Posts Tagged ‘Life Lessons’

Rick Schweir, retired Edtech professor, gave my Social Media & Open Education class a snapshot of the history of education technology, from the days of the first printing press to today’s plethora of digital choices. In our discussion he spoke about David Brook’s TedTalk, “The Social Animal” wherein Brooks speaks about the ‘revolution of consciousness’ that is upon us. Here’s my summary and reflections on that TedTalk.

“People learn from people they love.”

A powerful sentiment for educators to take in. It’s the reason we teachers get into the business of teaching in the first place, isn’t it? How refreshing to hear that, according to Antonio Damasio’s research, emotion is the foundation of reason. Based on this new wave of thought, Brooks declares…

“We’re developing a revolution in consciousness, a new view of human nature, a new humanism, a new enchantment.”

Here are 3 key insights he shares about this revolution and my interpretations:

1) “Consciousness writes the autobiography …while the unconscious mind does most of the work.” In other words, going with your gut is legitimate, valuable, and probably right.

2)Emotions are at the center of our thinking.”  He refers to Antonio Damasio’s work in stating “emotions aren’t separate from reason but they are the foundation of reason because they tell us what to value. So reading and educating your emotions is one of the central activities of wisdom. As an arts teacher I love when research supports the tremendous benefits of self-expression that are so integral to the arts.

3) “We are not primarily self contained individuals, we are social animals not rational. We emerge out of relationships and are deeply interpenetrated with one another. We re-enaact what we see through others.” What a powerful image. Nothing happens without relationships first and things are stunted without them.

While reason is often weak, sentiments are strong and trustworthy correcting the “dehumanizing bias.”

What does this mean for how we value Human capital?

Brooks shares 6 unquantifiable gifts humans possess:

1) Mindsight – We “download models” or “hoover up knowledge” from those around us. Another poignant thought for teachers.

2) Equal Poise – We have the ability to read biases and over confidences in our own mind, the ability to examine our own thoughts and self-evaluate.

3) Metis – We have the ability to pick up patterns in the environment. In others words, we have special sensitivities, street smarts, intuition.

4) Sympathy – We have the ability to work in groups and groups are smarter than individuals. Group effectiveness is determined by communication skills (ex. turn taking) not IQ.  Face to face groups are smarter because 90% of communication is non-verbal! Wow, read that again…90% is non-verbal. What does this mean for us given the way technology is evolving how we communicate?

5) Blending – We have the ability to pretend or take on the characteristics of another. What most think of as child’s play is really a complicated process of blending identities. Another shout out for the arts! Unfortunately these activities we revel in as children are suppressed as we age. Another point for teachers to ponder.

6) Limerence – Brooks defines this as a drive or motivation. Though our conscious mind might hunger for achievement, ourunconscious mind hungers for transcendence.” Have you ever had that perfect moment of synergy with a group? Amazing. I’m not pursuing a masters to add letters behind my name or to get a pay hike, though both of those would be nice. I’m taking classes to become a better teacher, to contribute, and to hopefully have more of those moments of limerence with my students. Yet, if we are social animals do we not need/want to be valued for our contributions? Is that the same as being an achievement junkie or praise hound? Hmmm…old habits die hard.

Bring on the revolution.

(April 2013)

Every summer my husband and I pack up our kids to spend some holiday time at his family’s cabin at the lake. We load up the truck, grab some take-out and head out on the familiar route that we’ve followed for the better part of 20 years. Yes, we’ve vacationed elsewhere, occasionally, but the lake has a siren song that seems to pull us there for at least part of our holiday time every summer. The drive itself is not terribly exciting, except for the anticipation of the holiday itself and for my one favourite part of the two plus hour journey. Just before we turn off the main highway and make our way in to the park we get just a glimpse of the water over the hills. Then the road winds and the rolling hills hide the lake from view while we pass through the park gates and around the family farm with its windmill, like an old friend, inviting us back once again. If we happen to time the drive just right, that is if the stars have aligned and we were able to pack the zillion things that seem to be required for a family holiday with young kids, grab supper and get on the road at a decent hour, then my favourite moment of our journey is just around the next bend before the sun sinks below the horizon. We turn the last corner by the cabins at the top of the hill, pass the line of sentinel populars standing guard at the top of the hill and finally reach that spot where the valley opens up to reveal the sparkling beauty of the vast expanse that is Lake Deifenbaker. If the sun is shining just right and if the family harmony on the journey still rings with accord so as not to detract from the moment, the reflection of those wide running waters truly takes my breath away…every time. In that moment I breathe a little deeper and a sense of calm that the beauty of that moment brings, comes over me. We’re here. I’m home.

We haven’t been there for a while and sadly the snow doesn’t show much signs of abating to let us get there any time soon. But, I know that sooner or later we will take that trip again and I will relive that moment again and again for many summers to come. I know what awaits us just around that last bend. The familiar, comfortable, beautiful little corner of the world where I feel centered and connected. Where I feel at home.

Professionally speaking, I haven’t been there for a while–home that is–though not for lack of trying. A few years ago I opted for a job change in hopes of maintaining some semblance of balance in my life. For these past few years I’ve felt a little like I can catch a glimpse of that joy that I once felt but never really hold it in my grasp. It’s like catching a glimpse of those waters without ever cresting the hill for the amazing view. Though I have not been far off from my former niche I have yet to find my groove. It feels a little like I’m driving someone else’s car or wearing someone else’s clothes. Most wouldn’t notice but they don’t seem to fit quite right. I don’t feel quite at home. I’ve done my best to do right by my students. I have struggled and worked hard to serve and be effective in the role in which I find myself, a role I asked for and have done before quite successfully I might add, but often I’ve felt like I’m coming up short. How frustrating as an experienced teacher to feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not getting us where I feel we need to go.

I am no stranger to examining and working on my shortcomings. Continually striving for excellence is a script that is hardwired in to my consciousness! If it were just technical limitations standing in my way I would work on those and carry on but in this case it goes deeper than that. I’ve come to the realization that the fundamental realities are not going to change regardless of my approach and so, I am ready to make a change. In fact, after grappling with and finally making the decision I’m really excited about making a change. Somewhat terrified, if I were to be honest, but excited! I think that is the perfect mindset for change.

In the midst of forging a new path I can hear the siren song of my former world calling out loud and clear! Though it’s tempting to try to recapture that place where I last felt at home, I know the timing isn’t right to go back down that familiar, comfortable road. I am not the same person or teacher I was when I was last there and so instead I’m bravely looking around the next bend to find what it is I seek. I’m hoping it will be a new place to call home.

It’s been a while since I’ve tackled a new teaching challenge. This summer I’m planning to devote some of my holiday time to get ready, and yes, I do plan to spend a little time at the lake with my family as well. However, we are planning to venture a little further afield this year. Our boys are a little older now and as a family we’re ready to take in some new sights, try some new experiences, and forge some new paths. I’m not sure where we’re headed yet. I don’t know exactly where we’ll end up andconsequently haven’t yet studied the map to get there. And I don’t know if I will find one of those ‘I’m home’ moments when we get there. But, the promise of finding a new one is worth looking around that next bend.

My oldest son is 7 and he is currently enthralled with Angry Birds! Regular Angry Birds, Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Seasons and most recently, Angry Birds Rio.  He would play non-stop if I let him. When he’s not playing he’s still thinking about them. He’s obsessed with the structure of the game. He’s studied the levels and has an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the game. He knows the different set-ups within the game, how many levels are in each set and which birds arrive at which levels. (A little OCD perhaps? Maybe!)

When he’s exhausted his video game limit he takes to other activities to get his Angry Bird fix! He writes Angry Birds stories–one with pictures, one with mom as scribe, and most recently, one he’s written and illustrated on his own. He plays pretend with different colored blocks (aka birds) creating homes for them and imagining all sorts of scenarios for them. And now, he has graduated from angry bird blocks to printed out paper versions of the birds and has even included his younger brother in this newest version of Angry Bird play. (I was just excited they were playing nicely together and that my younger son was getting some fine motor practise cutting out his birds in the process!) It is healthy to be this obsessed with a video game? I don’t know but it has got him writing, creating and engaged and that can’t be a bad thing!

Not long ago he said he wanted to make up his own levels for the game. Ok, I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. “Great” I said “but you’ll have to check with the people who made the game in the first place since it was their idea.” (Nevermind learn how to program and navigate the world of video game development!) “But mom, who made Angry Birds?” Awesome! A little self-directed inquiry based learning is on the menu!

“Let’s find out,” I said. So we went on-line to check it out. We found an article about the inventors then snooped a little more to find them online. It didn’t take long before we had found all three of the original creators. HE WAS SOOOO EXCITED! I said, “Well, why don’t we email them?” “Can we?” he asked. “Sure, why not!”

SO WE DID!! We carefully scripted an email about how much he loved the game and how he was hoping to make up his own levels one day.

“Mom!  Am I on the angry birds team now?” “Well, not yet Bud, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t be one day.” “Let’s have a look at some of the other people that work there and what kinds of things they’ve done. Do you think they’d need some special skills to work there or maybe some special schooling?”

I started to lose him a little when we got reading about the staff at Rovio and what they’ve done but WOW were we excited when a few days later we GOT A REPLY to our email from an actual person! Kudos to Rovio Entertainment for their carefully crafted and encouraging response! My son was thrilled!

And what did I learn from our Angry Birds inquiry?

It’s amazing how motivated even a young student can be when learning is self-directed! I guess video games aren’t all that bad! It’s not a bad thing to have a thorough understanding of the rules (in this case, levels) before springboarding to make up on your own creations. Don’t we need to know our ABCs before we can read and write? Don’t we need to know the notes before we can play? Many great composers first copied the works of their teachers before writing masterpieces of their own. Wow, what’s next? Teaching grammar?;) There is a place for learning and drilling facts provided we take our students past memorizing to actually manipulating them and incorporating them into higher order thinking.

As for us on the homefront…I can’t wait to find out what the next ‘Angry Birds’ will be that will inspire my son to explore a new passion:)

As an educator,  I strive to find ways to motivate my students. Specifically, as a band director I try to motivate my students to practise regularly.  10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Not too much to ask, right? Well, recently I’ve learned a big lesson in motivation that has applications for my teaching practise, parenting, and personal goals too.

A few months ago I fractured my pelvis in a freak accident. My life turned on a dime. Months of physio, and lying around lay ahead of me! For months now I have been going to physio about twice a week and have made HUGE strides in my recovery.  From day one I have approached this event in my life with a positive attitude…”I can still move my toes and my legs so I know I’m going to be ok.” “I’ve got great care here in the hospital and fantastic support from family and friends.” “Woohoo, I can get my socks on all by myself!”

This positive lens has colored this whole experience until about a week ago when I finally ‘HIT THE WALL’. I’ve reached all the big milestones–standing up and walking, getting down into the bathtub, going down my basement stairs, and most recently, ditching the crutches. But now, I’m at a standstill. My mobility is functional but not back to normal. There’s no reason NOT to be motivated, yet motivated I AM NOT! I am annoyed, frustrated and tired of it all. Tired of doing exercises and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. Tired of walking like I’m 80 years old! Tired of not having my life and body back. Tired of the holding pattern. Tired of crafting my days around my injury…”Where can I park so I don’t have to walk so far?” “Which shoes can’t I wear?” “How many groceries can I pack in the bag before I can’t manage it myself?”

I could see the wall coming. I had reached a plateau and my motivation was waning. I even expressed my concern to my physio who all but dismissed it.  I think she discounted it out of surprise rather than admonishment. “Look at the progress you’ve made!” she exclaimed. Despite feeling the tailspin coming on I couldn’t turn it around and found myself face down on my yoga mat in tears last weekend. PATHETIC! “So you’re crying about doing exercises?” my husband ventured. Hmmm…what IS the big deal? It’s just some exercises. (AHA! THIS must be how my students feel sometimes about getting their homework done!) At the bottom of that ‘rut’, face down on that yoga mat, I started examining where things had gone wrong, listening to my language and negative thoughts and figuring out how I could get back to where I needed to be to make a full recovery. What happened to my MOTIVATION?

I am now climbing up the other side of that ‘rut’ and, with conscious effort, the despairing bottom is behind me. With a little distance I think I’ve figured out what happened and how I can rejuvenate my recovery process. Here’s what I’ve learned about motivation in the process:


1) FOCUS –  Every day I went to physio we added more exercises…and more and more! The list got so long it was not necessarily physically tasking but mentally daunting to get through them all (especially given my previous exercise habits.)

*Though sometimes endurance might be part of the outcome you’re trying to achieve you need to consider how long you (or your students) can maintain that as your primary goal. Can you instead focus in on what really needs to be accomplished or at least pinpoint those tasks that are critical and those that are peripheral?

2) CHUNK IT UP – One thing that helped me wrap my brain around the extensive list was to chunk up the work-outs. My exercise therapist broke the list into a two-day cycle to make it more manageable. It didn’t seem so daunting when I could look at the list and see at a glance what I needed to get done.

*Do I expect my students to get through  ALL of their exercises (or subjects) every day? Likely they would benefit from learning how to ‘chunk it up’ too. Can I really expect them to figure that strategy out on their own? Not likely! Alternatively, if you just can’t adjust the volume of work maybe categorizing tasks would provide the structure and purpose students need to get the job done.

3) PACING – The people-pleaser in me likes to meet or exceed the expectations of the ‘experts’ or ‘authority figures’ in my world. As a diligent physio patient I had been religiously following my rehabilitation plan 1-2 hours per day, 7 days a week. Anyone who knows my exercise track record knows that I couldn’t keep that pace up for long! Sometimes you need to push and sometimes you need to coast. And sometimes, it’s OK to take a break! At a recent conference I attended Patricia Katz spoke about swinging at the playground as a metaphor for life. If you constantly ‘pump’ without allowing yourself to ‘glide’ you’re probably not going to swing for long or have much fun doing it.

*Do your students really need to get through that particular homework everyday? Maybe not. What you sacrifice that day in volume or repetition you may gain in motivation and focused attention. Consequently, what gets accomplished might just be the same in the long run.

4) VARIETY – My physio often speaks about finding as many ways as possible to engage the same muscle group.  We often swap out one exercise for a more advanced one or for one that simply achieves the goal in a different way. (Just remember to take one off the list rather than adding on another!)

Knowing your tolerance for a routine is important too. When it comes to exercise I’m good for a couple of months and then my interest takes a slide.  I’m a bandwagon exerciser! Often it has to do with the time of the year or how busy I am at work. But you know what? That’s life! Why can’t I jump on the bandwagon when I’m feeling motivated and back off or change it up when I’m not? There’s a reason cross-training is successful. The key lies in discovering your tolerance for a given routine, finding activities that interest you and yes, jumping back on the bandwagon before it passes you by!

*Change it up. Vary the focus, vary the pace, vary the routine. Novelty works wonders for motivation and it stretches your brain too. It also makes perfect sense when you consider the attention-spans of our young students.

5) GOAL-SETTING – From the get-go my physio has had a plan for what movement patterns and muscle groups to address in my rehabilitation. She has shared these with me along the way and has taken my goals in to account …”I’d love to be able to soak in the tub.” We did a dry-run of how I was going to get in and out. “I want to be able to get down to my basement.” We worked on stairs. “I need to be able to drive.” We did calf raises to strengthen my pedal foot. When I hit bottom last weekend it occurred to me that I didn’t know what my next goal was. I needed something measurable to work towards. Whose job is it to determine those goals? Hers? Mine?

*It is obvious that teachers need to plan and stay a step ahead of their students. Sharing your goals and incorporating your students’ goals is really important if you want them to take ownership of their learning. Enter the inquiry strategy–a question based, project centered learning strategy. What a great way to motivate learners! What might be less obvious but equally important is to have a plan for when you reach your goal. There’s nothing worse than arriving at that point and thinking, ‘Now what?’


1) Start. Dig deep (aka Suck it up!), take a breath and begin. That’s always the hardest part.

2) Don’t do it all at once. Break it up. Plan to work for 15 minutes then take a break or work on something else. Marla Cilley of FlyLady fame advocates using a timer. It’s visual, auditory and measurable. Most importantly, 15 minutes is attainable. She says, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” With my students I always compare it to recess. Man, that 15 minutes flies by, doesn’t it?!

3) Ask for help before you’re sinking. Struggling for weeks then announcing you’re quitting (or dropping, or failing) doesn’t serve anyone, especially not you. Ask for help as soon as you realize you can’t work it out on your own. Be as specific as you can about your challenges, your personal limitations and what you think you need to be successful.

4) Ruts or bumps are normal. Don’t let them derail you or detract from your forward progress. Acknowledge the obstacles (like negative thought patterns for example) and figure out how to get past them.

5) Figure out what motivates you. Do you need music, nature, or a friend to help you through? What about setting goals like a time limit, grade, or a number of tasks on your list to complete? External rewards work for the young and old! Getting the sticker, reaching the next ‘level’ or splurging on a big purchase might be what it takes to get you through. Or maybe the intrinsic high of getting it done is enough to motivate you.

5) Celebrate your accomplishments. Take some time to pat yourself on the back and bask in the glow of a job well done:) There’s nothing like the feeling of one success to motivate you to create another.

I was chatting with a friend the other day about her very busy job and heavy workload. “I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. I’ve said it a million times myself but when I heard it this time her statement gave me pause.

Why must we wait for the end of the tunnel to see the light? Yes, I understand the metaphor but if we spend most of our work life in that long dark tunnel what inspires us to keep taking that same route? Is it the sense of achievement that we’ve gotten to the end of the tunnel that brings us back time and time again? Are we achievement junkies? Guilty!

What if there were windows in the tunnel? What if the tunnel was made of glass? Are you even IN the right tunnel?

. . . I get it. It’s just a metaphor about getting things done and feeling good about checking them off the list. A harmless little metaphor but a very powerful way to script our lives. Is it not? How we think about and define our experiences has such a powerful effect on how we see and live our lives. Just a little reminder (from someone sitting on the sidelines) to choose consciously.

Saturday morning, ah, finally a day to sleep in…

Cue the light beaming from the hallway and the rainstorm of a zillion coins dropping into plastic buckets! No, it’s not a break and enter. It’s my son completely engaged in one of his favourite pastimes:  playing with his coin collection! He orders and sorts, counts and records; he even makes up games with them. “Mom, guess what? Toonies, loonies and bucks win!”

Don’t be mistaken. Though one could argue he is a bit of a hoarder when it comes to his coins, he’s definitely not greedy. He’s not even particulary focused on their monetary value. In fact, he’d willingly share with his little brother, “Do you want a 5 buck or a 10 buck?”

He has been captivated by numbers for as long as I can remember. At the age of 4 he took a little ruled notepad, numbered every page then began numbering every line from 1 up to 500 and something! (He could probably tell you 500 and what exactly.) Talk about PASSION!

As parents, we all hope that our children find their ‘thing’. You know, that activity or interest they have an aptitude for, that something that brings them success, and more importantly, that thing that brings them joy! (It’s hard not to picture the commercial with the little boy sitting at the back of the bus playing his tuba, isn’t it?! Well, Play on, brassman!)

Yes, one of my greatest desires for my kids is that they find something they are passionate about and do it! …Even if it means a 52,000 penny roll at 7 A.M. on a Saturday!

So, count your blessings and discover your passion! That’s my 2 cents;)!

Time on My Hands

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Professionally Speaking
Tags: ,

Who wouldn’t want to have some time on their hands?

Well, I would and I’ve got it! (…though I would highly recommend NOT breaking bones to do it. But that’s a story for another blog!)

In the past two months while recovering and rehabilitating I have spent a lot of time reading, pondering life, examining my career direction and connecting with people–old friends, ‘long lost’ cousins, new colleagues. What a luxury it is to have TIME on my hands! Though I’ve certainly wasted a lion’s share of it I’m discovering that time, particularly invested time, is a necessity in order to reclaim your ‘center’ and find some clarity. (This epiphany gleaned from one of my recent reads, The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.)

If you don’t invest that time that we ALL need to regroup, LIFE has a certain way of bringing it about. Sometimes life (or God or fate…?) presents you with an opportunity to learn something, meet someone, take a different path, or simply, to breathe. If you don’t grab ahold the first time, I’m learning that life will continue presenting that opportunity until you finally PAY ATTENTION. It may be in a different form or disguised as something else (like a setback perhaps?) but it’s really the same opportunity to either make that change or reaffirm the choices you’ve made.

Aside from recentering and redirecting, Time also provides a unique opportunity to learn something new and useful especially when you can devote a good chunk of it to focusing on acquiring said new skill. With this unexpected time on my hands I am embarking on a new journey into the world of ed tech. But before imagining how to implement technology (into one’s classroom for example) you first need to LEARN IT yourself. And so, I’m logging a LOT of screen time these days attempting to get current. The lesson? When your cell contract comes up GET THE UPGRADE and remember, TIME FLIES when you’re on mat leave!

One of the best things TIME can provide is, as that old ‘mom & apple pie’ adage says, REST. I remember asking a mentor teacher of mine what I could do to prepare for my impending internship. My mind was spinning with all the technical details of my upcoming job and all the things I didn’t know. Her answer? REST. Sometimes we just need to step off the trail (…hamster wheel, merry-go-round, insert your metaphor for life Here) and take a well deserved, and well needed REST.

So, what would you do if you had some extra time on your hands?