Monday, September 17, 2012

Wellness Update 4-I Think.

It has seemed like a long time since I last wrote about my wellness journey, and that in many ways says a lot about where my journey is.  But, as was my goal, I continue to learn about myself, my wellness, and the different ways in which I need to grow.

Here are a few of those learning moments from the last two weeks:

  • Even though it will hurt.  You can't take 5 days off just because your legs kill from the workout that your trainer put you through.
  • You have to embrace the challenge that your next workout with your personal trainer will be, not shy away from it.
  • Going on a wellness journey that is being documented in the newspaper is fun, having people recognize you while on that journey is interesting.  This past week our first articles ran, and when I went to buy a hot dog at the soccer game, after not eating all day, the concession stand owner was questioning my commitment.  Later in the week, while at the football game, the same thing happened over a bag of Peanut M&Ms.  The nice part of this is my accountability network just got a whole lot bigger.  Now if I can just get my staff to use the keys that I gave them to lock up our community stash of chocolate it would be even better.
  • I am a major stress eater, and I have a job that occasionally has stress.  One of the key pieces that I need to learn in this journey is a better outlet for my stress than food, particularly the unhealthy kind that I invariably turn to in those moments of stress.
  • I am getting used to running on the treadmill, but I stil don't love it.  I need to interspace some runs outside on weekends just for the enjoyment of being outside on a run.
  • Weekends are deadly.  The biggest pattern is I lose weight through the week, and then add it during the weekend.  While this is not a stress issue, it is one of will power and I need to build mine a bit more.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is the Internet all it's Cracked up to Be

For the longest time I have been a big advocate for the power of the internet to be able to change our lives.  Not merely how we learn, who we learn from, and the resources we have for learning, but how it can really change the world by connecting us to more information, more knowledge, and more knowledgable people.  I work in a school where collaboration is the ideal method of learning, where students and staff are required to work with their peers and with each other as they tackle problems to better engage in learning the standards they are required to know.  The idea that two heads are better than one is becoming ingrained in the DNA of our school, and the idea that two thousand is better than two has great appeal to me.  But what if all of that connecting, all of that information, all of those places to explore and connect, are keeping us from really utilizing our potential.

My summer started with this video from TEDX by Sherry Turkle entitled "Connected but Alone".
In which she speaks of how her daughters spent an evening hanging out with their friends, in the same room, texting each other.   School started with me reading a post by a student, Vett Vandiver, who wrote about the dangers of social media robbing us from living in the moment.  Finally, this week I read a post from Paul Miller of The Verge on how he is spending a year disconnected from the internet.  He speaks of how his life has been going since he disconnected 3 months ago.  How he has more time for other things he enjoys, like talking to people in a coffee shop.

In many ways this is a scary realization and place to be for me.  If you ask any of my friends, I am probably the most connected person they know.  So much so, that I have been very conscious this year about not using my phone to check email during passing periods at school, or while I am in classrooms, or in the cafeteria.  Today for the first time I used my computer during lunch to catch up on email, because I had over 40 for the morning and was waiting on an urgent email from a teacher who I might have needed assistance in preparing for his next class.

But as I have aged this year, I have come to realize that sometimes this connectedness is distracting.  I no longer can multi-task to the degree that I could when I was younger, much to the delight of Dan Funston our assistant superintendent who does not believe that people can multitask.   While I still read extensively, I can never seem to catch up on all my reading-I currently have over 60 articles in my Read it Later App (Pocket), and I have not checked my Feedly account for 2 weeks so the articles have probably piled up to close to 1000.  It is not that I am not selective in what I read, but it is that there is so much more out their to interact with.  The ultimate may have come this weekend when I was at the wedding reception of one of my former students.  During dinner, as my wife chatted with a colleague from work and my daughter played with the Orbies that were filling glasses as a table decoration, I watched Notre Dame battle Purdue on my iPhone propped up against a bowl of nachos with the sound turned off.  I am not sure what was worse, that I was doing this, or that one of the pastors from our church was hanging over my shoulder because he was getting poor reception on his phone.

I am not ready to disconnect quite yet, as I keep finding more positives than negatives from being online.  But I am starting to realize that I need to monitor not so much how I am using the Net, but rather where I am using it and to what ends.  How is your internet habit hindering your potential?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning to Grow, Growing to Learn

This is a cross post from the Plymouth Community School Corporation's 180 Days of Learning Blog.

Last year the volleyball team at PHS had shirts that read “Growth is too slow a word”.  I liked the sense of urgency that the shirts brought to a team starting with a new coach.  However, sometimes in education I think we often take this response to our detriment.  Growth, sometimes, is both what we need to find and what we should truly be measuring.  This is not to say that how students perform on tests or what grades they get don’t matter, but rather what we all really should seek is that our students our growing each day.  That is in many ways the key to learning over a lifetime, daily growth.  Sometimes it will be measurable in leaps and bounds and at other times be measurable only in small drips from the wellspring of knowledge.  One way or another though, growth is what we should seek.
With that in mind, here is how I have seen our students at the School of Inquiry grow over our initial 3 and 1/2 weeks.  I have seen students, as freshman be able to greet visitors, introduce themselves, and shake their hand with a firm grip before describing to the person what their strengths are, how those strengths play out in their lives and interests, and what their goals for this year and future are.  I have watched students in mathematics classes work together to build a tower out of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow.  Seen those same students create plans for a wedding and then meet with a client to discuss those plans.  In Global Perspectives I have gotten to  watch students work together as they try to create a restaurant around a global impact issue.  
The best growth though has come when I ask them about what they are learning.  With rare exception they look me in the eye and tell me what they are doing, and more importantly, why it is important or relevant.  They are solving problems and engaging in their lessons, not merely spouting facts they have memorized.  In a recent article in Education Week Tony Wagner, the first  Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, wrote the following:
“No one seems to question exactly what students should be achieving beyond better test scores. What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know.”
Growth very well may be too slow a word, but if we can continue the growth I have seen over these first few weeks, then I think we can give Mr. Wagner the type of student he is looking for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating a Shield from Fear of Failure

I spent today with other directors of New Tech Network schools in the state of Indiana.  During our meeting one of the directors, Tom Warnicke of the School of Ideas, told a story about being in Cincinnati where the network was trying to raise money from some local CEOs.  During the meeting one of the CEOs stated that "“C” students change the world because we are willing to take a risk, “A” students are too concerned with failure to take a risk."  As I drove home I thought more and more about the quote.  I had instantly tweeted the quote out because it resinated so much with me, but why?  

It wasn't the idea that "C" students did better than "A" students in the real world.  While I was not an "A" student in high school, I was not a "C" student either.  I was an average student who did well in English, History and Science, but struggled in courses that involved math.  I did well enough to get into a good college (Valparaiso) but I was not interested, motivated, or mature enough academically to excel in more course work.  My academic awakening didn't come until I returned to school to become an educator and then later when I began to take graduate work at Ashland University in Ohio with some truly gifted educators who pushed me to be serious about my craft and my studies.  

After my first year at PHS one of our students who had graduated the year before and was attending a prestigious private college returned to visit the school.  Our principal Mr. Condon asked this student, who had finished in the top 10 of his class, what his one regret from high school was.  The student responded that he wished that he had pushed himself more academically, taken harder classes rather than protecting his GPA and class rank.  Maybe it was his story that appealed to me about the quote, the idea that we should encourage our most gifted students to stretch their boundaries and challenge their limits in school.  It was not that I wanted "C" students more than "A" students, but rather I wanted students at all levels to take more chances academically.

One of my goals for the school of Inquiry was to find a way for students to have failure in a nurturing environment so that they can learn to rebound and establish Grit.  I came to this conclusion after reading this article last year in the New York Times about several high profile schools in NYC.  The article spoke of how one of the keys to success is resiliency, the ability to get back up after falling down.  

This is not what the quote is speaking of though.  It is speaking about students being willing to take risks.  As I reflected more I thought about how I have taken risks lately.  There are three areas that quickly came to my mind where I have recently taken risks.

First on the golf course.  I am not, nor have I ever been a great golfer, but there was a time in my life when I could break 90 with some regularity.  That time has long since passed, but every once in a while I can get on a roll and approach that goal again.  It happened two weeks ago at Mystic Hills.  On the front side I felt strong, my drives were controlled, my irons felt great in my hands and my ball striking was crsip.  I was on a roll, until a storm began to roll in and we saw lightning near the front 9.  Not wanting to be a real life Caddyshack scene we started to head to the clubhouse.  When we reached the clubhouse the storm had begun to turn back south, but was still over the front 9, but the back 9 was cloudless and sunny, so we headed to hole number 10 to tee off.  

As I stood over the ball on 10 a sense of foreboding came over me.  You see I have never played well on the back side of Mystic in my life, having once shot a 60 on it.  I hit my first drive, watched it head on a line drive dead left for the driving range, hit a mound and stop after going only 100 yards.  I began to feel fear creeping in.  On every shot, except 2 on the par 3 12th hole, I had horrific swing thoughts and was convulsed by fear.  I ended up shooting over 50, losing a match that I was running away with on the front side, and having a miserable afternoon.  The only bright spot came when I holed a 25 foot putt for birdie on the par 5 15th hole, to put me at even in the match and give me confidence heading into the final three holes.  But on the par 3 17th with the match still tied and my opponent in the high grass I pulled my iron shot onto the highway running next to the course while trying to play the safe shot to the middle of the green and collapsed again.  On the front side, where I was confident I took any risk that came my way, as if I could not fail.  On the back where fear strangled my every stroke, I could not even play the safe shot correctly.

The second area is in my recent 4 fantasy football drafts.  In each draft I was able to draft, or have kept, high quality players early in the draft.  Because I had solid players at the key positions of quarterback, running back, and wide receiver I was willing to draft risky players who potential could have high rewards this year.  The key to drafting boldly was not confidence, but rather knowing that I was supported by the other players that I had already drafted.  My risks were back up players that could be great, but were not my only chance at winning.  Without the strong backing of other players, I would not have been able to make those moves.

Finally the School of Inquiry in and of itself is a risk.  While we have the backing and support of our community, our school corporation, and a nationwide network, there is no guarantee that we will be successful.  For a time fear of failing was paralyzing to me, it still is at times.  But as I watch my staff give everything they have to make our endeavor a succes and see students responding and growing I have come to realize that fear of failure is what will cause our failure.  

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt said at his inauguration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."  I have always admired this statement, because it was so true for the time in which he came into office.  I appreciate it more today because it is so relevant to what we are trying to do at Inquiry and what I want my students to become-adults who are willing to take risks to create a better world for all of us.  In order to succeed though I will need to learn from my experiences with fear; give them experiences that will build there confidence without over inflating it, support them so they can take chances without having it be an all or nothing proposition, and being brave in taking on the fears in my mind that can paralyze me.  Maybe then we can create a school that creates students who emulate those in the video below.

Big Picture, Small Implementation

It is nearing the end of week four at the School of Inquiry, and my blogging time is dwindling away, as it has in the past.  This post was actually supposed to go up last week, really is the small things that you never consider that eventually loom large.  The big picture is often very easy to see, but like much like looking at George Seurat's iconic painting Saturday in the Park, when you begin to look closer it is a lot of little pieces that make up the bigger view.

The largest focus in our preparation has been to build a solid culture and foundation for our students and staff to build their learning on.  I believe that we have done an outstanding job of doing this.  No, not everyone is best friends and sits around the campfire singing Kumbaya all day.  But our students have spent a lot of time discussing the ideals of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility that our the foundation of a New Tech school and based on conversations I have had with them they get it.  They are willing to come to the staff when they have concerns about how they are learning or with students they are working with.  The staff has embraced the change and is working incredibly hard to make an incredible learning environment for students. We have rooms geared towards collaboration and that are welcoming to students.  We have a collaboration suite that students want to spend time in, the building is getting built at a seemingly fast pace. The big picture piece is coming into focus.

It's the little details that occasionally trip us up.  How do we respond to students who are struggle to turn assignments in?  What do we do if a student fails a course and must repeat it?  Do students get the same grade for both subjects in an integrated course?  How do we keep track and formalize decisions that are made by our staff?  How do we utilize the rubrics for the School Wide Learning Outcomes?  How can we help students to be better organized, while trying to be better organized ourselves?  How can we best integrate courses so they blend seamlessly into one course?  How do we manage the tensions and perceptions that exist with those outside of our school within the larger school?

None of these small details is a shock to me.  None are insurmountable challenges.  None are items that can not be thought about, addressed, and creatively resolved.  They are all important though and all need to be looked at closely.  Much like the dots that create Seurat's masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Exercise Nazi

I loved the Soup Nazi episodes from Seinfeld, it took something totally reprehensible and gave it a slightly new meaning, someone with incredibly exacting standards and a zeal to hold others to them.  It took the idea from my youth of the "Russian Judge" who would give an incredibly harsh score for a good performance and took it to another level.  Tonight I am using the term in a way I never thought I would, while still being uncomfortable about using it.

I had my first training session with Mel at Lifeplex today, and I ache more than anytime in my life.  I would gladly take any conditioning I did in any sport I participated in HS in, including football 2-a-days, over what I did today.  It was not so much the workout, which was hard, or my being out of shape, which is true, but rather they way she was so supportive I really did not want to not live up to her expectations.  Much like George and Jerry, who would go to ridiculous lengths to get the soup from the Soup Nazi, I was determined to push myself to whatever lengths she asked.

And ask she did.  She started off with something challenging but simple, balancing on a 1/2 ball, then jumping onto the ball, then finally jumping up while on the ball and turning a 1/4 turn.  Then the hard stuff kicked in.  I had to do walking lunges, while holding a 12 pound weight so I could twist over the knee on the ground and use a slide to slide my back leg up so I kept working the same leg again and again.  Then 20 squat jumps, which showed my lack of vertical is well even more lacking, but really made my legs scream at me as well.  Then back to more lunges on the other leg, then some jumping jacks, and moving squats with the weight.  She then told me to run to the water fountain, which proved my legs were jelly and almost made me fall over.  

We then went to using tubes for step touches, did push ups with overhead presses, and then got out the exercise ball for 7 core exercises.  It was an exhausting workout, but with rare exception-don't even ask about my push ups they were worse than my lack of vertical-I was able to rally and make a strong effort.  Mel at my side encouraging me the whole way through.  

I can't say that I am looking forward to my next session with Mel, but I am determined to perform better and continue to earn her praise, which is what you want a good coach to do.  Inspire you to be better than you are.  I'm inspired to see what comes next.