Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Change Will Do You Good

I've noticed working from home how important a change in environment can be to my processing ability and motivation. I try to spend at least two days a week outside of my home working environment. On weeks that I don't manage to do that--for whatever reasons--I can feel the pressure of monotony overwhelming me. My productivity falters and I struggle to focus on any particular task. This is especially true the longer I am in the environment. For example, after a week in Colorado on vacation, I had no problem staying focused at home for an entire week. The week after that first week back, I needed to get out.

Changes in environment are good. They don't need to be permanent, but you do need to mix up the routine to sustain productivity. Even if you aren't doing work in the changed environment, mixing it up will affect your overall productivity when you get back to work. Now, we can't take vacations whenever we want and travel to different cities or countries to get away from it all. But we can make an effort to mix it up regularly so that we don't find ourselves stuck in a rut. Here are five ways to mix up your teaching days to increase working productivity.

  1. Find a new place to eat lunch. Plan it with colleagues or for some alone time, but eat somewhere different once a week.
  2. Use a different hallway. If you make trips to the office, teacher workroom, mailboxes, bathroom, or anywhere else in the school, try challenging yourself to use a different route every time you go. Never go the same way twice in a row.
  3. Come in earlier, leave earlier/ come in later,stay later. Change the time you are in school. Have a day where you come in early or stay late to do that extra work. Or, if you usually stay until all of your work is done, try taking it home one night a week. Mix up that work routine.
  4. Holiday seasons are the perfect time to take twenty minutes to mix it up. Go window shopping (or real shopping) at stores you wouldn't normally go to. Check out a comic book store, play the newest video game at Best Buy, or find a local bookstore to browse. If you take once a week to go somewhere you've never been, you'll feel revitalized...even if the store was not at all for you.
  5. Find alternate spaces for your class. In warm weather, do class outside. In cold weather, use the library, gym, computer lab, or stage to have your class mix it up. Students benefit in productivity in mixing up the routine as well. You might even consider swapping classrooms with another teacher or even swapping classes. While you may not feel that the mix up day itself was productive, the next few days will make up for it. [Don't mix it up on Fridays since you'll lose all productivity benefits over the weekend.]
Remember, change can keep you out of a slump. And in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, "When you're in a slump, you're not in for much fun. Unslumping yourself is not easily done."--Oh, The Places You'll Go!

So find a way to mix up that routine. Even the smallest things can make a world of difference.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dr. Seuss-Style

I subscribe to a writer whose inspirational posts I find rewarding and thoughtful. Last week, James Clear posted an article about Dr. Seuss' writing strategy called The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create his Greatest Work. It's about the bet Dr. Seuss made to write a children's book using only 50 different words and how there is great creative value in limitations and restrictions. That best-selling book of course was Green Eggs and Ham. Over a few days, I found myself thinking about the implications of this idea on the lives of teachers. We have time restrictions galore, but I wondered how--in a world of more, more, more--we could use material/physical restrictions to maximize our teaching creativity.

In my younger years, I used to move a lot. I've lived in various cities in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and I even spent a year in Las Vegas. One thing you learn from moving so much is to use the experience to condense and refocus. In particular, my move to Las Vegas was a filtering experience. I moved with only a van-full of personal possessions. It was an opportunity to really whittle down the nonessentials and determine what it was that I really needed to keep with me. (Luckily, I wasn't attached to any big pieces of furniture. I could not make that move with only a van-full of items now.) The experience of "cleaning house" was liberating, and I felt open to a world of new learning experiences and possibilities. It also helped me recall some valuable memories that were buried under piles of the mundane.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I changed classrooms. I took the time to filter through materials and focus on what to keep and what to get rid of. Getting rid of the clutter helped me regain my focus and course correct my teaching.  I had boxes of materials for projects that I hadn't done since my second year teaching--Gone! I had old lessons plans from classes I would never teach again--Trashed! I even found a crate full of student papers that I couldn't bear to throw away because they had worked so hard--those kids have since graduated!

Let's face it, teachers are packrats. We keep student work, we print off possible lessons, we get great ideas but never see them through. We get free materials (or can't resist shopping at back-to-school prices) and think we'll eventually find a use for them. We have lessons or strategies that we've used for a long time without seeing the same positive results we may have initially experienced, but we can't bear to get rid of them. We hoard; we're hoarders. And it's all of these things pressing down on us that keep us from being creative. They are distractions and the best thing we can do is scale down to eliminate them.

Winter break is the perfect time for a mini scale down. Challenge yourself: get rid of half of the stuff in your classroom that is not being used right now. What, half??? Yes, half. Filter it out, keep the exceptional, and scrap the rest. Give yourself a chance to get creative. Or, if that doesn't work for you because you just can't bear the thought of throwing things away (hoarder! it takes one to know one) then pick one thing--lesson, material, whatever--and figure out a way to use it the first week you come back from break. Better yet, make a list of all the things you haven't used, and figure out how to use them, one per week. If they are just sitting there--and this goes for ideas, too--then they're taking up space. Get rid of the clutter and find the creativity. Use it or lose it.

If a masterwork of children's literature is the result of limiting oneself to writing with only 50 different words, imagine what you can do by scaling down your classroom clutter. In the process of selecting the best materials, strategies, and lessons from the results of years of collecting, you might just find--or create!-a teaching gem.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Step Back

Anyone who follows this blog knows that this past weekend, a tornado threw a tree through my roof while I was in the house. In fact, I was standing about ten feet away on my way to the safety of the basement. I'm shown again why perspective matters and why tunnel vision is a dangerous habit.

Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time in my house. Now that the power is back on, I'm writing from the comfort of my living room...the same living room that a tree penetrated just four days ago. While I recognize that my loss is small compared to the dozens of mature trees ripped from my father-in-law's or the devastation seen on the news, the most significant thing that I've lost is the sense of safety I used to feel here.

I love my house. It's the perfect house for me. It has been instrumental in restoring my balance and efficacy and creating a supportive, safe environment from which I can write and consult professionally. Until I had this house, there was too much uncertainty and self-doubt for me to have taken this (big and scary) step. But being in this house has let me grow into the person I am, and for that reason, I love this house and all the memories that my husband and dogs have made for me here. It is home, a feeling that I'd been missing for a while.

So you can appreciate that every time I look up at the ripped-through barn siding, exposed insulation, and shattered frame board, it feels like a personal violation. When I'm alone, the otherwise normal creaking and settling becomes ominous and I can't remember every crack in the century-old support barn beams to know if any of those cracks are new.  If I stare at the ceiling too long, I see shifts and stretches; I can almost feel the inevitable crash of the rest of the roof caving in, the constriction in my chest merely precognition.

Of course, none of those things are real. I never noticed the cracks in the beams because I tend not to notice those things. The ceiling isn't cracking in microbursts, waiting seditiously until I'm standing under it to fully release. The boards aren't pulling away from the plywood in miniscule increments that only I can see. I'm not Chicken Little...the sky is just fine.

But sitting all alone, it's too easy to build metaphors and craft nefarious symbols from the situation. I recognize that it's my creative mind's way of preparing me for any possibility, that to think it through makes it less plausible or maybe just more conscionable. I feel myself preparing to process the next trauma, but I'm not sure that I'm processing this one. I feel on high alert, so I force myself to distraction with meaninglessness. Unfortunately, that means that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time with nonsense which makes me feel less productive and sends me into a downward symbolic spiral where the roof becomes my life and the tree the tornado tossed is some bizarre occurrence that I couldn't possibly prepare for.

So, I step back. I step out. I go beyond. I'm not looking at this from a new perspective; I'm choosing to look at different things. Things that have nothing to do with physical damage and destruction. I'm checking out the Global Education conference online, I'm making connections and building my professional network, I'm thinking about next steps in my career and how to make those happen. I'm doing the small things that get you big places.

Hitting reset on my thought spiral is no easy task, but I'm doing it. Every time that I think to look up but don't is a win for me. It's not denial of what has happened, but a shift in the fatalistic mindset that trauma breeds trauma and the other shoe will drop. No thank you. I'll stick to progress and possibility.

I hope we get this hole fixed soon.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


With a resolution in its infancy to write in this blog every Monday and Wednesday, missing yesterday's post may seem like an epic fail. Really? I just made this goal last week. How could I miss a post after such a recent declaration to the world? Well, sometimes life happens.

If you live in the Midwest, you know that the weather can be...persnickety. What started as an unusually beautiful 68 degree day in November turned devastating for many in the Michiana area. A tornado touched down in several places causing massive power outages and general destruction, including throwing a tree through the roof of my house as I stood just ten feet away.

I'm not ashamed to say I screamed when an 18-inch piece of barn siding flew past my head as I headed for cover in the basement. Needless to say, my forgetfulness in posting yesterday--with a trip to the State Farm agent, shopping for a generator, cleaning up the inside of the house, and getting a contractor to remove the tree and cover the gaping hole in the roof--is understandable.


The tasks involved in cleaning up this type of chaotic event give you time to process and find the life lessons. So, here are the things that I learned (or remembered to know) from this craziness.

  1. I chose the very best husband in the world (for me). I don't want to imply other people's husbands are not "the best." But my husband is the perfect person for me and I was reminded of it during the tornado. We were watching TV and the wind starting picking up. I ignored it (as I tend to do with anything that might be scary if I think about it too obsessively). My husband did not. He didn't panic, but he was definitely paying attention. He recognized exactly when the wind outside was not normal and sent me down to the basement.
  2. Part Two of "I chose the best husband." Not only did he send me down to the basement, but he immediately ran to the bedroom where the dogs were napping in their cages. When my husband and I first met, he wasn't much of a dog person. But because I love dogs, he agreed to become a dog person. Over the years, he has developed a deep affection for our puppies and I learned in this crisis that it wasn't just an act. He loves our dogs...enough to instinctively run for them despite the dangers. When I called my dad later and told him the story, his first response was that next time we should leave the dogs. My husband's response to that ("yeah, right") makes him exactly the husband that I need.
  3. The attitude from which you approach a problem makes all the difference. With the immediate danger passed, but the power out and the wind still howling, we decided to spend the night in the basement--just in case. We blew up air mattresses, brought down the blankets, flashlights, bottled water, computers, and cell phones, and set up camp. And "camp" is exactly how I thought of it. We were camping in the basement. We got all snuggled up and continued watching movies until the computer's battery ran out. It was fun and a nice distraction from worrying about the big hole in the roof. By focusing on the fun part, I made it through the ordeal without falling apart.
  4. Devastating is all about perspective. It doesn't diminish your loss, but it helps you appreciate the level of severity and appropriateness of your reaction when you step outside of your own small world and see what else is out there. A hole in our roof and no power is terrible. But my father-in-law actually had the tornado touch down on his property. Twenty-five year old pines that he and his family planted together had their tops ripped off or were completely uprooted. He lost over forty mature trees and has tens of thousands of dollars of cleanup, for which his insurance will cover only $500. He was lucky that the house--where he and his wife were protected in the basement--wasn't touched. The tornado was right there in full force and could have easily leveled the house with them in it. Perspective.

5. Last, but not least--there are many ways to deal with problems and the "standard" response won't work for everyone. When we went to the insurance company, they said that since our house was uninhabitable, they would pay to put us up in a hotel for as long as the hole was in our roof and the power was out.  But we have dogs. We didn't want to kennel our dogs after such a crazy experience and live out of a hotel for who knows how long. Once the roof was covered, we decided that we'd rather just rough it at our house. No power or running water, but we live on a creek (for toilet flushing) and we bought a small generator (probably not covered by insurance) for light, electronics charging, and TV. So yes, I have to put a pot of water on the grill and use my French press for coffee. And yes, I have to keep running to the barn for wood to burn in the fireplace. And yes, we are sleeping on the couch in front of that fire, which is the only source of heat. And yes, we wash our dishes and brush our teeth with bottled water and use the shower at the gym. But we are home, and we are together, and we make it work; we count our blessings and treat it like an impromptu adventure. So I learned that we can solve problems together and that "together" (including dogs) is what works best for us. Roughing it doesn't have to be so rough, as long as you meet your most basic needs. Our most basic need is being together...that and satellite TV.

So, I didn't write yesterday. Instead, I experienced life and the aftermath of chaos. And I learned to remember some things that, if not forgotten, are important to hold in the front of my mind to appreciate the amazing gifts I possess.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Technology is a Tool...

One of the tag lines in my digital writing workshops is "Technology is a tool; it matters how we use it." The idea is that teachers shouldn't use technology just to fill an ISTE standard or say they use technology. As a tool, there are ways to use technology that make sense and ways that don't. You don't try to cut a piece of wood with a hammer. Tools have specific uses and purposes, and while creativity can often help you use tools for slightly altered purposes, essentially tools are made to perform a specific function.

I got a question from a teacher that made me rethink my tag line. She wanted her students to use a technology tool for a project that she created. She had a description, rubric, and great models using the technology tool for students to view before starting. Here is what made me rethink my tag line:
1. She wanted her students to do the project the next day and she still had questions about the tool.
2. She wanted the project finished in one day and her students had never used the tool before.
3. She had never used the tool herself.
I have no doubt that this teacher had a great assignment, thoughtfully constructed with an assessment rubric that would guide her students in the cognitive processes involved and models that demonstrated excellent work. But she forgot one vital element. She didn't teach her students how to use the tool.

Here's an analogy, and you can ask a shop teacher if this is accurate. An industrial arts teacher assigns a birdhouse for students to make. She has a great rubric, a detailed assignment with a list of all the requirements, and several excellent models for students to view. She discusses all the most important features of a birdhouse and even offers some idea generating activities to help students design their birdhouse. After making sure everyone has all of their questions answered about the assignment itself and a blueprint ready to craft, she directs them to the floor where all the construction tools are and tells them they have one day to complete their birdhouse. But students don't begin working. They've never used a hammer or saw before. Anybody see the problem here?

Modern adolescents are great at learning to use new technology tools. We see the results all the time. But those are the results of learning that we see. We interpret that to mean that our students will inherently be able to use new technology tools, and that is wildly inaccurate. What we don't see is the process, mentoring, social motivation, and time spent by these kids in actually learning the tools. If you strip away the structure of how they typically learn to use new technology, teens aren't any better at figuring out new tools than anyone else. Worse than adults, perhaps, because they have fewer strategies for working through frustration.

Also, assuming all technology tools are easy to use, intuitive, or accessible is detrimental. There are no standardized rules for building technology tools.  So learning new tools is like learning a new language or a new art medium--some commonalities may occur, but unless you have experience with a lot of tools of the same nature, you're going to struggle at first. It takes time to learn new things--especially tools. Technology tools in particular have more features than are strictly needed, so they are harder to learn to use efficiently.

Finally, consider the types of technology tools teens use regularly and what their purposes are. Teens learn social, sharing tools or game/simulation tools. Teachers are asking them to learn cognitive processing tools. Teens learn their choice tools for entertainment purposes and the negative consequences of failing to learn these tools are negligible. Teachers ask students to learn tools to complete other learning tasks and the consequences for failure are severe. We ask them to learn a new tool in order to process new information. That's a double learning whammy. Plus, the result of success in learning the new tool is more work, which may be a disincentive for many students.

There are several things that make learning new technology tools either easy or difficult.
1. The time available to practice, play, and learn
2. The consequences of failure and the results of success 
3. The motivation behind learning the new tool
4. The mentoring structure in place
5.  The purpose of the tool
6. The similarity to known technology tools
7. The complexity and number of features
8. The accessibility and ease of use

When you use a new technology tool in your classroom, assign a throwaway assignment that focuses only on using the tool. All of the cognitive processes of learning new course content and skills should be eliminated. Content should be easily accessible by all students and the only assessment should be participation. The more complex the technology tool--that is, the more available features--the more time students need to play with the tool to learn it. Consider mini projects that boost grades after a unit of study so that the material and content is fresh and easily accessible, or "all about me" projects that use students' lives as the content.

When including technology tools for students to use, think about those qualities listed above that make learning new tools easy or hard. Support student learning of these tools by offering time to play with the tool and learn its features, a strong mentor structure--that means either you learn the tool, ask a student to become an expert beforehand, or find a forum for students to consult--and no negative consequences (aka "bad grades") for students the first time they've encountered the tool.

No industrial arts teacher would ask students to construct a project without first letting them familiarize themselves with the tools needed. No kindergarten teacher would ask a student to write a sentence before they learn to hold a pencil. Technology is a tool. No teacher should asks students to use a technology tool that they've never used before without first letting them figure out how to use it.

My new tag line: "Technology is a matters if you know how to use it."




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Falling Off the Wagon...and Climbing Back On a (Slightly) Different One

I've been busy.

It's no excuse, but it's true. I've been working hard to publish a second book, QRevolution, which is available for preorder through Smashwords. I've been hosting live webinars every Tuesday and Thursday on technology tools for digital literacy, recording those webinars, and publishing them on my website. I've been creating the outline for my next book and developing ideas for three more books. I've been busy.

And yet...

One of my goals for this first year of being an author was IS to blog about the connections I make between all of the many things I read, view, and research and being a teacher. It's important that I maintain that goal, but as I look at my blog publishing, I haven't posted since September. Unacceptable!

So, in the spirit of cutting myself some slack and recognizing that I'm not perfect, I'm going to revise my goal and work to meet it. Instead of writing every day, I need to back off the blogging a bit. Since I'm already planning and presenting webinars on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'll plan to blog every Monday and Wednesday with the option of adding Friday on weeks when I have something valuable to share.

How many times do we set goals and, when we get busy, fail to follow through? What happens to those goals? Sometimes we need to just forgive the fail and get back to them. Sometimes we need to reevaluate and alter them to better fit our schedule. In this case, blogging every day was too much. Since I didn't want to write nonsense, I had to find things to write about. I realized that I really only had two or three insightful connections every week, and I was forcing myself to find more. Not only did that make my writing feel forced, but I was spending time and energy on things that were distracting me from my other goals.

How can this help teachers? Ask yourself--how many times have you set goals that ended up being unreasonable, unattainable, or took up too much of our valuable time without returning that value to us in a sense of accomplishment?

Goals should make us feel successful when accomplished, not put upon to even consider doing. When your goals don't give back in a sense of satisfaction, it's time to think about why you're doing them. The same thing applies to teaching, in the biggest sense. You should feel that your teaching is fulfilling, satisfying, and gratifying. That doesn't mean it's not challenging or even frustrating at times. But your overall sense of accomplishment should outweigh any negatives.

If it doesn't, it's time to think about why you're doing it. It may be that you could use some new strategies or a different class or grade because you're bored, not intellectually challenged, or stuck in a rut. It may be that you are focusing too much on the negatives and failing to appreciate the positives, in which case you should step back and try to see your career from another perspective.

I know that I had a memorable moment in my last year of teaching. I just couldn't feel satisfied with my job--at all. Finally, I took a step back to figure out exactly what was keeping me feeling disgruntled. When I saw my teaching from my students' perspectives, I realized the issue--I didn't like the novel I was teaching from--at all. I didn't want to read it, talk about it, think about it. It was a novel chosen by another teacher and in the spirit of collegiality, I'd agreed to teach it. Nothing about the unit I'd created was inspired or even interesting. It had no "me" in it, and I just couldn't feel satisfied. Once I figured that out, I could fix the issue. 

Now, step that back even further. What satisfaction do your students get from what they are learning? Interesting, thoughtful,personally connected activities will satisfy most students. If they are dissatisfied, it might be that they can't find the "me" for themselves. Try discussions, opinion polls, anticipation guides, and forums to help students find the relevance of your teaching.

For more teaching ideas with technology, visit my website at

[It feels good to be back!]

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Art of Asking

Every once in a while, you experience another person's perspective in such a clear way that it guides you in reflecting upon your life, your character, and your biases. Amanda Palmer's TED Talk is such an experience. Her life and her philosophy and her presence contrast so sharply with mine, and yet, I feel as if she is speaking directly to me during her talk, and connecting directly to things that I've been working to develop in my own personality. Amanda Palmer is my guide for asking; whenever I get nervous about the idea of asking for something that I need, I think about what she says, and how she values asking as an art form and social connector.

I've spent a lot of time working on things that I didn't have a real passion for, mostly because I felt that I had to. It was part of my job. Even the things that you know are good, necessary, or profitable don't always come easy or enjoyably. The problem with these necessary things that we don't like to do is that they can sometimes overwhelm the enjoyable experiences so that all you end up doing is the annoying stuff that you hate. All of a sudden, work has become a string of things you hate to do and no time for the stuff you love, the stuff you got into teaching for in the first place, the stuff that makes you feel motivated and energized and invincible.
So here's the hack of the day. First, find the things that take up time, that you don't like. Then, ask yourself: do I need to be the one to do this? Could someone else do this for me? If so, who and what would they get out of it? Students are a great source of help for very little effort. Sometimes the thing they want most is to spend some time with you. I've had students volunteer to clean my room, put up bulletin boards, sort papers, organize my bookshelves, and even make posters. All of those things need to be done, but I don't have the time, patience, or motivation to get them all done in a timely fashion. If you can't find volunteers who want to hang out, you might offer food or other "gifts." I've gotten a surprising response from offering their pick of books from my shelf--I've got some great books. You might also offer incentives like a day in the computer lab or trip to the library, an extra bathroom pass, getting out of class three minutes early (a winner for the class before lunch or the last period of the day), having an extra day to turn in a project, or getting to skip a quiz or homework assignment of their choice.

Take a minute--outside in the sunshine, or sipping coffee in the morning--to think about the things that you don't like about your job, or things that take up more time than you have to do them. Is there someone else who can do those things for you? Who, and what incentives would they be happy accepting? If you can eliminate some tasks from your day that bog you down, you'll feel better and more productive. If you can ask for help, you can create a bond with your helper. Win-win. Just ask.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking Perspective for Granted

When I woke up this morning, it was 50 degrees outside--according to the outdoor thermometer. I snuggled up in jeans and a sweatshirt to go outside, thinking how cold it was. But six months from now, I could wake up, look outside and see 50 degrees on the thermometer, and think that finally it was starting to warm up. 50 degrees feels a lot different, depending on what side of winter you're on.

And that's perspective. If we only see life out of our own eyes and experience it from our own perspective without thinking about--and at least trying to empathize with other's views--then we'll miss key connections that we could make to other people. If six months from now me said to me this morning, wow, it's sure a warm day, I'd think she was insane. I would dismiss her ideas because that opinion is so opposite of my own "it was eighty degrees last week" experience. But it's still me--ignoring the metaphysical anomaly that allowed me to talk to my past self. I'm still a good person, hardworking, caring, positive; I still have the same values. I'm just positioning my thoughts from the immediate surroundings and my most recent experience with weather.

I see people do this all the time. You don't talk to somebody for a while, and then meet for lunch or at an event. You play catch up. It's the changes that you're going to notice first, the things in the person's most recent experience that have pushed them to think differently or from a different perspective than the last time you saw them. People change and environment--physical, social, and cognitive changes--plays a huge role in those changes. People adapt without trying--it's a survival trait. But that means that you may think differently or from a different perspective than you previously held.

Apply this to teaching. Summer vacation often changes students. They have different experiences, spend their time differently. Sometimes they go to camps and meet new people; sometimes they spend their days on the couch watching reality TV. All experiences have the potential to change your perspective, so it's important not to dismiss entertainment experiences offhand. Kids come back to school, and it's like a Clash of the Titans for reset mode. Kids who've been friends for years can barely talk to each other, kids who've been enemies shared a summer experience--maybe playing on  a travel team--and can't be separated, which throws the cliques into chaos.

Human beings are flexible and it doesn't take much to push us to lean in one direction or another. We adapt quite easily, and within a few weeks of being back to school, the inevitable shakeout is over--for the most part--and things have settled down into the routine of the year. Once that initial shakeout is done, it's time for teachers' work to begin. Now that students are finding their routines, what can you tell about them--how they are thinking, how they've adapted to changes, what is influencing them. This is your chance to find out their motivations and start creating your own thoughtful design of their educational experiences. Just remember--no one changes overnight. People adapt, slowly, one tiny change at a time. You've got a lot of kids, so attack on two fronts: the whole class changes you want to see and the individual changes in specific kids.

If you can be accepting of the kids in general, recognizing that their perspectives are inherently different than yours--even if you come from similar backgrounds, you are from different generations--you can begin to design their educational experiences to create great students. They don't have to be like you--act, behave, speak, or look--to adapt to the qualities you want them to, such as communicating thoughtfully and with clarity, using precision in their work, or treating others opinions as valid. Think about what qualities you want most--you won't be able to get them all--and then design a way to slowly adapt the class as a whole to that quality.

The more practice you get, the more side projects--individual students--you'll be able to mold as well. The most important thing to remember is perspective--your class will change students' perspective, as will any environment that they spend a significant amount of time in. How do you want that perspective to change and what can you do to scaffold the way?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Old Dog Learning Strategies

Learning to do something new is rarely easy. It can be particularly frustrating when you are very good at the old things, but the new thing...not so much. Even more frustrating is when the new thing resembles the old things to an extent that you believed that learning the new thing would come easy. So suddenly, in addition to learning something new, you question your ability to properly evaluate how long it will take you to learn this new thing. Identity shaken, you start to question your ability to do the old things at the level you've always believed you could do.

That's where the dog comes in--of the female variety--just to blow off some verbal steam. Add familial terms as needed.

When the cussing is done and you inexplicably--yet inevitably--feel better, here are some thoughts, strategies, and general ideas about how to deal with the frustrations involved with learning to do new things.

First, know that as frustrating as this is for you, you are not the only one. Take comfort in the camaraderie of hair-pulling, eye-bulging, stream of consciousness cursing that is learning frustration.

Second, there are two ways to combat new learning: blindly bulldozer your way through it, or take a break until you can see straight. Both strategies can be effective; the trick is knowing which one will work for you, at any given time, and in a particular situation.

Third, tell me about it. No, really. Talking to someone--even if that person has no way to help you learn what you are trying to learn--can be just the frustration relief you need. People say things that get your brain going in different directions; sometimes they are merely distracting, which can dig your train of thought free from its rut. Either way, other people are helpful beyond their ability to help with the learning task.

Fourth, people--in all of their 21st century forms--can also be great sources of information. People post blogs, make videos, and comment profusely online of every topic imaginable. Find a mentor--even in video or blog form--and let them help you learn.

Finally, if all else fails, reevaluate your goals. Is the goal of your learning essential to your life/work? Is there another way to get the same results? Is this something you need to learn? How could you go about achieving the same result differently? Is it worth your time and trouble, or could you pay/bribe/coerce (with something like chocolate, of course) someone to do it for you? How much are you willing to pay (time, money, energy, sanity) and what do you expect to get in return? Then ask yourself, is it worth it? What's the most cost-effective way to do this? Make an informed decision based on your answers, and go with it.

Learning completely new things always comes with frustration. As we build our capacity to handle that frustration, it becomes easier. Students need practice building frustration capacity, as well. As with anything, the more you do it, the easier (and more of a habit) it becomes. Just as adults sometimes need reminders, rut-breakers, mentors, and inspiration, so to do students; since their job is learning, they may need even more reminders, rut-breakers, mentors and inspiration. In the end, if they try all of the above strategies, work hard but still fail, students need to know that it is smart to reevaluate their goals and see if it's worth it to them to keep going. So much of the failure students feel is because they give up. But sometimes, that's the best strategy to take. After evaluating the situation, sometimes it's the only strategy to take. We need to help students face that and recognize that just because you've failed to learn one thing, it doesn't mean that you can't learn anything. It just means that you're human.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How Vonnegut Gives Sublime Purpose to YouTube

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." --Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

I never read Vonnegut in high school. None of his books were part of the curriculum for my school, although I recognized the name Slaughterhouse-Five. I was never tempted to pick up the book, however, because a) slaughterhouses--ick, and b) I heard it was a war story--boring. However, I had also heard that the craft of the writing was worth reading, and despite hating war stories, I did enjoy Catch-22; so, I stayed open to the idea while not actively seeking it out. Circumstances, however, did not put me in possession of a Vonnegut book with ample time to read it, and so I've gone 36 years, eight as a Literature teacher, without reading Vonnegut. Then, I went to Indy.

I went to Indy for a week-long digital writing conference through HWP--Hoosier Writing Project, an organization near and dear to my heart. One of the teacher-consultants leading the workshop volunteers at the Vonnegut Library and gave us a tour. His energy and intensity persuaded me to be more proactive about getting a Vonnegut book into my hands--and head. When I got home from the conference, I kept the idea in the front of my mind; cleaning one day, I noticed that I had (accidentally stolen) a copy of Cat's Cradle from my school's bookroom. Serendipity!

I was entranced with the whimsically harsh plot and irreverent characters. I even snagged a few quotes to go into an American Literature unit I'm working on, including the quote above. The context of this quote is the main character being asked to go somewhere out of the ordinary, and his hesitation to go, clearly juxtaposed in this quote with a religion he adapts later in the book. Complicated, but insightful. And so true of many things. If one is open to the peculiar and doesn't fight to stay on a particular path, there is a sense of omnipotent interconnection in the world.

So, what does this have to do with YouTube? Well, if you replace "travel suggestions" with "hyperlinks," I think you can see the connection. Serendipity plays a huge role in surfing the net and sometimes, it just feels like dancing through knowledge. In an online product demo, the sales rep asked me to find a YouTube video to demonstrate a product feature. I randomly chose a link, and it turned out to lead me--once the sales pitch was over--to a science video site that would work for another idea I was working on. Brilliant! The dance has begun. But it wasn't over there. Numerous content related sites began to pop up as hyperlinks, channels full of usable, high quality resources that I could use. Now I'm dancing! I subscribed to several channels and felt interconnectedness of things. A sales rep pointed me randomly to a website that ended up being exactly what I would need in a conference two weeks from now.

And that is how Vonnegut gives sublime purpose to YouTube--and the internet in general. The interconnectedness of information and "travel suggestions" in the form of hyperlinks make it easy to believe that there is an active force for good guiding us in this information dance. So, next time you berate yourself for spending quality surf time online, remember that the connections may take you to new places, and you've earned the right to dance a bit.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Even More on Bats and Education

The third--and hopefully final--episode in my in-house bat saga also has a happy ending...and education was the key. Several days ago, I found a bat in my bathroom cowering under the toilet bowl, freaked out, got online for information, and rescued the bat (who I affectionately named Bruce) by getting him back outside. Two nights ago, another bat (we called him Wayne) was swooping through the house. He got scared and flew into the rafters, squeezing into a crack in the barn beam--we have an unusual house. An exterminator was taking care of some yellow jackets the next day, so I asked him to give an estimate on getting the bat out. He walked the roof, then walked the perimeter, but claimed the house was sealed up tight. The bat must've flown in while a door was open and couldn't get back out. We were on our own.

Tonight, Wayne started swooping through the house again. Because I had read up on the subject and educated myself on how to get a bat out of the house, I remained calm. We scooped up the dogs and put them in their cages in a back room, then shut all doors to that room. My husband got the flashlight and scanned the rafters once Wayne' swooping had stopped. Keeping the light on him caused Wayne to start flying. I had the back door open and was wafting fresh air into the house--from my reading I learned that bats will fly toward fresh air if trapped in a house. He flew towards the door, but retreated. I stepped completely back behind the door. He flew towards the door but turned around again. I fanned the door as he flew away, hoping to flood the house with fresh air--and probably herding mosquitoes into the house as well.

He turned one last time toward the door, and with deep swooping dips, he glided out of the house. Victory! We are--knock on barn beams--bat free! (Although we might need to invite him back in to deal with the resulting mosquito crisis.) So, what lessons did I learn?

First, to reiterate my life philosophy, education is everything. Getting online and finding out what to expect, what the bat was experiencing, and steps to take to solve the problem let me get control of my fear. I could be calm and do what needed to be done. Education let me identify all parts of the problem; for example, I couldn't shoo the bat out the door because bats can't take off flying from the ground. Seeing the cartoon bat illustrations helped me reframe the situation to identify the bat as a scared victim and me as a rescuer. I played out that scenario the first night to great success. When faced with a similar, but significantly altered circumstance--flying versus cowering bat--I applied the other knowledge I had learned from my reading and made use of the confidence gained from success the first go-round.

Second, success helped me solidify an identity of power and confidence in "bat in the house" situations. During the first instance, I was nervous, worried, and fearful--both of hurting the bat and of getting rabies. The success and perspective of feeling like a hero created positive reinforcement. The knowledge I gained was attached to heroism and therefore easily recalled when next needed. The second time, when faced with Wayne swooping through the house, I remained calm and confident and took charge of the situation immediately. I didn't get frustrated or freaked out. I saved Wayne with patience and understanding of the situation--which I got from my education on bats.

Third, when you do things for others, it's easy to do things that are hard or might scare you. Even though the idea of rabies--a thoroughly terrifying thought--was still in my head, my focus was on the rescue mission. If you can frame things as doing for others--even nonhuman others--it helps you focus on what needs to be done. The temptation to imagine all possible scenarios--most, but not all end in needles for me--can paralyze you into inaction. But if you frame the problem as helping someone/ something else, you frame your role as well. Heroes don't get rabies, and the movie version would be awful if it ended in a hospital. Be a hero, have a happy ending.

So, the real hero in this tale--education.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More Thoughts on Bats and Education

In my last post "One Story, Two Perspectives" I told two different versions of how I dealt with the bat in my house. The life hack was about how you can change your perspective of a situation and therefore change its effect on you. Instead of being the victim of a scary bat  invasion, I was the rescuer-hero of a lost bat. After writing the post, I realized that another lesson from that experience stood out. Education allowed me to change my perspective.

I was inundated with the scary side of bats--rabies, getting trapped in your hair, biting you viciously--reinforced in innumerable horror movies. When outside, I've never had a problem with bats; in fact, I enjoy watching them swoop up the resident mosquito population. In that regard, bats are my heroes. But in the house was a different story. In the house, close up, that bat was an intruder, invaded, carrying who knows what disease; a threat, a villain, nasty and vicious. From my "experience"--aka scary movies--I had no other way to view this bat.

When I didn't know what to do, I got online an searched for how to get a bat out of the house. I was lucky with the site I found, as it gave a cartoon demonstration of the steps to take. That site helped me develop a whole new vision of this vicious monster in my house. I mean, take a look at this picture from the site. How could you be scared of this little guy? He just wants to go home.

It seemed ridiculous to treat this little bat as anything other than a lost animal. Sure, he had teeth. So do I. He was scared and lost and didn't know how to get out. He wasn't lying in wait to ambush me and my dogs; he was cowering and crying with fear. As soon as I had a way to view this bat as the victim with understanding and empathy for his predicament, I could act heroically. Obviously I wore thick gloves--I wasn't brainwashed into thinking he wouldn't bite me out of fear. But I was in control of my own fear and understood the situation in a way that I could take responsible action that helped us both.

This situation--upon further reflection--made me think of two life lessons. First, education is power. Not just in a commercial, get-a-good-job kind of way, but real-world power. If you take the time to educate yourself, you will have power in the world. At the very least, you'll have power over your own fears and bias.

Second, it's important to see things from others' perspectives. I can view many perspectives of myself and my life, but if I truly want to solve a problem effectively or make the best of a bad situation, it's important to step outside of myself and see the issues from another's perspective. When you do that, you get to see the world differently and ultimately your vision gets broader and more capable of seeing the world in a positive frame.

I tie this last idea to viewing things from your students' perspectives. They attitudes and behaviors they exhibit may mean one thing to you but another thing to them. It's the idea of educating yourself about your students to truly see who they are and what their actions mean that will allow you to help them achieve their potential in the world. Easier said than done, one on thirty, but the lesson remains. Education and vision lead to a better future for everyone. And who knows--maybe it will help you view yourself not as a victim of all that's negative, but as a hero to the lives you change.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One Story-Two Perspectives

A few days ago, we were the victims of a bat invasion. After returning home from an eventful day out, I was annoyed to find that once let out of her cage, my dog was obsessed with sniffing around the back and side of the toilet bowl. Unfortunately, this was not new behavior as she seemed highly critical of my new bathroom decorations and never missed an opportunity show her disdain for my artistic vision. Whining and pawing viciously at the floor instead of high on the walls where decorative seashells dangled from nets struck me as curious, and so I got closer to investigate. Down under the toilet bowl was a dark, baseball-sized lump that I mistook at first for carelessly tossed underwear.

Something about the form and my dog's bizarre reaction caused the hair on the back of my neck to  rise, so I hauled her from the room and asked my husband to take a look. He revealed to my horror that the lump was in fact a bat. Nightmare visions of Cujo, Old Yeller, and Tom Robinson from To Kill a Mockingbird all screamed in my head one single, terrifying word: rabies. Heart drumming, I grabbed my dog and checked her ruthlessly for bites, but miraculously she was clean.

After getting online to help plan the best strategy to attack the beast, I garbed myself in protective gear, including long pants and shirt and think leather gloves; it seemed a fragile, pathetic defense--internet-gleaned knowledge and work gloves against every pet owner's nightmare. It attacked the broom with darting head thrusts and a harsh screech but refused to budge. The second option involved wrapping it with a T-shirt so that it couldn't get airborne, an up-close and personal approach that made me shudder. The agony of needles penetrating my stomach forced me to take several deep breaths before casting my fate to the wind. I managed to capture the vicious predator and transport it outside safely without casualties. But the damage was done. I can no longer enter the bathroom without breathing deeply and mentally preparing myself for another bat attack.

Same Story, Different Perspective

I successfully rescued a lost bat last night. The poor thing somehow managed to fly into the house, probably happily chasing bugs. Unable to get back out, the terrified animal huddled in a safe, dark place, possibly chirping helplessly for his mother. Tucked in beneath the toilet bowl--as close to a cave as he could find--he couldn't be seen, but he also had no hope of ever getting out.

Then, noises and lights exploded in the room and he cowered deeper, trying desperately to stay quiet and hidden. But a large beast came sniffing and despite his best efforts, his safe haven was uncovered. The beast was dragged away, still making a racket that vibrated the walls of his cave. What to do? In the resounding quiet, he stretched a tentative wing out. He couldn't take off from the ground; it was impossible. He couldn't climb the slippery cave walls to get height. He was desperately alone with no avenue for escape. His situation was grim indeed. Then, grimmer still as a giant limb full of tight, thin, bristly leaves cam swatting at him, trying to force him from safety into the cruel harsh lights. He tucked his wing to his body and held his position.

The broom wasn't working, I thought. The poor little bat was so scared that he clung desperately to the ground. He started chirping pathetically, begging for help, for mercy, for his nightmare to be over. I was afraid I would hurt him if I kept at it. The other option was riskier than maneuvering him into a container. If I wrapped him up when his wings were out, I might hurt him irreparably, but what other option did I have. I found an old T-shirt and pushing aside my own irrational fears, I made what I hoped were soothing noises as I got closer. His tortured peeping grew louder that closer I got. I tossed the T-shirt over him and was relieved to see that his wings remained folded tight.

Alright. Deep breath. You won't hurt him; he won't hurt you. You're going to get the little guy home. I stepped up and used my leather-gloved hands to gently scoop up the helpless bat. He barely protested with more than a peep, resigned to his fate. I took him outside and set him--T-shirt and all--next to a big tree. I unwrapped the shirt so that he could get out. Emboldened by the fresh air, he staggered awkwardly, grasping for the promise of freedom. He caught the tree bark and climbed, his leathery wings splayed across the tree like a thank you as his tiny feet climbed for home. Rescue mission a success, I smiled that I could play such an invaluable role.

Life hack: Only YOU can choose your perspective.

Friday, August 30, 2013


A big part of personal growth is reflection, taking a step back and thoughtfully noting the progress you've made. Reflection helps you evaluate the direction you've come from and change the angle of trajectory, if necessary. As important as reflection to personal growth is connection. Connections--to ideas, information, people, media--help you take next steps and pull you forward. Making those connections opens up possibilities; every connection leads to more possible paths and more opportunities for possible futures. Assessing the value of those connections and determining the direction for the opportunities that those connections make available is the tricky part. In fact, it's the part that is hard to see from your own perspective, and may take an outsider to help you figure out.

This is one way that we can help students, who are even less capable of determining what directions their connections can take them. Sometimes it takes an outside observer to make the connections--and the possible pathways those connections reveal--obvious to students. We do it all the time, even if we don't always recognize what it is we're doing. Talking to kids about making good choices and studying to get good grades which leads to increased academic opportunities; encouraging kids to try out for a travel team or new activity which leads to increased extracurricular activities; challenging kids to make new friends or find different friends which leads to increased social and personal activities. The point is this: if we can't always see the way connections open up the possibilities in our own lives, students definitely need us to help them see the possibilities in theirs.

That means that part of our responsibility as teachers is to not only challenge students to explore new opportunities by first recognizing what connections they already have, but to teach them to think about how these connections play out in their lives and lead to opportunities for growth. In this way, students will be better prepared for the world and able to see, evaluate, and reflect upon their own connections and the many possibilities that those connections reveal for them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Finish It!

I often have problems finishing things that I've started. The reasons vary, but the three most common reasons to leave something unfinished are biting off more than I can chew, getting distracted by other things/ running out of time, and--the most frustrating for me--not meeting my own (often ridiculous) standards of perfection.

This third reason is my personal nemesis for many projects that I've started, including the project that--if I manage to get over my mental block--I will finish today. Even blogging today was difficult, even though it is unrelated to the project that I'm trying to finish. I am fighting a battle to finish the project, partly because once done, it will be over. I'm ready to move on to a new project, yet the idea of this project being over is saddening. To finish creates a sense of closure and I'm blocked about getting there. Even though I will feel so much better once I've completed the task, I still worry that it's not as good as it could own personal "Thanotopsis" which I could revise and tweak for years if left to my own devices. Thank God for deadlines.

As a wonder about the nature of procrastination, I find myself seeking verification for the fact that William Cullen Bryant revised his poem numerous times before the final version. It's a fact that I knew to be true, but felt suddenly compelled to verify. A distraction from the fact that my next task is to finish my project. It's amazing how the mind works to push you in one direction and hedge your insecurities. Perseverance will win out--I am going to finish right now. After I check just one last thing...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Smarter Than You Think

Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson doesn't come out until September 12, 2013. I was reading an excerpt, however, and found an interesting piece to consider. The book is all about the technology revolution--an exploration through social science about how emerging technologies change the world, how people react to those changes, and the culture shifts that follow. Every emerging technology has its supporters and its naysayers--the doomsday forecasters of inevitable apocalypse. This fact is true all the way back to the invention of paper. New technologies breed unfamiliar habits and behaviors, and therefore will always provoke negative reactions from people who--for whatever reason--an unwilling or unable to change.

Here's the quote that I enjoyed:

"Depending on which Victorian-age pundit you asked, the telegraph was either going to usher in a connected era of world peace or drown us in idiotic trivia. Neither was quite right, of course, yet neither was quite wrong. The one thing that both apocalyptics and utopians understand is that every new technology invisibly pushes us toward new forms of behavior while nudging us away from older, familiar ones."
My favorite part of this quote is the adaptability of that first sentence. Replace the word "telegraph" with any technology--TV, radio, smart phones, the internet--and the sentence is still true (minus Victorian-age). The implications of that are astonishing. We repeat the same discussions, arguments, and adaptation to technology with every emergence. We move forward; cultures change; people adapt. That is truly the way of the world.

So, how does this idea relate to teaching?

First, if we create learners who can only do things "the right way," they will be totally unprepared for the new wave of behaviors and culture that follows the next technological breakthrough. They will be the "apocalyptics" who dismiss the new technology, falling behind as the world changes around them. it is our job as educators to ensure that our students will be successful citizens in a technology-driven world. With technology doubling every two years, the next big thing is right around the corner.

Second, we help students develop their attitudes and mindsets from an early age. If we want to foster success, we need to encourage students to try new things, explore new ways of accomplishing things, and be flexible as the world changes so they can adapt. That means that as teachers, we need to do those things and model progressive values--constantly moving forward.

Finally, we need to teach history not only from the perspective of war, but from the perspective of change. The world changes. Emerging technologies change the world. It's vital that students reflect on changes in the past, imagine how those changes affected real people, and use that empathy to adapt to change in their own lives. Technology will continue to change the world, as it always has. It's just happening fast enough to really see it now. Lessons from the past can help students see the future as a positive, ever-changing, environment that they can both adapt to and help shift. Show students that history repeats itself, and teach them how to use that fact in their lives.

The world will always change--and the change is coming faster. Teachers play an invaluable role in the creation of a future society that can adapt and progress successfully with the cultural and behavioral changes technology creates.

Monday, August 26, 2013


As I get older, I recognize the need for reflective thinking. Sometimes while traveling the road of life, I forget to think about all the twists and turns in getting to where I am. I am a different person than I was 15 years ago. I like different things, do and say different things, and have different needs. Primarily among those needs is one for security--making house payments, bill payments, and being able to manage my finances so that everything is taken care of. I certainly didn't have that 15 years ago.

And yet, I had something then that I'm missing now, and it's only through reflective thinking and remembering that I can see what's different. There are things that I used to do that I no longer make time for--notice I say make time, since I believe how we spend our time is a choice. There are things that I used to want that I have set aside for when I have more--more time, more money--but that I've forgotten about. There are things that used to make me ecstatic or comforted or content that have slipped through the cracks of conscious thought to settle in the deep recesses and sometimes make cameos in my dreams.

So, I've decided to make time to remember who I used to be, what I used to live, how I used to feel about the world. That passion of youth and energy--I may never have all of it back, but even in small things, remembering recreates the feelings. Of reading cheesy romances in my grandmother's lake house. Of baking in the sun and the warm blanket of exhaustion that follows. Of sitting next to the water and breathing deep. Of listening to live music and feeling bold enough to sing along...and perhaps to dance as well. Of jumping up when volunteers are called for. Of doing things purely for the sake of their novelty. Of throwing flirtatious glances full of meaning. Of valuing freedom and experience more than security.

I will keep reflecting of who I was, who I wanted to be, and what makes me feel the things I haven't felt in a while. I will remember what it is like to be me--all of me. And I will strive to show others this side of me as well. I've grown a lot in 15 years. I've become a much better person in many ways. But part of the growth, of necessity, is making different choices. Now that I have made personal growth, I can appreciate who I was and reincorporate the things that made me happy then into my life now. But I must make the time to do that and appreciate that I'll be making time for a while. Nothing happens automatically--build a foundation. That's enough.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First Day of School

Today was the first first day of school in many years that I have not been in school. Yesterday was traumatic. The rush of supply shopping and getting the best deals, the craft involved in creating just the right units, and the nervous energy that keeps a teacher (and I suppose students, too) up all night in anticipation--not there. To alleviate my sadness, my husband and I went out for dinner, and I even had dessert. Feed my pain...

Today, I anticipated, would be even worse since this was that first day of school and I wasn't going. I over-planned my morning with chores and errands so that I wouldn't be overwhelmed by the day. Surprisingly, I wasn't--at all. Granted I was pretty busy, but after a good luck text to a still-in-the-trenches friend, I was fine. In fact, I had a very productive day and am now ahead of schedule on one of my projects. So, what happened?

I came across a quote as I was reading from positive psychology guru  Martin Seligman that says, "Relieving the states that make life miserable… has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority." It turns out, it's all about how you focus your energy. The state that was making me miserable yesterday was missing my former students, feeling left out of the back-to-school hype, and regretting the missed opportunity to meet a new batch of kids. To relieve that, I sulked (not an effective relief of misery) and bribed myself with sugar in order to feel less miserable.

But feeling less miserable shouldn't be the goal. Relieving misery and distracting from the negative has become the overwhelming mantra of popular culture--I blame advertising. You are too this, not enough this, you need this, you are dissatisfied because of this. Instead of letting the media focus our experiences to relieve the negativity, we need to embrace the positive and make increasing happiness the priority.

FYI--happiness is not the absence or relief of misery. Happiness is not the negative space where misery used to be. Seligman challenges us to build positive energy into more than a feeling, but a state of being. We must purposefully create a mental environment that is more at home feeling happiness than misery. We need to make happy the default setting and misery the malfunction. Building the positives helps us control for the negatives and mitigate the misery of a bad day. Things may make you miserable but it's a positive state of being that promotes happiness.

So what does this mean for teachers? I'm going to go straight to testing on this one, and since I taught English, I'll start with reading tests. The occasion for students that would make life miserable is failing and having to re-take a standardized reading test. The failure, the re-take, the frustration--those lead to misery. How do we (as teachers) try to mitigate that misery? Test preparation. Students won't be miserable is we teach them the best ways to take the test so they can pass, feel successful, and not have to take it over again. We remediate, we pre-test, we assess ad nauseum. We try to avoid the negatives of a failed test...instead of trying to build a positive reading culture that our students take with them.

The whole purpose of testing is to ensure that society is composed of literate, critically-thinking individuals. But the best way to do that isn't to test (and test and test...) but to build a culture that creates an environment that embraces the positive benefits of reading. Reading takes you places you've never been, to world that don't physically exist. Reading lets you try on different roles and presents you with new role models. Reading lets you know about the world so you can find your place in it. Reading is power and freedom and belonging and survival and fun--all of Glasser's needs in one activity.

The basic question, then, is this: why do we work so hard to relieve future misery when we should be helping our students build a positive, meaningful relationship to the power of reading. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


If you ever need affirmation that the world is not the hellhole that the media sometimes portrays, check out the Global Awesomeness Report for stories, photos, and videos from around the world capturing awesomeness. Check out this Good Samaritan video for a quick perspective lesson. Very cool, very cool.

Monday, August 19, 2013


So apparently while I was all excited about using my cell phone to post to my blog, I forgot to actually publish the blog! I just got on this morning to do the same and realized I never posted Friday's blog. Whoops! Lesson learned: trying new things is great, but you have to be flexible throughout the learning curve!

If you think I'm posting my second blog from my phone purely out of excitement for the format, you'd be mistaken. Although I appreciate the flexibility, I still prefer my laptop. So why twice in a row? Well, as sometimes happens, life smacked me around a bit this weekend. My only hope is that forces in the universe were ultimately looking out for my best interests and this minor physical setback is a walk in the park compared to whatever alternative I was spared.

I've been looking forward to this Hockey for Life tournament for weeks. It's a chance to play with new people, against new people, and hang out with a different crowd. If you know me, I like to mix it up. So this tournament was the ultimate in having fun, getting better at hockey, getting a LOT of exercise, and hanging out with some new people. It did not work out that way for me. During the warmups of the first game, the ice was warm and sticky, a puck got stuck in my skates, and I fell...really awkwardly. My leg twisted as I did the splits, and not being nearly as flexible as I was as a teenager, I pulled my hamstring all the way into the glut. Two minutes left to warm up for the first game of a three day tournament, and I was done. I sat there on the ice and let the cold seep into my muscles...a definite benefit to playing on ice. My husband skated over with a chagrined look, and I knew he'd seen how awkwardly I had fallen. I scooched over to the side to let my team warm up, then got help to the bench, which, being next to the ice, was also somwhat cold. They rearranged the lines and played without me while I cheered...and winced.

I guess the lesson here is best laid plans. It should have been awesome, but ended up painful. Looking back, I think I dealt with it in the most mature way possible. I made sure my husband knew I would be fine while he played (I may have downplayed the extent a bit because he asked if I was sure I didn't want to try it.) I knew if he freaked out, he wouldn't have played and that would have left us two players down, which just isn't fair. I knew I would add emotional trauma to physical if I did that to the team. I cheered for my team and pushed aside the inevitable envy I felt at being stuck on the bench. And every time I started to feel overwhelmed with all of the things I wouldn't be able to do over the next few weeks, I took deep breaths and reminded myself to stay in the moment and let the future work itself out.

That staying in the moment was the hardest, but from experience I knew that thinking of all the things I couldn't was the surest way to hurt myself more. For anyone who hasn't been an athlete or seriously injured, let me explain. When you get scared or focused on the pain, the injury hurts more. You tense up instead of relax, you breathe fast and shallow instead of slow and deep, which makes your body move and shake and hurts you more. When you're injured, the best thing you can do is stay calm. That's one of the reasons people tell the injured to squeeze their hand; it focuses the injured person on the present and literally helps them get a grip. Panic is the worst thing you can do.

And so it goes in life. Stress can work the same way as a physical injury. You feel pain which makes you panic and makes it worse. So, here's how to extrapolate this situation into the teaching world of, the stressful world of teaching.

First, calmly assess the situation. If you need help, ask. If you can manage to stay calm until it's convenient for others to help, it will make you feel better. (That being said, sometimes the pain or the situation is not familiar and you don't know what to do. In which case you find somebody to help immediately. Don't delay help unless you know you can take it. For me, sitting on the cold bench was better than any other solution and gave me a chance to take stock before acting.)

Next, push aside your envy. At any given moment, someone is in a better position than you. Focus on yourself, not what everybody else is doing or getting to do. I may be stuck on the bench not playing, but they were playing down a person on n already small team. They had to work extra hard, so I'm sure after a long shift they were also envying me the rest.

Finally, frame it in the present and frame it in the positive. Thoughts about all of the potentially negative might-bes can only overwhelmed you and cause you more pain or stress. Take deep breaths and stay focused on the present. What do you need to do now to take care of yourself? Just do that.

Framing it in the positive is something I always do. I don't know if it even makes sense to anyone else, but here it is. I believe everything happens for a reason and that there is a force greater than me in the universe that helps me make the best of my life, including helping me learn the lessons I need to learn to be a better person-my always life goal. So I frame this injury in one of two positive ways. Either I would have hurt myself worse if I'd continued to play (which is plausible-I've had surgery after dislocating my right shoulder seven times. I'll take a pulled hamstring over that any day.) Or I was going to miss a valuable learning opportunity and needed to slow it down, which will result in me becoming a better person in the long run. I'd had so serious negativity the last game I'd played, so it could be a way to focus me on being grateful to be able to play at all. I don't know. All I know is that it makes me feel happier than thinking that the universe is out to get me or punish me. I believe the universe is out to protect me and nurture me. I just don't always "get it" until later. All that matters is that believing it to be true makes me happy.

Spice of Life

They say variety is the spice of life and that trying new things keeps you young. I'm not a great texter...I'm no thumbs, if you'll excuse the pun. I always pay attention to which web tools have apps, not so that I can use them but so my students can. When I saw that blogger had an android app, I downloaded it to my phone, just in case. Well, this is my just in case. My cell phone is enabling me to write this blog and post it which continues my streak of ten weekdays straight of blogs. (If you are going back to check, a few I felt were private, so I decided not to post them. But I assure you, after missing one day two weeks ago, I haven't missed a day since. I even added an extra post and scheduled it to post on a Saturday.)

I am now texting this from my phone. It's something new, for sure. None of the great text message features like auto-fill are available, but I see that spell check is. It's good to get new perspectives, grow, and try new things, even if they seem very small.

I once watched a girl text an entire twelve page reflection paper into a word processing document on her phone. She had some formatting issues and did the works cited separately, but you get the point. Twelve pages! With her thumbs! I've only got a few paragraphs and my thumbs are a l ready starting to cramp!

I had another girl in creative writing who did everything for class on her phone. She said she got her most creative ideas laying in bed. She used her phone to text in a notes program and read from the screen and edited in class.

I'm a typer, no two ways about it. I love my laptop. But I'm beginning to understand the appeal of using a cell phone to write. It's small, cool, easy to move around and even walk with. If I get an idea, I can pull out the phone and jot down a note, i can set a reminder to look at the note later, and if I get busy and forget to write until late, I can keep my writing streak going while my husband drives us to a late night hockey game.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reality Check

It's amazing how the universe keeps you in check. When your thoughts turn sour and you get frustrated over things not going your way, all the world seems dire and against you until you think you are going to go crazy with frustration... and then, you get slapped in the face with how ridiculous and petty these issues you're struggling with truly are and you get a big, fat reality check.

I've have my fair share of these in my life. It's a tendency of mine to be a bit dramatic about little things. For example, I was just working on a project that requires silence while I record video. First, during the recording the neighbor decides to turn on the chainsaw...seriously? So, I stop until she's done. Next, a squirrel decides now is the time to taunt my dogs--chaotic barking ensues. I stop my video. Then, worn out from her bark-fest, my dog lays down by me...and starts snoring loud enough to wake the dead. I (gently) shake my dog awake and keep shaking her while I record the final piece of the video. Finally, after all that, my internet connection gets wonky and won't let my upload my video to YouTube so that I can put the link in my presentation. Universe, you are killing me!

I actually say this out loud: Universe, you are killing me. That may have been my mistake. The Greeks called it hubris, taunting the powers that be. Perhaps it's kharma or just plain spite. When I sat back down to figure out the problem, I slammed my knee into the desk hard enough to make me cry out--not from frustration, but real, physical pain. The kind of pain that sears and throbs and ricochets all at the same time. The kind of pain where you grab onto your knee tight for fear it might not be connected right anymore, where you roll and moan until you get the courage to extend it and define the extent of the damage.

Reality check: none of those minor inconveniences from your project was killing you. In fact, this excruciating pain isn't killing you. You want to get your melodrama in check now?

Ever since I started playing hockey, I've wondered if the phrase "reality check" was coined by a hockey player. If slamming my knee was an attempt by the universe to check my reality (into the boards, if you will), then who the heck is refereeing this game?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I walk the line between wanting more and being content with what I have. I think most people do. If I'm being honest, I'm the type of person who always wants more and is rarely content unless I force myself to reflect on all that I have and have accomplished. Then, for the briefest moment, I can revel in being content. It's not long, however, before the insistence that I get to work takes hold and I am once again dissatisfied.

This is an important thing to know about yourself. Wanting more can be a very good thing. It can drive you to be a better person, even when it's hard. It can keep you going when things aren't going your way. It can lead you to question and change and grow.  It can make working hard a positive experience with rewards in the future.

Wanting more can also cause you to think that what you are and what you have aren't good enough. It can lead to petty competition and one-upmanship. It can make you focus on things instead of people and status instead of being a good person. It's why the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" exists. When you put your goals on status and things, wanting more can lead to conspicuous consumption and potential loss of the things you do have.

Which leads us to being content. Being content with what you have and what you are can also be a good thing. Being content leads to happiness. Satisfaction leads to feelings of well-being. It results in less stress--or at least a higher capacity to deal with stress--and inner peace. That peace inside yourself can lead to better relationships, less anger and frustration, and an overall better life.

However, being content can also lead to complacency. It can lead to getting yourself into a rut that is hard to extricate yourself from. Complacency in a relationship that needs to grow can cause that relationship to fall apart. It can lead you to ignore injustice in the world and sap your ability to stand up and fight. Complacency can lead to a sense of fatalism, like nothing you do really matters because this is all you'll ever have or be. It can lead to feeling like there has to be more, but you no longer have the drive and inner strength to try to get more.

It's hard being a rational, emotional human being. We have so many things pulling us in so many directions. We are all in different places in our personal journeys, so there can be some contention. things can be tricky without trying to balance contentment and desire for more. Here's how I try--and sometimes even succeed--in balancing these two states of being. First, I focus my "more" on my personal growth rather than on things. Second, I break up big goals into small, manageable ones so that I get wins more often. Third, I reflect often and give myself credit for wins, no matter how small. Finally, when I win, I give myself time to be content, to celebrate, to be happy with that win.

Am I always successful in maintaining a healthy balance? Of course not. I'm human. But the journey is a lot more worthwhile when I try.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Getting perspective on your life is an intriguing experience. You cruise through your days with a certain outlook on the events that happen to you and the events that you make happen. You work very hard to do the things you do and avoid the things you don't want to do or be part of. You become so focused on you and your life that you don't realize that it doesn't apply to anyone but you...

Except that it does. All humans share characteristics, loves, and passions and we communicate our wants and needs. Even if you think you are in NO way like someone else, you just haven't looked hard enough. It's there--that similarity. And in seeing the similarities, we become cognizant of the differences. It's the diversity of life that shows us who we are, who we are not, and most importantly-through just a bit of self-reflection--why we are what we are.

I say why we are, because as we see other people achieving the same goals as we have, we see why those goals are important to them. We then think, why are those goals important to me? It's not just achieving goals, but all the little things that make up life, like how we eat, how we talk on the phone, how we signal we're done with something. Even the things we see others doing that drives us insane or shocks us give us perspective into our own worlds. Seeing other people do things shows us a new perspective and that perspective gives us insight into our own worlds and choices and frustrations. That insight feeds opportunities to grow and change that might not ordinarily occur for us. We get stuck in ruts in life--work, school, family, house, bills, how we spend our free time. It's good to shake it up. It makes things feel fresh and new and exciting.

So remember--just because someone does things differently that you would doesn't mean they are wrong. It means you just got an opportunity to jump on board and try out a new perspective. If you like it, keep it. If not, figure out what you like better about how you do it and appreciate that you've found your way.

In the words of Carl Jung, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Road Blocks

I've been struggling to finish a project and it's wearing on my psyche. I've tried to-do lists and forced sitting, distractions and self-talk. Overall, it's just a struggle. I know once I get on a roll, I'll be finished in no time, but as of right now I feel completely overwhelmed by what I haven't yet done--and it's destroying my ability to get anything at all done.

I found this video through a TED Talk and I fell in love. It actually made me cry a little in relief. Not only is it important to remember that feeling overwhelmed doesn't necessarily mean it's game over, but everybody feels that way sometimes. You just have to take a deep breath and move through it.

Here's the TED Talk by Ze Frank where he describes the circumstances of creating this little song to help through the tough times. It's a little long (18 minutes) but worth it. [It also has another of my favorite LifeHack songs for when people are getting on your nerves.]

Here is a shorter video, a remix of "Chillout" with images that is exactly what I need when I feel overwhelmed and don't know how I'm going to get things done.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Our basic lizard brains respond immediately to threats with one of the following survival strategies: fight, flight, or freeze. Thinking back, I tend to be evenly distributed between fight and freeze, although it's hard to distinguish between them at times. Are you frozen and just waiting for danger to pass or ready to fight but holding still until the danger is closer? I know that I don't tend to attack, I prefer to wait and judge the situation. But I can't remember a single time in my life when I ran from something physically intimidating...

Until this morning.

It started out typically. We recently built a dock down by the creek and I have created a habit of eating breakfast down there, watching the water, listening to the creek sounds, gazing at fish, or relaxing with the sunbathing turtles. It's peaceful, and even the obnoxious squirrel that chatters at me can't ruin the moment. Which might be why my reaction was so extreme.

I brought my breakfast and coffee down, along with a cushion for the deck chair. Breakfast and coffee went on the table as I arranged the cushion on the chair and adjusted the footstool. I glanced up and not five feet from where I was adjusting my lounging chair, I see this.

Now, I'm not afraid of snakes. I actually think they're pretty cool. Their skins are dry and muscly, and I like to hold them and feel them wrap around my arm in the sanctuary of pet stores, zoos, and experts who assure me they are not poisonous.  
I do not, however, like to be startled. I'd react worse to a scurrying mouse than a stationary snake... unless that snake startled me, like today. Needless to say, I ran halfway to the house before my conscious thought broke through and I realized I was running. My flight instinct completely took over. I have never had that happen before...ever. And let me tell you, it was a trip. When I came back to being me and I had lost those four or five seconds of conscious control and just reacted without thought at all, I was a little freaked out. I guess it's good to know that I've got sharp instincts, even if they take over a bit.
Anyway, once I settled down and rational thought took over, I knew that if I hadn't scared it off, I needed a picture to show my husband. I grabbed my phone and went to the camera, then crept back down so as not to startle the snake. I shouldn't have worried; that snake hadn't moved a bit. After a few pictures, I moved my chair back a few feet and sat down to eat my breakfast, albeit one eye stayed on the snake the whole time.
So that leads me to the idea of instincts and how overwhelming they can be. I've had kids scared or hurt or angry before and I've tried to talk them down, assure them that they were safe and should calm down. I've always thought that rational thought could supersede even primal instincts. I even accused a kid once of overreacting intentionally when a mouse ran across the floor and he ran screaming from the room. Before today, I believed that he couldn't possibly have been scared enough my a little mouse that he would do that. I owe that kid an apology. I have never been so completely and irrationally caught up in my instincts before, and I now understand that sometimes it's not a matter of self-control; it's a matter of recovering from whatever embarrassing or awkward behavior your instincts caused you to perform.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I had a very disappointing morning with respect to my pick me up video game, Knights and Dragons.

First let me say that I know it's a video game, and I know it means nothing (in the real world, anyway), the score doesn't matter and my allies don't even know me. The point is that the experience was one I could extrapolate a life lesson from, and therefore it affects my physical life.

So, here were my two big disappointments and the consequence learning I gleaned from them.

The first disappointment was the completion of a quest. OK, I know that is supposed to be a great thing. However, the quest itself was flawed so that the result was totally not worth all the time, money, and energy it took to complete it. The quest was to combine two valuable pieces of armor to make an even more special piece of armor. In addition to the time and gold it took to gather all of the elements and make the first two pieces of armor, it also cost a whopping 25,000 gold pieces to combine the two pieces. It took forever, cost a ton, but finally this morning, I did it. And the result?

A piece of armor that I already have that costs next to nothing in comparison and that I can make almost any time I want. So, why that quest and why all the hassle? And most importantly, what did I learn?

Well, I have no idea why that quest went the way it did--maybe it's part of the game's "charm" to set knights on foolish quests and give them ample reason to spend their time and gold. It was wasteful to me, and part of the reason I am playing this game is to set a schedule, a rhythm, a habit of goal-completing and focus that will help me in the real world of independent writer. But here's what I learned from that disappointment: quests set by others often don't meet your goals. When you get to the end and complete the quest, if it doesn't meet your goals, you'll be dissatisfied. For real, satisfying results, set your own quests.

Here's the other game disappointment this morning, this one of my own making. In taking on the epic boss, I shorted myself on knights and power and lost a heart-breaker. Here's how that works. You get three of your own knights plus you can add two of your friends to attack the epic boss. In each subsequent battle, the boss gets stronger, so you need more power. However, it costs epic energy to fight. Your reserve maxes out at 10 epic energy points. It costs 3 for your first knight, 2 for your second knight, and one for each additional knight up to five knights. Three of the knights are yours and you can hire up to two friends. Epic battles give great power ups, so you want to win as often as you can- but that means playing as often as you can. Since epic power takes so long to regenerate, you need to be as frugal with your resources as possible while still having enough fire power to defeat the epic boss.

Since I just had a massive armor upgrade to two of my three fighters, I thought that I could win the epic battle with only those three plus my super tough friend. I was wrong--literally one punch away from winning when the last of my knights crumbled. Now those seven epic energies are a total waste. I should have added one more knight for just one more energy. Even a weak knight could've taken that last shot, but I was being too frugal and lost it all. Lesson: Don't be afraid to spend a little to ensure victory--gambling with the big boss is wasteful.