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.

Dear User/Supplier,



We are pleased to inform you that your contributions to the greatest research effort ever on the confluence of human and machine learning into a single all-powerful source of knowledge, wisdom and capitalist domination are of the utmost importance and always welcome!

Making the world a better place for all is a massive undertaking and we would be nowhere without the generous efforts of you, your family members, colleagues, friends, business partners, classmates, pets, auto mechanics, health care professionals, insurers and personal assistants (Hey, Alexa! Hi, Siri!) to stay connected, to share and spread the wealth of your lives with our systems and in our spaces. Every day you empower us to dig deeper into understanding much more than just purchasing patterns and streams of demand; you help us comprehend the complexity of human desire; the content of long and short range bucket lists. Because of you and your unfettered thirst for more choices, better selections and unlimited access, we are able to tell you more and more about

  • who you are
  • what you need
  • where you can get it
  • why you deserve it
  • and why anyone who would counter that can climb under a rock, no love lost!

As purveyors of this bright new future, we value every click, keystroke and swipe you make. These seemingly simple actions help us to unlock the secrets to true human understanding and the consolidated wealth of a steadily shrinking class of digital overlords and provide us with the fuel we need to build the bridges of enlightenment for all and for much less than we ever thought it would cost! Your participation is vital and essential and we want to make sure you know how grateful we are.

You are the future we’re building for.* We see you.

Ever in your service,

Tech’s Top DOGS (Digital Overlords Governing Surveillance) 2017


*Some restrictions may apply. Full benefits in limited supply. First come, first served. May the better man win (literally). It’s a dog eat dog world. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Survival of the fittest, baby.  Smile pretty, we got you covered.



That Time Lightning Struck


plus this:

Now that I have watched this video 4 times and have found myself weeping, I need to share a few thoughts:

Art can do this for us: go deep, unlock the floodgates of emotions and remind us that we are not here by accident.

This song has always touched me. I was about the singer’s age (15) when it came out. I never saw Dreamgirls live but I sure knew that song.

Tressie’s tweet was my alert. And #BlackGirlMagic means more to me than I usually say. As Sarah Ikumu begins singing I find myself taken aback, pulled deep into my feelings. There’s a connection to the tone, the richness of her voice, the tradition of singers and singing she is bringing to life with such piercing confidence.
Her facial expressions tell you she knows exactly who she is when she is singing. There is no doubt, no reservation, no hesitation. She is a woman who knows her greatness, full stop.

I don’t need to see the audience’s response to know how I feel during these precious 5 minutes. Watching Sarah and her command of the stage are mesmerizing. She holds me and does not let go until the very last exhale of that song. My tears and heart swelling are the only natural responses.

For me this performance has everything to do with belief and being our full selves. Because Sarah does this so forcefully, she invites me to do the same: believe – and be my full self. To believe and be great. To believe and floor the audience. To believe and know that #BlackGirlMagic stands for me too, at 5 at 15, at 50.

Thank you, Sarah Ikumu, for sharing your particular magic and rekindling mine.

Looking for help and all I get is the market

I was up at night recently with a itchy and inflamed eye. I wasn’t sure if this was a stay-at-home kind of illness but I thought it might be good to have a medical professional look at it. I have insurance so I didn’t have to wonder about whether I could afford to seek help or not.

Since it was an eye thing, my husband suggested looking up an ophthalmologist he had visited before who had a practice fairly close by. Enter Google. I looked up “Augenarzt 1190”  which means eye doctors in my district in Vienna. Sure enough I got a list of practicing doctors in my district that looked like this:

Screenshot (32)


Great. I find some names, some addresses and one whose actual office hours are listed. In several cases, one click leads me to a further platform which should supposedly help me narrow down my choices, like this:

Screenshot (31)

Yes, I get names, addresses and phone numbers and reviews. I’m not as concerned with someone’s opinion as I am with location and time. And there are several of these types of platforms: docfinder, Arztsuche24, or netdoktor. They represent the marketplace more than real access to critical help.

So my eye is itching like crazy, I’m deciding if I can/should/will go to school and/or see a doctor about it and I’m having a difficult time finding all the information that I need in one place to make some useful decisions.

The information I really need is: the doctor’s location, if she or he is available right now, and what kind of insurance he or she accepts. Google and these other platforms say they want to help me but they don’t particularly care about my itchy eye. Instead their emphasis is on presenting me with options for which others have paid to get to my eyes  first (itchy or not).

After my initial bout of searching, I huffed into the kitchen frustrated at how much effort the whole thing required, still without a significant lead beyond learning that my general practitioner would have office hours in the afternoon.

Thankfully, I remembered an alternative. Old school, but ultimately more effective in this situation: the white pages. In the Austrian edition, the physicians’ pages are marked with red edges. If there are large numbers (i.e., general physicians, they often group doctors by district which is particularly helpful. Also included in the listings are office hours and insurance acceptance. Essentially, everything I really need.


Ultimately I solved the situation differently, making use of privileged connections which did not immediately occur to me. Our school nurse maintains a list of English speaking physicians for our international community. From that selection I decided to call a general practitioner who has long standing connection to the school. I described my situation, she volunteered to call in a prescription to the pharmacy which lay directly on my way to school. It all worked perfectly. I got the medicine, I worked all day without incident. My eye is almost all better.

What was striking for me though in this whole scenario was recognizing how the monetization of search may not be helping us in the ways we think it can and should. Yes, we seem to be getting a lot of information for free. But is it the information we need, offered in the way that is most beneficial? In my situation, definitely not. Rather I had a surplus of information but not the critical signposts and filters to collate that information usefully.

The market needs consumers, not people in crisis or difficulty or lacking literacy. My itchy eye was not interested in shopping but Google and its business model assumes that shopping is our primary (if not only) objective.

That is a fundamental problem. Especially when we need help and not markets.

Coach Spelic


a slice of my coaching heaven (Zug, Switzerland)

One of the privileges of my professional life has been to serve as a coach to our school’s track and field teams. I started coaching at the school in 1992. 25 years ago.

I have taught at the school for 21 years.

I have been a parent for 23 years.

If I add on my first 2 years of teaching and coaching at a small private school in the Washington, DC area – then I have 27 years of coaching track under my belt.

I love the sport. I love my athletes but I am not the best track coach in the world. I provide guidance. I offer feedback. I model my expectations. And there are certainly better skilled, more knowledgeable and focused coaches than I. But coaching is my thing.

Coaching is where I develop relationships with students which go beyond instructing and assessing the results. We laugh, sweat and struggle together. I ask them about their lives in progress, how they are feeling and what they are feeling. And often they tell me.

Sometimes they ask me about myself, about my running history: which events I ran, what my best times were, which distances I liked most. Recently one of them discovered my Twitter profile. They asked me: How come you have so many followers? Through my writing, I told them.

When my athletes ask me about school records and past highlights, my memory is remarkably thin, especially when it comes to hard data. I almost never remember times or distances, but I do remember the people. I remember so many stories of athletes and our conversations. Of finding one athlete’s ‘just right’ event at the final tournament of her senior year. Of the boys 4×400 relay that ended with a remarkable swan dive and made me weep in the stands. Of the Spanish teacher’s son who’s poetry of jumping was almost too beautiful for the competition in which he was entered. Of the skinny sprinter girl who went on to attend my alma mater, run track all 4 years there, become an outstanding geophysicist and who is now a high school teacher who coaches teams of her own.

This sport has given me so much. It is what I know. To coach young athletes is one of the single greatest privileges of my professional life. This is the passion that found me long ago; the gift that keeps on giving.


Timely, Relevant Feedback

Today I had a second grade student give me some honest feedback at the end of class.

“Mrs. Spelic,” she said, “I feel like you don’t respect us when we do good. Even if we do everything we’re supposed to, you do this,” she covers her eyes and lowers her head, imitating me to a T.

I looked her in the eye and said, “You know what? You’re right and I’m sorry.”

At least that, at least I was able to admit my shortcoming and let her know that I understood what she was telling me. But as I went through the rest of the day, her words and the sentiment lingered. I definitely see her point. I clearly don’t give enough credit where and when it is due in that class. Rather, I let the three or four mega attention-seekers steal the show, time and time again.


I also wish I were this beautiful while thinking about my students and their needs.

Every lesson I wish it were different. I wish I was different.

And yet, empirically speaking, it is certainly not every lesson that feels like a management parkour rather than a well planned set of learning experiences. There are certainly days, classes and moments where we accomplish all we set out to do and end the period with smiles on our faces and they leave with an Awesome Gym Day Award in hand. That happens, too. Sometimes. Not frequently but sometimes.

And in the student’s feedback there’s a very clear way forward.  She told me what I need to do differently. She’s been in school long enough to know what works for her and has learned how to ask for precisely that. Quite an accomplishment in and of itself, actually. So if I have any claims on being a growing, learning professional, I will heed her advice and get on task with acknowledging students ‘doing good’ and stop overemphasizing the negative.

The first step is listening. The next is making a tangible change. If I succeed (or if I don’t), I am certain that relevant feedback will not be far behind.


image via Pixabay.com

Move.Learn.Live. Day 3 Storytelling

Sore, stiff and slow moving is how I woke up on day 3 of the ECIS PE conference. All of those things yet even more keen to go back for more action, connection and greedy learning.

As a practice, I selected my workshops in the morning and stuck to my choices throughout the day. This simplified matters when I got into a good break time conversation and felt tempted to waver. My check marks in the margins provided the necessary commitment reminder.

A well designed conference program offers participants enough choices of sessions but not too many; a thoughtful mix of topics in each time slot and useful descriptions which facilitate and ease the decision-making process. In this case, I felt very well served by my hard copy program which I could pull out and refer to quickly. Each time slot usually had 4-5 sessions on offer and while I didn’t get to all the workshops I might have enjoyed, I finished each day without regrets.

My day 3 choices were decidedly less physically risky (like ice hockey on day 1) or cardiovascularly challenging (Scottish folk dance on day 2). I opted for a session of team volleyball drills, followed by a gentle intro to mindfulness for PE teachers and finished up the day with myofascial release techniques.

Serious conference swag.

On this last day, I clearly felt more grounded and comfortable. I knew a few more names, fell into conversation more naturally and approached a couple of people I hadn’t spoken to yet but was curious to meet. Here’s why I think this matters: belonging doesn’t just happen. It’s a process. During my time at this conference, my sense of belonging – to this particular group of professionals, to this specific field of practice, to my various identity subgroups (gender, nationality, school affiliation, country of residence) – needed time and context to grow. And that happened largely through storytelling: where I’m from, where I work and for how long, which levels I teach, how I came to live in Vienna, which colleagues we know in common, what I learned in the last session and what I hope to gain from the next. These are the stories I told and exchanged with my colleagues over these three days. Bit by bit we arrived at varying degrees of familiarity.

I suppose this is what professional conferences give us: a temporary container and context for our individual and combined stories about ourselves, our interests, and our discipline.

All of the workshops were conducted in English. I left thinking about how many of the presenters instructed, encouraged, corrected and motivated us in a language which is not their mother tongue. Hats off to them for not only providing excellent material but also modeling the bravery and enthusiasm we hope to cultivate in our students and in ourselves.

One idea that came up in more than one keynote was to flourish; thinking about what this may mean for us throughout our lifespan. It’s hard not find the word, the very notion, attractive. Who doesn’t want to flourish? In our field I see multiple opportunities for us to investigate what that may look like for our remarkable students. I also see roadblocks which lead us away from pursuing such a lofty ideal with and alongside our students. I’m grateful for the outside impetus to follow this line of thinking beyond the conference structure.

Trying to capture, safely store and retain so much learning from any conference is a challenging task. Writing this blog post and its two predecessors help me in that process. Through writing I tell a new story. I remind myself that I was a part of the story, that I helped it grow and breathe while it was happening. 

When I return to my students and we chat about spring break, I can’t wait to hear which stories they will share about what they tried and learned. When they ask me, I can’t wait to show them how much fun I had learning to be a better physical education storyteller.