Too Real

Tomorrow marks the return: Return to school schedules, to the fellowship of colleagues, to the routines we teachers use to prepare the path we will travel with our students.

I look forward to the mass reunion, to the hugs, smiles, waves and quick catch-up conversations that remind us of where we left off. I’m prepared for the variety of meetings, large and small, in which my colleagues and I question, clarify and plan our first steps into a new school year. I have participated in this ritual over twenty times – always with variations – but in its essence it remains a kind of constant. At this stage of my career, this offers a certain degree of comfort, a sense of orientation. I know where things are. I am familiar with how things begin and how they are likely to proceed. I am a veteran. I belong here.

On the other hand, …

I fear the crush of speed chatting, the sense of overwhelm in the face of sudden exposure to too many elements at once. I worry about not being able to respond adequately, that my smiles may run out; that I’ll freeze up and wish I could run away and start again on another day. I know there will be meetings with too much information and not enough time to digest it so that my questions 2 days later will seem like stupid ones. In those meetings I will either talk for too long or not at all and it will never feel like I said the right thing. I will go home drained and nervous because maybe, after all, I don’t belong here.

These are feelings. They are mine. They are real and they are all over the place; never static.

At the beginning of his keynote at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute, Chris Gilliard took some time to address a topic that had been on many participants’ minds during the week-long event. To a musical backdrop, he read a series of statements which were impactful and emotive even if you lacked the specific context they were generated to address. Particularly his first statement gives me pause.

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“being too real”

This is truly something to fear. And the more often I read the statement and listen to Chris speak it, the more deeply it reveals itself to me; where it fits in my story, how it relates to my yesterday, my now and my tomorrow.

“Being real” is something I can do quite well in my classroom with my kids. In the course of the school year my students will know me serious, silly, annoyed, patient, harried, calm, forgetful and attentive. They will see me perform miracles and manage epic fails. They will see all of my hairstyles and comment on them. They will ask me questions and figure out if I will respond with a question of my own, answer directly, tell them to ask a friend or just look at them and wait. By the end of the school year my students will have a strong sense of knowing me because I will have been real with them all along.

Being too real is more of an adult-adult conundrum. How I show up with and for my colleagues will have a lot of contextual dependencies. While I can and strive to be respectful and kind to everyone in our community, being real means that I can also be honest when things aren’t going so well, that I trust you enough to listen in a helpful way. Being real means that I can tell you what’s really on my mind with regard to a given topic and not fear your judgment. Being real means that I can tell you what it means to belong and not belong at the same time over decades in the same institution.

Yes, Chris, there are a lot of spaces in which I fear being too real. Overcoming that fear every day is my personal and professional development project for life. Thankfully I work with children who mirror that struggle in myriad ways and together we practice being real with each other day after day. Over time, they and I get better at it.

 

Games, Rules, Power and Play

While planning for my workshop Games, Rules, Power and Play, I stumbled upon many resources which I found helpful or entertaining or both.

Here’s a selection:

Deep Fun with Bernhard DeKoven

This site is a wonderful place for anyone interested in the lightness and wonder games can offer us. Besides offering a tremendous collection of all types of games for players of all ages, blog posts and articles provide encouragement and support in developing one’s capacity to engage in “deep fun.”  Really glad I found this!

In search of good word cloud creator I found this game site, ABCya!, aimed at elementary kids and was actually both delighted and challenged by some of the available games. Kid friendly interface. Yes, I would even share this with my own son. And the word cloud generator is awesome!

At Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Vancouver I introduced the workshop agenda in the following way:

  1. We are going to play some games.
  2. We are going to take time to raise questions and offer observations about what we experienced.
  3. We will play some more.
  4. We will pause to question and reflect.
  5. We will need to wrap up and this may be hard because we’ll just be hitting our stride and having so much fun but even that part will have a playful element to it.

Given that, here’s my request of you:

Please let go of whatever notions you have about what a workshop at an academic conference can or should look like.

Let yourself play. Let others play. Let’s play.

Have the experience rather than theorizing about having the experience.

And we played:

This is my nose

Blah, blah, blah – in which pairs practice talking and listening to each other at the same time, changing subjects on the signal and continuing their partner’s line of conversation.

We spent a bit of time looking at definitions of the word game and considered the question: What do games offer us – as individuals, in groups, within a culture?

Ed-Tech Hyperbole (Using the attached word grid, players tried 3 versions)

  1. On your own- Come up with as many ed tech slogans as you can. (2 minutes)
  2.  Versus a partner:  Try to form a hyperbolic sentence that uses as many terms as possible but still makes sense.  (competing) (90 sec. )
  3. With a partner: Create 3 great slogans together Or create your own 100 word list for a particular instance (cooperating) (3 min)

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Reflection points:

Which version of play appealed most? How did you experience yourself in each of the game settings?

On the topic of power I offered:

This workshop is really too brief to try to address the many ways in which power is enacted, formalized and expressed in games and their structures. Rules provide frameworks for distributing power and authority. Players engage and may apply rules in any number of ways – strictly, loosely, consistently, haphazardly. How these variations are managed offer a whole other field to observe power relations in effect.

My request to you is to keep your eyes and ears open for power dynamics in this workshop. What have you observed in yourself and others? How might games in the classroom offer opportunities to demonstrate and discuss power dynamics in the group and in general?

And as predicted time was running low and we needed to wrap up.

We finished with a stand-up round of non-verbal feedback. Participants were asked to share their impressions of and/or response to the workshop by either humming or giving a physical representation (gesture, pose, movement).  A lighthearted conclusion to a playful and reflective meeting of the minds.

As facilitator I enjoyed the privilege of working with participants who made my job look easy-peasy. I do believe that game environments have a great deal to offer and teach us in a variety of contexts. Hosting this workshop was my way of sharing some gentle reminders that joy, fun and laughter have a place in serious learning at all levels.

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Because Someone’s Listening

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The sign that’s not on my fridge but should be:

“Don’t go there.”

Of course, I go.

Damn social media. Damn me.

The time I spend in my own head is no longer solitary.

I can hear myself think (still)

but

my voice is tempered for your possible reception;

my words carefully tested for palatability

before they can be released.

And I keep writing, writing, writing

straight onto the screen, so few

filters between this thought

and what you might make of it.

 

But let me say this:

I have an Alice Walker T-shirt from the Writing Project and the quote says:

“Writing has saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”

And every day that I come to terms with concentrated power

in the (tiny) hands of a federal administration bent on

harm, revenge and unmitigated selfishness,

I thank God for writing saving me from the sin and inconvenience

of violence.

 

My moral outrage is but a drop in the bucket of

untold suffering among

too many.

Some of whom understand what is in the making and many more

who have no inkling that they will not be spared

the pain and humiliation

of being discarded, dismissed, and annulled.

 

I regret to inform you that

I have spent time reading the incomprehensible

transcripts of a figurehead

who struggles to express one thought

coherently.

 

I regret to inform you that

these elementary and primitive

patterns of speech

appeal to some,

to many, in fact.

The joke that was now lays like detrimental oil spill

over the gulf of what we thought

was a semi-functioning democracy.

 

The bill for the clean up will be paid

by our children and grandchildren

But the spill is ongoing,

widening its toxic reach

seeping and tumbling past each new measure

designed to contain it.

 

I can be angry about social media

about myself on social media

and I can write

because someone, somewhere

is listening.

and sometimes that is just enough

of what is needed.

 

 

Deciding to Race When I Thought I Was Done

I recently decided to enter some races on the track. A good friend encouraged me to try coming back to sprinting and I did. He’s 55+ and I’m 52. For our respective ages, we’re in pretty good shape. I hadn’t run a track race in about 15 years.

So yes, I reactivated my track club membership and signed up to run the 100m and 200m sprints in the Vienna Masters championships. Here are some of my observations from the experience:

  • When we say age is nothing but a number it’s true and it is also true that numbers can have meaning.
  • Running at 50 for me is very different from how I ran at the end of my competitive middle and long distance career at 36. My body doesn’t want to go too hard or too long. Recovery gets priority.
  • As an older athlete, enhancing performance = staving off and postponing decline. I won’t get faster, per se, so the trick is to avoid getting much slower.
  • I prepared for these races by aiming to do ‘just enough’ and not more.
  • Instead of running all the time I opted for inline skating or walking while adding some technique drills along the way.
  • It is a reality that I wake up stiff and my first steps out of bed are tentative and cautious. This is true whether I work out quite a lot or very little.
  • Arm flexibility and strength will likely be a greater factor in racing success than leg speed over the long haul.
  • My goal going into this was to race without getting injured and I almost made it.

     

     

     

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Hitchhiking or just ambivalent?

I don’t have any previous experience with this aging game; I’m just feeling my way. So far, so good. One of the highlights of participating this weekend was seeing folks (mostly men) much older, 70 – 80, running, jumping and throwing, too.  You see what’s possible and what the sport, the camaraderie can give a person.

Meanwhile, my spunky super athletic 9 year old proved to be a vocal and somewhat critical spectator. That said,  I don’t doubt that it made him proud to see his mom step up onto the top spot and receive a medal. According to him my start in the 200 wasn’t so great but then I was really fast in the curve but at the very end I looked like Voldemort, so yeah. Modeling takes many forms. Impression made.

On the first day I was nervous – like ‘had to go potty numerous times’ nervous. It was a strange throwback – to feel that physical expression of performance anxiety, before a ridiculous 100m race! And in the blocks I messed around with different settings which prompted the starter to give me a few tips. (Mind you, I have been teaching block starts to athletes for over 20 years.)  And then it was, “Auf die Plaetze, Fertig, *boom*.  Behold, I started just fine.

Gearing up for the 200 on Sunday I took a second to think of one of my most coachable athletes who has stellar starts. I was channeling “KL cool” stepping into the blocks and that gave me a little smile. It also reminded me how wonderful and fulfilling it can be to know something so well – this process, the commands, my response, the tension, the release – even after all these years it is still a mystery and an intimacy. That was a gift.

To sum up I want to borrow some words I read in the New York Times recently:

“…that was super-duper…that was very much more than normal…and do you know what else was nice? – It was limited. You know, it was two hours…It didn’t go a whole day. … You don’t want to leave but you have to … the whole thing, it was an incredible thing.”

It was all “an incredible thing” and probably worth attempting again. I learned that I enjoy the tension of competing. I can be “in it to win it” but winning is broadly defined: finishing, staying healthy, following through.

If this is what I’m saying at 50+, I can only wonder what my next decades may bring.

If I’m lucky, more of this.  (Humblebrag, I made my very first GIF!)

 

image: (c) Me, my, mine. Thanks.

The Archive Project

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I was looking for some information in my archives. I’ve written and kept a lot: Workshop descriptions and agendas, decades of report card comments, professional letters, application essays, you name it. In the process I have come across some documents that remind me of what’s important still. Here are a couple of brief examples.

This is from a workshop introduction I did in 2014. The topic is trust.

 If the members of a large organization are surveyed, among the most common wishes expressed are those for better communication and greater trust. Not surprisingly these two aspects go hand in hand.  As members of an organization and community, we seek belonging and purpose. We join forces, bundle our resources, commit our energies, share our results and take pride in our accomplishments.  When our channels of communication are clogged, crossed or even haywire, we suffer.  Our contributions may be squandered, go unnoticed, never reach fruition.  What is our response? We doubt our leaders, withhold our best efforts and bemoan our organizational dysfunction.  In short, we lose trust in the very organization and community which we sought support and improve.

So often we wait for our organizations to finally change. We find new leaders. We restructure our staff. We announce sweeping reforms and initiate widespread training initiatives. And once again, the critical ingredient of trust remains outside these bargains, and the desired change almost never takes hold.

I also found this gem in a letter about professional development to an author educator, not sure that I even sent the letter, though.

The more I think of it, the more convinced I become that we only improve our educational offerings at the rate at which we improve ourselves by becoming students – struggling students, in fact. We need to spend more time not just attending PD, we need to be creating, reinventing, challenging the very notion of PD. Frankly, I’m tired of sit and (for)get. I’m in for get up, get busy and take charge of your own experience. That’s the direction we need to be moving as educators and our kids are already paving the way a million times over.

What sorts of treasures are in your archive? Just because it wasn’t written or created last week or last year doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Think about this with me. Dive into your archives and find out who you were, what you prioritized, how you’ve grown. Share out on your blog, in a reply, on Twitter or anywhere else. I wanted to give this idea a more formal kick-off because it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while. This will have to suffice for now. It probably needs a hashtag. Maybe #ArchiveProject?

The hard part

Planning is something I do with varying degrees of success.

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I’m scheduled to race on the track at the weekend. I have planned and prepared. My goal is to run fast and not get hurt.

As a fellow at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Vancouver next week I have the honor of being able to give a workshop. I am planning and preparing. My goal is to provoke some fresh thinking about games and what they can be good for. It is also my goal to not waste anyone’s time.

At my school I serve as the new teacher liaison. Because we’re an international school, new teachers are not simply taking a position in a new school. For most it means adapting to a new country, a new apartment, and a new language on top of a new job. My assistant and I meet people upon arrival, help them settle into their apartments and run administrative and shopping errands with them. It’s a wonderful way to get to know new colleagues and it requires some planning and preparation on our part. My goal is to make life a little bit easier for folks coming in and to not lose track of the rest of my life at the same time.

I have experience in all of these things. I have run plenty of track races before. I have successfully designed and delivered workshops before. I have welcomed cohorts of new colleagues to Vienna before. But planning and preparation offer no guarantees. The outcomes are probable in most cases but not entirely predictable. Stuff can come up: Delays, missed appointments, illness, sudden brain freeze… And my job is to work with and around those hiccups and glitches.

The point of writing all this… is to say that I am nervous and watchful and also distracted and temporarily overwhelmed. And maybe that’s the hard part. Being in this space of having planned and prepared but staying flexible enough to accommodate the unanticipated and still leave space for wonder, beauty and serendipity.

Tall order. Top delivery.

The hard part is right there in the middle. Must be where I am about now.

 

image via Pixabay.com CC0

 

A ‘What’ or A ‘Who’ Struggle?

Struggle.

I have used that word quite a bit as an educator, as a parent, as a committee member – most often to describe other people’s experiences. I’ve probably even written about what struggle can be good for, how it can shape and grow us. I believe all that. I don’t always enjoy it so much when it’s my turn, however.

Currently I’m struggling with focus – having it, maintaining it, holding it steady. Confidence is another area that’s feeling a little wobbly these days. Not yet crisis worthy, but also not A-OK. There’s more than one struggle going on.

While I was away on vacation last week I felt an expanse of the imagination. I got curious about the mountains I have always driven past, around and sometimes over. Once you travel an hour south or two hours west of Vienna, foothills show up. Add on another hour in either of those directions and you are in Sound-Of-Music style Alps. I have known this set-up for a very long time. But I’m not really a hiker or camper or skier, for that matter.

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Look at those spaces! Feast your eyes!

This trip I made it a priority to investigate the surrounding hills. To get up a few more hundred meters and see what I could see. I was amazed, delighted and humbled by the intricacies of the journey, the variety of the landscapes, the views from below and above. All of it was there all along but I had not yet felt the need, or the calling to find out what these spaces held for me.

Even if I have lived in this Alpine country for the majority of my adult years, I never forget that I’m that skinny black girl who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.  I speak the language here, at times well enough to be mistaken for a native (by a non-native, mostly) and yet …

When I walk in these familiar unfamiliar places it’s as if I’m walking beside myself – not just looking, but gawking shamelessly – with an expression that says: “How on earth did you get here?” And the question is really about How and even if I deserve to be here – under whose auspices do I deign to claim these spaces as part of my story, of my becoming?

But I hiked up the mountain and experienced the spectacular view. And I’ll do it again because I can and because it was a missing piece and I didn’t know.  The struggle was never about the ability to climb. It was instead about me deciding to become and be the hiker; she who hikes up and down the mountain. Not an ability question, an identity question. In fact, an identity doubt.

Those mountains calling, the lake singing, expanding my imagination. And for a moment I had a bubbling wealth of creative ideas. I had new projects I wanted to explore and consider. I put out feelers for help and got some great responses. The fire was hot! The engine was running!

I’m back home now and hunched at my laptop producing very meager results if any. I came down from the mountain, left the expanse of the open water behind me. My brilliant ideas began to shrink and acquire dust at an alarming rate. Focus has felt hard to muster. Any sense of flow seems wildly distant. Struggle. It’s clearly my turn.

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On our last day I also did this: Stand-up paddling. You have to really zoom in to find me. I didn’t just do it, I loved it! I learned it by watching others, most notably my extremely confident 9 y-o.

That’s what I need to remember: I succeeded by trying. I endeavored without knowing the exact outcome to follow. Seeing, trying, testing, going ahead, succeeding. Sounds like a process. Sounds like a learning process.

So back to my struggle; it’s mine to hack. I’ve got some strategies and a little slack to work with now. Hiker, paddler, doer – I am the learner from Cleveland, here to slay.