Power of Collaborative Conversationson

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to have students discuss topics. This could be their responding to a reading selection, taking a position on an issue, reflecting on a writing assignment, or reviewing content for an assessment. Most students will entertain the discussion and some excel at it, but there’s always the few who don’t embrace it. They either share something brief and shallow, or they find a way to not participate. I always take opportunities to encourage them to have these collaborative experiences and to listen and share. I try to convince them that there is power in collaboration. There is growth that can occur in one’s thinking when embracing discussion, listening to other points of view and working to develop your own.

So I was encouraged in the last view days through a couple of unexpected encounters with people I hold dear. People who spark thinking and reflection.

  • walking with dad – “what are you reading or studying that has you thinking lately?” Honestly, I couldn’t say a thing. I’m a teacher and supporter of being a lifelong learner, but I have let some lazy habits replace valuable ones. While our conversation was great, I was convicted. I haven’t been digging into Scripture or reading any books. So I changed that the moment I got home. This week, I’m back at it…ready to explore and discover wisdom and knowledge.
  • talking with Voxer group about Girl, Wash Your Face- this has included some personal as well as some virtual communication with friends about a book that has influenced over a million readers. This is another great part of collaborative conversations. It gets you asking questions and researching and more reflecting – to see if your values and convictions and beliefs are rightly aligned to the Word or Truth.
  • The Real Life Podcast “The Dark Side of our Life-hacking and productivity culture”
    • Chase Christ, not Culture
    • When it’s ok to be mediocre in pursuits that aren’t about gospel life

Santa Barbara

NOTE: I came across this post from 2015 in my Drafts – posting it now for my own reminder of how this running thing even started.  Who would have thought that that one time I was a PE teacher would have had such a valuable change in my physical activity and goal setting.  

Motivation – When I began teaching PE 7 or 8 years ago, I started thinking about running the mile with my students.  I hadn’t run a timed/graded mile since junior high/high school and honestly, I think I failed the mile test most of the times I attempted it.  So, I remember working to reach a simple mile so that I could show my students that I was willing to work towards a goal just as I was asking them to do.  My interest was sparked again 3-4 years ago when I needed something new in my activity routine.  I definitely was motivated by goal setting as well as health.  I ran some 5Ks, but a friend of mine who turns 50 this year and has done several halfs persuaded me to do the SB 1/2 with her.  So, I started training in March

Training – For the most part, I looked up things online, had conversations with friends who run, and downloaded a couple of apps.  I have used Endomondo for most of my runs over the past years – it simply tracks distance and rate and speaks prompts at every mile, letting you know what your pace was for that mile as well as total time thus far.  I like this APP because it keeps a running history I can look back at. I can also add notes to each run to record any challenges I faced or thoughts on how I felt during the run.  I also found GIPIS.  This app allows you to enter your last run stats, what race you are preparing for, and then provides a plan for each week leading up to the race.  This includes some interval training, tempo runs, long runs, etc.  It also uses GPS to tell you when to speed up or slow down in order to keep the pace it has planned.  This works ok, but I generally just use the suggested pacing if I am limited to using the treadmill.  For me, interval pacing is easier to track on the treadmill, but I do what I can to NOT run on the treadmill….too boring most of the time.  Intervals help challenge your run and hopefully increase your time.  I know there are plenty of other training plans and apps out there, but these are what have worked for me so far, so I think I will keep them around.

Visited and ran part of the race site – April – Spring Break – try it out

Challenges – Running is definitely as much a mental game as much as a physical one.  Each long run was challenging the last mile or two, whether I was running 5 miles the first time or 12 miles. They were tough both mentally and physically.  Also, weather is challenging.  Now, for the most part Southern California weather is pleasant, but wind at the beach deterred me a few times from a strong run.  Injuries are another challenge.  I definitely did too much 6-7 weeks before the race in SB.  I struggled with a foot injury, strained calf, and knee troubles.  The best thing I could do when these arose was to stop and just give my body rest.  I have learned mostly to listen.  I remember waiting 2 weeks to get back to running and when I started, I knew right away that I needed to stop.  So I did.  It was completely frustrating because I felt that I had waited long enough.  Ultimately, it was the best choice.

Race day – I was mostly afraid that I would eat the wrong thing or not get enough sleep or just be “off” on race day.  So, I was definitely anxious about the whole new experience.

Pros and Cons

  • The course is not nearby, so it limits your knowledge of what is ahead.
  • Many hills – although what I thought was going to be the most challenging part (starting immediately uphill) ended up being one of the easiest parts
  • Running with a friend
  • Few participants – allowed for just enough adrenaline, but not overkill.  Also allowed for easy bib pick up the night before, and could have easily been done the morning of
  • Perfect weather – 66 degrees most of the time

Running and Reminders


Yesterday’s run provided an excellent physical outlet as well as a mental one, and reminded me of a few things.

  1. #runyourownrace – Yes, I know this is not new, and I usually am pretty good about sticking to my own plan and not worrying about others. But this guy passed me up pretty close to the beginning of my run, and I began to doubt myself.  Then, within seconds, another gentleman passed us both up.  Just a great way to keep YOUR goal in mind and not worry about the others.
  2. #comparisonisthethiefofjoy – This isn’t a new one either.  It simply goes along with #1.  As I have been reminded often through the writing and speaking of Rachel Hollis, I have no right to compare my beginning with someone else’s middle.  I am where I am in my running season and I need to be grateful for the ability to run without injury and to have the energy and discipline to get after it
  3. This last one is a new way to look at #1 and 2; I realized during today’s run that I may be able to get over the competition, but I am still always trying to beat my own time.  I guess this can actually be a good way to look at things – to just improve upon yourself.  But today, I gained a new perspective.  Sometimes the day brings things that are unexpected – wind, weather, physical inability. Each run requires a different set of mental and physical tools in order to face each challenge.  This is how life can get too.  Don’t be discouraged that yesterday’s success doesn’t happen again today.  There may be a new challenge that puts a kink in the plan.  Assess the situation, gather the necessary tools, and take on the day.

Today’s run WAS a success in my book.  I made my goal with a better time than expected, AND I finished feeling physically and mentally stable.  Doesn’t always happen and won’t necessarily be next week’s outcome. AND THAT’S OK!

Part 2 – THIRTEEN POINT ONE Miles – Race Day


Running my first half marathon was challenging…here is my second post that takes time to chronicle the event for myself, encourage anyone else who is looking to set any goal outside of their comfort zone, or just provide some insight into the life of Jenn 🙂

I was mostly afraid that I would eat the wrong thing or not get enough sleep or just be “off” on race day.  They say don’t do anything new on race day…I tried to keep to that plan.

So, I was definitely anxious about the whole new experience.

One of the hardest things about running in Santa Barbara was that is was not familiar.  I slept in a different place and didn’t really have a plan for what to eat the night before.  But, I had the greatest laugh and was relaxed a bit that night when I asked my husband for a couple of suggestions to add to my running playlist – I wanted to be able to think of him as I ran.  Of course, Joel doesn’t just give me suggestions…here’s the list…and with his reasoning.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.28.59 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.28.53 AM

I definitely added these.  I had a couple of laughs along the course when they came on as well.  (I told Joel to call me during the race too.  While I didn’t really have the ability to carry on a conversation, it was so encouraging just to hear a familiar voice cheering me on.)

In the morning, I woke up early, had my coffee, took some deep breaths, dressed, stretched, and tried to not over-focus.

It was a run…if it didn’t work as I had planned it, it was ok.  This was the most important thing I had to remember. 

This was a small race, come to find out.  Fewer than 500 people.  I enjoyed this.  It gave me the chance to understand the race itself without the anxiety of making my way through thousands of people.

IMG_1113 IMG_1140



Took the before pics, happy it was overcast and cool, anxiously eager to start.  Lined up pretty much at the end of the pack.




The race started off with 2.5 miles of mostly steady incline.  After coming out of that, finishing the first 5 miles, I looked at my friend and felt accomplished.  That was harder than any of the paths I had taken during training.  I was so blessed to be able to run with Michelle – she truly kept me from doing less than I was able.

The course was beautiful. 


We ran through a neighborhood of beautiful homes, several of the families outside cheering us on as we passed.  The course went past the wharf, a bird sanctuary, and finally a cemetery before turning around for the finish.  The run through downtown along the coast was flat and pleasant with several views of the ocean waves.




Miles 8-11 came with an unexpected difficulty through the cemetery.  We had driven most of the course the night before, but this portion was tucked inland where you couldn’t see just how long or arduous the hills were…and there were many of them.


However, after coming off that area, I knew I just had to finish through the flat run back along the coastline.  I finally approached the finish…and realized that I had met my goal to be at 2:30:00 or less.

As I crossed, I felt so accomplished.  I was also so blessed to have Roger and Melissa at the finish – my friends had been there to send me off and were so generous with their time to come back and see me finish.





A long post run stretch needed for the screaming calves.

Now, there are all kinds of things wrong with the results listing (Simonds, not Simmons; 41, NOT 42 years old; Huntington Beach, CA not Happy Valley, OR).  I still don’t know what happened there, but that IS ME.  2:27:48 – so that’s my time to beat for the next race.  Of course, Michelle and I took advantage of the free burritos at the finish and also a picture to prove that the race didn’t kill us. 

Overall, I learned the following simple ideas:

  • Friendships that are formed through the foundation of adversity and challenge have much to grow on
  • Goals that take you outside your comfort zone bring much satisfaction when accomplished
  • It’s not about competing, it’s about completing
  • Mental and physical training takes time, but brings joy
  • Life is like a race

You can plan and train and research, but sometimes there will be unexpected turns

It’s about being the best version of yourself you can be

You need others along the way – to keep pace with you, to keep you accountable, to motivate and encourage you

It takes time and perseverance…nothing comes easy

Good Scripture and music are of the utmost importance

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.29.17 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.29.27 AM

What other verses or analogies come to your mind?

Propelled by THIRTEEN POINT ONE gigawatts….uh, I mean miles

It’s been a little over a month since I ran the Santa Barbara Half Marathon.  I have shared many of my thoughts and pics through social media and conversations, so this post is mostly serving as a chronicle of reminders for myself as well as an update to those who may read that do not follow me or may live too far away to share a face to face conversation. I am going to work my way backwards over the next few posts, starting with what I just decided to follow through with TODAY.

I officially registered for 2 half marathons, on the way to hopefully completing the Beach Cities Challenge by next May.  This means I embark on training for a race in Long Beach on October 9th and then again for the Surf City Half in February.  I began my regular pattern this week and will begin to build up to do some long runs over the next 12 weeks.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 8.17.03 PM

In the next few posts, I will share my Santa Barbara race day experience (which really propelled me and gave me this “itch” to keep running), training, challenges, motivation for running, and the pros and cons of the Santa Barbara half.  Again, this is mostly just records for myself so that I can review what worked and didn’t work.  But I hope you will choose to follow along on my adventure.

You can also always follow me on Instagram @historyjenn #jenngoesrunning or find me on Facebook




Five Minute Friday: Help

Psalm 46:1

God is our protection and our strength. He always helps in times of trouble.

Immediately when I saw today’s word, I went to this verse as well as a song that has become very meaningful in the last year or so.

There are so many times when we look for help from the things that surround us – our own self-sufficiency, friends, hobbies, to-do lists, busyness.  I often look to fill my time up when I am in the midst of a struggle, yet never really address the root of the problem.  I look to pull myself up out of it all and miss out on the help that comes directly from the Lord.  He alone has the ability to protect us from our own selves and give us the strength we need to overcome insecurity, pride, temptation.  I usually go through phases of all these despite their being so extreme.

Today, I spend a moment to remember where the help comes from.  The only assistance that will ever be 100% successful.

He takes my failures, my burdens, my struggles and carries them for me – may I completely let them go and allow HIM to help me


Five Minute Friday is part of a community of writers….all you have to do is write for five minutes on the word of the week and post your words on your own blog.

This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.

Just write.

4 days till showtime…my Thoughts as I look to my first half-marathon


So, last November I ran my second 5k at the Dana Point Turkey Trot. I had an enjoyable time..this was the first big official race I had participated in. I have only been running for the past 2-3 years and haven’t really gotten faster. I was just starting to enjoy the 30-40 minute runs as a way to escape into a different mental world. I never have seen myself as a runner and never really intended to do any longer races. BUT in February I committed to join a friend in a half marathon. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking, but I have a few friends that run and I just imagined sharing some of their same experiences

It’s now 4 days before the race and I have to admit that I am “anxiously eager.”  I have received much encouragement, read many blog posts about what to do and not do at this point in training. I have decided that I will take it all in, not try anything much different in these next few days, get rest (which I am unsuccessfully doing at this moment), eat well, get hydrated, and pack my bags. Heading to Santa Barbara.

While I have a time in mind that I would like to make, I realize from my long 9-12 mile runs the past 6 weeks that each run has its own challenges, physical and /or mental. I am hoping the adrenaline will kick in and being around other runners will keep me on track.  I will post again on the other side of things and share my thoughts.

Wish me me luck or share a prayer or just send me good vibes. 😊😃😂😩😎😖 (the many emotions I am sure to feel).

Louisville and 592 essays later….my take on the AP Exam Reading

Louisville night skyline

So here it is….top ten lessons I learned from being a grader at the national Advanced Placement United States History Exam Reading in Louisville, KY

NOTE:  “AP Reading” will be mentioned throughout.  Basically, if you are an AP US History teacher, you can apply to become a reader.  This means that you commit yourself to 7 days of reading through the writing of  over 490,000 students that have spend the past 10 months sitting in what is to be a college level course taught to mostly high school Juniors. While I have taught this class for almost 10 years or so, this is the first time I applied to go to the reading.

  1. The lessons you think you will learn are most likely not the ones you did – I was  hoping to learn some new techniques and possibly even ways to embrace grading essays in my classroom.  Well, after just a couple of days, I realized that I was even less motivated to ever grade another essay again.
  2. Even when you think you have taught your students exactly how to approach test taking and essay writing, most likely they missed one, two, or fifteen of the main ideas you discussed over the past 10 months of class.
  3. Along those same thoughts….I may think that I am teaching all the content and skills my students need to successfully master the history of our great nation.  However, while I am driving along in my dumpster truck of knowledge, masterfully crafting lessons to share all these great nuggets of information, my students are possibly passing by on the other side of the road, catching only every 45th word of what I am sharing.  This may show up in their essays as they make some egregious errors in understanding or discussion of the essay questions.
  4. Factory work is exhausting.  Ok, so I am probably way over-exaggerating here, but honestly…7 days of the same schedule…walking in at 8am, reading an essay, bubbling a score, reading an essay, bubbling a score, after an hour, “Stretch break,” stand, walk around, “stretch break over,” sit down, read an essay, bubble a score, and on and on and on.  When 5pm arrives, you are willing to do just about anything that requires a change of mechanical movements.  By day 6, I left feeling like a zombie just going through the motions.
  5. AP teachers are awesome people.  I actually surprised myself and quickly made friends in a much different way than I think I ever have in any other interaction.  I consider myself a friendly person, but it usually takes me time to find my niche with people. However, I clicked with a group of teachers as if we had known each other already.  This experience (of teaching this course as well as going through the reading) gives you a special bond.  It’s like, they can look at you and know what you are thinking unlike anyone else.
  6. I need to eat more than conference buffet style food for 7 days.  I missed making my own meals.
  7. It only takes 2 miles and 20 minutes to run to the state of Indiana.
  8. You can walk through the city and actually reach 27,000 steps in one day.  We did some marvelous vacation-like stuff once the clock hit 5pm. (Now don’t go too far and think I was actually on vacation.  Trust me…this was much different; but after 8 hours at a table you need a release or you will literally go mad).
  9. The city of Louisville, KY has a fantastic history.  It didn’t take long to walk down the street before you found yourself reading a placard that shared a story from 1850s pre-Civil War slavery or the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
  10. My husband misses me while I am away.  While I tease him about not being able to sleep without me in the bed next to him, I am truly grateful that my spouse doesn’t enjoy life too much while I am away.  I missed him too and can’t wait to take him back to this city and explore the history exhilarates us both.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


So, will I do this again? After day 4 (and even day 7), I may have said NO, NEVER!!! But after some additional reflection, I will most likely say YES.  I hope I get invited back next year.

Five Minute Friday: Lose

I lose things often.  I like to think of it as just misplacing things; however, it doesn’t always end up that easy.  Keys, phone, important papers, um…..my mind at times.  It never fails that no matter what system I have for placing things in a particular place, once a day, I go searching.  I think this is most frustrating with paperwork.  As a teacher, I copy, hand out and take in papers on an hourly basis.  I try to organize myself and plan ahead and it never fails that one of those pages I copied last week (in order to be ahead of the game) gets placed in a file that I have created and then I just can’t find it.  While I was on the plane to Louisville, I did some reading in Real Simple magazine about organization.  One of the main things is to have a place for things to go…touch it once, and place it in the proper place.

Perhaps my main issue is that I am always re-organizing my organization system.  Let’s just figure out what works and keep it….maybe I will have to remember that one when September starts.  As for now, I don’t want to LOSE any minutes of summer, so I am headed to the beach.  Taking advantage of each moment to enjoy creation, hear the waves, and read a good book from my WANT list in last week’s post.


Five Minute Friday is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. – Link up with Kate Motaung and join the fun

Five Minute Friday: Want

Just finished up a week of grading AP US History exams, final exams for 100 students, and end of year report cards.  It’s officially summer, so I am going to use the prompt today to brainstorm things I WANT and hope to accomplish this summer:

  1. Complete my first half marathon – just get to the finish line
  2. Read some classics
  3. Visit with friends
  4. Write a personal “snail mail” note at least once a week
  5. Visit the beach
  6. Clean out the closet
  7. Go through the boxes in the spare bedroom
  8. Set up my new sewing machine and try out a few projects
  9. Try at least 1 new CLEAN EATS recipe per week
  10. Complete Ted Dekker’s journey The Forgotten Way
  11. Help with Vacation Bible School
  12. Find at least ONE new hiking area to experience
  13. Blog about my experiences, starting with the AP Reading


We will see if I can accomplish them all – I think it’s realistic.



This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. – Link up with Kate Motaung and join the fun