Possibility in the “Pivot”

Before reading this blog post, I must give some background information. The post below was composed in February of 2017 (yes, 3 1/2 years ago). I was teaching fourth grade and had begun diving deeper into the journey of better understanding the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on our youth. It made me reflect and explore the educational system. Below is my initial reflection (2017) and current time response (2020). Enjoy. 

First and foremost, basketball has always been a part of my life. I played youth basketball through high school ball. To this day, it brings me stress-relief to go shoot hoops and hear the ‘swish.’ It is an exhilaration for me and at the same time it brings me peace. Comparatively, I connect it to my passion in education. I was inspired by my own educational experience thus wanted to provide the same for future youth. I was committed to the hard work necessary to achieve the ‘swish’ in my career. The exhilaration, the peace, the PROMISE it gave to me. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the gift of my heartfelt passion in education. And then comes the “pivot.” Don’t lift one foot, protect the ball, swivel, look for the open player, execute. Often times successful, other times not. Yet the goal remains the same- score points. (or induce a foul so you can potentially earn more points)<– that in itself could lead to comparison to the politics in education.

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Speaking (or writing) from my heart, I am over-the-top happy and honored to be a teacher. I am grateful for the natural drive I have to be the best I can be for each child and family of my class. I want to provide the best opportunity and enriching education to each of my kids. If they are looking for a hug or someone to listen, I’ll give them that first. Sometimes without that- they won’t hear a thing I teach them. Again, this is why I find it to be an honor to be that someone for that someone who I believe is going to be that someone for someone else someday.

Yet- I am sincerely concerned about our educational SYSTEM. There is such a strong disconnect between the decision makers and the practitioners. Without getting too political (because that’s not my thing), I am really worried about the knowledge base of the leaders (of policy and funding) that are making decisions that greatly impact the leaders of our future America. Our kids.

I’m going to try my best to not make this a RANT-page, but I feel deep in my heart concerned about the health, happiness and dedication of our kiddos as well as the impact it has on our future and the career of education itself.

And this leads me to the BIG question; HOW CAN WE FIX THIS?

As stated above, I have heart but so does everyone else. As an optimist, I have hope. As a realist, I hold worry and deep concern. As an educator, sometimes the day determines what I feel more of- hope or concern. Today I hold one more than the other. It’ll be your job to guess (or infer) based off my writing for today.

I sat down to write today because common sense thoughts kept floating through my head and through great conversations, I felt the need to see the words concretely put together for me to see….. maybe to create an action plan or simply to make sure that I was being clear in my thoughts. Who knows, maybe I’ll achieve both- clarity and action. Thank you for baring with me as I conceptualize both.

My initial thought (and theme) to this post was developing a recipe for a great educational system. Ya- that was over optimistic! Haha! I have always held the belief that the leaders making decisions for the kids  are considering all the barriers our students, teachers and families are needing to overcome. Yet, as I further in my career, I realize how they are unable to know if they are not EXPERIENCING it themselves, or that the “LAYERS” are so thick and deep and ever-changing, it has become weathering to best understand, so they’ve given up or turned a blind eye.

————————————– 3 1/2 years later…————————————————————

Wow. Since writing this, I have had the honor to have a position change (became an instructional coach for 2 years) and then a position shift (due to double levy failure) and now taking a year of leave (due to Covid). Life has DRAMATICALLY changed for me during this window of time, yet I have more HOPE in some ways and still CONCERN in others. I’d like to elaborate on both.

First, I must CELEBRATE the focus of EDUCATION right now. Social Emotional Learning and the mental health of our kids has become more of a focus in education decision making (policies, practices, curriculum design). For this reason, I am incredibly grateful for the whole child, whole school, whole community shift. With the Social Emotional Standards, Multi-Tiered-Systems-of-Support, Positive Behavior Interventions and Relationship-Focused Behavior Response, we are setting up our kids for lifelong success.

Yet, Covid has DEFINITELY raised a brick wall barrier to overcoming some challenging Social Emotional and Developmental needs. Though I believe that putting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs FIRST and Bloom’s Taxonomy as Secondary Support (and/or integrating the two)- our kids will be ok. As stated before, I believe we will have innovators, creative problem solvers, resilient, and independent hard workers. Yes, in the future we may need to strengthen our social skills and our collaborative problem solving capacities, YET, that is possible. Let’s lift each other up, stay connected in creative ways, be honest about how we are feeling, check in with each other, and embrace the history changing journey we are on. Here’s an article on potential great technological impacts on education and our youth for the future.

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid

With that, I also need to remain honest about my concerns. Its incredibly hard and uncomfortable for me to still remain concerned, yet I am moreso then ever. Having the gift of being able to collaborate with leadership and consult decision making and actively engage in problem solving protocols, I have only gained respect for the PEOPLE leading the way in education. They are committed and are truly working from their heart when doing the hard work. They want the best outcome for all of their stakeholders. Yet, this is where the educational system becomes the barrier. More times than not, the ‘politics’ or the ‘language’ or the ‘fragility’ make an impact on moving forward with valued work. For this reason, I still remain concerned about the system itself.

YET- this is where my HOPE comes in! The impacts of COVID response may be a blessing in disguise. Change is hard. Radical change is CRAZY hard. Engaging in HISTORICAL change has a PROFOUND impact. Therefore, we are being exposed to the inequities, the systemic challenges, and the hardships of the out-dated educational system. This excites me because we can now advocate, innovate, design what we’ve always known to be best for our youth. Neuroscience and Education are working together like NEVER BEFORE. (and yes, this is a MAIN reason on why I’m kind of twitterpaited about the potential shifting in practice). Also, think of the technology skills that we ‘never had time’ or ‘not enough resources/money’ for that are being developed at an exponential rate?!?!? Who knows what’s going to come out of this time. Great things in the end. It can only be great things. (I know that’s hard to believe RIGHT NOW, but we must nurture and celebrate the innovation of these ‘new times’). 

Our educational system was designed during a time of very different societal needs. It has made little adaptations to reshape based off our current societal needs. Our teachers and leaders have radically changed what ‘school looks like’ in the last 6 months moreso than it has in the last 39 years of my life (and longer). Let’s celebrate the “pivot” that our educational system is making. Be ok with it’s lack of perfection (its shaping up to be one of the greatest historical changes in educational history). Contribute your voice with positive intent (be aware of your emotional response: be passionate but be respectful). And from the bottom of my heart- please continue to advocate for our basic needs to be met (emotional/physical safety, food, rest, relationships) FIRST, then provide meaningful learning opportunities. Continue to give GRACE as we strive for GRIT. Here’s some information about the current “Every Student Succeeds Act” yet my question is: how do you see/experience this at the local level? Is it implemented equitably?

As we are all 6 feet or more apart, I encourage you WHOLEHEARTEDLY to seek SERENITY during this time. Be empowered by the possibility of NOW. You are a part of HISTORICAL change. Feel empowered by this gift of being validated in focusing on putting your HEART into your work and not so much HARD into your daily work. You can demonstrate CARE first and not CURRICULUM. The learning WILL happen when you commit to empathy and social emotional needs. 

I wrap up this reflection with a song. Bon Jovi wrote a song to inspire us to do what’s right during the current times. Let this speak to you. We got this crew!

DO WHAT YOU CAN Written by Jon Bon Jovi (edited)

Here’s the song performed on YouTube:

Tonight they’re shutting down the borders

And they boarded up the schools

Small towns are rolling up their sidewalks

One last paychecks coming through

I know you’re feeling kind of nervous

We’re all a little bit confused

Nothing’s the same This ain’t a game

We got to make it through

When you can’t do what you do

You do what you can

This ain’t my prayer

It’s just a thought I’m wanting to send

Round here we bend but don’t break

Down here we all understand

When you can’t do what you do You do what you can

Our kids sit home in isolation

TV news is always on

When you can’t do what you do You do what you can

This ain’t my prayer It’s just a thought I’m wanting to send

Round here we bend but don’t break Down here we all understand When you can’t do what you do You do what you can

Love your neighbor and your friend Ain’t it time we loved a stranger They’re just a friend you ain’t met yet We’re gonna get through this together

Until I see you once again When you can’t do what you do You do what you can This ain’t my prayer It’s just a thought I’m wanting to send Round here we bend but don’t break Down here we all understand When you can’t do what you do You do what you can

Comic Relief.

I find myself slightly handicapped when it comes to humor and wit. Therefore, I hope that you’re not anticipating laugh-out-loud-humor, but rather start-your-day-with-a-smile read. 🙂 Nonetheless, I was inspired to sit and write as I found humor in the time-and-place of my current situation. Enjoy. (Take a sip of coffee, take a deep breath, stretch a little, smile)

Here is my current setting (what surrounds me as I compose this post):

  • 8 am on Sunday morning
  • Coffee in hand (blue agave syrup+plant-based creamer+chocolate coconut collagen)
  • Sunny and currently 64 degrees
  • Golf course: Tee box: Hole #7

As I sit here reading my inspirational book, (The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey) I am amused by the responses from the golfers as they tee off. They can’t see me as I’m sitting on my deck (as I sit far enough off the course), yet I hear all of the things. Here are some of my notations:

  • Jesus is our Savior (but not always of your golf game ;-))
  • When you yell at the ball to get in the hole, it will not listen to you no matter how assertive you may be
  • Yelling at yourself does NOT improve your game (and throwing your club doesn’t help your score either)
  • Trees are NOT your destination (I hear more trees being hit than grass)

For these reasons, I find comic relief in the pattern of behavior and language. Now- not all passing golfers display these patterns, yet this morning, the majority do. Is this a temperature check on the mental health of our community? Oh. Of course I’m going to go there. 🙂 Social Emotional Status Check.  Function of Behavior Assessment of Golfers. Haha..

Either way, I am grateful for the gift of the morning sun, talking birds, light breeze, warm coffee, and good reading (and entertaining golf-gaming).

If you’re inspired to go for a round of golf today, feel free to release the stress you have held captive (we all have it bottling up), but in doing so- please wave and say hi, talk nicely to yourself, limit the tree impact, and find humor in your experience (laugh at the outcome of your hit- don’t get mad at the ball- it did that because of you). 

Enjoy your coffee. Thanks for sharing the experience with me. May it bring a smile.

Image result for golf smile

Dopamine over Cortisol

Looking back at my almost 39 years of life, I’ve truly experienced a lot of ‘major events’ in history. Yet, there has been no time like now. 9/11. Iraq War. Those were incredibly impactful things as it changed a lot of people’s lives (including mine). Yet, I feel like the COVID crisis has ripped open systematic problems and has radicalized our lives, thus pivoting a lot of practices.

We wonder the level of impact on our youth. Yet their resiliency depicts their capacity to overcome. What if these kids become the most adaptable, innovative, imaginative workers of our time? They will definitely have stellar technology skills which leads me to believe that we have new technologies unfolding in the youth that are seeking resolution to everyday problems. #goodtimetoinvestinouryouth

Yet I am equally concerned about the impact on the social-emotional development of our already-troubled children. Technology has been a blessing as well as a curse. It changes the growing brains and rewires our chemical reactions to what brings us meaningful feedback (what causes the release of cortisol (stress hormone) or dopamine (happy hormone)). The concern this creates for me is two-fold. One- engagement: will students be able to truly engage in their learning when delivered from the same resource they seek entertainment? Secondly- if we are providing engaging lessons that release dopamine (like video games do), are we conditioning our youth to continue to seek reward through technology engagement? (Watch this video for a great summary) Yeeks.

See the source image

I want to ensure to empower our youth to explore and be curious about the physical world and how it can provide powerful ‘dopamine’ releases. Yet I also want to encourage our tiny human beings to develop innovative and creative solutions to world (or everyday) problems. As educators, we must commit to developing more real-world integration into our lessons. #fieldtripsathomeeveryday #interviewsomeonespecialvirtually #buildempathythroughinteraction

By golly, I feel like I could engage in some rich discussion about how our world is changing as we experience collective shifts and build new ways of building relationships and resolutions. I am honored to be a part of this history change, yet I am challenged on how I can meaningfully contribute to the ‘new world problems’ and the innovative opportunities that are unfolding. As I continue to engage in deeper thinking and navigate new perspectives, I know I will be called to action where my heart and mind align.

Image result for Heart and Mind Quotes

For now, I remain encouraged by collaboration. Having the opportunity to engage in complex conversation with coworkers, explore new topics with close family members, navigate tough decisions and have crucial conversations has only made me closer to others and better understand myself.  In truth- I have learned more about myself, my family, and my friends because we’ve been able to collaborate (virtually or socially distanced) as we’ve been making sense of the new times. For this reason, I am incredibly grateful for the person I’m becoming through this challenging, life-changing, historical time.

Though we each hold worry (our amygdala is hard at work!), may you find peace in conversation and collaboration. May new opportunities arise to strengthen relationships, perspectives and life direction. May you feel more empowered than overwhelmed. May you feel embraced more than isolated. Together, we can change the future. Our youth can be a strong example of our choice to invest in them. The future will be bright, its just uber hazy right now. Coming together (in whatever way is safest), will strengthen our future and help inspire new things to grow.

We've Got This Quotes

For my dear educators (parents included as we are partners now), hold this true to your heart in your planning for your resilient pedagogy:

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I believe in YOU. I believe in our YOUTH. I believe in our RESILIENCY. Let’s commit to find creative ways to release more dopamine than cortisol!