My word of the year for 2023 was supposed to be "simplify".
I had decided late in 2022 that as part of my new year's goals, I was going to try to take a step back from everything that didn't matter and be very intentional about what we allowed in our home, what I allowed on my calendar, and habits I wanted to build.
I announced this over on my Instagram page back on January 2nd.
On January 9th, I received some news that did NOT feel like simplifying.
For five months, I would fill my current role of Director of Special Services and also fill the role of Interim Superintendent.
I must admit that as I was navigating through the dual-role, there were some moments that felt very frustrating and complicated.
There were days that I didn't feel as if I were making progress in either job.
There were even days that I cried on my way home from work because I was feeling very overwhelmed.
However, there was also laughter.
There were opportunities for me to learn about myself, set goals, and connect with colleagues that I did not usually cross paths with.
And as crazy as it sounds, over the last five months, God has truly taught me through this experience to simplify.
Yes, I typed that correctly.
Even with the addition of these new responsibilities and expectations in my job. Even with longer hours and more tasks to complete. Even with more decisions and more personal interactions and more...and more...and more...
Habits are so very important.
I've blogged several times about habits. My morning routine incorporates several habit loops and I am thankful I had this established when my life got really busy in February. When things get stressful and overwhelming, the automaticity of our habits can keep our lives feeling more stable than not. A well-established morning routine, along with an organized task management system at work, really helped me to keep my sanity as I navigated life with two jobs.
We must prioritize.
Yes, we need to prioritize certain activities over others. To grow spiritually, we MUST be in our Bibles. To get closer to God, we MUST pray. To get healthy, we MUST make good food choices and move our bodies. But these types of priorities are not what I'm talking about here.
I'm going to be very transparent for a moment. This semester was hard. There were some moments at work where our leadership team had to make very difficult decisions, deal with unexpected conflict, and say hard things. There were some struggles within the school organization and some struggles with families.
People have big opinions about the public school system and while we are making every single decision based on the information we have (and often can't share with the public), it still hurts when people put their thoughts out there on social media without knowing the full story -- which unfortunately stirs up discourse and division. I had to learn to prioritize what I could control and what I could not control. Other people's opinions, words, and actions fell into the latter category, so I had to let them go.
I also had to take a step back in my personal life. I had to decide what I was going to give my energy to and what I was not able to give my energy to at the time. With a daughter in high school, one in junior high, and one in elementary -- the parenting game is challenging at times. There were some moments over the last five months where I had to recognize that while I would love to help everyone (I am an Enneagram 2, after all -- "the helper"), I had to take a step back from some situations and focus on my own family.
There are seasons in life where we can be on the front lines of standing in the gap for others, helping them to reflect on their own situations and make changes, and growing together through mutual accountability.
And there are seasons of solidarity in life. Seasons where the whole goal is to pray for others and keep our little families moving in the right direction...closer to Jesus and closer to each other. I've had to accept the fact that this season is where I am right now.
Finally, God is so good.
Throughout this season of having some extra duties at work, chasing three busy girls, and trying to sustain healthy relationships, I have seen the hand of God at work every day.
My family, friends, and colleagues have picked up the slack where I have been lacking. They have prayed for me and served alongside me tirelessly and for that I am so grateful.
Because my morning routine habit is so automatic at this point, my Bible time has continued through all the craziness. God has revealed so much and offered me so much peace through this practice and I am thankful He had prepared me ahead-of-time by challenging me with my habit-building.
Looking back, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to serve in this double-capacity over the last five months. And I am so grateful to hand it over to someone else on Monday.
Thanking God & simplifying here on this rainy Saturday morning here at the farmhouse,
So we did.
Now -- I can't complain.
My brother and then his wife contracted the virus. While they did feel kind of crummy for a few days, they experienced mostly mild symptoms as they stayed at home. However, because of the dates of exposure and symptoms and all the rules & recommendations from the CDC, my niece and nephew have to quarantine until August 15th. So -- please be in prayer for them!
Full disclosure here -- as a school administrator, the last six months have been a blur.
I have said several times that I feel like we are living in a movie. This doesn't seem like real life, as we make decisions about how to deliver instruction to children in the safest way over the next school year.
While my 10 1/2 month school-year contract officially ends on June 15th and begins again on August 1st each year, this summer there have been too many decisions to make to really take much of a break.
And then...quarantine happened.
Sure, I continued to work on giving input for school reopening plans and I did continue focusing on some of my school duties over the last few weeks.
But I also spent many hours every single day over the last two weeks working alongside Mr. Farmhouse and the girls to complete projects that we have been planning to get to "someday".
Not being able to leave the house for two weeks isn't ideal.
If we weren't in quarantine, I wouldn't have had to cancel our annual well-child checkups for the girls, piano lessons, & tutoring.
Mr. Farmhouse could have been working and I wouldn't have had to miss a few in-person meetings at school.
We could have allowed being stuck at home for two weeks with no symptoms to be irritating and a reason to complain.
However, last night, as Mr. Farmhouse and I rode the Ranger through the field moving hot-wire for the cows, I looked around and smiled.
Thank you, Lord, for this time we have had together. Thanks for slowing us down and giving us the opportunity to connect deeply before we all head off into the unknown of this school year. Thank you that my brother's family has had mild symptoms and that they have the opportunity to work from home. Just thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen
Back to the real world today, friends.
Sending gratitude to God from the farmhouse,
When I knew I was going to be leaving the classroom at the end of last school year, I discovered that there was lots of work to be done...starting with cleaning out 13 years of teaching supplies from my classroom.
I was moving from a room that housed myself, over twenty children at any given time, and years and years of classroom materials, personal belongings, and random items I had kept "just in case".
As I mentioned in my blog post on Monday...usually, "just in case" never came.
I started the process of getting my room emptied just as soon as school was out.
I boxed up.
And I even sold a few items.
By the end of June, all that was left was a pile of tubs in the middle of the room that needed to be moved down to my new office.
On the afternoon of June 29th, I started the process of transforming my new office into my own.
I started to think of my office in terms of the "zones" I would need to have.
With these goals in mind, I started the process of going through every single drawer and shelf in the office.
After I had been through every piece of paper and book in the office, I started to organize what was there.
Finally, I decided what items I would keep from my tubs and sent the rest home or to the donate pile.
When my systems were clear, I was ready to decorate.
Armed with my clearance finds from Hobby Lobby and Big Lots, the transformation was complete.
So without further ado...here's my farmhouse office.
The new position has been all I had dreamed of and more.
I'm so thankful for God's providence and guidance over the last several years to bring me to the place I am right now.
Happy Sunday night from the farmhouse, friends.
And just like that...the last school year of my teaching career is over.
You might remember a few months ago when I announced my new position as the director of special services in my current district.
At the time that I agreed to this position, back in late August of last year, it seemed like a lifetime away.
It seemed like there was so much more time left in my classroom. I mean, nine months is a LONG time, right?
And yet, here we are...the last day of school.
I'd be lying if I said I was over-joyed as I left the school parking lot today.
Yes, I'm excited for my new journey, but I feel like every time a season in our lives comes to an end, there is some grieving that must take place.
I have known that public education was the career choice for me ever since I can remember.
There was never a time in my life that I thought of any other career choice.
I can remember being preschool age and "playing school" with my dolls and stuffed animals in my bedroom. (I always tried to recruit my little brother, but it wasn't quite as enjoyable for him.)
My new role is exciting and refreshing and something I am looking forward to.
But in reality, there are things I am losing.
Things I'm giving up.
Things I am having to let go of.
Building relationships with the same 20-30 kids day-in and day-out.
Being able to make an impact in the daily lives of the students in my classroom.
Creating lessons that are engaging and interesting for my kiddos.
Spending time with some of my dearest friends all day, every day...my hallway colleagues.
Yes, I know I'll still be making a difference.
I know I'll still be able to connect with children.
I know I'll still have an impact.
I know I'll be in the same building I've been in for the last eleven years.
But this afternoon, my students of nine months walked out of my room.
I waved goodbye to my students and headed straight to the cafeteria to set up for the celebration we have at the end of every year.
When the staff get-together was finished, I headed back to my room.
I walked down a mostly empty hallway to my mostly empty classroom.
And it was then that I had a few tears.
Okay, I had a lot of tears.
Even tonight, as I sit here typing this, I have a tear rolling down my cheek.
There are a lot of things to look forward to..
There's a lot to be excited about.
But there are also a lot of things to be sad about...and that's okay.
I think that sometimes we feel like there's something wrong with grief.
Like we shouldn't feel sad when we are moving into something that seems bigger and better. Why would I be sad about this opportunity? Why would I have a hard time moving into a position that seems so perfect for me?
Well...because it's normal.
It's completely natural to grieve the seasons of our lives.
Change is necessary and important...but change can also be difficult and painful.
So as I sit here tonight on the farmhouse front porch, watching the fireflies blinking away in the field across the road...I will just have a good cry. You might remember that I believe ugly-crying is a vitally important part of life.
I will cry for the thirteen years I spent in a classroom.
I will cry for the dear friends and colleagues...my teaching BFFs.
I will cry for lesson planning and connecting with "that one kid" and lightbulb moments for struggling learners.
I will cry for read-aloud chapter books, scented chart markers, and my favorite bright pink fake leather rolling office chair that I bought on clearance for $15 a few years ago.
I will cry for my teaching partner who has become like an older brother to me over the last ten years. I will cry for the comfort and the security and the partnership that will change drastically in the near future.
I will cry and I will smile.
I will look back fondly on the experiences and lessons and memories that have become so important to me inside the walls of my classroom.
I will clean out that classroom over the next few weeks and I will move (some of) my belongings down the hallway to my new office.
I can't promise that there won't be more tears.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
Cherish the seasons, friends. Each of our seasons is filled with important lessons and precious memories.
But grieve the seasons if you have to.
Tears from the farmhouse tonight...and hope for tomorrow.
I always love finding ways to get my students up and around during a classroom activity.
The struggle comes with trying to get them moving around the room WHILE ALSO keeping them focused on what they need to be doing.
Enter: task cards.
In the past, I've used task cards a few times a year, for specific content tasks.
However, this year, my group of kiddos REALLY needs to move often, so in addition to my usual few groups of task cards, I have purchased & downloaded several sets of pre-made task cards on Teachers Pay Teachers.
I have them use a piece of notebook paper on a clipboard.
They number from 1-24, skipping lines, and find their own task card to stand by to start.
They know that they are not to be standing at the same card as another student.
This year, I only have 16 students, so this is easy to manage.
If I had more students, I would add more task cards so each child always had a free one to go to.
You are welcome to download this task card template and use it in your own classroom!
I'm struggling. Oh, I'm so sorry...I'll be praying for you.
I'm guilty of using these phrases.
Sometimes to avoid a long, drawn-out conversation, we answer a question with a word or two...a word or two that are sometimes far from the truth.
Most of the time, I really am fine. Times that I really am great.
But there are days. There are weeks.
There are moments in life where I am NOT fine.
I am not great.
And yet, to avoid real connection, I just go through life pretending like it's all okay.
I'm afraid this happens more than we would like to admit.
We tell people to "take care" as we leave a conversation and then we walk away and don't even "take care" of ourselves.
People give us a glimpse into their difficult life situations and we promise our prayers and then we walk away with a quick prayer thrown up and don't ever think about it again.
I'm afraid that we are becoming a society who hides behind our smiles and our one word answers to real life questions.
A society who hides behind our computer and cell phones.
A society who would rather pretend it's all going great than connect with someone face-to-face.
I think these social platforms that were created to keep us more connected with one another have caused more division than the creators had ever anticipated.
So let's get real.
This year has been difficult for me.
Trying to transition from a job I absolutely love and adore to another job that I know I will love and adore...eventually.
Navigating the new waters of having a preteen in the house...and a threenager.
Having both of the older girls in the same school as each other...but a different school than me.
Selling a house. Buying a house. Losing weight. Remodeling a house. Farming. Gaining weight. Taking pictures. Teaching. Losing weight (again). Wife-ing. Mom-ing. Gaining weight (again). Blogging. Churching.
And guess what?
It hasn't always been wonderful.
It hasn't even always been good.
It has been hard and complicated and emotional.
It has been beautiful and challenging and full of growth.
My Instagram doesn't always show those difficult days.
My Facebook doesn't always show those difficult days.
This blog doesn't always show those difficult days.
Heck...my own face doesn't always show those difficult days.
So for today, just know...
I'm not always fine.
And that's okay.
You don't have to always be fine either.
Let's be real, friends.
Love & hugs from the Farmhouse.
Isn't it grand?
You wait nine months for this little bundle of joy to be put into your arms and then you question every single decision you make for the next 18 years.
There are so many joy-filled moments that come along with raising kids.
And let's be real...some moments that are, eh...not so wonderful.
Toddler fit-throwing in public.
Eye-rolls from the pre-teen.
Sibling arguments one minute and them teaming up against you in the next.
And perhaps the most difficult of parenting challenges...struggles with friends.
I was a young girl once.
I knew that our girls' friendships wouldn't always be beautiful and wonderful and easy.
After all, we are all human.
However, I have been struggling with something that I believe most parents struggle with...
The tendency to make an excuse.
A few years ago, one of our daughters was having a hard time with a girl who she considered to be a good friend.
This classmate had kind of distanced herself from our daughter and hasn't been the kindest at times.
When I mentioned their friendship, I could tell that there was some tension there...a bit of a strained relationship.
I heard of things the friend had said,
faces she had made,
and other behaviors that would be frustrating for a friend.
However, when I would ask our daughter about her own contribution to the situation,
she admitted that she sometimes snapped back at the friend,
avoided her at times,
and probably was not acting in the way that I would expect her to act...
regardless of how she has been treated.
And my tendency, as a human and as a mother, is to make an excuse for her actions.
But it's not okay.
It's not okay for a child to treat her friend unkindly.
It's not okay for a student to talk back to a teacher.
It's not okay for a player to roll her eyes at the referee...no matter how ridiculous she thinks the call was.
When we, as parents, make excuses for our children's poor behavior, we are reinforcing the choices they are making.
We are justifying the disrespect, the lack of kindness, and the inappropriate behaviors.
I fear that we are raising a generation of entitled youth who don't even understand the concept of respect.
Whether it's respecting their elders,
respecting their peers,
or respecting property.
I'm afraid the concept of respect (even when it's undeserved) has gone out the window some days.
And I'm afraid that every time I make an excuse for my child's lack of respect or justify her actions, I'm contributing to the problem.
Friends, we have to stop the cycle.
I'm not talking about respecting adults who are abusive or pretending like there's no issue with peers who are exhibiting bullying behaviors.
But in the majority of our day-to-day interactions with other human beings, we should be showing kindness...
And we should be teaching our children this attitude, as well.
This week, let's really help our kiddos be accountable for their behavior.
Let's try to not make an excuse when they don't make the right choice.
Let's support that teacher...that coach...that referee.
It's up to us. The parents.
It's not up to the iPad.
Not up to the TV.
Not up to their older siblings.
Not up to their teachers (although we teachers try to set the same expectations in our classrooms).
Let's set an expectation for how they treat people.
Let's work hard to raise a generation that we are proud of.
It's up to us...and it's a challenging and rewarding responsibility.
Happy Tuesday from the Farmhouse, friends.
May the force be with you.
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.
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.