T’is (always) the season for the projection of perfection.

Hug

Hans-Jörg Aleff via Compfight

Social media paints the perfect picture of a life–all throughout the year–but especially during this holiday-heavy season.

I know that I only post things that I want my friends and family (Facebook, Instagram) and the world (Twitter) to see. I know I’m not alone in this.

Nothing is perfect though. Everyone is imperfect, but it’s easy to forget that when you’re staring into a screen.

I think social media is a great way to share the good things in our lives, and I’m not saying that anyone has to post uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing things online–though if that’s what you want to do, that is fine by me.

We all use social media for different reasons. I mostly use it as a place to share fun light-hearted things. I probably give the impression that everything in my life is sunshine and fluffy bunnies.

Before I post a picture, I can (and do) edit it. I filter it. If I don’t like it, I don’t post it. If it cast me in a positive light, I’ll probably post it. Such is the way of a social media post. On Facebook, I don’t want to post anything that makes other pity me or feel sorry for me or bring them down, so I probably won’t share, “I just got in a fight with my kid” or “I’m feeling insecure about my finances” or “I’m scared that so many people I know have cancer.” I don’t know that I ever will share any of that because of the way I use social media. This might be damaging to others though–others who believe what they see on social media–or see what they want to see/believe (???–still working this out in my head …)

I’ll repeat what I’ve already said though: Nothing is perfect. Everyone struggles. Everyone. I experience struggles similar to everyone I know. I may not post about them, but they are there. 

I have a friend who is struggling more than most right now and one of the things that is really stinging her is that people around her appear to have perfect lives (on social media). She is comparing her reality to this limited view of who we all are.

The point I’m trying to make is that what we project on social media is just a distilled fraction of who anyone is. No one can live up to the image that people portray here (or other social media outlets).

If you are struggling and you feel like you are on an island, I assure you that you are not. If you are feeling that way, know that you are never alone. I’m here. Others are here. It’s okay to reach out. Whether I’ve known you for a lifetime or if we’ve never met at all, I will probably not be able to solve your problem for you, but in my own imperfect way, I will do what I can to help you.

the thing about creative projects …

The responses I receive when students find out we are doing a creative project are wide and varied.

PicMonkey Collage

Some (probably obvious) observations:
1. Some students, no matter how much time you give them, will always waste it and become enraged on the actual due date, when there is a consequence for not being done. That could speak to many things — engagement, learning difficulties, distractions that have nothing to do with your class, distractions that have everything to do with your class …
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2. Some students have no desire to tap into the creativity that I know resides in all people. Some just have no desire to do so in English class. These same students probably exhibit creativity in other areas of their lives or could if they tried. In fact, I’m certain of it. They might not even recognize their creativity as creativity at times.
3. Because some students don’t demonstrate creativity in an English class, many of them grow up believing that they are not creative. How can we change that? For example, my husband used to say he wasn’t creative, but after watching him repurpose thing after thing after thing that another person would probably throw out into something useful, I had to convince him that he was indeed creative. He might not write a poem, but he IS creative.
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4. Some students are project-ed out. Teachers today, overall do a good job of trying to mix things up for their students, so much in fact, that students are often bombarded by projects–sometimes all at once. This is one piece of evidence that may help in proving the value of co/intercurricular projects. Why not kill two (or more) projects with one stone?

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5. Sometimes I think teachers (myself included) are not as creative as we could be in offering different ways of allowing students to demonstrate creativity in learning. (Confusing! And ironic!)

Questions for other educators:

What are some ways you have allowed students to demonstrate their learning creatively?

Have you ever allowed your students to go “free-range” on how they demonstrate learning? If so, what were the results? 

What are some things that you’ve seen students do that might not be recognized as “creative” but are creative? 

How can we tap into EVERYONE’s creativity, or at least give them a fighting chance to do so? 

 

We need to take care of our people.

Hug

Creative Commons License Benjamin Chun via Compfight

This past summer some of my drama students and I took part in an active shooter scenario training. Some students played the role of those who were terrorized by a gunman but survived with no physical harm. Other students played the roles of those who were injured or–even more horrifically–dead, complete with realistic wounds applied by moulage make-up artists. I played the role of a teacher who went into cardiac arrest after witnessing one of my students being shot to death. Other teachers and school employees took on the roles of classroom teachers and office personnel in the given situation. Administrators were also present to essentially play themselves in the scenario.

There are some feelings that arose during the training that I will never be able to properly articulate. There are thing about the training that I won’t share in fear of someone reading about it and using what I learned to their advantage should that person “snap” and attempt to carry out a loathsome plan of his/her own. I haven’t written about it until now–not for lack of trying– because it was a very difficult experience–one that I’ve reflected upon daily since I participated in it–one that has changed the way I do business in my classroom–one that has inserted an element of fear into my everyday life, not just for me, but more so for my students and my own children. I know that statistics are in our favor for the likelihood of something like the tragedies our country has experienced happening to my loved ones or me, but the statistics are changing with every mass shooting. Even though the training was completely simulated, by the time the scenario ended, I felt like crying. I felt like I could have an actual heart attack. Some of the students who participated had real panic attacks and needed real medical attention. Afterward, I wanted to place a protective shield around every school in America–around every child in the world. It was too real, which was hard, but also good because it gave administrators, first-responders, EMTs and law enforcement the chance to practice in case something like this ever happened in our community.

Got that? We offered them an opportunity to practice in case this ever happens to us. In our community. We had to practice. Because it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us. It used to be rare. Yesterday’s college campus shooting in Oregon is one more reminder that it is becoming more common. In the Omaha area alone there have been two mass shootings of recent date–one at Von Maur department store at Westroads shopping mall, and one at my alma mater, Millard South High School. And now yesterday, and before that, Charleston, Fort Hood, Newtown,  Aurora, Oakland, Columbine … Sadly, I know I’m leaving many out.

The fact that we have to train for something so unthinkable demonstrates how serious this possibility is. The fact that something like this is a possibility–a very real possibility–terrifies me. The fact that I don’t want to describe what we did that day or how we did it in fear that some depraved individual will read it and be able to better plan an attack, speaks to the culture of fear Americans live in.

Of course I want you to go home and hug your babies. Of course I want you to be vigilant. Of course I want everyone in education to go through the training I went through. Of course it makes me sad that I want that. But what I really want to examine is why this happens. There are many theories–most of them quite controversial in nature, but I favor one theory. We don’t take care of ourselves or each other.

We tend to our physical ailments without giving it a second thought, but for some reason taking care of our people’s mental ailments is still a secretive, taboo practice. It’s still something we are ashamed of. This causes people to NOT seek the help they need. It causes people to NOT seek the help that their children need. Mental illness makes us ashamed of something we cannot control. We are so damned concerned about how others perceive us that we are not taking care of basic health or doing so in secret. Think about this: Why do we call it “mental health”? Why do we separate it out? Health is health. Our minds are part of our bodies, so, while the mind is a specialized area, it’s still contributes to the health of the whole person.

And, I’m not talking about slapping drugs on the problem either, though I realize there is a time and place for medication. I’m talking about making talk, cognitive, or behavior therapy available without the stigma. I’m talking about making it okay to talk about what ails us, both mentally and physically. When someone has diabetes or cancer, we get upset with them when they don’t take care of themselves. When someone reaches out for assistance because they hear voices, or can’t control their own moods, we slap them with an ugly label and ostracize them. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks help. Without a support system in place, it’s unlikely that a person will.

No matter what diagnosis any one of the shooters in any of the recent or past situations may or may not have received, I feel confident in my untrained opinion that they all have some sort of untreated OR mistreated condition–that if they had sought and received the help they needed somewhere along the way–sometime before they made the decision on the 360 degree wheel of decisions to attack unarmed individuals–there would’ve been a chance that they would’ve chosen another way to deal with their problems. Without help, there was no chance to avert these tragedies. I am not saying that these shooters are blameless–they ARE responsible for the depravity of their acts. I cannot even speak or write any of their names because I don’t want to glorify their actions. But, we need to get to the root of the problem. We cannot ignore it anymore. Let’s get over ourselves and admit it when we need help. When others need help, let’s make sure they get it. Let’s remove the shame attached to seeking help for legitimate, treatable problems.

It seems that we are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We need a refresh-reset for our society. There is no pat, simple answer for how to prevent this sort of tragedy. There is a web of interconnected problems in our society today. I do know one thing for certain though: We need to take care of our people.

What We Wish We Knew

Listen, Understand, Act

Steven Shorrock via Compfight

Have you ever wished to know what made a particular student tick? Why s/he behaves in such an unruly fashion? Why s/he seems so sad all the time? Why s/he never turns in homework? Why s/he doesn’t respond when you ask a question in front of the class?

At the end of last school year, a teacher from Colorado asked her third graders what they wished their teacher knew about them. She gave them the sentence stem of “I wish my teacher knew …” and let them complete the sentence. The results were telling and heartbreaking. The children’s honesty floored her and when she shared some of the responses with the interwebs, the people of the interwebs were astonished too. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew went viral. It even reached into my classroom. One of my students wrote a blog post that broke my heart and it inspired me to want to write something in response. However, the end of the school year happened, and then a new job offer happened, and then a summer class happened, and then starting a new job happened, and here I was in the midst of a new school year and I still hadn’t written anything. However, once I decided that one of the first assignments I gave my new students this year would be the high school version of what Kyle Schwartz asked her third graders to do, I knew it was finally time to write one too.

The assignment asked students to write at least one paragraph explaining what each student wished their teacher(s) knew about them. The students’ writing has been so honest and so helpful in learning about them in just a few sentences (or more. Some went well beyond the one-paragraph minimum). And so, I am still inspired and now I will write what I have been wanting to write, since Devon posted her #IWishMyTeacherKnew piece in her blog last May. As a result of this assignment, I have created a page dedicated to the subject of what #IWishMyStudentsKnew. The reason I’m making it a page and not a blog post is that it’s important to me that students (and their parents, and my colleagues) get to know me. It is just as important for me to get to know them and this assignment helped me get a little closer to understanding them as individuals. I also will shape and mold it as my career carries on. There will always be something new to add or subtract as I gain experience and as my philosophy evolves.

I encourage you to do the same. I think your students will be surprised to learn what you have to share with them. I think you will be surprised what you learn about yourself.

Here is a link to my page –> #IWishMyStudentsKnew.

On Overparenting

Walk towards the light

Creative Commons LicenseJoris Louwes via Compfight


Jessica Lahey: We really need to stop looking to our kids for validation. They are not extensions of us, nor indicators of our performance, and it’s unfair to saddle them with that responsibility.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Yeah. And our need for validation needs to be taken up with a therapist, not imposed on our kids’ existence. As Carl Jung said, ‘The greatest harm to a child is the unlived life of the parent.’

~ How Schools Are Handling An ‘Overparenting’ Crisis


This is NOT a judgment on ANY parent who reads my blog. I am an imperfect person and parent and I am definitely guilty of some of these overparenting “sins” (e.g. driving an assignment that one of my daughters has left at home or in my car to her school … or signing something digitally that should’ve been signed a week ago on paper … ) In fact, I did this yesterday. My daughter needed her paper signed, but she left it in my truck. Instead of just letting her experience a consequence, I drove it to her. I “rescued” her. I allowed her to be a damsel in distress. I shouldn’t have done that. 

Overparenting IS a thing. I’ve noticed it as a teacher and a parent and I acknowledge that it is an individual parent issue but that it is also a systemic problem. The unwieldy goals we (as in we, a society) expect students to attain at younger and younger ages puts unneeded pressure not only on kids, but on their parents as well.

Image is everything in the United States. We (the collective, general parent we) don’t want to look bad in the eyes of the school (as in the people who work at the school) or of other parents, so we protect not only our kids from failure but our own images in the eyes of others. It doesn’t help that, as a mom, who knows other moms, I know that some moms judge each other. That IS a thing too. As a teacher, I know that some teachers judge parents based on factors that they shouldn’t. And so that IS a thing as well. (Conversely there are some parents judging teachers based on things they shouldn’t too … ) So, we all know that we are all silently judging each other and some of us are just vain enough to worry about what other people are thinking–so much so that we manipulate our own image and the images of our children to portray the things we think we want to be (or what other people want us to be) rather than what we are. Humans are inherently judgey. And inherently vain. And inherently insecure … so it’s no wonder overparenting exists. We are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Letting your kids suffer natural consequences is GOOD for them. Having a 4.0 is overrated. One of the best things that ever happened to my oldest daughter was getting a B. Bubble popped and she survived. This helped her understand that she was still a valuable human being–even though she no longer carried a “perfect” GPA. Guess what happened … She still got a good scholarship at a school she wanted to attend in the program of her choosing.

You get a detention for not having your assignment done? BOOM. No one hurt you or berated you (too extensively) for said detention, and you survived, but you sure remembered your assignment the next time, right? You forgot your lunch … Well, you might be really hungry when you get home tonight, but you have enough energy in your body to survive until dinner, and I bet you’ll remember your lunch tomorrow. You waited until the last minute to do the project you’ve had weeks to do? Hmmm … you might squeak out some C-level work there at the end, and it might not best reflect your learning and it may affect your overall grade, but that’s better than having your mom finish it for you so that you can maintain your 4. POINT. Oh.

Allowing our children to experience and more importantly SURVIVE failure is one of the best things we can do for them. If there is someone judging you based on your child’s inability to remember gloves day after day after day, despite blizzard-like conditions, not only does Judgey McJudgerperson need a new hobby, but you can find friends who will commiserate with you rather than scrutinize you for the inconsequential anyway.

I love what Jessica Lahey says about our children NOT being extensions of us as parents. It’s not fair to the parent to view a child as an extension of herself and it is certainly not fair to the child–who is her own person, with her own mind, and her own need to experience and learn first-hand. This process (known as “growing up”) can be painful for the child and the parent, but failure is the best way to learn.

I speak from experience. I am a failure. I have been a failure time after time, which is why I know what I know (which is infinitely tiny compared to what I could know). I learn so much more when things are a struggle for me than I do when things are going well. I’m not saying it’s NOT nice to have things go well, but it’s also good to temper the easy-breezy with some learning. We owe it to our children to back off and let them learn some things “the hard way” too.

Parenting is not for the weak, but neither is life. Letting our children fail in safe ways when the stakes are lower (e.g. letting them go hungry at lunch for one day) will prepare them to be adults who can handle life–even when it’s hard.

I am an activist teacher.

X is for...340/365

Creative Commons License AndYaDontStop via Compfight

It’s amazing how a 20-minute conversation can change the way you view yourself. Just like that, I became an activist teacher. 20 minutes! I have never thought of teaching as a political act prior to today, and I feel naive admitting this, because now it seems so obvious, but in the interest of transparency and honesty I’m sharing this with you, dear reader. I’ve always considered myself a little bit of a quiet system bucker, even in my earliest days of teaching, but the word “activist” wasn’t on my radar in relation to ME.

Today the class I am in went and visited another class that has been studying teacher activism. We rotated through two of three stations and in one of the sessions they asked us to think of a time when we opposed a policy, curricular choice, or something else in our school and what step we took to oppose it. It was very easy for me (and my colleagues) to come up with several examples. The older I get the more squeaky of  a wheel I become. I cannot stand idly by and allow things that are not good for our students to happen.

When I think about the educators I admire most, (from those I’ve studied –John Dewey, Paulo Friere, Ira Shor, bell hooks, Jean Piaget–to those I’ve grown to admire more recently–Rick Wormeli, Ken O’Connor, Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, many of my Twitter friends–and those I know personally–you know who you are …) I have come to realize that one of the reasons I am drawn to them is because they stand up for what is right for students.

Every time I make a decision in the interest of my students, even if it goes against the status quo, I am an activist. Every time I post something on my blog that aims to change the way someone thinks, I am an activist. Each time I defend public education to the naysayers, I am an activist. Each time I stand up for my students, I am an activist. Acknowledging this makes me feel brave.

I might be taking small steps in the world of activism compared to other more public figures in education or even some of you that I know more personally, but as my confidence builds, so shall my activism, especially now that I know I am an activist.

 

 

Kids these days: They just don’t know how to communicate …

 

The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

~ Kakuzo Okakaura

There are all sorts of posts on social media and comments being made about how “kids these days” are becoming less social and less able to interact socially/intelligently because of smartphones and tablets and computers and drones and wifi and cyborgs … (WATCH THIS–> We are ALL cyborgs now. ~ Amber Case)  but I can tell you that this weekend I took a road trip with three 12/13-year-old girls who spent the entire weekend reading, writing, researching, AND speaking with one another both through traditional language (speaking), through writing (texting, messaging) and through visuals (Instagramming, SnapChatting). They type; they talk; they make videos; they share images; they giggle; they consume viral content; they CREATE content; they experiment; and they are just like I was when I was 12, except that they have modern technology–(just like I had modern technology when I was 12. It just happens to be 26-year-old technology at this point in history).

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

 

I understand why people see it this way. There are people (kids and adults) who over-use the technology that is so readily available to us. There are people who rarely see sunshine, or have hunched backs from constantly huddling over screens. There are people who have taken waaaay too many pictures of themselves (myself included). But, I do not believe for a second that modern technology hinders communication. Social media is a form of literacy. If you don’t learn it, you will become, in a way, illiterate. Refusal to learn is refusal to live life to its full potential.

The girls spent a lot of time using their screened devices. I am the mean mother who still hasn’t purchased a smartphone (nor a stupid phone) for my daughter, but she has an iPad from school and her friend has two smartphones, so she let my daughter borrow the smartphone she no longer uses, as a wifi-ready device for the weekend. There were several remarkable things I’d like to note about what happened our trip.

On the way to South Dakota, the girls decided that they wondered what it would be like to time-lapse themselves for the entire way there. One of the girls time-lapsed herself sleeping the other night and that idea spurred this idea. They set up one of the iPads and began time-lapsing the trip. Then they decided it would be pretty awesome to not only have a time-lapse of themselves, but also of the road, so they set up a second iPad. We had simultaneous time-lapsing going on. It was a rather nifty experiment.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

 

The next thing that happened was they did a lot of sharing through digital communication. They also talked … a lot. They would be talking while they were sending each other digital content. Color-me-impressed with how much talking occurred this weekend. (It was nearly non-stop.)

These girls are documentarians. If you wanted to create a timeline of our weekend, you could. You might be overwhelmed by the massive body of work, but you could definitely chart our activities through the girls’ pictures and posts. At the end of the trip, my daughter’s two friends told their moms to follow me on Instagram so that they could see what their weekend was like. As a mom, I would really like to be able to see that. If my child is away from me, I would find it a blessing to know what she did while she was away. (Now that my oldest daughter is away at college, this is especially true!)

Anytime the girls were unsure of something, they researched it online. The answers are there. We were able to talk about website credibility through this. We were also able to practice concert etiquette–one of the important components being–>put your phones away during the concert! When the girls started to interact in catty ways with girls who weren’t physically there, we had the opportunity to talk about how staying out of “the drama” of being a girl is really better than engaging in it. If someone baits you online, it’s best to not take the bait! We had some excellent conversations. If someone says “like for a #TBH DM” don’t hit LIKE. Don’t do it! I learned some things this weekend, but I think they did too.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

 

At one point during the trip, there was a “fight,” as often happens when you get three girls together for any extended period of time. After said fight and after a little parental intervention (AKA group therapy sesh), I witnessed the three girls work out a problem they were having through Snapchat. One of them sent an (intentionally) unattractive photo of herself to the other with the message, “Why can’t we be fweinds?” right before the concert started, and then they were all holding in laughs and giving each other knowing looks that conveyed “WE ARE FRIENDS” or “fwiends” if you will. Up until that point, I thought Snapchat was a good-for-nothing app that served only as a way to send inappropriate images to one another under the guise of “safe anonymity”. It still CAN be that–no doubt about it–but if we educate our children how to use such apps responsibly, then amazingly enough, even Snapchat can be useful.

In addition to all the things I mentioned above, we also saw three collegiate orchestral, concert and symphonic band concerts, went thrift store shopping, took a self-guided tour of the statues of the USD campus, went swimming, sang songs, visited the National Music Museum where we were all able to take a crack at playing the gamelan and my youngest daughter got to spend (face-to-face) time with her big sis.

We took three "groupies" as the girls called them or "us-ies" as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of "groupies" in my generational vernacular. We took one at every concert.

We took three “groupies” as the girls called them or “us-ies” as Dave Guymon  calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of “groupies” in my generational vernacular). We took one at every concert.

 

So, do these devices make us less social? NO. We may socialize in different ways, but we are not less social. Are kids super-self-centered in that they take a thousand selfies per minute? YES. Have you ever heard of a generation of adolescents who have not been self-absorbed though? They may have shown their self-absorption in other ways, but kids have always been on some level (varying by individual, of course) of the belief that they are the sun and the rest of the people in their lives are the world–revolving around them. Being self-absorbed at that age is NORMAL. My friends and I used to stare at ourselves FOR HOURS … (no hyperbole here … ) in the mirror making weird faces and bursting into laughter. HOURS. Now, they just do it into a screen and possibly make a montage of the most awkward photos or a mashup or a meme. If my friends and I could’ve done the same, we would’ve.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven't stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in new ways 20 years from now. Just like I did in new ways than my parents. It's called change. It's what happens as time marches on.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven’t stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in ways currently unimagined  20 years from now.

 

Balance. Of course, we need balance in everything we do–not just in digital VS. face-to-face interactions, and technology vs. nature–but in work vs. play, health vs. indulgence, physical vs. mental activity, fun vs. serious, and so on. Technology changes communication, but in my opinion, communication is easier today than it has ever been. Communication is more creative today than it ever has been. And kids are the same as they ever were; they just have new ways of expressing themselves.

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~ Eric Hoffer