I can't remember a time that my brain did not run on a school calendar.
In fact, this calendar is so engrained in my head that I think of August 1st as my "Happy New Year" more than January 1st.
After having what felt like a very short summer break this year, I will go back to work tomorrow morning.
In past years, this would mean that my July 31st would be spend cleaning like a mad woman, convincing our girls that if we could just get the house organized before the first of August, it would never get out of hand during the school year and we would at least appear to have our lives together. It makes me laugh now...this absurd perspective.
The summer of 2023 has been different.
Over the month of July, we have worked on a manageable list of tasks that has really made a difference in how our home feels. We've painted & completely redone three different spaces in this short time. We've switched out a few light fixtures, decluttered several rooms, and have worked hard to set up some sustainable systems that will hopefully carry us through the school year.
Last night, I sat down and adjusted our "master house project list" and came up with a new manageable task list that we should be able to focus on during August, September, and October...even with the busyness of the school year upon us.
This has been the quickest summer break I've ever had.
I actually found a blog post from 2018 (the year I took over my current position at school), that I titled "The Shortest Summer Ever", but I am here now to concede that that statement was inaccurate.
The summer of 2018 was NOT, in fact, the shortest summer ever. It was most definitely the summer of 2023.
I had my last day of work on July 3rd and spent the rest of that week celebrating Independence Day, getting the girls in for orthodontist appointments, and attending an all-day softball tournament that weekend.
The following week, I chaperoned our older two girls in Lincoln, Nebrasks at CIY Move, an amazing conference for teenagers, where they grew in their faith, grew closer to each other, and enjoyed week of dynamic speakers, worship, and relationship-building.
This past week was our church's Vacation Bible School. It was a great week, where we focused on doing what Jesus says, believing who Jesus is, sharing what Jesus did, and going where Jesus leads. It was exhausting and wonderful and so very meaningful to lots of kids and adults.
And now...I have one week left.
I go back to school on August 1st...in eight short days.
And surprisingly...I'm okay with that.
Over my career in public education, I have spent many "final weeks at home" dreading the school year, working to finish all the tasks on my to-do in a frenzy as the summer came to a close, and just not really enjoying very much of it.
However, I have learned a thing or two over the past few years and I want to share some of these things as we close the chapter of summer and move into fall.
1. Self-reflection is key.
We MUST be willing and able to look inside ourselves to reflect on all of the things.
What is driving my internal need to accomplish more and more each day?
Why do I behave the way I do?
Why do I feel that way inside when I think about or see a specific person?
Why does my mind fill with concerns regarding specific parts of my life that I cannot control?
I could continue typing on this list of reflective questions for the next several weeks. The list could go on and on and on.
Here is the kicker though:
When we ask these questions, we have to REALLY take time to listen to our answers to make CHANGES based on those answers.
This is not natural. This is a SKILL that must be practiced.
Here is an example of how I have been working on this skill.
(Fair warning: this is kind of vulnerable for me...I'm just going to lay it all out there!)
I ask myself this question:
What is driving my internal need to accomplish more and more each day?
And then I mull over the question in my head. I even might write something down in response to this. I finally end up with the answer that I feel is the most closely aligned with my truth.
I feel the need to accomplish more and more each day because at some point in my life, I have bought into the idea that my own productivity is tied directly to the happiness of my family. I have thought to myself on many occasions, "Once I accomplish ___, we will be able to live peacefully in our home." Once the house is completely decluttered and organized...once all of the home projects we have on our list are completed...once we have a small business that has a sustainable income to allow us more time at home...once we can afford to retire...THE LIST GOES ON AND ON.
But God has been changing my heart over the last three years.
I could continue to live in this place of wanting things to be perfect before I allow myself to enjoy them completely, or I can be content where He has placed me.
I have had to reflect deep within myself and I have had to make the conscious decision to choose contentment.
We will do what we can with the time we have available, and we will build in intentional time of rest and relaxation. We will do big projects on certain days and we will end those work days with a bonfire or a game of softball in the yard or a night at the drive-in movie.
My self-reflection has led me to focus heavily on balancing the "to do" list and the "to connect" list.
I've also been working on how I interact with others. Sometimes, there are things that I feel the urge to say that do not need to be said. I listen for the still, small voice of God when these things come into my mind and I use self-control to not say them.
And sometimes, there are hard things that NEED to be spoken, in love. I pray for discernment in these situations -- God, is this something you would like me to engage in or are we not ready to have this conversation? Am I in a good place to be able to deliver this message with grace and empathy? Am I in a place to be able to listen with humility?
It is prideful for me to believe that I have all the answers in every situation, so I am working hard to remember that I can listen & learn from others. I don't have to have all the answers. I can gain new information, chew on it for a while, and ask God to help me see where that new information fits into His plan for me.
After studying habits for the last few years, I have finally found a really healthy morning routine that is working well for me. Self-reflection has allowed me to adjust and revise this routine until it clicked into place.
After reading several books by Gretchen Rubin, I've learned that we need to pay attention to the natural rhythms of our bodies when we are planning our activities for the day.
I am a morning person, or a lark, as Rubin calls it. I do my best work in the morning. So after I shower and get ready for the day, if I'm home for the day, I almost always launch straight into my to do list. I try to accomplish a lot before lunch time, so my afternoons can be spent writing, relaxing with the kids, or napping.
If it's a school day, I structure my work day similarly. I try to knock out my biggest tasks early in the work day. I build in a few short breaks for myself throughout the morning, but I try to push through and get a lot accomplished before 1:00. Around 1:00, I try to take time for people. I visit classrooms, make phone calls, and attend meetings. Before I leave for the school day, I prioritize my task list for the following day and clean my office up so I'm ready to start strong the next morning.
So what does all of this mean?
We all have areas in our lives that God is calling us to make some changes. We are too busy or not busy enough. We are prioritizing the wrong activities. We are so staunchly set in certain beliefs about how the world should be that we are unable to connect with people. We are neglecting our Bible study because of other meaningless tasks and when we do study the Bible, we're not applying it to allow God to transform our lives.
We MUST self-reflect.
And in that self-reflection, when we feel that nudge from God to make changes, we have to MOVE.
Soaking up this last week of summer break and reflecting on who I am in Jesus here at the farmhouse,
As most of you know, I am a first year Director of Special Services in the district where I have been teaching for the last ten years.
And it is almost Christmas break.
In fact, our students finished today and tomorrow we'll have a day of professional development and then thirteen days off before we start back in for second semester in January.
As I sat at my desk this afternoon wrapping up things for the first two quarters, I took a moment and looked around.
I had a few thoughts running through my mind.
"This is my office."
"These are my responsibilities."
"I have almost survived the first semester as a school administrator."
And although I'm not quite there...I just ALMOST feel like I know what I'm doing.
This week, on my Facebook memories, a status popped up from two years ago...
At the time, just two short years ago, I had no idea how the opportunities would play out to get me where I am today.
Looking back, I can see the hand of God woven into the whole story...into the big moments and all the little details.
We bought the farmhouse in July of 2017. We sold our home and started doing some updates to the farmhouse. School started in August of 2017 and we were moving full-speed ahead remodeling, moving, and of course...getting ready for the school year.
When my boss asked me if I would be interested in a leadership position and encouraged me to go finish my certification, I wasn't thinking it would be anytime soon.
In fact, I had told Mr. Farmhouse that I was thinking I would probably teach for another 8-10 years and move into administration for the last 3-5 years of my career.
But during the craziness of moving a family of five during "back-to-school time", I got word that the Director of Special Services would be retiring and I was asked if I would be interested in the position.
"Where God guides, He provides." Isaiah 58:11
I have been stretched,
I have been challenged,
and I have been pushed out of my comfort zone.
I've had to learn a lot in a short amount of time and I have made many mistakes.
There are days that I want to cry over every little thing and days that I feel like I might just have this gig figured out.
And through it all...
through the frustrations and the calm...
through the uncertainty and the moments of confidence,
I've never wondered if this is the right place for me.
God has brought guidance, and He is still providing.
In the moment where I am feeling overwhelmed (like today!), the phone rings and a family has brought me a gift to thank me for my tiny part in the success of their babies. (Thanks, B family!)
The second I start to feel worry, my heart fills with peace at the thought that God opened all of the doors necessary to get me to this place.
When I walk down the hallway to bounce an idea off of the elementary principal, I find myself smiling at the thought that God has worked it out that my teaching partner and I have both ended up in leadership positions at the exact same time.
These things are not accidental.
What an encouragement to know that He cares for little ol' me.
Resting in His providence here at the farmhouse,
This has been a year of transition.
As you might remember, I have officially left the classroom and am now serving as our school district's Director of Special Services.
This new position comes with some new responsibilities and of course much excitement!
Since working on some of my new duties and trying to be very prepared to go into the new school year, I have realized that if I'm going to continue to be the best wife, mom, Christian, and educator that I can be, there will need to be some more changes taking place over the next year.
And so...here is my second big announcement for 2018.
Besides leaving my classroom, I'm also going to put the camera down in the near future.
I have been able to be a part of so many new marriages and family events.
I have spent time with people at the very beginning of their lives and with family members nearing the end of life.
I have captured photos for friends and family members who are preparing for deployment or getting ready to announce a pregnancy.
It has been such an honor for me to be included in these experiences.
But now...it's time to slow down a bit on the home-front as I learn my new position at school.
Of course, I still have some sessions and weddings scheduled for this fall and I still have some friends out there with gift cards waiting to be used, so the camera won't be put away for good...but I won't be scheduling anymore full sessions at this time.
I will still have a fall mini-session to kind of close out the year and I might still do some sports' photos or other mini-sessions here and there, but I need to take a step back and focus on the family, the farmhouse, and my new responsibilities.
I am beyond thankful to all of those clients who have chosen me to capture their memories through the years.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Feeling bittersweet at the farmhouse,
This is a big one, folks.
This post will be unlike any post I've ever written.
Yesterday, a student asked me about the situation and I decided it was probably time to let the cat out of the bag.
My colleagues and my family, along with some friends, already know my big news.
However, I feel like posting it on the blog makes it public knowledge and that can only mean one thing...
This is really happening.
After thirteen years as a teacher of one kind or another, I'll be leaving the classroom.
I wanted to be the reason that a student with special needs felt successful in the general education classroom.
When my former students were asked later in life who their favorite teacher was...I wanted to make that list.
I wanted my kiddos to look back on their time with Mrs. Newkirk as their teacher and say, "She played a small part of who I am today."
I'm hopeful that I've been able to make a difference like this in the lives of kids and families over the last thirteen years.
However, the Lord has also given me a passion for people with special needs.
My parents opened up a group home for adults with disabilities when I was in upper-elementary school.
What started out as four adult women with various needs living with us in our home from then until my high school years has now grown to three separate group homes in our small town, where we provide housing and community habilitation services for twelve ladies.
Growing up in the group home led me to pursue a double-major in college...elementary education and special education.
In fact, I started my career in the special education classroom and only transitioned into the general education classroom because of a series of crazy events that I believe the Lord orchestrated to give me general education experience, to allow me to meet and work with some of my very best friends in the world, and to give me an opportunity to touch the lives of many children over the last ten years.
Almost nine years ago, I graduated with my masters degree in Education Administration.
My plan was to continue teaching for several years and then hopefully find an elementary principal's job to finish out my career...but not for a looooooong while.
And then, a few years ago, my principal (a mentor and friend to me) said, "Have you ever thought about going into special education administration?"
Well, I hadn't really considered that and honestly didn't even want to think about going back to school.
(Okay, in the interest of full disclosure...I didn't want to think about PAYING to go back to school.)
However, the administrative team encouraged me to not dismiss the idea immediately, but instead to call and see what classes I would need to fulfill the requirements necessary for a job in special education administration.
So in April of 2016, I called.
And I needed two classes. Two.
I needed one class that was offered only a 45-minute drive away, over three weekends that next summer. Three weekends that were open on our family calendar.
I also needed an internship class that I could do right there in my home district with the Director of Special Services.
And we could pay for them both in cash. No more student loans.
That seemed easy enough. So I signed up, thinking it would be good to have options for my very distant future.
I finished up the class over the summer of 2016 and finished the internship in the spring of 2017.
Fast-forward to this past August...the beginning of this school year.
Our superintendent calls me into his office to tell me that our current Director of Special Services is retiring at the end of the year and he would like me to be ready to present to the school board about the possibility of stepping into that position for the next school year.
WHAT!?! Like NEXT YEAR!?!
His idea was that I could be trained during this school year...to shadow our current director, to prepare to take that role the following August.
Long story short, Mr. Farmhouse and I prayed about it.
A host of family and friends prayed about it with us and for us.
We had lots and lots of conversation about it.
I talked for hours about the possibility to my current teaching partner.
I contacted friends of mine who are special education directors for support and answers to my questions.
I presented to the board.
They offered me the job.
And I accepted.
I believe that I will be able to use my leadership skills, my passion for education, and my knowledge and experience working with my students and the adults in our group home with special needs in this new role.
I believe that this is just another place that God can use me to make a difference in the lives of children and families.
There are things about this transition that will not be easy.
With any transition, there will be some sorrow...some difficulty.
But there will also be joy, excitement, reflection, and new ideas.
I am so thankful to be able to stay in my current district. I've grown so much as an educator and met so many people who are near and dear to my heart.
I'm grateful to my principal for pushing me to go back to school,
our superintendent for encouraging me to move forward,
our school board for giving me this opportunity,
our current special education director for training me,
my mentor special education director from my alma mater,
my colleagues (current and former) for believing in me,
the two fourth grade teachers in my building that make up the other half of our team for offering so much encouragement this year,
my teaching partner for all of his support through the years...especially this year,
my family...our parents, grandparents, and siblings,
my dear Mr. Farmhouse and our three sweet girls.
I'm grateful for my students & their parents through all of my teaching years.
For the life lessons that I have learned standing in front of that classroom.
For the opportunities to grow and develop into the educator I am today.
I'm just so very grateful.
Life will be different here in the farmhouse in just a few short months.
For now though, I'm going to enjoy the time I have left this year with my darling third graders...shaping young minds. Laughing with them and cheering with them. Helping them along and making sure to let them know how much they help me along, too.
"How many sentences do I need to write to get a good grade?"
One of my third graders asked me this a few weeks ago when we started to write our first big writing assignment...the personal narrative.
"There's not really a certain number of sentences...I just want you to tell the whole story. The beginning, the middle, and the end. I want to be able to picture the story in my head as I read your words and I want you to take your time adding details to help paint a mental picture for your readers."
"Okay," he said, "So how many sentences would that be?"
I wish I could say that it's only 8-year-olds who are asking, "How good is good enough?"
But you and I both know that's not the case.
I think that in most avenues of life, the bare minimum should not be the standard by which we judge ourselves.
For the last four years or so, my teaching partner and I have departmentalized our instruction. He has taught the math and science while I've taught the reading, writing, and social studies.
We were very comfortable in our roles. We worked together to meet the needs of each third grader in our building and we supported each other in our various responsibilities.
To be frank...it worked really well for us.
We had seen growth in our test scores and felt like we were in each of our elements as we shared pertinent information with our third graders, using our own teaching styles and meeting our kids' learning needs.
Last year, a team from our school (including me) visited an elementary building near Columbia, Missouri, to observe how their multi-age model of teaching worked.
We were blown away by so many parts of the program and decided that it was definitely worth looking into for our own school.
We had meetings and planned and talked and spent time hashing out the details of how a program like this would work for our own district.
Ultimately, last winter, we decided to move towards this model for the 2017-2018 school year.
That meant lots of changes for the third grade team.
We were each going to be teaching all subjects.
We were teaming up with two other teachers.
We were moving to a model that would require us to hit both third and fourth grade learning standards during the course of the school year.
It would be a challenge, but we were ready.
We met with our team last spring on several occasions to align our standards, to share resources and teaching strategies, and to decide how our students and teaching responsibilities would be divided.
I was feeling good about the school year going into summer.
And then...our house didn't sell when it was supposed to sell.
We ended up having to jump through a lot of hoops by doing a lot of extra inspections on the farmhouse.
My Dave Ramsey car ("Dave") needed repairs and the air conditioning went out of the Yukon ("Ramsey").
When the first few weeks of the school year came, I didn't feel refreshed or relaxed or prepared in the least.
Nevertheless, we jumped in head first.
Our team refreshed ourselves on everything we had talked about in the spring.
We shared resources and ideas (again) and encouraged one another as we transitioned to this new way of teaching.
I knew the research showed that this model would be the best thing for kids.
I knew that we were capable of carrying out this model of teaching.
I knew that I would hold myself to the same standard of excellence that I had insisted on keeping for my whole teaching career.
And then...the students came.
The first few days were great.
We did lots of team-building activities, where all the third and fourth grade students met together. The four of us teachers were able to play off of each other in conversation about being a good leader and being scholarly.
The first few weeks came and went and we split into our own classrooms, teaching our own subjects, to our own specific group of students.
I started to realize that maybe this wasn't going to come as naturally to me as the years before.
A new curriculum.
A new group of students.
A new school for our own two daughters.
A new house (that we weren't all-the-way moved into yet).
I was overwhelmed with being a wife and a mom and a teacher.
I was questioning my own ability in the classroom.
This had literally never happened to me.
I love my job.
I live to go back to school.
I smile and encourage and show enthusiasm.
It's what I do.
Or what I have done every year of my teaching career so far.
But this year...I felt like I was falling behind from the get-go.
In all areas.
Until one day, a friend of mine said to me, "You know...sometimes you just have to let some things go."
Let some things go?
Sorry, that actually doesn't work for me.
I don't just "let things go".
When I took a moment and really thought about it though...she was right.
Sometimes good enough is actually good enough.
Sometimes laundry folded in baskets at the bottom of the stairs instead of put away into drawers is good enough.
Sometimes a Happy Meal from McDonalds on the way home instead of a home-cooked meal is good enough.
Sometimes putting the toddler to bed after wiping her down with a baby wipe instead of actually giving her a bath is good enough.
Sometimes taking one whole Saturday morning to catch up on grading papers instead of doing it every evening is good enough.
I'm not suggesting that we lower the standard for everything in life to "good enough".
I think sometimes we have to realize that even when we're not feeling able to be our very best, we can still do good in the world.
Even when we're struggling to keep afloat, we can make a difference.
Even when we don't feel like we can reach the standard of excellence that we usually strive for...sometimes good enough is good enough.
Today was day #5 of my school year, but day #1 for the girls.
This year, I have a third grader and a fifth grader.
This year, Claire Bear decided to join Harlee and attend school at the alma mater of Mr. Farmhouse and I.
We knew this would happen eventually.
We wanted them to become Adrian Blackhawks eventually.
But here we are.
Here I am.
I drop them off at 6:30 a.m. to various family members and I drive out of town.
I arrive at school by myself.
I get ready for my day.
After school, no children come into my room to tell me about their day.
Nobody asks me for snacks.
Nobody complains that I'm taking too long or that they're ready to go.
I do what I need to do in the peace and quiet.
Too peaceful and too quiet.
I miss them.
I'm so excited for what they are going to do this year.
The ways they'll grow.
The things they'll learn.
The relationships they'll build.
This is a year of many firsts.
Things are changing at the farmhouse and I'm trying hard to embrace it.
To enjoy the transitions and embrace the subtle differences that I'm seeing every day in the girls.
The truth is though...sometimes I'd like to just have them back in kindergarten, sticking their little heads in my classroom door making the sign for "I love you".
Have a great school year, my sweet girls.
You're my most favorite 8 & 10 year olds in the whole wide world.
Oh yeah, and Mattie, you're my favorite 3 year old in the whole wide world, too.
P.S. My mom bought them matching friendship necklaces to help Claire make the transition.
Be still my heart.
Today, I was supposed to be posting first day of school pictures from the farmhouse.
The girls were supposed to get up and take pictures on the front porch and have a wonderful first day while I rounded out Day #5 in my own classroom.
And then. The rain came.
On July 27th, both our little town and the town where I teach received a record amount of rain and there was lots of flooding.
People's basements were flooded, there were water rescues happening all over the place.
It was an absolute mess.
Our friend Sharon posted this picture on Facebook that day. She said it was the highest she had seen this water since they moved into this house over 20 years ago.
We are using our first "snow day" of the school year in the district where I teach, as well as my kids' district here in Adrian.
On August 22nd.
The first "first day of school snow day" in Adrian's history.
And I am thankful.
The last week has been a whirlwind of activity.
Late nights and early mornings.
Deadlines and assessments.
Dropping the kids off at various locations for daycare every morning before I go to school.
The Solar Eclipse.
Going back to a five-day work week after eight weeks off of school.
The first four days of school have been amazing.
And a little bit exhausting.
So today, the girls and I are soaking up every last minute of summer.
So far, we've had blueberry muffins made by Claire (aren't they cute?), an "Inside Out" movie-viewing party, beaded keychains, a doll slumber party, laundry, and yes...some school work and photography editing.
An unexpected "snow day" at just the right time.
See you tomorrow, third graders. ❤️🏡❤️
Well, here we are.
I have been in school for 3 days now and the girls start this Tuesday.
Things are about to get crazy.
The last few years, we have figured out that it works really well for the girls to have a morning, afternoon, and bedtime routine.
They don't always stick to the evening routines, 100%, depending on what activities we have going on after school...practices, piano lessons, games.
However, the morning routine has really become a natural way of life during the school year for us.
And as long as the girls get out of bed when they're asked to (that's a whole other situation), it really helps our mornings to run smoothly.
The two older girls switch back and forth between putting clean dishes away each morning and sweeping the kitchen & dining room (a new chore with all hardwood floors in the farmhouse!).
I've laminated these lists and the girls use a dry-erase marker to mark them every morning. They like the satisfaction of checking off items in a list, just like their mama.
We have done a list like this for every day of the week, including Saturdays. Saturdays also includes what we call a "quick clean" list that we all work on together for an hour or so to get the house spiffied up for a new week.
Sunday has become our "stop day" here at the farmhouse.
I am trying really hard to just have our family enjoy each other through the whole day and just take an hour or so in the evenings to prepare for the next week.
In our world of busy, busy, busy...it's nice to just breathe, breathe, breathe every once in a while.
Just a few years ago, I was trying to squeeze in photography sessions every extra minute I had (including Sunday afternoons) to help pay off debt and to make sure I wasn't disappointing people.
I've learned that no matter how many sessions I squeeze into whatever extra time I have left, people will still be disappointed when I run out of sessions.
And they will still love me.
So it's really okay!
When I finished this (completely simple and totally amateur) project, I decided to try something a little more complicated.
I found a purple cup in the cabinet that I've been wanting to buy some sort of vinyl decal for and I decided to try it myself to start.
I decided I could always peel it off if it didn't work out.
That way, we'll be free to enjoy each other in the evenings and on the weekends...crafting, and playing outside, and making slime.
We tried that once.
I am not the "slime-making" kind of mom.
I've realized that I spent too many years in the old house trying to manage the home, keep up with my small business, and being a teacher...without spending enough of my time and energy making memories with my babies.
Happy Weekend, friends! Make it a good one! ❤️?❤️
10:01 p.m. and I am nowhere near climbing in bed.
Tomorrow is the first day of school.
I'm starting my 13th (and-a-half) year in the classroom and the excitement and nervousness that I feel the night before beginning a new school year never changes.
I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Full of anticipation.
And if we're being honest...some anxiety.
You see...I know that I've had a few months "off".
I know that seems like a long time.
I should be rested and refreshed.
I've even heard people say, "Must be nice to have a two-month vacation!"
And it is.
All of our planning and preparation and worrying and fretting is getting ready to pay off in a big way.
Let's do this.
Happy First Day of School! ❤️🏡❤️