Tag Archives: inspiration

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One Bite at a Time
artwork by Melissa Washburn (please visit http://www.melissawashburn.com)

There are times of the year when the demands of work and life can become overwhelming. As we transition from one season, holiday, life event, or even school term to the next, we often find our TO DO lists becoming increasingly long and daunting.  I’ve always been a list maker.  It has helped me enormously in shifting the burden from my working memory to a surrogate memory holder (post its, bullet journal, scrap paper, etc.) and has alleviated a great deal of stress.  Trying to remember everything that needs to be done, is only one of the challenges that needs attention, however.

Once we transfer our intended tasks to paper, how do we tackle the enormity of what we hope to accomplish?  Rarely do we go down a list and systematically check off an entire task before initiating the next. We tend to multi-task and look for ways to combine activities to accomplish more. How many of you are like me and jot a few items on the list you have already completed, just so you can feel some sense of satisfaction and avoid a sense of defeat?

How do you prioritize your To-Dos?  Do you try to pick the “low hanging fruit” and get the simple tasks out of the way? That can help you feel like you are making a dent, but then you are left with the more difficult tasks when you are often more tired and frazzled. Do you try to take on the big tasks and then see nothing checked off as completed at the day’s end? I don’t believe there is ONE right way to prioritize, it really depends upon the personality of the person creating the list.

However, there is one thing I have done this past year that has helped me immensely. TINY GOALS.  I realized I was often procrastinating on complex tasks because I knew I couldn’t finish them. But now I look at the task and set tiny goals to break it down into more manageable chunks.  For example, I was working on my National Boards and many of the component pieces were time consuming and complicated and I would need to work on them after a long day of teaching or on my weekends. In the past I would have put them off and done some other things that took less mental energy. But by setting a tiny goal: I’m just going to write one paragraph for this section, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed and I got it done. I felt accomplished, and after several days the section was done. In the past I would have stressed for several days about getting the section done, with no work to show for it.

Sometimes I set a timer. I’m only going to work on this for 15 minutes. At the end of that time I usually stop, without guilt. Sometimes however, I find the energy and motivation to keep going a bit longer. Either way, I have done more in 15 minutes than I would have done procrastinating because the task was emotionally exhausting.

Think about some task that you have been putting off or stressing out over.  What could you reasonable tackle in 10 or 15 minutes today? Create a tiny goal that is achievable and take a bite out of that task. Celebrate your success. Remind yourself that you have moved closer to completion and alleviated a bit of stress.  Realize just how doable this is. Don’t push yourself past your tiny goal unless you are enthusiastically motivated-otherwise you are defeating the purpose for setting them.

Though I hate the thought of eating an elephant, the saying rings so true! Turn those bites into tiny goals and reframe your idea of success and you might alleviate a lot of stress in your life the way I did!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Cassie Arroyo is an American student who is studying in Rome with her father, an art history professor. One day her life is turned upside down when her father pulls her from school unexpectedly and they are chased by gunmen.  Her father is wounded but gives Cassie mysterious directions and scant information before she leaves him at the hospital. She flees to her friends home and together, with the help of a secret organization they try to decipher the clues to help her find her now missing father, and find out why she is the target of assassination. Lots of twists and turns in this fast-paced middle grade novel. I loved it even more because I had just visited many of the sites in Rome that are settings for this mystery and I always love strong female protagonists.  A Maine Student Book Award nominee that is worth a read!

The In Between

slice-of-life_individualThe In Between varies it’s arrival time.  Some days, hours early, other days much later. Sometimes it is a welcome visitor and others, an unwanted intruder. The In Between slips in unannounced in those minutes or hours ‘tween sleep and rising.

I lie in bed dozing and the In Between caresses my mind, enticing me to engage. It starts interjecting images or ideas as teasers, waiting to see which will seduce my cataleptic state.

Sometimes I consent to the intrusion and I am gifted with flashes of inspiration. Creative conceptions overwhelm me and I race for a pen to capture them before they retreat.

Other times I resist as a cascade of catastrophizing contemplation consumes me. Distress disturbs my  dreams and worry wakens me.

Where does the In Between come from? Where does it retreat? Why does it choose to haunt and daunt me one morn, yet motivate and invigorate the next, leaving me vexed and perplexed at the dawn of the day?

The answer absconds and I rise to meet the day, while the In Between withdraws into murky memory.

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What Makes a Hero?

 

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality.” -Dante

“We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

slice-of-life_individualIf you know me, you know there was a day not too long ago (November 8, 2016) that shook me to the core. That day shattered my perception of America as a land of hope and compassion and upended my sense of reality.  I had to confront some hard truths…we are not as kind and inclusive as I thought we were and truth is not as important to people as I envisioned. I felt actual grief at the death of this perception.

In the days, weeks, and months since I have not felt better. The shock is subsiding, but the horror and dismay continues. I have come to believe this statement might actually be true

I am stunned at where we find ourselves in this world now.  I couldn’t begin to address each fear/concern in this post, they are just too numerous and frightening. But where there is fear, there is hope.  Where there is evil, there are always heroes. One of best assurances of this came to me from author Tracey Baptiste. She posted a video days after the election in which she reminded me…

“In every story there is a moment when everything has gone wrong and the protagonist feels totally broken, completely devastated and feel like there is absolutely nothing they can do. They can’t physically or emotionally or mentally muster up the strength to do whatever the next thing is that they have to do.  There is no hope. There is no way. There is no path. But in every story, as we all know, this is the moment when heroes are made.”

And I am sure it was no coincidence that she was wearing a Gryffindor shirt in the video!

There are great heroes in literature (Harry Potter, Atticus Finch, Celie, Matilda) in movies (Luke Skywalker, Mr. Smith, John Doe, Forrest Gump) and in history (Mahatma Gandhi, Abe Lincoln, Oskar Schindler, MLK) who rose to greatness in response to evil and oppression.

Philip Zimbardo is a contemporary social psychologist and founder of the Heroic Imagination Project who believes that there are two kinds of heroes: 1. Impulsive Reactive Hero (who make a split second courageous decision) and 2. Proactive hero (who reflects, gets information, and has to get other people on her side to right an injustice).

We’d like to think we’d have the courage to be an Impulsive Reactive Hero if faced with a terrible circumstance, but we can all be proactive heroes who refuse to look away from wrongs that are being perpetrated and plan a course of action to address it. We are faced with challenges or situations everyday in which we need to decide if we want to get involved. We don’t know if what we choose to do will even make a difference.

When asked what makes a hero, a young Senator Obama once said, “We never know how our actions are going to ripple over time. But each of us can take some responsibility for making sure that we are pushing a little bit in the direction of justice, and in the direction of equality, and in the direction of tolerance. When we do that we may surprise ourselves with the amount of influence we actually have just by standing up or speaking out.”

Most of us cannot quit our jobs and abandon our families to focus on fighting for social justice, but we can create or embrace opportunities to make a difference in the lives of someone we don’t even know. It may cost us some time and energy. It may subject us to ridicule by others. It may feel uncomfortable at times.

“Heroism is about one thing. It’s about a concern for other people in need, a concern to develop, to defend a moral cause knowing there is a personal cost or risk. And you do it without expectation of reward.” –Philip Zimbardo

If you follow me on social media you will notice that I refuse to be a bystander at this time in our history. I don’t necessarily consider that heroic, but I will stand up, speak out and get involved. That will be my ripple effect.

See Philip Zimbardo’s TED Talk “Heroes” here. I strongly encourage you to watch this and ask yourself, “What will my ripple effect be?”

 

 

These Go to 11!

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11 is my favorite number. (It’s one better than 10.) I’m also an unrepentant Spinal Tap fan!

Inspired by top 10 lists I offer you 11 (one more than 10) of my favorite inspirational quotes. Don’t under estimate the power of an honest, uplifting message to stimulate someone’s thinking, reframe a challenge, and energize the weary. I love to collect quotes and reflect on the deeper meanings and implications beyond the ‘simple’ phrase that serves as their container. There are many more than 11 uplifting quotes, for sure.  I’d love to hear what resonates with you!

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#1
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#2
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#3
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#4
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#5
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#6
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#7
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#8
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#9
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#10
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#11

What messages or memes inspire you?

I Wish People Knew…

We know teaching is a difficult profession. (Well you do if you are in it!) One of the things that makes it difficult is when we feel invested and  truly care about the children we work with.  This week I witnessed just how difficult it can be as I watched no less than than three teachers reduced to tears by their circumstance.  Difficult parents, reluctant students, and an inability to fix everything.

We can’t expect to get a lot of empathy from people outside the profession who think our job is easy, or that we aren’t working long enough or hard enough, or that they know more about teaching than we do. We can’t expect help from people who pass mandates that ask us to do more with less, who cry “more money won’t help” and “class size doesn’t matter”, or who think the quick fix (and only fix) is simply opening charter schools and passing out vouchers for ‘choice’.

Sure, there are many parents, friends and family members who support us but it can still be overwhelming and at times we feel alone. The thing is, we aren’t. I think it is increasingly important that we seek and give support to those who walk in our shoes everyday. I saw it when I witnessed other teachers rally to comfort the tearful teachers. They knew. They empathized. They had been there.

These distraught teachers were not “whiners’. They were genuinely stressed by circumstance and demands and I thought they displayed courage by reaching out for support. I think we need to do more of this. I also know that it isn’t just the circumstance of the day that can be the tipping point for us. We carry our entire lives into our classrooms with us that acts as a base layer for our days. We don’t shed our personal stresses, concerns, health, or hopes at the door. We are humans, not robots.

At a workshop I facilitated yesterday, I wanted to bring that sense of empathy and community to our large staff. We all know each other, or think we do. Yet each of us sitting there brought  all of our ‘outside life’ into the room. It is unavoidable, it’s as much a part of who we are as our DNA is. So before we began, I wanted us to approach our learning together with open hearts and a genuine caring for one another, our profession, and the work we do as we live our lives.

I asked each teacher to anonymously fill out a slip:Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 7.26.13 AM.pngThen we mixed up the slips and shared them at different tables to protect the anonymity of the writer. Here are some of the responses we read:

I wish people knew…

  • How difficult it is to take care of my mother.
  • How much I miss my babies.
  • I struggle to find nice things about myself that I like.
  • That I have social anxiety.
  • How much I work to make things less stressful for others.
  • That mornings are hard for me.
  • I’m dealing with a parent whose health is declining.
  • That if feel nervous in big crowds.
  • My anxiety controls me.
  • I was pregnant.
  • Sometimes I feel guilty that other people’s kids and not my own get the best parts of me because I’m so exhausted by the time I get home.
  • That I have a hard time showing emotions.
  • I worry about my adult children.
  • That it was my birthday.
  • That at school I feel very alone teaching.
  • How much the school means to me.
  • My dog is getting really old and it is breaking my heart.
  • That I grew up in a low income project in a city and that we lived off state welfare.
  • How discouraged I am due to the variety of student levels in my room.
  • I am always exhausted.
  • That the financial stress of planning a wedding is killing me softly.
  • I am still dealing with the death of my dog.
  • I have a horrible memory.
  • The heavy heart I carry.
  • How much I worry about my students’ home life.
  • I have a baby on the way.
  • Both my boys are in the military. That’s scary
  • How insecure I can be about my teaching.

There were dozens more. Each were equally touching and honest.  I can’t help but think differently about my staff now.  When I look into their faces, I have so much more empathy for the human beings they are, not just the teachers they present as. I thought I knew them all well, but there are so many levels of knowing!  As teachers, we acknowledge and grieve that our kids have struggles.  Let’s try to remember our colleagues do,too. Let’s continue to lift one another and be a light when things are dark.

What’s On My Book Radar?

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-47-26-amSCAR ISLAND by DAN GEMEINHART

I have loved every one of Dan Gemeinhart’s novels and not a one is in any way similar! He creates such strong characters, exquisite settings, and edge-of-your-seat plots! Each one I read I find myself saying, “This is my favorite!” In this couldn’t-put-down middle grade novel, Jonathan Grisby is sent to Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, but it’s more like a dungeon on an island. He’s done something so terrible, he cannot bring himself to tell anyone about it. When something bizarre happens on the island, the children find themselves free, but then they must grapple with what freedom really means. It’s not what any of them expected. This book is like Dickens meets Lord of the Flies! Do yourself a favor and get a copy …NOW!

Secure Your Own Mask First!

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-14-20-pmThere’s a reason airlines advise their passengers to “Secure your own mask first before helping others.” It may sound harsh, but they know you can’t help others when you are incapacitated. It’s advice we need to take to heart more often.

We’ve just come off some much needed down time from teaching.  For some, spending the holidays with friends and family was restorative and relaxing. For others, the opportunity to travel was exciting and enjoyable. For a few of us, the days may have been hectic and stressful.  But for all of us, it was time to focus on personal needs and choices- we received a little much needed oxygen.

As we transition back into our working lives, it is important to make sure we keep that oxygen mask secure when the pressure changes.  That oxygen mask is teacher self-care that will help us thrive in 2017.

So what can that self-care look like? It looks like kindness. It looks like patience. It looks like nurturing.  It doesn’t look like sh*#%d.  One of my mantras is “Stop “shoulding” all over yourself!” So as I offer some suggestions for self-care, try to avoid turning them into “shoulds”. That just leads to guilt and stress.  Rather, think about the care, nurturing, and advice you would give your child or any child and offer that same kindness to that child you see in the mirror each day!

BREATHE.  Seriously.  Most of us BREATHE shallow breaths that  leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases. It’s like we are in a constant state of hyperventilation. We sometimes hold our breath when we are stressed or upset.  We are rarely aware of our breathing unless we are ‘out of breath’ or have a cold.  Watch how babies BREATHE, deep relaxing breaths from their abdomens. When you feel stressed, anxious, or tired check in with your BREATHING.   Before the kids walk in the classroom take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Feel the oxygen filling your lungs and nourishing your body. BREATHE out the stress and anxiety. When tension levels peak during a lesson, take a few deep breaths before reacting. When the kids walk out the door take time to BREATHE deep and be grateful for the day. When we take time to focus on our breathing we are present in that moment and focusing on the gift being alive. Isn’t that really the most important gift we have?

SLEEP.  This is a tough one for me.  Life seems so short and there is so much I want to do, (so many books I want to read!) SLEEP sometimes seems like a waste or a luxury.   But researchers are finding an increasing relationship between SLEEP and health; both physical and mental.  Lack of SLEEP is related to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, memory loss, depression… A more recent study shows a 20% higher risk of car accidents when people don’t get enough SLEEP. There is no lesson plan, no grading, no studying that will offer you the health benefits that SLEEP will.  Think about it!

MOVE.  Most of us aren’t going from Couch to 5K, but we can all MOVE a little more each day.  One of the best things I did to monitor my movement was investing in a FitBit (or pedometer). I notice a huge difference in the way I feel on the days when I get very few steps in.  The health benefits for our bodies are well documented, but our brains also thrive when we MOVE. A recent study involving 120 people found that walking briskly 30-40 minutes a day three times a week helped to “regrow” the structures of the brain linked to cognitive decline in older adults.

If you find yourself sitting a lot at work, try to stand up every 30 minutes.  Walk around your classroom to monitor student work or vary where you address your students. Park further from school, walk to talk instead of sending email, make more trips to your car instead of carrying large loads. Try to get outside and walk before/after school, during lunch, or planning periods.  You can “work and walk” or you can take a brain break and MOVE.  Have walking meetings with colleagues! This isn’t leisure, it isn’t frivolous, it’s serious self-care. Encourage others to join you and think kindly of others who do it. They aren’t slackers-they are nurturers!

EAT.  But do it consciously.  I will never be successful with a restrictive diet-for long.  I EAT for more than nutritional reasons and I get that. It’s social. It’s festive. It’s fun.  If dieting was easy, I’d be Twiggy! What I can start to do, is EAT more mindfully.  I can think about whether a food is ‘calorie-worthy’  or ‘me-worthy’ when I choose to EAT it, and if it makes the ‘cut’,  I want to enjoy it-NO guilt.  Taste it, savor it, sit with it! If I slow down and really notice how it tastes and makes me feel, I’ll probably eat less more naturally. If I decide I really want something,  I can think about portions and pace and stop making myself feel guilty-robbing me of some of the joy that food was intended to give me! Stop thinking about deprivation, and focus more on appreciation!

STOP. We all have had that experience when we are driving someplace and realize we don’t remember going past something. We are on auto-pilot.  We do that during our workday as well.  The day is almost over and we realize we didn’t get everything done, or we feel stress as the day goes on, finding little things setting us off that normally wouldn’t.  If we just STOPped periodically to check in with ourselves we might find we can change the trajectory of our day and choose a direction that is helpful.

Transitions are a great time to STOP.  We can invite the kids to join us. “Ok, before we start (next lesson) let’s stop for a minute and think about (previous lesson) and how that went for you and what you need to be successful next.” Or “Let’s just stop and take a couple deep breaths to get our minds ready for (whatever is next)”

We can just check in with ourselves as well.  Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?  What do I need? What’s going well?”  Too often we only reflect on our difficulties and not successes. STOP to notice and then celebrate, too!

LOVE.  Before you find yourself getting bogged down in the minutiae of teaching and working, think about what you LOVE about teaching and try to give that the bulk of your energy and time. Find something to LOVE about each of your students (and colleagues) remember that when the going gets tough.  LOVE what you do. LOVE those you do it with. LOVE yourself and self-care will be a focus of all your actions!  “Where there is LOVE, there is life.” –Gandhi

So grab that oxygen mask, take a deep breath, and then you’ll be ready to help others!  Happy 2017, my friends!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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All We Have Left  by Wendy Mills

There have been several wonderful books about the September 11th tragedy on the 15th anniversary (nine, ten: a September 11 Story, Towers Falling, The Memory of Things, Eleven,and  Just a Drop of Water, to name a few.  I’ve just added Wendy Mills’ beautiful novel to my list.

Two girls’ lives intersect 15 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. This YA novel tells the story of 16 year old Alia, a Muslim who finds herself in the World Trade Center on that fateful day-she shouldn’t have been there. It also tells the story of Jesse, now 16 years old, whose brother Travis also should not have been in the tower and was trapped with Alia. Wendy Mills weaves these stories together beautiful and surprisingly as we see how hatred and love walk such a fine line in our lives. For older readers. Mills doesn’t hold back on the tragedy of that day as she seeks to share the heroism and humanity that still impact our lives today.

Olympic Teaching: 5 Lessons and Look-Fors from Rio 2016

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As the Summer 2016 Olympics begin much of the world will be following the feats of incredibly talented athletes as they strive for peak performance. Announcers will share profiles of athletes and expound on the life lessons we can take from these games. As with everything I experience, I often see it through the lens of an educator and the Olympics will be no different!

So what can the Olympics do to enhance our teaching?  I guess that is in the eye of the beholder, but for me I’ll be watching for inspiration and insights that will transfer beyond these events. So here is what I’ll be looking for:

Teamwork– even with individual events, no athlete makes it to the Olympics alone.  They are part of a team and there are so many support personnel who help them to make their dreams come true. We teachers are all a part of a larger team, even on those days when we feel most alone.  We couldn’t do what we do without a whole team including administrators, ed techs, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc. And every one of the athletes has at least one coach.  These coaches don’t just tell athletes what to do to win, they have strategies, inspiration, and feedback that helps pull the best out of them. I believe teachers deserve coaches, too. We should never feel like we have to go it alone.

Perspective-I listened to an interesting podcast recently about the perspective of medal winners in the Olympics.  Naturally gold medal winners are the happiest, but  you would think silver medal winners would be next.  Wrong.  It’s actually the bronze medal winners who are happier.  Turns out their perspective makes them more grateful.  Silver medalists compare themselves to gold medalists and think about what could have been. Bronze medalists compare themselves to non-medal winners and feel more fortunate.  Our perspective can certain impact our experiences in life. Constantly comparing ourselves to other teachers, classrooms, schools, etc. can erode our happiness.  Focusing on the ‘gift’ of what IS without the filters of comparison can provide us a perspective of greater happiness.

Goals-These athletes all set daily, weekly, monthly, lifetime goals and have plans to achieve them. They don’t plod along with hope and a prayer.  They approach roadblocks strategically and determinedly.  They all have setbacks. They all fail at some point. I want to think about what goals do I want to set for myself this year. Not goals for evaluation or administration, but personal goals to achieve MY peak performance this year.  Athletes make it look easy-but it’s not.  As I watch replays of victories or medal ceremonies I want to remember how much goal-oriented work went into helping those athletes succeed and take inspiration for those times that the going gets tough.

Failure– more athletes will fail at these Olympics than will win. Very few of those athletes will quit.  Many athletes speak of the losses that taught them more than the wins. Often they credit their toughest losses as being their greatest inspirations. I will enjoy the victories of the winners, but I will also watch how the other athletes handle their setbacks, disappointments, and losses and take inspiration from their courage and solace in knowing that even the most elite competitors will fail and move on.

Celebration-Win or lose, the Olympians all participate in celebrations-did you see the joy in that opening ceremony?  They sincerely appreciate the commitment and effort of their fellow athletes and feel a part of something larger than themselves. Many schools celebrate student accomplishments, but the schools that I work in with the best morale have always taken time to celebrate the effort and accomplishments of staff as well. As I enjoy the Olympics I will be reflecting on those teachers and staff around me who are working on personal or professional goals and contemplate ways to celebrate their efforts, progress, and achievements.

I’m sure as the games progress I will pull more inspiration and insights. I will remember how much effort and sacrifice went into preparing for that moment in the spotlight for each and every athlete, whether they win or lose.  I’ll enjoy the personal profiles and courageous bios, remembering each ‘star’ was once (and some still are) a child who was nurtured and guided to this achievement.

I’d love to hear what lessons others may glean from these games.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.27.38 PMDon’t let the title scare you off. It is integral to the story in a way you might not have imagined. I am putting this book on a MUST READ list. A story of three friends during their senior year in rural America (TN) who are contemplating what the future holds for them and are struggling with the limitations their past may have on that. Incredibly well written- I couldn’t put it down! An amazing book that can help young people think about their own personal identities as they see Dill, Travis, and Amelia examine theirs and ask “Who am I?” This book will make you feel so many emotions and hopefully encourage empathy for those around us who are marginalized or ‘discarded’. The Serpent King will be on many award lists this year!

 

 

Predawn Awakenings

#SOL16  Day 10

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Darkness.

My muse kisses my brow.

I roll over and reach for my pen,

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holding the thinking in my head until I secure my notebook.

Becoming proficient with blind scrawling.

Ideas flow from my sleepy brain to the beckoning page.

There it awaits a more lucid reader at dawn.

I retreat  into my downy burrow

Hopes of REM diminishing

This dormancy far too brief

when inspiration calls again.

 

Several years ago, as I began cultivating my ideas for CLOSE WRITING, I found my sleep pattern forever transformed.  Almost every night, I dream lessons and conversations with learners and awake in the predawn hours with ideas bursting from my head. I have notebooks and scrap papers littering my bedside -inspiration overload.  If I can release them to paper, I am often able to catch a few more zzzz’s, but more often than not, I’ve only opened the floodgates!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Metaphor?

images“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  -Socrates

I’m not exactly as bold as Socrates with my desire for self-reflection.  My life is still worth living, even as I stumble through it mindlessly on many a day.  But I do find deeper meaning in life when I take some time to reflect, examine and learn using some of the same principles and ideas that I embrace in my work with my other experiences.  So what in my day to day life would benefit from some of this reflection? How can I integrate my goal of reframing  into this process?

One way is to think more metaphorically, to help me make some meaningful connections and revelations.  Metaphors are powerful tools.  They help us to think about something familiar from a different angle, perhaps to gain a deeper perspective.  We can often discover new meaning in the common experiences -making the ordinary, more extraordinary.  How can I learn some deeper lessons and create more meaning from the ordinary in my life?

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Starting line with my son in Boston.

It hit me when I was out for a run this past weekend.  (Now, I should probably clarify my definition of ‘run’.  For those who know me, I am the fabled tortoise of the classic tale.) I took the winter off from running, in Maine snowshoeing and cross country skiing are more efficient modes of bipedal transportation.  So this spring I am in the process of getting my running groove back. It could be a bit  frustrating to start from the beginning, but I decided I would focus on the process and reflect on my progress.  So I thought…

Running is a metaphor.

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Miles for Mills 5K in Augusta, ME

There are dozens of running philosophers you can follow, but  for me I’ve contemplated a few ideas that shed some light on deeper truths for me in life.  How is running like teaching and learning (life)? Here are a few thoughts.

“You get out of it what you put into it.” This is so true.  My results are tied directly to my efforts, there are no cheats or ways around it.  I can’t look for a quick fix.  Teaching and learning is the same way-our results correlate with our efforts.  There are no easy answers for education reform, we know it is a lot of hard work over time that will yield results. To get stronger and better you need to push yourself, out of your comfort zone.  This isn’t always pleasant, but when you can see the results and understand their direct link, the process becomes a welcome challenge. We can help our students see the reward and benefit of moving out of that comfort zone when they can see results. There is no progress without effort.

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My one and only marathon!

“Do the best with what you’ve got.”- I do not have the body of Joan Benoit Samuelson, but I did run a marathon once.  She could have run several marathons in the time it took me to run mine-but it was my best and I did it with what I had.  The pride she felt when she was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the event must have been comparable to  the sense of accomplishment and pride I experienced crossing that finish line.  When we know we have done our best, THAT should be our measure of success.  Not all of our students will cross the finish line of their education at the same pace, but if we help them to do their very best with what they have-we will have been successful.

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Companionship trumps conditions!

 “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”- We can always find excuses to avoid the hard work we need to put in.  For running, it is weather or aches or road conditions.  For education it might be kids who aren’t ready, curriculum that isn’t great, books that are outdated, students who are unmotivated, parents who don’t care, etc.  We need to realize the conditions for what they are and then do our jobs in light of those factors.  Face the conditions, prepare for the conditions and then (sorry Nike)  JUST DO IT.  We’ll never get the perfect class, the perfect assessment system, the perfect standards-they are mythical. Stop waiting, start doing.

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Finishing is fun!

It never gets easier, you just get better. Sorry, for those of you who are waiting for the day when teaching becomes easier.  If you want to be the best  you can be, you never settle for easy.  To continue to grow you need to push yourself, try new things, face new challenges.  In running you move faster or run further or try new courses.  In teaching you read more books, take more classes, try new lessons-you become a leader.  Now don’t get disheartened-it shouldn’t be HARD all the time in life or in running.  But if you get to the point that you can just ‘phone it in’, you might want to hang up!

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Buddies help you create good habits!

Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.  Lots of people jump off the couch and lace up their shoes, determined that this is the year they are getting into shape.  The motivation is invigorating and exhilarating.  Sadly, motivation isn’t enough to sustain the hard work, tough conditions, injuries, setbacks and strain that can come with running. The school year is like that.  We all begin so excited with possibilities and motivation.  It’s hard, but we have the energy and we are determined to build stamina.  As the newness wears off and the year moves on, we need to draw on more than motivation to sustain us.  That’s when the strong habits we have built kick in and keep us on track.  We set ourselves up for success.  We prioritize our time and energy to make it easy to work out or create those lessons.  Creating the conditions that fosters success is critical, because we will all face setbacks, fatigue and disappointment that will zap our motivation.  I remember a quote I once heard that nails it, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  It’s as true for running as it is for life.

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Yeah, I just make it look easy! (haaa)

Nothing worth having comes easy.  If running were easy, we wouldn’t see so many cars on the way to work. Everyone can appreciate the effort it takes to run, whether it is a mile or a marathon. We are  in awe of those who make it look so easy.  We wouldn’t be in awe if it WERE so easy.  That’s what makes it special.  That’s what brings about an incredible sense of accomplishment when you simply finish a race and not just if you win it.  We don’t pat ourselves on the back for sitting in a chair, it’s not an achievement we take satisfaction in.  It’s the choices we make that require effort that provides us with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Remember that when it gets hard, and take time afterward to appreciate that effort before moving onto the next thing in your busy life.

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Being in the moment with my son!

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe…  Every run is a series of steps.  You can increase your pace, but you can never take more than one at a time.  That’s why there are moments when running is meditative (not to be confused with relaxing).  Runners can focus in on their breath, and the beat of a footstep to create a zen-like state.  You can focus your energy inward and truly be ‘in the moment’ at times.  Your life may seem to move fast, but it’s never more than one step at a time.  When we find opportunities to focus our attention to the step we are taking,  tasks seem more manageable, stress seems less intense, pain seems more tolerable. We don’t have to carry the burden of the entire journey in that moment. We can breathe in new air to refresh the oxygen supply to our cells.  We can breathe new ideas, energy and life into our tired bodies as well.  We can breathe out the carbon dioxide the way we can we can breathe out toxic thoughts, anxieties and perceptions.  Each breath we take refreshes and cleanses our bodies.   Don’t forget to breathe!

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Life is RAD!

I’m sure I could think of many more analogies for running and life/learning.  The idea isn’t to overload, but to offer up some food for thought.  Maybe your aren’t a runner.  It might not be your thing.  My point is that we often go through life without much thought on the lessons waiting for us to notice.  Running may not offer you lessons,  but there are choices you make in your life and things that you do that are waiting to teach you- to help you grow.

So to you I would ask, what IS your thing?  What is YOUR metaphor?

What’s On My Book Radar?

51wv0POg6lL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_For anyone who has contemplated running, but didn’t think it was your thing.  You might want to check out “The Penguin” (John Bingham)’s book The Courage To Start.  He writes a monthly column in Runner’s World and has been a huge inspiration for many Couch to 5K enthusiasts.  He took up running at age 43 with a simple jog down his driveway.  This book might be just the inspiration you need to try something new in life.  It could be YOUR new metaphor!