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.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Better Late Than Never

I usually try to write in the morning, but chaos on the home-front derailed that fairly easily.

I want to write today about SuperBetter, a game to make yourself better--from whatever physical or mental ailments you may be suffering from. SuperBetter focuses on four realms of health- physical, mental/ cognitive, emotional, and social. The game is simple--complete quests and defeat bad guys in order to meet your personal goal. It's a real-life goalsetting game played online, but your quests or tasks exist in the real world. So, I guess just the scoring is online.

Jane McGonigal (personal hero) invented this game to recover from a serious concussion. According to her, as soon as she started playing the game, she felt better. The physical pain was still there, but she was no longer suffering the depression and anxiety that the pain had been causing her.

I signed up yesterday, created my secret identity, and completed the first few tasks. The game offers packs with predesigned tasks or allows you to make up your own to fit your personal needs. This--blogging--is one of my tasks. I want to do it every day, because even when I don't feel like I have anything valuable to say, I still feel better for having said it.  

That being said, I had one of those It's a Wonderful Life moments today. I dropped the dogs off to get haircuts--early, after my alarm failed to go off and the morning was chaos, etc.-- and when I got home, I got right to working on a project that I've been stop and go on for two weeks. I have to push hard to find motivation right now, and I think I'm going through some mild depression about not going back to school this year. I know I made the right choice, but I'm struggling to reconcile that those bargain bins of school supplies in every store I go into have nothing to do with me...whew!

Anyway, I got started this morning and knocked out a big chink of work. In fact, once I got going, I really rocked it--great new idea for a segment, focused and creative. It was amazing. Then, I get the call to pick up the dogs and I realize that I haven't been up and down letting one dog in, the other out, or calming them when whatever chattering squirrel, cawing bird, or muffler-less car next door has threatened their turf.

I bring them home, they settle in, I settle in and just as I start to pick up the thread of focus--bark, bark, BARK, BARK, BARK! And for a minute I thought, "I wish I didn't have dogs!" and what's worse is I meant it. They are frustrating and irrational, they bark incessantly at the wildlife through the open windows, they make my life so much harder than it needs to be. And yet...

When I come home, they are ecstatic to see me, even if I was just outside doing yard work. When they play--one's a chaser, one's a tugger-- it always makes me smile. The only thing I ever miss when I'm on vacations is my dogs nestled up to me at night and licking my face awake in the morning.

So, as frustrating as it can be, I would never, ever give up my dogs, not in a million years and not for a million dollars...

But maybe I put them down for naps so I can get some work done!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Keeping It Simple

I have a working theory that people have optimum and maximum work pressures that push them towards getting things done. When you are working at your optimum pressure, you have just enough on your plate to feel as if you are being productive and your work is meaningful. Optimum work pressure keeps you focused, determined, and working at your very best. Maximum work pressure, on the other hand, is the absolute most you can have in your work queue without completely shutting down. Maximum work pressure is characterized by frenzied, harried behavior and appearance and is a hard state to maintain for long periods. Think: all-nighter studying for a test or writing a paper you've been putting off.

Some people believe that their optimum pressure and their maximum pressure are the same. These are the people who intentionally procrastinate to feel the rush of adrenaline when they finally get started. I used to be one of those. I used to think that I could only do great work if I had some outside pressure and deadline looming over me. I've had some very successful projects completed by procrastinating and letting it come down to the wire to complete.

Here's the problem--there's a third work pressure and that's breaking pressure. When you max out your maximum and slip past the point where you feel that completing the work in front of you is possible, you've hit your breaking pressure. Breaking pressure shuts you down. You lose all interest, focus, and determination because you believe that it's not possible to get something done. Some people still go through the motions and will complete an inferior work product, but most people just move on. It's like missing your exit on the toll road: most people just go on to the next one and pay the extra money. Oh, well.

So, here's the life hack: break things into small pieces and only allow your optimum work pressure on your schedule at a time. Easier said than done, I know. But here's what I've found. If I can set small goals and feel as if I've accomplished something, I'm more energized and willing to tackle the next thing. I'm working at my optimum level.

Sometimes I break my up big goals into smaller ones by scheduling game breaks as rewards. If I get that first three paragraphs of my blog done, I'll go collect my gold in a video game. Or, if something is really big and I know it's going to take a LONG time, I'm set physical breaks. After each little bit, stand up and walk around the room, go freshen up the coffee, take a bathroom break (after all that coffee!)  

Another strategy for feeling accomplished even when you should be overwhelmed is to record (and hence, celebrate) all of the small things you get done. For example, if my big goal is clean the house, then I'm not done until it's clean. I can make a list of all the things I need to do, but that can be really overwhelming and push me to my breaking point--especially since cleaning isn't something that I enjoy doing. So, instead of making a to-do list, I'll just do something, then record when it's done on the dry erase board I have hanging on the fridge. There's a lot of satisfaction in writing down your accomplishments. In fact, once that list of "already done" things get long, I feel pretty good about myself. I start walking around seeing what else I can get done to write on the list. Just recording the accomplishment is a mini celebration of your hard work, which makes the work rewarding. So, just keep it simple--you'll get it done.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Start with What YOU Want

When I decided to take a year off to write, there were so many things I didn't know. I didn't know about publishing or editing or how to create (and stick to!) a writing schedule. And even though I've read thousands of books in my lifetime, I didn't really know how to write an educational book. So what did I do? I read... and read... and read some more.

I read more about the self-publishing and independent writing business than I thought was possible. I tracked down every blog and self-publishing manual, I sifted through extensive comments, I scanned hundreds, if not thousands, or articles online, and I bought several eBooks about related topics. The more I read, the more the life of a self-published writer appealed to me, and the more confident about my decision I felt.

Due to all of that reading, I've gleaned lots of tidbits, tricks, and useful advice. One such piece of advice (I can't remember exactly where it came from, but it has stuck with me) is this: WRITE THE BOOK YOU WANT TO READ. Simple, but it set the focus for my first stage of writing. The premise behind this advice is that we are more excited, more invested, and ultimately better at doing what we want to do, as opposed to what we think we have to do.

Instead of trying to make my first book a lofty tome of academia and research, I kept it simple. For the most part, I knew my audience would recognize the validity of teaching strategies and best practices I used, so I didn't need to bonk them over the head once again with the research that backed it up. I didn't let my book get bogged down in other people's research or work. I kept it simple, more like a "how-to" with respects to using a particular piece of software to do great things in the classroom.

It was exactly the book I would want to read- immediate, results-oriented, show me how to do it, give me great ideas, and then get out of my way and let me make it real.

It all started with that simple piece of advice: Write the book you want to read. I thought- brilliant! Then I thought- as I filter everything that passes through my brain- how does this apply to teaching?


Once again, the premise is that you'll be more excited, more invested, and ultimately better at creating a class that you yourself would want to take. Now, you need to modify the audience, so that your second graders aren't analyzing Shakespeare or making potato guns. Maybe imagine yourself at the age your students are and figure out what you would've liked at that age, how you would've liked it presented, and how you could've shown what you know.

There are many external restrictions and guidelines to follow for what we teach and when (and perhaps also how). However, one thing that I noticed in my own teaching is that I was often handcuffed by the way I thought I should be teaching based on my past experiences as a student. I'm telling you right now: if you throw those out the window and open up to the possibilities of what could be, you'll end up much happier in the long run- and your students will get a better teacher, which will help them learn more... well, you can see where this is going.

TEACH THE CLASS YOUWANT TO TAKE... and your students will want to take it, too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Shine a Light

As teachers, we are responsible for many students at a time, and figuring out how to best meet their needs and help them learn can become overwhelming. Here's a video from Jane McGonigal's site SuperBetter that shows a simple way you can encourage your students when they have positive things to share. She calls it shining a light on their achievements, and it's such a simple way to promote positive behavior and student-centered goals. The video is set in the context of being someone's ally in the game SuperBetter (20 minute TED Talk here) but is equally applicable to teachers being allies of students in the quest for knowledge. So, check out this video and help your students get an epic win.

[As a bonus, you can teach this very simple strategy to other teachers, who can use it on you to shine a light on your wins. A school culture that celebrates each members' wins in an authentic way would be an amazing place to learn and work. It starts with one. It can start with you.]

Check out this quick video here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Failure... The Great Motivator

It surprises me how many times I learn the same thing I've learned before. [Some might question whether I've learned it in the first place if I suddenly learn it again; that's a different discussion.] The point is that the different circumstances breed the same result and something that I've known to be true in one situation becomes obviously true in a new situation. In this case, I hold up exhibit A: failure.

If you ask me why I play any game, I'll say to win. There are a lot of other positive consequences for playing, such as enjoyment, camaraderie, proficiency, and progress, but ultimately, I play to win. So here's the question: does winning lead to playing more?

I suppose in some situations winning leads to more playing. When you first start a game, if you don't win fairly early on, you'll become bored and quit [think: casinos]. If you play often but don't win for a long time, you may grow frustrated and quit [Candy Crush- it used to be my favorite game, but I've been stuck so long I don't' want to go back. Sorry, CC, I think I have to break up with you... and it's definitely you, not me]. But come to think of it, is winning causing you to play more or is it the possibility of winning that is at work here? Once you don't feel the potential to win, you're done.

That's a keeper for educational connections: Once you don't feel the potential to win, you're done. As in, when the game becomes so stacked against you that you can't see any outcome in which you "win," you no longer want to play. How many students have become so defeated by the game of education that they just don't want to play anymore? These are the kids that drop out or cheat or coast in remedial classes that they are too skilled to be in. In essence, they've rewritten the rules of the game so that they can- in their own way- get a win.

So once kids get to high school and this lose-lose mentality is ingrained, how do teachers reengage students in the education game? I know for me, if I didn't see a way to win, I'd never play. And after losing for a long time, one win here or there isn't going to convince me that the game is worth my time, especially if the big payout is years down the road. I've got lots of ways to win- games I create, games with family, friends, coworkers, strangers and nemeses online- and I'm not talking board games here. I'm talking life games. I'm talking high-stakes, make-or-break, life-changers.

So if losing is such a deterrent to playing, how can failure motivate anyone? The answer to that is simple- because failing and losing aren't the same thing. More on this tomorrow!