Look busy

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I am harried.

I run through the halls then walk right back,

a line of semi-boisterous children in tow.

Let’s go, I tell them.

We’re losing our PE time.

 

We always make it to our destination

sooner or later.

 

I am frazzled

because the tech won’t work

the way I need it to

right this moment.

I am in a hurry and

have no time for this nonsense,

GoogleYoutubeAppleTVLogin.

Why won’t this work??

 

And I am blind to the simplest solution:

to press home, pull up the bottom menu

Mirror air-play go

All there.

It’s fine

but I am not.

 

Because I had to ask a stupid question

to get a simple answer

and felt silly and helpless and dependent

and I hated that part.

But the tech works now

so there’s that.

 

In my other cognitive life

the writing that remains undone

keeps poking me at night

annoyed that so little of what appeared to be

so much

has materialized on a page of some sort.

There are plans and ideas and publications

all lying fallow

while I sweep, drag or push myself forward

and back and over.

 

At some point I fall asleep and pass on the dream option.

 

As I rush to and fro

from one engagement to the next

My attention remains divided

and scattered yet functional enough

to manage a day to day

that suggests logic and planning

of one kind or another.

 

While I hold up this appearance

I talk to students,

chat with colleagues,

return calls.

I look busy.

 

I’m pretty good

at looking busy.

 

I could be better

at doing less

at slowing down

at breathing deeply

at being human.

 

Seems

worth

a

try.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Guest Post On Charleena Lyles

In a recent family correspondence, my Uncle, Dr. Thaddeus Spratlen, a long time Seattle resident, shared his thoughts on the recent killing of Charleena Lyles by police in her home in front of her children. He kindly gave me permission to post his letter here.

 By now you probably have seen some reference to last Sunday’s police shooting here in Seattle of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year old, pregnant and mentally ill African American, mother of four children.   Two White officers were responding to a reported theft of an X-box and jewelry at a public housing complex for previously homeless people. There had been previous calls from the victim regarding burglary or other disturbances that resulted in two officers being assigned to respond to the call for help.  On previous occasions the victim had been armed with some sharp shears. On Sunday she was holding two knives.  In the verbal exchange between the officers and Charleena, she mixed phrases that were incoherent with others that reflected the need for help. It has been suggested that she was experiencing hallucinations.  Details on why the interactions became life-threatening and violent are not clear.  But one of the officers shot and killed Charleena when she apparently was moving toward them and would not drop the knives.  Voice interactions are not clear as to whether any of her other behavior was physically menacing to the officers.

 

Why guns and deadly force in a situation that did not appear to be life-threatening to the officers?  As the law requires there is a Police Department investigation underway.  Tragically, there have been no convictions in the 13 or so nationally-reported cases in which police officers have been charged with wrongful death.  Charleena’s death is likely to be another one in which police who kill are exonerated.  It has just been revealed that cameras outside her fourth floor apartment recorded no entry or activity during the time when she was away from her apartment shopping before she called for  help.  The officers were not wearing body cameras.  So except for the voice recordings we are left with the officers account of  what happened.

 

This is likely to be a worse case than the deadly encounter between St. Paul, MN police and Philando Castile.  Recently, his killer, Jeronimo Yanez, was found innocent of second degree manslaughter.  In this instance a standard of “culpable negligence” was the threshold for conviction. In video footage it seems clear that the officer was negligent and created avoidable risks.  They did not require the victim or other occupants to get out of the car.  There seemed to be negligent disregard for the a child and Philando’s girl friend who were in the car.  The officer fired several shots into the car. Philando was shot three or four times.  Miraculously neither the child nor Philando’s girl friend were hurt. This trauma and tragedy started with a stop because of a broken tail light on the car that Philando was driving.

 

In the case of Charleena, the responding officers did not have tasers with them (despite having information from previous responses at this address).  So far it has not been indicated why they did not use pepper spray or their batons. Also, it is not clear how far away Charleena was from the officers when she started moving towards them.  According to Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large, the likely standard for conviction for the killing of Charleena would be “evil intent.” And so it goes for one more tragic tale of White police officers panicking in the face of carrying out their responsibilities of providing protection or help from crime.  The police officer ended up being  a killer instead of protector. Grim statistics also reported by Jerry Large were that for 2017 there are almost three police killings per day in the United States! As he put it, Charleena was the 451st person killed by police in the United States during the first 169 days of 2017.  That should be a national disgrace for violence against people that police are being paid to help and protect.

 

Sadly, Philando, Charleena and thousands of other victims of police killings could not stay out of the way of the police. Back to my starting point, the nation must find more humane and effective ways of dealing with mentally ill people and the use of deadly force by police.  This is another instance in which we lead the world in infamy.

Thaddeus Spratlen, Seattle, WA

What We Want and Don’t Want (at the same time, in the same breath)

An older brother shows his younger brother how to get out of his crib.

Watch this:

On the one hand, as a parent helping your children to be kind and loving to each other is something you strive for.  On the other hand, the expectation that the small child you put into the crib will stay there is always a kind of hope against hope until experience teaches you better. We want our children to love and help each other. We don’t necessarily want them to organize their own liberation quite so seamlessly (at that age).

My 9 year old is starting out in competitive sports. He’s ambitious, confident and keen to work at getting better. He also does not like losing. It’s a process. He will learn. The more he competes, the more he will know and understand about not winning. At this point, he certainly wants to compete. And he also does not want to lose (currently defined as not medalling).

I’m currently on summer vacation. I have whole days to myself to go and do pretty much as I please. I’m spending a lot of time at home. In front of my computer. On certain social media sites. Yes, I’m reading and writing and thinking and conversing. But I am also feeling somewhat lethargic and slow to attend to things that would benefit others in particular. I want and treasure this free time and space. I also don’t want to feel after the fact that I wasted it.

We want and don’t want. Want and don’t want. Want and don’t want. Literally, can’t get no satisfaction.

Irony: I’m a trained life coach. I know there are strategies, pathways, questions that lead out of this seeming conundrum. Yet my very human interest is fixed on the dilemma, the itch, the irritation. Surprise, no surprise – those feelings can be the most challenging to let go of.

I want to feel productive, useful, helpful.

Stop. I’m leaving out the second part.

I’ll do what I do and let it be what it is. Without guilt, without reproach.

A challenge, yes. And doable.

I want to enjoy the time I have and …

leave it at that.

Takes practice but I’m going to get better. Just watch.