Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Reasonable Expectations

Reasonable, within reason. Makes sense but somehow we are much harder on ourselves than we are anyone else. We have this image of the perfect, spouse, educator, friend, parent, sibling, child- yet these lofty visions are often fantasy. We can be great at many things. We can be dedicated, engaged and thoughtful. We can be kind, present and mindful. In fact most days we are. But, perfect, flawless- well not many of us fall into this category and if we are honest with ourselves- we can see this.

Some days we awaken tired, irritable, frustrated. We take offense, feel bad about ourselves and set such high expectations for our encounters- we can't keep up. There are far more variables that we can not control, than there are those we can. Yet, we panic and try to control every situation. We try to expect and anticipate- to the point of exhaustion and irritability- thus we wake up carrying that burden. A burden weighted by an expectation that we can reasonably control our world. But, if this pandemic has taught us anything- it has shown us how vulnerable we are.

I just read an article about how the Happiest countries are not in that positive frame of mind because they are wealthy, or comfortable- not even because they have great jobs and an easy life style. They rank a high level of happiness because they set reasonable expectations for themselves. They do not stand on a pedestal or avoid uncomfortable conversations. They have an outlook of - how do I fit into this world, what are my actions and how do they impact other people. In other words- they are aware of their actions- thus mindful. They remain more positive because they understand it is not permanent- it takes a lot of work.

These days we are all transitioning from a place of dread to one of hope. Some faster than others due to again- circumstances not necessarily of our own making. We are located somewhere where we have more opportunities, more options. We have choices, where in some places, those are harder to come by. But if we have reasonable expectations, we can see that. We can understand the plight of others. We can hear the call of those maybe more incensed, more enraged, more despondent than we are. It might seem reasonable to get over things quickly for some- but for others, it is not. What does reasonable mean anyway?

Expectations are again personal. We often forget that the behavior of others is based on so many factors- many we never see or hear about. Students in our classrooms are coping with this same level of frustration, exhaustion and emotional rollercoaster as we are. They are just finding it harder to understand the reason for it. They are struggling in so many ways- most of what we can't identify as of yet. Patience and mindfulness is key to set the stage for better communication and action.

I know for me, these last few weeks have been engulfed with waves of anger (for no reason many times) and isolation (quiet) and taking many things too personally. Just when I think I have a handle on my teeter-totter emotions, something else arises to send me spiraling back inwards. Inwards is where I tend to go. I am not an extrovert by any sense of the word. This ordeal has made me even less so. What I am working on most lately- setting reasonable expectations.

Not expecting from others what I need or want. Steering clear of the negative bubbles of conversation. Listening to good positive music and spending time reflecting on my emotions. Why did this student make me so frustrated today? Why are my colleagues making me feel more isolated- its not them, it is me isolating myself. You can not expect others to fill a void. The shovel is in your domain and you must find the soil to fill it. But it hurts sometimes when others are not actively seeking to help right? But it is no ones job to make you happy, to make you fit in, to make you feel connected. You must actively seek it. Set reasonable expectations of yourself and others.

When we expect- we are disappointed. When we try to shape others, we are resented. When we do not take the time to write down and reflect on our expectations of others- we put ourselves in a situation where we will feel more frustrated, more irritable, more alone. Baby steps. Set one intention a day, then two, then three. And count them as you do them. Remind yourself of your successes- your milestones and your crawls. Everyone is important. Be reasonable with yourself and others- for they have been through a lot too.

Reasonable expectations are a gift you can give yourself. 

Because in the end- happiness comes behind it- like a parade. Balloons and banners waving. Marching music blaring. But parades pass. Music fades. They only way to keep the happiness parade coming back is to stay reasonable and lower your anxiety. Just be in the moment. Feel content for part of the day. Slow down and yes smell the daisies. This is reasonable expectations- this is reasonable awareness- this is reasonable daily routines and activities. 

Happiness is not a lofty goal at all- it is a reasonable one, so lean in and grab it, its here....

Sunday, April 18, 2021

They Made Up Their Mind and Started Packing

They made up their mind and started packing. Where are they going without ever knowing the way? They do not have a map or GPS. They decide to walk around the lake tonight. Then venture off down a new road tomorrow. Decisions many, some made without thought. Others determined by a sermon or campaign that steered them away from the choir. It feels safer being off the grid in a world without frequent travellers and cartographers. The intentions are loud. Silence is their reward. Isolation is their clarity.

They hear the roar of the crowd. The unforgiving, relentless opinions in combat. Each an armada of personal truth. Blinders on. Mute button pushed. The cults of personality- speaking in a language not foreign, not inconsistent with the populace voice. But nonetheless not their words, thoughts or feelings. Trying to stay removed is a task, arduous and exhausting. For silence is considered a threat to the fleet. A threat to both sides of the war. Tug-of-war pulling troops into a stand off.

They are stipped, barren in a conversation of mudslinging. Nothing to retaliate to. Nothing to bundle or curse. They simply dig. Dig deep for a way out of the battle. They are not combatants, enemies of the state, or warlords. They are not victims, yet. They are hiding away from the din of dismay and conversations of distrust. They see the reason for dissent. They feel the anger and sadness. They understand it, they have been judged, misunderstood, blamed, ridiculed, bullied and hated themselves.

They experience the fever, nightmares and anxiety. They are not in the majority of any circumstance. They have been displaced. They have been under attack and no fortification has kept THEM out. There are many things they can not fully understand- experience and circumstance preventing it. But they are reasoning beings, open-minded, kind and retrospective. They think about their actions. They speak honestly and with conviction with a positive outlook. They live life with a deep need to see all perspectives. They are independent from the crowd, the choir, the loudest voice. 

They choose to play something new. Listen to the lyrics. Listen carefully to the meaning, to the irony, to the reality. They unpack their emotions, for feelings are not facts. Feelings are their way to make sense of the noise. They pick at the straw, shovel the sand, and hammer away at the scaffolding of hate. They refuse to settle for conjecture or make decisions based on fear. This takes work. It takes an honest look at themselves. It can be painful, it can be beautiful and it often leads to new travel plans. New reasons to pack. But, more reasons to unpack after a journey. 

Changing minds is no one's responsibility. It is costly and can often result in more negativity. But asking the right questions, following your heart, listening with such engagement that it feels uncomfortable- this is the way to get more people to pause- to recognize an attempt to understand. This is how minds are opened. Not by preaching, politicking or persuading but by personal growth. When they grow it shows. When they find truth not by happenstance, but by inner reflection, outer refraction and consistent meaningful, purposeful conversations- it shows.

They are welcoming to dissension in the ranks. They, the rebels, that start the meader, that slow negative flow. When they take the time to remove themselves from the banter, this does not mean they do not care- it means they care enough to rethink, reassemble and redirect the voices that are vibrating the common ground. Causing tumbling and landslides on the edges. Clearing the way for others to make the journey to the surface- both sturdy and active.

They are packing so they can travel to the center, the foci, the epicenter of change. The common ground. This is the spot where the armada tends to avoid- because it means not raising the white flag of defeat of their enemy- or the parade of victory. It means laying down their arms and sitting down to have a conversation about similarities, honest problems of racism, prejudice, misogyny and hate. To face the cause of war, accept the role, and understand the demons of these atrocities.

These are not universal. Yet, they are more common than we think. These are the uncomfortable things we need to look in the eye and conquer.They are the common threat, the enemy of the state, the terrorists and devils of society. THEY, themselves are not any of these. THEY are catching their breath in order to dive into the ocean below and swim towards the conversation- but with a demeanor that lends itself to evidence based change, real discussion of how to begin. 

THEY made up their mind and started packing. THEY found the way, they travelled around the lake, through the woods and made their way to common ground. This is where they built their home. Set up their wifi and gas lines. Settled in for the long haul- because nothing is more important. AND, YET nothing is more destructive and fluid. It will not happen overnight, it will not happen in a year or a decade. But, it requires sturdy ground, a voice of common sense and a voice- not one of preach, persuasion or politics- but one of gentle reasoning and determination.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Joy of Being Wrong

As with many, I do not enjoy being wrong. Not because I failed or stumbled. Not because I think I am always right. In fact I am the opposite- I seem to doubt myself and second guess myself constantly- and well, I think I have a lot to learn. I like learning so this part I quite enjoy. I think it is being embarrassed that tricks us into thinking we are always right. Confidence getting seduced by pride. But truth, no one is right all the time. Calling people out for it- I think that might be the impetus for most of the anger, hatred and revenge in the world.

We want so much to be appreciated, respected- but more than that treated with respect and reverie and when we are not- we get defensive. We stake deeper claims to our truth, to our opinions and values- never blinking. We stare into the chasm- relentless. Even though all the evidence is laid out before us. We see glimpses of it, but our pride kicks it out of the way. We are so afraid to look bad, to be judged- we forget we are doing that to ourselves: and personal judgement, guilt, self-deprecation- that is our true enemy. If we can conquer that demon- things will look much simpler.

We complicate, exaggerate, exasperate. We ignore, avoid and down right deny. Our brains are trained to do that- if we can narrow our focus we can get more things done. We can let the noises of life continue around us and still get things done. We are wired to see what is in front of us and ignore our periphery- unless danger lies ahead. If we know we are equipped with a field of vision larger than we need- why are we so desperate to stay within. When we have so much room to scribble, rip things up and kick the dirt.

I can sit here and write a tale of my ease with failure and being wrong. It would be a false narrative- I struggle greatly with it. Being bullied in school and made to feel less than in my younger years, has led me to be constantly looking for ways to feel more than and let me tell you making mistakes and being wrong is not one of them. But, having Dyslexia and a bit of Autism- I know I have flaws. But, I have just as many strengths. I feel guilty when I am successful. Yet, I never give up. I have a hard time in conversations- my mind wanders, I am easily distracted and over-loaded. But, I ask questions and seek answers. A conundrum.

The thing I enjoy about being wrong, is that I love knowing I can learn new things: new ways of conquering my fears, new ways of teaching, new ways of meeting people. I love to read- when I say I love to read, I mean like really love it. I have a book or magazine in my hand 80% of the day. I love seeking answers. Hearing different opinions. Listening to podcasts. Hearing the opposing point of view to my own. I want to know what people are thinking- this guides me to ask more questions.

So being wrong to me does not have anything to do with ignorance- in fact its quite the opposite. Blissful ignorance means staying in a bubble of those who tell you what you want to hear. Never shaking up the bottle and letting the carbon dioxide explode outward. The fizz, the overflow of foam and bubbles- that means you have to clean it up and when we clean things up we are more likely to notice things. We are more likely to listen to the pop and feel the sticky texture. This is learning in a nutshell.

Being wrong means I do not know enough. I can get better and grow and as they say "Bloom where you are planted." But also- "Find the light and let your branches stretch"- that is mine. I think photosynthesis requires radiant energy and our minds require words and stories, findings and discussions and this energy is energy for the soul as much as it is for the mind. Being wrong allows this energy to find you. So you can discover more ways to grow. So find the joy in being wrong and the love of wondering why? This is where we find compassion and mindfulness. Love and grace. Respect and gratitude. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Magical Classroom Portal

There is a gateway one crosses through as the bell rings. A threshold where the hallway jibber jab becomes more academically focused. As I stand at the precipice- I shake hands with a few weary travelers, and smile huge from behind a mask- eyes lighting up to make sure my intentions are clear. It is a strange dichotomy- teacher stance and teacher personality. You have to have this aura of control yet approachability. 

The magic portal invites students in- desks arranged into a friendly vibe. Minimal, yet colorful interior. Inviting and personal, yet organized and disciplined. The perfect semblance of give and take. The balance of learner and educator. This energy is accumulated over many years of teaching. At first I struggled with knowing how to corral and set free. But with experience came trust and confidence. These days it is a different feel virtually than face to face.

Another dichotomy. Another type of balance. The portal is alluring and most students eagerly approach and dive in. We offer entry- but they must choose to have their ticket stamped. They must choose which rides to approach. Which gift shops to spend their currency in. This portal it leads to amusement parks and thrill rides, carnivals and yes, sometimes haunted houses with mystery and scary ghosts. But as the conductors of these- we can lessen the anxiety and up the magic.

These last few months have been a whirlwind- spinning tea cup rides and steep drops. We have all felt a little dizzy and discombobulated. But we kept entering the lines, we kept getting on the ride and buckling up. Some of us have been in a classroom since September, some are just entering now. Either way- the portals are there, opening minds, creating safe places for our students to investigate and thrive.

I for one have enjoyed teaching three classes virtually and 3 classes in person- it has been challenging but the experience has made me a better teacher. It has allowed me to see my lessons in different formats and different approaches. It has made me think about things differently. I greet with a smile and a virtual hand-shake. I look them in the eyes and welcome them to the classroom magical portal. 

The gateway might look differently - it might be pixelated rather than real world imaged- but the portal is expectation. It is feeling safe. It is wanting to learn. It is being given choice. It is being allowed to struggle a bit- then asking questions and building confidence. It is strange the world of dichotomy- virtual vs. face to face. Students moving from one to the other every six weeks even more so.

But this portal is flexible. Expansive. Accepting. Enter. Brace for change. Then create the magic that opens up more portals. Classrooms are flexible and inviting- this is portal life. This is the life of an educator.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Rethinking Undermines Our Comfort Level

Our bubble, silo, pod keeps us insulated. Our echo chamber protects us. We feel safe in our sense of who we are, when we are surrounded by those who think, behave and analyze situations as we do. But we need to hear both sides. Be willing to not just hear, but listen intently to others. We might not agree with them, but we must be able to listen.

Binary bias takes a very messy world, our topsy-turvy world- our fluid existence and splits it into sides. Once we begin to listen, we see that there are two sides, two opinions, two movements, two points of view and many gray, shaded areas in between we see the world more binary. This openness creates a level of polarization that is very much ramped today. The us versus them mentality. We have to be able to see both sides, accept both sides and rather than make a line in the sand- erase them.

We need to be able to empathize, sympathize with others, and analyze new information as if we are desperately trying to learn something new. Not necessarily change our foundation- but give it a good quake. So, we can see the cracks, gouges, and instability in our thinking. Once we understand that we have fault lines surrounding us- we can better prepare for the aftershocks of enlightenment.

I hear, I see- I am confused, baffled and downright saddened by the words and actions of those so tight in their bubble- they choose to hate, disparage, and denigrate others- rather than pause and look inward. Reflection, rethinking, understanding ourselves- is very challenging. Pondering inward can be difficult. We truly need to believe we are good people. That we make good choices. That we are mindful.

Yet, mindfulness is not permanent. It is a constant upgrade, shift and battle ground of misconceptions bombarding us. We walk the Earth with our personal arsenal, yet we often forget to search our tool bag. We over-react, get angry, say things we don't mean. React with spite. Seek revenge. Talk with confidence when we lack the competence. WE push ourselves without readiness.

This sudden, this lapse, this action gives us our setbacks. It prevents us from moving forward. It locks us in place, spinning wheels clouding the sky with dust and gravel. We cough and choke, yet still dig in our heels- because we think we are right. We choose not to look at our mistakes as blips. For that is what they are. Blips in time. The work we put into to working through the blips- that is life, that is experience.

Words are floating around, looping, spinning, piercing. Some make it into our field of view. Some pop our bubble of protection. Some bounce off like particles of air- not strong enough to penetrate our pod, our silo, our bubble. But some in rapid succession, cause the collapse of our safety net. This can be a good thing. Safety nets are adjustable.

Our sense of security widens and narrows. Our happiness ebbs and flows. Our sense of self should shift along with it. We need to look deep inside. Reflect. Rethink. With rationality and perspective. There is no need to overcompensate and damage. There is no need to destroy others from behind a computer screen because we are bored and restless and disappointed.

We need to keep our minds open. Our words cautious. Our responses mindful, rather than our actions hostile. It is a tumultuous world, to say the least. So much hurt and frustration. Disenfranchisement and isolation. It is expected- the anger and lashing out. But it is time to pause- listen and reflect. Rethink and adjust. So, we can unite against a common enemy. Not one another.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Should Education be Intertwined with Happiness?

Ridiculous question right? Of course students and teachers should be happy. Everyone deserves happiness. But do we design our lessons, classrooms and schools around the premise of happiness? Schools were created for learning. To gain knowledge that will help individuals become productive citizens and well-rounded adults. They were structured to provide opportunities for social and peer interaction. But schools were not organized to create a platform for happiness. Why?

When we as humans are happy we feel fulfilled and our purpose becomes more clear. We find our way to the shelves of information about our interests. We study things that enlighten us and challenge us. We take a path towards a field that will provide us joy and stability- in most cases. At least we believe they will. But, when we are given opportunities to test the waters and seek different avenues of information, we tend to find what works best for us. Lucrative or not.

When we as students are presented with questions and situations where we ourselves can find the answers- we tend to be more intrigued. The answers tend to be more honest and meaningful to us. When we are asked to think for ourselves, push ourselves, fail and rethink, analyze and reflect- we get a sense of ourselves deeper than any book could instill. We find happiness in the struggle.

When we are learning just past our capacity, we feel a sense of urgency.  This desperation, the fuel for our endeavor of achievement. Our goals are both personal, and deeply ingrained in our psyche. Our work ethic is often gathered from experience and parental influence. But the assemblage of our drive, our motivation and flow happens, because of how we are allowed to learn. Allowed to learn, yes. When we are given choice and opportunity to contextualize and organize a system of learning we know works best for us- it matters more than anything.

This makes us happy. It helps us feel in control and confident. It creates a platform on which we stand. Which we can rise to a challenge upon, or sit tight and watch things unfold upon. This platform is as large or small as we require. It gives us a safe haven. A secure vantage point to be able to see the bombardment of new information, before it is launched. We expect the barrage, we just feel better when we get a warning before it happens.

Often in school, students don’t get the opportunity to sign the warranty. They just have to prepare to catch the hazard vaulted at them. The hazard of learning in a time where there is so much uncertainty and doubt. But when we stop and allow our students to find the right pen and sign the dotted line, we give them control of the paperwork. We are asking them, “How do you need to be presented this information?” We are telling them “The warranty gives you room for rethinking.”

It is their paperwork after all. Getting them to read the fine print, that takes skill. That takes subtle persuasion that happens, when we as teachers, step back, and let them read. Let them choose to be in charge. It is empowering to feel in charge. To feel the heft of leadership of oneself. When students feel grounded, purposeful and happy- they are open for new information. They feel they can handle it. They accept it willingly and this gives them the power.

In other words, power helps us feel pride and confidence and this in turn, helps us feel positive and happy. Eager to seek out more opportunities to feel the same. Shouldn’t this be the goal of education? To simply provide opportunities for self-expression and self-advocacy, so happiness arises and sticks. A happy person , tends to be positive and hopeful. This leads to curiosity and discovery and then learning. Not fleeting knowledge, but substantial, enduring growth.

Students are overwhelmed and bogged down in a quagmire of virtual isolation, or in class distancing- either way they feel unbalanced. When we feel unbalanced, we are spending all our time adjusting to the tilt- and not paying attention to the scenery. We want students to connect with the scenery- that is the lesson. That is the activity. That is the interaction and collaboration. That is ultimately happiness.

Should students and teachers focus more on happiness than mere learning? I think so because without a certain level of positivity and optimism- learning is always stunted. It is always just out of reach. How can we bring more happiness into our classrooms as teachers? That is up to individual teachers. I find certain things work for me and my students, while you might have an entirely different repertoire- or we might just have a lot in common.

But what matters most, especially these days, is to find the moments. The positivity bubbles, the sparkles and fanfare that lightens spirits and brings smiles to faces. The times where students can just have a little fun. Be kids. Socialize. And coat it all with a layer of learning that does not hinder happiness but that heightens it. This will make you happy, students happy and school a happy place indeed.

Isn’t that what we need now, today, every day- positivity, kindness and compassion. Because when we have it, sticking to us like lint, we carry it around with us in our pockets, on our sleeves, and our collars. This lint eventually becomes threaded and intertwined with more lint and then lying before us, we have a massive web of positivity and happiness. We can’t be happy every moment, but we can look for ways to be happy more often. Happiness takes awareness. Be aware of the lint.

So before you toss the lint, wriggle it in your fingers a bit. Put it in your pocket with your change- and it will come in useful when you need it. Just reach for it. Happiness is not a permanence, but it is sustainable. In schools it is achievable. It is the embodiment of self-fulfilment and challenge, acceptance and achievement and above all else- listening and rethinking. Learning truly happens when it is entangled with laughter and relevance. When happiness is built into the curriculum- the curriculum is more impressive, more meaningful and well....indelible.

What does happiness have to do with learning? Everything. What is happiness? The joy of figuring things out. The pride in accomplishment. Knowing you are loved and appreciated. Feeling connected. Enjoying the tasks you are presented with. Given the opportunity to choose and feel empowered. To be heard. To be valued. Education is all of these things. We just need to remember to focus on them during this time of upheaval- because happiness leads to learning and that is why we are here right?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Specs, Bubbles and Sparkles

Our Perspective- personal focus, directional outlook, our vision of the world. Can we change it? Do we have a choice? Are we locked into a pace not of our own? There is so much volatile, toxic judgement swirling about- it weighs heavy- a dense fog, illuminating the darkness. We have been submersed in its shadow for so long. 

But, regardless of the trauma of the last year- we can walk through the haze together. 

We have to make a conscious choice to walk into a positivity bubble.

So much has taken place this last year. We popped more positivity bubbles than we made. This disheartened us. It caused us to pause in our bubble making.

We seemed to have forgotten that there is always a place that is sunny. Always room for bubbles.

We deserve the warmth and glisten of those rays. The light that glistens. The hopeful wisp of soapy suds generating circular, floating, shiny, droplets of effervescence.  But we have some work to do first. We have to accept our loses and look towards our successes. Our new achievements. Our new avenues.

Bubbles can only take flight if we give the air around us a place to escape. The fields are open.

We just might have to walk a bit further than we are used to, to find them these days. But our avenues are many and our vehicles plentiful. Just open the door, sit down, and start the ignition. 

We might just burn our feet on hot pavement. But we have to endure the sharpness to remind ourselves where we came from.

We need not necessarily climb up a huge hill, or cross fields of lava and ash. But we have to move. Go forward. Progress. As much as we raise our feet, we will drag at times.

We will scuff our pristine white sneakers in the process. Change is messy. It takes bravery and will power. It takes acceptance of imperfection and ignorance. Acknowledging that we often ignore situations. That sometimes we do not know about them. 

But we can't pretend not to recognize our role in them.

We scuffle through at times only noticing the specs. The blemishes, the pocks and scars. We try to cover them up, rather than deal with the cause of them. The specs are what make us human. What make us a civilization. A community. A neighborhood. A family.

We scuffle at times only noticing the sparkles. The shiny, happy moments of joy. The wins. The opportunities and possibilities gifted to us. We celebrate. The sparkles give us hope. They show us that our goals and actions matter. They make us human. They make us a civilization. A community. A neighborhood. A family.

Specs and sparkles do not happen in a vacuum. They rarely occur simultaneously. They do not happen in isolation. They are blended like seeds floating through a forest, creating new life. They are like grains of sand, silicon and rock- smashed to pieces by wind and rain until they are microscopic memories of life. Ever present on our car floors after a day at the beach.

Specs and sparkles are intertwined. Moment to moment on some days. It takes all our energy to persist and sweep them into a pile. Like leaves raked on an autumn day only for a breeze to disperse them again. Specs and sparkles are extensions of us. They carry parts of us.

They embody our thoughts, actions, notions and opinions. They rise in the current and drift in the flow. They dust across great plains and fill up deep valleys. They change the surface of everything. These granules of hope and fear. Resistant. Resolute. They travel. They soar. They rest.

Every scratch they cause, every abrasion they gouge- in the end, they leave a smooth surface ready for the next batch to arrive. We expect them. Their presence means something is happening. That we are experiencing life. I for one welcome the pocks and dents. Scraps and scratches. 

I seek the specs and sparkles. And at the end of the day- I revel in the marks left behind by my day. I am blessed to be able to be out in the world. Day to day living my life as normal as normal can be these days. I know I am blessed and for that reason alone- I shrug off the discomfort and embrace the grains.

I am looking up to a sky full of positivity bubbles. Some may pop before they come close. But I have access to the soapy suds. For this I am thankful. 


Reasonable Expectations

Reasonable, within reason. Makes sense but somehow we are much harder on ourselves than we are anyone else. We have this image of the perfec...