The Rodeo: Online Schooling in the Time of Covid-19

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Malaka Gharib of the NPR blog Goats and Soda has created a comic that explains COVID-19 in simple terms for children. Gharib is the creator of I Was Their American Dream, a graphic memoir about her upbringing as an immigrant with parents from Egypt and the Philippines; the book was chosen as one of SLJ’s Best Graphic Novels of 2019.

The day came. Quietly, unlooked for, relatively unannounced—at least not preemptively announced at my High School. I left school on a Friday afternoon in March, set to pick up sick-work for my own elementary school student at his school. (No, he didn’t have SARS Co-V2. He had strep throat.) As I pulled into Midway elementary, my husband called, “Did you see the text from the school district?” he asked. “Nope,” was my brief reply.

“They’ve instructed elementary students to take their devices home this weekend,” he explained. “Ah, good to know. I’m here at the school now, and I can pick up both devices for the boys,” I returned. “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes, okay?” And that was the beginning of the new reality which most of us face.

Thirty minutes later our Governor announced a “soft-closure” of school. Two weeks later, a May 1st extension, and after two more weeks, it was announced that our schools will be closed for the rest of the school year.

We—the community, the parents, the teachers, the students, the administrators, the staff, individual states, the nation—let each new wave of distance sink in. (While some were desperately unable to gain distance because of their circumstances, and I’ll address this harsh reality later.) But sometimes the tide has risen so quickly, as each new day dawns on our brave new world of online schooling, we’re still caught off-guard, brought to turmoil, left (some) in tears.

For those of you who are struggling—and, yes, I’m pretty sure I’m speaking to a universal WE—TAKE HEART! I know that this road has been constantly changing, ever updating, inundated with crashing breaker upon crashing breaker of the new, the not-normal, the unknown. Yes, it has felt like a dystopian reality has been thrust upon many of us; and yes, I understand that holding the education of your own children in your own purview has got to be scary.

I spent the entire first weekend after the school closure working. When I say working, I mean that I put in two solid twelve-hour days. Scouring my lesson plans, shifting my expectations, creating a video welcome, expeditiously scanning text into PDF, drafting a parent email, assuring my students that their current assignments were still due, grading my current assignment load, and scrupulously re-designing my instructional rubric to fit our new reality—online schooling.

I’m a teacher. I share this not because you didn’t read the last paragraph where I explained all of the hard work and effort that went into shifting my classes to online models, but because I want you to understand that I feel you, parents, when you describe the hardship of schooling all of your people at home. Wednesday of the following week I entered upon an educational arena that I will hence forth and forever refer to as “The Rodeo.” We’re god-fearing cow and sheep folk here where I live, and I can only describe that those first few days of EVERYONE online, everyone collapsed into one space, one classroom, one life was a POOP-SHOW to behold.

My husband on a conference call with the East-coast. Myself on a Zoom meeting with my teaching team. My sons on a host of platforms, apps, and technological learning tools that left my head spinning, and my heart overflowing with passwords that I hopelessly cast into the soft-shod muck of my working memory.

Holy cow. We were failing. We were failing, and we were going to fail. It took my breath away. This instant shift, and equally instant knowledge– that while I felt aptly, even confidently, prepared to transition (with a 24 hours-worth of weekend-work) to teach eleventh graders both the art and science of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking with the flip of a switch– my own little family, my own pride-and-joy, my own little think tank was going to fall flat on its face in the mutton-busting, teeth brown with animal crap and tears, and there was nothing I could do about it!

Then Thursday dawned, and we were all okay. The kinks were there. You better believe there were kinks, and still are some. But we began to piece together our new reality. My second grader, who is bright, and silly, and a handful to be around for eight hours at a stretch, was completely overwhelmed just to see the “to-do” list his teachers posted. “Thirteen pages of math, MOM!” he yelled. As I tried to explain that those 13 pages were really just slides– on a Power Point, or a Nearpod, or a … you fill in blank with the app your student is using to ingest and then submit work—which meant that there were only THIRTEEN PROBLEMS. In total. Much less than he had done for his homework the week before.

So it has gone in our home. Sometimes we are able to re-visualize, re-imagine, re-calibrate our thinking about school. We’re riding high and feeling the adrenaline of success for every one of those eight seconds. My oldest son has quietly gone about his work, day-in and day-out, nary a hiccup. But we had some good old-fashioned ride-the-bull sessions when he couldn’t explain to me why his work was left “unsubmitted” on some of his assignments. We’re working it out. Sometimes we still get bucked off the bull.

But it is also very obvious to me that my children’s teachers got the news about school closures, went out to their own virtual rodeo arenas, got on the saddle bronc assigned to them, and WENT. TO. TOWN! (Go Wranglers!) We came back, to online school, to a system that was ready to deliver learning– targeted, essential learning– to each of my children in practically the eight seconds it takes to ride a saddle bronc. The execution, the preparedness, the effort, the instructional stability, the stamina, and the standards were astounding. Their style, their grace, their precise timing was everything. My children weren’t going to sit out this pandemic twiddling their thumbs. They were going to be learning. Truly gaining in knowledge, education, and standards-based instruction for their grade-level. It was and IS remarkable.

I also want parents, students, community members, and administrators to know that MY STUDENTS ARE SHOWING UP! My students are here. They are in their classrooms. Some of them in record displays of participation. It is so easy to give High School students a bad rap. To label them with some derogatory generational disparagement. But I want you to know that my students have been there for me as much as I have been there for them. They are writing, they are reading, they are thinking, they are responding to online discussions, and submitting FlipGrids full of poems, and rocking this brave new world in a way that I could not possibly have imagined.

This online learning platform IS accessible, IS relevant, IS possible, IS working. And, no, in my opinion, it is not the best there is to offer. I am an eternal advocate for the face-to-face classroom. I love the people. There will always be outliers. There will be those whose situations, livelihoods, family environments, and living situations have been thrown into such chaos by this change that they will not be able to either succeed or survive in this online learning platform. We should begin to plan for their recovery now. How will we offer make-up credit, re-teaching, re-assessment, and re-vitalization of those whose educational opportunities really did go down the tube when social distancing became a reality.

But above all, I want us to remember, and I believe that this moment in education has re-taught us, the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. We are all experiencing this rodeo together and yet separately. Almost all lived human experiences are like that—individual and collective. My hope is that we’ll continue to reach out with that human spirit of support and core care. I hope we will ban together in care and community-interest not just blast our latest emotion into the social media echo chamber. But take up the banner of education because it is one that we all must bear. Here’s to that next great ride of Old Glory around the rodeo arena in real-time. As the horse picks up speed, and the wind takes that banner of freedom into endless ripples of hard work, good will, and committed effort, may we remember learning and pedagogy are built upon the backs of those educational bronc riders—past, present, and future. You’re one of them now. We are all in this together.

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Be kind (to yourself)

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I’ve wanted to write a New Year, 2019, post all January. I want to talk about what I am pledging to do with my time this year, and I want to find out what you have set as your goals or resolutions for 2019. I am realizing that there are many reasons that folks don’t subscribe to the January goal setting frenzy, but I think that because it’s my birthday month I feel additionally on-board with the resolution setting set.

If you abhor resolutions that center around an arbitrary date of the year you may consider this post alternatively titled “Lessons from Dedicating 30 Days to Yoga.” You see, I began this year with many intentions– like bringing more peace and patience into my life, and renewing my commitment to not buying new things. For reference, that didn’t really work out for me as a year-long endeavor. Mostly because I came to the project grossly underprepared to support myself. More on that later.

But this year, I am still evaluating and cornering my spending habits, I’m still seeking to be a parent that speaks more peace to my children, and I’m still trying to be a human that is more patient with her fellow humans at large– in the classroom, on the road, at the grocery store, on the news, and on and on.

Instead of putting immense pressure on myself to be all that I wanted to be on January 1, I decided that I would first engage in a yoga practice that lasts the entire month of January. This was one of the best moves I’ve made in terms of beginning a New Year, and I hope I’ll remember how cleansing, enlightening, grounding, and opening this journey has been.

One of these personal revelations is a two-part story with yet another alternative post title: “The difference between being hard on yourself and kind to yourself (even honest with yourself) is not that you need to stop being too easy on yourself.”

Allow me to explain. Four nights ago I was doing Adriene’s (Yoga with Adriene) Dedicate 30 Day Yoga Journey. Nearing the end of her practice we were lying in a final Shavasana. The practice had been about sweetness and Adrienne was saying, “Sometimes it’s not only about WHAT we do but HOW we do it. Consider that.” Now this is an idea that I subscribe to. We should all think about what we are doing. Why we are doing it, how we are doing it are keys to the ‘what’. Adriene went on, “Are you more in the habit of being hard on yourself or can you get more in the habit…”

My video stopped streaming at this exact moment. And I was left trying to figure out what Adriene was going to say next. The truth is that when I finished her statement the only thing that I could come up with was, “Or are you in habit of being too easy on yourself. Do you need to push yourself harder?” In other words, do you cut yourself a break too often, are you lazy, apathetic, flawed? And on and on and on with the self-denigrating comments. I was ready to get on the wagon and stone myself for being a push over. Why didn’t I see that this was the same thing as being TOO HARD ON MYSELF?

My video eventually reloaded and Adriene said, “Are you more in the habit of being hard on yourself, or can you get more in the habit of finding practices that help you, get you, in the habit of being sweet to yourself. EVEN WHEN YOU MESS UP.”

Stunned silence from my mat.

Can you be kind to yourself? Even when you mess up? Can you? Can I?

This brings me to my next story. Hang with me here. There was once a girl who couldn’t spell. That girl was me, I’m still that girl. And I don’t know when I began to believe or it was pointed out to me that I could not spell. (I hope at this point you are already seeing the irony of this reality as I am an English teacher. An English teacher who can’t spell.) Apparently, not even being a school Spelling Bee champion served to solve this self-image notion.

But this not-being-able-to-spell thing has been something that has haunted me for my entire life. Not just academically, but not being able to spell became something of a self-forecast for all of my failings, all the stuff I couldn’t do. It became a sign that I wasn’t cut out for success.

Well from this girl– me– came a sweet little boy– P. As it turns out, he showed some of the same phonetic unawareness that his mom had/has. That mom– me– told this little boy– my son– that he “could not spell.” Just like that, “You can’t spell.” Just like I had been told.

Now I tried to forecast some solutions to this problem by explaining that he could memorize words and thereby overcome his failing. “We can’t spell.” I kept telling him, like we were rowing this boat called “Can’t Spell” together. Fast forward to Parent-Teacher-Student conferences 2019.

As we concluded our meeting, my son’s sweet teacher asked if I had any questions for her and I felt that this would be a great time to bring up the spelling thing. I explained, “I can’t spell. And I’m worried that this might be the case for my son. It appears that he doesn’t have phonetic awareness.”

His teacher stoped me in my tracks and said, “Oh! That sounds just like me! Your son can spell, he just needs to practice with different variations of each phonemic pairing. It wasn’t until I was a teacher that I  realized there were certain vowels and sounds that were patterned through language. But you know what? (She turns to my son.) For every one of these patterns there are times when the rules apply and there are times when the English language breaks those rules! You CAN spell!” She declared with certainty.

Just like that. “YOU CAN SPELL!” With all of the vigor and certainty of a seasoned educator who knows that as she bolsters students to believe in themselves they will fulfill those prophecies and SPELL.

I was stunned into silence again. Here I had been telling myself (for years) that I couldn’t spell. I had been telling my son that he couldn’t spell. I had been practicing this can’t over and over and over. My son’s teacher continued, “The wonderful thing about spelling is that you do need to memorize how to spell words. Once you can recognize different patterns like ‘r’ controlled vowels– er, ur, ir, or– then you can begin to memorize which words use which patterns.”

I nearly fell off my chair. More than that, I was ashamed for telling my boy that he couldn’t, that he didn’t, that he wasn’t able to. Nothing better than strapping yourself to your failings and then just clinging to them! In that moment I remembered my yoga, the moment that I was so certain that my instructor was going to tell me that perhaps if yoga wasn’t working for me or working a change on or in me I was being too easy on myself.

I realized that I am constantly falling into this belief that if I will just push harder, do more, press into my present with more resolve, then– and only then– will I come out conqueror. But in those moments, on that mat and in that classroom, I realized that I need to be a whole lot kinder to myself and to those around me.

You, my beautiful friend, thank you for reading this post. I’m learning, slowly and steadily, to pass on the power of believing in yourself to my kids and to my deeper self. You, me, we all need to be more kind to ourselves. Happy 2019!

XX,
Megan

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Winter Adventure: Packing List

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While on winter break, we’re headed North to catch some extra snowflakes. I know that many of my readers are native to four-season climates, but it’s always helpful to have a go-to packing list for winter weather and winter adventures regardless of whether you’re out in the cold on the regular or a sun-baby leaving the palm trees for the slopes!

One thing that I’ve learned over my many cold-weather packing experiences is that it can sometimes be hard to pare down your choices when it comes to frozen conditions and that the frigid elements make what you put in your bag even more important.

My short list is– two to three sweaters, two flannel shirts, two pair of jeans, two base layers, one pair of snow pants, two pair of boots, two coats, one pair of gloves, one winter hat, one buff (or neck gaiter), five to seven pairs of socks, and one pair of pajamas.

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Sweaters x 3

First up, my very favorite piece of clothing—The Sweater. Sweaters really are a necessary part of packing for winter travel and adventure. My all-time favorite travel sweater is this gray merino sweater from Patagonia. It’s a men’s sweater from a few years ago, and I have gotten more wear out of it than any other sweater I own. If you know me, that is saying a lot because I am a sweater horse and have a collection that is well-loved and well-worn.

The key to a good sweater for adventure is to invest in some real wool. I could sing the praises of wool all. day. long. The important thing about wool is that it traps and keeps water and wetness away from your skins, dries quickly, and maintains warmth, so while you may be wet and even sweaty you’re much more likely to stay warm and toasty in wool. Cotton is the opposite, it keeps water next to your skin, is very heavy when wet, and takes a very long time to dry. The best option for snow shoeing, skiing, and snow biking is wool, hands down.

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Flannel x 2

Though flannel is often made from cotton, I have one thick Woolrich button-up that’s also made from wool and I bring this on every winter excursion. I will also break my no cotton rule for flannel as they are comfy extras and can easily be layered under a sweater, coat or other heartier piece of outerwear. I have several favorites from Madewell including this option.

Jeans x 2 + Snow Pants

I bring jeans for days or times that I don’t plan on being active like a nice dinner out after a day of skiing, or our plans to ring in the New Year with friends in Sun Valley. Jeans are great for long travel days in a plane or a car so I always pack a couple pair. My current faves are a high-rise pair from Madewell with a button fly.

I also love this ponte pair from James Jeans. Because these are old and sold out I’ve scoped out two other pairs you might want to look at, HERE, HERE, and HERE. They are the perfect blend of refined because they have back pockets like jeans, but they are made of poly so they feel and wear more like a legging.

Base Layers x 2

Crucial to all winter travel, especially if you are mixing in outdoor adventures are base layers. I also recommend wool base layers and it’s good to do your homework in this area because there are so many different variety of wool under-layers. For temperate climates I love this light weight Smartwool underlayer. But for a thicker, substantive pair you might want to try the new Patagonia capeline air base layer. They’re made from a merino-poly blend and the reviews are tops!

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Gloves x Hat x Buff

Also very necessary to keeping warm and wonderful is protecting all of your extremities. I have been wearing a pair of Gordini gloves for several years now. Partially this is because I don’t downhill ski and partially it’s because I haven’t needed anything warmer. This year my sweet hubby bought me a sweet pair of Hestra gloves and my life has forever changed. Gone are the days of frozen flanges. I couldn’t be more stoked.

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The hat I’ll bring is this fun red beanie. Pick something warm and why not go for a puff-ball on top if you’re feeling winter-festive? And let’s not forget that neck. I wear a neck gaiter nearly every time I head out into the frost. They are a must have if the wind picks up, and it is always nice to warm up your lips on long slogs.

Socks x 5

You can never have too many pairs of socks. Well… I guess if your sock stash caused you to have to bring another carry-on you may have over-done-it! I like to bring five to seven pair of socks. Here’s the thing, if your feet are cold add a pair of socks. Doubling up on socks has saved me on more snow shoeing expeditions than I can count.

Our favorite sock fetish right now is definitely Stance. However most of the ones I’ll bring are actually these wool cycling socks that I like to steal from my hubby. They are plush! Your feet will be nice and roasted when you’re finished.

Boots x 2

I’ll bring three pair of boots with me on this little adventure– my Sorel Joan of Arctics, my Asolo hiking boots, and a pair of more fashionable booties, THESE if you are interested. If we weren’t traveling by car, I would need to rethink my shoe choices and stick to two pair of boots. I am also toying with throwing in my favorite winter slippers by Haflinger. These babies keep out the cold on any frozen floor.

Coats x 3

For a trip that consists of space saving measures I would bring a packable down coat, and my wool winter coat. Because we are in our own rig I’m bringing my Gortex shell as well. I just updated to the Patagonia Powder Bowl jacket, but I had my last Gortex shell for almost fifteen years. The fact of the matter is if you buy quality your cost per wear often plummets.

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7 Ideas to Update Your Family Smartphone Habits

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Christmas is upon us! As we skate through the holiday season I wanted to share some of the ways that I have found to both evaluate and update smart phone usage in your home. After all, the Holidays are a time to connect with our families, enjoy time spent with friends, and remember with gratitude the blessings of the past year.

In the age of digital-everything, I’ve found that while I might have a desire to be on my phone scrolling and rolling my way across the internet, my propensity to pick up my phone doesn’t always bring me what I’m looking for– JOY! In fact, the more I spend precious weekend minutes (and hours) on my phone the more bothered, bugged, and dissatisfied I become.

Engaging in an era of constant technological reinvention can feel exhausting. However, as we realize that smartphones are tools– tools that have a very functional, serviceable purpose, yes– the better we will be able to stave off the smartphone toll– disconnection, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.

My phone can call up my latest dinner recipe, play my favorite song-set, cue my most recent to-do list, and give me access to my current yoga routine. To me, these are all winning ways to use my phone. I can also admit that I’ve used my phone as a babysitter (hello most recent trip to the salon), and I’ve used it as a kid-entertainer (hello date night for mom and dad). We call this the “cell phone trick”, but as parents we always need to check ourselves in terms of how much screen-time we’re allowing. Kids can’t and shouldn’t be responsible to either enable or limit their own media consumption. That job still rests on the shoulders of thoughtful parents.

Getting your Instagram fix is fine, but if you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through your feed over and over you might want to choose a few other activities that keep your attention and bring human interaction.

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Add an app to track your usage

One of the best ways to find out how much you really use your phone is with an app to track your usage. With a recent iOS update, my phone began giving me a weekly “Screen Time” report. Now whether this was always available on my phone and I didn’t use it, or whether this is a recent Apple installment, this weekly Screen Time report is a great way to get a picture of your phone use!

I’ve really liked knowing how much time I’m spending on my screen, and it enables me to see how much time is spent on the individual sites on the internet as well as on apps that my kids use like Minecraft. For example, last week I spent a total of 20 hours on my phone. To me that sounded like A LOT. But when I saw how much I spent on my meal planning website, the clock that I use as a timer in my class each day, and the time that my kids played on various apps (about 5 hours total). I felt as though I was a more aware user. For me this awareness brings the opportunity to evaluate, re-set if necessary, and scaffold my phone use for the next week!

Put your phone away at dinner. Period.

This hard and fast rule has really changed the atmosphere in our home. I’ll give my husband and I a pat on the back for continuing to honor family dinner, and I’ve written about the power and importance of this daily ritual here on Refined + Rugged. But making sure that family dinner doesn’t devolve into a family internet surf has really helped to make the precious moments of the day we get to spend together even more meaningful.

A lot of families have cell phone use rules, and I hope that yours is one of them. My philosophy is that having rules and usage guidelines that apply to EVERYONE in a family helps to communicate to ourselves and to our kids that the human is in charge of the phone not vice versa.

As we have set specific times that phones are not allowed or not present, I have watched the way that our interactions with one another grow in meaningful ways. We spend more time outside, we spend more time talking and laughing together, we spend more time reading, playing instruments, getting in a workout, doing homework, participating in activities in our community. As our cell phone usage goes down, our engagement with one another invariable increases, and our happiness quotient generally rises. Win!

Create Times when Phones are Acceptable

Along with being sure that you have hard and fast rules for putting away your phone, it is also wise to make sure that you have times when phones are appropriate. For example, we really do take dates in our small town and leave our boys at home to play games on the phone, watch TV, or generally have screen-time. Because we are only a few blocks away, it feels like getting more bang for our buck to have the smartphone act as our babysitter.

We also have a weekly Minecraft club at our library. I was originally reticent to sign the boys up for an hour of game time each week. However, instead of causing MORE screen-time later in the week, it has allowed us the freedom to play and game and the freedom to say, “No, you had your screen-time on Wednesday.”

Saturday morning is another time we allow our kids time on the smartphone or smart-device. Hard working parents need breaks, but I have found that it is best to have these as scheduled times. If my people know that Saturday morning is one time they will be able to watch television, play Minecraft, and use apps like “The Elements”, we all have this screen-time to look forward to rather than allowing it to rule every minute of our lives or make a fight when one isn’t needed.

Remember that Small People are Watching

The more our world engages in the digital universe the more we may find ourself interfacing with technology. Remember that individuals, partners, families really can make a difference in digital citizenship by evaluating and then limiting smartphone and smart-device usage.

As I look at the way I use my smartphone, I have been reminded that in most cases when I am on my phone some small set of eyes is watching. Try this for an afternoon or a day. Turn off your phone. Put it in a drawer or in a desk and then go out with the purpose of observing the way that other people use their phones.

Think about the fact that for most children the ideas, images, examples, and trend-setters for smartphone use are the adults in their life. For the most part they walk about without phones watching the way the the world around them chooses to interact with technology. What would the smartphone world look like to you if you were a child?

For example, we have strongly encouraged reading in our household. A few nights ago my boys were soaking in the warmth of their good reads in front of a glowing fire. I have been guilty, in these moments of silence when my children are engaged, to take the time to peruse my phone. In other words, my children are engaged in the real world, they are learning, reading, growing and expanding their sweet minds, and I am taking my “phone time”.

How does this look to them? Because as much as I may pretend to limit my smartphone usage, there are certainly times when I should make the executive decision to TURN IT OFF. I made the choice then and there to grab a book, highly recommended to me by our school librarian, and read.

Make a list of all of the activities you like to do without your smartphone

Maybe you’re not an avid reader so picking up a book isn’t appealing to you. Instead of a book, what you should look for is an enterprise that excites you that is not linked to your phone! While writing this post, I was encouraged to make a list of all of the activities, projects, and endeavors I can opt into before I pick up my phone.

While your list may look different from mine, the idea is the same– make the time and take the opportunity to do things that don’t involve digital isolation. Even when you are commenting a friend’s Facebook post or latest Instagram update you do so in a vacuum in that very moment. You are all alone. What are other things you can do to keep your spirits high and your outlook positive in the coming year?

When you’re stuck scrolling, just turn it off!

In the end, if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone on a Friday evening– STOP! One of the most powerful realizations about your phone is that you are in charge. So if you do end up in the internet’s web far out into the galaxy of google searches, it might be best for all to simply put the phone down and walk away.

Take Stock of your Situation

Just as you might look at the Screen Time stats on your phone, take the time to evaluate your phone usage over time. Sometimes we take a couple steps forward and then a couple of steps back. I am advocating a constant analysis of the ways which smartphones can be corralled, limited, and controlled as a mode of human convenience rather than a time-sucking monster.

My ultimate concern is that we model for our little humans the kind of digital citizens we hope that they will be one day, and that we leave the rising generation with the skills to realize that they are the masters of the digital world, not vice versa.

I hope your Holiday really is merry and bright. I hope that the love and connection you create transcends technology. I hope that reigning in your phone will put you back in the driver’s seat of your sleigh. Sending you love and well wishes from an average human fighting the good fight to unplug, unwind, and fully enjoy this special time of year. Happy Friday, friends.

XX, Megan

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Oregon: Road Trip Part II

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To the Coast

Portland to Crater Lake, Crater Lake to Bend the beginning of our road trip is posted in Oregon Road Trip: Part I (here). After a few days in Bend it was time to move on in our journey. We packed up the van and headed to the coast where we planned to spend the rest of our trip.

The Oregon coast is one of the most breathtaking places to visit. Rocky and craggy, moody and weather beaten, the weather can be warm (rarely), but it is almost always characterized by hoary morning hazes and sometimes torrents of rain even in the summer months. Our first stop was Wax Myrtle State Park (pictured above and below).

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Oregon: Road Trip Part I

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Embracing Van Life

This summer we headed out on an epic Oregon road trip in Olive, our 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia Weekender. Over the life of Refined + Rugged I’ve shared some of our other camping, hiking, biking adventures, and road trips,  and I wanted to add this trip to the list of fabulous vacations that practically anyone could re-create. This entire trip could also be scheduled for fall through this gorgeous state. Hint, hint, get behind the wheel and live!

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Staples: Closet Essentials x 15

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Is it possible to have staples that span every season? I live in a pretty well defined climate that boasts four robust seasons. We’re really in the thick of Spring right now which means that it snowed seven inches last weekend, and then slid into this beautiful lull of sunny and 60s. Now this weekend we’re back to Winter-like conditions with flying sleet and another warm spell in the coming week.

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Shopping Your Closet: Winter Boho

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I hope this post won’t come across as overly light. Especially as compared to the one that I wrote at the beginning of this week. It has been another hard week. There have been more hardships at school, but I am going to return to this topic when I have renewed energy and time to go about giving the topic of school safety the effort and investment it deserves.

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My Turn: Student Safety and Gun Safety

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Image: Ginger Williams Cook

I want to take you all with me on my journey last week. It is a road that I should have foreseen when I took a job as a teacher, when I turned my education into educating. But I have to be frank, and tell you that I did not clearly see that I would one day be communicating a classroom plan to each and every one of my students as to how we would “Run, Hide, Fight”– the mantra of school shooting safety.

I want you as fellow parents, and grandparents, and citizens, and teachers, and administrators, and police officers, and lobbyists, and politicians to know what it felt like to stand in front of a classroom of students and tell them that what I want most for them when they come to school is their safety and their continued ability to earn an education that will carry them into the world as thoughtful, hard-working, problem-solving, critical reasoning, readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers who are career and college ready.

I want you to know that I saw both depth of understanding and depth of fear, both depth of care and depth of concern, both the need to be loved and the need to show love, both the desire to be safe and the desire to ensure the safety of others in my students’ eyes as we spoke. If you were standing next to me in my classroom this week, your faith in humanity would have grown three sizes those days.

I hope it won’t surprise you that not one of my students rolled their eyes when we talked about our classroom safety plan. Not one of them asked why we had to engage in such a boring assignment, or if they could take a nap, or if we could talk about something else. None of the usual millennial stereotypes we place on this generation of youth. Yes, I get all of these non-plused reactions to the daily English concepts, learning assignments, creative activities, and formative assessments I give in my classroom. I’m not offended by this in the least. I teach high school English. It’s not everyone’s favorite subject, and six hours in a school desk could put anyone on the verge of a needing a nap. But not one mention of an out, an alternative, an apathetic reply shows you how important this topic is to our youth.

My students were keenly listening, hyper aware, compellingly conversational, profoundly questioning, solution creating, statistic gathering. I know one thing for sure– after this week-and-a-half spent discussing the ways we could best hide in silence, with cell-phones off, not a word uttered, backpacks filled with computers and books placed over our hearts as a best defense against bullets– my students want to live.

But listening to the rhetoric and the maligning of the essential questions about gun control, mental health, and school safety in our country I really have had to ask myself, “Do we want the same thing for them? Do we want my students to live?” Your faith in humanity may have shrunk a bit too at the apathetic responses from representatives, politicians, and spokespersons who upheld the status quo so unmoved by the honest expressions and questions of grief from our youth and their parents.

Why can my students see that the conversation does not logically need go to the extreme of revoking the Second Amendment, but that it would be reasonable for us to speak about universal background checks, and cooling-off periods, and training for the opportunity to buy a firearm? Why does the conversation become the fact that more people die in cars than by gun-shot wounds before we talk about banning assault weapons and making bump stocks illegal?

Why does the conversation become the idea that if guns are regulated they will no longer be available to citizens but only to criminals rather than discussing common sense methods of mental health screenings for those who want to purchase firearms? Why does the conversation become arming teachers and other militant policies that include more guns rather than examining societal support of those who struggle with conditions of mental illness? Do we worship the Second Amendment and its economic and political gains more than the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Because from my vantage point this week, we do.

Because if all I have in my tool-kit is to continue to train students to duck low and move swiftly to the back of the room. That I will look out into the hall to bring passing students into our classroom the way Scott Beigel did when he was shot. That I will lock and barricade the door with a tall wooden pallet that ironically bears a peace sign. That we will break the glass in the window, hurling desks at it if need be, and exit out as swiftly as we can toward the street. That they need to run as fast as they can to the road without stopping. It feels akin to telling students to “duck and cover” in the event of an atomic bomb, with the full knowledge that all that will be left is their nuclear shadow as a reminder of their existence.

I want you to know these details because I want you to know that I want each and every child in my classroom to live. We talked in specifics. But are we as a society going to work together to ensure that safety? Now is the time that will tell. “Would you carry a gun, Mrs. Dickson?” my students asked, his hazel eyes serious, his mouth poised in a firm straight line once the question exited his mouth. He wanted to know if I would carry a weapon at school, if I would get a concealed carry permit to bring a weapon into my classroom. He didn’t ask in rancor or in pleading. He simply wanted to know what I would do to save him and his classmates in the event of a mass shooting.

What would I do? I had already asked myself this question many, many, many times from the day that the massacre happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to the day that a student threatened the school I teach in on social media. What would I do to keep my students safe?

It was one of those moments where time took on an eternal quality– still, gaping, telescoping toward my need to answer him. “I didn’t take this job to be in law enforcement, or to carry a gun,” I replied. “You have asked me a deep and philosophical question. I do not believe in guns for the taking of human life. You want to know if I would carry a gun to protect you, but I want to know why [a teacher] carrying a gun would be our first line of defense on your behalf?”

Perhaps it felt like a dodging, ducking, pivot, a non-answer like the many politicians and spokespersons we’ve heard from this week.  Maybe it felt to him like I fractured that student’s trust. My students, who will have to trust in my coping mechanisms in the event that a deleterious person plans our death, deserve answers. But I do know my answer to his question. “No.” No, I will not carry a weapon on a high school campus.

The words Alfonso Calderon, survivor of Parkland’s school shooting, rang in my ears, “That’s a terrible idea… As far as I am aware, teachers are meant to be educators. They are meant to teach young minds how to work in the real world. They are not meant to know how to carry AR 15s, they are not meant to know how to put on kevlar vests for other students or for themselves. This is not what we stand for. We stand for small policy changes, and possibly big ones in the future. Because right now I am pretty sick of talking about teachers being armed. That is not even a possibility in my mind. I would never want to see that and neither do they want to do that.”

I care about each and every one of my students deeply. Yet when an administrator asks me “How are your kids?” like Rebecca Berlin Field, I immediately jump into my role as mother to two young boys at an elementary school that seems impossibly far, and feels unpredictably vulnerable and reply, “I was so grateful for the Principal and over thirty staff and faculty who welcomed each and every student to school today. They were standing on the curb in six degree weather when my husband dropped my boys off.” Then realizing my mistake, I quickly say, “Oh, you mean my students. They are scared.” Because this question reaches further than the doors of my high school onto elementary campuses where tiny humans go to learn and to be safe, too.

How will we protect those young students like those in Sandy Hook? I realized this week that it is my turn. If I believe that laws should change, or that monies should be appropriated in a different or particular way, or that students should be protected it is my turn to step up and voice these opinions.

It is my turn to stand beside these brave students from my high school who are looking for real and actionable change to come from the debates surrounding the Parkland, FL shooting. Small changes in national policy can lead to big changes in the safety that exists (or doesn’t) in our schools. It is my turn to be part of solutions that keep my children safe every day at school. The debate doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive, citizens can and do have the right to bear arms, alongside more reasonable regulation of these weapons. We can allocate funds for more sustained support of the mentally ill. We don’t have to throw our hands up in defeat simply because we’ve been asked to do something difficult. If I tell my students every day that they can do hard things, then I should be able to do hard things too. I hope as a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, an administrator or a concerned citizen you’ll consider speaking out on these matters.

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