where does your light shine?

do you light dark corners?
does your light add clarity and outline?
does it illuminate the overlooked or forgotten?
does your light have adjustable brightness for when shade is needed?
does your light warm, brighten and invite?
does your light move in an unencumbered line out from you?
does your light shine through fog and callous?
does your light create a reflective surface for others to see and feel their light?

***

does your light shine to illuminate the streaks and missed spots?
does your light suck dry the surrounding soil, leaving it desiccated and infertile?
does it shine only at light shows?
does your light scorch and burn delicate new growth?
does your light bounce back to shine just on you?
does your light blind, blur and fatigue?
is your light operated by an invisible and unknowable switch?
does your light only shine into well lit areas?

***

where do you shine your light?

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Dear #PLN, you changed me

Dear #PLN,

We have been hanging out together for over 3 years now. There are some things I thought you should know.
At first you overwhelmed me and it was awkward. I was not sure what to say and you had so much to say. I watched and listened to figure you out.
I remember thinking: “How do you express yourself like that?! WOW!”
I remember thinking: “I am going to have to get up pretty early to read ALL THOSE important ideas!”
And for a time I did.
I was amazed and bewitched…there was so much going on…all this time elapsed and I hadn’t know about you! #sadness
I was overwhelmed and amazed by how much you knew, how much you thought…how intensely and deeply you cared.
I fell for your range of interests, your openness to the unknown, and your drive to keep moving.
OK. I more than fell for you.

Beyond infatuation, your presence impacted my learning, my heart, and my perspective on life. I don’t mean in a trite and superficial way. I mean in a deep profound way. You changed me. 

Tweet by tweet, you invited me to trade in my cynicism for hope. Like poker chips in a game you’ve invested way too much in, I didn’t want to give my chips up. “They are all I have!” I thought, but somehow you convinced me. So all in I went, gave away every last chip and traded in on bold, loud and glorious hope.

You shared your learning, your thoughts, and your dreams out in the open. You made me understand through example how I could be strong and vulnerable, at the same time. You helped me discover that when I put myself out there, no matter how scary or uncomfortable it feels, real connection happens. Regardless of distance, nationality or subject matter, we are all in “this” together.

You made me ravenous to learn, to keep up, and to know what you knew. But not in a competitive or measurable way. Not in a way to be like just like you. You let me know I could find my way, on my own, in my own time. You said: “you are capable and sure, don’t doubt yourself, just go.” You left tracks of your thinking for me to use as clues so I didn’t get lost. You left space beside your tracks for me to make my own way, my own path. You expanded my thought horizons beyond my imagination; you showed me glimpses of what was out there and beyond. You made me want to make my own path there. You let me want it for myself.

You allowed me the space and time to discover I love to write, to think, and to create. You said: “go ahead take a risk, try something new, I’ll wait for you, I’ll encourage you, I’ll celebrate with you.”

But the biggest gift you gave me, which simultaneously breaks my heart and glues the pieces back together, is you made me want to start all over again.  You made me wish more than anything, that I could start my career, my learning journey, all over again…but with you.

Love,

me

The truth does not make it so.

I like to speak the truth. I bet you do too.

But I realize even I speak the truth that this act alone does not make what I say perpetually true.

For example when I say: “excellence is really important to model for students,” I really do believe that modelling excellence is vital and foundational for creating a culture of excellence. But…the statement alone does not make it true; it is through thoughtful, consistent and purposeful actions that I make the statement true. The truth lies in the actions that bring life to my sentiment.
I often reflect and wonder if sometimes if we as adults say true statements, such as work ethic is important or digital citizenship is a crucial topic for students, but do not always ourselves make it true with our own actions. Do we act these statements out everyday in front of our students? Do they intuitively know what we say and what we do align? Can they verbalize specific and numerous examples of where and when they see these truths acted out live and in front of them (as opposed to only talked about).

While our words and the specific words we use matter and help to create our school cultures and communities, it is our collective micro-actions that add up to create a congruent reality…

or one that is disjointed and inauthentic.

What truths do you say? What do you do to make them true?

Will you define the work? Will the work define you?

balance

Shared on Flickr by Helen ST

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” 
― Alain de Botton

In my first year teaching I was completely and utterly consumed by work. I loved the work and fell deeply in love with it that first year; I loved the intensity, the creativity and the connections with kids I found…but the work owned me. Over the years my love has not waned, but I have had to define the balance between being owned by the work and owning the work. Over the years I have watched, both from a far and up close, as others have struggled mightily with this subtle yet significant difference. Some have lost and some have won.

Where is the tipping point between being owned and owning?
Where is the point of no return for losing yourself to the work?
Where in the work are you sustained and renewed?

I am no expert at balance. For me it has been an ongoing process of reflection, readjustment and re-calibration and is part of the work itself.

Insights that have emerged for me, as I defined the work are offered below:

1. Define your own balance.
My balance is getting a bit out of balance. I love big messy and impossible projects. This is where my passion for the work lies and is sustained. I know these projects are what keep the “fire in my belly” alive. When I do not dream big and set far-off goals I disengage from the work. This is my balance. I have had to search out and create such projects.
Many have given advice on balance, schedules and some have raised eyebrows at my work routines. I like to get up early to write and do school work. I like to work with kids outside of school on big projects. For me, these projects are my source of joy and connection.
However, there are seasons to my work and at times I have had to step away (for family, my husband’s work demands, etc.). For me stepping away has made the work even sweeter upon returning. Like a speed limit, there were times in life I had to slow down. And then there were times I saw it safe to speed up.

2. Know what you sacrifice.
Dinner with the family? Sleep? A dentist appointment? Hold up for yourself item by item the specific activities and chores you are not doing when you choose to extend the work beyond the work day. Are these vital and important or are you ready to let go of these? For me I know what I will let go of and know for example that I will not let go of family dinner and time after dinner to hangout.

3. Eat steak before sizzle.
In all aspects of life it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and hype of any project. How novel! How fun! This is the sizzle. But to survive, to grow, to build you will need to eat steak. To find the steak you will need to find where the essence of your work lies. For me the essence of my work has been the connections with my students. I use these as my compass. Projects, initiatives, activities that prevent or destroy these are ones I avoid. Sometimes this will feel counter intuitive. I have kept this definition up front and center as I make the many micro decisions every day.

4. Hold no expectation of others.
This is where I still struggle. I can hold expectations for myself and work towards those. I know I cannot impose my expectations on others, students or co-workers; they have to do this for themselves. If I do this unconsciously, then when I end up disappointed, this is my problem to own and deal with, not theirs.

5. Say yes to what you love.
This morning I choose to say yes to writing as I know this activity feeds me and produces a mental calm for the week ahead. Just as I know that making time to have significant conversations with people I work with, whether students or adults, have over the years, feed my soul. I know making time for student requests for extra help and putting these before meetings or committee work has served to keep me rooted in the work I love.

6. Find your way to let go.
There will be many things to let go off; bad days, disagreements and disappointments. How you let go and shake these off will flavour the days and years ahead. Look behind and see the rocks are you still dragging. Is it the work of today or the rocks of yesterday that are dragging you under? For me, letting go is a process I need to honour, it takes time and deep reflection to let go. I need to give myself the mental opportunity to work through these tricky spots so I can do the work unencumbered tomorrow.

7. Hold on to what you can’t replace.
Early on in my teaching career I decided very consciously I would hold on to what I couldn’t replace and nothing else. I watched teachers get bent out of shape over lost pencils, scissors, bobbins etc. I cannot replace if lost, my love of teaching; I decided to fight every day to hold onto that. I cannot replace student confidence, curiosity, and trust, if lost. I would fight for those.
Pencils, stapler, broken glassware no big deal!

8. Act from love.
There is a sweet spot somewhere in your heart where the work does not feel like work. Here, the work comes from you without effort, without thought. You must find this spot and work to go there as much and as often as possible. This is the work you are called to do; this is your work and no one else’s. This is where you own the work.

9. Embrace the zany.
Some days are going to be those that make you wonder why you choose this work anyway. You will feel as a donkey must, struggling up the last part of a steep escarpment with an over heavy load. You will think: “I cannot.”
It is on these days that you must search to embrace and celebrate, the silly, the zany, and the things that tickle your funny bone. These gifts of lightness will save you from forgetting the joy of your work.

10. Lift your head.
As the work gets heavy we tend to drop out heads and see all that is still not done, all the challenges we face. It is in these moments I remember to lift my head and look out…way out…to the farthest horizon to see the big picture again and anew. Ah right…this is the bigger purpose of my work.

____________________________________

How do I change? Where do I start?

Change2

Change by Gilad Benari

I have been transitioning to a new rhythm and perspective (I moved from being a classroom teacher to working on our district’s Instructional Leadership team). While I am in no way 100% adjusted, I am beginning to get the lay of the land, so to speak. One aspect of my job that has provided significant insights is the opportunity to have and to listen to conversations of both teachers and administrators across the K to 12 spectrum.

One theme I have heard in a variety of words and ways is the sentiment:

How do I change?

and

Where do we start our change process?

One teacher came right out and said “How do I get myself to change!!” It hit me: “Ah, it’s about the change process rather than the specifics or details of the change.”

This prompted me to reflect on what has afforded change in my process:

  • Have an honest talk to self: When I first decided I needed to change my practice I had a very frank, heart to heart conversation with myself. I had to admit: “Yup girl, you are in a rut!” It took several tries for this conversation to manifest. Admitting to myself that I need to change was my first and biggest step. I did not want to admit that I HAD to change.
  • Get into deep end as quickly as possible but don’t expect traction right away: I know…lots of people say, go slowly, do one thing at a time. For me going all in was what pushed me to wake up and see things anew. I don’t think the aha’s would have been the same if I had inched along. Think skydiving; you have to jump, if you want to do it!
  • Build a community of reminders: For me this community of reminders is Twitter. Every day I get an infusion of positive, upbeat, and concrete reminders of who I want to be and where I want to go. Twitter affords me the conditions I need to remember: “Right, that’s what I want to do, that’s who I want to be!” As a bat uses echolocation to move towards the goal, Twitter provides feedback to feedforward on a continual basis.
  • Establish a reflection routine: Whether to your friend on Friday after school, to your work partner first thing in the AM via Twitter or thought regular blogging, reflection has been my number one way towards actualized change. Blogging allowed me to track and understand myself and my course of change.
  • Accept you will have to ask for help: I am not a tech wizard…but I realized I wanted to learn how to use tech more than I wanted to appear as an expert. I had to ask for help, BUT I did not become dependent. Most of my tech learning has been facilitated via You Tube (and the great screencasts of other change agents).
  • Let outdated routines go: I am a big visualizer and I imagined my old habits as a ball and chain I had to cut off. Some of the habits I had to let go of were marking every piece of student work, micromanaging student’s time and over planning.
  • Put in the time: If I said change did not take time, I would be lying. Time and elbow grease may provide significant returns, however, time spent is not THE determining factor (I had spent tons of time before AND not experienced significant change).
  • Let go of ego: I will admit it…though hard even now. One of my biggest hurdles was my own ego; I was the expert teacher! I had worked hard and figured it out! Yup, had to let that go.
  • Compromise: My way or the highway, I was the expert and as a perfectionist, I did not know how to compromise. Another hate to admit it to the world, but in compromise I have realized that every project, idea, and goal is always #bettertogether.

What has afforded you change in your life, your teaching practice or in your school?

I and many others would love to hear!

Navigating Uncertainty.

uncertainty (2)

Image shared on Flickr by Matt Curry

Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lies.
Margaret Wheatley

Blame it on the rain (now sun). Blame it on #blc13. Blame it on David Weinberger’s book Too Big to Know.

But it is official: I feel uncertain about the future of education.

 Is Uncertainty the New Certainty?

I am uncertain about mark generation and our use of letter grades and percentages.
I am uncertain about top down prescribed siloed curricula.
I am uncertain of our report cards as representative of student learning.
I am uncertain of exactly what skills will best equip our students for their futures.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to adapt and evolve in a timely manner.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to provide a relevant and meaningful education to our students.

Yet. As a system, we continue to devote our limited energy towards maintaining a status quo of certainty
To evolve as a system do we have to embrace our collective uncertainties before we can experience meaningful systemic change?
For change to ripple throughout the system, do we need to let go of our facade of certainty to create a new status quo that embraces uncertainty?

relevance (2)

Image Shared on Flickr by Dean Shareski

Meanwhile

Our system’s exoskeleton sits propped up like a circus tent; the exterior imposingly large but inside vacuous and lacking life, sucked clean by how and where students are really learning. Our obsessive data collection (aka certainty) our primary propping mechanism. This mandated propping keeps us inside anchored and frozen in place. If we let go the tent will collapse, we inside trapped. In our pursuit to justify to ourselves and society that learning is in fact going on, we have inadvertently crushed, like insects, the potential for connected learning to occur.
Just, look at these grad rates–up! Look at these failures rates–less than one percent!
We are certain…so certain.
So certain in fact that we keep all our feedback loops dialed in on this status quo of certainty. Any new behaviors patterns squelched as they disrupt the system’s ability to maintain homeostasis; life of the system superseding innovation of the system.

Meanwhile

Here we stand. Education. Standing stubbornly on our hierarchical particle based shores; siloed groupings guarding their piles of sand even as the grains wash out to sea. Adamant and petulant in the certainty of ourselves.
Stand here! We will not venture into these unknown waters! We are right! Foot stomp. Arms crossed. We are!

Meanwhile.

Uncertainty grows and like the fog rolls in. We on the shore, trapped in “analysis paralysis”, growing ever more hesitant and fearful to launch into the uncharted dark waters.
BUT we can’t launch…now. We need more…more…data, more certainty. Produce it and THEN we will launch.

Meanwhile.

Classrooms remain centered around asking, teaching, memorizing Googlable factoids. The primary focus to provide “bits” of just in case certainty to students, who remain decidedly uncertain about the relevance. The message unspoken but loud:

You will get something interesting later on (when and if you deserve it) but first jump through these hoops. This is training for what REALLY matters (life, job, university)!  Later you will see why and how it matters; we are doing you a favour!  We are here to indoctrinate you into certainty. We are certain that all the facts in this book matter and all are relevant. Don’t venture beyond this book and you will be successful! Yes, we are certain this will be on the test. Yes, we are certain that if you miss class it will lower your mark. Yes the answer is B, look it up in the text-book! We are certain that if you fail here, you will also fail in life. 

Meanwhile

Students are holding massive garage sales, piling and reallocating the treasured chachkas of our siloed disciplines, only to have them sold off again for far less than we want to think possible (What do you mean you copied this!; What do you mean you want to use Google on the test?; What do you mean you didn’t do the 125 mark worksheet for homework?) Like trinkets we lug home from Mexico to proudly show to family and they awkwardly wonder to themselves: “Why the heck did you buy that?”  Our students are wondering the same: “Why the heck am I learning this, it’s worthless!?” In Mexico the trinkets WERE treasures, in context the knowledge was and is relevant.

Do our students have the context? Or any context for that matter?

engagement

Source: The Gallup Blog 

If disengagement is not measure enough, Eric Mazur (Dean of Applied Physics at Harvard) points to MIT research on nervous system activity during lectures as being the same as watching TV. In fact there is more activity during sleep! As Dewey pointed out in 1938:

There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active cooperation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.

Despite growing uncertainty about some things, I have gained certainty about others:

I am certain the students want to learn and have many topics they are deeply interested in.
I am certain that students are creative and need to create to understand who they are.
I am certain students want to have a voice about their learning.
I am certain students want to have a positive impact in their communities and their world
I am certain that many students with high grades have low or very little deeper understanding or love of the topic.
I am certain students with lower grades often times have a deeper understanding but are crushed by the triviality of factoid acquisition.
I am certain students want to be challenged.
I am certain students want to be mentored by people who care about them deeply as human beings
I am certain students want to be seen as individuals.
I am certain students want to feel connected; to their learning, to each other, to the world.
I am certain students want time, space and trust to make decisions about their learning for themselves.
I am certain students are capable with support and love of taking responsibility for their learning.

__________________________________________________

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally — our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.
Margaret Wheatley

Perfectionism, grades, and hollowing out.

perfectionism

Photo shared on Flickr by Roni Rosen

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Anna Quindlen

Over the years as a senior science teacher, I have noticed a trend among high achieving girls* (read note below on why only girls) that I call “hollowing out”.

Hollowing out is when the student shows up in the physical sense but “they are not there”; their soul, spirit, joie de vivre has disappeared and shut down. I have observed hollowing out in seniors who were previously dynamic, outgoing, and high functioning. I have no data to support this, only anecdotal conversations I’ve had with students and their parents over the years about this change in attitude, energy and grades.

A quote from a student struggling to hang in during her grad year after a successful high school career, has stuck with me:

“I am just so tired Ms. Durley, so tired of making everyone else happy, I just can’t do it anymore.”

Not only does the comment break my heart but it captures the emotional cost of being a high flyer and the burn out or “hollowing out” that can result. More haunting than her words, is the memory of the vacant and disconnected look that replaced the once curious twinkling bright eyes from years past.

This alone might make for a good write, but this year my observations moved from moderately concerned teacher to highly concerned parent, as I watched my 16-year-old daughter begin to hollow out.

I did not realize (or admit) what I was watching, until I read Scott McLeod’s post, My Son is a Maker, which hit me like a ton of bricks right in the gut. Part of the reason I avoided examining my feelings is I teach at the same school as my daughter and I felt conflicted. After months of reflection, I understand this issue is not school specific but rather a symptom of the system as a whole. I now feel comfortable discussing it openly; I do not specifically blame our school or staff and accept that I am part of the problem too (more conflict).

Down the proverbial garden path my mind has wandered over several months. Watchful for clues, of my daughter, of the children I work with. I began to wonder if other aspects of school culture are related to perfectionism.

___________________________________

Brené Brown describes perfectionists as: “raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people pleasing, appearance, sports)”. This description makes me think of our school environments, especially in senior years when 90% of what we do with our students is focused on their grades (quizzes, tests, GPA, college/university entrance, scholarships, honour roll, career choices etc.).

Senior years in high school academics are like the training grounds of thoroughbreds for the Kentucky Derby: how you get there does not matter as long as you bring home a ribbon. The drive to hyper-prepare students pointedly for post-secondary education comes at a cost I am not sure we have yet honestly accessed.

As Marc Prensky points out: It’s not that we did education wrong in the past; it’s that our past education no longer works in today’s context. What we did in the past is no longer working.

We can do better.

We need to do better.

We need to do so NOW.

As Brené Brown makes clear: “perfectionism hampers success. In fact it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis”. The irony is in our drive make our children “successful” we drive them away from it. Studies such as Women do better on math tests when they fake their names suggest that girls who feel they will be judged are negatively impacted.

Are challenges we face in our schools consequences of this perfectionist culture found in both schools and society at large?

Such as:

1. Fear of sharing and openness – To share is to be vulnerable. To share is to open oneself up to potential criticism. The risk is great. To share risks that the world will potentially know that: I am not perfect and therefore not lovable.  Brown states: “Belonging is in our DNA, most likely connected to our most primitive survival instinct. Given how difficult it is to cultivate self-acceptance in our perfectionist society and how our need for belonging is hardwired, it’s no wonder that we spend our lives trying to fit in and gain approval.”

Simon Sinek explains it as “Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exist across all peoples, in all cultures…When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe.  As humans we crave the feeling and we seek it out.”

2. Lack of a unified consistent identityDr Alec Couros talks about the importance of a unified online identity. I wonder where and how do children develop a unified identity? Can they decide who they should be if they feel they first must know who WE want them to be?

What happens to identity when they expend a large portion of their energy trying to anticipate what identity will help them fit in, help them be perfect, help them be lovable? I see many young females you are hyper socialized; they are nice (as compared to kind), aware of their image and scripted in public.

3. Product over process: When results matter more than learning it does not matter HOW you get the “right” answer, it just matters that you get it. Academic integrity goes out the window, cheating, and copying are quickly justified.

4. External rewards over internal ones: Only what others see matter: report cards, honour roll, awards, student of the year.

5. Competition over collaboration: Work with others opens students up to the risk that the work will be less than perfect. From the student’s perspective when they work alone they control the work and it WILL be perfect.

As Johnny Bevacqua references in his post Collaboration AND Competition:

In societies where competition is encouraged, children associated competition with greater self-esteem. However, in societies where cooperation was encouraged, children tended to associate cooperation with greater self-esteem. In either case, it was not some inherent quality of the child, but rather the culture itself that most influenced self-esteem.

6. Increased absenteeism: As students hollow out, they increasingly game the system. They feel lack of control over the meaningless of what they are doing and so in reaction they try to take control by maximizing their energies and only attending when “it counts”.

7. Fear of connection: Connection requires honesty and with a perfectionist mindset the thought that the real me might never be liked, instead I will show you what I think you will like.

____________________________________

We could simply “flip” the above statements around, and say let’s work towards that! I have only just begun to collect clues in earnest and to make sense of the translation into actions and processes would look like in our schools.

Below are some starting points for further exploration using the stem provided by brilliant teacher Tom Barrett at #BLC13 in his Design Thinking sessions.

How might we:

1. Develop self-regulation and mindfulness.

2. Cultivate creativity: Let go of comparison, ranking and embrace uncertainty. Could we admit we don’t know what the future will hold but admit that what we are doing is not it?

3. Create white space for goal-less learning and ownership: This Joe Bower post hints at this.

4. Focus on questions instead of answers.

5. Process vs. end point: Give value to getting there, the effort and the skills used in the learning journey, that is continuous and ongoing.

6. Value understanding over knowledge: Move away from that which is Googlable.

7. Celebrate Openness.

I know I can’t turn this ship around for my daughter. But I am so up for helping to turn it around for yours, your sister, your cousin, your wife to be, your granddaughter, your girlfriend.

In closing, I offer this beautifully simple video by Ron Berger on feedback (make if kind, make it specific, and make it useful):

”  . . . and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror, look a little closer, stare a little longer, because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit.”  

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Shane Koyczan

Further resources:

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

No Tosh’s:  Design Thinking 

The Challenges and Realities of Inquiry Based Learning

*My observations pertain to girls not because I believe girls to be the only victims of perfectionism but primarily because as a mother of a girl I spend more time observing trends that relate to her development. Most students I have become close to over the years have stayed in touch with, got to know their families, are also mainly female.