Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cherishing Simplicity

The summer before I left for college, I celebrated my eighteenth birthday. Like most 18-year-olds, I am almost certain I thought I was the biggest deal on earth. Becoming an adult, leaving for college...I had it all. After the family and friends had been welcomed, the hot dogs and burgers (so skillfully prepared by my dad; a different done-ness for each person, just as they preferred it) consumed, the ice cream and cake demolished, it was time for opening gifts.

When it was time for my sister Christine, age 9, to give me her gift, she walked up to me, an air of anticipation and love around her. She presented me a small box, clearly and painstakingly wrapped by her, and she just watched me as I opened it. I discovered this:

I had no clue what it was. 

She then told me she had spent her own money and bought it for me at the yearly neighborhood yard sale down the street from our house. 

"It's for you to put your paper clips in at school."

To this day, I hope I didn't display any facial expressions that exposed my confusion or skepticism. True to form (even to this day), Christine had chosen for me a gift from the heart and given it to me full of confidence that I could use it exactly as she foresaw. It didn't matter that it only cost five cents; what mattered was the love flowing from her face.

I bring up this anecdote because school begins in full force tomorrow. Too often I (and I would assume countless other teachers) feel like I need to be perfect in what I offer my students. Yet, inevitably, I will fail. I will forget to attach a document to Google Classroom; I will spend an extra day grading when I wanted to have their work back ASAP; I will get sick and miss a day of school. 

At our school, we follow five Xaverian charisms: Trust; Compassion; Zeal; Humility; and Simplicity.
Christine's gift was a perfect model of Simplicity. She gave me a gift from her heart, paid for from her own money, because she was certain her gift would aid me in my studies at college. She didn't worry about what I or others would think; she didn't compare her gift to others. She just gave what she could, based on a hopeful idea that it would make me happy.

This mentality is what I want to give my students this year. One of my goals for the year is to improve communication and relationships with students. While I might not always be perfect for them, I can always strive to give them all I can in the hopes that it will make their day. If I adhere to this mentality, I think I will have an edu-win on my hands. I don't need to be perfect to give all I have in my heart to my students.

And to always keep Christine's lesson in mind, I'll just have to look at my desk to see this, a wonderfully simple reminder of a young sister's love for her brother:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

When Disconnecting Means a Better Connection

It seems odd to be discussing disconnecting in my first post on a blog dedicated to edtech. Everything nowadays revolves around apps, social media, and plugging in. And I’ve followed this trend, as much as one can.

And maybe that’s why I’ve felt so burdened and ineffective as a teacher and a person.

A few months ago, I decided I was going to focus all my attention to trying new things this school year, to pushing envelopes, to innovating. Early this month, I joined a Google+ community of like-minded educators in reading George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset, and my biggest takeaway was this, to paraphrase George: it’s not innovation unless it is both better and new. This repeated mantra made me reflect on my own attempts at what I liked to call “innovation.” This reflection made me face an ugly reality; I wasn’t innovating as much as regurgitating, though my digital presence made me feel like I was doing something different.

This needed to change. Stat.

So I took inventory of my doings. And what I found was unpleasant. The most vile of my activities was Facebook. Comparing how I used Facebook and Twitter, I saw two different people. Twitter Me was more thoughtful, posted relevant and helpful information, and truly sought to connect with others in a mature, effective way.

Facebook Me, on the other hand, always wanted the apt witticism; memes were tossed out without thought or purpose, in many cases. And, oh, all the snark. That needed to be reined in. Add to this the miasma that is Facebook lately: the vicious, hateful comments; the ridiculous updates where my “friends” knew I wouldn’t copy/paste their statuses because such a small percentage of people were good/strong/courageous enough to do so; the constant one-upmanship. I was tired, oh so tired, of the pissing contests. And this doesn’t even count the current political climate on Facebook!

Something needed to change, and that was me. If I truly wanted my classroom and my life to be better and new, I needed to get outside of my comfort zone. I needed to scare myself. And leaving Facebook has been an anxious event. I won’t lie, I sometimes wonder if I am missing some critical post or picture or invite. But you know, if any of those things are important to me, they will find their way to me in other ways. I am confident that these feelings will pass, in time; it’s simply a form of withdrawal that this addict needs to work through. Filling my time with more meaningful pursuits will lessen this anxiety.

My goal is to connect, with family, friends, students, and colleagues, in more traditional, meaningful ways. Facebook was neither traditional nor meaningful for me anymore, if it ever was. I want to think about what I write before I click send. I want to look someone in the eye to wish them a happy birthday. I want to call and ask my friends about their lives. I want to engage again. While Facebook did allow me to connect to those outside my geographical area, that simply isn’t a good enough reason to withstand the bombardment of filth that the rest of Facebook is to me.

Engagement. Honest. New. Better. These are the words that are driving my new journey to innovation. In coming weeks, I will share with you my ideas, goals, and aspirations for my classroom and my world. Many of these will be connected (no pun intended) to edtech, but at the heart of all of them will be true, honest interactions with others. I feel a burden off my shoulders already. I’m breathing easier, not feeling the tug to check my phone every five minutes for the next update, the next picture, the next waste of time. There is too much to do without frittering away my time.

Thanks for reading; talk with you soon.