Checking in on Grace 2020

Recently I’ve been spending more time writing in my own private journal.  Throughout my entire life I have gone through phases where I journaled a lot, and then wouldn’t write for a year, and then would journal sporadically and then stop again.  Lately, the time I spend journaling is meditative, peaceful, and often necessary to work through my own thoughts and reflections.

I came across a new-to-me blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life, in which they shared 20 journal prompts to start developing the habit. Prompt #2 was especially compelling because it included my word of 2020, grace. I like to check in on my word of the year, so this is a great way to journal, to check in, and to notice the good around me.

Train your mind to see the beauty hidden in everything. Your positivity – your graceful acceptance of life – is a choice. The happiness in your heart depends on the quality of your mental perspective.

What’s one thing you could be incredibly grateful for right now, if you wanted to be grateful?

Whenever I start a gratitude list, it’s easy to begin with family, friends, and health.  These are generic, but true. I like to push myself to go deeper into each of these, and to notice the small things in life.

Today I am grateful for:

  • Friends who I consider family, whose children are my nephews and who call me “Aunt Mamey” and who still couldn’t tell you what my real name is!
  • A family member who is bringing another one of my nephews to come visit me (I am his “Tia Amy”) for a fun beach day in a few months!
  • The time to stay late at work this afternoon so I could cross a number of items off my growing to-do list, feeling somewhat accomplished when I left.
  • A day with no back pain, no knee pain (that means it won’t be raining tomorrow!), and no major pain at all!
  • An e-book I had on hold at the library becoming available 5 days earlier than expected.
  • The pink clouds that surrounded the sunrise I enjoyed on my drive in to work this morning.

What are you grateful for today?  Where is your word of the year showing up for you?

Amazon Rainforest Fires Update (1)


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What I Read in 2019

Every year I keep track of what I’ve read. I personally have a goal to beat my previous year’s record of books read, though that didn’t happen last year.  This year I also had a goal to read more Young Adolescent (YA) books and more books by and about people of color, from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

I’ve very competitive with myself, so I like to look back and see how many books I’ve read over the last few years.

  • 2018: 55
  • 2017: 59
  • 2016: 69
  • 2015: 44

This year I read 89 books. It was quite a reading year for me! They break down as:

  • 48 fiction books
  • 29 nonfiction books
  • 12 YA books
  • Out of the above books, I read/listened to 13 of them as audiobooks

In the future, I want to keep better track of the gender and ethnicity of the authors, to continue to challenge myself to read more diversely.

Below is a list of what I read this year.  I put ** in front of some of my favorites. I blogged about these each month during my reading update posts.  The last four I read while on vacation at the end of December. (And when I first published this post, I forgot to add Onward, which I reread throughout this year for my monthly reflection).

  1. Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein
  2. The Path to Serendipity: Discover the Gifts Along Live’s Journey by Allyson Apsey
  3. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman [audiobook]
  4. Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger
  5. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt [audiobook]
  6. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
  7. Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  8. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
  9. Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond
  10. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene Brown [audiobook]
  11. **The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  12. An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena
  13. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris [audiobook]
  14. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
  15. One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus [audiobook]
  16. Past Tense by Lee Child
  17. A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
  18. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
  19. From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
  20. Bi-Normal by M.G. Higgins
  21. The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith
  22. Shoot First by Stuart Woods
  23. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott –
  24. Fast & Loose by Stuart Woods
  25. Indecent Exposure by Stuart Woods
  26. Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  27. **Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  28. **Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  29. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  30. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus [audiobook]
  31. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
  32. Run Away by Harlan Coben
  33. **Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
  34. It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell
  35. Quick and Dirty by Stuart Woods
  36. Naked Greed by Stuart Woods
  37. Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan
  38. In Pieces by Sally Field [audiobook]
  39. Time for Change: 4 Essential Skills for Transformational School and District Leaders by Anthony Muhammad and Luis F. Cruz
  40. P3H: Pilots, Passengers, Prisoners, & Hijackers: An Educator’s Guide to Handling Difficult People While Moving Forward by Trish Hatch, PhD
  41. Professional Learning Redefined: An Evidence-Based Guide by Isabel Sawyer and Marisa Ramirez Stukey
  42. Losing Quin: A journey of injustice and healing by Brian M. Murphy with contributions from Maria Galleher
  43. **The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger
  44. Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand
  45. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
  46. Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership by Peter M. DeWitt
  47. **The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  48. Unbound by Stuart Woods
  49. **A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
  50. Turbulence by Stuart Woods
  51. A Double Life by Flynn Berry
  52. Layover by Amy Adelson & Emily Meyer
  53. **The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  54. One Day in December by Josie Silver
  55. **Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
  56. The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries by Zoe Weil
  57. Desperate Measures by Stuart Woods
  58. The Ethical Line: 10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making by Toni Faddis
  59. Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley [audiobook]
  60. **The Coach ADVenture: Building Powerful Instructional Leadership Skills that Impact Learning by Amy Illingworth [me!]
  61. Dear Adam: The Pen Pal Romance Series by Kelsie Stelting [audiobook]
  62. **The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah [half read/ half audiobook]
  63. The Sumer We Lost Her by Tish Cohen
  64. The Friends We Keep by Jane Green
  65. **Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
  66. Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion and Unleash Genius by Katie Martin
  67. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  68. Imagine Us Happy by Jennifer Yu [audiobook]
  69. A Delicate Touch by Stuart Woods
  70. **Recursion by Blake Crouch
  71. I’ll Be There For You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller [audiobook]
  72. Big Girl: How I Gave up Dieting & Got a Life by Kelsey Miller
  73. **Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
  74. **After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
  75. The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
  76. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  77. Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum
  78. Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger
  79. Burnout by Emily & Amelia Nagoski
  80. Sadie by Courtney Summers [audiobook]
  81. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
  82. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
  83. Full Circle: From Hollywood to Real Life and Back Again by Andrea Barber [audiobook]
  84. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
  85. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  86. Wild Card by Stuart Woods
  87. The Need by Helen Phillips
  88. Contraband by Stuart Woods
  89. **Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar
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My Word of 2020

Have you ever had a word choose you?  This year my word began to choose me as early as last September.  It popped up, and I noticed it and then moved on.  By November, it was appearing all over the place, showing me the way to 2020. Before I share my new word with you, let’s look back on my last words.

For the last five years, I have selected a focus word for the year. This is different from setting new year’s resolutions. I choose to find a word that represents what I want, need, and hope 2020 will bring into my life, but sometimes the word chooses me.

In 2019, my word was SHINE. My goal was to shine personally and professionally, and I did that through a new job, a published book, and a sunflower tattoo 26 years in the making!

In 2018, my word was POSSIBILITY with a supporting phrase of Adventures that Stretch. This idea helped me looked differently at what was possible if I shifted my viewpoint. I also enjoyed some incredible adventures that did help me stretch in new ways.

For 2017, my word was CHALLENGE, and it served me personally, professionally, and on a global scale. I love new challenges and appreciated the permission I gave myself to rise to some new challenges and to say, “I’m not going to take this on,” to other challenges.

In 2016, my word was REJUVENATE, with a more internal, physical focus that I needed.

The first time I chose a focus word was 2015, and my word was MINDFULNESS. This proved to be a fulfilling year of learning to be more present, learning to mediate, and to enjoy each individual moment.

My word of 2020 is… GRACE.

I love that grace can be both a noun and a verb, something you can have and something you can do. Grace has connections to gracias/ grazie, which means giving thanks. I feel a sense of peace and contentment when I think of giving myself grace and holding space to give others grace. I created two different images to mark my word this year, knowing that grace will come in a variety of shades and meanings throughout 2020.

Do you have a word for 2020?  Do you set resolutions or goals for yourself?  What are you hoping for in 2020? 

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Blogging Trends in 2019

The end of the calendar year is a great time for reflection, as is July for us educators as it represents another transition between two years. I began this blog in July, so I often reflect on my blog’s “birthday”.  Over the last few years, I’ve also done an end-of-year wrap up in the form of a short summary.  This is what 2019 looked like on Reflections on Leadership and Learning.

My favorite blog topics this year:

My most read blog posts from this year:

The month in which I published the most posts:

  • April and October tied with 6 posts each!

The top countries where my blog readers live (outside of the US):

  • Phillipines
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • India (new to the list this year!)

Terms people searched that helped them arrive at my blog:

  • inspirational reflections on leadership
  • elena aguilar core values
  • strengths based coaching
  • importance of the art of questioning

Blogging goals and reflections:

  • At this time last year, I mentioned that I was going to finish my book early in 2019.  I’m proud to have met that goal and to have blogged about it! #CoachADV is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
  • My other goal from last year was to blog more in 2019 than I did in 2018. I met this goal, thanks to my monthly Onward reflections and reading updates. I don’t know if there will be a monthly series on the blog next month, but the ideas always come to me when I need them!
  • I enjoyed challenging myself to capture more about the books I read, in order to continue to diversify my reading choices. In 2020, I hope to read even more diverse books.
  • I will continue to use this blog as a source of reflection. I enjoy writing and appreciate that anyone is interested to read my posts.  I look forward to another great year in 2020!
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December Reading Update [2019]

I’m so proud of not only how much I read, but the diverse things I read this year.  I’m publishing this in mid-December, as I’m about to leave on a vacation.  I know I will read more at the end of the month, and those books will appear on my “What I Read in 2019” post that will come out in early 2020 (as I’m fighting jetlag after my return!). In the beginning of December I read:

  • Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane – This was another book recommended by Laura Tremaine, of 10 Things to Tell You podcast. I like her recommendations, but I didn’t know what to expect from this one. It’s a story about two families across four decades, and multiple generations. There is love, loss, tragedy, and hope. I enjoyed Francis, Lena, and Kate, and I was annoyed by Anne, Brian, and Peter. These were very real people, with significant flaws and deep love. It was an interesting family saga.
  • Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – I LOVED this memoir!  As with the previous book, it was a recommendation from my favorite podcast, and so worth the read. Dani completes one of the ancestry tests and sends it in, and slowly her entire life changes.  Through the testing, she learns that her father was not her biological father. As she explores family connections, and artificial insemination research from decades ago, she also explores her own place in the world. I loved reading her reflections throughout the journey, and the sweet way her biological father learned to embrace this shock.
  • Full Circle: From Hollywood to Real Life and Back Again by Andrea Barber [audiobook] – It feels like it’s been forever since I listened to a celebrity-read memoir. I loved the show Full House and enjoy the reboot, Fuller House, and this actress.  I love that her favorite band is my favorite band (The New Kids on the Block!). I appreciated her honesty about her mental health struggles, her divorce, and the love her TV show family has for one another.  This was a short, sweet story by a genuine, down-to-earth person.
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb – I’ve had a hold on this book through my library app for months, after hearing about it on, you guessed it, my favorite podcast! It’s a fascinating look into therapy and the connections we need as humans to survive and thrive. I loved as Lori got to know herself through her own therapy and through her being a therapist for such a wide cast of characters. It’s always nice to read about other people’s problems to help bring gratitude into your own life.
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Building Resiliency: December

In January I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.

December’s habit is Focus on the Bright Spots and the disposition is Empowerment.

I love that this is the last chapter of the year, and therefore the last chapter I have left to reread. Focusing on the bright spots is all about a strength-based approach, which is how I view coaching. Everyone appreciates being seen, and being recognized for their hard work and their efforts. Acknowledging the positives we observe makes both the observer and the receiver feel good!

“The brain perceives negative stimuli faster and more intensely than positive stimuli.”

This is such an interesting and sad fact. I know from personal experience how I can have a great day full of positive interactions, but if there is one negative interaction I will perseverate on it for hours afterwards. Aguilar reminds us that this is why we develop the habits throughout this book, to tell retrain our brain to focus on the bright spots in each moment. The more resilient we are, the less the negative thoughts will stick with us.

“When we focus on our strengths, we can access the positive emotions that open us up to learning. Whether we’re looking at our own behavior or that of our colleagues, students, or bosses, what we focus on grows.”

Aguilar advises us to work with our mind to set intentions to enter situations with a positive frame of mind. We can train our brain to work with us, instead of against us. She also recommends an inquiry stance, where you seek to understand through questioning. This is also how I like to approach coaching, presuming positive intent and seeking clarification so I can support.

As I continue to read this chapter, I am reminding of the entire purpose in rereading this book.  This is an entire way of thinking, of reflecting, and of being. It takes time to develop new habits, and to retrain my own brain to focus on the bright spots. I used this blog series as a way to dive back into the book, but my reflection has gone far beyond the 12 blogs I’ve posted about it. I am very reflective by nature, and I write in my own personal journal, I write in a professional journal, and I blog, because I reflect best by writing, and then by talking to trusted friends. I love reading this, because it reinforces my current reflection tools.

“I know how powerful it is to write down your reflections, and I know that this build resilience.”

The disposition of empowerment is such a great way to end this chapter, and this year of rereading.  When we are empowered, we have self-efficacy, we believe we can be our best. We are resilient.

I hope you’ve enjoyed coming on this year-long journey with me.  I am so grateful to Elena Aguilar, for all of her research and her willingness to share it with us through her amazing professional books. I think that Onward is a great book to give each new teacher and each new principal at the start of a new job, as they enter the most challenging year of their profession. Every educator I know has struggled with their own resiliency.  We all need this work, and we need to be talking about it, together.

Posts in the Building Resilience series:

Building Resilience

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November Reading Update [2019]

It’s hard to believe that this year is almost over. This month I read:

  • Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I heard about this book from a number of different sources, so I knew I would enjoy it.  The story is about the rise and fall of a fictional famous band in the 70’s, following their rise to fame, relationships, demons, and more.  It’s told like a long interview or like you are reading a documentary, which makes the band feel so real. It made me want to google their music, which was so interesting, as the author made them so believable.  It’s a fun read!
  • Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum – This is a beautiful YA book written about the lives affected by 9/11. While the story is fiction, it felt so real to read about these characters, Abbi and Noah and their friends and family. Abbi is famous because she turned one on 9/11 and was saved before the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, and her saving was capture in an epic picture.  Years later, she is haunted by that image of herself, and Noah is haunted by someone else in that picture.  I loved reading how their stories came together!
  • Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger – This was another great book recommendations by Laura Tremaine from the 10 Things to Tell You podcast. It was a fast-paced mystery by an author I’ve enjoyed before. It was actually a little short for me. I think the character of Nell could have been more developed with the details that were shared only very briefly.
  • Burnout by Emily & Amelia Nagoski- This book was recommended on 10 Things to Tell You.  Since I love that podcast so much, I thought I would love this book.  The truth is, I loved parts of it, but was underwhelmed overall.  I was hooked in the beginning by the description of the stress cycle we all live in and rarely escape from.  The authors detail how we can “complete the stress cycle” to remove that toxin from our life and move forward. We can do this through exercise, connection with others, and things like breathing and meditation.  The middle of the book got a bit redundant on self help ideas.  I did appreciate the authors, a pair of sisters, reiterating the struggles that professional women face from a variety of aspects of life, including the patriarchy that has set up systemic oppression for us in many ways. At the end of the book, I felt like I had a few good tips, some decent reminders, but not much else. 
  • Sadie by Courtney Summers [audiobook] – My friend Barb recommended this YA book to me, and it was great to listen to the audio version.  The book is told half in the form of an on-going mystery podcast called “The Girls”, part in the form of the podcaster researching the story, and part in the actual story narrated by one of the two main girls. Like any good mystery, the reader is giving parts of the story out of order, and only at certain points, so it takes awhile to put the entire story together.  It is both sad and interesting.
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