Putting Down the Busy Badge

busy
    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”
                                                                                                          ~Mary Oliver

It starts slowly. At first you don’t even notice it, and in a funny way, it actually feels good. You feel fulfilled, you feel valued, and let’s face it, you feel important.

I am busy!!! Busy, busy, busy!! Doing very important things. LOOK AT ME GOOOOOO…..

At first, you only wear your badge at work. But it’s so hard to take off darn it!  So, you wear it home for dinner (no one will notice).

But the clasp somehow starts to pierce through your sleep and you wake up in the middle of the night with it on. Eventually, you wake up and busy is already shouting orders at you in the early morning.  You start wearing the badge 24 hours a day.

Busy has become a way of life.

Then one day. All of sudden. Out of nowhere.
The bottom drops out. You get sick or a family member becomes ill, or you wake up one day and realize that you have hollowed out. The busy badge needs to be paid for and the cost is your inspiration and passion.  You own the badge but you feel flat.

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For me, it was a series of events that caused me to look at my badge a little closer.
Our family dog passed away and the badge felt I should get busy right away. But I just couldn’t.
My husband ran into serious health problems and I thought I might lose him. Busy badge was understanding, for a while. But it demanded I make up for the lost time.  I felt guilt for needing to be away.
When I took the badge off to spend time with my dad for his 80th birthday, I felt the guilt of slowing down to be fully present in the moments of his life. Yet, I also felt the incredible guilt of all the lost moments. The moments I had spent polishing my badge. The moments I had spent admiring its brilliance.

But still. I felt the badge was worth it. Sure it was a bit tarnished, but it is a great badge to have!!

Finally.

I fell down the stairs rushing to work one day. “I have to get to work NOW!!”
My phone was in one hand and my coffee cup in the other (because coffee helps you wear that shiny badge ALL day). I rode my left side down the stairs because I was no longer in the moment. I was too busy thinking of all things I needed to do that day.

Busted. I was busted. Wide open. And it hurt. Not just my shoulder, but my heart and how I fallen for this false prophet. Busier wouldn’t make me happier, healthier, or more loved. Busy had asked me to disconnect from myself and from those I loved.  I had complied.

I wish I had an easy fix answer. For me, it was riding on my left side down the stairs in the service of speed. Since then I have had some small personal epiphanies.  I share these here for what they are worth:

  1. Savor the small wonders of each day – It might be the sunrise as you drive to work, or lighting candles for dinner, or watching your kids play. Look for and find those small moments of absolute wonder. Make note, savour, and soak these up. These moments matter.
  2. Really listen – When someone speaks, let your heart crack open and be in the moment with them and for them. What are they saying? What is their perspective? What do they need in this moment? Are you there for them or are you there for yourself?
  3. Find a space you feel free – Notice where and when you feel outside of the domain of busy. For me it is outside. Whether it is walking or snowshoeing, I feel no pressure from busy when I am out in nature.  Find this place and go there regularly.
  4. Cultivate an inner life – Spend time reading, writing, thinking, and contemplating.  Develop your inner life as you might cultivate a garden.
  5. Notice yourself – After I fell down the stairs, I went for many chiropractor and massage appointments. These moments forced me to realize I had previously ignored myself.  Stop every once in a while to notice how you are feeling. Are you clenching your jaw, are your shoulders up in your ears, are you breathing deeply?

What are you going to do with your one precious life?

 

 

 

 

 

Does planning need an update?

free_to_learn

“…to be educated is to be ever open to the call of what it is to be deeply human, and heeding the call to walk with others in life’s ventures.”
~Dr Ted Aoki

When I was in teacher training, we were asked to make elaborately detailed unit and lesson plans. To be honest, I never used said unit plans. The lesson plans were useful, in so far as they prompted me to think through the flow of a class in advance. This was helpful, for a while. In my first year of teaching, when I had 5 preps, lesson planning went out the window. I didn’t show up to class unprepared, but the detailed, step by step, static lesson plan became unrealistic.  I quickly realized that to survive and thrive, I had to become more responsive and make decisions mid-stream. “Nope! That plan for a jigsaw is not working!” “Three quarters of the class is struggling with a certain type of problem, press pause and try something else.”

I felt a bit betrayed, as no one had mentioned that I might have to be responsive to the humans who sat in front of me every day (although, it does seem rather obvious to me now). The tool I was given was: plan, plan, and plan some more. Create year plans, create unit plans, and then finally, create lesson plans! Somehow extensive planning did not create the classroom of my dreams.

Does more content equal more learning?

Never mind that one year, I didn’t even get to the Fungi unit in Biology 11. Instead, we had decided to build a model rainforest in our classroom and it took longer than expected (you know those types of projects!).  At year-end, the science department-head heard that my class had not covered the Fungi unit and let me know that this was unacceptable. As she explained it, Fungi was on the departmental final exam (the same one given each year) and it was required content for Bio 11.

Obviously, my “haphazard” planning strategies had failed me. At the time, I felt a fair amount of guilt, but I also felt conflicted. The rainforest project felt worthwhile. The students worked together as a class, everyone participated, and the process was filled with laughter.

What matters or what works?

As I moved on in my teaching career, I eventually became a super-planner. Teaching content heavy courses, such as Bio 12 and APBio, caused me to plan the year out, in detail, day by day. And I never deviated from this plan. I did my photocopying in August and had the unit packets lined up and ready to go in my cupboard. I did this because it worked. The advance planning allowed me to efficiently cover the curriculum and get students well prepared for a high stakes final exam.  Planning was an effective tool for scaling the brick-like wall of content, each brick a unit of content, immutable in arrangement. Planning was a tool that ensured that I never left any bricks out (as with the Fungi unit).

Every once in a while, a situation would arise that reminded me of what really mattered, and I would feel conflicted again. Except this time, my hyper-focus on the content-wall that caused me to ignore the ideals and values that had brought me to education in the first place.  Students didn’t have time to develop deep understanding of biology or to discover their passions, and I didn’t have time to get to know them, as people. Regardless, the planning worked, so I carried on.

Trapped in a living contradiction

At the time, I felt trapped in a space between what worked and what mattered. The over-the-top advance planning worked as students were well prepared for that exam. But, I was trading in my idealism for efficiency, and my idealism began to give way to cynicism and doubt.

Does planning need an update?

Now, years later, does it seem we are trapped in the same living contradiction? On the one hand, we talk of inquiry and personal learning, and on the other, we create year plans, lesson plans, and curriculum checklists. We want to move forward but we also want to drag the tools of the past with us. We talk of beliefs and values as vital to change, but make little space for inner reflection and dialogue and the shine from our busy badges blinds us to everything, except what is deemed urgent. Have we mentally dismantled the content-wall for ourselves? Or, do we continue to tinker deferentially in its shadows?  Until we topple the wall and free the bricks, can students authentically construct their own unique understandings? Have we moved into the uncomfortable tension between curriculum as prescribed and curriculum as lived, and acknowledged that despite our plans, students often take away learning that is vastly different from our plans? We talk of creating student agency and empowerment, but, as Will Richardson reminds us “students already have complete control over their learning. Our hubris is to think they don’t.”

Will the tools used in the past to scale the content-wall, still serve us in this new landscape? Is planning something we can do for children but without out them? Or, do we need to harness our finite energies and lean into the messiness of planning, emergent and responsive, in concert with students?

When we reach for yet another tool or template can they quickly become a panacea for real change? Do we mistakenly hope the tools and templates will do the heavy lifting of change for us, as our energies continue to be consumed by doing what works? How do create the space and time to clarify for ourselves what matters?

Does planning need an update?

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Ingredients for Learner Centered Spaces

Recipe

When I first moved out on my own, my grandmother gifted me a recipe box that contained her all-time favorite recipes. Bless her wonderful heart, she wrote or typed out each special recipe on an index card. Aww! I still have the wooden box with her recipes in my kitchen today. Even though the recipes are incredibly sentimental to me and bring back childhood memories of family meals, I don’t often use her recipes.

For one thing, lifestyles have changed significantly since she was alive. We eat far less sugar and sweets than in her time. For another, there are many ingredients that I use now that were not around in her time. For example, kale is not something my grandmother ever cooked with but it is a common ingredient in our fridge.

My grandmother loved to cook. She baked her own bread, made her own jam, and was up every morning cooking a hot breakfast. Most of her recipes lived in her mind as she didn’t have a stack of cookbooks or the internet to rely on. She had her trusty collection of recipe cards that she had amassed over her lifetime. But more than anything she relied on her memory and familiarity with her ingredients. Her bread recipe was one she knew by heart but always adapted on the fly. The exact mix of ingredients depended on the flour she used, the temperature of the day, and even the humidity of the season.

And I wonder if cooking is like creating learning experiences? I wonder if the changes in cooking parallel the evolution in our understanding of learning. We have at our ready as educators, a big pile of ingredients, and we get to combine these in unique and creative ways each day for the learners in our care. In BC, we have seen the arrival of some new ingredients that we may be unfamiliar with. But this doesn’t mean that these new ingredients might not produce some incredibly delicious learning!  We just might have to try these new ingredients out a couple of times, to get the right mix and combination.

One of the turning points in my teaching career (#truestory) was when I heard a teacher I respected explain that there was no one recipe for how to run a classroom. Say what??? No recipe???? He went on to explain that each of us as teachers, knew what was best for the children in our care and we had to make these decisions. For ourselves. We had to create the recipes for learning. This rocked my world! There was no ONE recipe.

I have cooked with content for a long time now. I know how whip up a solid learning experience with content as the main ingredient. But I wonder is content like the white flour of the modern learning space? While we might not need to eliminate it completely, we might want to limit it in our learning diets. We may see the health benefits of a diversified diet with a new and updated understanding of what a healthy diet consists of.

If I look back on the ingredients I relied on heavily in the first years of teaching they were: compliance, accountability, coverage, content, and one size fits all.

Fast forward to today and we have a whole bunch of new ingredients on the horizon! And undoubtedly cooking with new ingredients can be daunting, especially with guests at the door all the time. But if we trust ourselves to invent new recipes, recipes for our times, and we taste along the way and ask our guests for feedback, we will become competent with these new ingredients. Just as my Grandmother was with her ingredients.

A few of the new ingredients I am trying out in my “cooking”.

  1. Developing empowering routinesflex time
  2. Community building practicesdeciding on class norms as a class
  3. Bringing the First Peoples Principles of Learning to life 
  4. Content – I didn’t include this ingredient on my initial list. A comment from Chris Wejr (see below) got me thinking. My knee-jerk reaction to his comment was “no, that wasn’t what I was trying to say.”  After sleeping on it, I woke to the realization that he was exactly right. In omitting content as a key ingredient from this list, I was inadvertently conveying that content was a “bad” ingredient that should be avoided. But as Chris aptly pointed out, without meaningful content, the skills and processes are meaningless.
  5. Curiosity – provocations, questioning, wonder wall, thinking bubbles
  6. Learner agency – flex time, learning logs, learning detectives
  7. Knowledge buildingknowledge building circles

What are some the ingredients you are trying out? What combinations are working for you? What ingredients are you curious about trying?