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.
My cell phone is broken.
It’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so tragic lol. The bottom 1/3 of the screen is completely whited out, which means that I am literally pressing random parts of the screen, hoping for the correct response.
I have had a few panicked moments when I am trying to exit a page, only to find myself opening random posts or making sure I haven’t inadvertently ‘liked’ something that I most certainly do not like.
So my solution has been to draw on my screen. With marker.
But that isn’t ideal either, as every app has their buttons in different, but overlapping, places. It’s a mess of markings and, like I said, would be comical if not so frustrating!
And that sums up my mood. If anyone’s social media feed looks like mine, it’s probably best that I give my phone a break, because I’m definitely not laughing.
It’s also making it difficult to write tonight.
So, as a bit of a cheat, I titled this with the name of the song that I’m listening to, pulled a few of my favorite books off the shelf, and scanned for some passages that resonated.
They are a bit random, which matches what my mind is doing too. (And computer. 23 tabs are literally open.) I sometimes tell the kids that I play connect the dots with my thoughts, but there’s no big picture to reveal at the end tonight. Just a short found poem with some beautiful words from the writers below.
Hang in there this week! I’m thinking of you.
“In today’s world, we are hyper-exposed to other people for practically all our waking hours. We pick up on our coworkers’ stressed-out energy all day in our open-plan offices. We constantly absorb depressing or anxiety-provoking news articles, or nasty or negative comments on social media.
We viscerally feel the tense, urgent body language of people on subways, buses, and planes. These forces are inevitable and unescapable in our modern world. This is why it is crucial to not only find Positive Influencers to surround yourself with but also to DEFEND against the inevitable negative influences in your environment.
And unfortunately, there are more of them today than ever. Our news is heavily skewed negative. Our stressors at work and school are at historic levels. Depression and anxiety rates have risen dramatically.
Moreover, it takes only a single negative in our life to imbalance the entire system… “roughly 90 percent of anxiety at work is created by 5 percent of one’s network - the people who sap energy. And Harvard Business School research shows that a single toxic person has a much greater impact than a superstar on a team.” Big Potential by Shawn Achor
“Ethical fading (engaging in unethical behavior while believing that we are still acting in line with our own moral code) is a people problem. And counterintuitive though it may seem, we need people - not paperwork, not training, not certifications - to fix people problems.
The best antidote - and inoculation - against ethical fading is an infinite mindset. Leaders who give their people a Just Cause to advance and give them an opportunity to work with a Trusting Team to advance it, will build a culture in which their people can work toward the short-term goals while also considering the morality, ethics and wider impact of the decisions they make to meet those goals.
Not because they are told to. Not because there is a checklist that requires it. Not because they took the company’s online course on ‘acting ethically.’ They did so because it’s the natural thing to do. We act ethically because we don’t want to do anything that would do damage to the advancement of the Just Cause. When we feel a part of a Trusting Team, we don’t want to let down our teammates. We feel accountable to our team and the reputation of the organization, not just to ourselves and our personal ambitions.
When we feel part of a group that care about us, we want to do right by that group and make our leaders proud.” The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
“We normally think of hope as something individuals hold in their heads and in their hearts. But people can build hope together. By creating a shared identity, individuals can form a group that has a past and a brighter future.
‘Some people say if there’s life, there’s hope…But for us, it was the opposite: If there’s hope, there’s life.’
Of course, hope by itself isn’t enough. Many of the passengers had hope yet still lost their lives. But hope keeps people from giving in to despair. Researchers find that hope springs up and persists when ‘communities of people generate new images of possibility.’
Believing in new possibilities helps people fight back against the idea of permanence and propels them to seek out new options; they find the will and the way to move forward. Psychologists call this ‘grounded hope’ - the understanding that if you take action you can make things better.” Option B by Sandberg and Grant
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.
I will not hold on to a single existing idea, opinion, identity, story, or relationship that keeps me from emerging new. I cannot hold too tightly to any riverbank. I must let go of the shore in order to travel deeper and see farther. Again and again and then again.” Untamed by Glennon Doyle
“Being unsure about how to proceed is the most natural feeling in the world. I feel that way all the time. Asking for input is not a sign of weakness but often the first step to finding a path forward.” Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
These forces are inevitable
in our modern world.
The best antidote - and inoculation -
when communities of people
generate new images
I will not hold on to
a single existing idea,
that keeps me from emerging new…
the first step
to finding a path
Today I was so honored to receive one of 68 Minister of Veterans Affairs commendations. What started as sharing Grandpa’s story of serving in WWI (a Lewis machine gunner who survived Passchendaele and Mons) turned into many wonderful memories with Veterans and colleagues and students, as we learned more together over the years.
And it was definitely done together. The ten years of Legion Teas will always hold a special place in my heart, especially the one with Danny Artnsen’s poetry and the last one with Bob Mason’s writing. Having a new cast of students re-do the performance for Bob in his hometown of Perdue last year will be something I will never forget. Val and I taught WWI and WWII classics to grade 4 students for well over a decade, and it was always heartwarming to see them remember the lyrics and sing along even when they were in high school. Who couldn’t love K-K-Katy and Tipperary! An amazing group of colleagues puts together a phenomenal service each year; Barb, Sandra, Pat, Miranda, Cheryl. I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. As we go virtual with it this week, I’ll really miss visiting with the Color Party and having tea in the library afterward! Ken at the RM Review has published our student writing each November for so long, I’ve lost count. This year was the first that we weren’t deadline ready - darn COVID - but it’ll be back.
As a teacher, we are fortunate there are so many resources out there to support bringing Remembrance to students: Veterans Affairs bookmarks, posters, and publications at all grade levels; the Legion poem, essay, and poster contests; and Discovery boxes from the Canadian War Museum that lets students touch and wear artifacts and uniforms. Having the opportunity to stand on Juno Beach and to see the gravesite of my Great-Uncle Chester Cunningham who is buried with 2000 other Canadians at Villiers Station Cemetery just outside of Vimy, was a life-changer. If we ever get to travel again, the EF student tour of Canada and the World Wars is something to put on your list.
I was really humbled today, seeing the amazing work of just six of the other recipients. As Minister MacAulay said (paraphrasing here, it went by really fast lol) that these things aren’t done for recognition, but by recognizing individuals, it will inspire more people to do something as well. That is so true. Let us all do whatever we can, in whatever way we are able, to keep Remembrance alive. I am continually learning myself, especially in the important roles that Indigenous soldiers played and the discrimination they faced upon return. For me, the work we do with students is vital, because what we understand and learn as children, we will remember as adults. And in the tumultuous world we live in, the importance of understanding and remembering can’t be overstated.
One last plug: both levels of government announced funding for struggling Veterans groups today, but if you are looking for a way to help on a personal level, the Legion website now sells a variety of items from bunnyhugs to beautiful beaded poppies, or you can make a donation through mypoppy.ca and make a virtual poppy in remembrance of someone.
Or, just take those two minutes at 11am tomorrow to say a silent thank you for the Canadians who have served, and who continue to serve, to preserve the many freedoms we enjoy.
As most readers of this blog are also avid social media consumers, I’m sure you are all aware of upstream thinking. I’ve heard it in slightly different variations, but the gist of the lesson is this:
Two people are standing by a river. A child passes by them, drowning, so they jump in to pull them out. But then another child needs rescuing, and another.
At some point they have to decide: do we keep rescuing the children or do we go upstream to see why they keep ending up in the water?
That is the basic premise of upstream thinking: how can we move from just responding to things that are happening around us, and proactively act to prevent some of these bad things from occurring in the first place?
And therein lies the difficulty. No one wants to abandon a drowning child. Or to stop trying to put out a raging fire. Or to change directions on handling a pandemic.
Because all of those things are important.
I keep quoting Maya Angelou, but she nailed it when she said: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always gotten. How long do we keep going into the river before we decide to go see what is causing the problem?
I remember hearing the phrase ‘social determinants of health’ when my daughter started nursing classes at university. For the first time, she was realizing how health issues were much more complex than simply treating a disease. In education, I think we understand this premise well. For as many factors as we can control in a school setting, there are untold more that students arrive with everyday that affect their ability to learn.
Mental health issues.
Lack of safety.
Lack of sleep.
I could go on, but it’s an endless and extensive list, and COVID has served to exasperate these issues for many children and families. The role of the school is ever-changing as we support students with so much more than their academic needs. Upstream thinking will require all levels and multiple governmental departments to collaborate and cooperate…all of which is way beyond my understanding and control.
Or is it?
Whose job is it to do the upstream thinking anyway?
<all of us>
I am still reflecting on the quint-semester that just finished, and looking ahead to the next one. Part of that process is gathering feedback from students, and I’ll share some of that below.
But the big piece for me is constantly being aware that *I* am responsible for upstream thinking in my classroom.
This is where portfolios come in. I’ve learned a lot (with a long way to go) but thankfully there is great work in this area by Sandra Herbst, Anne Davies, Brenda Augusta, and more.
Because despite multiple upstream efforts, some still fell in. There is more to be done, but the feedback is encouraging, so I’ll be presenting portfolios as an option with this semester’s group too. For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the student thoughts from this semester. Have a great week!
Do you prefer having grades/marks provided throughout the term, or were you okay with a gradeless approach?
How did you like having a personal portfolio instead of required assignments?
What level of feedback or assistance did you feel you received throughout the portfolio process?
What aspect of the portfolio was easiest for you or did you enjoy the most?
What aspect of the portfolio was most challenging or you did not enjoy?
How do you feel about the 2.5hr block class?
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