Talking School: 4 Reasons to do it less this year

I speak 3 languages. English, Spanish and School. I am a Trilingual educator.

“Talking School” is a teacher phenomenon.  Teacher-ese if you will. Do not underestimate the tiny crevices into which  school talk can leak.


I have talked school floating in the pool. (I do not like it, Sam I am!) On a beach in Jamaica. On top of a pile of snow. At weddings. With strangers. On airplanes. At Bachelorette Parties. At the doctor’s office. At the car wash. With family. With any living being with ears (and the occasional inanimate object).

You may think you’re safe until the beautiful red of a setting sun reminds you of the day your “tough kid” got all Green Traffic lights until the very last section where you had to color it in red due to a certain throwing incident. Clearly, I need to text my friend about this memory and lament how I had only used 67 strategies with her that day when I could have used 70. Nuts! I missed the sunset.

You’re drifting off to sleep camping and feel a weed by your feet in your tent. All of a sudden you remember the failed seed growing experiment in your classroom because you forgot to water them over the weekend. So you ask the person next to you, “Am I the worst human being in this world?”

Teachers have this uncanny ability to bring up work in the most random of situations.

“School talk” forms immediate and comfortable bonds with other educators who genuinely and totally understand. If you are engaging in School Talk with someone who is not a teacher, for example, your spouse, cousin or 7 year old you are babysitting, you might lose them when you start name dropping Marzano and Danielson like they are old friends.

This school year, I am setting some goals for outside of work: not so much school talk.

Now, before I explain why I want to have less “school talk” this year, let me first define school talk as conversations about work in social settings that have no relation to school.

I am not proposing we stop collaborating, discussing ideas or brainstorming solutions to problems as teams of teachers. Obviously, during the school day, school talk IS my life.

I breathe lesson objectives (and pencil sharpener dust).

I drone on about schedule changes.

I ask for advice on specific students.

I share stories with colleagues.

I email my team.

There is no end to school talk. And that’s how it should be.

Just like workers at Papa John’s talk about pizza making and delivery routes.

Like Librarians talk about missing books and check-out times.

Like Starbuck’s barista’s discuss how they are angels sent from the Lord above who deserve eternal rewards for their contributions to society, and specifically teachers.

During the work day, I am devoted to my job. Heart and soul (except for Monday mornings…I will admit that sometimes my heart just isn’t in it then. Okay and Friday afternoons and days before break.)

But when I close up shop and walk out of room 15 this year, I need to remember that a whole other life awaits me outside those walls. I forget that sometimes. But I CAN leave school stuff at school. Here are 4 quick reasons why I am trying to do that this year

  1. It tends to turn negative

I LOVE my job. More than I feel like a job should be loved. However, get me chatting with a couple of teacher friends at the beach and even with the best of intentions, the conversations can turn south quickly. I don’t want to be a part, or the cause, of negative talk or gossip that involves colleagues, policies or things happening in my place of work. The less “outside” teacher talk, the less chance I will put my foot in my mouth and say something I shouldn’t say.

2. It’s annoying to those who don’t speak the language

A normal amount of talking about jobs is good and healthy. We spend lots of time at our work and I think if you are married to a teacher or love a teacher, it is important to hear a bit about what happens in the classroom. Sharing highs and lows of the day, funny moments and frustrations is wonderful and wildly entertaining for others.

However, when the conversations become obsessive or to the people you are talking to, you might start losing the crowd. My dad, who works at the Post Office, loves to hear about the happenings of my classroom, however if I go on a rant about the new state requirements  and the online educator system glitches, and how I am exhausted of tracking data on a particular student’s behavior, I might hear some deep breathing and the occasional snore. My dad can sleep anywhere.

3. We have other things going on

Hey. My life is so exciting. I have SO many awesome things going on to talk about. Okay, a little bit of sarcasm, but for real, there is more to me than being a teacher.

I can talk about being a Christian, a friend, a daughter, a writer, or even talk to you about my love of snack food and my favorite kinds. My teacher friends have families and pools (amen amen) and health issues and famous people sightings and cool things happening. Maybe I will learn some new things about coworkers this year if I talk to them about those things at the Christmas party instead.

If teaching defines me as a human, if the ups and downs of my classroom dictate my persona, then I advise everyone to run far away from me any week of a full moon, or the week before and after Halloween. Those kids be crazy.

It is normal to celebrate successes and lament tough days with others, but there should be a healthy balance, and I am learning that more every year: that I can let things go.

4. You need a break

You just need a break. You’re tired. Between the 7 hour school days, 8 extra hours of meetings, before and after school prep, writing sub plans and extra commitments like conferences, don’t you think you talk school and think school and breathe school enough?


Don’t get me wrong. As the new school year is just days away, I truly cannot wait to get back into the classroom and “talk school” until I am blue in the face at work. I am only saying that I want to make a more conscious effort this year to not lose the other areas of my life that tend to get buried between the months of September-June. Outside of the freshly cleaned hallways and newly waxed floors, lives a 25 year old  with more knowledge about frozen yogurt than anyone I have ever met. I need that side of me to make more of an appearance this school year.







Dear Fellow Women: 10 Times I’m Not Judging You

“Don’t judge me.”

I say it. My friends say  it. Strangers jokingly say it to each other in passing  (at least I did this week to an elderly gentlemen as he caught me opening a bag of chips in the grocery store parking lot).

Although I am sure this isn’t just a “women’s issue,” I do find it more apparent amongst my own kind.

Most of the time it’s in fun and harmless, but I feel even in the most lighthearted of times, it can reveal a deeper insecurity about ourselves as women and how we want others to see us.

In a society of social media highlighting the very best of others’ lives, we are stuck examining our own monotony, our own mess.

It’s easy to judge ourselves when we are comparing the grind of our daily life to only the smallest, most edited portion of another.

So I propose that we stop using the J word. To ourselves. To each other.

So let me tell you all of the times I am not judging you.

I am not judging you for your messy house. Listen, I can barely take care of myself. It’s exhausting and I have no one to blame but me. Honestly, how does anyone keep a kitchen clean? I make half a sandwich and it’s as if Subway opened a free lunch buffet on my counters open to the public. It’s comical to me when my friends with multiple kids apologize for their mess. I think to my little apartment and how you can’t even see the floor of my closet most days.

I am not judging you for finishing your entire plate of Fettuccini Alfredo and then ordering dessert. Once a colleague gently told me that  she couldn’t take me seriously with the chocolate all over my face. (I had gotten myself into the chocolate fountain that day.) I once snuck into the staff lounge after hours and ate sheet cake in the dark. I double fist donuts on the reg. Need I say more? Get on with your Pasta loving, self.

I am not judging you for your misbehaving kids. I don’t have kids of my own, but I am a teacher. You can be the best parent, grandparent, teacher, or babysitter in the world, but something in the air of a grocery store, restaurant, or any public place in general can turn children into monsters. I don’t think you’re a bad mom or a bad teacher or a bad caretaker when your 7 year old does his best impression of a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. I get it.

I am not judging you for binge watching your favorite show on Netflix instead of doing something “productive”. Because I was once so emotionally caught up in a show that I prayed for the characters before bed. I have seen the entire SERIES of the Office at least 3 times. Do you know how many hours that is? Last night I ate Sugar Snap peas, pretzels, and spoonfuls of peanut butter all in bed while watching Friends. Don’t get me started.

I am not judging you for wearing sweats to the grocery store. There is a reason  there is no documentation of some of the outfits I have worn in public. My running errands attire is “Homeless Chic.” Your sweatpants are classy compared to some of the outfits I have gone out of the house in.

I’m not judging you for not working out. Because yesterday, although I did eventually make it to the gym, I sprawled across my bed audibly protesting the even thought of moving. I yelled to my roommate across the apartment, complaining about my plight of missing motivation. I literally, at one point, rolled around on the floor in agony at the mere thought of moving. Do not tell me that you not working out is more shameful than that embarrassing show I put on.

I’m not judging you for not being organized. I am a teacher and at end of the year I needed to hand back approximately 1,350 papers that I forgot about. They were in no order and represented about 20 classes of students. I literally threw them in a big pile on the floor and the students went “scuba diving” to find their names. Kids were on their hands and knees, slipping on papers and searching for their names.The papers stretched out almost from wall to wall. Don’t talk to me about not being organized. I need an intervention.

I’m not judging your for your emotional meltdown. I have cried in the arms of people I barely knew because they caught me at the wrong time. I’ve started sobbing over tiny details because they remind me of bigger ones. We don’t all have it together all the time. Most of us just try to keep it together sometimes.

I’m not judging you for your relationship problems. Don’t feel embarrassed about the issues you face in your relationship, with your children, in your friendships or your marriage. I’ve been there (minus the whole married with kids one #workingonit). Anything you have been through, I bet I can relate in some aspect. I have sat at my work desk and sobbed during my lunch break over breakups. I’ve muddled my way through a horribly wrong relationship in search of finding the right one. Your problems aren’t worse or crazy. They are normal.

So maybe, just maybe, there may be some areas of my life where I have it all together right now. You may have caught me during a week where my apartment is clean, I washed my hair regularly and chose broccoli over french fries.

But your large plate of pasta has been my half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting.

Your messy kitchen has been the trunk of my car that houses enough random goods to provide the essentials of life to a small family.

Your insecurities about how you look in leggings is me avoiding going to the doctor so I don’t have to see how much I weigh.

Your tears have been my sobs.

Your unbelief has been my hours of questioning.

Your mess is my mess.

There is beauty in all of the messy, imperfect parts of you and in your life, me and my life.

Let’s not be afraid to be real around one another. Real is good. Real is powerful.

I’m not judging you.



Using Cheese to Encourage Engagement and Participation in the Classroom

If someone told me a few years ago that I would eventually possess the ability to get a group of sixth grade boys to curtsy like princesses during a lesson on fairy tale vocabulary, I would have asked just what kind of black magic I got myself into.

It must be some sort of wizardry.

Student buy-in can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching. Getting students to participate and get excited about things that are, well, for lack of a better term, boring, is an issue. However, once students are sold, magic can happen in the classroom.

I think it is important as teachers to own our areas of strength. We all are hyper-aware of our weaknesses. We are constantly comparing ourselves to other teachers and feeling insecure about our Word Wall or the way we set up our lesson plans. However, each of us has at least one thing we excel at, something we are naturally gifted in. I vote we start owning that and instead of worrying it will come off as “braggy,” share our expertise with others and then be willing to learn from them in areas we struggle.

After I wrote the article, “11 Times Teaching is the Best: Even When it Isn’t” (you can read that here) I started getting tons of emails of teachers asking me about my Cheese Scale for Attitude and Engagement in the classroom.

My area of mastery is student engagement, and although I will own that in this post, I hope it is understood that I have MANY areas of weakness and by no means think I am “super-teacher.”

For example, last year at the end of the year I needed to hand back approximately 1,350 papers that I forgot about. They were in no order and represented about 20 classes of students. So I literally threw them in a big pile on the floor and the students went “scuba diving” to find their names. Kids were on their hands and knees, slipping on papers and searching for their names.The papers stretched out almost from wall to wall.

“Dylan, here is yours!”  Dylan looks up from being buried under 18 inches of paper and grabs it from his friend with gratitude and sits down in exhaustion.

Not my best teacher moment. Organization is clearly not my strong point as a teacher.  One fifth grade student gently told me, “Maybe next year you could keep a folder system.”

Yes, maybe.

Organization is one of many areas in which I need improvement. While I am strong in student participation and engagement and love sharing what works for me, I am a work in progress in so many areas.

Okay, I just wanted to make sure you knew I wasn’t pretending to have it all together. I hope I don’t hear from my principal about the scuba diving incident.

With all that said, I want to share a strategy I use in my classroom to keep students engaged and actively participating at all times. It involves cheese.

Now, I had a wonderful diagram of my Cheese Scale that a 6th grade student drew me, but, plot twist, I lost it, so let me try to explain.

Like many of my interesting ideas, this one came to me out of nowhere when I was trying to convince a group a 11 year olds to do the dance moves to this crazy song we were listening to using our new vocabulary. There is always that group of students that live and breathe to make you happy, but when it comes to getting adolescents to dance in front of their friends, you might get some push-back. Getting students excited to learn about conjugating verbs is not natural.

We started having a conversation about cheese.


I began by explaining that I knew that many of the things i asked them to do were a bit crazy and silly. I leveled with them by saying I by no means thought what I was presenting was “cool.” It was totally cheesy and that was the beauty of it. I am not living in an alternate universe where I think that grammar lessons are the definition of fun. But I do say that the more we get into it, what we make of it, can make it as fun as it can ever be.

So we started talking about cheese in relation to attitude and participation.

Since almost all of what I ask them to do for me is silly and cheesy, everything on the scale is in relation to cheese, but the flavor of cheese differs greatly.

The language we use in our building for student behavior is “Expected” and “Unexpected.”

We began to discuss how a scale of cheese can demonstrate expected behavior.

Now, at this point, be aware you will need to settle in and give a bit of time to having an in depth conversation about dairy products with your students. It will get strange at times, and if your evaluator walks in during a discussion about Parmesan Cheese, have him or her shoot me an email and I will take the fall for you.

I started by talking about Cottage Cheese. It is still on our scale of expected behavior, but it is at a very basic level of flavor. Cottage cheese is the bottom of our cheese scale.

Now, at this moment, you will have passionate advocates for Cottage Cheese who become wildly offended you are placing this curdy goodness at the bottom. At this point, you explain Cottage Cheese is still in the A-OK zone. Nothing is wrong with Cottage Cheese, but in comparison with flavor and experience, it is just a little more bland than other cheese products.

I make sure to emphasize that nothing is wrong with Cottage Cheese, because there are students who will only be willing to give a cottage cheese effort and that is okay.

At the beginning of a lesson, I always give a “Cottage Cheese minimum.” The expected behavior for this cottage cheese minimum is that you repeat the word and do the motion for the word. You don’t have to be excited about it. You don’t have to smile and enjoy yourself, but you must participate. This give kids the freedom and the “pass” to not be silly if they don’t want to be.

At this point, we talk about everything in between Cottage Cheese and a nice Sharp Cheddar.


The cardboard piece of cheese that started it all.

This is when you need to let them get into the cheese discussion. Maybe have some cheese focus groups. Mozzarella vs. Provolone. American vs. Monterey Jack. Ask their favorites and ask them to describe the flavor and experience.

Although Sharp Cheddar may not be the very most flavorful and most intense cheese, I use Sharp Cheddar cheese at the top of my scale (except for Spicy Nacho, and I will get into that later).

Sharp Cheddar cheese participation is all-in, 100% effort. You are giving it your most flavorful, tastiest all. You are living and breathing this lesson.

You can make a visual of Cottage Cheese at the bottom and Sharp Cheddar at top, and have kids fill in other types of cheese in between. I have all students model what the “Cottage Cheese” level of participation would be and what the “Sharp Cheddar” would be. I accept both and anything in between.

What we love about Sharp Cheddar cheese is that it is flavorful and adds so much to the eating experience. It can wake up boring eggs or add a kick to tortilla chips. Without that kick of flavor, things can be bland. A nice firm cheddar can change everything.

All cheese is beautiful. All is accepted in my classroom.

There is a time and a place for an even higher level of cheese. Spicy Nacho.

There are occasions in my classroom where we throw caution to the wind and reach volume levels that I am sure my neighbors absolutely love. #sarcasm

We had a song that taught our vocab words, and students would ask “Can we dance to it Spicy Nacho?” and on occasion, and depending on the amount of coffee I had that day, I would permit this.

Spicy Nacho is total chaos. The deal I have with my students is that I will let them go Spicy Nacho as long as I am able to get them back to a normal Cheddar in a matter of seconds. We have the obvious rules of safe body and voice, but other than that, if they want to spin around while singing in Spanish at an alarmingly loud level, go for it. But when Spicy Nacho is over, it’s over.

I once had a teacher visit my classroom and say to me after, “I was equal parts terrified and amazed.”

There are moments of total chaos in my classroom, but it is always productive chaos. Of course there are times I see students taking it too far, but I am not afraid of chaos. As long as the students are learning, the occasional Spicy Nacho makes everything more fun.

As always, I am getting wordy. Here are a few quick pointers of what I have learned from managing a very cheesy classroom:

  1. Be a cheeseball yourself

This is exhausting. But if you aren’t willing to get wildly, overly excited about a lesson you are presenting, there is no way the students will. I’m not scared to embarrass myself in front of the kids. They bond over having something universal to giggle at: my dance moves. When they see me putting myself out there, they are much more willing to do the same.

2. Relationship first

It is important to have built a safe and authentic relationship with students, especially the older ones, before they are comfortable enough to be silly in front of their peers. Kindergarten and first grade students may be an easy sell on acting like farm animals or making elephant sounds, but getting a sixth grade student to do that in front of his peers takes trust and time. Build that first.

3. Accept that some students might always choose Cottage Cheese

As long as students are learning and engaged, I am happy. Some kids just won’t ever be willing to hit Sharp Cheddar, and that’s okay. Cottage Cheese isn’t bad. It just isn’t as much fun. But my job is for kids to learn, and if kids learn via cottage cheese, then grab a spoon.

Every class has a different personality. In my job, I see about 28 different classes per week. There are some classes I use this scale as part of our normal language, and others where I barely mention it. You are the best judge of the climate and personality of each class and trust yourself to make those calls.

The Cheese Scale has been a blast in my classroom and the students have totally eaten it up (couldn’t resist that pun.) Please let me know if you have any other questions!

My Cheese scale is not the “end all be all.” It is simply something that works for me and is something in which teachers around the country have emailed me about. I never thought I would be writing a post about cheese, but here I am!

I am always open to new ideas for student engagement and would love to hear your thoughts!





How Replacing One Word Changed So Much

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend said to me, “I feel like you’re just anxious about being anxious right now…”

And I replied, “Welcome to my brain. Please stay awhile.”

When I told him that I would love to try out his logical, structured, factual engineer brain for a day, he responded, “Does that mean I would have to try yours?” (he wouldn’t last an hour anyways, most would fall due to exhaustion).


Bless his heart.

Anxiety has always been a part of who I am. It is not WHO I am, but is is a part of me.

My brain is awesome, but it can also be terrifying.

My family tells stories of me as a 6 year old, standing in the corner wringing her hands as we were dropping off my sister at summer camp.


Baby Jenna had constant anxiety that her stomach rolls would actually eat themselves.

My dad had to physically carry me (and as you see in the above picture, that was no easy task) into my first day of 1st grade, my first tennis lesson and my first time ice skating. I’m actually surprised no one contacted authorities over the amount of times I was transported into activities against my will (but for my own good).

( In my parents’ defense, I would BEG for them to sign me up for these events, have them register and pay for me and THEN refuse to go once I got there. I was a joy and a breeze to raise.)


Jeff and Beth. The MVPS of 1990-2008 when I lived with them.

Every major disruptive change in my life (good or bad) typically results in some level of an anxious response.

While “certainty” and “known” are my favorite words, “uncertainty” and “unknown” are my worst enemies.

There are times that fear and anxiety absolutely control my life.

Not to discredit all the “worrywarts” out there who  get moderately stressed or nervous on occasion, but I am talking about deep, paralyzing anxiety that stops you in your tracks.

Anxiety and fear that envelopes you and sometimes you don’t even know why.

Panic and dread that come over you and make it hard to breathe, let alone explain how you’re feeling.

A racing mind that only slows down enough to find another thought to become obsessed with.

If you have never struggled with anxiety, you are probably reading this thinking I am absolutely crazy (no argument there).

If you have struggled with anxiety, you’re reading this in relief saying “Thank the Lord I’m not the only one.”

Everyone’s anxiety is different and manifests itself in different ways and with different triggers, but most anxiety is rooted in uncertainty and losing control.

If you’re bored one day and feel like messing with an anxious person’s head (that is a psychotic thing to do and if that sounds appealing to you, please stop reading here), there are two surefire words to spiral them into a frenzied panic:

What if


A few months ago, I was struggling through an intense time of anxiety and had gone home for the weekend to be doted on by my loving parents (because I’m still 12). On my way back to Grand Rapids, I spent my time wrestling with my thoughts WWE style.

Fear  was attempting to take over as I obsessed about the what if’s of an unknown future.

What if

What if

What if.

But then I felt God say to me, in a way that was so much different than the voice of anxiety and so contrasting to the emotional ups and downs I was experiencing:

Why are you so afraid of my plans for you. What do you know about me?

I need you to get to a point where EVEN IF I lead you into unknown territory and EVEN IF your plans are not my plans, you trust me, because you know I am good.

This world is full of uncertainty. I wish I knew exactly what God wanted from me and my life every moment of every day, but I don’t.

The “what if” game has no certain outcome. It has limitless answers and the wilder your imagination, the longer you can play. (Spoiler alert: this is a game where everyone loses).

What if leads me down a road of uncertainty and turmoil.

For example, let’s play this game for kicks and giggles with a pretty shallow what if question:

What if I left my curling iron plugged in? LET’S PLAY.

My apartment could burn down.

I could lose everything.

I would have no where to live.

I would live out  of my car and drink river water.

I could be found alone on a street at night sleeping and be kidnapped and forced to work as a gardener (the worst job I could ever have).

I would work long days in the hot sun with no contact with the outside world, harvesting radishes and using my tears as a watering device.

Wasn’t that fun? I started with a curling iron and ended up working as a kidnapped gardener.

So on that car ride, I felt God remind me of His faithfulness. I changed the word “What” to “Even.”

Even if.

Even if leads me down a road, although maybe unknown, still certain.

Even if forces me to fall back on what I know. Not indulging in my disturbingly vivid imagination of every possibility that could happen.

Even if someone I love abandons me.

Even if that candidate wins the election.

Even if all of my friends have babies that are in seventh grade by the time I get married.

Even if I lose my job.

Even if my apartment burns down.

Even if His plans are different than mine.

What do I know about God? What has He shown me in 25 years that I have rest in?

That He is faithful.

That He has picked me up from ashes before and He would do it again.

That He is sovereign over this world and sovereign over my life.

That He is in control.

That He has placed the best support system on planet earth in my life and I would never be alone.

That He works everything out for my good, regardless of the pain it takes to get me there.

So even if the worst case scenario happens to me in this life, even if I lose everything, I know for certain that He is faithful and His plan WILL come to a beautiful place of redemption that tells a story much bigger than the one I was planning on telling.

There have been seasons in my life of deep grief and heartache. Times where I was so broken I didn’t know how I could ever be restored.

Yet faithfully, He put the broken pieces back together and created something more beautiful than I could ever imagine.

“Even if” changed so much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have devoted years of my life to learning to live with anxiety and this one phrase was not the magic cure. It helped to change a pattern of thinking, yet I am very aware that anxiety is much deeper and can be much more severe.

God has supplied me with many different tools, people and support to live freely and joyfully. If you have any questions about my journey with anxiety, I would love to talk with you. I am so open on my blog, but there are obviously personal details about my life and my journey that I keep private, but if you are someone who struggles with anxiety and wants more of my story, email me any time 🙂 My dream is to start some kind of anxiety support group 😉 #forrealthough












Why I Haven’t Said Anything: I Promise I Still Care

I read somewhere this week, amongst the hundreds of posts I have scrolled through, that if I am not saying anything, then I am the problem. That my public neutrality on the issue makes me this or makes me that.

I felt those statements in my gut.

It’s not that I haven’t said anything. I have said many things to many people.

But I haven’t said anything publicly. I haven’t updated my status including hashtags or posted anything political on social media. I haven’t gotten into a single Facebook argument in the comment sections (I have read some pretty nasty ones though).

My social media ‘silence’ does not equal indifference. It does not mean I haven’t woken up and had tears streaming down my face whilst reading the news. It does not mean I don’t care.

Oh, how I care. Sometimes I feel as if I am  carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I cry over injustice and I grieve for people that I have never even met. I care.

But I have been really busy doing something else besides posting about my opinion. I don’t think that speaking up for what you believe in is wrong, by any means. However, for me, in these moments, in this time of uncertainty and division and hatred and fear, hearing and understanding is my first priority.

So instead of speaking, I have been listening.

Because before I speak, if I choose to do so publicly, I want to understand. I am being careful and intentional with the words I do say. Not because I am scared to give my opinion or want to play it safe, but because words carry weight. Yes, words can heal, but the wrong ones can wound in deep and profound ways.

I don’t have a large following compared to many, but as a blogger and as someone who writes for anyone in the world to read, my words have impact. I have the responsibility and privilege to represent Jesus in what I say and what I write. I don’t want to give an emotional, biased opinion about something I do not fully understand. Right now, the right thing for me to do is listen.

Not the kind of listening  that I tend to do SO much:

The “I’m texting someone but still mostly listening to what you’re saying because I’m nodding my head and saying ‘Mmhmm’ and ‘that’s funny’ every few lines.”

Or the kind where I have Netflix on in the background as I clean my room and partly listen to an episode of The Office and half heartedly attempt to organize the hot mess that is my living space.

I’m talking about real, active listening. The opposite of sitting idly and doing nothing. Listening with every intention to put that learning into action.


‘Whole Body listening’ is a teacher term that we use with students to encourage active participation and engagement. We teach that body language and position and eye contact are ways they can show they are listening and respecting the speaker.

These past few weeks, I have been Whole Body Listening.

I have been listening with my ears, in the literal sense. To radio interviews. Eavesdropping on conversations (sorry). To dialogue of people I know and trust. To friends. To strangers. To pastors. To people on the streets. I’ve chimed in on occasion, but I have done a lot of literal listening.

I’ve been listening with my eyes. I have been taking in everything. I have been scanning rooms and noticing people that maybe I wouldn’t have noticed before. I have been reading posts and articles and blogs to stay informed and in touch with the world. I’ve been reading the Bible to stay well fed and prepared.

I’ve been listening with my hands. I’m not one of those people that posts or broadcasts to the world when I do something kind for someone else. When I sacrifice or when I bless someone, it isn’t something I feel I should boast about, but these past few weeks I have put love into action more than ever. I have taken every single opportunity possible to go out of my way to love people extravagantly. In tiny ways, and in big ways.

I’ve been listening with my mouth. Although this sounds totally contradictory, I have been using my mouth to listen and learn. This is something I am not used to. Typically in the life of being me, I say an alarming amount of words. My boyfriend told me yesterday that he was worried I was going to explode because he knew I had so many things to say that I hadn’t said yet. Many times those words are about me and my thoughts, my opinions and my observations (lucky him). But I am trying hard to use my words to direct the focus onto others.  I am asking follow-up questions that are meaningful and relate to what the other person is trying to express.

I’ve been listening with my head. I have thought logically and factually about everything going on. I’ve looked at these issues from every possible side and perspective. I’ve examined my own biases and looked at things from different angles.

I’ve been listening with my heart. I’ve been angry. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been devastated. I’ve been confused. I’ve gone through the full spectrum of human emotions over this broken world.

I’ve been listening with my soul. I’ve prayed over this broken world. I’ve prayed and pleaded for specific people in my life and out of my life affected by sin and injustice. My soul physically aches for other’s pain.

My lack of speaking out on social media has nothing to do with indifference and everything to do with wanting to reach others in the most responsible and meaningful way. And for me, in this moment,  I am doing the reaching in my every day life. I am living my heart  out by being careful with my words and thoughtful with my actions.

My stomach has churned over the divisive arguments and the words used to intentionally hurt others.

Every word I say has the potential to inflict pain or to give life. Especially in this day and age of social media, words and intentions can be twisted, morphed and taken out of context. Even something well-meaning could be misconstrued and lead to scrutiny and division on the internet.

Besides my relationship with my Heavenly Father, there is nothing on planet Earth more important to me than the relationships I have with people.. All kinds of people from all walks of life. People that I love with a deep, profound love. Young and old. Rich and Poor. Black and White. English speaking and  Spanish speaking. I would never, could never say something out of emotion or perhaps ignorance, and damage my relationship with those treasured ones.

So for now, I listen and I learn. I cry and I pray and I lift my hands to the only One who can fix this. The only One who can take this division and turn it into unity.

I’m listening in humility for ways I could have offended or hurt someone without even knowing.

I’m self-examining and society-examining and culture-examining.

So, no, I haven’t said anything on my Facebook status. But believe me, I’ve been busy out in real life, learning and seeking and listening, because if and when the time comes where the Lord calls me to state my opinion publicly, I want to be ready.

James 1:19

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.




If We Knew the Plane was Going Down

For Christmas last year, my sister got me a great new chair for my desk at work. The instructions to put it together were moderately easy, but like with most things that come with a packet of directions, I gave up before I even tried. #inspirationquotes

My dad put most of it together, but couldn’t finish it because it wouldn’t fit in my car (my dad’s worst nightmare: halfway completing a project and entrusting me with the end result. He had little confidence).

Before I left for Grand Rapids, he repeatedly tried to explain the steps to successfully put the  parts together. Clear instructions.

I listened to 0% of his explanation. I saw his mouth moving and arms flailing (Dad talks with his hands) and thought about other things. Probably food.

Later, I arrived to work with half of my chair, left it like that for a week, and then followed just one direction my dad told me to do, and got someone to put it together for me.


My dad’s confidence in me is simply energizing.

Multi-step instructions have never been my cup of tea. No patience for them.

Speaking of my lack of patience (my boyfriend is working with me on this, along with perseverance in adversity), I was on a plane a few months ago flying to see my sister in Florida. I was gazing out the window,  probably fidgeting recklessly and daydreaming about snack food, when the flight attendant began her safety presentation.

Conversations continued, people kept their headphones in, and almost no one was paying attention, including me.

I have sat through probably 100 explanations of how to tighten the oxygen mask around my face, but honestly, I rarely listen. Due to my  inability/unwillingness to think critically and problem solve and my less than impressive attention span, it is clear that my odd of survival are dismal in an emergency situation. Hope I’m sitting next to an engineer or someone from the show LOST. They have been through it all.

While the chances of a plane going down are incredibly slim, the information the attendants give us really is life or death.

How casually we chat with the person next to us, as the voice of a stranger calmly and robotically tells us where to find our life preserver in case of a crash landing into the ocean.

The irony of it struck me. While I try to get a sneak peek at the Flight Attendant cart, trying to identify if this is an airline that gives snacks or not, there are simultaneous instructions on how to not die.

Like I said, the chances of a plane crashing are tiny.

But what if we knew for sure the plane was going down?

How much differently would we behave during that demonstration?

I would be hanging on their every word, taking notes, and preparing myself as best as I could to not only save my life, but to help save the lives of those around me.

As morbid as it seems, this life we live is a plane that eventually is going down.

Not one of us is getting out alive.

My heart has been breaking more than ever as I observe and read about the world around us.

Yet, amidst the heartache and trials and tribulations, I have hope. I have confidence. I have peace.

I can float through life refusing to put together any sort of furniture and end up fine.

I can ignore the directions while making Snickerdoodle cookies, and while disappointed and inexplicably surprised, mediocre cookies aren’t that big of a deal.

Truly, there is only one set of instructions that I need to listen to that matter at all: it’s the set of instructions that graces the pages of my Bible. The Gospel.

Because my plane is going down. Will I be ready?

I have no idea when this world will end nor when Jesus will come back again, nor when my last day on earth will be. Prophecies have been being fulfilled for two thousand years, and it could be another two thousand more (for the end of the world, not my life span). But whether Jesus comes back in my lifetime or not, it is my job to do everything I can to point others to Him in this life.

I dove into the book of Revelation last year. The study of the end times. I wish I could tell you it’s all going to be okay.

But if there is one thing I took away from that confusing, many times frightening book, is that unless you know Jesus, it’s not going to be okay. 

Fortunately for us, He is a patient God, who wants all of us to know Him and be known by Him.

I’ve searched and I’ve looked for other ways for it to be okay. I’ve studied other religions, different interpretations of our Bible and at times, even wished that I was wrong about my faith.

Because if I was wrong about my faith, then I wouldn’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wouldn’t have to ache for the people who don’t know Jesus.

I left that study with a feeling of urgency.

My life, at times, has been a really poor example of that Biblical set of instructions. I have failed more times than I can count. I have made some decisions that I am ashamed of. I have hurt others with my words and with my actions.

Sometimes I am scared to  loudly proclaim the name of Jesus because the last thing I want to be is a hypocrite or a poor representation of His name. I want to wait until I have that area of sin under control, until I don’t struggle with anxiety or until I have every question answered and everything figured out.

But there is no time to wait.

And that’s the amazing thing about grace.

In my weakness, in my imperfection, in my failings and shortcomings, I can still proclaim the name of Jesus.

Because it isn’t about me.

It’s about Him. While my life can be a living sacrifice, I shouldn’t be pointing others to me. I should be pointing others to Him with my life. My messy, imperfect life.

I don’t deserve it, yet it is freely given to me.

I can’t imagine being next to someone on a plane, knowing it was going to crash, and withholding the information necessary for them to survive.

So why do I sometimes cower in fear over sharing my faith? Why do I sometimes neglect to say anything, when all I was supposed to do was say something?

I should be urgently, out of love, pointing others to the cross. In my words. In my actions. With my life.

The challenge to myself and to all believers is to live boldly and live loudly for Jesus. Don’t hide the life changing knowledge you have. Wear it. Live it; not  in judgment and arrogance, pushing others away in isolation, but in a way that draws others in with gentleness and love.

Sometimes it is planting seeds. It doesn’t mean standing on a street corner shouting about eternal damnation. Sometimes it is laying the foundation for someone to notice something different about your life. I fully believe that one day we will all see the amazing intricacy that is God’s plan, and how all of our actions were woven together to fulfill his purpose.

I’ve got a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do. Times are scary. But our God is big. Let’s get started.

Blessings, not chins













My Summer Break Acceptance Speech

Greetings to all who read this.

I am used to having an audience of about 27 little humans, so being here on stage to accept this award does not faze me in the slightest. When you have asked  students to tell you if you have chocolate on your face or not, it takes a lot to feel embarrassment anymore.

Summertime is here.

I can tell you that there were times I didn’t know if I would make it. I didn’t know if we would make it.

Specifically towards the end of October. And then March. And then again today.

Yet we have reached the end of another school year, and entering summer break with this acceptance speech is my utmost honor.

I have many people, food items, and inanimate objects to thank for reaching this point.

Let me begin with the most important. First and foremost, I would like to thank coffee for everything it is to me and everything it will be.

You might be thinking, “Jenna, as a devout Christian, shouldn’t you being thanking God first for helping you through the year?”

God made the coffee. And He and I have it worked out. He understands. God is everywhere. Even in an elementary school. He knows.

Not only would i like to thank coffee, I would like to thank everyone and everything associated with coffee.

Thank you to the coffeemaker in my kitchen that rings a sweet glorious sound when the coffee is ready. Thank you to the filters for allowing the water to run through it in a way to make the coffee juice taste good without getting grounds in it. Thank you to all the workers at Starbucks and Biggby who have my order memorized. Specific shoutout to the worker who poured me a new coffee when I spilled mine all over myself.


notice the coffee spilled on my desk. and the general mess.


Thank you to every colleague who has brought me coffee in moments of distress, or out of sheer kindness. Thank you to the coffee farmers in every remote area of the world. I love you and I thank you.

Now I would like to thank the Lord. He heard my 1pm prayers and 6:50am cries as getting out of bed became harder and harder every day in May. He got me up. He reminded me at the perfect times why I love my job. He brought amazing people in my life that makes the job even better. He made coffee. And it was good.

Next up is the Teacher’s Lounge. A resting place. A time of solace, laughter, or sometimes silence because it’s only Tuesday and it feels like Friday a 4pm.

That brings me into my teaching family. From the amazing staff who clean my classroom each day, to my teaching partners,  to parapros to secretaries and lunch staff. We are a family. Sometimes a dysfunctional one, like families can be, but we love each other in the mess and we make the best out of it. So much love to you people.

You have saved the day and covered for me so I could go to the bathroom.

You have brought me kleenexes when I am having an adult meltdown.

You feed me snacks.

You people are some of the best parts of my job and I genuinely love you.


Next, I would like to thank bandaids and water fountains. Bandaids and water fountains cure 95% of all student ailments. Magic.

“My head hurts.”

“Okay honey, why don’t you try a drink of water and see if that helps.”

“Ms. Wiley, I’m bleeding”

*uses magnifying glass to find microscopic speck of red*

“Okay here is a bandaid.”

Bandaids and Water fountains- the MVP’s.



I would like to extend a thank you to each of my fabulous little students. We have our moments. They give me grace. I give them grace. We laugh. We cry. We learn together. It’s a great gig. Thanks for everything guys. I loved *almost* every minute with you. It was awesome but now teacha needs a break. Thank you for bringing in Hawaiian leis and celebrating the end of the year with a Karaoke Party in my room yesterday after school. Kids rock.


Karaoke Parties are the best way to celebrate the end of the year.


Thank you to the yoga balls on which my students sat this year. You let them move and wiggle and bounce and be all hyper while letting me still teach. I got a little motion sickness at first, watching the ups and downs in rhythmic form. But I got used to it.


Thank you to my friends and family outside of work. The ones who understood if it was a “bad day” and listened to me vent as needed.

Thank you to my Spring Break vacation. I needed you.


Me and my nephew enjoying a relaxing dinner in Florida. Turns out caring for an infant isn’t vacation.

Thank you to the substitute teachers who literally saved my life by filling in for me on days I was out.

Thank you to antibiotics for the 2 times I got bronchitis.



Thank you to the teacher I share a classroom with one day a week. Your healthy life tips are appreciated. I am a hoarder. Thank you for dealing with my piles everywhere.


You could have played iSpy with the stuff I found in there.

Thank you to the people behind “treat days.” Seeing random treats in the lounge for no reason at all gives you a perfect excuse to binge eat the stress away. Carb loading on donuts did come with a few consequences, but in the end, totally worth it.

It was an amazing year.

An exhausting, happy, emotional, fabulous, insane year.

As you see, I never could have done it alone. So with great joy and little to no pride (I have none left after some of the  lessons I have taught this year), I accept summer vacation.

Congratulations to all who made it. Your trophy is sunny and sandy.

And to anyone who thinks it’s unfair that teachers get summers off:

actually, never mind. I honestly don’t even have the energy to debate with you.

Happy Summer