and not hear about the assessments: PARCC, Smarter Balance, or EOC.

For those of us in the special education world, we are not immune to testing, but just on a different track. Many (but I am pretty sure by now ALL) states have adopted alternate assessments for students with significant disabilities, and usually result in these students receiving a certificate of completion, as opposed to the traditional high school diploma.

Students on these track are therefore not required to successfully master the standards of the Common Core standards, but alternative standards, that are still aligned with academic standards, but the complexity level is modified to best support the levels of students with disabilities. The idea is to measure, track, and build upon what are students are able to do, and in the best case scenario, ensure they have developed the functional skills to transition successfully to an independent life.

Who Takes Alternate Assessments? 
Not every student with an IEP will take alternate assessments. This is the number one question I get from parents when their child first enters the RTI and evaluation process. In addition to requiring parental consent, each state also has a set of criteria for students that must meet in order to take alternate assessments. Having an IEP does NOT mean a student will not graduate with a high school diploma. I can''t stress this enough, because I have seen so many parents and teachers hesitate to report concerns, for this very reason. An IEP is meant to HELP students succeed in school and graduate in the traditional way.

Alternate assessments are reserved for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Each state has their own individual criteria, but parental consent to take alternate assessments is required in all cases, documented on the IEP. Taking alternate assessments will be outlined in a student's IEP, and a parent or guardian is not required to sign if they do not agree with an IEP. To find out your state's criteria, I would suggest visiting your states Department of Education website, and searching 'special education alternate assessment'.

What are Students Tested on? 
That's the million dollar question, and unfortunately I don't have a short and sweet answer for that. Because there are no national alternative standards, like Common Core, each state is still left up to it's own devices. For example, my state, Louisiana, alternate assessment, is based on what are called 'Alternative Extended Standards', basically alternative standards. My home state of North Carolina uses 'Extended Common Core.' I've looked at many other states and seen similar standards aligned to their state-wide alternate assessment. The concept behind these alternative standards, is that these standards are aligned with state standards, although modified in complexity level and/or how information is presented and/or how students may respond to answers.

What About Common Core? How Does that Play into Alternate Assessments?
Right now, states alternate assessments may or may not be aligned to Common Core standards. Just looking at my states alternate standards, they are not directly aligned to Common Core, but to the old state standards. In other words, standards for students with significant disabilities hasn't yet caught up to the standards for gen. ed students. This also means, just from looking at a handful of states alternate standards, that the rigor varies dramatically for students with significant disabilities. For example, some standards require 5th grade students with significant cognitive disabilities to extend a simple ABBA patter, while that same student, could cross a state line and suddenly be expected to round decimals to the hundedths place.

Just as the Common Core movement shook up the educational scene in order to uniform the level of educational rigor on a national level, I think it's time that ALL standards for students, even those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, be addressed in this same way. Even students with the most severe disabilities are entitled to be held to rigorous standards. Long gone are the days of assuming 'they just won't get it'.

Even students with the most severe disabilities are entitled to be held to rigorous standards. Long gone are the days of assuming 'they just won't get it'. Share on Twitter

What if instead of each state operating on their own, there was a national set of alternative standards for our babies with significant and/or severe disabilities? What if these national set of alternative standards then allowed for evidence-based curriculum to be made that harnessed the research of research based strategies and national funding? What if special educators had more research-based curriculum that was aligned to these standards that prepared their students for a successful transition to work and independent living?

I set out to find out if I was the only one wondering about this issue, and luckily, there are two organizations that are currently working on this very topic.

National Center and State Collaborative has created Core Content Connectors, that are directly aligned to Common Core Standards. They are also working on a Alternate Assessment to measure student mastery of those alternative standards, AND they even have curriculum modules in the works! There are some states who have already adopted Core Content Connectors as their alternative standards, and I'm happy to see that my state, Louisiana, is currently considering adopting them.

There's also Dynamic Learning Maps Consortium, which has created Essential Elements, another set of alternate standards designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities. They are another group seeking to align alternate standards to Common Core standards, and create a more unified alternative assessment that can be used among several states. There are several states already using these as their alternative standards.

For my next post on this series, I'll share my step by step process for how I use alternate standards and student IEP goals to development a curriculum map/pacing guide for instruction.

I'd love to hear what alternative standards your state is using for students with severe or significant disabilities, your experience in working with those standards, and how they influence your curriculum planning throughout the year. Share in the comments!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Assess Me! This or That Linky

So, I'm linking up with The Tattooed Teacher's amazing blog for this week's Linky, to help introduce myself on this super-new blog!

1) I love the comfort of jeans, but I'm trying to get more into the school-girl skirt look for when I'm teaching. Now, if compression pants were an option, this would be my definite pick! :) 2) I love a good necklace! I used to be an earring girl, but I necklaces can fancy up even the most boring outfit for cheap! 3) Jay-Z's version. Hands down. Reminds me of high school haha 4) I said it all above :-P
5) I live close to a big city, but find the best moments are always out in the middle of nowhere, getting active in nature. Can't beat it! 5) I WISH I could online shop, but I have such a weird body shape, so I have to try on everything, even if it's a brand I'm familiar with 6) Showers are best in the morning, but after a good workout, a warm bath to relax is Uh-MAY-ZING!! 7) I usually take a while to open up to others, but once I do, ohhh the crazy story I can tell! 8) I say homebody, because I'm definitely not a socialite, constantly out in large groups. I am either at home, gym, classroom, or finding some random camping spot! 9) I rarely eat breakfast - bad I know - but dinner is usually my biggest meal of the day! 10) I'm a true Southern Girl and love me some sweet tea, and if I could I'd drink it all day errry day! 11) I am NOT an early riser at all. Never have been. I'm so lucky I don't have to be at my school until 8:30 am - first time I get to sleep in during the school year! 12) Undone all the way - Hair in a ponytail, sneakers and workout clothes is my default look 13)I could fall asleep listening to thunder and rain! 14)I'm a teacher - of course I chose flats! 15) An airplane means I'm getting to travel somewhere far away, usually somewhere new, which is always exciting! 16) OK I know these are TV shows, but I haven't seen either one. I don't watch much TV. 17) Any park makes me happy! Plus I get cold easily, so central air for me is usually torture!

Now it's your turn! Link up and let me know what you prefer, this...OR that?!