Selfies and selfie sticks have rapidly infected our society with the contagious disease of being self-centered. The "look at me" syndrome is nothing new, but when dramatically heightened through technology, it begs the question:
If we primarily focus on ourselves, what will we accomplish?
When I was going through challenging times in my life, I fully admit, I posted selfies. I realize this was because I was at a low point. I was insecure. I was lonely. I wanted recognition from likes and comments that all was going to be okay.
Interestingly enough, loneliness and selfishness go hand in hand as John T. Cacioppo, Hsi Yuan Chen, and Stephanie Cacioppo discovered in their research. Their article journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167217705120 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reveals a reciprocal relationship between loneliness and being self-centered. If you're self-centered, you are more likely to be lonely, and if you're lonely, you're likely to become self-centered.
On the other hand, I realize social media sites are a way to connect and see how your friends and family are living their lives. But it's a fake connection. Let's be honest, social media sites also allow one to accumulate acquaintances and even strangers and 'watch' their lives through the photographs and comments they choose to post. It's a form of unhealthy voyeurism. I would much prefer to spend quality time with friends and family in real life. I want to celebrate their ups and support them in their lows.
So, I urge you to refocus your energies on others and the world. Here are 5 tips to help you:
1. Don't spend mindless time on social media sites. Disconnect from sites that encourage and promote self-centered behavior. This is one of the reasons Linked In is now the only network site I use as it feels like a true place to connect professionally with individuals. It's not a place to collect followers (although that is an option), it's rather a place to connect with leaders and innovators in your field and learn from them, as well as read interesting articles about a myriad of topics. Also, note the key term 'mindless'. Browsing to browse is unhealthy behavior.
2. Don't take pictures of yourself. Instead, photograph those you love, photograph nature, and even take an 'eye' photograph, this means no camera or technology needed. Just be fully present and enjoy the moment!
3. Don't just talk about yourself. When in conversation with another person, focus your energy to learn about the other person. Genuinely ask them how they are and listen. Be present. Don't bulldoze the conversation with your own thoughts. If you're speaking more than you're listening, it's a problem. Fix it.
4. Don't focus on selling yourself. Instead genuinely see how you can help someone else. If you have a service you want to offer, don't shove it down someone else's throat. Instead, seek to learn and find ways to be of service. If you can be helpful to others, the connection will naturally happen.
5. Don't plan your day/week/month/year without considering the needs of others. Take time each morning to think about ways you can be more present and helpful to others. If you have focused your entire day to only serve yourself and your needs, you will be stuck in a self-centered spiral and will gradually shut people out of your life.
Our devices are becoming almost more important to us than nurturing the real relationships in our lives. While we may vehemently disagree with this statement, our actions are frequently proving otherwise.
I am no saint in this area. I too get sucked into my device. While there are times I am reading and responding to important emails, most often I find myself randomly browsing. I even go so far as to justify my browsing and claim it's important. I might be reading articles that peak my interest, or click on a delicious recipe I may want to make, or read someone's story about how they became strong and healthy in under thirty days. I can argue that I've learned something new that I can apply to my life. But really, what I'm doing is losing time that I can never get back with the people I care about most.
The information on the device is available at anytime. If you are by yourself and want to enjoy your device, by all means. But when you have a choice: to be on your device or spend time with someone who is literally in the same room as you, please choose the person!
Something that breaks my heart is when I see two or more people out to dinner but each person is on their own device. They disengage from one another. I've seen people eat entire meals in this state. I wonder why they chose to go out in the first place. Did they really enjoy their meal? Did they really enjoy each other's company?
Have you ever been around someone who is on their device? Did you notice that you too gravitate towards your own device? It's almost as if it gives you permission to do so. And neither party feels guilty and neither party notices how quickly time passes without a word being spoken between the two people.
Please invest in your relationships at work and at home by trying these 3 steps:
1. Put devices away and set them to airplane mode or do not disturb mode at all meals. Fully engage with those at your table.
2. Stop looking at your device right before bed and right when you get up. Instead, develop a night time ritual that allows you to read a physical book, or speak to someone about their day, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and their life. Maybe use this time to express your gratitude and write in a gratitude journal. Take a bubble bath. Treat yourself to real life.
3. When in a room with someone else, put your phone away and engage with them fully. However, we all need to use our devices at different times. If you must use your device, please be polite and express that you will use it for a specific amount of time and that you will then give your full attention to the person in the room. This allows that other person to know you'll be busy working or browsing or checking emails for a designated amount of time before you spend time together.
And, if you want to be on your own, go to another room, take a walk, do what you need to do, but don't make that person feel less important than your device by turning your attention to the device right in front of them.
Will we allow friendships and relationships to suffer because of our addictions to our devices or will we put down our devices and actually engage with those we cherish? What will you choose?
5 Secrets of Effective Listeners
Listening. We're not very good at it. In fact, most of the time, we're distracted. We're thinking about what we want to say next. Or we're thinking about something entirely different.
Research indicates that we can speak at a rate of 125-175 words per minute but we actually have the capacity to hear over 450 words per minute. This is why our mind often wanders. We are filling in this gap with our own thoughts.
Moreover, our attention span as adults is incredibly short. It is said that it last 22 seconds (less or more depending upon our level of interest). So, no wonder we have a listening problem and a listening deficit in our society. If we want to improve our relationships and make positive social change, we desperately need to become better listeners.
Here are five secrets of effective listeners.
1. They don't pretend they're listening. Have you ever heard of the following tips to help you be a better listener? Make eye contact. Nod and smile to show you're listening. Make sure to say: "uh-huh" every few sentences. Forget those. If you are really invested in what someone is saying you'll do those things naturally. If you're not invested and you don't want to listen, then disengage from the conversation. The worst thing you can do is to pretend to listen when you are disengaged, distracted, or disconnected. It's much more respectful to bow out of the conversation and find a time to connect with someone at another point where you can fully focus on them and nothing else.
2. They are fully present and open. Invest in actively listening and being fully present. Granted, your mind will still wander off at times, but acknowledge this and refocus back on the person in front of you. Give them your undivided attention. This deals with single-tasking. And listen with an open heart and open mind. Forget judgments. If you listen with love, you'll be hard pressed to judge someone at the same time - for those two are opposites. Actively, consciously, and empathetically listen to someone else.
3. They listen more than they speak. Even the word conversation assumes a back and forth between listening and speaking. We assume the two would take turns and would perhaps even be equal partners. To have a truly meaningful conversation, I encourage you to focus on the other person and take the focus off of yourself. Aim to just focus on listening while in a conversation.
4. They listen to learn. A conversation is an opportunity to learn from someone else. If you see it as an opportunity to dominate the conversation and just share your own thoughts and opinions, you may come off as pompous and even narcissistic. Forget your own ideas, thoughts, and contributions, for you already know those things already. What do you learn when you're the only one talking? Instead, truly invest in that other person. Make it your mission to learn something and to simply genuinely be there for someone else. Make it a self-less act. Make it a joy for someone to want to share with you. The goal should be to listen in order to understand the other person.
5. They are curious and ask questions. Find out more! Ask questions that dig deeper. Too often people don't ask enough questions. Pay attention to this the next time you're having a conversation. Notice the amount and kinds of questions you ask. Aim to ask open-ended questions to allow for a longer and more interesting response. You might be surprised at what you discover.
If only more people were fully present, truly listened, were curious to learn more, and with the intent to learn, imagine how much happier and more understood everyone would feel. Imagine the impact on friendships, relationships, and even broken partnerships around the world.
Here are the five things to do to ensure you have a great start to your next day: Reflect, prioritize, prepare, relax, and rest!
1. Reflect: Think about today.
2. Prioritize: Now think about tomorrow.
What three things do you most want to accomplish in your work and in your life?
Don’t just think about three things that are the easiest to check off the list, such as answering a few emails and making a couple of phone calls. While these might be important, are they a priority for YOU to move forward in your work and in your life? If not, they shouldn’t be a priority. Rather these are just somethings you can accomplish ONCE you’ve taken care of your top three priorities of the day.
In a Franklin Covey time management workshop, I remember the jar analogy. It was filled with big rocks and sand that filled in all the cracks. Then all the contents were dumped out and the sand was poured in first. The sand represents the non-essentials, the non-important parts of our lives that we still may need to do. The big rocks didn’t fit after all the sand was in the jar. Instead, when you put the big rocks in first, the sand poured around the rocks and everything fit in the jar. Think of taking care of the big rocks first and don’t get bogged down by tiny grains of sand.
Focus on what gives you the most fulfillment in your work and in your life and work towards those goals. Once you’ve achieved your top three action items of the day, then you can take care of those smaller grains of sand.
3. Prepare: Be ready for tomorrow.
I like to prepare everything for the next day the night before. This includes choosing my work outfit, preparing snacks and meals, and prepping my work bag. I make sure everything is ready to go so all I need to do is wake up, take a shower, change, eat breakfast, and head out the door.
This extra bit of time in the morning takes the stress off and provides for a more relaxing and calm morning. I eliminate rushing at home, on the road, and at work. This also improves my mood, which in turn, impacts others around me.
4. Relax: Unwind tonight.
An hour before bed, start winding down your ‘work’ brain. In fact, if you can, try to ween yourself off work as early as you can. But if you must work, spend the hour before you go to sleep relaxing. Take a bath, shower, read a book, relax with friends and/or family, but shut down your ‘work’ brain. Turn your computer off, get it charged, and try to avoid phone browsing and web surfing. Too much screen time before bed makes it much harder to fall asleep!
5. Rest: Now shut it down.
Get enough sleep. Ensure you’re in bed a good eight hours before you need to wake up.
I usually aim for at least nine hours of sleep but if I get in bed later, I know I’ll have at least eight hours of sleep. Plan to get in bed at a time where you can allow your body and mind to reset and recharge for at least eight hours. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem.
Remember to reflect, prioritize, prepare, relax, and rest to ensure a great start to the next day!
It is critical to change our own mindset to improve our relationships with others. Stop trying to control others. Instead, focus on your own thoughts, actions, and words.
Here are three secrets to dramatically improve your relationship with others:
1. Initiate with love
Be proactive and stop being reactive. Instead of responding to what happens to you, initiate with love through kind actions or words. If in the past you've had a difficult encounter with someone else, you should be the one to approach them with genuine care and love. When a loved one comes home, greet them at the door with a big smile, hug, and a kiss. When you see a co-worker, comment on their positive attributes and characteristics that you truly admire. Perhaps write a thoughtful note expressing gratitude for the work that they do or the importance they might hold in your life. Perhaps do a favor for someone else. If people remember you as someone who offers them love and kindness, they will view you in a more positive light and will be more likely to respond in kind. But make sure you do this without expecting anything in return. It might take some time before love comes back to you. Don't rely on others to make you happy. Focus on gratitude in your own life and just offer love from a strong sense of self.
2. Listen with an open mind and heart
When someone is stressed, angry, sad, or feels the need to complain or vent, don't try to offer advice or say anything that begins with the words: "well at least..." and then complete the sentence with something like "Well at least you're alive" or "Well at least you're not alone." This isn't really listening to someone else.
Make sure you listen to truly hear someone rather than listen in order to respond. Try not to say anything while listening. Just give physical cues that you're listening. If you must speak, just go: "Hmmm" with a considerate head nod. Even if there's a pause in the share, just wait and provide space for that person to continue. More often than not, that person will continue to empty their cup, so to speak. People might want to share a lot, whether it's positive or negative. Do this in your personal relationships and in your work relationships. Don't look at your phone or your computer. Don't be distracted by others around you. This will pull you away from listening and the other person will feel insignificant. Instead, really listen. If they ask you for advice or your thoughts, then you may provide them. But if they don't ask for advice or your response, DON'T GIVE IT!
3. Respond with empathy
When we feel seen and heard, we feel understood and loved.
If someone acted in a way that may be frustrating, respond with grace, love, and kindness. For instance, is someone spilled something, rather than get mad, imagine what it might be like to spill something. It's most likely not intentional and it probably feels embarrassing. Instead of punishment, offer help!
When my students act out of the ordinary, I usually ask them if they're okay. I assume the best intention from each person. I don't punish. I don't get mad. I don't yell. Why would I want to make their day worse? Instead, I just offer love. Imagine yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want to hear in response to your own words and actions.
Remember to initiative with love, listen with an open heart and mind, and respond with empathy and I guarantee your relationships will improve.
The Power of Positive Feedback
I urge teachers, administrators, parents, and loved ones to provide positive feedback and catch others doing great things, rather than point out other people’s weaknesses. While there is a time and a place to receive constructive criticism, more often than not, I find that people are more receptive to positive genuine and specific feedback than to any form of criticism.
When classroom management plans are created, consequences are naturally a part of the conversation. What will happen if a rule is broken? What if a behavior contract fails, what’s the next step? While it’s valuable to think about what might happen if someone doesn’t follow expectations, I think it’s more important to recognize those who do meet and go beyond expectations.
As this was our first week back at school, I noticed a few students, who in the past struggled with meeting expectations, being incredibly focused, kind, and attentive. I had to recognize and applaud their behavior. I wanted those students to know that I noticed their efforts. I wanted their parents to know that their children are highly capable of being rock stars in the classroom. And so, I decided to email families and let them know how impressed I was with those particular students. The response I received was wonderful. The parents were happy to hear great news. One parent in particular wrote me: “This is the best email I've read in a long time!”
It’s also important to express positive feedback to the person directly. When I told one of my students how impressed I was with his focus, his willingness to help others, and his positive contributions, he responded with a giant smile. He could tell I meant every word and he was happy to receive my genuine compliment. I already know our connection has become stronger because of that moment and I look forward to my next class with that student.
I have decided to reach out to students and parents on a regular basis and express the great work I’m seeing in my classroom.
When providing positive feedback, I encourage you to remember three things:
1. Be genuine. The feedback you’re sharing needs to be true and from the heart. You truly need to feel proud of what you’re noticing.
2. Be specific. Make sure to share what exactly went well. What particular behaviors stood out to you as being exceptional? What success did that student experience in class?
3. Be immediate. When giving positive feedback, make sure to reach out the same day, if possible. If too much time has passed, you’ve lost your opportunity for the positive feedback to really hit home.
After being trained in Responsive Classroom 1 and 2 a while back, I’m used to guiding students through envisioning their hopes and dreams for the school year. When I was a middle school advisor, I had students create their hopes and dreams for the year in two areas: academic and social. They would then list two actions steps they would take to try and reach each goal.
For instance, for the academic goal, a student might write: “Improve my focus in my classes.” While this could seem like a social goal, the ability to focus will enhance the participation in class and understanding of what’s happening. Perhaps an action step is to ask at least one question per class or ensure to contribute at least once in each class. Another action step might be to talk to the teacher or choose to sit close to the front. A social goal might involve making new friendships, sitting with new people at recess, or even connecting with students across grade levels at lunch. And then action steps would follow.
I've also had students dream about what they hope to do and be one day and consider what skills they would need to practice in my class to help them achieve that goal. Once these hopes and dreams were articulated, students beautifully wrote their hope and dream to be put on display. Hopes and dreams displays can take many forms, from puzzle pieces that are put together, pieces of a quilt, clouds in a sky, stars in the sky, leaves on a tree, and even superhero capes attached to a photo of the corresponding student in a superhero pose. A display honors the importance of articulating, sharing, and publicly posting your hopes and dreams. Moreover, the display serves as a reminder to support one another to achieve them. Reflecting on progress made towards these goals is crucial throughout the year.
While hopes and dreams are critical for students, teachers greatly benefit from this process as well. This summer, I led a workshop for teachers to create their hopes and dreams for the school year. Teachers selected a professional goal and a personal goal that could be accomplished by the end of the year. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s BFG, I decided to have teachers create their own dream jars. I provided two jars per teacher, one jar per goal. On the outside of the jar, they labeled their dream jar with a goal and they listed a couple action steps they might take to reach that goal. Then, each teacher contributed ideas on how to help others achieve their goals by writing suggestions on popsicle sticks. These sticks were then added to the jar and accountability buddies were formed to ensure each teacher was supported in reaching their goal. The teachers loved this idea! They not only enjoyed the process themselves but were excited to create hopes and dreams with their students. It’s important to remember to be clear about your own goals at the beginning of the year and to have a system of support. Share your hopes and dreams with your students and reflect on how you're doing throughout the year.
And finally, involve families in creating hopes and dreams for their children. You can do this face-to-face at Back to School Night, through an online survey, or as a handout to complete during the first week of school. Some families might surprise you and say they just hope their child makes a friend in the class or that they fall in love with reading. Knowing the hopes and dreams of families may greatly affect your teaching practice.
It really does take a village to raise a child. By inviting all parties to create hopes and dreams, you create a stronger family, student, teacher partnership right from the start.
There has never been more of a need for arts education.
The arts are powerful.
The arts allow us to find our voice and express it.
The arts allow us to not just read and write about experiences but to become, relive, and imagine new experiences.
The arts encourage us to step into other people's shoes and explore multiple perspectives.
The arts not only build empathy but move us to show compassion.
The arts challenge our way of thinking.
The arts require discipline, hard work, failure, and multiple attempts.
The arts are naturally interdisciplinary and draw from many sources, ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
The arts cross cultural divides.
The arts thrive on social justice.
The arts act as therapy.
The arts make us look within and tackle the things we wanted to keep buried.
The arts revitalize communities, give hope to the hopeless, and provide opportunities for joy and peace.
The arts express our emotional palette in ways beyond what research papers can ever hope to show.
The arts speak about humanity and are our human language.
The arts document our beliefs, fears, dreams, hopes, and realities.
The arts make us question and think critically.
The arts beautify our lives.
The arts provide millions of jobs.
The arts are everywhere, for they live in architecture, in museums, at parties, and in the very depths of our souls.
The arts reveal who we were, who we are, and who we can become.
The arts do not belong in a box for they breathe, move, and continuously evolve.
The arts are a core component of every society, cutting them out would be like losing a vital organ.
I applaud the entire President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for resigning because they could not stand by acts of racism, exclusion, discrimination, and allow for any further division in the fabric of our American values.
To fight against the problems in our world, it is critical now to infuse the arts back into the classrooms and collaborate with arts organizations to strengthen the impact of seeing, experiencing, and making the arts to reflect who we are and who we can be when we join together.
Too many teachers leave the profession within their first five years. While there is a myriad of factors that affect teacher turnover, many teachers point to difficulties with classroom management as the main culprit.
Most teachers aren’t actively and explicitly taught classroom management strategies in their teacher education programs. Even in their student teaching placements, classroom management is often left in the hands of the cooperating teacher. Teachers should be explicitly taught how to manage their classrooms and need the opportunity to practice it so they feel confident to step into a classroom of their own.
Classroom management is much more than rule building, establishing routines and classroom procedures; classroom management encompasses community building, self-management, and preventive management strategies, such as managing space, materials, time, curriculum, instructional methods, and one’s self.
Secret #1: Stop trying to manage other people, instead focus on managing yourself.
Statements focused on group and student management, like “I can’t control these kids” or “This group just drives me crazy” are what give classroom management a bad rap.
Instead of focusing on managing students, focus on managing yourself. You have a choice how you respond. Responding with love, positivity, and a good sense of humor will get you much farther in the classroom, in your relationships, and in life.
Give yourself space to think, process, and then respond from a positive space before you do or say something you regret. Also, by modeling this, your students are learning how to respond to situations that might throw them off balance.
Secret #2: Students will often mirror your behaviors, actions, and attitude.
Students pick up on your energy immediately and often match it. If you are happy, smiling, positive, warm, and welcoming, you will most likely have a positive experience. However, if you are angry, short, negative, and frustrated, you will most likely have a frustrating experience.
You set the tone. If you are calm and soft-spoken, the classroom energy will most likely be calm and have a low buzzing learning sound. If a student is extra loud in this quiet setting, it is unexpected behavior that can easily and kindly be adjusted with a quiet conversation.
We are constantly modeling and teaching our students. They watch our every move, inside and outside of the classroom. Consider what it is you want them to embody in the way you interact with your peers, your superiors, and your students.
Secret #3: Plan for success through prevention.
Yes, planning is a huge part of management. When I create a lesson experience, I consider every aspect, from the way the room is set up to ensuring the task at hand will engage my students. I consider options and choices for students to fully engage them. I consider possible ways for students to get distracted and try to eliminate those distractions, if possible.
I provide assigned seats. I plan for extra activities in case we have more time and plan to remove an activity if we don’t have enough. I plan on including elements of reflection for students to articulate their learning either verbally or in writing at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of each class session. I even consider my word choices and statements.
The more prepared and organized I am, the better the experience for my students.
Secret #4: Assume the best intent from every student, ask questions, and offer love.
I don’t go to punishment, yelling, or frustration when something goes wrong, but rather I assume that every student has the best intention and wants to succeed. Rather than accuse, I will notice and ask questions. I am more interested in collaborative problem solving, and learning more, rather than imposing my own opinion or assumptions onto someone else.
Often, just asking the question: “Are you ok?” can start a polite conversation while demonstrating that you care. A classroom where questions are the norm when managing, will invite students to participate in self-management and regulation, rather than compliance.
And finally, offer love. I realize I don’t tell my students enough how much I care about them. It’s okay to let them know you care. Don’t just show it through action, but remind them verbally or in written form how much you care about them and their success.
Be the positive change you hope to see in your classroom.
3 Myths About Creativity
Myth #1: Creativity belongs to the few. We tend to make comments, such as "that person is just so creative" or "I'm not really that creative." We assume creative minds are few and far between because they seem to be in short supply.
Truth #1: Creativity belongs to everybody.
As Sir Ken Robinson underlines in his renowned TED talk, schools are designed in such a way that creativity has a slim chance of survival. That's because creativity is often not encouraged or taught! Creativity is evident in our early years and is unfortunately educated out of us. Creativity is at the core of what makes us human: we should not only use our creativity muscle but strengthen it with regular exercise.
Myth #2: Creativity requires inspiration.
While inspiration is great, it's not necessary to be creative. In fact, seeking inspiration or spending too much time planning will stall your creative process rather than push you closer to actually creating.
Truth #2: Creativity requires action.
Creativity is what happens when you use your imagination and possibilities emerge. But these creative ideas must come out of your brain and body and move into action.
I love to paint, but I need to bring my brush to canvas and actually start painting to let my creativity flow. Creativity begins once you actually start creating something.
Myth #3: Only new ideas are creative.
The idea that something brand new must be brought to the table for it to count as creative is what repels most from attempting to be creative. Considering the mass amount of creative ideas that already exist, we are certain to experience the recycling of ideas. This myth is what holds far too many back from sharing their creativity with the world.
Truth #3: YOUR ideas are creative.
Yes, you! Do you find yourself holding yourself back and wondering what it is you have to share with others that would be worthwhile? I guarantee you have creative ideas and creative acts boiling up inside of you. Creativity is combining two or more already existing ideas together and presenting them through a unique lens: YOUR own.
So stop doubting your own creativity, and start using it already!
The Truth About Mindfulness
Mindfulness has become synonymous with meditation. This is a damaging falsehood.
Meditation is just one way to develop mindfulness.
So what is mindfulness? According to a myriad of sources, mindfulness includes "being in the present moment" and "being aware". This is still too broad, so I define mindfulness as "intentional single-tasking".
In a world where multi-tasking has become the norm, single-tasking has fallen out of favor. Through mindfulness, single-tasking is making its comeback.
When you practice mindfulness, you are supposed to acknowledge the thoughts that are unrelated to your current focus, but then intentionally bring yourself back to the present moment.
This is why meditation seems like a popular answer for mindfulness, but I don't see the skills developed in meditation transfer to other areas of my students' work ethic and lives.
As much as I value meditation and breathing exercises to calm the mind and body, explicitly teaching single-tasking might have a greater impact on how we function as a society.
My husband frequently complements me on my ability to focus. But this is not because of something innate; it is because I am intentionally mindful about the task I'm working on. Everything else fades out of view and the task at hand is in focus.
I will be the first to admit that I am not always mindful; I may glance at my phone out of habit or think about something else while listening to someone talk.
But now that I understand what mindfulness really is, I try to apply it to all aspects of my life. I try to really enjoy the food I eat, to fully listen, and to be present in the moment, all while acknowledging the distractions and thoughts that may want to lure me away from the task at hand.
Please think of mindfulness as "intentional single-tasking" and stop bundling it up with meditation.
While comments and questions such as, "I remember elementary school math, I could easily teach it" or "Isn't teaching glorified babysitting?" or "You're just a teacher?" are frustrating, it's important to remember that those who say these things actually have no idea what teaching entails. Rather than feel deflated by these statements, educate!
1. Teaching is incredibly challenging. As much as there are classes, books, and guides about how to be a great teacher, each day is different. Each student, class, family, school, and year are different. Everything is constantly in flux, evolving, and changing. Just when you think you have something figured out, something else lands on your plate that you've never encountered.
2. Teachers work more hours than one can imagine. The school day doesn't just start and stop when the bell does. Teachers are grading, planning, organizing, collaborating, in meetings, and preparing for the next day. Teachers work countless hours after school and on the weekends. Just because the school day is over, doesn't mean it's over for a teacher.
3. Teaching requires flexibility. A teacher might have a fantastic lesson planned for students when a cockroach enters the classroom. A sharp teacher will use that moment as an opportunity to teach about cockroaches, their physiology, function, and lifespan. Teachers must think on their feet, improvise, and adjust to meet the needs of their students.
4. Teachers are required to be 'on' the entire day. Teachers are relied upon by students, families, and administrators to keep the peace, encourage, love, motivate, inspire, support, care, push, help, listen, and stay positive. When done well, this is incredibly draining. To love that much, to listen, to be there, to be fully present, to have conversations about challenges and successes, takes a lot of patience and energy. Teaching requires a great deal of emotional energy, more than most professions. Teachers will often be drained at the end of a school day and benefit from a bit more support and understanding.
5. Teaching is deeply rewarding. In what other profession is it your job to help shape young minds, inspire curiosity about the world, push students to reach their full potential, introduce ideas and concepts that spark new ideas, and motivate those who are ready to give up on themselves to believe they too can make a difference? Teaching is a noble, worthwhile, and necessary profession which not only has a great impact on individuals but affects the vitality of society at large.
Vacation time is meant to allow you to relax, recharge, and refuel. Make sure to make the most of your vacation instead of making these common mistakes:
Mistake #1. Ever feel like you need a vacation after a vacation?
This is more common than we realize. Taking a break doesn't mean to pack everything possible into the days you have off, only to become exhausted and realize you need at least a day to run errands around the house, shut your brain off, and sleep in.
More and more, my friends and I talk about the importance of putting in buffer days before and after we travel and count those as part of our vacation time. We shouldn't feel guilty for curling up on the couch and reading a good book, or playing video games, or binge-watching a favorite Netflix show. A vacation might include exploration and seeing new things, but pace yourself.
What to do? Include a healthy balance of play and relaxation. I encourage you to think in 2s. Perhaps explore 2 cool things in one day, but make sure to schedule in at least 2 things that will make you and your vacation partners feel happy and relaxed.
Remember, being exhausted and stressed from too much activity is the antithesis to the purpose of a vacation.
Mistake #2. Technology rules the vacation experience.
I fall into this trap more frequently than I would like to admit to, but leave your laptop and your phone behind as much as possible. I understand that having a smartphone is helpful: it helps you located new points of interest, map your way to a new place, or can be used in an emergency.
That being said, checking social media sites, browsing online, and furiously checking email in order to make us think we're still being productive not only saps away our own vacation time, but it takes us away from being present. You don't need to ban technology entirely (but how cool would that be?), but if you must use it, use it in moderation.
What to do? Turn off all your alerts and notifications. Hearing a 'ding' every time an email comes in makes you want to check your email. Disable that! Turn off your notifications from other apps as well. It's a time-suck. And if you want to post pics from your vacation, wait until you finish your vacation. Be in the moment. Post pics when you return. This allows you to relive those moments and somewhat extends your vacation time.
If being on social media or randomly browsing feels like it should be part of your vacation time, reserve an hour a day to do so and stick to it. An hour is a long time! If you sporadically are on your phone and laptop throughout the day, you might be surprised how often you're online without any real purpose and I bet it would add up to over an hour.
Remember, please don't do work on your vacation - you're on vacation! You'll come back to your work with fresh eyes when you actually take a break from it!
Mistake #3: Focusing on the future instead of enjoying the present.
It's completely natural to think about the next adventure when you're on a current break. Vacation time makes you dream about the next vacation. Future dreaming with friends, family, or on your own is an important and healthy process.
But spending too much of your time thinking about work, what you need to do when you get back, and focusing on anticipated future fears that may not be grounded in any reality, can be dangerous. This takes you out of your relaxation mode and lands you in stress mode.
What to do? Be in the present moment. This is what mindfulness is all about. If you're reading a book, read that book. If you're enjoying a meal, truly enjoy that meal. If you're watching a movie, watch the movie. These seem obvious, but with the increasing distractions around us, and with our phones and laptops in reach, we might pause to look at something else instead of fully being present in the moment. Yes, this does happen. Haven't you seen the many people who are on their smartphones while they're out having dinner together at a restaurant?
Remember to be fully present to make the most out of your vacation time.
Mistake #4: Don't just focus on relaxing, remember you need to refuel.
Some people are great at taking relaxing vacations. They'll park themselves on a beachfront and just lay out each day. Swim, tan, eat, sleep, repeat. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, as I write this, I would love a few days of this myself. However, vacation isn't just a time to unwind, it's also a time to recharge and refuel. It's important to awaken the creative and playful sides of ourselves and provide opportunities for us to recharge our minds and bodies.
What to do? Work out. Pick up a hobby. Create something. My husband and I are playing tennis. We go to the gym together. We take long walks. We're keeping active and having fun. Our bodies are thanking us for it.
And we're writing a novel with two other fantastic friends. Our brains are loving the creative process and we're having more fun writing and collaborating on a novel than we realized was even possible. It's a real page-turner by the way. I'll let you know once we're done.
And, I love to paint. This is my passion hobby and is my regular mini-vacation throughout the year. I like to create a painting in a day. It feels rewarding and I can feel my creative juices flowing. It's a way that I recharge.
Remember to not only relax but to also refuel your body and your brain.
I dream of an education that is no longer broken down by subjects but rather reflects real life experiences.
I dream of a school that fosters true partnerships with families, the communities that surround it, and the world at large.
I dream of a school that embraces choice, pushes students to make a difference, and embraces the creative process.
I dream of a school building that is designed as thoughtfully as someone's dream home.
What else would you want to include in your dream school environment?
Happy Father's Day to all fathers, grandfathers, and fathers-to-be! I wished my father a happy father's day via Skype today as he lives in Austria. My father is Austrian, speaks multiple languages, and has worked hard his whole life. He's been in retirement for a while now and is happy to travel, relax, sleep, eat, paint, write, read, and spend time with friends and family. I've learned a lot from my father and continue to learn from him but here are three important lessons I learned from my dad!
1. Explore: My dad loves to explore nature. He has a passion for plants and animals and knows the scientific name for just about everything. As a child, we would pile into the car and drive into the countryside. My dad would park us next to a sprawling forest with no apparent entrance and would lead us on a hunt for berries and chanterelles. We also loved to travel, visit castles, explore museums, and just be out and about. This is such an important part of who I am and who I continue to be as I love to explore and discover new things, new places, new foods, and new experiences. This is also vitally important for the classroom experience.
2. Listen: When I was in college, I remember talking a mile a minute. My dad would just smile and watch me talk for ages. I thought my dad was so quiet and I wondered why he didn't speak much. However, when he did speak, it felt like pearls of wisdom would fall from his lips. "Listen more than you speak. You'll learn more that way." As the years have passed, I've moved from speaking quickly and a lot like my mother, to speaking less and listening more like my father. He was right. I've learned so much just by listening to my colleagues, students, and those I hold so dear to my heart. I also listen to many books on tape now, which allows me to hear so many people's perspectives on various topics of interest. I feel like I'm becoming a better friend, a better teacher, and a better wife by taking the time to really listen.
3. Be kind: This is such a needed rule that should be enforced everywhere. Be kind to all those you encounter. It doesn't matter their role, their background, their experience - just be kind. In fact, everyone is fighting their own battles and deserves kindness in their lives. I also much prefer being kind to just being nice. Nice feels like a surface level version of being kind. Imagine a world where all were kind to one another, and actually cared about others in a positive and supportive way. Imagine how much happier our world would be if everyone were kind.
I love you, Vatilein! Happy Father's Day to you!
So, I encourage you to explore, listen, and be kind!
Popular education buzzwords like grit, experiential learning, individualized instruction, entrepreneurship, cooperative learning, and social emotional learning, whip around education circles offering possible solutions to the age old problem of schooling. Yet, few turn to the arts as part of the solution. Just looking at the list of buzzwords above, all of them are naturally embedded in the arts.
For too many years the arts have had to wrestle their way into the educational arena. Art advocates feel the need to argue for the importance of the arts, to convince not just the general public, but unfortunately those in charge of education of their value. Even with multiple research studies finding positive correlations between the arts and academic achievement, the arts are often pushed aside. Too often, people draw conclusions about the arts as a way to get to the final destination. Students can learn about FILL IN THE BLANK through the arts. Why not reverse the idea that FILL IN THE BLANK is a vehicle which leads us to the arts as our destination?
Here are 4 things education can learn from the arts:
1. The arts are messy. Much like success stories, there is no straight line from beginning to end, but much trial and error, until we reach a final product. The arts inherently teach us this! Speak to any artist, musician, dancer, performer, and they will confirm this to be true. It's high time for classrooms to become flexible learning spaces, where anything can happen, where the design of the room might change based on the task rather than designed around a subject, and where desks become optional.
2. The arts require an audience. Too often teaching and learning in school happen in silos. Projects are created for the teacher or for peers in the classroom and then that's it. When we create art, it's meant to be shared with an audience. Sometimes, the arts are created to serve a specific community. Creating with purpose and for an authentic audience should become the central focus in the classroom.
3. The arts are interdisciplinary. Every piece of art speaks about a different aspect of our humanity. It is time to smash the imaginary glass boxes we've created to fit each subject in its own container and to mix the subjects together, much like colors on a palette, to create a new educational experience. STEM was attempting to mix certain colors together, but realized it needed the arts as it morphed into STEAM. Let's continue to create our own palettes to create new forms of teaching and learning that resemble real world projects, jobs, and lives.
4. The arts embody most educational buzzwords. They require grit, mindfulness, individualized education, risk-taking, creating thinking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and a growth mindset. The arts take us beyond seeing and reading about, but rather require us to do, to make, to create, and to respond to our world. When teaching about these buzzwords, we must look at the arts as a prime example.
So dive into the arts, head first, and I guarantee you'll learn something new about yourself, others, and the world around you.
Shout out to my former professor and former head of Arts in Education at Harvard: Dr. Jessica Hoffman Davis for her incredible work in this arena. Check out her books http://jessicahoffmanndavis.com/books/
We've all worried about something at some point or another. Some of us love to worry, because it feels like we're doing something. Worrying is natural, but worrying isn't a positive way to handle a situation. We often worry about things we have no control over! We worry about the future and the 'what ifs'. We invent stories and bring them to full completion with a whole cycle of what ifs, leading us down a dark and gloomy worry path, that then leads to further worry, stress, and anxiety.
Why am I writing about worrying? Well, while I don't love to worry, I do so often. If I don't stop myself from worrying and truly ask myself the following questions, I can worry myself into a further well of worries.
1. What are you worrying about? Discern between worries that you can control and the ones you have no control over.
A. If something is totally out of your control (it deals with the future, the unknown, or a 'what if' scenario) - STOP WORRYING! Instead, be in the present moment, give thanks for what you have, and focus on what you can control, which is your own behavior and your own reactions.
B. If it is in your control (it deals with the now, it's something that has been causing you stress in your life, your work, etc), - MOVE ON TO QUESTION 2
2. What can you DO? Focus on action, rather than more thinking/feeling/worrying.
A. If you're worried about something you have control over, such as finishing a project, then set time aside to get it done and just do it. Do a brain dump of your to dos, and then calendar in your work.
B. If you're worried about a relationship, speak to that person to express your concerns and find a way to fix it. Think about what YOU can do to make it better rather than just waiting for the other person to fix it. Take initiative and be proactive.
STOP WORRYING ABOUT FUTURE UNCERTAINTY AND BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT: The antithesis of worrying is being mindful. Many people connect mindfulness with meditation, but in reality mindfulness is dealing with the present moment and focusing on one thing at a time.
What suggestions do you have to stop worrying and to focus more on the present?
6 Ways to Be More Productive!
1. Productivity is connected to intent. If you intend to get specific work done, you are more likely to get it done. Make sure to decide what you plan on achieving each day and then focus on accomplishing those tasks. If you are just stuck in doing what you usually do and go through your usual routine, stop for a moment and consider whether the tasks you're completing are connected to what's most important and valuable to you and to your work.
2. Plan out your top 3 tasks you plan on accomplishing. Choose three big things/tasks you plan on tackling the next day. That way, as soon as you wake up, you know what you need to get done. Once achieved, you should feel productive!
3. Complete the most important tasks first! As Franklin Covey would suggest, take care of your big rocks first, not the grains of sand. If you picture a jar filled with rocks and sand, if you tackle the big rocks, the sand will filter around those rocks, whereas if you start with sand, not all the big rocks will fit in the jar. Those who work long hours aren't necessarily more productive, they may just be dealing with sand all day, but if you take care of your big rocks in half the time, you were much more productive!
4. Avoid email or other internet distractions for the first hour of your work day. This is very difficult, I know. But if you can spend one hour doing what's most important to you before you check your email, your social media sites, etc, you'll actually get the work done that matters to you most. This is of course different if your work is based around internet usage. Even still, find a way to focus on your tasks first before you get sucked into the email and internet rabbit hole. Use the internet as a reward after you completed solid work. If an hour feels too long, try at least 15 minutes of work before you eventually build up to an hour of productive work!
5. Give yourself fake deadlines. Many of us love to procrastinate, in fact, we've all procrastinated at some time or another. That's because if a deadline is too far off in the distance, why tackle it now? Instead, give yourself a fake deadline of at least a week before it's due, or sooner rather than later, and get it done. See how this impacts your work. I've noticed a great difference in my stress levels when I get things done earlier. Sometimes when you're given a small window of time, you can be more productive in a short amount of time rather than being given weeks to complete a project.
6. Reward yourself. In graduate school, I would reward myself with food only once I finished a draft of my work. Okay, I realize this was somewhat crazy and definitely unhealthy, but it instilled a level of focus in my work that allows me to just focus on one task until I feel ready for a break and a mini reward (tea, chocolate, time with loved ones, etc). But please, do eat while you work!
What helps you be most productive?
How to love your job and show it!
It's important to love what you do and share your love for your work with others.
The challenge of loving what you do - it's called a job. Most people just want to get through their day at their job until they can finally do something they love. There are, of course, the exceptions to the rule - those who actually love their jobs! Now, many more of us can join the "I love my job" movement if we shift our mindset and discover what we actually love about our jobs, make small changes in our daily routine to make us happier, and set goals for ourselves so we feel like we're making a difference.
Sometimes we can get lost in the grind of our daily tasks and to do lists. We can lose sight of what's important.
Moreover, negative moments can infiltrate our being and take our joy hostage. No matter how many things go right, one negative moment can launch us into a negativity spiral. Work life quickly turns bleak and the glimmer of a new job on the horizon can feel like the answer. It's just a temporary fix - new setting and new people, but the same issues will arise.
The issues lie with our mindset, not our jobs. If we tend to look at our work life or our personal life in a negative way, no matter the job or the relationship, negativity will feed off of more negativity. But, if we approach our work from a positive outlook, appreciate what we have, and focus on what we actually love about our job, we thrive. And no matter the work place, this kind of positive outlook will encourage more joy and happiness in the work place. Positive thinking can spread like wildfire. Remember, 10% of life is what happens to us and 90% is how we choose to react to it! How will you choose to react to moments in your own life?
Of course, there are exceptions where the job/work environment/fit just isn't right and change is necessary. But in many cases, employees get restless and just want out. Moving on to another position doesn't always solve the problem.
Common Problem: It's the same job year in and year out and I'm getting bored.
Possible solution: Ask for a shift in responsibilities, a different project to work on, or a different seat on the bus in that organization. Sometimes just a slight change in role and responsibilities can give you that feeling of a new job. If that can't change, then think about new ways you can improve your own work, set a goal for yourself in terms of what you want to master and go for it! While some things may be completely out of your control, focus on what is in your control - what slight changes can you make so your job is more enjoyable?
Common Problem: I just don't like what I do.
Possible solution: Really? Nothing about it is appealing to you? Think about what made you apply to that job or reach out to that company in the first place. Did you want to join the work environment? The company culture? Was there some task or part of the job that seemed particularly appealing? Remember where it all started and focus on appreciating what you like about the job. Think about what aspect of your job you actually like. Do you enjoy being social? Do you enjoy helping others? Do you love making a difference? Are there people at your job you really enjoy working with? Do more of that! Make plans to meet with those co-workers more regularly to lift you up - do more of what you enjoy!
Common Problem: I just have got to get through the day and then I'll be OK.
Possible solution: Oh boy, what's going on? By the way, you're not alone in feeling this. Are you getting sucked into the negativity spiral? Are things really that bad or are you just stuck in a story you're telling yourself about how bad your job is. Are you surrounded by others who are negative about the workplace? Is there something else going on in your life impacting your ability to do good work? Think of what you can do before the work day to lift your spirits and start the day off in a positive state of mind. I recommend waking up 15-30 minutes earlier than you usually do to avoid rushing - as this can often cause anxiety and frustration.
Now, show your love for that job! Express gratitude and appreciation for the job you have. Actually, tell someone you work with what you appreciate about the job! And show that you love your job with the customers too! It will make everything more pleasant for every party! When good news starts spreading, it can actually make others think about what they appreciate too!
That being said, if you actually hate what you do, please, for everyone involved, stop doing it and find something else you enjoy.
What do you love about your job? How will you share the love?
Happy Mother's Day! To all mothers and mothers to be out there - I hope today is a joyful one, filled with celebration, laughter, and love. Anytime I think of mother's day, or father's day, valentine's day, teacher appreciation week, etc, I realize we don't celebrate those that matter to us enough. Let today be a reminder to not only celebrate our mothers, but also to appreciate all those we care about in our lives on a regular basis. We will never regret the things we say if they come from the heart, but we will always regret the things we don't do or don't say. So, today, and everyday, take the time to appreciate someone you care about and let them know about it!
I realize I haven't actually said some of these things to my mother, so today, publicly, I'm thanking her for three important lessons she's taught me and am passing them on to you!
1. Just do it. No, my mom doesn't work for Nike, but she sure is great at living their brand. My mother encouraged me to go for anything - to reach out to anyone, and to do just do it. She was the one that taught me to apply to jobs that weren't posted or didn't exist yet. She would encourage me to do my research, reach out to people I admired, contact organizations I wanted to work for, and see if there could be a way that I could be of service to them. Every job I've had (except for when I was a bartender at Applebee's) I received because I took the initiative and reached out, not because I searched for job postings and went through the typical application process.
I still carry this with me and share this with all my students. My mom says: "What's the worst that will happen? You don't hear from them, or they say they're not interested. And if you didn't reach out in the first place, it's like you already said no to yourself. Let them be the ones to say no. But what if they say yes?" She's right.
Go for what you want, do your research, and reach out to those you want to meet, you want to work with, and the ones you want to help.
2. The power of play: I will never forget one brutal winter in Vienna, Austria, when my brothers and I were feeling down because we were stuck inside our apartment. My mother put on her bathing suit, turned up the heater, laid out some beach towels on the floor in the hallway and pretended like she was catching some rays. We were bewildered. She invited us to join her at the 'beach'. We smiled. She then offered to bring us some beach drinks (after all with the little heater cranked so high, it was quite hot). That's when she hooked us. She told us to get our bathing suits on and off we ran to put on our suits. We all 'laid out' on our towels and imagined we were under the hot sun on a wonderful warm sunny beach day, drinking our cold drinks with straws, and fancy little paper umbrellas my mom had from a left-over dinner party.
My mother, with some creativity and imagination, brought us on a playful journey and completely transformed our moods. We bought into the experience, we fully participated, our spirits were lifted, and it's a day I forever cherish as part of my childhood experience. This is just one example of many, when my mother used her creativity and imagination to play with us. She is the reason I became fascinated with play and theatre as a learning medium, since one can be transported to any time, any place, and become anyone.
3. The importance of humor. My mother is hilarious and reminds me to not take things too seriously. I cherish those moments of being silly with her! I remember a time where she had the unfortunate case of the runs, and would even say: "Ah, this is a bunch of crap!" I couldn't help but laugh! She would laugh too. My mom has inspired me to use humor in my classroom. Laughter unites a group.
I remembered the power of humor on Friday, as my students were on their fourth and final day of standardized testing and they were silently waiting for the time to run out. They looked miserable. All had finished but were sitting in silence. But instead of telling them testing was over, I began writing on the board. At first, I wrote what was happening next, what classrooms they would go to as we were following a special schedule, and then, I smiled, and I wrote what had happened to me two days prior. I wrote:
"A dog bit me two days ago." I turned around to see a few kids smiling and few kids looking concerned. I smiled.
"This dog bit me in my bottom." They were desperately trying to hold in their laughter.
"And this dog, tore my jeans open and actually punctured the skin." After each sentence, I looked at the kids, wiggled my eyebrows, grimaced and smiled again. These 7th graders were still silent but they were all smiling and bursting at the seams.
Then I wrote: "Today, my car had a flat tire." And then I wrote: "Uber". I reacted to each sentence on the board physically in silent pantomime. At this point kids were chuckling and time was up.
Now these statements were all true! I was bitten by a dog a few days ago, and I did have a flat tire! And while those instances might have been painful or upsetting at the time, I learned from my mother to find humor in all situations. When I finally told them we could start talking again, we were able to laugh about it all together. I encouraged them to stay positive and appreciate things in life, especially when they encounter obstacles.
Humor is so important - real laughter is contagious and just spreads happiness in the room. Plus, laughing burns calories and could even help you live longer - it's just good for you! So thank you, mom, for all that you've taught and continue to teach me. I love you.
What have you learned from your mother? If you're a mom, what do you hope your kids will learn from you?
We waste too much time. We even sell products to help us waste time, but they are designed to make us think we're being efficient. Don't believe me?
Consider the highlighter. Now, don't get me wrong, I own highlighters and my students often ask me if they can use them to highlight their lines. From a visual standpoint, I can see how highlighted lines may be easier to read, but the final task of them actually memorizing their lines and knowing their cues is not achieved simply by highlighting. Rather, the act of highlighting is just a step to the final destination. I want students to engage with the text, memorize their lines, and make it their own. Or, consider students who highlight and underline text as they study, but then don't do anything with that material. That time spent highlighting has just been wasted! Highlighting and underlining on their own are not effective study habits! They waste time.
I fell into this trap myself as a graduate student. I had so many books and articles filled with text I highlighted, underlined, and pages I dogeared, but if I didn't actually do anything with that text RIGHT THEN AND THERE, that time was lost. Days later, when I returned to those texts, those highlighted sections, underlined passages, dogeared pages no longer resonated with me. I then just stopped doing those actions and when I found something useful, something that hit home or emphasized a key point or even played devil's advocate to a point I was trying to make, I would WRITE IT DOWN, cite my source, make my argument. I would deal with it then and there. Guess when I became more efficient? That's right: when I stopped underlining, highlighting, and dogearing text with the good intention of returning to it at another point. Think about the many tasks and tools we use that get us started on something but they don't actually take us to the final destination. The highlighter is just an example.
Here are three things to STOP doing that waste our time and three things we can START doing to make better use of our time.
STOP browsing on your device without purpose. We have all fallen into the time wasting trap when we are sucked into the world of our devices and taken down the rabbit hole. We click on an article about how to maximize our time (ironically), to be brought to another exciting article, to then look at an image, to find this video, to check out a popular meme, and then half an hour later, we wonder where all that time went. Just notice the impacts phones have when people choose to take it to the bathroom with them versus those who leave it behind. Those who take their phones will take a longer time! This is usually done with the intent to 'save' time, to 'multi-task'. After all, why not just 'quickly' check your emails, because you're waiting to hear about something important? People waste time and are also incredibly dangerous on the road when they try to check their phones while driving. Some claim they only look at a stop-light, but I mean, really? Have you ever been behind a car that is just stopped on the road because they were on their phone? Or perhaps missed a turn signal because they were on their phone? Maybe you've been that person? The thing is, not only is that incredibly dangerous, but you're also wasting time and delaying your ability to get to work on time. And, you're affecting those who were behind you who also missed that green turn signal!
START browsing with a time frame and purpose in mind.
If you are seeking articles, research, resources, then decide how long you want to spend doing that and what you hope to accomplish by the end of your browsing time. Even if you just want to look at social media, go from just scanning images and looking at other people's lives, to actually making connections, reaching out, and making plans to see those you care about. I'm not saying we shouldn't browse around on our phones, but perhaps we should become aware of how much time we're spending on our devices and what we're actually accomplishing.
STOP checking your email to just check your email without taking action!
Have you ever checked your e-mail, you open up a message, read it, and then decide to deal with it later? Some people even mark their messages again as unread because they want to deal with it later. You guys, this is all part of wasting time! Instead of just swiping through your e-mails, make it a point to actually look at your emails and respond to them.
START checking and dealing with your email right then and there
I learned from the great Tim Ferriss, author of bestseller of The 4-Hour Workweek, to decide when in the day you plan to check your e-mail and to have an autoresponder that explains when you check your emails so people know when they will hear back from you. You can also articulate that when you are not checking email, you are teaching, working, in meetings, etc. Perhaps even set 2 or 3 times a day when you sit down, check your email, and deal with it then and there. Think about the many hours you have to NOT check email and to actually do other things that are focused on what you need and hope to accomplish.
STOP writing to do lists without prioritizing and acting on each item. We've all fallen into this trap as well. How many of you have items on your do-list that's been on there for, well, too long? How many of you make a new year's resolution to do list and how many of you have actually accomplished everything on that list? Lists are great, but they're a starting point, not an end point.
START writing out what you need and want to do and then schedule your calendar.
Instead, make a list of all that you need and want to do, prioritize those items, and then actually schedule them into your calendar. Plan for them. If you put in a date and time in your calendar of when you will actually go work out, you're more likely to do it instead of just writing 'work-out' on your to-do list. It also forces us to break down some of our larger tasks on our to-do lists into manageable chunks and help us see how long things will actually take.
How can you stop wasting time and start making time to do what you actually want and need to be doing?
Power of Brain Breaks
One of my former graduate students, who is soon to lead a classroom of her own, requested that I write about brain breaks! And so, here goes! Brain breaks are usually associated with movement breaks, especially cross-lateral movement that is meant to 'wake up' both sides of your brain. While some research suggests it's important to move every 20-30 minutes, I actually think we don't move enough in and outside of the classroom.
Even though students may have recess, they don't all take advantage of playing, running, and actively moving while they're outside, especially the older they get. In middle school, many students choose to sit with their friends and just talk, or they try to stay indoors to continue to study, catch up on missing assignments, or to chat with their friends. Students tend to be quite sedentary as they rely on technology to communicate or as a way to shut their brain off for a number of hours. Students aren't alone. Many adults have also become sedentary as they've become addicted to their phones and spend countless hours browsing, often not even looking for anything specific. This is a cultural problem. We just don't move enough. Of course, there are exceptions, but moving daily and being active is no longer the norm.
As important as physical education is, we cannot let that be the only place where students move. Some may argue that part of the problem could be the classroom layout and design. Why build a classroom filled with individual desks and chairs? Doesn't this suggest that there won't be much movement anyway and that students should sit and write on their own? Perhaps a room with a few standing tables on wheels might be a better fit - as this would communicate that people may work collaboratively and could choose where they would want to work. Some schools have replaced chairs with exercise balls as a way to activate students' cores as they maintain their balance and complete their work at their desks. While this is a move in the right direction, we're still stuck thinking of classroom space, and even office spaces as places with desks and chairs. I think the design and layout of a space affects the expectation of what is to be done in that space. If tables and chairs fill a room, one would expect to find people sitting at those chairs and using their desks to work. With sitting comes little movement, and with little ability to move, comes the inattentive behaviors, because no one was meant to sit all day for hours on end! While schooling may have been modeled to imitate an office environment with people sitting at desks, the work space is being re-imagined as well with spaces like WeWork, but even most mobile work spaces have desks with chairs! Again, the expectation is to sit at those desks and 'do work'. So, yes, I do think the design and layout of a space affects our ability and willingness to move!
Since I teach theatre, I don't have any desks or chairs in my classroom space. It's a big open space. I have access to chairs and tables, but those are kept folded for students to use if needed. So then what do we do in this large open space? Well, anything we want really! I can choose to configure the room in any way I wish. Each student has a binder and where I place the binder in the room marks where they begin and end each class with me. I usually choose to set up our class in a circle for consistency and have assigned spots, but I can choose to make the circle small or large or I can split up the binders into small groups, or really put their binders anywhere I wish! I could also keep the binders on their designated shelf and have students retrieve them if they will need them. But after we check-in or after we reflect as a group, I have so much flexibility since movement is expected and encouraged in my classroom. I realize I teach theatre, but even if I were teaching another subject in the space, I would relish the flexibility of the space and want the same layout if I were teaching social studies, language arts, or even math! I don't tend to encounter the same kinds of unexpected behaviors in my classroom because movement is encouraged and because the set-up is different than most spaces. So I happen to have movement breaks quite frequently in my classroom or rather, there are times, we even take 'breaks from movement'! I also encourage kids to lie down, to stretch, to meditate, to jump up and down, to act wild as their characters, and this allows them to move their bodies in ways that is often looked down upon or not allowed in many of their other classes.
That being said, I view brain breaks as falling into two categories:
1. Energizing Breaks
2. Calming Breaks
Some brain breaks can be quite short, but their use and intention needs to be clear and purposeful. If students are overly excited and come running back to the building from recess, it may be beneficial to do a calming brain break to reset the body and refocus the mind. However, if students seem sluggish and tired, they may benefit from an energizing break to wake them up. If students have been sitting for too long and their blood has drained from their brain to their bottoms, they will need to move to allow the blood to flow! Here are two of my favorite brain breaks in each category below:
1. Cross over hands: Place your right hand on your nose (without squeezing any unwanted goo out) and your left hand on your right ear (so the left arm has to cross over the right arm). Now, switch: Place your left hand on your nose and your right hand on your left ear (where your right arm crosses over the left arm). Now keep switching and look at a partner to see who can go faster just for fun. This cross-lateral move is more challenging than you may think, but it's fun and usually elicits some giggles. This can be done while seated, but why not stand and do it! This is also a really short brain break! (can be done in a couple of minutes)
2. Clap, snap, stomp: Get into pairs. Each pair is to count to 3, taking turns, i.e. A says 1, B says 2 and A says 3 and B says 1 and so on. This freaks out the brain as there are two people but you're working on 3 numbers or eventually three different movements. When comfortable, each pair agrees on a sound and gesture, which will replace 1 in the counting. Then, replace 2 with a different sound and gesture and then 3. It's called clap, snap, stomp, as the number 1 can be replaced by a clap, number 2 can be replaced by a snap, and number 3 can be replaced by a stomp, but of course this can be modified to fit a unit of study. This will take a bit longer, but it's a great brain break to do with partners that will work together on a project - it's a lovely way to break the ice!
1. 4-16-8 breaths: Have students lie down on their backs on the floor with their feet straight out in front of them. I have my students place one hand on their heart and one hand on their tummy. They breathe in through their nose for 4 counts, hold their breath for 4 counts, and then breathe out of their mouth for 4 counts. I then have them breathe in for 4, hold their breath for 8, and breathe out for 8 counts. On the last breath, I have them breathe in for 4, hold their breath for 16, and breathe out for 8. This helps to slow their heart rate, to calm their bodies down, and to focus their energy on their breathing.
2. Yoga: Have students learn a few yoga poses and learn to hold those poses and to breathe through them. If you can teach them a Vinyasa and have them flow through it slowly a few times and then end in Shavasana (or corpse pose) on the floor as they relax, this is another wonderful tool to have students focus their energies on their bodies. Yoga is a way to wake up your brain and it can calm your mind.
What brain breaks/movement breaks do you use in the classroom? What have you found to be successful?
How conducive to movement is your classroom environment? What can you change to encourage more movement?
As a kid, I played Super Mario Brothers, because, well, it was awesome. And I still remember the theme songs: the happy little tune when Mario and Luigi jumped over obstacles and knocked into boxes to get rewards as well as the more haunting tune when they jumped into the plumbing to face bad guys. I liked the challenge, the rewards, and completing the mission.
I'm fond of video games, even in my adult life. While I don't support the video games that are unnecessarily violent or those that perpetuate stereotypes, there are actually a lot of good qualities in a thoughtfully crafted video game.
Here are five qualities of a video game that can be transferred to the classroom experience:
1. It's fun: Learning should be fun! Learning is fun! It's fascinating to discover something new about our world. It's fun being transported to a brand new world in an exciting book. It's fun to act out a story. Those that feel learning shouldn't be fun are missing something inherent to learning. If learning isn't fun, then what should it be? Boring? Dull? Having fun does not mean goofing around and being off task. We can have fun while being on task and engaged in an exciting activity that helps us learn something. After all, if something isn't fun for us, why keep doing it?
2. It's collaborative: My favorite games are the ones that require you to work with other players to achieve a common goal. Even if you're playing on your own in the game, often the game is set up to make you feel like you're part of a group and that everyone has a role to play. But, if you play split-screen with a partner, you have the choice to play against each other or together to fight against a common obstacle. I much prefer the collaborative aspect of a game where people work together to achieve a common goal. The best part is that most people have different jobs, different missions, different experiences, and different ideas on how to achieve the mission. This can be transferred to the classroom experience. Every student should have a specific task, a specific job, and will naturally have their own ideas on how to solve a mission.
3. It's challenging: As Lev Vygotsky would say, working with another makes you a head taller than yourself. If you're in the zone of proximal development, you are pushing yourself to take on more. With another person, you are able to do even more than you might be able to accomplish on your own. Video games can be quite challenging, but they're designed to still motivate you to complete the challenge and get to the next level, the next mission, the next location, and eventually the next part of the story. When I've played Portal, for example, it's fun to solve the puzzles with a partner, but it's even more rewarding to overcome the challenge and get to the next level.
4. It's engaging: I enjoy the story line in most video games. There are characters we often root for and those we are against. Being a part of a story and even crafting a story together is naturally engaging. Creating compelling characters and situations we want to fight for or against are important. Making learning relevant isn't new, but teaching and presenting through stories is becoming more popular and is incredibly effective when done well.
5. It's beatable: I love beating the game. I want to complete the mission, save the princess, protect the world, and maybe even save the universe. While these are lofty goals, in video games, they are attainable if you work hard enough. But there's a finish line. This needs to be clearly articulated in the classroom too - what's the end goal? What will happen at the end of the mission? I don't mean to say rewards are needed, for the idea of completing the task should be reward enough, especially after facing challenges. The end of the mission should be clearly laid out (with some surprises to come later), but students should be excited and should want to get to the finish line. They should want to beat the game.
What else can gaming teach us? How else can we apply it in the classroom?