There’s No Expiration Date on Grief

Every year, March rolls around. With each year that passes, the loss of my brother gets harder in some ways. It’s “easier” because I have gotten used to not seeing his name show up on my caller ID or in my texts. It’s “easier” because we have learned new patterns and new ways of organizing ourselves as a family of three instead of a family of four. But in a lot of ways it’s more and more difficult each year. There are fewer “thinking of you during this difficult time” cards. Hardly anyone sends a text or makes a phone call. There are more people in my life who never knew Tony – or even that I had a brother than those who did.

This is the biggest fear of everyone who loses someone close to them – that everyone will forget.

There is also a difference in the way people respond when they ask how long it’s been. As if there is a timeline on grief. As if it doesn’t still cut you to the quick some days when you wake up and remember. Or a song comes on the radio that perfectly captures something about him. Or you stumble upon an article in a magazine: “Conversations You and Your Adult Sibling Should be Having”.  It seems as though because it’s been 11 years – today – the loss isn’t as awful, as tragic. I should be “over it.” In fact, someone once said that to me…

This year I feel like I don’t have the right to grieve.

It’s been a difficult and challenging year for me; I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my life. I know that if anyone would have stood by me, it would have been Tony. He was always better at making peace with people and helping them see the other side of a situation, something I’m not always very good at!

What my parents are left with are memories of first born who only lived for 26 years. They are left with all of the what-ifs and who could he have been wonderings. And they are left with me – a daughter who chose the wrong person to marry. A daughter who is now divorced. A daughter who doesn’t want children. Their family name will end with me. They have a daughter who is so different from them in so many ways; we seem worlds apart, sometimes. It’s hard not to feel like I’m disappointing them or letting them down.  What a burden the surviving sibling carries.

I am not Tony, nor will I ever be.

It’s been eleven years since I received that phone call that would change everything in my life. It’s crazy to consider that when I woke up that morning, went to work, performed all the normal tasks of any other routine day, that on the other side of the world my brother was signing paperwork, shaking the hand of the salesman, strapping a helmet on, getting on his brand new motorcycle… and then laying on the side of a lonely highway, traffic re-routed because of an accident.

It’s been eleven years of no birthdays or Christmas celebrations. Eleven years of laughter, of tears, of moments of utter and complete despair, of pure joy and elation, of disappointment, confusion, and frustration. He’s not here and I am forgetting the sound of his voice. I miss sharing my big dreams and plans with him.

I miss him.


Idea Slam

I’m super excited to be co-hosting the 3rd annual MichEd METS Idea Slam! It’s happening in less than two weeks and it’s honestly one of my favorite things I am involved with. The concept is simple: what big idea do you have to change education and have an impact on your school, community, and the larger world? We ask for “pitchers” to submit an application, the top four ideas are selected, and then the night of the event, the pitchers pitch their idea. At the end of the night, we vote, and the top vote-getter wins some seed money to get their idea off the ground. Check out last year’s event video! 

It’s always so energizing to be with so many educators from all over the state, sharing their ideas and passions for improving their craft. So much of our day to day work can be frustrating and feel like we don’t make much of a difference. It’s so refreshing to attend events like this to reignite the passion and fire that drew so many of us into education in the first place.

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If you’re local(ish) and can make it to Grand Rapids on March 7th, we’d love to see you! Tickets are available here. It includes free food, amazing energy, new ideas, and a chance to network with new and old friends! Even if you’re not local, you can follow along on Twitter using #miched-mets and if you’re interested in hosting a similar event in your area, I’d love to help!

Being Strong Sometimes Means Being Vulnerable

I spent November like a lot of people on social media – making a mindful and purposeful post every day reflecting on something I was grateful for. It’s pretty well documented how having a grateful outlook helps generate more fulfillment from life, and you’re happier overall.

This has been a whirlwind of a year for me personally. Professionally, I have hit my stride really well, working on some big projects designed to support strong, student-centered technology integration for our district. It’s been a long and somewhat tedious process, but I have learned a lot, and the opportunity to shape what technology integration and professional development around integrated technology and curricula is really awesome.

Personally, life hasn’t been so great. It’s amazing when I reflect back even a few months ago and so much in my life was different. Working with so many different people and personalities, it can be tricky to navigate when it’s appropriate to share things and when you keep them to yourself. Not everyone I work with is my best friend or even someone I could consider an acquaintance. Most of them are work colleagues – we are cordial at work and that’s about it. And even though I try to leave the personal junk out of my profession, it’s tough when your brain can only think about those terrible things that are happening in your life.

I’m pretty sure no one sets out on this journey thinking they will fail. We dive in, blindly and full of faith, thinking we will be different, we will beat the odds, defy the statistics. And somehow, slowly, insidiously, things change. Cracks and warning signs, we ask ourselves questions like:

Is this it?
Is this all there is?

We try to push away that voice that whispers in your ear,
You deserve more. 


Words define us and shape the way the world sees us.


Last month, I was in a scary car accident. Someone ran a red light at an intersection and T-boned me. Luckily he hit more of the driver’s side front panel and less of the driver’s side door, but if either of us had been going a slightly different speed, things could have been very different. I was fine. My car was not fine. The car I just got 6 weeks ago spent a month in the body shop. And while it was an inconvenience to not have my own car, I was very happy that I was still healthy and was able to continue with the rest of my days relatively unchanged. However, it got me thinking. Even though I know – maybe better than some – how quickly life can change in an instant – I don’t get in my car each day thinking I might get in an accident.

It’s honestly really tough being the only sibling left from a family of four. When Tony died, not only did I feel responsible for being a success and making my parents proud on my own, I felt extra pressure to do something amazing with my life – because Tony never would have that chance. Nothing like making your parents proud than with a phone call telling them you are getting divorced. Your uber-Catholic, stay-with-someone-until-you-die-even-if-they-make-you-miserable Catholic parents… Yeah.

For the last six months, I have leaned heavily on my friends. I am beyond blessed to have such a wonderful support system, many of whom just listen and don’t offer words of wisdom or comfort. All of whom don’t sit in judgement of my decisions. Staying healthy and fit – making time for myself every morning to go to the gym and get in a solid workout – have helped me heal and process. I love my fitness center and the community they’ve created. So many of the members and trainers I can count among my friends.


I know I’ll be okay. Eventually. I know I am strong enough to withstand even this. My value as a human and as a woman is not tied to anyone else. There are days when my heart feels heavy, my shoulders slump, my brow seems to be permanently furrowed, and a darkness descends over me. It’s in those moments it’s easy to question my decisions. But then there are other times when I feel like the world is waiting for me to make my mark on it. A new start. A fresh start. A new set of words to define me.



Hour of Code 2017

The 2017 Hour of Code movement is off to a great start here in Lansing. Sixth grade students at Sheridan Road STEM participated yesterday. We have been working through Google’s Be Internet Awesome curriculum around digital citizenship, and students are really loving the opportunity to interact with technology in different ways. They are also so appreciative of the chances they get to create instead of just passively consume technology.

Students have been working through some of the CS Fundamentals Express curriculum and most of them have been pretty intrigued by coding. Some students have struggled, and we’ve continued to support students in being problem-solvers and becoming self-sufficient learners.

We’ve been participating in The Hour of Code for the last 3 years and it’s something we always look forward to. This year we were so excited to see a whole bunch of new activities for students to try. Several of the boys in class were pumped to see a basketball game they could code. I was excited to code my own Google logo.

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You can check out all the cool stuff happening in Mrs. Bliesener’s class here.


Be Internet Awesome

We’ve been using a pretty great resource from our friends at Google this year to kick off our conversations about digital citizenship and digital literacy. There’s an entire curriculum titled Be Internet Awesome for teachers and students to navigate through. What I like about it is there are teacher-led activities and there is also an online game component that reinforces what the lesson’s focus was. So far we’ve tackled privacy, sharing, and settings within apps to limit access, and phishing scams.

One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of teachers make is assuming our students know how to interact with technology in a school setting. We know students grow up with devices and are constantly connected. It’s easy to assume our students know how to use technology and will utilize it appropriately in a classroom setting. But, similar to how we embrace discipline in our schools with Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, so too do students need to be taught how to use technology.

The Digital Citizenship movement has been gaining traction for several years in education, but I have always found it to be a little lacking. So much of the focus was on what NOT to do, stranger danger, etc. and less on the why we need to learn how to make these types of choices with technology. Students need the opportunity to explore when we should trust someone with information, what signs to look for, and thinking through what may or may not happen in a given scenario. While students KNOW what they’re supposed to do, they don’t always do it. And neither do we as adults, right? I mean, I know I’m supposed to get 3-5 servings of vegetables every day, but I don’t always do it.

So our conversations with students have to be about more than just what we know we should and shouldn’t do. We have to educate them on the why and the reasons behind our expectations around any behavior – whether technology is involved or not. Of course, it starts with relationships and creating an environment of trust and openness. We have to establish and maintain rapport with our students, we can’t ask them to take risks while at the same time sending the message that we don’t trust them by banning sites or cell phones.

How are you teaching your students to Be Internet Awesome? 

Adapting to Change

“When our students get into the real world, they’re going to need to do X, Y, and Z…”

Sound familiar? I’ve been hearing this for many years in education, and, if I’m honest, have said it a lot of times myself. It’s one of those educational catchphrases that the older, wiser, mentor often says, and we new teachers lap it up without giving a lot of thought. Part of that is because sometimes school seems so much different than the outside world, we’re sometimes isolated from a lot of the reality of how people interact and communicate outside of our classroom walls. We can examine these two pictures of classrooms, and recognize that not a lot has changed, even though so much around us actually HAS changed.

Aside from the interactive board at the front of the room in the color photo, not much has changed from the classroom of the 1950s. While this is not true in all schools – lots of wonderful, immersive learning experiences are happening – it is still quite common to see the traditional desks/table in rows.

My brilliant friend George made me think about this topic again the other day when he wrote a blog – On the “Real World”. You should definitely read the entire post, but I especially relate to the idea that we have to “prepare students for continuous change and adaptation.”

How often does your schedule change? How many times have you logged into Google and noticed something changed, or management structure changed (again), or a process on how to submit for a reimbursement was adjusted? This can be frustrating and induce some stress, especially if you’re used to doing something the same way and have been doing it that way for a long time. Change is inevitable. We have to learn how to adapt to it and adjust.

Changing presidential administrations in 2017 was a huge challenge for me – and millions of Americans. It can be hard to adjust when things change and we’re not happy with the outcome. Our students experience those things, too, and it’s essential we equip them with the skills to process and deal with that. We must model it for our students – with as much grace and dignity as we can muster. As educators, we also must acknowledge change can sometimes be good, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time. Evaluation and putting aside personal biases is a tough thing to do, but essential if we want to properly evaluate situations.


School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?