I really never knew who Raffi was

Evidently, Raffi sings about a baby whale. Additionally, load of folks know about the whale, and the song, and, well, Raffi.

Until today, I didn’t really get who Raffi was. The closest I’d come to knowing was having a vague recollection of some stand-up comic along the way referencing Raffi in a joke.

Raffi, for the acolytes out there, has released a new album – Love Bug. From the short snippet I heard while listening to Raffi’s interview on Jesse Thorn’s Bullseye podcast, it’s the type of song that fills like a warm hug. I can’t say I listen to too many songs like that. I can say it was lovely.

The entire interview was lovely. Every. Single. Word. Thorn pushed at the edges here and there to seek some sort of cynicism in Raffi’s responses. There was none to be found. It was one of the most refreshing pieces of tape I’ve heard – ever. It reminded me of any interview I’ve ever seen, heard or read with Mr. Rogers. (Start here.)

Similar to Mr. Rogers’s Fred Rogers Company, Raffi has a non-profit called, The Centre for Child Honouring.

Knowing these two folks have dedicated their lives to thinking deeply and caringly about the health, welfare, joy and development of kids makes my day somehow peaceful.

I won’t say more, because I really and truly want to convince you to make 30 minutes in the next few days listening to this interview.

Let’s Start Setting SMIRT Goals

Two pieces of otherwise unrelated writing came across my screen this evening that have me thinking about goals.

The first is a post over at the No-Meat Athlete blog titled, “Why Everything They Told You about Goals is Wrong.” It’s a short piece that is summed up best in this passage:

If your goal is compelling (huge! ridiculous!) enough, then when those inevitable obstacles come up, you’ll plow right over them. Or around them. Or through them. And when all of those approaches don’t work, you won’t be able to sleep until you find one that does.

The second was an email from today’s listserve winner, Dan Shipton, who writes:

I had resigned to not write anything, but was gently reminded how I got this far in life by a couple word magnets strung together on the side of a fridge at my office. Those words struck a chord with me today and I want to share them with you: “build to win big”

I like these two lines of thought because of what I don’t usually get to see at schools. As a teacher, I was always hungry for something larger when I got to chime in on the drafting of the annual improvement plan. Without fail, though, we were asked to make our goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).

I could wrap my mind around SMRT, but A always struck me as mired in fear of failure. If it’s a goal you know you can achieve, you should already be doing it.

Instead, I want SMIRT goals where the I (depending on your level of comfort) stands for impossible or improbable.

Something like:

  • “Every student in this school will love reading by the end of the year.”
  • “All of the students in this algebra class will be able to explain the quadratic formula to elementary school students, and the younger kids will understand.”
  • “Our science class will develop a cure for the common cold.”
  • “No one will be sent home from school as a negative consequence for their behavior.”
  • “Every student will have enough to eat as they move through the school day.”
  • “Teachers at this school will have 100% job satisfaction.”
  • “All parents will feel proud enough of this school that they will recommend it to their friends.”

This is just a smattering. Sure, you might fail, but so might the kids fail at any of the seemingly impossible things we ask them to do in the course of growing up and mustering through schools. That doesn’t stop us from asking. The least we can do is set goals at a similar scale.

The Week in Photos (and Running) – Week 2

As part of the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions, I’m back on the picture-a-day train. Each Saturday Sunday, I’ll be posting the pictures from the preceding week. This week’s are notably thin, as it’s only been three days.

Roasted to awesome. #potd

A pre-snow sky. #potd

These fellas are dedicated to their chess game. #potd

Yesterday's chilly #potd

Perspective makes a difference. #potd

Seems a strange thing to take a stand on. #potd

Welcome to the neighborhood. #potd @busboysandpoets


 

Also, an update on the running goal. As of this morning’s run, I’m at 37.445 miles for the month. I’ve also realized that I’ll need at least two days off from running per week to be able to keep the plates in my life spinning. Starting yesterday, I’ve added a mile to the running route. That takes me to approx. 5 per run. At five days of running, that’s 25/wk and 100/month. In other words, on target. Here’s the week in running:

Day Date Distance Charity Location
Sunday 1/4/2015 YOGA REST REST
Monday 1/5/2015 4.453 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Tuesday 1/6/2015 4.3 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Wednesday 1/7/2015 4.713 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Thursday 1/8/2015 REST
Friday 1/9/2015 REST
Saturday 1/10/2015 5.372 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.

Maybe Don’t be so Ableist in the Classroom?

When I was a classroom teacher, I had many problems. I was aware of some of them, I was unaware of many. One of those many about which I feel the worst as I reflect on it was the use of ableist language when talking to students. Moreover, I wish I’d brought it up the same way I brought up issues of racism, homophobia, and the other -isms or -phobias that are much more prevalent when it comes to contemporary progressive education.

I would use terms like crazyinsane, or lame with no thought to what such language might mean to a student who had or was close to a person with a disability.

As I hope the title on this post suggests, I’m not writing to demand an immediate cease and desist of ableist language. Not using such words because you don’t want to be yelled at for using them is different than reconsidering your speaking habits because you want to connect to those with whom you’re speaking rather than alienate them. That’s what shifted is shifting my language. Here’s how I put it when I join a new team and we are doing our, “Things you should know about me,” bit during introductions:

You should know that it stings me when I hear people use words like crazy or lame. It takes me into my head because I can’t help being sensitive to how we talk about visible and invisible disabilities. I’m not telling you how you need to talk, but I want you to know that I hear that language in a way that makes me uncomfortable and that I think it’s indicative of a larger lack of conversation around how we talk and think about mental health and physical disabilities.

I don’t say whether or not I have a disability, because it really shouldn’t matter. If someone asks, I’ll tell them I try to be an ally (imperfectly). Each time I’ve had the chance to bring this up with people, at least for the moment of the conversation, it has been well received. Some folks pull me aside and admit to using ableist language. Some have asked if I’d point it out to them when it happens so they can shift their practice. I try to help, and ask that they do the same.

That’s the thing. While my awareness, intent, and reflections have shifted, sometimes I don’t think before I speak the way I want to and I’ll use a word I’ve tried to eliminate from my vocabulary. In those moments, I’ll look around, waiting for someone to react in the same way I’d expect them to react to language and thinking that have rightfully become taboo and indicative of ignorant thinking. They don’t.

That’s the thing, they haven’t said anything, but I can never know if someone living with mental illness has just heard me off-handedly say crazy and processed it to mean there’s a part of their life they can’t share because I’m uncaring.

I get this wrong. A lot. There are those who have been thinking about ableism longer and more deeply than I have, but it’s one of the quietest conversations in education and in our society at large. Some places, it’s altogether silent. So, what do you say?

Your Learning Style Revealed

I’m just going to put this right here. That way, the next time someone talks to me about their learning style or talking to their students about learning styles or explains why they weren’t good at math because it didn’t involve kickball, “Because, really, I’m a kinesthetic learner,” all I’ll have to do is send them to this link.

I’ll paste this for those who are click-resistant:

Is there any evidence to support the learning styles concept?
Yes there is a little, but experts on the topic like Harold Pashler and Doug Rohrer point out that most of this evidence is weak. Convincing evidence for learning styles would show that people of one preferred learning style learned better when taught material in their favored way, whereas a different group with a different preference learned the same material better when taught in their favored fashion. Yet surprisingly few studies of this format have produced supporting evidence for learning styles; far more evidence (such as this study) runs counter to the myth. What often happens is that both groups perform better when taught by one particular style. This makes sense because although each of us is unique, usually the most effective way for us to learn is based not on our individual preferences but on the nature of the material we’re being taught – just try learning French grammar pictorially, or learning geometry purely verbally.

And lest there’s a whole baby con bathwater thing, I’ll want this here so we don’t confuse style and intelligence.

Maybe I’ll get little cards printed up.

Strength through Tragedy is a Lousy Way to Find Strength

I got picked on more than a little bit growing up. For all sorts of reasons, this kid who didn’t look quite right, had no idea how to play any sport on the P.E. docket, loved singing in the madrigal choir, and had a penchant for turtleneck shirt + cardigan combos throughout middle school was often a blaring, easy target for those who fit a more standard mold.

While there were classes that offered refuge, there were also spots within school where it was open season, even with a teacher nearby. Other kids would slip, fling, and hurl insults within earshot of teachers they knew wouldn’t speak up or offer consequences for what they’d heard.

I’ve thought about those moments quite a bit as an adult. They don’t haunt me, exactly, but they’re always there in cedar chest of my memories, preserved and ready to be pulled out should I ever need to admire where I’ve been.

As an adult, I’ve come to the conclusion that those teachers who let these moments play out weren’t callous and uncaring, as I thought they were at the time. Instead, I think it’s something worse. I think they thought I was learning a lesson. Character was under construction, and they didn’t need to step in.

Asinine.

As much as I love the person I’ve become and the life I’ve been able to explore so far, I wonder what it would have been like to go through school with adults who decided life was going to find legitimate ways to help me grow stronger through difficulty. Perhaps the character lessons in those classes and hallways cafeterias could have been directed at helping those who were insulting understand that the world didn’t need more jerks. Maybe the lesson could have been the value of being kind within a society.

Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, Virgie Townsend expounds on this idea in ways more thoughtful than I can touch. Discussing scars of abuse I would have found much more devastating than the bullying I endured, Townsend writes:

By perpetuating the belief that pain is edifying, we place the onus on survivors to heal themselves — and we deemphasize the value of prevention and support services. Suffering is not what fortifies the soul or clears our vision. What makes people stronger is working with others to overcome trauma. Giving and receiving help gives suffering meaning, not the suffering alone.

Some educators I’ve met build classrooms or even schools around the exact opposite ideas Townsend writes against. When I see these in action, when I find myself in conversation with those who argue in favor practices, the reasoning always goes something along the lines of, “Well, I’m getting them ready for the real world.”

It seems to me that this approach only works to perpetuate that big, cruel world – not protect against it.

I’m Counting on Someone Else to Take Care of That

For the last 11 years or so, my life, the people, and the conversations that have comprised that life have been largely focused on education. Few are the folks I call friends who cannot hang in a conversation about education, school, learning, and the like.

I decided a little over a decade ago that this field, this ecosystem, would be the thing on which I focused my attention, my days and nights. I’ve had the opportunity to approach the conversation from various vantage points throughout the last few years. From a classroom, to a school, to a district, to a national perspective.

Talking with family over the recent holidays, someone asked how I could resist working in other fields outside of education. “Why not work on affordable housing or civic infrastructure,” they’d asked. The crux of it was a question as to how I could ignore these other problems and focus solely on improving one system.

It’s a good question, and I’d be lying if I claimed to not have wrestled with it pretty regularly.

Here’s the answer I keep coming back to, “This is the thing I’m trying to work on, and I am best at working on that if I have faith other smart, dedicated, curious people are working on the other problems I care about.”

This isn’t a claim of being especially talented at the work I show up to do each day. I do my best, and hope it’s good enough.

It’s really more a statement of faith that there are folks who have shown up to do work to solve the other problems I care about as well – climate change, institutional poverty, civic infrastructure, voter rights. The list goes on.

Sometimes, there’s a feeling that not making something my life’s work is the same thing as not making something a thing I care about in my life. The answer for this is the informal focus I try to throw on the stuff that’s not my day-to-day. I’m working on being a Jack of all trades and master of one.

And whether it’s well-placed or not, I’ve gotta believe that other people show up to their jobs each day with the same feeling and approach. Believing otherwise would be to invite a feeling that it’s all too much. I can’t be all the changes I wish to see in the world. Instead, I have to try to be one of those changes and hope everyone else read that quote as a charge to do something else.

Capturing (Balancing and Being Present for) 2015

Glenn Robbins tagged me in his tweet of this thoughtful post on reflection and his goals for 2015. It concludes with a short set of words toward which Glenn has taken aim for the year ahead. He shares the tweet below from Jon Gordan regarding resolutions and gearing up for the new year.

I’ve been sitting on the post for a bit as I thought about what my word or words would be. A few days in, and I think I’ve noticed a trend. This year has all the makings of being about capturing for me. From logging miles to snapping photos, from blogging daily to recording stray conversations, I’m hoping this year ends well-documented.

My time in D.C. has a clock on it, and from the moment I got the offer to come out here, I have held it in my head that I need to savor the experiences, the connections, and the learning. Hopefully, capturing as much of it as possible will allow me the kind of mementos my grandparents evoke when I visit and hear about their slides from Europe or the photo albums my grandmother has curated over the decades.

As I write this, two other words seem key to the ballyhoo of capturing and documenting the year I find myself in – balance and presence. I don’t want to be so set on capturing memories that I forget to live them, to be present. As I document and curate that documentation, I want also to live in what I’m documenting. I want to balance the capture of memory with presence in what will be remembered.

Thinking about this, I turned to Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk (embedded below) on “anticipated memory.” I’d seen it a bit ago, and it was a good time to turn back to it. This led me down the Google rabbit hole to the video below with Jason Silva’s take on Kahneman’s ideas.

“We all become architects of our mental narratives,” Silva says. I like that. As I think about my life as trying to be an architect of the future I’d like to see, I’m also architect of the past I will recount.

Documenting it here and in other spaces allows me to “italicize the memory” as Silva says. In the end, it’s no different than my grandparents’ slides and albums. I know they were present, and I know they worked to find balance. I also know from the stories my father and uncles tell when my grandparents have left the room that the memories being relayed and italicized aren’t the whole story.

History never has been. I suppose this year, I’m committing to capturing the story knowing full well some parts will be left out.


 

The Week in Photos – Week 1

As part of the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions, I’m back on the picture-a-day train. Each Saturday, I’ll be posting the pictures from the preceding week. This week’s are notably thin, as it’s only been three days.

Homemade bread, homemade peanut butter, spinach, almond milk, orange smoothie. #potd

Dirty Beautiful #potd

#potd She had a ruff night.

If, for some reason, you’re interested in the pictures as they happen, they’ll show up daily on my Instagram feed.

A Running Resolution for 2015 (Putting $ in My Miles)

I’m usually hesitant to make New Year’s resolutions. For the past decade or so, my instinct has been to make birthday resolutions. They felt more personal. It didn’t matter when the calendar was starting its new trip around the sun, I wanted to make change based on when my trip started. This year, for whatever reason, I’ve changed my tune.

I’ll be writing about some of them here.


 

Running Shoes on StairsFirst up, my running resolution. While I’m still working on a marathon in every state, that’s not the resolution this year. Instead, it’s simply getting out there.

This year, I’ll be running 100 miles per month. Along with me on those miles might be the Nike+ app or MapMyRun or any of the other apps I rotate through trying to find the one I like the most. The app I’ll definitely be using – CharityMiles. This is the second half of my running resolution.

Through CharityMiles, which donates to a you-selected charity for every mile you log running, walking, or biking, I’ll be selecting a charity each month and running to donate to that cause for the month. It won’t be much, the $.25/mile for running and walking from CharityMiles will add up to $25 for each charity. Then again, this will be more than they were getting otherwise, and it will be tacked on to what I already try to donate to worthwhile causes each year. At the start of each month, I’ll post here about the charity I’ll be running for.

January Charity: Back on My Feet

The Gist.
Back on My Feet uses running as a means to engage local populations of people experiencing homelessness “to create self-sufficiency.” Started in Philadelphia, the charity has 11 chapters nationally. Participants in the program join other runners and local coaches for morning runs three times per week. After 30 days in the program, participants qualify for Next Step services which can include counseling, applications for financial aid and other services. According to BoMF, “on average, nearly 75 of Members are in the Next Steps phase of the program. Finally, once Residential Members achieve employment and housing, they become Alumni Members who often continue to run with their original teams.

Why?
I started running in 2002 for a lot of reasons. Mainly, after turning 21 and with many pieces of my life up in the air, I wanted some sort of goal toward which I could work. June 1, I signed up for the October 13 Chicago Marathon and tried to run 2 miles. It was disasterous, and the days that followed were painful.

When I crossed the finish line with a net time of 4:53:59, I started crying. While a good deal of that was likely exhaustion, its foundation was in being the kid who felt awkward, left out, and in the way in anything to do with sports and athletics while he was growing up. That kid would never have considered running a marathon while relegated to shopping for clothes in the poorly named “husky” section growing up. I wish I’d found running earlier.

At the same time, running has taught me the importance of running my own race. Running and I met each other at exactly the right pace. I can’t say that I’d have recognized the possible joys and self-reflection involved in showing up at my doorstep with heavy legs, soaked clothes, and a face encrusted with salt from evaporated sweat if I’d found running earlier.

The Members of BoMF are each on a journey much different from my own and different again from those on their teams hitting the pavement at 5:30am three times a week. I’m running for this organization this month because I know, if only in my small way, what kind of journey running can set a person on.