Dig in

It’s pretty easy for me to have a positive outlook when I’m on winter break with my family. The kids have time to play, we can sleep in a bit, there’s endless flexibility in the day (this is my favorite!), we do a lot of cooking, there’s just a lot of goodness around.

It was almost disorienting to wake up with the alarm this morning, but we quickly got into our routine, and that’s good for us. We need some downtime, but we also need our routine and some daily challenge. We were off and running with smiles and still feeling good (if a bit tired) at the end of the day.

But I also realized that some of the desires I have for accomplishing good work during the day are easier said from home than done at work. Yet, today just as other days, I decided to dig in and move forward. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Today is one day to move forward, start a streak of small wins, work through a couple of things that have been put off, and even reap some reward of satisfaction in a job well done.

I’ll try this again tomorrow.

Below Zero Gratitude

When I got back from my afternoon run today, I snapped a shot of the weather. I had been thinking about the predicted high temp of 1 degree above zero, and how grateful I would be for that one degree. At least it wouldn’t be below zero.

Even small amounts of something can be so wonderful.

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That one degree is something to appreciate. Well, I didn’t get the above-zero temp, so I had to find something else to appreciate–thankfully that’s not hard. Today, that was the sun. The sun light makes such a difference in so many ways. It deceives us about how cold it actually is–allows our eyes to relay a message to our brain that it’s not so bad. It lifts our spirits even in the deep of winter. The sun warms a space inside a window, and will even warm our bodies if we venture out in the frigid weather. Today, even if I can’t have a temperature above zero, the sun (among a host of other blessings) is enough to bring a huge amount of gratitude.

Of course, I’m grateful for a body that lets me get out and exert myself. I’m also grateful for a couple of great friends who are crazy enough to brave the cold with me. I’m grateful for clothing to keep me mostly warm and for a comfortable home and hot shower upon my return. And today, the sunshine is what brought me to a point where I could step out and experience the joy of each of those other things. Hoping for many sunny days ahead!

Reset

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve. As we look toward a new year, we may wonder what 2018 will bring. I’m not sure, and I’m not planning any sweeping resolutions. Today in church, I was challenged (by my dad!) to turn with the new year with the question, “Will I turn?” He was talking to our congregation about the ways in which we let the good news of Christ’s birth change us, the ways in which we invite the Messiah into our lives, along with us in everything we do. That’s an everyday challenge…one to take seriously.

But here we are on the day that people look ahead and decide what goals to set, what changes to make–big, small, noteworthy, simple, high-impact, only known to ourselves–whatever they may be.

I’m considering the month of January and envisioning a “Reset” button. Not goals for the year, but a simple reset, starting from zero. Strip life down to the simple essentials (plus a bit of simple pleasures!). I’m looking at a fresh start with more of the basics–cooking at home, maintaining some order and intention in our days, spending less, the simple activity of running. I’m looking at cutting the excess and reseting.  I’ll buy a new pair of shoes (and use discipline on skipping the technical wear, Air Pods, cool running tights, etc.) and step into January with a focus not on adding, but going back to the basics of life. The year of 2018 is upon us and will hopefully bring much joy in the living. We’ll see where it leads. I’m looking at January right now, just this month, and I’m pressing reset as I look at the fresh and open year ahead.

It Doesn’t Take Much

IMG_0490My daughter and I just decorated her door with streamers. She’s been asking to do this for several days. I’ve had the typical responses to helping her, “Sure…later,” “Not now; we’re too busy,” “Uh huh, but I have to do x, y, z first.” You know the story. There’s a lot going on. People are waiting on us. The family needs to be fed, the counter needs to get cleaned off (again!), and the laundry…don’t even go there!

So today after lunch, I said, “Yes! Let’s do this!” We looked through the supply of streamers, found all of the colors we had, then got started. She handed them up, I stood on the stool and taped them. My choice of decor? Definitely not. But then again, anything I would have chosen never would have brought as much joy and laughter in the process. It’s the simple things that matter. A short time spent together, no care for the Scotch tape on the door frame, allowing for perfect imperfections, and a lot of laughter on the way.

Finding our Spark!

I’m reminded over and over again these days of just how amazing each of us is. I like to talk about my belief that we are each capable of much more than we think we can do, so some of you have heard this from me before. Every once in awhile, the circumstances allow us to be surprised by our own capacity—we run farther and faster than we have, we find the right words to reach a given audience, something we do has a bigger impact than we ever envisioned. But all too often, we miss out on reaching our full potential, and instead of creating in new and awesome ways, we settle for less. 

In my own reading and social media perusal of late, I’ve seen countless references to what it is that makes us tick and leads to high levels of success and satisfaction. We are looking for ways to get out of the predictable patterns that we often fall into without even noticing. The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg focuses on keystone habits—the things we can change that cause ripple effects in our other actions, producing desirable results. When we’re looking to make changes in our lives and work toward a goal, it’s a keystone habit that will set the course for success. Many are talking about the work of Carol Dweck in Mindset regarding the difference between the growth and the fixed mindset. Those who are able to persevere when tasks are difficult and avoid frustration while solving complex problems have the growth mindset—a core belief that they have power and can learn and grow through failure and adversity. They have grit. And speaking of grit, have you seen all the talk about grit and resilience lately? Here’s a list from Edutopia that will give you a few things to read. 

The best news from Dweck’s work is that the growth mindset is something that can be learned and cultivated. People don’t need to be stuck with a fixed mindset, but can develop a growth mindset. But what is it that makes us get out there, step outside of ourselves, and as Kid President says, “Be More Awesome”? All of us in the education field grapple with intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. I’m an Alfie Kohn fan, and as a teacher, I tried for the ideal of kids going above and beyond in the classroom based on their own interest and drive. However, I can still relate to getting goose bumps about how amazing my content is and the engaging lesson I have planned, while still wondering if a game and some candy bars would get my students to buy in more. Just as Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards) maintains that carrots and sticks do not cause us to perform better, Daniel Pink reiterates this concept in his book, Drive, and in this cool little video that sums it up. Unless we’re talking about rudimentary tasks that require little to no cognitive engagement, we don’t perform at higher levels based on receiving more reward. Even more startling is that we actually perform worse on tasks when they have even the slightest bit of complexity and a higher reward is promised for stronger performance. Pink maintains that the three things that motivate us to work hard and actually perform at higher levels are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

This makes sense. People want a say in what they do and how they do it, they want to attain high levels of expertise in areas of interest, and they want their work to contribute to something greater. We, the teachers and leaders in our schools, know this. We know that kids are all capable of learning at high levels and doing great things. We look for opportunities to push our students, recognize and take pride in their successes, and incorporate their interests in their learning. What if students take the helm? Teachers have great ability to guide students in designing how they learn and demonstrate their learning. What would students create, what connections would they make, and how would they change their community (close by and afar) if they were empowered and encouraged to realize their potential, particularly in ways that interest them? In our schools, one of our goals through our strategic plan is to nurture students’ spark. When we find the intersection of their interests, learning, and meaningful application, they will do great things. This is the basis for the new student group I’m starting called Spark!, where students will have a place to come together solely to work on projects that interest them and see what they can accomplish when they learn by pursuing their interests in a purposeful context of their choosing. If I can help our students to recognize how unique, amazing, and powerful they are, my efforts are more than worthwhile. It’s time to get out there, embrace opportunity and excellence, and Be More Dog

The “You” in CommUnity

As I’m pondering my personal and professional goals for the year ahead, I’m struck by the interconnectedness of life these days. In the time of New Year’s resolutions, when many focus on personal goals and self-improvement, I’m thinking about collective success and how a large majority of our endeavors are not really individual at all, but collaborative and interactive pursuits of excellence. Furthermore, I’m thinking about the community that supports me and the role I play in communities of support to others.

When looking at education, the shift from isolated, independent practice to collaboration and shared responsibility for collective efficacy and success over the past several years has been dramatic. It’s not that we just realized that the highest levels of student learning and personal development require the support of many teachers and leaders, but collaborative practice has taken hold as a common way of working. We have embraced systems and protocols that embed collaboration into our daily practice. The PLC concept seems to have higher prevalence in schools these days than most other practices. The change from one classroom teacher taking sole responsibility for the learning of students in their classes to teams of teachers taking a collective approach and sharing responsibility for the learning of all students together is good news for our students. Beyond teachers pooling resources and working together to adapt instruction, respond to varying student needs, and provide multiple learning opportunities and assessment methods, I am also excited about the immense impact community involvement can have on student learning. What if students’ school experience allows them to interact with our world and learn from a larger community? This is also not a new idea. We’ve all heard the African proverb that was also used as the title of Hillary Clinton’s book, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Political biases aside, the idea is that to best raise our children, they need community support and involvement, as well as diverse experiences and opportunities. This just makes sense. So, where is the village in our schools?

As we grapple with providing students with choice in their schooling, integrating real-world project/problem-based learning, and customizing and personalizing learning for the vastly different individuals in our classes, how do we as teachers and leaders facilitate the benefits of connecting our students with the community? Technology has provided us with access to information that just a few years (or even a few months) ago wasn’t fathomable. Teachers and students can find facts, how-to videos, scholarly research, video lessons, discussion forums, directions, and networking opportunities that have never before been available to us. Advances in technology are simultaneously making our village bigger and smaller. We can connect with experts in almost any field and find vast amounts of information with ease. Limitations of time and space that have hindered our global connectedness are no longer as big of barriers as they were in the past. With these changes, our focus for student learning must include meaningful application and interaction with content knowledge. How can our students use the skills and information they learn to create something new?

While we work to build a community for our students in which they are connected with mentors, leaders, and experts and have authentic learning opportunities, we also must ensure that we are participating in a larger community ourselves. We must not only work collaboratively with our immediate colleagues and local communities, but also take advantage of the opportunities we have as professionals to develop our own PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). Through the use of digital tools and social media, we can increase both the size and diversity of our villages. We have the opportunities to exchange knowledge and experiences and engage in thought-provoking conversations. These types of interactions enrich my learning and change my perspectives and practices for the better.

The purpose of this discourse (for anyone still reading) is that when thinking about what’s best for our kids, our communities, and ourselves, it’s important to think about the connections and relationships that support our goals and our collective capacity. As we set goals for our students, our teams, and ourselves, we need to think about the networks that best support our goal attainment. How are we reaching out to and contributing to our professional networks? Where are we part of the community that supports the development of others? How can we facilitate opportunities for our students to make connections with others and with the world that will support their learning?

And finally, it’s important that we sift through the overwhelming amounts of information and connections available to us to find the ones that really matter. While we are building our communities near and far, we need to continuously assess where we gain and add value. As we filter the numerous inputs, we need to also teach our students to discern which information and interactions add value to their learning and personal development.