Five Days in Cairo

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I’ve spent five days in Cairo and I feel nearly speechless
Because I am so full of emotion,
So amazed at my experience,
So humbled by ALL OF IT.

Yes I visited the Pyramids and the Sphinx,
Toured the museum of Egyptian History,
Rode on a camel’s hump
Without tumbling off.

But the joy of seeing the people
I call friends
Is unmatched.
To hug them directly,
To look in their eyes,
To ask all the funny questions,
To share the relief that
No, we were not mistaken:

The care is real,
The warmth is genuine,
The trust is grounded,
The love is what we thought it could be.
Yes.
Yes, it is.

With love and gratitude to Maha and Paul.

Inclusion again

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I’m thinking about inclusion again. Now that diversity has been shunted as the desirable term to describe the aspiration of drawing people together who reflect the variety of identities and backgrounds which more closely represent society at large, some (myself included) have said what we really need, seek and should be working towards is inclusion. Opening doors, offering invitations, seats at tables, a mic on the stage, a space on the panel –  centering those in prominent public forums from whom we have traditionally, historically heard less. OK, I can get with that.

I read a post in response to the #EngageMOOC: Engagement in a Time of Polarization which is happening for two weeks now in the middle of February.  Kay Oddone argues that we can in our own small and sometimes larger circles, insure that marginalized folks who are at the table experience true inclusion, rather than serving as placeholders for someone’s good intentions.

The rest of the above quote speaks even more to me and my experience: ” …comfortable enough to join in with the conversation that is happening at that table. And knowing, when the talking stops, and the faces turn expectedly, how to share one’s opinion in a way that makes it able to be heard.” (emphasis mine) Those expectant faces, yes. How they turn to you as the one brown face in the room (or the only queer, native, or poor person), hoping that you will grant them both grace and an easy way out of whatever discomfort may have arisen in the conversation.

Putting it succinctly:

Allow me to broadly generalize: It happens all the time.

Kay Oddone’s post reminded me of what is at stake for marginalized folks who come to the table:

We have the power to counter the ticked box form of diversity, we can and need to practice real inclusion wherever we are. For us as educators, we can begin by incorporating more student voice and choice into our practices. We can listen to our young people when they tell us what is working for them and what’s not. We don’t give them voice; we learn to ask and listen and act on what we learn as a result. That’s what inclusion looks like. It’s responsive, open, ready to learn.

We tend to think of engagement in terms of output, as external actions that are readily observable, measurable even in some cases: speeches, reports, demonstrations, coursework. I want us to also recognize the power of staying quiet when someone else finally finds the courage to speak; for stepping aside when a leadership post comes open and nominating the better candidate who might easily be overlooked. Those are forms of behind-the-scenes engagement we need more of.

Maha Bali writes compellingly about the dilemma of reproducing marginalization even in our attempts to be inclusive:

In open online spaces, opening doors is not enough.

In open online spaces, an open door means easy exit just as it means easy entry.

In open online spaces, we are not there on equal footing.

In open online spaces, we are not equally fragile.

It is everyone’s responsibility to listen and care and support marginal voices. Whether or not they wish to speak. Whether or not they wish to be present. Whether or not they like what we do.

It is everyone’s responsibility to recognize their own privilege and to use it with purpose.

I know, I know, we’re working on it. Sometimes it pays off to think small. Think next door, down the hall, at the next meeting. Act large in small spaces. Notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Practice not knowing and being curious. Be kind. Welcome warmly and mean it.

We can do all those things and still run a meeting on schedule. Let’s try. It’s worth the effort.

image via Pixabay.com CC0

Unfinished Business

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image CC0

You are not waiting for this post.

We’re only at the beginning and it’s not sure what it’s going to become. It’s a post. Words on a screen without a predetermined destination. There’s no requirement. No protocol. Rather, there’s a likelihood, a probability that something will emerge.

Sounds like a weather forecast.

My inbox is full of notices I will never read or even register. Announcements galore about products and publications, organizational milestones and upcoming events. They pile up under my radar and still I pay them no mind. They become a form of digital weeds that do no further harm than take up space.

At the same time, I still have a reasonable command of my attentional resources. I am capable of focus. I can read some articles from beginning to end. I can comment in ways that can help others make a decision “to click or not to click” in service to their specific interests. I try hard to respond to messages that matter.

Remember Dr. Seuss’s  Cat in the Hat and the way he begins showing off all the things he can do simultaneously? “‘…that is not all I can do,’ said the cat…” Of course he continues to add objects and feats to his performance until it all comes crashing down around him.

But the Cat in the Hat recovers. Quickly.

I feel a bit like the Cat in the Hat during his “Look at me” moment, scrolling through Twitter, “liking” this, retweeting that, heaping more think pieces onto my already massive stockpile – and (consciously or unconsciously) expecting it all to come crashing down sooner or later.

On the one hand, I experience the ego rush you get from multiple (almost exclusively positive and/or constructive) interactions, you know, feeling needed, wanted, and valued. On the other hand, I seem to be satisfying an internal ego drive to show myself what I can do – look at how I read that, see the way that ties into what I wrote last week? I’m active, engaged, contributing, consuming and producing – all the things. Both without and within – I look busy.

No crash so far. But certainly pressure points. Or pockets of depletion. Or a mixture of both depending on the day.

All this to say: You are not waiting for this post. Yet here it is. If I had the energy I would share some morsels from my bulging stockpile of resources, and recommend writing of the most extraordinary kind. But sleep is more important and you’ll be fine without more to ponder.

 

We can take breaks. We can put on the brakes. We can slow down. Do less. Wait. Stop. Breathe. Recover. Decide not to play the Cat in the Hat. For once, maybe we’ll listen to the Fish in the Pot who is really just trying to keep us all out of trouble. (Disclaimer: I identify deeply with the Fish in the Pot and always have.)

This is the end. I’m glad you weren’t waiting for this post. You have other things to do.

Team Time

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It’s Monday afternoon. My team colleague and I have some time off together. Our desks adjoin in the arms of a L-shape. Down time, catch-up time, chatting time. We talk about some upcoming scheduling for an event we’re hosting. That reminds me of what I wanted to ask him about single balances in 3rd grade.

“Have you already assessed 3rd grade in single balances?” I venture.

Of course, he has.  – Here comes the good part: he explains how he did it and when I ask if he has some videos we could look at together, he pulls up a couple. We look at them together. We discuss the finer and weaker points and discover that we are pretty much in agreement about what constitutes a 3 or a 4 (on a 4 point scale).  He tells me how he used video to share with the kids to help them see where they might improve and what a difference it made to how they were able to perform and also enjoy their improvement.

Great! Now I feel all ready to tackle this bit with my groups.

Then I ask him for the dance video he was using in class the other day. We find it and look at a bit together and talk about why this worked so well (simple, easy to imitate steps, goes on for quite a while). I describe the options I’ve found and used on Go Noodle. He mentions a break dance tutorial he watched that was pretty cool. We have a look. And before you know it, we’re both on our feet practicing this basic six step, side by side.

Laughing, I leave the office to grab a hot chocolate before my last class.

Think about it: in my break time I had

  • an assessment consultation with my teaching partner,
  • a teaching resource exchange,
  • content-specific professional development, and
  • an end of the day energy boost.

We often talk about teaching as a lonely endeavor which it certainly can be. My greatest fortune has been sharing the load and the love of the work with four excellent partners throughout my 20+ year career. They have supported and challenged me, generously shared their expertise and welcomed mine, cared about kids beyond measure and always made space for fun.

While I am in my classroom with kids, yes, I am usually the only adult. And having team members who’ve got my back, who will share in my struggles and celebrations means I am bringing more than just myself to the party. I rely on and use the resources we’ve culled and created. We take each others’ ideas and build on them.

This is how teaching becomes sustainable. This is how we become better teachers.

 

 

Storytelling Thoughts

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News flash: Storytelling has been co-opted by your nearest marketing department. In several circles it has become the heavy lifting arm of branding responsible for all the necessary work of attracting audience, fostering loyalty and reaching users/customers/stakeholders on that crucial emotional level. Companies develop stories in order to connect with their target groups. Schools and school districts have begun to position their stories among legislatures and policy makers as a means of advocating for programs and funding.

But there is of course more, much more to storytelling than its business potential in a variety of markets. And the rise of social media and digital communication platforms seems to have complicated our understanding and also processing of stories for business, for community, for individual relief or any combination of those possibilities. As humans we are made of stories, regardless of whether we tell them to others or not.

On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mia Steinberg took to Twitter to share some vital thoughts about distinguishing storytelling from testimony.

What struck me about this absolutely instructional thread was how it nudged me to think about how stories work in my own life and whom they serve at any given time. It also made me think about which stories are mine to tell and which ones may not be.

I don’t see myself as much of a storyteller. I enjoy commenting on my observations and drawing connections between other people’s stories. In particular I appreciate the way others use stories to tell us more about ourselves.

My 10 year old and I just finished our read-aloud of RJ Palacio’s Wonder. He loved it! “That’s my favorite book so far,” he said. It surprised him because as he pointed out, “It’s really just about a kid who’s deformed and going to school, but he’s really just a normal kid.” That he found himself teary at the tough parts and jumping out off the sofa to do a victory dance at the happy parts was new for him. After 6 books of Harry Potter and 3 of The Land of Stories, Wonder was the one that took him for a ride he never expected.

My friend, Bill Fitzgerald offered a link to a story that I stopped to read right away and I was captivated. Jaice Singer DuMars describes his difficult childhood that didn’t start off that way and a recovery in high school that allowed him to emerge on the other side of his experiences as a thoughtful, reflective adult. His essay “I am an impostor” tells several stories to convey a message of remarkable humanity and kindness:

I share my story because in my work supporting open source community, I see many people hiding in the shadows of their fear just as I did. They do not want to step into the light because they are afraid they don’t have what it takes, or are not good enough

When our open source communities focus on technical meritocracy, we are inadvertently creating an environment that promotes exclusion. All of the amazing talents, ideas, and gifts people have to share must find a home, or we are limiting the potential of what we can collectively accomplish.

DuMars uses his own story to build bridges especially to those in the open source community who may know those feelings and circumstances of inadequacy that hold us back from attempting the possible.

Meanwhile, as we hook ourselves up to the steady drip of social media updates, I can imagine that our individual appetites for stories, perhaps even our story metabolisms are undergoing changes which are challenging to recognize, difficult to diagnose. This is where people who help me tune in to the larger narratives in which we all have more than a bit part prove essential. Audrey Watters’ academic background in folklore studies is absolutely integral to the way she shows us and illustrates the stories we are being told about technology and education. Journalist Jordan Shapiro wants to correct our consumption of two popular narratives about the internet being the great social equalizer and that our digital tools are rotting our brains.

And let us not forget the hundreds of stories shared in response to this question posed by Chris G at the close of 2017:

Chris’s tweet received nearly 5000 retweets and 480 direct replies, plus many more responses where his tweet was quoted. Which is to say, people had tons of stories to share about absurd and/or invasive tech platform and product practices.

Then there was this one short tweet reminding me that certain stories become a ticket that must be presented to satisfy the gatekeepers:

Meandering through these examples, I remember that I started with the idea of how stories carry the potential to tell us more about ourselves. Now I see that I’m also thinking about how stories are packaged and delivered; how they reach us and I’m wondering about how these ancillary factors figure in the mix.

From our story appetites to story diets to our story metabolism – that is, how we digest and process the stories we hear, respond to or even internalize –  this feels like something we should be looking at in our day-to-day studies of life in progress. Consider, too, the stories we literally are served via algorithms which always learn more about us in the process rather than less. These same algorithms also allow platforms and third party entities to create their own stories about us and our friends, interests, habits and plans – in order to lubricate the economy through piercingly targeted advertising which should lead us from thought bubble to checkout in the space of a few clicks and keystrokes.

Those of us deeply engaged in social media and immersed in digital spaces face enhanced challenges to our understanding and application of story (which sounds very clinical to my ears, but hey).  As we’ve learned, just about anything can be weaponized in the attention economy and narratives are no different. Part of me dreads the extra cognitive load of rethinking my story diet and metabolism – paying closer attention to my sources, balancing my intake, noticing immediate and latent effects. At the same time, remaining receptive to the magic that stories can give us – like my son responding to Wonder – that is worth working to preserve.

 

 

Die Sprachbürgerschaft is on the way

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I decided to publish a stack of poems I wrote 14 years ago.

In my e-mail inbox I have notice that the books will arrive on Tuesday.

Surprise, no surprise, I have feelings about this development.

I could tell you that I am happy, proud, relieved and/or excited.

For the record I think I’m some of all of those things.

And I am also nervous (in the little-girl-who-might-get-in-trouble kind of way), which makes no rational sense but the feeling is there.

The poems are in German. Like, literally, auf deutsch.

I am not a native German speaker, nor do I sound like one.

I am fluent in German, I live in a German-speaking country and engage my surroundings often in the local vernacular.

I am an immigrant in this particular German-speaking republic.

And now I’m publishing some poems as part of my journey.

Again and again though this voice comes and asks: Really? You? Writing poems, calling them poems in a language you didn’t even grow up speaking? In a language you don’t have a degree in?

That’s real, too.

One piece in the collection is actually a dialogue and also provides the title of the book:

Die Sprachbürgerschaft

which loosely translates to Language Citizenship.

I suppose it’s the dialogue in my own head played out between two people: The language immigrant and the language native. The native asks the immigrant about how she came to the language and what she does in it; then goes on to inquire about the immigrant’s qualifications to write, play and publish in the language. The native becomes increasingly irritated by the immigrant’s laid back attitude to accessing and using this language they have in common and concludes the conversation by threatening to report the immigrant to the language police at the local language protection office.

 

Several weeks ago, my mother-in-law, a native German speaker, read this dialogue aloud to me and in that moment, I could hear that my words had a relevance I hadn’t accorded them previously.

The poems exist as a kind of ode to my immigrant-ness of almost 30 years. Being in this country, yet never fully of it.

The poems are also a tribute to this language I have embraced and loved and which in its own way has loved me back and even chuckled at some of my creations.

What I found is that poems allowed me to play with German in a way I cannot play with English. And I wonder how other multilingual folks encounter these differences in use.

So yes, a premier is on the horizon. A book, a book!

One that few folks in my current circles will be able to actually enjoy but one I hope that we will celebrate and contemplate together.

Which language, whose language, which words, whose interpretations?…All the things.

Tuesday. Dienstag.

 

Adept Dodgers and Other Tales

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Teaching Kindergarten.

We’re working on dodging today. Philippe defines: “Dodging is what you do when someone throws a ball at you and you jump out of the way” (jumping as he speaks to illustrate).

“Right, and not only that but when you’re walking on a busy sidewalk, (I walk as I talk here) do you do this?” (I imitate bumping into people every few steps, complete with sound effects.) They laugh. “No, right? You don’t walk around bumping into people on purpose, do you? What do you do?”

“You walk around!” they shout.

“Exactly, so dodging means that we move out of the way instead of bumping or crashing into other things, even without touching them.” I use lots of arm motions to illustrate this.

So we practice crossing the gym space using different locomotor patterns and different pathways. And they manage it all really well without bumping into each other. Cool.

I introduce a new tagging game: safety base dodge. Long story short: 8 safety bases are scattered on the floor. Players can rest on these for 5 seconds at a time but then must move and avoid being tagged. If tagged, players go to the edge of the play area and perform a wall walk for 10 seconds. 2 taggers and each holds a shortened swim noodle for tagging.

We play a few rounds. We stop after the first round to clarify some understandings.

“OK, friends. For a first go at a new game I thought you handled it all very well. However, at the end (you can tell they knew this part was coming) I stopped the music and said, “Freeze!” Then what happened?

“The game stopped?” one student ventures.

“Did you see everyone stop on the signal? I didn’t. I said, “Freeze!” and here’s what I saw: (I get up and run from one base to another with my hands in the air).” They laugh. I come back to our huddle. “Is that what a freeze looks like?”

“No.” They giggle as they say it.

I show it again. “A freeze looks like this (dramatic freeze), right? Not like this (more running around). There’s a difference. So now on the count of three, show me a freeze pose. One, two, three!”

Great moment, excellent poses. I pick two new taggers and we start a new round.

We finish the game. We come back together. I congratulate them on a job well done. I tell them that I can see that they are adept at dodging.

“What’s adept?”

“It means you’re good at something.”

Adept dodgers. Could be a rock band.

During another break in the action one student revealed that she had owies on her leg and hand. I answered back: “You have owies on your hands and leg. Are you also telling me that this will impair you ability to participate in our upcoming game?” She scrunched her face up and I suppose making her best guess about what I was saying, shook her head and said “no.” She played all rounds without complaint.

I relate all this I suppose perhaps above all to remind myself of what it’s like when I interact with small children. On the one hand, it involves considerable theatrical investment and display. On the other hand, a fairly firm commitment to remain true to my own character. I like to use a broad vocabulary. I enjoy acting out ideas for children to get my point across. I appreciate the relationships we develop over time that allow us to have these kinds of conversations where we both learn something.

Yes, I’m teaching content. Dodging. And we are learning about how to play well with each other. We are practicing remembering rules and making decisions about how we’ll apply the rules in the way we and others play.

Two students had a crash near the end of our game. After apologies were offered and each recovered, I asked them in our large group about their crash. “What kind of pathway were you using when you crashed?” (We practiced this earlier in our warm up activity.) They both answered, “straight.” After that both were ready to describe the crash in greater detail, illustrating for the rest of us how it came to pass.

My young students each offer a world of experiences. Part of my job involves inviting those worlds into our classes and providing them with air time and stage time and activity time. All the time we have to be and become so much more than adept dodgers.

image: CC0 Lukas via Pixels