The hard part

Planning is something I do with varying degrees of success.



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 CC0


Changing Act

I’m back!
After a one year leave from school to follow my bliss, I have officially returned to my post, nearly ready to welcome students in just a few short days. The questions I’ve been fielding most often are “How does it feel?” and “Are you glad to be back?” To which my most honest responses have been, “so far, so good…a little awkward.” And “yes, I am glad. I really missed the kids and being around people most of the day.”

Here’s what I’m noticing and may well be contributing to the awkwardness I mentioned: While I was gone, the school did not stand still. Not only was someone else in my position doing a great job, new ideas were adopted, the curriculum has been reformatted and spectacularly annotated, our smaller, less attractive teaching station has been revamped to become prime learning real estate. All this happened in my absence.

My reception has been extremely warm and affectionate. Colleagues across all divisions have hugged me and shared their happiness that I have come back. This has been so very heartening and affirming. I was missed and several people have let me know that.

Still, this awkwardness nags me. What ego tricks is my mind playing on me? The situation has made me think more deeply about change. It’s easy to say we want change. But I suspect we often leave out a critical caveat: I want change as long as I can control it. Changes may entail some elements which are within our control, yet often harbor other aspects which are not at all under our control or influence.

And now some irony: as I write this now, I am using both eyes although one is nearly swollen shut. Through a freak accident while clearing mats, I whacked myself in the nose and eye with a plastic pole, slapstick style. Thankfully there was no blood and at the hospital an x-ray confirmed: nothing broken, no concussion. What a dramatic change I am facing! (pun fully and unapologetically intended.) I am back and currently look as if I entered a boxing match and lost quickly.


Yes, I like change when I can shape it, pace it, contain it, and turn it off when I’m ready. But change doesn’t work like that and neither do we. And thank goodness. “Eyes wide shut” strikes me as a particularly amusing phrase in this moment.

As I work a bit to find my way in “the new order” I will try to remember that already, with my return I am creating a newer and different order. I am also reminded that I am not alone in this order. We are in fact many: colleagues, students, parents. My return belongs to other people’s change. There’s probably a lot of awkwardness going around these days.

We are all change, whether we like it or not.

I second that emotion…

If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you may already be aware that Elena Aguilar is one of my personal education heroes. One of reasons I have such tremendous respect for her as a person and for the amazing work that she does is her capacity to help us all see what is needed, where it is missing and how we can go about acting on those insights. ┬áIn a recent post on Edutopia she makes a strong case for insuring social emotional learning (SEL) for all members of a school community in order for the whole enterprise to have a shot at meaningful success.

Elena Aguilar’s mission is school transformation, not just school improvement or reform. All schools are awash in change initiatives on various levels of scale and areas of emphasis. The capacity of all community stakeholders to meet these challenges is dramatically enhanced when we pay close attention to the emotional experiences of those involved and address the fears, hopes, ambitions and concerns head on. In advocating for this approach, Elena Aguilar understands that transformation works first with what is, in order to reach the best parts of what’s possible. Activist and Fund-raiser, Lynne Twist quotes Werner Erhard in her book, The Soul of Money</em>: “Transformation does not negate what has gone before; rather, it fulfills it.” (p. 252) Our emotions are always a part of what is. Let us claim them and put them to work towards our collective progress and benefit.