Yesterday, the water pump in our well quit. Died. Crapped out. Over 18 hours later, we have no running water and since it is Sunday, there is no end in sight.
If you follow this blog, you’ll likely know that we heat our house with a fireplace, which means that I am chopping wood and splitting kindling every day. We wake up to 13 degree Celsius mornings throughout winter, and there is a pail of snow gathered last evening for emergency water that didn’t even melt overnight.
In other words, I am one power-outage away from living an authentic Saskatchewan-in-1952 life. If I wear an apron to work tomorrow and have cooked my own supper, someone had better come for an intervention.
Sometimes things end very abruptly. We don’t see it coming, can’t prepare, and after an initial shock of emotions, work our way through the aftermath.
Life before COVID, that’s totally you.
Sometimes things don’t end in any concrete way. They slowly disintegrate, fade, or morph their way into non-existence. I think of waking every morning for weeks last year, trying to decide when it was the day to put our old family dog down. The end was never clear to me, even when the day arrived.
I also suspect that is how COVID will end…not in an armistice day to remember, but an overlapping of life with restrictions and life without, until at one point everything has resumed.
Maybe not as before, but resumed nonetheless.
In visual art, students have been researching an artist as an inquiry project, and realizing that art styles do not have a hard and fast existence. Artists do not appear out of nowhere. Musicians, scientists, architects, writers…all are shaped by what is happening around them, and build on the work of those who have come before.
I was fortunate to listen to an amazing educator, Linda Rief, present this week, and I was thinking about this as she guided us through quick writes with mentor texts. When I was younger, my own writing voice parroted that of Stephen King. I was a huuuuge Stephen King fan and read his books voraciously. It wasn’t until my English teacher in grade 9 had covered one of my pieces with “SF” all over it in red pen, that I learned what it meant. He explained sentence fragments to me, and when I protested (which I often did when given advice I didn’t agree with lol) by telling him that Stephen King used sentence fragments all the time, his response to me was this:
You aren’t Stephen King.
It’s a good thing that he was the best English teacher that I had, or would ever have, as I didn’t hold his criticism against him.
But I think of it often.
When I asked students to respond to the questions, “What criteria can we use to ‘judge’ artwork? What things would you consider important? What does creativity, craftsmanship, and complexity mean for an artwork?” this was one Grade 10 student’s answer:
Linda Rief gave us many multi-modal examples. Let us not be the limiting beliefs on our own students’ creativity as they convey messages of their own.
So this is where an unstructured blog can go wrong lol.
I really WAS thinking about endings. Thinking about how I’ve written this blog for three years as of next week, and maybe it was time to wind it down. Thinking about the end of this quint semester on Wednesday, and reflecting on changes that I need to do to improve the experience for students next time. Thinking about starting my week un-showered and about bringing my toothbrush to work.
But writing, particularly writing quickly like I do with this every week, can go in directions I hadn’t anticipated. To steal a quote from Donald Murray that Linda used in her presentation, “Write fast - write badly - so you will write what you don’t yet know you knew, and so you will outrun the censor within us all.”
Maybe this doesn’t feel like the end quite yet.
Have a great week everyone.
This past week I took a belaying course. It was kind of important. If you don’t take the course and pass it, you aren’t allowed to belay. And I want to be able to do that!
So what is belaying, you might be wondering?
When you are rock climbing, the belayer is the person on the ground. As your partner climbs, you are moving the rope through the belay device to get rid of the slack. You also control the brake so that if they slip, they won’t fall very far…ie. plummet to the ground.
Thankfully, my nephew graciously signed up with me to avoid having to partner with a stranger in COVID times. I was fairly confident that he would be a good student and not let the above example happen!
It’s always good to have a reminder of what it is like being on the student-side of things: to remember that learning something new is not easy. At one point, I had asked so many questions that I apologized to the instructor, saying that as a teacher I should be a better student. But I was actually being a great student:
The 2.5 hours were all hands-on with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio lol.
And it was STILL hard.
I can’t imagine how much I would have taken away from the course if it had been us sitting in a room, with the instructor just telling us about the knots to tie. No rope. No demonstrations. No climbing.
Answer? Not much.
As it was, we practised every skill that a belayer needs. The most fun, of course, was the falling - that millisecond of exhilaration as you are near the top…and just let go.
At first, we would tell our partner that we were going to fall, so that they could mentally and physically prepare for what needed to happen.( KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE BRAKE ROPE!) After a bit, we practised unannounced falls, because I can tell you from experience, you don’t always know in advance that you are going down!
The most important skill, though, is likely communication. Verbally, there are a few universal commands to learn, to confirm with your partner what is happening or what you want to happen. But there is also non-verbal communication, keeping your eyes on them and being aware of what is happening.
Like with most things, as I was on the wall or belaying my nephew, I had school-connections running through my head! Here’s three things we could transfer to our classrooms:
1. Let kids fall off the wall more often. Purposeful falls. Accidental falls. I didn’t practise belaying for ‘if’ someone is going to fall, but ‘when.’ (You will fall!) We need to let kids know that learning happens when we take risks and push ourselves; and we learn when mistakes happen because we are learning from those mistakes.
2. Communicate and watch. I was really thinking about triangulation of data as we went through the night. We spent a lot of time in observation and conversation. We watched the other pair as they climbed, listening to the instructor’s feedback. We watched each other go through the intricate steps of knot tying; sometimes I helped my nephew and he helped me, but more often it was just talking and working through the steps together. I think in our classrooms, that is another important lesson: it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to talk it through with someone. It’s okay to listen in when the teacher is working with someone else. Learning is not done in isolation.
3. I’ll repeat that once more: learning is not done in isolation. When there is a climber and a belayer, you are a team. We depend on each other to be safe and have a successful climb. We have different responsibilities in each role, and we need to understand them both because we will do both. In the classroom, I am a learner as much as I am a teacher. And I want our students to be teachers as much as they are learners.
(Something happened in Visual Art before the break that was so cool: one student had learned a technique, promptly showed it to another student, who in turn taught it to another student lol. When a fourth student asked me about it, I sent them to the last student who had learned it so they could teach it too.)
And for the “BUT IN REAL LIFE!” counterargument, the interesting thing about the night was that it was all practice. Just feedback and learning. When we are ready, we will go back for a ‘test’ to show them our skills. We will try until we’ve demonstrated that we know what we are doing.
And then…climb on!
Hope everyone enjoyed a short break. Have a great week!
Hmmm. Close, but that feels too random.
Sort of, although that’s only part of it.
But that doesn’t quite have the energy in the word that I’m looking for either. I need something that captures the essence of all three of those things together!
This week is staff appreciation week in Saskatchewan, and I am feeling very <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to work with the amazing people that I do. This week is about them.
When I even look back on the last week, without exception I saw adults learning everywhere: talking about the professional books they were reading; furthering their learning through workshops in areas of content, assessment, and leadership; contributing to groups on staff wellbeing, and brainstorming fun ideas for us to stay healthy together; talking to each other and seeking input and advice.
Innovating and taking risks.
Continually growing in their craft.
That’s a lot of -ing words, and I didn’t write it in past tense on purpose because it is a continual process: the people in our building are learners, and are modeling themselves as learners.
But that’s not all.
I am also so <lucky-privileged-AND-fortunate> to be working in my other position with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. They are also incredibly modest and would deflect the compliment, but it is true. The best learning happens in relationship and collaboration with other people, whether that is virtual or with someone across the hallway. It happens when we consider the experiences of other grade levels and subjects. It happens with feedback from mentors. It happens with critical self-reflection and goal setting.
And to my collegial friends that are a bit farther away, or virtual educators that I will never meet, I learn from you as well. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. When we are honest and vulnerable (including on the internet!) it can leave us open to judgement or criticism, but it also allows others to learn and grow with us.
I don’t know how many times in a week that the weight and scale and complexity of what we do as educators can feel crushing, but it is through the amazing teachers, EAs, teacher candidates, division-office leaders, administrators, substitutes…all of us together…that we continue to serve our students best.
So on Staff Appreciation week, I am sending my appreciation out to each of you!
What we do is important.
YOU are important.
Thank you for all that you do.
I just need to say this: There is no unacceptable amount of exclamation marks in an email. Or a FaceBook post. Or a tweet.
This is not a subtweet. It's a note to me from me.
Put as many as you want.
A whole bunch in a row.
Or just sneak one in at the end.
Conventions be damned…you do you.
Why even care? This week I overheard two students talking:
“Don’t overthink this.”
“But that’s what I do.”
Kids today are so much smarter than I was. The idea of overthinking something didn’t even enter my vernacular until a few years ago. Being able to recognize it in yourself? Accepting it as part of how you see the world and acknowledge that’s how you interact with it? Sooooo much smarter than I was.
The exclamation mark is a perfect example. I love the exclamation mark. Love it!
It’s like a thrilling amusement park ride hurtling into the station, the brief second of stillness before the unceremonious releasing of the air brakes.
Like getting to the last page of a book and having your breath taken away by the ending.
Like a slammed door.
A sudden epiphany.
A red light.
But use too many? Juvenile.
None at all? Stern.
I have no doubt that there are people who can relate to this, but others who are flabbergasted that someone would spend any amount of emotional energy even considering a punctuation mark.
In the end, I suppose it’s not really about an exclamation mark at all, but our constant maneuvering to balance the expectations of others with an authenticity of self. A recent webinar on female leadership by Amy Korver and Amy Orth had me thinking about that. (Linked video at the bottom of this.)
E. E. Cummings was one of the first poets I was ever exposed to, and some of you may have come across these words before: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
But it is the words preceding those famous ones that I find even more poignant.
“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”
We are taught, consciously or subconsciously, to be many things. (Linked a video here too, but heads up it's NSFW.) This week I’m going to set that overthinking aside…as best I can lol…and pay attention to what I feel…to be nobody-but-myself…and to be accepting of that.
And if that email feels like it needs to be chock-full of exclamation marks?
It will be!!!
Have a great week everyone!
Some things we don’t talk about:
The razor edges of clouds.
Mugshots of our souls.
Darkness that licked the light.
The distinctions of quicksand.
Anticipations of our tears.
Mirrors that enhanced the dolor.
The dust storms of memories.
Burdens of our assumptions.
Casualties that masqueraded the truth.
The frail guise of armor.
Savannahs of our depths.
Cascades that hindered the tsunami.
The tender fear of doubters.
Threads of our destiny.
Nectars that fed our courage.
The velvety fringes of the sun.
Self-portraits of our core.
Beacons that burn away the Cimmerian cover.
Things that we see and feel, but
some things we don’t talk about.
I saw the first four lines above on an Instagram post this week, and they stuck with me. I’m always telling the kids to spend some time playing in visual art this semester, and decided to play with some words here. But while I was doing that, several ads for Bell Let’s Talk day kept coming up in the background as my family was watching football playoffs on tv.
And it made me think: there are actually a lot of things we don’t talk about.
On Thursday this week, it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day.
As awareness of mental health increases, and more people are open than ever before, not everyone is there yet. As I saw on a meme this week, “You can’t talk butterfly language with caterpillar people.”
But if you’re not sure what to do, where to begin, or how to start that conversation?
You can be present.
You can be kind.
You can be patient.
You can be open.
You can learn.
You can be vulnerable and honest and sensitive.
You can listen.
As Bell Let’s Talk Day reminds us, “Now more than ever. Every action counts.”
That starts with me.
Tell me more.
*Foy Vance “Let Me Carry Your Burden”
Let me carry your burden
If something's not right, I will let you know
Like the paint that's drying on a heart that's broke
Let me carry your burden
Get you back on a high when you're feeling low
When the weight's too heavy but you won't let go
Come to me my brother and I will sit with you awhile
Pretty soon I'll see you smile
And you know you will
No matter how much you are hurting right now
You know that everything will change in time
So let me carry your burden
Let me carry your burden
When your mouth's on fire but your mind is cold
And you're fanning flames that won't keep you warm
Come to me my brother and I will sit with you awhile
Pretty soon I'll see you smile
And you know you will
No matter how much you are hurting right now
You know that everything…
This is the 105th blog post I’ve written. Not really a celebratory number, but the 100th one passed by without my noticing. I don’t need to skim back through them to know that there are a lot of common themes that pop up, and a lot of things that didn’t go exactly to plan!
When that happens - often - I try to concentrate on the positives. There is always, without exception, something to be learned from the experience, but I find it isn’t productive to just fixate on all of the things that went wrong.
A goal in making my thinking visible each week through my writing, was that it helped me process and give form to the lessons I learned for my own sake.
Do I fixate sometimes? Of course. Some lessons take longer to process than others.
Sometimes, I’m just stubborn lol.
But for all that, and especially if consider that some of my audience may be people who are just starting out in education, I’m not sure that it’s always clear that I didn’t arrive here in one day.
Truth be told, “arriving” is just an illusion. And so is “here.” There really isn’t an education station (a la Platform 9 ¾) that we will ever pull into. It’s a continual journey that at some point I will leave, you will leave, and others will join.
And it will keep going.
Lest this really spiral into existential thinking, let me return to my point and reassure you: I have made many mistakes.
I have written copious notes on the boards. Given worksheets. Given zeros. Given marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for behaviour. Taken off marks for late work. Taught from a textbook. Taught from a binder. Given feedback only at the end, and either for impact or tradition, put it in red pen. I’ve done rote and repetition. Handouts and homework. Puff-projects. Nothing personalized to the people in front of me.
When I think about it, the ones that really hurt are the voices I silenced or the ones that weren’t empowered to speak because of the structure of my classroom.
And even just the fact that I thought of it as mine. Not ours.
I could continue, but it does actually give me a palpable reaction to go down this path.
Has it been a very long time since those things were part of my educational philosophy?
Am I constantly striving to learn, follow research, and try innovative approaches?
Will I continue to make mistakes?
Part of my opening work with new classes is this: If you get to the end of this course without having made any mistakes, then you haven’t learned anything new at all. If I allow myself one more existential thought: if nothing else, when I get to the end of my life and the list of mistakes seems extraordinarily long, I will confidently say that I learned a lot along the way.
So for me, just like anyone starting something new, it can be overwhelming to look at where others are and feel overwhelmed.
Social media exasperates that with our curated Instagrams and Pinterest-worthy posts.
But remember: everyone started at the beginning at some point. For you it might be today. For someone else, it was last year. For others, this shows a decade of growth.
I might be starting something new today, that you have been doing for a long time.
You might be starting something new today, that I have been doing for a long time.
I wish I knew how many times I’ve written this quote in my 105 entries…it will be a lot. But I’ll write it again because these words guide me not only at work, but in life:
“Do the best you can until you know better. But when you know better, do better.”
Here’s one more via Simon Sinek from Nikolai Vavilov:
“The outcome is uncertain…But still, I want to try.”
Have a great week everyone! Start small, but start something new today.
Growing up on the farm, we spent quite a bit of time driving to fields to pick up my dad, move equipment, or just generally ride along with him to check crops.
Of fascination to us was the most exciting and portable pieces of technology available at the time…the CB radio.
Mounted under the dash of our ¾ ton farm truck, we had multiple unsupervised occasions to play with it, using our best trucker and farm lingo.
Okay, not trucker language per se lol.
But “That's a 10-4 buddy!” was definitely part of it.
We would press the button and talk, and spin the dial to different channels. I have no idea if dad had to put it back every time, but it was always a shock to hear someone else’s voice on the airwaves too. I’m sure we likely panicked and stopped playing immediately!
I don’t think anyone at the time could have fathomed self-driving combines and smartphones. The amount of change, even in a rural farm setting, has been staggering. And yet, so many other aspects of farm life are virtually frozen in time.
Not being able to go to the farm for a family Christmas (or Easter or Thanksgiving) has made me nostalgic and wistful for a visit.
To our sledding hill.
The old barn.
The empty hangar where Dad’s plane used to be.
The noisy cacophony of kid and adult voices mixed together, although I prefer to recall it sans talk of politics. If I never hear Donald Trump’s name again, it will be too soon.
There’s a line in the song “July” by Noah Cyrus that says:
You know I,
I'm afraid of change
Guess that's why
we stay the same.
It’s a sentiment that’s probably found in innumerable song lyrics and is probably a survival technique deeply rooted in the human psyche.
It’s also true.
I try new things all the time. I’m not afraid of change, but it’s also much easier when you are the instigator of the changes.
2020 thrust so much change upon us.
And being in the passenger seat for changes happening around you, is a much different feeling, not unlike the helpless fear of sitting with your own child as they learn to drive. It’s not impossible to manage it, but it’s definitely more challenging.
So as I write this on the cusp of a new year, I’m really proud of the people I am surrounded with at work. Our division leadership. Admin. Colleagues. For persevering in what were unfamiliar and unchartered areas for most people. For working hard and long hours. For keeping the kids in our building as engaged as possible, despite so many restrictions.
For keeping them safe.
I know that 2021 will not suddenly be a panacea for all the ails the world. In fact, even when COVID is more contained, the societal disparities it has exposed (and exasperated) will remain. We will need each other more than ever.
I think that’s the quintessential post-midnight new-years-eve feeling, regardless of the year: realism mixed with hope. After surviving 2020, the hope aspect may well feel in short supply. So that’s when I go back to Dr. Sharon Roset’s dissertations for guidance.
“Authentic relationships with significant people are a means of acquiring hope; creative dreams that come from within a person and focus on a better world have been cited as a source of inspiring hope.”
“Hope undergirds action, it is not the action itself.”
“There is no such thing as idle hope.”
“Hope is stronger than despair for it enables one to persevere and not give up. It is mightier than cynicism and apathy, for it activates enthusiasm and passion for a specific purpose. And it is tougher than selfishness for it instills compassion, empathy, love, and a sense of justice that in turn build vibrant, strong families, schools, and communities.”
“Hope cannot sustain itself on its own.”
You there buddy?
That’s a big 10-4.
Thanks for checking.
I think the kids have moved on from playing the “Among Us” game on their phones, just when I had started to understand how to play it! The gist of it is one or two people are designated imposters, trying to kill off the other characters on the spaceship as everyone else is trying to find the “sus." It’s like Clue but more interactive.
I was thinking about the imposter idea over the past two weeks. And part of that is why I never got a blog post written last week.
I’m not sure how many people have heard of “imposter syndrome” but I’m going to hazard a guess that a lot have felt it at some point or another: the feeling that despite being completely competent at (x) you feel that you’ve got no idea what you are doing and people just haven’t figured that out yet!
It’s not that I feel incompetent at things. In fact, I have adequate skills in a few areas. Years of lessons and education and practice do have their payoffs! Where I do lack confidence is in sharing those things with others, especially when the audience includes people far more qualified than I am.
These weeks leading up to Christmas have really exposed that for me.
Playing some Christmas music on the piano? No problem.
Playing some Christmas music to share on FaceBook Live?
Sure, except that I have numerous career musicians and at least two professional pianists on my friends list. Yikes.
Making sets of painted Christmas characters to decorate our yard? Love it. It’s a yearly tradition, plus I haven’t stopped making things since I was a kid.
Taking those sets to the Pike Lake festival of lights for other people to see?
Not prepared for the compliments and congratulations, considering it’s just tracing, cutting, and painting.
Writing this blog? Cathartic. There are words that build up inside me that don’t have any other outlet. Once I week, this sets them free.
Writing this blog for the internet? Much more difficult. The audience might be no one. Or a student. Or a colleague. Or a stranger. Or someone infinitely smarter than I am that wonders who the hell do I think I am to put ideas out to the world?
You probably won’t want to hear about the internal debate I had on sending out our annual Christmas letter! I never kept baby books for my kids. My recollection isn’t always the best. And so it’s the one thing I do each year that preserves memories for my kids’ sakes, but mine too. It also feels like a completely self-absorbed exercise that probably comes off as entitled and narcissistic.
Yet, I did every single one of those things.
For two reasons, mostly. First, because I know that it brings people joy. It makes them happy.
“Such a beautiful selection of the oldies and goodies, putting me well into the Christmas spirit. Thank you!”
“Thanks so much for the Christmas memories! Only made me cry a little.”
“Great job on your display! We drove down to put us in the Christmas Spirit (maybe more so to alleviate some covid stress) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even drove through it twice!”
“We saw this tonight! It was wonderful! So thankful for people who make these things happen!”
Oh, and two phones calls from aunties to remind me how much they appreciate a card and a letter.
At this point, I start to think that I won’t post this. Because sharing things, whether it’s a picture of the display at Pike Lake or the dialogue going on in my head, means that you open yourself up for feedback.
For someone who relates to imposter syndrome, critical feedback isn’t just welcome, it’s expected. You are anticipating that someone will tell you what you needed to do better…which is fine, because you already have your own list of a dozen things you should have done differently.
It’s the positive feedback that is hard to take.
Weird, right? And so, there is a fear of sharing in case it is interpreted as fishing for compliments…which is the exact opposite of what someone with imposter syndrome is actually looking for.
But there’s a second reason.
And it's one that is strong enough to override those fears. Actually, it’s a quote that says, “Use the talents you possess: the woods would be silent if no birds sang except the best.”
It’s okay to do the best that you can, and be mediocre.
It’s okay to do something that you like, without striving to be the best at it.
It’s okay to try something and suck at it.
It’s okay to not be okay.
And it’s okay to just be okay.
If I only ever played music, created something, or wrote when I was sure that it was going to be amazing….I’d never do any of those things.
If we waited for only the very best musicians, artists, or writers to fill the world with their skills…there wouldn’t be much music, art, or literature in our world at all. Of course, this isn't just about those things. It's about all the things.
Our kids used to do the Kids of Steel Triathlon when they were very little. Before they would start we would tell them, “It's not about being first. It’s about finishing.”
And doesn’t that apply to us all? And in so many aspects of our lives?
Which is why, even with great trepidation, I’m pressing publish on this post!
And why I’ll see you again next week too.
I don’t like rollercoasters. Actually, I don’t like amusement park rides in general, although the ones that spin you in circles are particularly nausea-inducing for me. I knew that from my time on merry-go-rounds in elementary school!
That doesn’t mean I don’t go on rollercoasters. In fact, I’ve been on enough to say that I much prefer a modern coaster, even with its corkscrews and inversions, to a classic wooden coaster. The latter clatters and hurks and jerks you to the point of minor concussion symptoms. Not a big fan, although the rides that take you to the end and run the whole thing again in reverse?? Sadistic.
Then there’s also your physical response to it: do you stay loose and try to go with it, or tense up and brace yourself for the inevitable physical impacts?
To say that this past year has been a rollercoaster would be an understatement. A rollercoaster on fire with the last part of the track gone? That’s getting closer to the truth!
And just like my coaster strategy, I seem to alternate between trying to go with it, and bracing myself for impact.
There are days that I need that Dr. Jody kick-in-the-butt you’ve-got-this message, and then days that I don’t want to see another positivity meme because it feels so inauthentic with everything that is happening around us.
There are days that I am grateful for the nudge a global pandemic gave us towards innovating our thinking, and days that I know I’m not doing everything that I can for the students in front of me.
There are days that I tell myself that I'm staying as safe as possible and know I don't need to panic, and days that I watch the news and see COVID-denialists gather en masse (and maskless) putting us collectively in jeopardy.
There are days, and there are days.
And today is one of those days.
I have no ideas in my brain to write about, and I have too many. I also have a lot of planning for the week ahead and two projects that need to be finished, so tonight, this is all I can muster.
But I will leave you with this:
“You say that you trust no one, but I don't believe you. You trust constantly - even when you don't realize it. At the intersection, you trust that the other drivers will stop when their traffic lights are red; you trust the architects and builders when you walk into a building, the engineers when hopping onto a roller coaster, the cook when you're eating the meal prepared for you. To some extent you trust countless strangers on a daily basis. Just as you would have an extremely tough time surviving in this world with a full trust in all people, you would have an extremely tough time surviving in this world without any trust for any people.” Criss Jami
First, I trust science. (Wear your mask.)
And second, I trust (and am grateful for) so many amazing people, especially here in PSSD. This rollercoaster will eventually end and we will have survived it with each other’s help and support. Just hang in there.
File this under ‘things I read but don’t remember where.’ Again!
Usually I try hard to bookmark or cite articles that stand out to me. I didn’t with this one, mostly because I read it, dismissed the idea, and kept scrolling..
The gist of it was this: All learning feels inauthentic at first.
Not just ‘some’ learning. ALL learning.
Pfffft. I doubt that!
It's why I have had the same quote at the top of this blog for over two years: You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."
So I think I rejected it outright because if that was true, then trying to provide students with real-life learning experiences and tangible opportunities to practice was no more authentic than slapping down a worksheet and calling it a day.
And there is no way that is true.
So I scrolled on.
But it stuck in my head, and the idea rolled around until I came to the conclusion that it was right…all learning does feel inauthentic when you are starting out!
(That worksheet? Sorry, that tends to be more like compliance so we can set that aside.)
But actually learning something?
I started to think back on the big things I’ve learned to do over the past few years: snowboarding, playing the fiddle, and trying rock climbing. Did any of those things feel authentic when I first tried them?
No. No. Annnnnd no.
Strapping both feet into a board was frighteningly vulnerable, with the urge to get a foot down for balance, stripped away.
Tucking the fiddle under my chin while simultaneously placing my fingers in very specific places, at very specific angles, and at very specific times was awkward and forced.
And gripping rock with frozen fingers while one toe bore my entire weight and kept me from plummeting off the rock face…uhhhh…yah. Nothing innate about that.
So even though I was in completely authentic learning situations, the beginning stages of learning something new did not feel authentic in itself.
And that’s when I realized that the concept was right.
There was nothing about learning those things that felt natural or familiar. No muscle memory to fall back on. No prior experiences to tell my brain that it was going to be alright.
We know how this goes: the more that you do the thing, the better you will get at it, regardless of what the thing is. I remember hearing once, that it is physically impossible to try harder at something and get worse at it. I believe that.
Because as time has gone on, my snowboarding skills improved.
As the weeks passed by, I actually got better at playing the fiddle.
And even after just two climbs-worth of experience, I had a better understanding of what to do and how to overcome climbing obstacles because I had done it.
But what about new learning situations that are LITERALLY less authentic scenarios than those examples? What about learning MLA formatting and essay structure? Reading your first chapter book? Crafting and punctuating dialogue in a fictional story you’ve written?
We need students to know that we are always learning, and that our ability to learn something isn’t predetermined.
We need students to understand why that growth mindset is important.
And we need students to understand that all learning will feel inauthentic at first. The first attempt at any of those tasks is not going to feel easy. Or intuitive.
I know that we operate within the confines of many things, not the least of which is now COVID, and that not every learning experience will be as tangible as the skills I was learning. I will continue to try and find as many 'authentic' experiences as I can for my students. But if we embrace that all learning will be messy and frustrating and maybe even feel contrived at first?
We will get better.
And that, I don't doubt.
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