Watching Your Documentary

A little over a year ago Netflix released a documentary telling the stories of people in Scooba, a small town in the southern state of Mississippi, USA.  The main characters are the players, coaches, and staff of the Football (American style) team at East Mississippi Community College.  The players at this community college are young men who usually, for one reason or another, were rejected or kicked-off of powerhouse university teams.  This small town, with it’s community college, has gained relevance as the home of what has come to be known as ‘Last Chance University’.  A place for young men who’ve made mistakes off the field, to possibly earn another shot at stardom by cleaning their slate and starting fresh.  Sports have always played a huge role in my life and I draw many lessons from my experiences as a player, coach, referee, and fan.  So as I binge-watched my way through Season One, I was learning a lot and praying for a Season Two.

Season Two of Last Chance U was recently released and started off with audio of a preacher in front of a congregation, sharing a story about Coach Buddy Stephens of East Mississippi Community College (aka Last Chance U).  Viewers of Season One know him as a fiery, foul-mouthed football coach whose team ended their season in the most unfortunate of ways (you’ll have to watch for details, no spoilers here!)  Now, as Season Two begins, Coach Buddy has watched Season One of the documentary and, as the preacher tells us, “As he watched himself on that screen, he didn’t like what he saw.  Can you imagine if a documentary was made about your life?  And they followed you, the good, and the bad, and the ugly?”

The preacher was heading in a more existential direction with his sermon than I’m going to go in here but his main point really hit home with me.  What would we see if we could watch ourselves, filmed and edited from an outsider’s perspective, and would we like what we saw?  Now, before we get too deep into this thought exercise, I’d like to narrow our focus a little more.  Instead of trying to imagine your whole life, start with your professional life.  What would a documentary based on your life as an educator reveal to both you and the world?  

I believe that most of us are like Coach Buddy, in that we would look at a documentary about our life and see areas for growth.  However, unlike the now (in)famous Junior College football coach, we are probably not going to have the luxury/burden of Netflix deciding to make a documentary about our professional lives.  This means that, in order to get that outside, ‘documentarian’, perspective on our educational story we’ll need assistance from someone other than a Netflix camera crew.  

As educators we’re lucky, we’re surrounded by others who are just as keen to learn and grow as we are.  We’ve got colleagues who know and understand our craft, able to provide feedback, conversation, and strategies for growth.  Similarly, we’ve got students who see, hear, and evaluate much of what we do professionally.  The resources to produce our own documentary script are there and, while we’re not being filmed 24-7, we are certainly being watched.  In this way we are more lucky that Coach Buddy, we don’t need a documentary to provide us feedback.  

Where the challenge lies for us as educators, in an insulated community, is facing the reality of needing to grow and finding the proper motivation to do so.  Coach Buddy didn’t have much of a choice, the whole world was watching the same documentary as him.  He realized that without changes, the same mistakes were going to keep repeating themselves for the whole world to see.  In education, just as in sports, mistakes can cost you dearly and if we want to improve we need to acknowledge those areas where growth is needed.  While parallels can certainly be drawn between sports and education, we’re not playing a game when we enter the classroom each day, the results mean much more to our students than a simple W or L.  

I’d like to ask that you’re actively reflecting on your practice as educators.  If you’re a returning teacher you’ve worked with our Performance Appraisal Rubric (PAR) in the past and have a starting point for setting some goals for this year.  If you’re new to the school, think back to your past practice and begin to identify areas where you know you can grow, areas that will positively impact our students’ learning.  We will begin to officially document goals and move to reflection together in the coming weeks.  While there won’t be any Netflix camera crews, there will be ups and downs, wins and losses, and without a doubt – a lot of learning and growth.

 

5 Ways to Stay Alive Until Summer

We’re almost there, summer.  You can see it on the calendar, you’ve started making travel arrangements, and your classes are nearing the end of the syllabus!  Also, if you’re anything like most of us, you’re tired right now and hanging on the edge.  We all understand and totally get it, summer is coming and it will be gloriously refreshing and help us all recharge.  However, we’ve still got a few weeks left – how do we find the energy to get to the end?  

I read a couple great blog posts the other day that inspired my post this week, I like some of the ideas and will share those here along with a few of my own.

  1. Stay planned and organized:  The end of the school year is always crazy because there are a million things happening around school.  If you have kids of your own you’re juggling their end of year schedules too!  Similarly, if you’re moving away there are countless numbers of things that need to get done before the end of the year.  How do you do it all without the stress wearing you down?  Get organized.  Not only does this help relieve stress but the feeling of achievement as you cross things off your to-do list will give you the much needed boost of dopamine.  You’ll feel better and in turn be more motivated to keep moving forward 🙂
  2. Take some time to reflect:  The school year has been wild and crazy, and busy!  And if you’re struggling with staying organized (see #1) you probably haven’t taken much time to do this yet this school year.  I know you’re busy but hear me out – taking time to reflect on your successes this school year can help you relive the positive experiences and boost your serotonin.  Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and a chemical in our body produced to help us feel good and positive!  On a similar note, if you’d rather help make someone else’s day, write them a note to show your gratitude…it will make both of you feel better!
  3. Take a chance to breathe and find work/life balance:  This might be the hardest thing to do as we try to squeeze in every last bit this school year.  However, it may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves.  Taking a walk, going for a run, doing some yoga, seeing a movie, or reading a book are all possible ways you might step away from the craziness of everyday life.  Whether it’s 30 minutes before or after work, or an afternoon on a Saturday, take some time for yourself to unwind and relax.  I just looked back and realized that I wrote about this very same idea almost exactly one year ago – it’s that time of year!  
  4. The First Five:  It’s okay to stop and give a few minutes of your class time over to talking with your students about non-academic stuff (gasp!)  Yes, it is, really…give it a try!  I’ve written about the importance of positive relationships with our students and that doesn’t stop.  Keep the lines of communication open with your students by showing that you still care about them, even with the craziness of the end of the year upon you.  Not only will your students feel better but so will you, the connection helps everyone feel like there is more than just content, content, content.  
  5. Face the FOMO:  It’s the end of the year.  There will be parties, gatherings, group outings, and all sorts of social events.  Just like I tell new teachers at the beginning of the year – you don’t have to do everything, in fact skipping some things is healthy!  FOMO or “fear of missing out” is real…no one wants to be the only person to miss the party and they certainly don’t want to be sitting at home thinking that everyone else if having fun without them!  However, sometimes that’s okay, in fact it’s more than okay.  Taking a night off and missing a social event is a healthy choice, especially when you know there are a million things getting squeezed into the last few days of the school year.  We’ll never be able to do everything and we have to be okay with that, knowing that our lives are full of wonderful experiences and missing this one won’t ruin our lives!  

The school year is winding down quickly and so is my time here at AC and in Ecuador.  In fact, I just counted and there are only 43 days left.  I’ve got four trips planned, a hike up Pichincha, International Festival, my birthday, 29 school days, countless parties, and waaaay too many things on my to-do list.  Perhaps I wrote this post more for myself than anyone!!  It’s that time of year, be good to yourself and be good for each other!!

Lessons From the Basketball Court

I’m totally fired up today and I can’t calm myself down.  See, the JV girls basketball team that I’m coaching got their first win of the year this morning!!  We played a team we’ve lost to 3 times already (most recently, last night!) and we played an outstanding game.  However, the biggest reason I’m so excited and pumped up isn’t even the win, it’s the amazing amount of growth these girls have shown since the beginning of the season (only 2 months ago).  With very limited practice time (we only had 8 practices of about 35-40 minutes each) these girls have gone from clueless to starting to understand some serious basketball concepts, it’s been awesome to watch!

As I’ve watched their growth I’ve thought a lot about all the connections to the classroom and teaching and learning.  I want to share a few of the things that I’ve slowly come to understand in more depth as I’ve grown as a coach and educator.  

  1. Rule Number One:  Ask any of my JV girls to tell you about “Rule Number One” for our team and there will be no hesitation, “Have fun!”  Even though they are choosing to participate on the basketball team, I have to make sure that the experience is positive for them.  As a measure of whether I’ve achieved that or not, I consider the fact that I started the year with 15 girls and finished the year with 15.  No one has quit, for any reason and despite being 0-8 before today (it’s not easy losing all the time!).  Applying the concept of “Rule Number One” to a classroom, imagine that your kids aren’t always choosing your class and therefore may not be super excited about showing up every day.  Essentially the opposite situation I faced this season AND they may not be very good at your subject.  So, what do you do?  How do you ensure that those students who may not want to be there and/or aren’t very “good” at your subject still have a positive experience in your class?  In my mind, which might be obvious based on “Rule Number One”, creating a positive experience for your students is easily the most important thing you can do as an educator.  
  2. You might have to “change the message”:  Many years ago, when I was just starting to help my father coach my sister’s basketball team I had my very first coaching epiphany.  My dad was yelling some direction or another at the girls but it wasn’t getting through, they weren’t doing what he wanted.  He turned to me and said, “Why don’t they do to what I’m telling them to do?”  Immediately, and completely out of nowhere, I answered, “Maybe you have to change your message.”  I remember it like it was yesterday, he stopped and looked at me considering what I had said.  The light when on in his head and I realized I might have hit on something.  See, the problem wasn’t that the girls weren’t listening, they just didn’t understand what he was asking them to do.  From that day on, both my father and I began to simplify our basketball vocabulary/jargon to better fit our audience.  The same thing happens in all of our classes, especially with the vast ELL population we face each day.  Are your students struggling with a task, directions, or other verbal feedback?  Perhaps you need to step back and “change the message”.  My basketball vocabulary this year was very, very basic BUT my girls learned a ton because they could understand it and I didn’t have to keep repeating things.  What about in your classroom?
  3. Focus on the growth, not the result:  Look, up until this morning we were (as we say) “oh-for”…meaning we hadn’t won, we were 0-8.  However, as I touched on above, my girls were engaged and came ready to work hard every time they could.  Why?  I believe that the answer is in the growth, they could see it and who isn’t excited when they can see themselves improving?!?  Demonstrating growth isn’t always easy, I totally get that, and some of my girls didn’t grow nearly as quickly as the others, but that’s okay.  What is important is that they can see growth and feel success, even if the scoreboard (or test) doesn’t show it at the end.  After each game I make sure to bring the team together and highlight our growth and success, celebrating even after a loss 🙂  Maybe we played better defense today, or we scored more than our average.  Perhaps we executed (even once) on a play we had learned the day before.  Even today, after we won, I brought them together to celebrate the positive things we accomplished (other than the obvious one point victory!)  How do your students see, feel, or demonstrate growth in your classroom?  And how do you (and them) stop and celebrate that growth?  When we feel like we’re accomplishing something (growth) we are more likely to engage even deeper.  Growing is fun, it helps Rule Number One!  
  4. Baby steps work, perfection doesn’t:  My practices this year were very limited, as I mentioned earlier.  There was no way in the world that I was going to “fix” every “problem” that I saw on the court.  In fact, there wasn’t even a realistic chance that I would get to many of these “problems” at all.  For this group, it was about basics…and I mean basics!  One of the best parts about having so many beginner basketball players was that we had a lot to work on, never a dull moment.  However, I had to be careful, I couldn’t over do it with the coaching.  Our minds (especially those of our students) can’t handle too much input at once.  If I tried to coach every aspect of basketball that these girls needed to improve they would’ve overloaded and shut down in minutes.  So, we needed to grow with baby steps and couldn’t worry about perfection.  Mistakes were okay, they were celebrated and learned from.  If we aimed for perfection the perspective of growth would’ve been lost and frustration would’ve quickly set in.  The same is true in your classroom as well.  Perhaps you have one or two students who can realistically strive toward perfection but for the vast majority, growth and even slow growth, should be the focus and celebration.  This is a mindset though, the teacher needs to live this mindset and make sure the kids buy in.  
  5. Passion is essential, positive passion changes the game:  This one is simple.  If you asked my girls if I was living Rule Number One or if I was passionate about basketball, I think (actually I know) that there would be no doubt about the answer.  I tell the girls all the time how much fun I’m having and I’m not lying.  They can see it in my face, they can hear it in my voice but most importantly I tell them.  Sometimes we assume too much, we think our kids are getting a message when we aren’t explicitly stating it.  Tell them.  Say it out loud and let them know how much you care about your subject or why it’s important.  Passion is contagious and when you have a positive classroom (discussed above) your students will feed off the energy and buy-in to your passion.  

So, we’re 1-8 now.  We got a win.  It feels great and we’ll ride that emotion into the next game and the last two after that.  We may not win any of these last three games but it won’t matter.  If we end up 1-11 these girls won’t care and neither will I.  It’s not the final result, it’s the journey.  We’ve celebrated growth, we’ve focused on improving our skills (but not too many at a time), and, most importantly, we’ve had fun!  I’m confident that these girls will all be excited to play basketball next season, some of them on the varsity.  They’ll have a positive attitude about working hard and growing.  Best of all, I’m confident that they’ll do all of this without me there to coach/encourage them.  After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the lasting memories and positive attitude that these girls will walk away from this season cherishing.

Note:  As I was writing this, one of my players came in and said “I’m going to draw, I need to get my creative energy out” and I realized how writing this post had calmed and focused me too.  I’m ready for game two of the tournament and a great long weekend when we’re finished, I hope you all have/had a fantastic weekend yourselves…only a few more weeks left, enjoy it while it lasts 🙂

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

A Week of Tweets from my View of Academia Cotopaxi

Usually I write about something I’ve seen or heard around school over the course of the last week…or at least something inspires an idea that I end up writing about.  This week I wanted to share some of the things I’ve seen and heard around school in a different way.  I realize that many of you don’t get the chance to go around and see all the different things happening in our school each day.  So, here are a collection of my Tweets from this week that share some of the awesome stuff happening at Academia Cotopaxi this week, starting with snow-capped Pichincha on Monday morning – enjoy!

PS – It may take a minute for all these Tweets to load here…be patient 🙂

Wow, that all happened in one week around here!  I certainly enjoyed visiting classrooms and seeing all of the awesome stuff that is happening at AC, it’s a wonderful place for our kids!  Thank you all for everything that you do to make it a great educational experience for everyone 🙂

ISTE Standards 3 and 4: A Deep Dive into Knowledge Creators and Innovative Designers

We’ve been spending time every couple weeks working with the Admin Team, led by the Tech Department, to explore and dig deeply into the ISTE Standards for Students.  It’s been a wonderful way for us to stop and think about the student experience at AC, especially as it relates to their engagement with the digital world.  The last time we met we dove deep into Standards three and four, exploring how it might look for students to be meeting these standards here at Academia Cotopaxi.  After taking some time to reflect on this conversation and look around school for ways that our students are meeting these standards, it has become very clear that we are already on the right track.

Becoming a “Knowledge Constructor” is the main idea of Standard number three.  The exact language of this standard is, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”  It struck me as I digested that standard a little more that this is exactly what I do when I write my usual blog posts.  I curate resources on whatever topic may have caught my fancy for the week, I then produce a creative artifact (my blog post) which creates a meaningful learning experience for me (and hopefully for anyone who reads my post!)  Cool, I’m a Knowledge Constructor!  Then I got to thinking about our students, is this happening in our school and, if so, where and with what frequency?  So I went looking…I wanted to find examples of our students as “Knowledge Constructors” in different contexts, here is what I found:

 

We are helping our students become “Knowledge Constructors” all over school, in many different contexts.  From Humanities, to Math, to Science class and beyond, we are offering our students the chance to curate resources and construct their own knowledge as part of the learning process.

We’re also doing it ourselves as educators…How do you Steep your tea?

My overall impression is that our students have the opportunities educationally to be “knowledge constructors” in a lot more contexts than I had imagined.  Design Technology class, sure, that’s an obvious one.  Even the Humanities classes seems obvious.  However, it’s happening in Math, Science, Art…seemingly everywhere!

Next, we came to Standard number four, “Innovative Designer,” Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  I was confronted with a harsh reality:  I don’t know the whole “design process” off the top of my head…I know it exists, I’ve worked with it before, and I’ve seen it maneuvered by students over the years but I still haven’t internalized it.  Now, to be fair, when you Google “Design Process” there are a few different versions of the design process.  However, this is the most common version and the one I am familiar with from my past experiences.

By Aflafla1 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think the “deployment” arrow should really loop back around to the “Initial Planning” arrow, as it is truly a never ending cycle starting with an “alpha” version, moving to a “beta” and then on and on into production and versions 2.0 etc.

Anyway, the “Innovative Designer” standard was harder to chew on than its “Knowledge Constructor” counterpart.  Looking at our school for Innovative Designers was fun but a little frustrating at the same time:

^ There should’ve been a picture with that one…Tweet fail 😦

So, why was it frustrating to find examples of ISTE standard number four?  Well, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find examples in a diverse range of classrooms like I could with Standard number three.  Design Tech, Humanities, and Science…these are all obvious to me.  Now, to be fair, what I did find in those areas was exciting…Rube Goldberg Machines, Stop Motion, Bridge Challenge, Speech Competitions all in the same week….awesome!

BUT…where are the “Innovative Designers” when it comes to the other classes?  The same students are enrolled in Math, Spanish, Music, PE, and other classes…where is the Innovative Design in those classes?  (Again, in fairness, I didn’t do an exhaustive search and it was brief.)  It’s quite easy to imagine students writing their own compositions in Music class instead of always playing someone else’s stuff.  Similarly in PE…creating their own games or exercise routines.  Art, I can only imagine that I just didn’t catch the right day…they’re always creating their own stuff, but how ‘innovative’ is it and does it solve a problem?  The opportunity is there and we certainly have students capable of being ‘innovative’…they just need the chance!

Lastly, about standard four, is the part I see as most crucial – following the design process.  This is something that our teachers are going to need to learn and practice.  I would wager that the majority, if not all, of our teachers have little to no experience with the design process and what it means to lead students through that cycle.  It’s not easy and takes some practice for sure.  However, the rewards are HUGE and totally worth the effort…I believe that our teachers will see that and completely buy in!

At the end of this reflection process it’s become clear to me that we’re on the right track, our teachers and students are working toward the ISTE standards three and four whether they know it or not.  We’re much closer with number three, Knowledge Constructor, than we are with standard four, Innovative Designer.  The difference isn’t a lack of desire on our teachers or students part but, in all likelihood, a lack of information…we need to help move them further along toward understanding of this standard.

For me this was a great experience, full of eye-opening classroom visits and wonderful conversations with kids about their designs!  So much fun!!!

 

Data Drives Us All

Summer is great.  Cheese, beer, and all-you-can-eat Friday Night Fish Frys…welcome to Wisconsin!!  It’s time to sit back, relax, and worry about nothing but enjoying time with family and friends.  Then reality hits…when I got back to Quito the biggest dose of reality that I had to face was the scale in our apartment, YIKES!  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised after a summer full of eating, drinking and not even looking at a scale.  Time to do something about this!

Fortunately I had the time to dedicate to fixing this problem and getting back on track.  Counting steps on my FitBit became crucial, 10,000 steps per day was non-negotiable now, more was better.  Additional exercise, at least twice a week, had to be done.  Tracking calories taken in, measuring input, was essential.  Gone were the days of attacking life with no plan, data was collected and goals were set.  It took time but it worked, I rectified a summer’s worth of damage…I was “caught up”.  

We all use data every day in our lives to make decisions and act on plans:  How fast are you driving on Ruta Viva, check the speedometer.  Wear that sweater today or not, check the thermometer.  Use the credit card or debit card, check the bank balance.  How much food to buy for the party, check the RSVP list.  Now, granted, there are a lot of things that we do without contemplating data but it’s the times when we really want to get it right that we consult data.  No one wants a speeding ticket, to be cold, overdrawn at the bank, or short of food while hosting so we check the data and make sure we get it right.  

During the summers I throw data out the window.  The only data I care about is on the golf course (mostly, my final score!) and what time we’re meeting grandpa for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings!  I go about much of my summer with very limited plans, scheduling things the night before and mostly just winging it.  That’s summer, that’s the way it should be…data free 🙂

The school year, however, is a different matter.  Data rules the day.  As educators we need to be making informed decisions.  What data are we using to decide our course of action?  We know the standards at the end and we know the general path toward getting there, but what about all the decisions in between?  Does a diagnostic at the beginning of the unit show us what we need to add or perhaps what we can move through more quickly?  After a bad quiz, do we use the data to make a decision about the addition of a period dedicated to reteaching?  The questions should be about how we regularly use data in our classrooms not about if we regularly use data.

I love data, I’m a bit crazy when it comes to digesting information and analyzing what it all means.  When it comes to data, I can get a bit carried away at times…just ask the people who used to be in the bowling league with me in Shanghai (that’s a whole different story though).  Despite my love of data, I realize that not everyone else loves data as much as I.  However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore it all together, it must play a role in our practice as educators!

I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few days and while doing so, Facebook (with it’s scary mind-reading abilities) shared a wonderful article with me.  It comes from the Center for Teaching Quality, which is one of my most frequented sites.  This article shares some of the lessons learned by a school that has been data-driven since day one.  One of the overarching things you’ll see in this article is that it takes time and energy to do this well.  This is not one of those things that you can just start implementing tomorrow, this takes planning and careful consideration.  That being said, take a look at the article as it really does a nice job of demonstrating the power of using data to inform educational decisions.  While you may not be able to implement large data-driven plans starting tomorrow, you can definitely get started along the path toward regular data use.  Dig deep into data about your students and before you know it, you will know them as well as Facebook knows me!  

 

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!!

CAISSA for the Win

This week/end we’ve been busy hosting the CAISSA regional sports tournament.  With visiting schools from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, and Cayman Islands it’s been a great experience for everyone involved.  

As the days rolled on I took a few moments to sit back and reflect on everything that I’ve seen and heard during CAISSA, it’s been interesting.  I want to share some of the observations I’ve made and how they are a positive for not only our community but all of those who’ve been involved.

  1. School isn’t exclusively about textbooks and exams!  The lessons that have been learned during this event have been incredible.  There have been lessons on sportsmanship (with examples of the good as well as, unfortunately, the bad).  We’ve seen our AC students come out and support their classmates (or older role models) and cheer positively for the efforts of all the athletes, the positive experience of enjoying a sporting event is not to be under-appreciated!  While all of this excitement has been happening we’ve also seen the discipline of many of our students to attend classes and, in some cases, take tests despite the energy of these athletic contests happening just steps away.  
  2. Bonds created by hosting students from other schools last for a long time!  As the week progressed I saw more and more of our students walking around, chatting, and just hanging out with kids from the other schools.  Many times the connections between these students were formed when one student-athlete played the role of host to the other.  Initially, hosting guest student-athletes was a cost saving measure but now it’s grown to so much more than that.  Living under the same roof, if only for a couple days, creates a bond between these young adults that is stronger than the competition.  It’s a unique experience, one that helps these kids realize that it’s not all about the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game.  
  3. Hard work prevailing isn’t just something from Hollywood, it actually happens!  Watching some of the games over the course of the tournament, it became very obvious as to who “should” win particular matchups.  However, in a number of cases, the “underdog” showed that hard work and perseverance can win out over a more “talented” opponent.  Teamwork, effort, and fundamentals became more than buzz-words, they became rallying cries and motivation!   As educators, how can we transfer that attitude into the classroom?
  4. Attitude is everything!  The last time we hosted CAISSA I was blown away by the effort and dedication of our JV girls Volleyball team as they battled against all the varsity squads.  Once again, the JV teams have impressed beyond my imagination. The girls soccer team has been competitive and fought hard against every opponent they’ve faced, never hanging their heads or giving up despite facing tough varsity level competition.  Our JV boys on the basketball court have faced, whether fairly or not, the best that each of the varsity teams have had to offer.  Whether a tough opponent, a bad shooting day, or injured teammates, our JV athletes have fought through and left every ounce of energy on the court/field.

CAISSA has been a nice interlude for our community.  The positive atmosphere of support and hard work from our athletes and community has been wonderful to see.  It’s not all about academics when it comes to school, CAISSA  was a nice reminder of that fact.  We’re helping transform young adults into adults, that extends well beyond the books!!