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,
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.
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,
I am typing this from the airport in Tampa, Florida.
Due to my new position for the 2018-2019 school year, as the Director of Special Services in my district, I was asked to attend the Council for Exceptional Children's national convention in Tampa this week.
Making the decision to accept the invitation was a big ordeal.
There were many factors to be considered:
- leaving Mr. Farmhouse and the girls for four days
- putting my classroom in the hands of a substitute for three days (for the umpteenth time this school year)
- missing the girls' school picture day, Valentine's parties, and basketball games
- the cost associated with traveling out of state
With much encouragement from a few colleagues and a long talk with Mr. Farmhouse, I decided to jump in head first and head south for the winter.
Okay...head south for four days.
I dropped the two older girls off at school Wednesday morning, dropped my Mattie-girl off at my parents' house, and headed north to meet a few coworkers who were making the journey with me.
About five minutes from the location I was to pick up my teacher-friends, Kathi & Jolie, my cell phone buzzed with a plane delay notification from my Delta app.
Your flight has been delayed. 12:15 takeoff time, now 1:32.
Okay...so an extra hour and fifteen minutes in the airport won't kill us.
Our connecting flight in Atlanta didn't take off until after 3:00, so we would still be fine.
We sat down at IHOP for a little brunch, just in case we were unable to grab lunch during our layover in Atlanta.
As we were pulling into the airport, we received another notification.
Your flight has been delayed. 1:32 takeoff time, now 2:07.
Okay...so we should still arrive with half-an-hour to spare.
We parked, jumped on the shuttle, and headed to the Delta gate.
As we were standing in line to visit with a Delta employee about our options, just in case the delays kept coming...it happened.
Your flight has been delayed. 2:07 takeoff time, now 2:57.
And with that, our chances at making our connecting flight went out the window...or down the runway.
We found a seat near an outlet to charge our phones and we started receiving texts and calls from the secretarial staff at school, who apparently had been notified off the recent changes to our itinerary.
The bookkeeper got us a new hotel room in Atlanta for the night and cancelled our Tampa accommodations and it was settled. We would stay in Atlanta on Wednesday night and get up super-early to fly to Tampa on Thursday morning.
We made it to Atlanta and headed to Ground Transportation to grab a shuttle to our hotel.
At 7:16 p.m., we finally made it down to the shuttle parking lot.
Our hotel shuttle left at 7:15 and would be back at 7:45. Seriously.
So we sat on a bench to wait.
Eventually, a shuttle driver from another hotel offered to take us to our hotel and we decided it was well-worth the large tip we would give her in exchange for a ride.
We checked in, dropped our belongings off in our rooms, and headed to the restaurant.
After a tasty "soul food, Atlanta, Georgia" supper, we headed to the hotel and went to bed.
Thursday, we were up at 4:00, at the airport by 5:00, and flying into Tampa by 8:45 a.m.
At the recommendation of one of my BFFs from high school, we decided to eat at The Columbia in the Ybor City Historic District of Tampa.
I was so very thankful to be able to meet up with the best man from our wedding and enjoy a meal with him. After an eventful and somewhat exhausting trip, it was amazing to see his familiar face and introduce him to my colleagues.
Friday, we were up bright and early to attend the rest of the conference sessions we were looking forward to!
We learned so much, found many resources, and I am excited to be able to share our newfound knowledge and strategies with our SpEd team when we return!
When the conference ended on Friday, we had time to make a short trip to Clearwater!
We ate at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill on the water and it was ah-ma-zing. The fish tacos were spectacular!
We ended up at a Little Greek Restaurant by the hotel.
I had a gyro and it was also spectacular.
I called Mr. Farmhouse and the girls and we all rejoiced that I would be home in less than 24 hours.
Okay, two of three girls cried...
one made funny faces at herself as we FaceTimed,
and Mr. Farmhouse rejoiced.
So now...our journey begins.
Praying for traveling mercies, an uneventful trip home, and a happy reunion at our nice, warm farmhouse sooner than later.
Much love to you, friends.
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.