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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Thanksgiving Wardrobe Picks

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Brown Sweater, Black Skinny Jeans, Beaded Top, Gold Velvet Top, Tee Shirt (similar), Black Spotted Top, Leather (Pleather) Skirt (similar)

Oh man! How long has it been? Too long! As always, friends, I’m over here trying to do the BLEND– creating meaningful space for the most important things in my life!! Something I frequently return to is that this space really IS meaningful to me. I may not have as much time as I once did to devote to editorial, but I certainly still enjoy pulling together a mix of life and style content. So here’s my latest guide to fall dressing with a special emphasis on Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving I’m keeping it casual. However, I’ve found that Thanksgiving often calls for special touches– a cozy sweater, a little bit of leather, and something with sparkle. This hint of sparkle is practically part of my genetic code as I remember back to my grandmother’s gold lame mumu she donned each Thanksgiving of my childhood. I’m really digging all of the golds, browns, and elevated neutrals that fall style invariably forecasts. Not only is fall extra-special when it comes to neutrals, you can also have fun adding texture and layers as the temps drop.

One thing about this style mash-up is that each of these pieces can be subbed in throughout the weekend to fit your schedule. Is everyone in your family wearing jeans and a tee shirt for dinner? Great! You’ve got a great graphic option. Are you heading out to a special performance or desert soiree? Fabulous, you’ll throw on your leather skirt and velvet top, plus leopard mules. Are you heading to a pre-feast neighborhood football game? Awesome. You can reach for a sweater, jeans, beanie, and cozy coat to keep you warm while you cheer on your mates. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Cozy Coat, Hat, Velvet Ribbons, Turquoise Ring, Birkenstocks, Sneakers, Leopard Mules, Rings, Oversize Jean Jacket

Thanksgiving Extras

 

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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Getting Real

I’m looking down the pipeline toward the end of 2018. What?!? I cannot believe we’ve come this far, can you? I’m flabbergast (if you didn’t gather from the over-abundance of exclamation points)! As we come in toward the finish line, I’ve paused to think about some of the things that I accomplished this past year and some of the my hopes and dreams for the year to come.

When I began Refined + Rugged I was a stay-at-home parent with two small boys. I wanted a way to push myself to write everyday, but I felt as though I didn’t want the writing to be too complicated or that I had time to devote to larger publishing projects. I wanted a way to document my style and to talk about fashion. I still love styling up wonderful outfits, though my daily wardrobe is decidedly more professional.

I also wanted a way to journal pieces of my life that would otherwise be lost! So here I am back at my computer because I want to dip my toe back into this thing called blogging. Really I view this as an online journal, a repository for the same stuff I wanted to capture the first time around– substance and some of my family goings on, style and some of my daily outfits, self and some of the stuff that floats around in my head.

As of late I’ve been inspired by some fantastic bloggers who continue to blog to their very own beat, and I’ve had a talk with myself that goes something like this: “You don’t have to do this the way that everyone else does this. You don’t have anything to prove by being part of the online community of lifestyle and tastemakers. You don’t have to be any brand but your own.”

Yes, here I am, thinking about how I can continue to create content for this site while I work at being the best partner and mom that I can, employed in my dream job as an English teacher which takes A LOT of my energy and time, and still living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I hope that I’ll be able to take this a day at a time and continue to offer creative inspiration to others. Heaven knows I need encouragement, support, care, and voice. I consider this a tiny opportunity to be heard.

Thank you all who have followed my blog from day one, those who continue to follow me on this journey, or those who have begun to follow me at some point along the way. I treasure the chance to share on this platform and can’t wait to employ everything I’ve learned about the comma splice in the last year! LOL.

XX,

Megan

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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Groovy Stripes: Outfit Repeats and a NNTC Update

Remix Spring 2018

This week was an absolute bear. Work was pressing. We had a sick little babe at our house. I have to give thanks and praise to my husband and my mom and dad for helping our sick kiddo to have time to heal and get back on his feet. We found out on Thursday night he had step throat, now with antibiotics he is finally getting better!

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Work it! Power Red

Scarlet, papaya, crimson, fiery sunset– all things RED! Have any of you ever been bold enough to layer yourself in this punchy color? One of the most iconic blogger-gals Blair (below), of Atlantic-Pacific, has rocked many head-to-toe red looks over the years.

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While I don’t hide my passion for red, sometimes a simple coat or accessory is enough to bring that bright pop to your daily dress. Perhaps drenching yourself in vermilion hues isn’t your style speed. So while red is definitely on my style radar this fall for both work and weekend, I probably won’t be rocking any head-to-toe ensembles of this vibrant shade.

Instead, I plan to add some red on the accessory level. Here are a few of my favorite red outfit additions. Coat, earrings, pants, bag (on sale!), shoes.

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Just one more look from Blair because I simply can’t resist!

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Wearing: 7 Spring Style Staples

Leather Jacket, Eyelet Dress, Striped Tee, Distressed Boyfriend Jeans, Off-the-shoulder Top, Anorak, Sporty Kicks, Similar Earrings

A quick look at what I’ve been wearing lately. I love the opportunity Spring affords to layer pieces that may be stand-alone come Summer. Perhpas the most fun/outrageous/talked about item on this list are these earrings that I picked up on an after-Christmas sale at J.Crew. The first time I wore them, with exaggerated flares, patent cobalt pumps, and a cropped sweatshirt, I believe my husbands exact words were, “Wow. Those are a point of interest, aren’t they!?”

My oldest calls them my Mardi Gras earrings, and I did wear them to the Mardi Gras school fundraiser. My youngest, however, took a different bent, “Are those tic-tacs, Mom?” Beyond the conversation-inducing ear wear, I’m sticking to a mix of classic meets current in my wardrobe mix this Spring. Always stripes, layering with this brilliant leather jacket, and a touch of eyelet to honor the change of season. Though you better believe I’ll be sporting the leather jacket over the eyelet dress as temps change.

This pair of distressed boyfriend jeans has been my weekend jam. In fact, many days I come home from teaching and throw them on with an easy top to start homework and dinner with my littles. Though they are the epitome of casual, I’ll dress them up for a date night, no doubt. I love to counter rips with the most sleek high heels I have. If you’ve never given the combination a try, I dare you to see if you don’t feel sexy and comfortable all at once!

Have a wonderful Monday, friends!

XX, Megan

Oh, and this sweet frock! Because whimsical florals should always have a seat at the Srping style table, and I really have gotten so much wear out of this dress. I plan to wear it gobs through the Spring and into Summer.

Floral Maxi Dress