Dear Teacher, Thank You!

It’s Teacher Day in Ecuador.  I wrote a personal ‘thank you’ letter to one of my High School English teachers and sent it to him in honor of this day, a couple years late but better than never I hope!  I wrote another letter as well.  I wrote to you on behalf of your students.  You all deserve to receive a letter like this, perhaps you have or you will in the future but you deserve one today as well.

Thank you!

 

Good Afternoon,

I am writing to you today to say something that I, perhaps, have never said to you or any other teacher before…thank you!!  

You see, I know that I don’t usually show it and I rarely (if ever) actually say it, but I really appreciate all that you do for me and my classmates.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if I see much of that now or really appreciate it in the moment.  However, I know 100% for sure that I will realize how much I appreciate you and your efforts some time in the future.  It may be when I finally ace that assessment, perhaps it’s in a few years when I’m in college looking back at my High School experience, or it could be in 20 years when I’m in my mid-30s and reflecting back on my life so far.  Whenever it is, I will realize it and I will appreciate all that you do (have done) for me.

I know that when I go home at night and do (or don’t do) my homework, you are putting in more time preparing to help me be successful.  I realize that teachers go home at night and grade papers, correct tests, write comments, and agonize over their students.  I know that when you lose your temper in class that it’s not because you don’t like me but rather because you care so much about me and my success that you’ve invested a lot of your time, effort, and emotions into me and my classmates.  Thank you for all that you do to make my success such a priority, it means a lot to me (or it will someday in the future!!)

Do you remember the other day, when I came to your class and you smiled and asked me about my weekend?  That was awesome, I had a great weekend and really wanted to tell someone about it.  I really enjoy connecting with my teachers, it helps me learn.  Someone shared a quote with me once about the relationship between teachers and students, “Students don’t care what a teacher knows until they know that their teacher cares.”  Well, I know that you care about me and that is why I am invested in your class…thank you for caring!  

We’ve got a holiday coming up and I don’t plan on thinking about school too much.  I hope you are able to do the same, take some time away and relax.  It’s hard work being a teacher, I can see that from all that you do for me.  I’ve heard the jokes about teachers and all the vacation time, they’re not funny.  I know that the time and effort you put in is just as much as anyone else in any other job, because you care about my success and want the best for me.  During this next holiday I hope that you spend time with your family, travel, read a book, or do anything else that helps you to relax and recharge.  We don’t have much longer in this school year and I know that together we will finish strong.

Thank you again and please remember that even if I don’t show it or say it now, I will certainly (some day) appreciate all that you do for me.  You’re an outstanding person and an even better teacher, I’m lucky to have you in my life!  

Thank you,

Your student

Seeking Perspective and Finding It

I’ve had a lot of conversations this past week that have really given me reason to step back and try to appreciate other perspectives.  As part of the mindfulness work I’ve been doing I’ve learned more about the importance of being able to step back and give myself perspective about my own thoughts.  This combination of considering my own thoughts from a different perspective as well as trying to approach conversations with other people the same way has really begun to spin things for me.  

It often times gets very difficult to stop and consider other people’s perspectives when you are in the midst of a (heated?) conversation.  I mean, really, when you’re right why consider other perspectives?!?  Well, the thing is, a lot of times when we think we’re right (and we are) so is the other person!  It’s true, it’s possible, people can disagree but both be right!!  It’s all about perspective…

Last week I had a conversation with a student, I approached it from a closed perspective but luckily caught myself mid-way through.  See, I was right, had to be.  He was disrespectful to a bus monitor, arriving to the bus late and then screaming foul language at her.  Not okay, anywhere, anytime.  BUT, he was ‘right’ too…only I wasn’t allowing myself to see this because his behavior was so intolerable that it needed to be addressed, now!  He wasn’t too keen to agree with me, in fact he felt like there was a great injustice being exacted upon him.  This is when it hit me…perspective.  I stopped talking, I listened and asked questions to begin to understand his perspective.  He had felt wronged and unfairly treated…so to him, he was the one who was right.  At the end of the conversation we realized, together, that his understanding of the situation had actually been skewed and he acknowledged that his behavior was unacceptable.  Perspective allowed this conversation to resolve successfully.  I realized I needed to see his and he came around to seeing mine after I gave him the courtesy of listening and understanding his perspective.  

This happens all the time at school, especially in interactions between students and teachers/administrators.  We’re the adults and therefore, obviously, can see everything clearly.  In fact we often operate without all the information and still believe that we have to be right…which, sorry to say, might not be fair.  Now, I will concede that it is often the case as I shared above; the students have a different version of reality than us.  When this happens, even if we believe that we are seeing things clearly, we still need to stop to understand their perspective.  If we don’t, when they (inevitably) tuck their tail between their legs and ‘agree’, they will still hold animosity because they feel wronged.  However, by taking the time to understand their perspective and giving it the respect they feel it deserves we can better resolve any situation without (or at least with less) lingering animosity.

The lesson I’ve learned through my mindfulness work is, during meditation, to allow our mind to have thoughts but instead of chasing them to sit back and acknowledge them without any judgement.  By doing this you take a perspective on your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that you previously may not have had.  I’ve realized that we must approach more of our conversations, especially the difficult conversations, with a non-judgmental perspective.  By doing this we will begin to see how other perspectives might actually make sense, even if we don’t particularly agree.  Rising to this level of understanding can lead to calmer, less stressful conversations, interactions, and lives.

So, give it a shot.  Try to release judgment from yours and other people’s perspectives, step back and watch the cars go by instead of chasing traffic!  I bet you’ll appreciate the results!!

 

Mindfulness: Headspace’s “Take 10” (Taken!)

I’ve made it through Headspace’s “Take 10”.  It was a 10 part series of 10 minute mindfulness meditation sessions.  I couldn’t have been happier that I chose this series to start my mindfulness journey.  However, I’m moving on from Headspace for the time being to try some other mindfulness apps.  One reason I’ve decided to try other apps is that Headspace gives you the “Take 10” series for free and then requires you to sign up for a (fairly costly) membership.  This, in and of itself, isn’t a problem except that you need to pay per month or per year, not based on how much you use the app.  So, if you know you’re going to use it every day I suppose it’s a good deal, otherwise it may not be worth it.  The other reason I’m moving on (for now) is because I want to try some other apps that were recommended to me.  It’s only fair that for this investigation into mindfulness that I do at least a cursory check of the options available to me.  Beforehand, I want to reflect on my Headspace experience while it is still fresh in my mind.

As I mentioned, Headspace was a great place to start.  It was impressive in the way that it introduced me to the basics of mindfulness and meditation all while getting me started in the process.  Over the course of the 10 days there were a few short animated videos that helped to further explain some of the concepts behind what was being done in the meditation sessions.  I thoroughly enjoyed these videos and strongly believe that without them I wouldn’t have become as excited about mindfulness as I currently am.  On top of getting started with the meditations, I learned a few things:

  1. Training the mind through meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts or eliminating feelings during the exercise.  It’s about allowing yourself to have thoughts and feelings, acknowledging them (but not judging them) and letting them pass.  This allows us to view things with a perspective that we may not have had before.  Doing this allows us to reach a place of being more calm.  Occasionally during meditation exercises we’ll lose focus and run away with a thought, which is fine, we just need to return to that calm place of perspective and continue letting thoughts pass.  For a (perhaps) clearer way of thinking about this, check out this video.
  2. More effort doesn’t always mean more results.  The perfect example here is falling asleep…we can’t force it, and if we do, it usually makes it even harder to fall asleep!  Training the mind through meditation is very similar, once you stop trying it is possible.  There is a very good example about taming a wild horse in this video.  We need to do things slowly while training the mind through meditation.  Getting past the feeling of trying to get somewhere is important.  It takes time, enjoy the ride!
  3. The “Blue Sky” always exists, it doesn’t go anywhere.  The metaphor is of your blank, calm mind being a clear blue sky.  Sometimes our mind gets so cloudy with thoughts (good and bad) that we lose sight of that “Blue Sky”.  However, it is always there above those clouds just as our clear, sane mind is still there beyond all those thoughts and distractions.  The “Blue Sky” is always there.
  4. Acceptance.  We often talk about being accepting of others but what about ourselves?  The idea that we need to accept what is in our mind, in order to see what is in our mind is very interesting.  The analogy here is a pond, if we go chasing after everything in the pond we will muddy the waters and won’t be able to see anything.  Our mind works the same way, we can’t chase every thought or idea.  Allowing the waters to remain calm allows us to see everything that is in our mind, even the things we might not want to see!  However, even though we may not like everything we see, it is important to see it all and acknowledge it without judgement…during meditation we must withhold judgement of ourselves!!  

I have to admit that on Day One I found it extremely difficult to concentrate and focus on both the voice leading the meditation as well as actually achieving a sense of calm and relaxation.  However, as the days went on, both I and the sessions improved.  I improved my skills for relaxing and endurance (10 minutes is a long time when you’re just starting!)  The sessions improved because a) they were somewhat repetitive which meant I already knew what to expect and b) the narrator didn’t talk as much as the sessions went on.  This second point was probably the most important thing because, while his voice isn’t irritating, I can’t stand when I’m looking for quiet and someone keeps talking.  Understanding that you’re learning throughout this process is essential, I needed a teacher/guide!  

By the fifth or sixth session I was really into the groove.  In fact, one night I wasn’t falling asleep as quickly as I wanted so I put the session I had listened to that morning on my phone.  No exaggeration, I was asleep before the 10 minutes were over!  I knew then that I was really getting the hang of this, I was able to let my mind relax, turn off, and fall asleep.  The understandings I shared above, no doubt, played a huge part in me learning how to do this!

After day nine I started becoming frustrated, mostly with the fact that Headspace was making me pony up a bunch of money if I wanted to continue, this is good stuff!  However, after day 10 I’m happy that I made it through the whole “Take 10” and I’m also happy to try some new things in the name of research…but I think I’ll be back to Headspace soon enough.

I previewed a bunch of other apps and finally settled on one that I’m going to take for my next test drive.  I guess this is a lot like buying a car, you want to know it’s a quality car and that you feel comfortable inside it before you commit!  I’m one session into my next ‘test drive’ and look forward to seeing where it will take me.  More to come but I can say with confidence, that if you’re looking to try out mindfulness then you should try the Headspace app.  Go through the “Take 10” sessions and see what you think, I’d love to hear!!

Mindfulness: Getting Started

I began my personal experience with Mindfulness by researching the concept of Mindfulness and, to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming!  Type in “mindfulness” on Google and you’ll find enough to read for a million lifetimes.  I, needless to say, don’t have that kind of time on my hands.  In fact, I was struggling to find any time for researching Mindfulness.  I think I was having a hard time prioritizing this pursuit because I was so overwhelmed with everything that was out there.  Finally, I decided that it was time to just do something and commit to the journey.  

Having previously reached out to my PLN on Twitter about “good mindfulness apps” I had a place to start and headed to the app store.  What I found in the app store was once again overwhelming.  I found the app I went for but I also ended up downloading 10 other free mindfulness apps, yikes!  Mindfulness is certainly a hot topic these days and it shows in the amount of material available to download for free.  Despite downloading all these apps I decided that I needed one place to start, not 11!

The recommendations I received all pointed me toward Headspace, so this was going to be my starting point.  I had no idea what to expect when I opened the app.  My research led me to believe there would be some element of meditation but also that there were different types, three or four popular varieties, associated with Mindfulness.  Thankfully, Headspace has been super user friendly.  In fact, they have a 10-day starter series for people like me (well, for everyone really.)  This series includes a short two-minute introduction animation that walks you through some helpful tips for getting started, exactly what I needed!  

Tips for getting started:

  1. Find a place to be undisturbed for 10 minutes (silence isn’t required but to start out, peace and quiet might be helpful.)
  2. Research has shown that creating a new habit is easier when we do it at the same time each day, so find a good place in your schedule to plan this exercise (also doing it in the same place each day is even better.)
  3. Time of day isn’t important but Headspace strongly recommends trying to complete this exercise at the beginning of the day (more on this later).
  4. Some days this exercise will feel easy and other days it will be hard but sticking with it is important!
  5. Sit comfortably before you begin (you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor unless that’s what you’d prefer!)  

Now that I’ve started I’m happy to report that the overwhelming feeling of “where do I begin?” has finally subsided and I’m able to sit back and reflect a bit.  I’m three days into my 10-day series, and wouldn’t you know it I received a supportive email from Headspace today reminding me that “three is the magic number.”  I’m not exactly sure what their point was with that title to the email but I think they’re encouraging me to keep going 🙂  I was going to do that anyway but it sure feels nice to get the reminder!!  Although, to be perfectly honest it’s not as easy as it sounds!

I’ll leave it there for this post, I’m off to a good start and I’m already starting to see changes but I will wait to complete the first week before I say too much about that.  Next time I’ll share my challenges in the early days of my meditation cycle as well as some of those changes I’m beginning to see.

90% Awesome, 10% Room to Grow

I read an interview recently with author Ken Tencer, he’s co-authored a book about innovating for small business owners. I took some of the ideas that he had for business and tried to apply some of the thinking to our school.

Tencer introduces what he calls the “90% Rule” which he explains as really more of a philosophy than a rule.  Basically it works like this:  You celebrate the amazing stuff you’re doing in your company (or school in our case) which he says is about 90% of what a successful company does.  Then you look at the other 10%, the room for growth, and think about opportunities for the next big thing – the idea that will allow your company to excel further.

We do a pretty good job of celebrating our awesomeness around here, we are at least 90% awesome!!  I also believe that many of us do a good job of thinking about our 10%, the room to grow.  Through the conversations I regularly have with teachers in mini-observation follow ups, in the courtyard at break, or even around the lunch table, I know that many of us are focused on growing and becoming better teachers.  I want to encourage each and everyone of you to continue to grow and pursue excellence.

What about that big idea, that home run, the discovery or growth that can excel you to the next level?  You all set a goal at the beginning of the year.  I want you to think back to that goal.  It should’ve been something that you saw as a game-changing area for growth.  Meaning, if you could grow in that target area then your students would greatly benefit from your growth.

Now think…when was the last time you stopped and thought about that goal?  When was the last time you intentionally altered your instruction with that goal in mind?  When was the last time you sat down and read some professional writing about your specific target area?

My hope today, as we round the corner into March and the upcoming 4th quarter, is that you revisit your goal(s).  Think about why you chose that goal in the beginning of the year.  Once you’ve done that, set a short-term target for growth.  Perhaps that means reading something professionally (just one article a week would be a great start).  Maybe it means trying one new strategy every unit or lesson.  Whatever you decide, make it realistic and manageable.  Give yourself a real chance to finish the year strong and perhaps discover that game-changing idea that can launch you to the next level.

Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves and each other!!   Hang in there…the warm weather is coming soon 🙂