Saturday, April 24, 2021

Lifting Up into the Space

Between action and cut- the scene is theirs. Students write the dialogue- perform the movement, and collaboration. Students play off one another. Speak their personal truth. The props are laid out- the setting permanent, but the theatrics spontaneous. It is not a teachers role to direct every performance. They need to frame the shot. Get the camera aligned. Find the right script- but the rest, the pure gold, the Oscar, Emmy and Tony worthy performances- they come not from a teachers management- but from student enterprise and decision making.

I have been teaching for almost twenty years. Crazy to think back all these years to my first year. I was trying so hard to write, direct and produce every scene. I was determined to get my students- the actors of the classroom drama- to stay on script. Following every suggestion. It was exhausting. And fruitless. Because as we know, and what I have learned- is between action and cut, bell to bell- students are the doers, the sages and performers. They entertain, impersonate and headline. We, the teachers have to be the stage hands, off camera, making sure the stars have what they need. That is our role.

We have to lift our students up into the space- the arena created for them. We spend our summers planning, designing and creating these theaters. We travel and collect. We decorate and stage. We are prop masters after all. And when we pride ourselves in our role. So, when we lean in and listen, silence our tendencies' to direct- we wind up with the most amazing films in the can. At the end of the year we can hunker down and reflect on a beautiful, heartfelt, human centered documentary. One all about the 'unscript'- a live action, spontaneous, student-driven masterpiece.

How can we do this as educators? First of all, we have to trust ourselves. Our ability to let things get noisy and interactive and stay on track. We have to trust our students. The moment we do not trust our students- is the moment we micro-manage and take away their spontaneity. It is the moment our classroom becomes about us, not them. This is something that takes years to master. You must believe in the organized chaos, the off task moments, where kids will be kids. You need to believe in the process of the doer. It takes us doing less and them doing more.

Activities that engage are not necessarily those lessons we love. 

Lessons they love are almost always the ones where they lead, they talk and they interact.

We often love lessons that we feel are fun, but that are often very structured to help us feel safe and comfortable. We want them to learn and have fun. We want them to discover and investigate. Have the freedom to fail and play, giggle and get off task. But we are often hesitant to step back and let them happen. 

When we allow for a few outbursts, we set the stage for more monologues, buddy films and thought provoking documentaries. But, more importantly, you also create an opportunity for students to be themselves and when we truly learn- when we let our inhibitions fade and jump into a project or creative process, it is because we are not acting, it is when we are ourselves down to the core.

As an educator I want to keep things less framed.

I like the odd angle and Zoom lens like everyone else- but I also love the distance shot, seeing the actors entering the scene, watching them join the action. This is pure gold. 

I like it when the camera is rolling and students are ad-libbing and splashing paint on a blank background. The graffiti of growth is powerful. 

Some days I get exhausted, not because I am lecturing or monitoring- but because I am watching and letting things unfold naturally. Even after twenty years in the classroom I struggle with letting go of my role sometimes. But it is so worth it. When I can stroll around and just listen. Ask questions and really interact and watch them be themselves, I really get to understand their personalities. Its a cinematographers dream. A beautiful landscape, evolving and shifting in a continual pattern of succession.

Lift them up into the scene. 

Be an observer- you can get more information from a class period of organized chaos than a structured assessment. 

The organized chaos is engagement staying fluid. Stretching and pulling the imagination. Yet giving time for it to pool on the bottom before the action reignites.

It leaves no room for quiet isolation- until the end of class when you ask them to reflect. A quick ticket out the door, helps solidify a noisy semblance into a personal summary. This is learning. This is how as educators we can set the stage, buy the props, and even make copies of a script (structure) but then allow our students to edit the teleplay. Its all about the highlighter and decision making. 

When students lead they thrive. 

When dialogue is allowed to take shape, they thrive. 

I have learned that the side bar conversations- the personal chat they have- this is momentary and it allows them to have a breather, before they delve back into the content. When I hear it is more than that, I nudge with a class reminder. A ring of the bell on my desk. It is so important to let them lift themselves up into the space. 

Whether it is a step stool, ladder or climbing rope- it is an assent. A climb they choose to endeavor and at the end of the scene- when the clapper sounds out its 'cut' clamor- they might just walk to their next class exhausted. They just might remember the information, a little bit better because they got to talk about it when they were being themselves.

This is key- space is empty and fillable. 

It is vast and expandable. 

It is personal and memorable. 

When we create a space less confined, more individual and noisy- free and independent- the space fills with learning and growth. 

This is the space I strive every day, to not fix in place, but to keep fluid. This is why I became an educator. This is why I am still an educator. There are days where the scene unfolds naturally and creates a meaningful documentary- effortlessly. Some days its a drama and difficult to get through. Other days it is comedic and funny- we grow from the laughter. 

But no matter the day- the scene is theirs from action to cut. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Art of Mind Cuisine: Chef and Baker, Educator and Listener

Appetites are personal. What is delicious to one person might be avoided by another. The delicacies of some very well might be a revulsion of others. Some of us have a sweet tooth- we crave the sugary goodness of dessert. Some diet, others treat themselves to salty snacks or comfort food. Eating is both a necessity and a gift. The choices are innumerable and for that- we as humans are truly blessed.

Nutrition and desire come hand and hand. We have to eat to gain energy for our bodily functions- but we have the art of cooking and the familial, communicative process of dining- embedded in most parts of our lives. We go out, we order in. Uber eats and other delivery services are at out beck and call. So many industries are agriculture, service and delivery based these days- we can literally get any type of food we desire on our door step in a matter of hours. 

If its edible, we have found a way to prepare it. Whether or not its delicious is another story- but if its palatable and has nutritional value- someone eats it. This is the sensory gift we have been given- the aroma of grandma's chicken noodle soup, the spice filled burn of curry, the icy cold soothe of a smoothie or ice cream sundae. It is a cornucopia of emotions that follow us when we dine. When we chop, shred, puree'. It connects us to something much deeper than calories- it creates communities, strengthens family ties and opens up conversations- food is a universal gatherer.

Learning, education- classroom interaction, collaboration- the joy of new ideas and trying out our new knowledge- this is also universal. Unification of the mind. Contentedness of the spirit. Our appetites are peaked and filled. Our hunger satiated.

Learning is another universal gatherer. It sparks debates. Roars to life awareness and opinion. When people discuss and reason responses- it leads to change and progress. Yet sometimes- arguments erupt. Divides widen. We have to taste the gambit to find what we crave and enjoy.

But when learning is welcomed- points of view shift slightly- regardless of stance. When we listen, we acquire the calories our brains need to make informed decisions. To continue to be a force of energy for others. As educators, we can broaden minds to try new things. We offer seating in 5 star restaurants- each individually designed for our students.

I have always made my children try new foods. Take a 'no thank you' bite. If they do not appreciate it, then at least they tried it. Food, if used to open minds and experience new sensations, can bring to the forefront different cultures, different styles of cuisine, different mind sets. If one is willing to take that bite, experience a new flavor, taste a new spice- then maybe it will open them up to hearing new thoughts, listening to new points of view, broaden their mindscape.

Choosing a cut of meat that is tender, or an aged bottle of wine, or a perfect dining experience is personal. We have everything from lamb shanks to top sirloin - hamburger to filet- and that is why menus are extensive. To allow patrons to pick their cut of meat. To go to a dining establishment that they crave. 

We can then take the worst cut and make it delicious through brazing or slow roasting. This is where choice and skill merge. If we over cook it or burn it, it loses its flavor- it becomes tough and for many unpalatable. But if we take the time to ease it into a delicious morsel- it is well worth the wait. Letting lessons linger- sit on the edge for a bit- this creates intrigue, suspense- and in the end quite a tasty meal.

So we do not just have to choose our cut and our temperature, we also need to prepare it, pay attention to it, serve it . As educators we sear, grill and barbeque. We take lessons and prepare them in different ways, we serve them up with various side dishes, we flavor them either minimally or vigorously- depending on need. But the academic needs of our students varies as much as their appetites. It can be challenging to choose the right condiments and accoutrements to entice their attention.

But every day we slice, we chop, we sear and braise and our students- they may not say yum, or this is delicious but we can tell they are enjoying the meal by their faces. By their interactions, by their smiles. Food and learning intertwined, universal and personal. Chefs, educators might be in the kitchen preparing- but the experience, the dialogue and dinner conversation- that is up to them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Be Curious, Not Judgmental

The thing about learning- student or teacher- is that it has to accompany curiosity. Learning is not about reinforcing or cementing your knowledge and beliefs, it is about expanding them. It is about looking for ways to view and understand the world differently. For when we can see opinions, points of view and alternate ideas as keepsakes- we create a forum of treasure, not a box for valuables.

It is difficult to admit an error in judgment. A mistake we made during a time when things were different. When values and beliefs were structured around different norms. But in order to grow and change- become better people- we must. We must not linger and carry more regret than optimism. We must see the rust and erosional forces of yesterday- feel its heft and figure out what went wrong. Weathering is inevitable, erosion is inevitable, deposition is dependent on the forces of open-mindedness, acceptance and the unrelenting push for betterment.

It is challenging to accept our place amongst the atrocities of the past. We were not directly responsible, but our advantages have made things easier for us. At least some of us. Our lives are not easier in all respects. They are not simple or full of handouts or ease. We have our own struggles. No one is immune from struggle. But some, they take the brunt of that force. We must look for opportunities to lessen their burden.

Curiosity helps us see the past and our need for change. It helps us see how we can become better and help others to do the same. We need to look for the opportunities to do so. Yet, we do not have to be less ourselves. We need to own the past and also continue to change the future. We are all human. We are all integrated and connected. We hurt, we elevate, we ignore. But we also listen and urge moments of uprising and shifts that lead the deposition to a new location. 

Judgement comes from fear. We do not need to fear deposition and erosion. They lead to the most beautiful gorges, riverbeds and beaches. They shape the Earth. And as humans our weathering, erosion and deposition are how we evolve. It is how we alter the course of behavior. Cultures shift and personalities adjust- when we are ready for them to. It may take longer for some- there will be push back. But it is inevitable- change and force and energy. 

Curiosity is the force that allows us to ponder- wonder- make big connections of things we may have avoided. But when we do- things get turbulent. But turbulence means people are noticing. They are becoming more aware. The biggest changes are yours alone. We can not make anyone change their mind. It is a choice. But if we refuse to be negative for long, we focus on the power of positive voices not toxic ones, and seek commonality- just maybe curiosity will win over judgment.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Frozen Week of Ice and Storm

The sad thing is, they knew it was coming. It wasn't a secret, no one even tried to sugar coat it. We were going to get a hard freeze, the coldest temperature the Houston area has seen for 100 years- give or take. I am not a Texan and I have lived in the frigid winters of Colorado, Boston and Atlanta- so I wasn't too worried. But, I knew it was going to be a difficult situation for Houstonians, as most residents here, have never experienced this type of storm.

So I hunkered. I bundled up. I wrapped my pipes and put towels under the drafty doors to hold in the heat. I stocked up on water and food. I felt prepared- enough. But, I wasn't. The temperatures plummeted, the roads froze solid. Trees fell over. Snow covered the surfaces- but this time it stuck and multiplied and then froze again. This of course being normal for many parts of the country. But for southern Texas- the coast of Texas- it was unheard of. Now we have had snow- light dustings. We have had hail and sleet. Just not this much at one time and for this long.

So, we hunkered, We bundled. We expected our homes to stay warm and us nestled inside. But electricity disappeared. Our warmth and refrigeration disappeared. It got cold. Really cold in our homes. Then it didn't come back on when we were promised. Some people never lost power- others, like me- we lost it for 49 hours or more. Then our water shut off and we no longer had that either. We wrapped in blankets and huddled together. My family going two full days with out power and water.

Then our pipes burst and the ceiling in my bedroom, bathroom and part of our living room collapsed bringing in with it snow, ice and a deluge of water. And it came, and came, and came. We shut the water off to the house. But it kept coming. And as I stood in the cold house, trying to decide how to get the water out- our power came on. For two hours. Then we moved into a rolling black out. 

We called the city to have the water shut off at the main- but no answer. The next day- we got ahold of someone and they shut off the water at the city level to our house. As I stood in 2 inches of water in my living room- it was shocking. As I went back into my bedroom it was covered in insulation and mud: my bed, my floor, almost everything in the room. I rushed around to save my books- I am a bibliophile and have a lot of books. I saved all but three. Not bad for a frozen toed, soaking wet, stressed out woman.

I just keep telling myself- its just stuff. I saved my precious stuff. AND the rest, its just items. So many people came to my rescue- I have donations galore of furniture and beyond. I am rebuilding. I have lived in a hotel for awhile, but the house is getting cleaned and sterilized. Hopefully at least temporarily for a few months we can reside in our home. All our belongings are stored in the garage so it will be easy to just resettle there, for now, until the end of the school year.

It has been a few weeks of turmoil- but we are all safe. We have power and water, where many do not. We have a bed and warm place to sleep. We have a generous and kind community here locally and globally. We are blessed. This just being an ice cycle, a jagged stalactite that fell and gave us a gash. But it melted and we are on steady ground now. Thank you to my family, my parents, my community everywhere. I am so appreciative of your well wishes and donations.

Thank you. Stay safe and warm everyone. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Satisficers and Maximizers

I have been hearing a lot about these two terms as of late: mazimizers and satisficers. It got me thinking a lot about myself. How I tend to indeed behave like both in different situations. I guess like a growth mindset and closed mindset, we all fit somewhere in the middle. Where do you fit?

Satisficers and people who are pleased to settle for good enough. Because it is good enough for them. It is a good fit. It makes them happy. It creates a place or situations where they can thrive because they feel comfortable there. They are less likely to feel regret after they have made a decision. They trust themselves. 

Maximizers are seeking the perfect meal, the perfect lesson, the perfect car, home, or experience. They compare their situations to those of others- making sure they chose the right one. They are perfectionists. They know what they want and won’t settle. They won’t stop looking, planning or acquiring until they feel satisfied- which they rarely do. So, they tend to have lower levels of happiness than satisficers.

There is a positive result to being a maximizer- they tend to have better results. Higher achievement. End up in better paying jobs. Yet, once they make a decision, they are far more likely to second guess themselves. They use social comparisons to guide their decision making. To get the most optimal results. Fewer options works better for maximizers as they need to weigh all their options. Because when they face too many options, they feel like they are missing out on something. I think we all feel this way.

Is one better than the other? Are we a combination of both? Does this align with growth mindset and closed mindset? Why would we settle? Is it settling if it is the best fit for you? The word settle always has a negative connotation with it. I think, settling is allowing the dust to rest at the bottom, not stirring things up- so you can see everything and decide the best course of action. Maximizers may want to see the playing field from more angles and depths- but the end result comes from really looking at every choice. I think both do the same thing here.

Sacrificers might seem impatient and quick to decision- but I think they are just more realistic. They understand that moving forward sometimes means just that- finding what fits and walking out the door. But I think that we are all sacrificers in some aspects of our lives and mazimizers in others.  We spend our lives deciding what to eat, what to wear, where to live, work, play. There are so many day-to-day, moment to moment, decisions- sometimes we just have to decide quickly. Other times we have the luxury to stop and ponder.

This is a moment, as I write today, where I ponder and reflect on my last week. Look ahead to the upcoming one. I know there are things I must settle on- decide- choose and be alright with. There are others I can compare and dive deeper and take more time to really figure out. The luxury of finding what I want, is a gift.

I guess we are all mazimizers and sacrificers to some degree. But the most important thing- is to rethink and adjust. See the options as just that- options. And continue to move ahead- full sails, with the wind behind us. Don't let too many options null your choice.

Don't allow ourselves to compare too much, for we never truly know the full story of another. The facade may seem colorful, shiny and perfect- but what lies behind the mask is unique. Live you. Believe in you. Maximize, sacrifice and balance yourself. Find your groove. Only you know what that is- we all have our own cadence, rhythm and melody. Close your eyes, listen- can you feel yours, hear yours?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Cape of Good Hope: Student-Teacher Interactions

Trust is not given lightly, for most students. They size you up. They push the boundaries to change the shape of the box. They smudge the lines. They focus on your attitude, your demeanor, your words. Especially your facial expressions- even behind a mask your eyes tell a story. A day to day tale every student is gripped to, like a fantastic novel, written just for them.

But as we all know from experience, some students need a little extra attention. 

Some hide from any sort of interaction- hoping, praying you do not call their name or walk up to their desk. 

But most students, they want to converse, step into your bubble. Little ones they crave it, they need it. High-Schoolers, they want you to think they don't care- their nonchalant desire, worn like a cape of strength. But middle schoolers, junior high students- they aren't so good at the masquerade.

I am the corny teacher. I tell corny jokes, wear a colorful pair of Keds or Sketchers daily- a quirky t-shirt too. I say hello to everyone as they enter the room- smile a huge grin from behind my required facial covering. Sometimes I get a hello in return, sometimes a glance and shuffle. But, I am relentless. Every day a hello, using their name. Eventually I get at least one or two responses. 

My virtual classes are much larger. 30-35 faces on a screen all staring back at me. Its a bit daunting. But, I choose a few names per day to greet individually, as they are beginning their science-starter. I say them aloud- sometimes they respond verbally, others in the chat box. It has taken a little bit longer to get them to warm up to me. But we have a good rapport. 

I make the same corny jokes on Zoom that I do in class. But, my demeanor is different. Sitting in a chair creates a certain aura that you lose in a face to face classroom. The act of mobility itself- creates a sense of blending and ebb and flow- you miss this fluidity in a virtual classroom. So I have to work extra hard to use my hands, and lean in and out of the camera- to create a sense of urgency.

I guess it does come down to that in a nutshell. Engagement is all wrapped up in a sense of urgency. Like, if you aren't listening, you are going to miss something. As if the gripping story that is leading their school lives day to day, has a huge plot twist unfolding. They need the twist, not the long drawn out narrative. They need the character development, the arc, the mystery. That is how students and teachers learn to interact, build relationships. Move the plot forward.

We all wear capes: the small ones that help us fly- and look cool. Or the heavy hooded ones shrouding our faces on those days we feel overwhelmed and frustrated. We hide ourselves as much as they hide themselves. But, it is the interactions that matter the most these days. The eye contact, the smile and yes (I am going to admit here) fist bumps and handshakes. That is why we have hand-sanitizer right?

So I have a few athletes who have been a bit restless and a little withdrawn. They grunt more than they speak. They have tried desperately to avoid making any sort of effort to connect with me. I tried by using their names, telling corny sports jokes, talking about their games and lives- to no avail. Only being met with one word responses and rare eye contact. 

So I decided to create a unique handshake with one of them. My most challenging, my most uninterested student. So I asked him "Do you want a secret handshake?" He stopped dead in his tracks. "A handshake, he asked?" I responded, "Indeed, a silent hello. Then after, we can use hand-sanitizer." He smiled, thought about it for a moment or two- then came up with a quirky grasp, wiggle and thumb wrestle hand-shake. I fumbled on purpose a few times, giving him the opportunity to teach me.

Every day sense, we have done this handshake as he has enters my classroom. Then I squirt some hand-sanitzer in his hands. A routine, a ritual- a bond.

Then as one would expect, the other athletes saw this and low and behold- now I have six unique handshakes with different students. Other students laugh and watch as we do this daily. It is an event that has brought my class closer together. These students are more interactive in class. They say hello to me in the hallway. They wave. They smile. They interact. Our cape is our handshake.

Be quirky. Be you. But also make sure you bring a little oddity into the mix. That's what makes a great story. The unexpected twist of a handshake. The huge smile that may seem unnoticed- but that lightens the burden of those around you. 

A handshake, a smile- they unfurl the cape. Words of kindness, patience, compassion- they are the wind that gets the cape soaring behind you. 

Unfurl your cape. Whatever your cape is. Unfurl it and engage. Create urgency and a sense of surprise. Believe in the story, for it is the reason we wear our capes. Capes are our demeanor, personality, attitude and charisma. They are our moments where THEY teach us, where a gesture of a handshake changes everything. 

Cape, handshake- smile, words of kindness. Be a superhero. That is what they need right now. That is what we need right now. We all need a good superhero.

Friday, January 1, 2021

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Lift Off

There are a lot of lists coming out these days. Top tens of the last year. 5 things not to do. 20 things to do this year to be stronger, faster, better. But it all comes down to one thing- not one word or goals, intentions and the like. Just one thing- you. How you see the world. How you see yourself in the world. What you want to do to make your life better.

Self-help books sell abundantly because they offer a quick fix. A set of guidelines that claim to work. Maybe they do for some people. But, will reading books about diet, resilience, and happiness make you thinner, more motivated and happier? Temporarily maybe. They might just be the spark you need to see the flame of growth, renewal.

I must admit I have read many a self-help book in my fifty plus years. I have dieted, exercised and changed my habits. Only to sneak back into my old ways. I figured out after a lot of trial and error that all of the suggestions dictated by others- only placated my sense of belonging. It made me feel like I was fighting 'the man' just like everyone else. I was bucking the system because everyone else was too. It gave me a sense of community- residence in that same village everyone else claims to be a member of.

I see the world uniquely- as most of us do. So why do we struggle so much to try and see the same way others do. Is that yearn for acceptance that powerful? Indeed it is. But, for those of us who have never quite fit in- it seems to be a pull of orbital proportions. It syncs us in someone else's revolution and rotation. Spinning us effortlessly into a path not of our own.

Goals, intentions, expectations are never anyone else's to give. They might be offered and we might accept them- but to no long term avail. We do not feel honest with ourselves and thus we revert back to a place where we do. This cycle is constant. This rising of the moon and setting of the sun is daily. It is unavoidable unless we set our circadian to our own clock.

Be true to yourself. Invest in yourself. But before you can do that- you have to find yourself. The sayings go. But, I think we know where we are, we know what we need, we understand ourselves. We just have to find the humility, to trust ourselves- and not blindly rely on others to shape us. It is the carving and chiseling that is the hardest. We are often afraid of digging too deep.

Resolute. Admirably staying the course. Being willing to bend and stretch. Veer and leap. All the while holding firm on where you need to go. Finding purpose, relevance and meaning. Isn't that what self-help is all about. Self-advocacy. Self-reliance. Some of us need clear, concise ways to make this happen. Thus a self-help industry. Some of us need to find it in ourselves or it will never stick and become permanent change.

Which ever you need. Invest in yourself. To be better, stronger, faster- you have to envision it first. Imagine the muscle strength, imagine the success, imagine the effort and determination. Only then can action take over. We can not teleport to a better us. Nor can we skip steps or read to the last page of the book. We must invest. We must entangle ourselves in the hard work and effort. That is the only way we can truly build the tissue mass into muscle strength.

Our brains are muscles after all. In order to strengthen our mindset we must exercise our will, our endurance, our self-worth. We have to feel it in every electrical impulse, shooting through our nervous system. We have to practice. We have to repeat. We have to trust our instincts and do it over and over and over until we feel confident. Then our muscle will sync with the impulse and we will be able to change.

This new year is not one of huge upheaval or massive course redirection. It is for me a year where I lift the weights and run the marathons and stretch my sore muscles so I can do it over and over again. It is about the incremental steps needed to accomplish what I see as a journey of endurance. That is what I have planned on the menu. Simple training of my mind and body in order to reach where I know I need to go.

I hope that for everyone out there, that you invest in yourself. Not with exercise equipment necessarily. Or books abound written by someone else. But that you write your own story. Page one is empty- so pick up a pen and start scribing your adventure. Believe in your intentions. Invest in your intentions. They are yours alone. 

Write your prologue, write your chapters and no matter where your story takes you- keep investing. The greatest investment is in ourselves- for that is the only investment we control 100%. The interest, the dividends, the profit. We control it. You control it. Earn grace and hope every day- put it in your savings account- you will need it throughout the year. Spend what you need. Save more. 

My first deposit is today. Right now. I invest in me. I believe in me. I trust myself. I am writing my own story. I own the publishing rights. #2021Write52 my pace, no one else's. My words, my parse or elaboration. My imagery or directness. It is mine and I will go where no one has gone before- because it is literally my universe, my orbit, my spacecraft, my space. I am pilot, astronaut- I am flight plan, launch and landing.

Count down.....5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Lifting Up into the Space

Between action and cut- the scene is theirs. Students write the dialogue- perform the movement, and collaboration. Students play off one ano...