excellence · expansion · TEACHING

Hungry Hippos.

5.2.18

As the school year draws to a close, I find that I feel a little stale in my teaching practices.  I have a toolbox with many drawers, but I tend to reach for the uppermost because it’s convenient, familiar, and reflexive.  Therefore, I’m not alone in my classroom feeling a little bored!

So, yesterday, I reached into my classroom bookshelf for my thumbed-through copy of Teach Like a Champion to remind myself of other techniques that are available to me.  OH MY GOD, what a relief!  I forget how many tools are literally (yes, literally!) at my fingertips.  I’m so grateful that my boss at my first school handed me a copy from her stores when I began my career and was drowning in novice-hood, sore-throated and haggard.

As I thumb again through the book, I see a handful of pages dogeared, but for the most part not touched.  The few techniques I recall (Vegas Moment, Exit Ticket, No Opt Out)… well, I recall them, but I can’t always say I use them.  Or say I always use them!

Of course, it’s not to use every tool every time, but to refamiliarize myself with all the drawers in my toolbox is like a draught of water on a hot day.  I feel relief.

Therefore, as I sat in meditation this morning, the idea struck me that I wonder if other teachers at my school might be feeling similar stagnation and welcome the chance to get together to read/re-read and discuss one or two tools a week and spitball some ideas for how to literally 😛 implement the techniques in their own classroom (since theoretical professional development is the WORST).

After dismissal, we’re still contracted to be on-site for another 30 minutes.  Well, what if I hosted a “Drop-in PD” in my classroom for 20 of those minutes?  We’d read a tool, refresh and head on our way.

Charged up with this idea and already composing an email to the faculty in my head (yes, during meditation!), I figured I should probably square this with the head honcho, in case there was a conflict or even an existing opportunity that I didn’t know about, and also to gain her ideas on the subject.

Therefore, at 6am today, there I am composing an email to my boss about how to improve my teaching, and perhaps the teaching of my peers.

Hungry.  That’s what I imagine she’ll think when she reads that email!

Because it’s not the first talk we’ve had recently on what I could do to increase my value (and compensation) at the school.  I met with her a few weeks ago to bandy about ideas and, through my supervisor, I heard that there may be one option on the horizon.  One that will be HOLY COW a lot of work, but it’s mostly initial set-up that can then be replicated with somewhat lesser effort in subsequent years.

I haven’t heard from the big boss on that yet, so I’m waiting for our monthly meeting next week.

But, in the meantime, can’t hurt to say I wanna host a klatch of teachers to improve our professional excellence, now can it?;)

 

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habits · imperfection · success

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

4.30.18

“I make a lot of proclamations, don’t I?” I asked J yesterday morning.

We were at brunch at a cafe we like after having run “Cardiac Hill” in Berkeley, CA and I proclaimed that I would spend 3 hours at the Mills Library that day to do work.  The day before, I’d proclaimed that I was going to follow a new exercise schedule for myself.  The day before that, I turned down sweets because I’d previously proclaimed that I would only eat sweets on Fridays, but had already eaten them twice that week!

Recently, I have variously proclaimed that I would:

Shower daily, clear old boxes twice a month, only eat sweets on Fridays, go to bed at 8:30pm, not read Game of Thrones except whilst in bed.  That I would put 40% of my income into savings, that I would take daily breaks at work, that I would grade papers daily, that I would be outside for 45 minutes each afternoon…

Some of these proclamations have held fast, some have been loosely worn, and some haven’t taken hold at all (mainly the ones related to work).

After returning from brunch yesterday, I crawled back into bed and nap/rested for another hour (Come on! — we were up at 7am and it’s not called “Cardiac” for nothing!), and was then so sleepy/sloggy that going all the way out to the college library seemed silly.  …

did spend about 1.5 hours on workywork (though not in a row!), but didn’t get to any of my Goals Group writing that I intended, and needed, to do.

(Would it be ironic to mention that much of my Goals Group work this round will be about time-management!?)

It’s important for me to recognize that my life is a process and an unfolding.  It’s not a “one and done,” it’s not a “get it perfect every day.”  Perhaps like you, I hold myself to incredibly high standards, but take it viciously hard when I don’t meet those standards.  Or, if not vicious toward myself, certainly mildly aggrieved that I haven’t accomplished what I intended.

There is absolutely a balance that is needed between setting goals, reaching them, and the esteem that comes from such effort, and allowing for the humanity, imperfection, and dynamism of everyday life.

I have not yet found this balance!

And so, I make proclamations.  Some of them have improved the quality of my life by taking the questioning out (e.g. all the esteemable habit calendar work I’d done… until I got through one month and have yet to print out a new calendar sheet).  With others of my proclamations, I’m trying to hone in on the right apportioning of effort and devotion of time.  (Indeed, today, I’m up about 20 minutes early because I have some grading to do at work that needled at my sleep.)

I don’t necessarily desire to see my proclamations subside, but I do wonder if turning them into habits, natural parts of my life and day, would enable me to remove the judgment from achieving them or not.  Because, as Oprah intoned this morning, “Judgment, simply put, is fear.”

 

charity · philanthropy · wealth

Circular Reasoning.

4.27.18

I’m listening to the final chapter of Tony Robbin’s Money: Master the Game and, as isn’t surprising because it’s him, the chapter’s all about philanthropy.  Both he and Gretchen Rubin, in her Happiness Project books, cite studies that report a more-than-coincidental correlation between giving money and earning a higher income.

Bizarre, huh?

While, of course, that’s not all studies and certainly correlation is not causation, it’s still a psychological pattern that finds roots for me.

I’m part of a triad that meets to look at the finances and pressures of one the group members on an every 6-week basis.  The guy in the group is your typical starving artist:  a slam poet working for a dysfunctional non-profit, wanting to accomplish more in life but fearing that by “working in the system,” he’s selling out, he’s “one of them.”

The rub for him is that by not allowing for any success or abundance in his own life, he’s able to do much less for the organization he and a prison inmate founded for educating young adults.  While I’m not preaching that everyone who wants to do more in the world needs more funds to do it, for this particular guy, he’s frustrated, stuck, and even a little hopeless as he witnesses his non-profit boss drowning in her own do-good-er-ness and righteous poverty.

So, is wealth the answer for him?  No, of course not.  Would having a firmer financial cushion enable him to devote more time to his own cause and not depend so much on the dysfunction of others?  Well, that’s the hope!

In order to get there, though, this guy is deep in the “having to dismantle old ideas” phase from his youth.  If Money is evil, Rich people are corrupt, Success is for pansies, well, then he’s not going to break out of this pattern that is causing him to suffer.  If he learns another way of viewing success, such as a vehicle for freeing up time and resources for his own organization, his own artistic endeavors, and allowing him to give back more… maybe this habit can change.

He is not alone in believing in the evils of money while at the same time wishing he had more.  In fact, the biblical verse is not “money is the root of all evil,” but rather the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil — perhaps interpreted as the love of money above all things.

The pursuit of wealth in and of itself may not be the most fulfilling path.  In fact, many of the studies cited by Rubin and Robbins (and even Arianna Huffington) state that when people were told to give a portion of money to charity, they reported a higher state of happiness and well-being over the long term than those who received a pay raise.  Ver veys, who knows.

But clearly, there is something to be said for giving.  And in order to give, one must earn.  And… in order to earn, one must give!  It’s a crazy, lovely cycle.  At the present I donate 2% of my income to charity (Charity Water, Planned Parenthood of Northern Texas, EarthJustice, Athletes for Cancer, and my spiritual group), but… really, it’s 1.97%…

What would happen for me, for others, for the world if I increased that amount to a true 2%?  What would happen at 3%?  There’s only one way to find out.

generosity · gratitude · TEACHING

What act of generosity can I carry out today?

4.25.18.jpg

This is the central question I now have Post-Ited to my fridge.  Beneath it is one that reads, “What act of generosity did I carry out today?”

As things progress, stagnate, circumnavigate and develop, I can get a little lost in my brain, thinking about things to the detriment of actually doing them, particularly thinking about my relationship instead of myself.  Thinking is not always my highest mode of operation.

Therefore, it’s important for me to have a touchstone to come back to, coming back to myself and what’s happening before me and the people around me.

While contemplating this, today’s title question came to me: “What act of generosity can I carry out today?”  This helps me to reframe my day and my life to see how I can be of service in the world, and to employ the gifts I’ve been given to brighten said world.

I like the bookend nature of these questions so that, when last night I came home late from our school’s Open House, I got to reflect on what I had done for my students, rather than on the parent questioning me about why their 8th grader’s vocabulary scores weren’t higher on standardized tests.

Particularly, last night, I got to reflect on one piece of joy and light I brought to a family.

First off, my 6th graders are my saving grace.  While I enjoy and love (some of!) my 8th graders, depending on the moment, the 11-year olds are my delight.  Sure, teaching them during the last period of the day can challenge one’s patience, but that’s my own learning to ensure that there’s something active and capturing for that last 45 minutes of their schoolday.

One of my young students is one of those sports players I mentioned a while ago whom I’ve tagged as a strong writer, and his father stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago to sincerely thank me for encouraging his son’s writing.  I replied that I was only acknowledging the talent that he clearly has.

And last night, that same dad and son came to Open House and, while the son interrupted with apologizing for grammar errors or “it’s not edited yet” interjections, I read them both the latest short story from the boy.  The father was staggered.  (If I’m not mistaken, his eyes were misty by the end of the reading.)  He was so clearly impressed and delighted at his son’s writing, plus it was my pleasure to read this story aloud and reflect to the son that his words (even without editing!) are of value.

This, my friends, is my act of generosity from yesterday.  I continue to feel that encouraging the talent of this student and others is my greatest act of generosity—and privilege.  While there are good writers in my classes and even poor writers, and I get to find the diamond in the rough of each of them, clearly the ones with writing talent are among my favorites.  I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher after all!

I am so honored and thrilled to have done something for this student (and the 3 other parents who stopped me last night to say that their child was absolutely loving my class, some even saying that their child didn’t even particularly care for English before).  This is my honor and privilege, and as much as I know there are still hills for me to climb professionally to feel more capable and confident and engaging in my teaching, I feel nearly dumbstruck with gratitude that I get to shine a spotlight into the talent-corners of these children’s lives.  Amen.

 

balance · progress · time

Even Elizabeth Gilbert took a Break.

4.23.18

The epilogue to Eat, Pray, Love, if I recall (maybe it was an interview) included author Elizabeth Gilbert admitting that in coming back to her regular daily life, she did loosen her adherence to her hours’ long daily meditation.  The demands of everyday life, I believe she wrote, necessitated that she create a new balance that allowed for her present needs and reality.

I take comfort in this idea—not as justification for my own procrastination or avoidance of eaten frogs, but that even “great spiritual masters” (though I’m sure she would never consider herself such!) have to consistently reapportion in and out, effort and rest, play and focus.  I take comfort because it means that I can, too.

As you read in Saturday’s blog, the concept of “Time” is foremost in my mind and plans and creation of my days lately.  In that blog, I shared Dr. Dan Siegel’s 7 types of time one should account for in one’s day, and that did include play time.

I remember when I was healing from cancer treatment, I questioned (rather unceasingly) whether I was still allowed to watch Ben Stiller movies.  (You know, like Zoolander.)  Meaning, with everything that had changed and happened, was it “wasting my life” to take 2 hours to watch something that was funny but shallow?  What was the value of humor?  Of frivolity?

Indeed, that question of allotting time for mental candy plagued me and can still rear its snarky head.  But, I’ve come to the other side of it.

My own answer, at least, is YES.  Yes, frivolity.  Yes, silliness.  Yes, “stupidity.”  Because it’s FUN.

And truly, what is the purpose, ultimately, of life if we’re not having any fun?

Now.  I can go too far, as you’ve seen me lament here, too, spending copious hours clicking next episode or reading the next chapter.  And therefore, balance is required among the rest of those 7 time allotments so that I can feel at ease engaging in play because I’ve engaged in work or connection or physicality.

The more I grow, the more I realize that balance in all things (though not necessarily equality) is the essence of contentment, self-esteem, and joy.

 

action · avoidance · progress

Eating Frogs.

4.21.18

(I was sick yesterday, so this is Friday’s blog!)  

With the last meditation challenge complete, I’m re-listening to the 21-day audio meditation Manifesting True Success from Oprah and Deepak.  Yesterday’s was focused on “T” in the acronym SMART: Time.

On the phone with my new goals group this past Sunday, I told them that, while my larger goal is to write a book (details emerging), my relationship with Time must needs be my other focal point for our 6 months together.

“I cram,” I told the ladies.  In the last goals group, I would do all the writing the hour before the call and felt like I didn’t get out of the group all I might have.  Perhaps by writing a little throughout the week, I could have more time to reflect and therefore more time to evolve.

And, wouldn’t you know, the meditation this week was, “Timing for Success.”

I really liked the reference Deepak made to this categorizing of our daily lives:

  • Sleep time: Getting a full night’s restful sleep
  • Physical time: Time to move and let my body be active
  • Focus time: Being alone for a while to concentrate on what matters to me
  • Time in: Time for meditation, prayer, self-reflection
  • Time out: Time to simply be here, and rest into existence (How do you like that phrase?!)
  • Play time: Time to have fun and enjoy myself
  • Connecting time: Intimate private time between me and those I care about.

What strikes me immediately, and pointed out by my therapist many months ago, is that I make little time for Play.  What happens in that structure is that I avoid or procrastinate Focus time (and Physical time) because I feel deprived:

If I haven’t done anything fun or creative, I have less in the well.  If I have less in the well, large tasks become insurmountable.  And so the cycle continues.

“Fun leads to productivity” seems like a strange concept, but for the deprivation addict that I am/have been, it’s key.  Because the reverse is true, too: “Productivity leads to fun.”  If I don’t put off what must be done, then I don’t feel guilty doing something fun.

When I feel guilty, I procrastinate even my fun!  It’s a terrible cycle.  So I have to shift to feeding all the parts of my day, and therefore myself.  If I want to focus more, I have to play more.  If I want to play more, I actually have to focus!

“Eat the frog first,” as they say.

With the new goals group, I hope to have a bit more accountability for my time—for my play time and therefore my accomplishy time.

finance · goals · writing

Eyes on the Prize.

4.18.18Yesterday afternoon, I had the first call of my new Goals Group.  Like the last one I participated in, we’ll have a group phone call wherein we’ll walk through a series of weekly assigned questions—about our vision for our lives, our goals, a specific goal, what blocks us from this goal, how we can accept help to overcome these blocks, and how we will maintain these (generally spiritual) connections to ensure we continue actions toward fulfilling our vision.

PHEW!  That’s a mouthful, but does generally give you the scope of this work.  At the rate of a call a week (a question or two each week), we’ll end in about 6 months, as did my group that ended in February.

Additionally, we make commitments to actions for the upcoming week that may be in the vein of our goals or seemingly unrelated—e.g. grade papers, take a walk… no, those weren’t mine! … *shifty eyes*

A few things came out of the call for me last night: 1) I need to increase my income to support the philanthropic life I want to lead; 2) I’m going to have to write that book that’s been on my mind (damnit); 3) I need to adjust how I employ my time if I will achieve #s 1 and 2.

Therefore, I committed to my group the following non-committal action: “I commit to experimenting with blogging Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and use Tuesday/Thursday to do my other writing (book, goals pages).”

I commit to experimenting!  Ha!

Well, that’s the truth of it.  I love blogging regularly.  I love that a theme or title will come to me during the day that I’ll file away for tomorrow.  I love the calm and the energy that I receive when I write here—the connection, the humor, the reflection.  BUT, there are no blog police demanding I write daily (right??), and in fact I’d whittled down the frequency from 7 days a week to 5 not long ago.

Realistically, though, I’ve been dropping 1 of those 5 days lately and the hour I devote each morning drafting, editing, photo searching, and posting is an hour that can be spent in service of goals 1 & 2.

Blogging is a part of this vision, and I may indeed begin modifying the format and purpose of my blog to support the book (AKA I want your stories!), but for now my goal is to use all of my time efficiently and effectively, and in the service of my visions.

So, Dear Reader, firstly, THANK YOU.  I know a dozen (sometimes 2 or 3 dozen!) of you read my blog, and it’s a boon to my spirit when I receive a text or comment or facebook message that says my writing affected you—brought you to question circumstances in your own life, gave you a new tool, or allowed you to feel connected to me.  For this, I am so insanely grateful.  I am so glad you are here.

Secondly… I’ll see you on Friday, peeps!;)  Much love,  M.