My 100 Words,Twisted

nature-914027_1920

This is an opportunity to write about why I love teaching but I am already stumbling over that phrasing: “Why I Love Teaching”. I cannot claim a wholesale love of teaching just like that. There are parts that I love but rarely the whole package and certainly not all the time. So what’s an edublogger to do?

True to form I want to change the premise. I don’t feel comfortable writing about “Why I love teaching” but I do like considering “How Teaching Loves Me”, so here goes:

I arrived here from somewhere else. Teaching welcomed me early on, said, “stay a while,” so I did and over time we developed a relationship: interesting, fraught, full of misunderstandings and oddly compelling. Teaching has always challenged me, confronting me with my angels and demons in the same hour on some days. Yet I’ve never wanted to leave outright, only to take some time away in order to come back better and spicier. Teaching knows my name and sings it like no other. She shows me who I am again and again. Teaching forgives but rarely forgets. I am hers.

 

Thanks to Justin Schleider who turned me on to the original challenge posed by Jesse Boyce and taken up by Dene Gainey.

 

 

Words Fall Short (Reflections on PoCC17 in Progress)

Words can do a lot. Or, I should say we can do a lot with words. And still they fall short.

Which words would I choose to tell you about my day?

I would start with beauty. Human beauty in so many hues, tones and shades. An unyielding variety on which to feast the eyes that didn’t realized they were starved.

I might continue with brilliance – the kind that comes in a warm smile of greeting, the kind you hear in a voice that is both clear and rich and needs no mic.

But also a brilliance of presence – to hold sway with an audience of thousands through song and movement, in chorus and in the spirit of freedom.

And of wit…to tell the familiar truths in the charm of Disney’s favorite fairy tales and allow us to laugh when our response under different circumstances could just as well be to weep.

I might use bravery – some of my own and really that of others – especially those who invite us to learn with them; who stand at the podium encouraging us to turn and talk, connect and commit.

I’d have to say ready. Ready in the sense of prepared, hungry and waiting for this moment to finally, yes finally, say what needs saying without sugarcoating, or toning it down and be heard, heard, heard. So very ready for exactly that again and again.

Fierce in our love for one another, for this particular space and time together. Fierce in our understanding that even if we do not see eye to eye, we see and acknowledge each other and the sacrifices we have each made to be here.

Responsive. Oh these snaps and praise hands and nods and shout outs – that kind of real responsiveness. Call and response responsiveness like in church. A hug, a touch, a moment, a shared silence – ways of responding we find for each other.

I cannot report well what was said and how it was received. I have just these impressions of

colleagues and kin, folks and friends

some people I’ve never met and may never know

but I saw them and they moved me

each magnificent in the singular, breathtaking as a body.

This is PoCC for me. People of Color Conference. Where I can be

Black (with a capital B), Woman in all the ways I choose; teacher, learner, listener, facilitator, space maker, collaborator, blogger, tweeter, note taker, observer, participant, ally, accomplice, friend, sister, colleague, dancer…

Me.

Preparing for #NAISPoCC 2017

nature-2746726_1920

This year I have a head start. A couple of days to adjust to a 9 hour time difference and some good solid thinking time before the start of the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference. The pre-conference seminars will be in session on Wednesday and the official conference opening will take place on Thursday morning. On the PoCC website and in the conference program there are plenty of tips about how best to get ready for three jam-packed days of workshops, affinity group meetings, informal networking and social events throughout.

Thinking about my own insecurities and question marks heading into this good-sized event that is not like any other education conference I attend, I came up with this alternative list of points to consider.

  • Expect to arrive more than once.  PoCC as an identity-based conference means that beyond managing the usual scheduled sessions and social gatherings, “showing up” takes on a whole new meaning. From one hour to the next, I have found PoCC to be flurry of shifting contexts which means that we can and likely will arrive multiple times in different ways in the course of the next days.

 

  • Consider your why before you jump into the stream. Try asking yourself some of these questions before you start your conference days: What brings you to PoCC (again)? What are you looking forward to? What kind of connections are you eager to make? What kinds of risks do you anticipate for yourself? How do you want to leave the conference? Any chance to reflect in advance can help smooth our transition from fresh arrival to fully engaged contributor.

 

  • Allow space for disorientation and emotionality. PoCC is designed to provide a crucial space for educators of color to look at who we are and explore what that means for our practice. The conference is a rare and precious opportunity to do this in community of various configurations. It also means that we may find ourselves touched in deeper ways than usual, that we see ourselves in a different light or that we share stories we don’t even remember holding. All these things are possible. And it is precisely in these moments that each of us makes the conference our very own. That’s powerful. And it may also be intense or draining or overwhelming at points, hence one final suggestion:

 

  • Carve out some alone time if you need it. Don’t feel that you need to make every session. Do what you can and when the time comes, rest. Walk outside or continue the deep conversation you just started. This is also critical to being at and creating PoCC – taking care of ourselves and each other along the way.

PoCC offers us so much and also demands a great deal of us professionally and personally. Liza Talusan who, like me, will be blogging during the conference captures the spirit of what makes PoCC a key experience for many independent school educators of color. She writes:

At PoCC, I get to be myself.

I get to be in community of other people of color who, too, are tired of making themselves smaller, invisible and palatable for others. I am surrounded by people who wait an entire year for PoCC just to be heard and to be in the majority. I am in the presence of brilliance at PoCC.

For me, attending a conference whose membership numbers more that a couple thousand produces more than a little anxiety. I love people but try as much as possible to avoid crowds; I enjoy talking one-on-one but tend to go silent when so many are gathered together. Even knowing that I am ‘among friends,’ the degree of isolation I can experience when we are all assembled in a large hall often surprises me anew. So as I post these ideas for others, I am also writing them very much for myself.

More than being at PoCC, I look forward to showing up, fully and unapologetically me, and building that crucial community, one connection at a time.

 

If you’re at PoCC and you’d like to chat about blogging, or Physical Education, or teaching abroad or digital privacy/security/surveillance or any other topic under the sun, please come find me. I’ll be presenting a session of building and sustaining community with the fabulous Min Pai on Friday 11:15-12:15  Room 209A. You can also find me on Twitter, @edifiedlistener

image via Pixabay.com CC0

Returning American, Fresh Remote

I hold US citizenship and always have. I have also lived abroad for the majority of my adult years. When I enter the US anymore, it is as both citizen and visitor. This is both strange and normal at the same time.

I don’t consider myself much of a traveler. I like to go places and stay there; observe the people, try the foods and then come home again. I have been to some places often but not to tons of places. Even if I am resident in a country of my choosing, I remain a foreigner, an immigrant. Living in a foreign country is what I do. It’s a big part of who I am.

When I return to the United States I no longer return home which would be Cleveland, Ohio. No, I go where the people are: to see family in Georgia, to conferences where they are happening. And though Atlanta’s freeways have become familiar, I am always turning up in new places, never before visited. This is how Southern California feels for me this time: New, strange and yet roughly knowable.

I prefer paper maps to GPS, and I also make use of my phone’s maps when necessary. I prefer to read where I’m going, to make sense of the 2D representation of the road unfolding before me. To trace it with my finger. Like my mother used to say, I don’t get lost, I get ‘turned around.’ So I left LAX southbound in search of Disneyland’s Anaheim.

It shouldn’t have taken long but it took me longer. I drove along with false assumptions. Going south through LA on I-405 I was sure the appropriate signage would guide me towards the mecca I was seeking. It never appeared. No nudges towards the land of Disney. I was feeling my way, not entirely false, but also not accurately. No matter. I had time, no pressure (beyond a bit of sleep deprivation thanks to a 11hr long haul flight), and a kind Walgreens cashier provided just the right dose of corrective hints to set me back on track.

It seemed a little thing but her kindness reminded me that really the majority of people want to be helpful most of the time.

Freeways – they make a city navigable by steering you above, below and around it without actually touching it. They make it possible for someone like me who can read a map and maintain a reasonable sense of direction to find her way almost anywhere. Freeways adhere to patterns and those patterns repeat themselves over and over again in LA, in Denver, in Atlanta and Seattle.

The LA freeway signs apply to people who already know where they are going. “No time for losers, ’cause we are the champions…” comes to mind. I found my way to Anaheim anyway. And, for what it’s worth, off the freeway I appreciate how accommodating most major intersections are of U-turns. That means something.

In my hotel room, the remote control for the big flat screen TV is kept in a cloth sleeve which reads: fresh remote.

IMG_20171127_043205

I can think of no better metaphor for my recent arrival as a returning American: fresh remote.

Tired Teacher Confesses

Recently I threw out this question to my teaching team mate: How fit does a PE teacher need to be?

I’ve been wondering about this lately as I feel my own fitness levels sink to new lows. When the teaching day is done, physically for the most part, so am I. After a day of 5 or 7 discrete classes, lots of standing, some walking, skipping, jogging, jumping, and stretching or strengthening, I usually cannot wait to sit down, to stare into a screen, read to my heart’s content and comment too, if I want.

My desire to get outside and run up a hill or amble through the woods is gone. Carving out time for a yoga or Zumba session – honestly, I’d rather not. So much of my day consists of encouraging and facilitating movement, that once the spotlight is off and that is no longer my public charge, I am thinking about when and how I can finagle enough time to compose or simply linger with a text.

And I’m aging. I have more mini aches and pains than a decade ago. I feel like I’m in a constant state of never-fully-recovered. My body is functional and can do what appears to be ‘all the things’ but rarely without some slight discomfort in one spot or another. There’s plenty of things I can still do ‘at my age’ and a number of things I wisely try to avoid. My youngest students still believe in the miracle of universal proficiency – they fantasize that I can do everything and sometimes it’s nice to indulge them in that.

IMG_1088

Exhaustion is a natural teaching health hazard. I see that. To claim and actually articulate my own sense of exhaustion feels risky and not all that smart but no less necessary. I travel in circles where saying that I am tired may be dismissed, laughed off, or cut down to size by another’s suffering. I have learned the guiding lesson for perpetual teachers that perseverance at all costs is a virtue. Some might call it grit.

Today I want to call it BS and say, y’all, I’m tired.

I’m tired and I love the work I get to do with children. To do my best work, I’ll need rest and recovery and fellowship.

Heading into these precious free days I feel deeply grateful for truth and community. To be tired and still be loved, that is a coveted gift in this busy, bustling world.

 

image: (c) Spelic

That Time When It Didn’t Work Out

class-1986501_1920

I had an idea and shared it. The idea became a collaboration. The collaboration became a proposal. The proposal was accepted. The three of us rejoiced and shared the news in our networks. Friends congratulated us, offered us virtual pats on the back. We continued talking, refining our plan. We booked our travel and registered for the event. We were so excited to be sharing the stage, pooling our expertise, involving our audience, setting the world on fire, to be honest.

And then we got word. Not enough people signed up. Get more people and it can still run. We tried this, tried that. Reached out here, reached out there. It did not work. What we had was good but no match for the 14 other pre-conference offerings. We lost out to we don’t know exactly how many others. We only know that our gig is up; meaning cancelled. In the final program, erased, I guess.

That’s not what we planned. That’s not at all what we envisioned. But it is what happened. My colleague reminded me to not take it personally; to understand that big conferences operate this way to attract the maximum number of extra payers with minimal sacrifices. Our session was one such sacrifice, I guess. While I’m trying my best not to take it personally, that doesn’t make it easier to take.

Travel plans were cancelled. Now I will be a party of one instead of a member of the triumphant trio. At this conference we won’t be involving our audience or sharing the stage. We won’t be hearing the excellent keynotes together or wander from one lit reception to the next. No, it won’t be at all the way I had hoped. And I am just getting over that.

There’s no blame to lay. I feel like I was naive and lacked insight into the conference organization process. I’ll know for next time and think carefully about how to invest my energies into this event. Burned once and you learn, right? And to feel burned by an event I actually love and care for, that is especially bitter.

This is just to say

that not all the things I try

work out

the way I want them to

and I can grow to accept

that this is true for everyone

at some point

but it’s also true

that right now

it really just sucks.

 

 

The Whiteboard Speaks

In my classes I rely a lot on my whiteboard. I put up an agenda for each grade level. Maybe agenda isn’t quite the right word. It’s a list of what I have planned. It’s some words and sometimes a few numbers that lets kids know what they can/should do, what’s next and what comes after that. Even my very young students learn to recognize “Tag” or “Awesome Gym Day” pretty quickly.

I use the whiteboard plans for a few reasons:

  • My students feel informed.
  • Having a written plan keeps me on track. (Even if I change my mind about something, my students can call me to account.)
  • Both I and my students do better with a common structure as a reference point.
  • I can assign independent activities.
  • Written directions keep me from talking too much.

Today in 4th grade I had the following on the board:

Jog 2 laps

Long Jump rope warm-up (4 per rope)

Stations: 1. Balance beam, 2. Climbing wall, 3. Ball balance, 4. Cartwheels, 5. Bear walk/forward roll

That means students arrived from the changing room, read the board, jogged the 2 laps and then looked for a group to begin jumping. Later arrivals may have needed a reminder to read the board and to do the jogging first but easily found their way. Groups formed, long jump ropes were turning, kids were jumping and I had said very little. We were 15 minutes into our 40 minute class before I called them all in to talk a bit about jumping in the rope. I gave each group the assignment to see that each person in their group jump 10-15 jumps in the rope to get a sense of where we are. They completed that task, put orange tickets in if they completed the assigned number (or more) and we moved on to the stations.

I don’t think there’s anything revolutionary here but I experienced this lesson and others like it as a tremendous relief to have helped students (and myself) through a lesson where I didn’t need to talk that much. And even better I think my students appreciate it if I keep my whole-group word interventions down to a minimum. This system allows us both more mental bandwidth for action, observation and individual exchanges which typically feel much more rewarding and valuable.

I guess this is part of a longer process in my teaching journey – learning to turn matters over to my kids. Most often they get it. They have fantastic ideas, creative and unusual ideas and they need space and opportunities to test them out. When I remember to open up that space, the results speak for themselves.

We started basketball in 5th grade this week and after having kids arrive, do some dynamic flex drills and shooting on their own (for about 10-15 minutes) I called them in and asked them what they wanted to learn about, what they considered most important to cover in this unit. Of course they were on it! Shooting, ball handling, how to defend, lay ups, rules… Based on that I then suggested that we focus on one of their priorities first (i.e., lay ups) and then return to mine (chest passes) a little later.

Afterwards I realized that I simply don’t do this enough. And that led me to this tweet which sprang from a challenge to capture our pedagogy in a haiku:

I definitely do not have this teaching game figured out. And that’s also the fun part. Me talking less is a plus. It appears that making space for student input is never a mistake. Student independence in class is worth cultivating.

Odd to put the whiteboard out there as my go-to teaching resource. It’s not an app, doesn’t require a subscription or even electricity but for my purposes it works a charm.