I am a sucker for punishment. I have been complaining about this EdD paper for so long and now that it is done.. I kind of miss it. I've also been away from this blog and Ed-ucation Publishing for ages- and at the end of a year of research into social media in education I came away with some very interesting connections, and have shifted my thinking in regards to how we approach the future of learning.
It seems that schools no longer need to be the microcosm in which children learn how to navigate civilization, interact with others, build relationships and forge connections. Their learning landscape is now global. They should be able to create their own connections in safe, effective and ethical ways. It follows that we have the responsibility as educators to create documents, policies, and philosophies that underpin our practice with desire to leverage technology in the best way for our learners. To that effect, I recommend ditching the idea of creating a social media policy entirely. Clear, smart, simple, positive, open statements on a school’s philosophy for expected behaviors will light the way forward for educators embracing the teaching and learning in the ever changing potential of the social, mobile web. It seems in this endeavor we have little choice.
You can read how I helped to implement a social media philosophy at one international school in Thailand. The reflections on that process and how leadership, teachers and students are working towards creating a connected global community.
As we rapidly progress into a technologically pervasive world the gap between our digital avatars and physical selves closes. As these two worlds meet there is a shift in focus from 'digital citizenship' towards a more ubiquitous understanding of citizenship. We need to empower all stakeholders in the learning community by underpinning our actions with the attitudes and aptitudes needed as learners. This post unpacks what empowering a community through strong character education (from learning to becoming) looks like and how that has changed in a digital age. Please forgive me for this long post. I have recreated my Learning 2 workshop here so that people can access the links, make comments and engage in conversations that matter (*please note all images are linked to the original source, are creative commons attributed or are owned by me).
So, I know it is a bit heavy but let's for a minute play with the idea of self. Gone are the days of creating a Second Life avatar modeled on a Jedi or some medieval knight, gone are the storytelling qualities of creating a 'self' distinctly separate from our physical lives. Now, our identities are co-constructed from our digital and physical interactions, friendships, images, creations, and interests. This is especially true for our students. Often their concept of self can not exist without the construction of both.
Now, a whole genre of musicians that are digitally created beings exist. With huge fan bases, websites, social media presence and sold out concerts they call into question the very idea of self. But it is not only the holographic, digitally created eather that is changing the concept of self. As we overlay avatar and flesh, machine and human we start to merge these two landscapes into one. Robotic and 3D printed organs, limbs and ears are already a reality.
Wearable technology, such as smart watches, and wearable computing devices and even invisible helmets connect us, monitor our moods, and keep us safe.
We are able to augmenting our reality with the overlay of digital media on our physical landscape. Currently, we are working to rid ourselves more and more of devices and seamlessly blend technology into our physical being.
This merge is not just between the digital and physical but also with our social emotional and interactive beings. No longer can we tell students, "Be careful- whatever you put out digitally will be there forever." With the advent of apps like Tiiny, Xpire, and Snapchat, students interactions online can become fleeting and momentary- like many of the interactions we have each day face to face.
Actually, not full stop. Technology is ubiquitous and ever changing. In this new landscape we are faced with new challenges and questions. As Dr. Scott McLeod states, "We can't simply ban the future". There is a steep learning curve that we are participant in. And just as we have an expectation that our students risk take and fail in the classroom, we must have the expectation that failure is a valuable part of learning in this new landscape.
This is an image of me being silly in a tub with a friend. BUT it doesn't matter about the real story behind the photo, what is important is the perception of reality by the viewers. This photo was leaked to students at my last school. Given the small and rather insular nature of international schools often teachers are friends with our colleagues and often those colleagues have children who attend the school. One of the teen age children of my colleague saw this image and a rumor began to circulate around the school.
What do we do when failure happens? Should we totally freak out? Should we ignore it and hope it goes away? Should we get angry? Sad? Even?
Nope, we should have a plan.
Corporations have hired professional teams to manage their social media crisis for them- whole teams. So what can we learn from their millions of dollars spent?
Avoiding Freak out: learning from the corporate sector
Accept responsibility. Say sorry (and mean it). Take action to improve.
I was an adult when my social media crisis hit. I had 37 years of life experience, hardship and grit to give me a toolbox of strategies to cope with the fall out from one little photo. That is often not the case with the learners in our care.
@jeffhoffart and I quickly created a student-friendly anchor, but we bet you could do better in your own communities. If you have created or will create a social media crisis plan for your students please share it or a link to it in the comments.
But it goes further than just having a plan. It has to do with dropping the digital from the language of the classroom and a shift in perception that being a citizen matters about who you are- and who you become- in whatever landscape you occupy.
One way to do this is to create a strong essential agreement with your community of learners. Jeff Hoffart wrote an awesome blog to help walk teachers through this process step by step. Read it here.
Let's shift focus for a bit from looking out to our students to looking in to ourselves. As teachers we are also part of this new learning landscape. Who are we in relation to these changes? Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, Audrie Pott, and Cherice Morales didn't have a plan, they didn't have role models who understood the media they were using, they didn't have adults who understood that their online interactions were an essential part of their construction of identity and self. I can hear you asking, "Okay, we need to be role models- but is it our responsibility to use every tool that our students use?" No way! Impossible for us to be experts on every form of media and technology out there. However, it is our responsibility to conceptually shift our thinking from learning to becoming.
Everyday we underpin our practice with the Learner Profile in order help our students develop the attitudes and attributes that help students become awesome!! But what is the Learner Profile? You can learn all about it here.
If you would like to learn how @JeffHoffart and I are working to develop resources to help teachers in this journey or would like character education books and resources click on the image below.
Getting students involved in action organizations helps children develop empathy. Empathy in turn works to preempt bully behaviors and positively connect students with others around the globe. Find some cool organizations by clicking on the image!!
So, am I asking you to enter your classroom tomorrow and ditch that digital citizenship lesson you had planned? No.
Right now students need the skills and knowledge to be able to operate in this new learning landscape.
DigCit it up, yo! In fact, here are some resources to help you with that!
What I AM asking is that we start to change the narrative of technology from negative to positive.
I was 8 years old when Styx came out with 'Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto'. And if you are familiar with the song, it tells part of the story of Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (ROCK), in the rock opera Kilroy Was Here. The Roboto is a model of robot which does menial jobs in the prison. Kilroy escapes the prison by overpowering a Roboto prison guard and hiding inside its emptied-out metal shell. When Jonathan Chance (played by guitarist Tommy Shaw) finally meets Kilroy, at the very end of the song, Kilroy unmasks and says, I'm Kilroy! Kilroy!, ending the song. We have had decades of the negative narrative of technology. Countless movies, songs, and TV shows have made us fearful of technology and the merging of the digital with physical. As teachers in this new learning landscape with now have the opportunity to flip the script. How are you approaching character education, citizenship at your school? Please share your ideas in the comments so that we can build a new narrative together!
I haven’t touched these keys in a while and it seems strange and slightly foreign to try and type these words… like I’ve forgotten a piece of me, like my voice is gone.
Tonight I am slightly left of center, I’ve tripped and woken up in a muddy puddle. So I do what I have always done when I am a bit lost, I create.
I create art, I create stories, I create books, I create curriculum, I create blogs.
Now there are those who tell you that personal blogging is dead, that ‘true’ blogging remains in the unemotional context of dry educational pontification, foodie reviews and travel recommendations. All cleverly ribboned with marketing and advertisements for the digital consumer.
But just as I find in the classroom, it seems so in life- without a little love, no one really gives a damn.
Believe me, I hear your collective sigh, "Oh, here we go again, Tosca’s writing about love." But hold up.. gimme a bit.
You know, the act of creation is simply the ability to represent a problem, a thought, or an idea in a new genre and have others connect with it, feel it, and understand it in a way that matters. True creativity is sparked when emotional investment meets intent.
But what’s love got to do with it?
In my blog post The Heart of Teaching I wrote about how children in this dualistically globalized yet insular modern world need as much reassurance as possible. They depend on teachers to show them feelings are valid, real and important. In 14 years of teaching experience I have found that children do not want to engage in our adult world in which we obsess over our emotional misgivings and rules. They simply want to love.
So how do we enable that love?
Today for my Primary Years Programme Coordinator I quickly threw together some research and wrote up a provocation to get our teachers thinking about student blogs. My provocation read:
“A blog for students is a transdisciplinary way for kids to become empowered learners and connected, empathetic global citizens. It is a vehicle for sharing students’ unique learning journeys by providing an archive of experiences. It communicates their ideas whilst enabling them to find their student voice. It is a forum to extend literacy skills and a place to being to leave a positive digital footprint. It is a step forward towards students having greater agency in their learning.”
But in my haste I had forgotten something. Stupidly, without thinking, I forgot the love.
Blogging is a way for us to connect emotionally with our subject and trigger creativity and learning. This process is not just for students but should be modeled by teachers. Without our emotional investment in the teaching and learning happening within our classrooms, we will never inspire the creativity we desire to take place. But when students observe teachers who are able to be vulnerable, self-motivated and reflective learners, their willingness to take ownership of their own learning journey beings to flourish.
But is it just about our students?
I have often been accused of loving too much and trusting too soon. I have even been told it is an unattractive quality that is weak. The truth is, long ago I stopped seeing my self worth only in the reflection of the eyes of others. Now I see my value when I focus on what’s going on internally within my heart and mind.
My love is something that is mindfully given. It is a choice.
I choose to love my students and tell them so. I choose to love my friends and let them feel it. I choose to love my work, my calling, my purpose. I choose to sometimes be foolish and invest in risky things along my journey. I choose to share that sometimes my love leads to failure, to pain- but each of those are worth the immense reward of creativity and life-long learning.
And I reflect on my messy journey through my blog.
I think if we stripped down education and discarded policy, curriculum and expectations- if we turned our minds-eye intently to the very center of what we want our learners to FEEL and BECOME, we could not only change education but the world. We can pretend that student blogging is about higher order thinking, metacognition, global citizenship and literacy- and that’s somewhat true- but when we dig deep in that muddy puddle, down through to the clay, it becomes refreshingly clear that what we really want is for our students to fall in love with themselves, with others and with learning.
Tonight, my call to action extends beyond the classroom. It is for each of us to mindfully love our students and all those we interact with tomorrow. To love them as they are, and not for whom we want them to be. To give them opportunities to embrace their failures, to give them the chance to reflect and create, and to view them as valued, important and perfect at where they are in their journey. And beyond that, to go home at the end of our day and reflect on what we feel and who we have become. That's right, I challenge you to blog.
Because look at me, just like that, I’ve found my voice again.
On my first day, our Head of School spoke briefly to the new teachers about how relationships are at the heart of successful schools. He challenged us to develop the ties that would bind us tight over the year and encouraged us to see that time invested in those relationships would pay out in dividends.
Over the orientation and on into the first elementary staff meeting I kept bobbing my head in agreement at the things that our Principal said. I remember thinking, people other than me actually talk like this? And as he chatted about learning journeys and becoming and assessments protocols and trust and collaboration I started to feel a tightening in my chest.
It was a very strange feeling. Dualistic in nature and confusing at its core. But why?
Anyone who knows me, knows that for as far back as when I was a toddler and articulated as early as when I was homeless at 16, I have been on a journey to find 'home'. In fact, at 12 in one of my earliest diary entries I had written,
"I seek home, a safe place to be accepted for who and what I am."
It was strange, the more I traveled through the streets of Bangkok and re-fell in love with the city, the more I waxed lyrical about the smells, tastes and thrill of being back in Asia, the more time I spent in warm sand or out with friends, the more that people talked about education that I understood at my core- the more I felt I had come home.
But then, bubbling under this happy representation of home was an undercurrent of what can only be described as.. fear. This may seem incongruous with who I am; bubbly, positive, energetic. But those who read my blogs often, also know I have a penchant for introspection and reflection.
I feared, what if I failed? What if I missed having my own class? What if I didn't know everything? What if I couldn't support students with the expertise I had over the last 14 years? What if I let them down?
Let me be clear, the leadership at my school are only kind and supportive. They embody innovative leadership practice and amazing skill. These were self-created doubts that stopped me in my tracks and made it hard to breathe. I meandered to my apartment and that tightening in my chest got stronger until the night was spent with me sitting on my balcony watching the city lights, lost in my own thoughts.
At that same meeting, born out of a TED video he had shared with us in which Ramsey Musallam gives 3 rules to spark imagination, and get students excited about how the world works, our Principal charged us with reflecting on what our own 3 goals would be this year.
Quickly, I threw out 3 that I knew off the top of my head. So confident was I in my choices, I tweeted them out to the Twittersphere. They were quick fed and ingrained into my pedagogical psyche. It seemed like a no-brainer. But on that balcony with nothing but 12 stories of air and night sky, I had to dig deep, face my fear and reexamine those answers.
The harder I thought, the more I realized, that with each new challenge we take on we stand at the edge of a precipice, but what extends out before us is the story of our past. We stand on that edge filled with regret for what was or yearn for what could have been.
And we gulp for air.
Equally so to the event horizon is a vast unknown future, a what-if narrative constructed only by our imaginations.
But what if we looked at future fear and past regret in a new way? As profound and insightful. As a part of our reflective being?
I have many regrets. I have always said I refuse to keep secrets because my upbringing taught me that all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light. But even now, there are secrets and regrets, held like crushed flowers in my hand, and I can't put them down, because they are simply unplantable. Perhaps they act as talismans, gentle guides to help me make better choices and to be a better person. In her TED talk Kathryn Schulz states that regret doesn't remind us that we did badly- but that we could do better.
As I spent time watching the twinkling city lights, I mulled over the fact that perhaps it wasn't the school or city that felt like home but the connections of people I had made around me. Swiftly that thought was joined by the realization that perhaps home was extended to the global connections I had made over the last 14 years of living internationally. My network now transcends physical place and geographical time to the relationships I hold and the investments I have made in them. Perhaps it really was like our Head of School had said and the dividends were finally paying out. I started to feel an expansive warm fuzziness- no joke.
And as I thought and thought and thought, it suddenly dawned on me. Home, in fact, wasn't externally located in the places or the people that I had met. Home wasn't the ease of friendship or camaraderie I had felt. Home wasn't contained in the collegial conversations, or friendly drinks I had shared. Indeed, it was the sum total of my experiences, my relationships, my regrets, and even my fears, funneled into this one perfect moment and the wonderful embodiment of home.
Home had always been at the center of me.
On this epic journey, I had found something that was never really lost. All this time I had already been home.
Back to school is never just about going back to school. It is a journey into who we are, and what we will become. But the most important moment in that journey is the 'now'. It is the moment unlimited in it's potential. Unfettered by past or future. So I choose to change my goals this year. I am sticking with only one: to be mindfully present in the now.
Welcome home friends. It is so good to share this moment with you.
What is this Twittersphere?
So what does this have to do with Twitter? Well, Twitter is just a giant digital filing cabinet for all your connections and categories of interests. It's like a universe of possibilities, a twitterverse. Or perhaps, a blanket of connection around the globe, a twittersphere.
On July 11 2014, there were 645,750,000 million registered users on Twitter. So as educators we should be leveraging this tech, right? There is a globalized online force of change agents, thinkers, and innovators all at our fingertips. Literally.
Twitter is a way to gather amazing resources, cutting edge educative practice and to connect with other educators in a globalized world. Not only that, but it flattens the playing field. Gone are the days of waiting for your educative idol to be booked by your school, and then after their half day workshop have that person surrounded by 150 other teachers only to be too shy to even say hello. Nope, now in 140 characters or less (and maybe a photo if you want to get fancy) you can get real time advice from experts just by asking. And that's it too... articles, blogs, resources are all curated at 140 characters, which makes PD fast paced- perfect for busy teachers.
So, How do I start?
Handle: If you are using Twitter for your professional life I recommend using your actual name or close to it. The reason? You want people to be able to find you. Unless you have a significant online presence like a website or blog where people can cross reference your name @wigglewacker4920 just is too hard for people to search.
Photo: For the first 6 months I was on Twitter, I used an avatar from one of the books I had written. I stayed at an even dozen followers (which included a handful of the teachers at my school, and a few friends from university). As soon as I put a picture on my profile and fleshed out my bio to represent me as a teacher and a learner, my followers jumped to 200 within a few days. A picture gives people an anchor, you are not a spammer, you are a real educator. You are a tweep.
Followers/Following: Twitter is NOT Facebook. I unfollow and follow people all the time. Twitter is my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and that network is in flux depending on my interests, research and connections at any given moment. Don't be afraid to unfollow someone if they are inactive or not contributing to your learning journey. You may pick them up later at a conference, from a blog, or a connection you make in the future.
But who to follow? Well there are a billion lists of 'Top Educators you Should Follow' and they ARE filled with amazing suggestions!! Truly, they are a really great place to start. BUT the truth is, my most powerful connections have happened when I have gone to the people that I admire and looked at who they are following. From that, I am connected by interest and common goals.
Hashtags # Remember those old metal filing cabinets? Remember the paper labels that always popped off of the files in them? If you are as old as me, you do. Well Hashtags are just a digital way of organizing all those interests you have into files. Some of my favorite Hashtags for education can be found at Te@chThought. Hashtags are sometimes to find people with the same interests as you, a chat or just a fun way to make a point #BecauseItsSilly. They give your tweets greater reach and help funnel information to interested people.
Search for interests by using the Hashtag in your top search button.
Chats: Chats provide an opportunity to engage in conversations with educators around the globe. Rapid fire and moderated, they provide an hour of intensive idea sharing and professional development. If you are shy, just lurk for the first few times- then jump in on the conversation- your ideas matter!
If you really get into chats and it is all too much- too fast, but you are kind of feeling like you OWN this Twitter thang, it is time to look into Tweet Deck to help you organize your Twitter feeds into channels and custom timelines.
#edchat: Check it out here: http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage.
#edtechchat: Focus on education technology on Mondays from 8 to 9 pm Eastern Time.
#satchat: Chat about education leadership on Saturday mornings from 7:30 to 8:30 am Eastern Time
#pypchat: Everything PYP http://pypchat.wikispaces.com/
#kinderchat: If you are interested in early childhood education, check out the kinderchat website.
#digcit: Want to engage about digital citizenship? Find out more information at gonevirtual.org/digcit.html.
Lists: Still finding it way too much information? Just breathe. It is!! You don't have to look at every single tweet made in the twitterverse. I spend each night for a bit checking out interesting articles, making connections and working my PLN. To help me I have made lists. A list is a curated group of Twitter users. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the users on that list.
So now what?
Now you hatch. Take a deep breath again, spread your wings and leap. You can't get it wrong!! Just be yourself, retweet the stuff that resonates with you, connect with people who help you on your learning journey and make the educative world a bit more awesome by contributing your ideas.
We need you.
It’s time to leave.
I have heard that it gets easier with time.
I know it seems weird but as a teacher, I spend a great deal of my time thinking about you. I think about you when I am in the car driving to school. I think about you over beers with friends. I think about you in the quiet moments of the classroom. I think about you riding my bike along the Rhine. I think about you when I am looking up cool resources or researching educational practice.
I think about how to design really cool engagements to get you get excited about learning. I think about how to help you make more friends. I think about what that little weird thing that you do is- perhaps a learning need, a difference, how can I reach you? What can I do better for you? What are my failures? My successes?
I think, and think, and think until you aren’t just a student, a number, or a responsibility; nope, you become my kid too.
I want you to be happy. I want you to have character, and strength and knowledge. I want you to take action to make your world a better place. I want you to grow up healthy and empowered. I don’t just say it- I really mean it.
But it doesn’t stop there. I think about you once you are gone too.
I think about one of my first students, David*. He came to school in dirty clothes, with no lunch, he often hit and spat at me. Everyday, I packed extra lunch to share, everyday I made sure I told him I loved him. I often wonder what type of a man he is today?
I think about Alex*, who cried every day for three weeks when he first came to kindergarten. I think about how I had to carry him around so he felt safe. I was the first white person he had ever seen, I was a scary, blue-eyed, ginger giant and I had to make myself funny, approachable and loving. Now Alex is a teen, off at boarding school in England. I wonder how he deals with change- with strength and bravery?
Or, Jiwon* with her incredible giggle, her ability at such a young age to read, and her super-strong hugs. I think about her as a young lady. Growing up in such an amazing world of opportunity and connection.
Or, Edward* who couldn’t sit still and was bigger than all the other kids, who didn’t know how to control his body or deal with the fall-out of his actions. I thought a lot about him and how to get it right for him. And now I wonder if I did all I could do, to be the best for him.
Or, Billy* with his heart wrenching British accent, peppered language and insatiable energy. A kid who often reminds me what I must have been like for the adults who took care of me. A kid that has made me smile every single time I have ever spoken with him. Even when he calls me a stinky, sausage bottom.
Or, any of the 300 plus students I have taught in the last 14 years. There have been those of you with significant learning needs, some of you with social emotional issues, those of you who are abused, neglected, pushed too hard, or not pushed enough. Some of you are kids who are spoiled with love and goodness, kids who are happy and content. No matter what your situation is, I still think about you.
But what about your pesky parents? I think about the parents who have offered me kindness and friendship. Those who have spoiled me too! Delicious gifts of wine, expensive gifts of Tiffany necklaces, funny gifts of cellulite cream, disturbing gifts of skin whitening paste, fun gifts of parties, touching gifts of songs, cards and letters, but more importantly gifts of time and energy and love. How does one possibly repay kindness of this magnitude?
But truthfully, I also I think about those of you parents who challenged me, those who were worriers, who were angry, who were lost…yes, I think about you too. I think about how I could have been better, how I could have reached out more, what I could have done to make you more comfortable, addressed your pain and suffering, to help you along in your own learning journey.
I think about you, because you have changed me. There is something that fundamentally changes within us each time we open our hearts and minds to others. I am no longer the person I was a year ago, or 4, or 10, or 14. I am better, richer, and wiser- just as fallible- but perhaps, more willing to admit it.
It is easy to think that change happens spontaneously from within. A genesis birthed from our own cleverness and introspection. But I have found that the impetus of change has always been my classroom. My students remind me of my strengths and the areas I need to improve- in my practice, but also in my life. After all, if I have an expectation of my students, I must certainly have that same expectation of myself.
Indeed, I am only a shadow cast by the collective potential of the students that have been in my care.
So, as is the nature of international teaching, it is time to leave. But as I move on, I don’t leave you. I can’t. You have become a part of who I am. You have left an indelible mark that is inked on my character and simply cannot be rubbed out with time.
With loving kindness,
*names have been changed
One of the biggest concerns we often hear about is the Environment. So, ask yourself, do you know where your trash goes? Do you know what the impact of your action is?
It's easy for us to give lip service to the really big problems of global warming, pollution, and our growing carbon footprint. It's a harder thing for us to help our students really understand the problems, so that they can move forward as design thinkers and problem solvers.
We want to move- from the story of stuff to the story of solutions
Let's build a Better future, together!
Let's not shy away from the big issues we need to help kids face. Let's support our learners and help them embody the skills, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes needed to think of amazing solutions!!
At only a few months I was christened by my Uncle, Father Joe. I was reborn and bathed in the blood of Christ at 3. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at 8. At 10 I had the gift of speaking in tongues. At 13 I went to Eurofire where I saw a women’s twisted legs become straight and watch as she ran across a stage while 50,000 people were slain in the spirit- including me. I have testified, glorified, witnessed, protested. I attended Catholic school until I was in Grade 9 but my mother and stepfather were Born-Again Christians so my understanding of theology is vast and complex. I have read the bible cover to cover about 7 times. I have had a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
And now I am an Atheist.
I am not here to debate religion with you. There are many who would love to do so on r/debateanatheist. I am not here to tell you the story of how I lost my faith either. I am not one to hate those of faith or disparage their beliefs. Because I know what it feels like to believe.
But I also know I never fully felt human, connected to the universe, to others, I never fully felt free, until I understood- this is it.
By a series of wonderful circumstances I have come to be here and what a fantastic gift I have been given.
Today is the Day of Ascension. This is the 40th day of Easter, the day that Jesus ascended the pain and suffering of human life to be with God the Father. The day his work was done on Earth. Today was always a sad day for me as a child because it was the day my superhero (a man who could raise the dead and walk on water!) left us to our faith, and our rules and our imperfect human selves.
My stepfather (a chemist and theologian) had an enormous library in our basement. My siblings and I often messed up neat rows of National Geographics, Carlos Castaneda, Apologetic texts and lots of Charlie Browns.
The rule was: If you can read it- you can read it. And we did.
As a result, from an early age it was clear that the mythology of ascension was so much a part of our human narrative. I read about Hercules, Adapa, Enoch, Murile and they all predated the New Testament story of Jesus. In more modern times I geeked out when Darth Vader rose up from fire and brimstone, leaving Anakin Skywalker in ash in order to bring balance the force, Dumbledore’s phoenix literally rises from the ashes to have a pivotal role in defeating evil, and in Stargate Universe a central tenet of the story arc is that the ancients have ascended to live as energy beings, and humans are on a quest to understand how to reach this higher state.
So why is this so much a part of our human narrative?
We are a species that evolved with a complex brain and tenacity for wanting to survive. For most of us in the developed nations though, survival is pretty cushy. But we carry this ascension narrative with us in unique and powerful ways.
Yesterday, I read a book called Edwardo The most Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Birmingham. I had never read it before and just had randomly grabbed it out of a box I was packing. It was a poignant reminder of the power of words and labels. It was a story of a boy who status is created based on the labels others assign him. As I read it, I realized that it was written more for the adult reading it than the child listening.
As we unpacked the story it became clear the subtext was- it is true, there are always going to be people who judge you, not by merit or by ethic but by gossip and hearsay. They will not take the sum of your heart but focus on minute aspects that they personally don’t like. They will label you, give you ‘advice’, and create hyperbole out of your circumstance.
The end of book is not a happy one for me. Edwardo swings from being the most horrible boy in the world to being labeled the loveliest boy in the world. My students and I talked about how it just didn’t seem balanced. Sometimes we all can be cruel, dirty, and mean. Sometimes we are kind, generous and understanding. Sometimes we are the victims, sometimes the aggressors. We are complex, intense social primates. And that’s ok.
We talked for along time about this story. Most 5 years olds have a certain wisdom that adults lose. A clarity of vision, an acceptance of others, they live in a prelabelled world.
As an educator, I need to be mindful of the power of my words. I have written it before and I do believe it, there are no bad children, only inappropriate choices. But sometimes as an educator perhaps I should dig deeper into the why of that choice. Sometimes choices are born out of that complexity in our human brain, our need for survival, our pragmatic understanding of the past. My job is not to chastise the choices of children but rather, understand why they have made them and help them in their journey. I seek not to label or judge but to give generously of my time, patience and love.
It would behoove adults to treat our colleagues and friends in this same way. There are going to be those of us who are passionate and driven, intense and powerful. But that’s not all they are. They are also sweet and kind and broken. It is easy to throw a cliché at them but much harder to sit and listen to the why of their choices. We need to be mindful of the judgements we bestow on others. We need to realize that people are unique, and complex. Just like I tell my students, you don't have to get along with everybody, you are not forced to like everyone, but you do need to treat them with respect and tolerance.
There is one bit I forgot to mention about Ascension Day. It is also the day Jesus promised to return. Because even in Biblical mythology, all of life is change. What goes up, must come down. Whomever wanders comes to rest. Whatever is lost becomes found. These super narratives help us to survive as a human race. We rise from the ashes of our past, but our rebirth is again and again.
So today, but not more than another day, whether based in any faith or not, let us take the time to look upwards, to set goals, to ascend from the ashes of yesterday, and see this one as a magnificent gift to use the best we can.
Just because I know I may get comments on this post: Atheism is not a new religion for me. It is anti-theism. My rational brain knows there is no scientific evidence of a God, and the burden of proof rests not with me. So if Jesus were to descend from heaven and there was evidence of divinity of course I would change my stance. As with all good scientists- I ask questions, gather data and make decisions based on fact. This is my choice. Go well with yours.
About four years ago we implemented a fruit and vegetable only snack for the early learning center at my school. As leadership I often field questions from parents regarding our program and I have heard it every year, "That snack just won't work for my kid. They just refuse to eat fruits and vegetables."
A few weeks later I get, "How did you do it? What's your secret? How do you get them to eat fruits and vegetables?!?"
My top 5 Resources for helping kids to make good food choices
1. BrainPOP: Movies, quizzes, games and more
2. Meatless Monday: Recipes, community, videos & Campaigns
3. Open-Minded: A book that investigates kids taking action
4. Top Marks: Interactive white board games
5. Nutrition Explorations: Online games
Little D's Nutrition Expedition® nutrition program is designed for lower elementary students. To identify and classify foods into the Five Food Groups and identify the health benefit of each food group. Click on the image to play!
Arianna's Nutrition Expedition™ nutrition program is designed for upper elementary students. To identify and classify foods into the Five Food Groups, create nutritious Combination Foods and identify the health benefit of each food group. Click on the image to play!
http://www.nutritionexplorations.org/kids.php Get all the games here.
So there is no real secret for getting kids to eat healthy. I model healthy eating habits and talk about when I have made bad choices. I provide a variety of fruits and veggies each day, teach the kids why it is important to eat that pesky tomato, tell them I love them and want them to be healthy, and more often than not, with persistence and consistency they eat it.
And the funny thing is...
they like it.
As we approach the end of the school year it doesn’t seem strange that our Friday staff reading was on teacher burnout. I went away, did some research on my own and found a treasure trove of top 10 lists of things to prevent teacher burnout. So many in fact, David Letterman might be jealous. The following were some of my favorite suggestions:
My immediate reaction to these lists is always, What the what?
I am not entirely a critical jerk, I do have some other ideas that seem to have worked for me for over the last 14 years of my teaching career. I am not saying that there haven't been times that I felt burned out. There have been. But these are daily strategies that have helped me to combat those times and move forward in positivity.
1. Live the Learner Profile.
Ya, I know I sound like an IB talking head. Actually, I don’t mean it glibly, and I am the first to admit I don’t always succeed. But if I want a student to be a certain type of learner, I too have to embody the same attitudes and attributes that I profess to hold in high regard, or else I'm just a big hypocrite. The attribute that I suck at the most? Being Balanced. Balance is a skill that is hard to master. Working together as a learning community to become balanced makes for happier learners and happier teachers. Unpacking this skill for little kids is hard though. Jeff and I wrote an easy reader book to help teachers, parents and students have real world examples of how to be balanced and happy.
2. Practice mindfulness.
In The Times today I read an article that stated,
State school pupils don’t know right from wrong, says top teacher
For obvious reasons this is distressing. Kids that are under so much pressure to gain academic knowledge that they don’t know right from wrong- is that ok?
Many teachers are turning to mindful practice within their classrooms to help bring balance to their learning community. I conducted a research study on the effectiveness of 2 minute mini-breaks on the academic success of kindergarten students in an international school in Korea way back in 2006. I designed a gauge of student stress indicators and off-task behaviors that would trigger a mini-break. The breaks included, but were not limited to Yoga, mediation, short videos, dance, and computer games.
It was a very long and most likely boring paper.
However, the results were significant. In the highly academically driven culture of Korea, I observed that children were more engaged, on task and happy when mini-breaks were incorporated into the teaching and learning cycle. No new news there, but please remember, it was 2006!! I was a graduate student and I called them "mini-breaks" -cringe. Mindfulness in education hadn't become a hot topic.
Back then, Facebook was relatively new, no one was on Twitter and my 'social network' consisted of me sitting in a smoky PC Bang with a bunch of gamers, hunt and pecking out emails on Korean keyboards and sending them out into the æther hoping someone would write me back. So much has changed in the last decade. Consider,
“Educators are turning to mindfulness with increasing frequency–perhaps a good thing, considering how digital technology is splitting kids’ attention spans too. (The average American teen sends and receives more than 3,000 text messages a month.)
So what does mindfulness in the classroom look like now?
But how does mindful practice and teaching mindfulness help us as teachers avoid burnout? Being present in the moment and in control of our emotional state helps us to not become overwhelmed with the inevitable burden of tasks that teachers face. Personally, it helps me to be more present with a concerned parent, calm about those slightly overdue report cards, or more positive about that policy change that doesn't seem to make sense. It helps me put the details into the context of the bigger picture and appreciate the amazing moments I help construct within my learning community. It helps my students to focus on character education as well as academics and develop a clear connection with others. Which of course, helps them know right from wrong which reduces conflicts and builds a positive community of learners.
I dig this site to help me set the tone each day: The Mindful Teacher.
3. Give more.
Yes, you read that right. People with purpose are happier. Design your inquiry towards service learning and solve problems that are in your local and global community. Connect with other schools trying to make a difference. Empower your students to take action and feel that their learning has an impact. You may think that service or problem based learning is more work for teachers- but actually when designed well, is the kind of 'work' that teachers live for. Exciting, active, hands on, empowered and sustained.
Giving makes us aware of our circumstance in relation to that of others. It makes us grateful, it builds our sense of connection, happiness and purpose. And when teachers have purpose- we are driven. On fire, but not burned out.