2018 came to a close with this opportunity to share with those of Lutheran Haven on 12/23. You can watch and listen HERE if you so desire! I am constantly reflecting (and analyzing) and I can admit that the challenges of 2018 changed me. I realize that I am not the same person. Not everything felt good, was good, but I believe that it was necessary. Now I, today, take a forward mindset into 2019. 2018 is now behind me or should I say serves as stepping stones. Reflecting on my previous post "Broken, but Built." The obstacles become opportunities, the sticky situations become stepping stones, the problems become possibilities. I am convinced that what we say and think of ourselves is our reality. Choosing my words and actions carefully, I will move forward, starting today.
Filtering by Category: General
I am reminded of the many experiences I had as a child where I broke things around the house that were of value, not intentionally though. Some of those things were mine. Others belonged to my parents. Boy were they upset when they found out that I'd broken something of great value! I even remember classroom experiences where I'd broken things, only to feel great remorse. It was one thing to break something you owned but another thing altogether to break something that was owned by someone else and experience their wrath. As an adult, I see being broken very differently. Is it a bad thing to be broken? In Journey to the Y in You, it speaks about shifting perception, altering the viewpoint of our experiences that break us, those things in life that seemingly come to take from us rather than give. How can we intentionally look at something that looks bad, seems bad, feels bad and likely is bad and pull good out of it?
I reflect often on myself an educator. How can I be better? How can I dig deeper? How can I be a greater influence on the lives of others and aid them in finding their 'why?' The truth about teaching, however, is that it isn't always easy. You are challenged to raise the bar for your students, coaching them towards success. That can be immensely challenging, yet rewarding. As a teacher, you aren't only influencing or impacting the lives of children but their families also, whether positively or negatively.
Not every experience I have had in the world of education has been positive. To be completely transparent, I have been 'broken' during times of good intentions. I have been 'broken' when my there was disagreement with what should and should not happen in the classroom. I have been 'broken' through mistreatment and gossip. I have been 'broken' because of the color of my skin (as well as being male). What does it mean to be 'broken?' Being broken means that a part of you has been damaged or fractured. I LOVE Malcolm X's words here: "There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time." My most recent experience of being broken came at a time when I felt like so many things were going wrong.
The truth is that if I'd never been broken, I would have never seen what I can now see. The truth is that if I'd never been broken, I'd never know what I now know. The real truth is that being broken provided the perfect opportunity to be built. When the foundation has been formed properly, structures can be built to withstand weather and other treacherous conditions. When a house has a proper structure, it can stand even in the middle of chaos and confusion. Along this journey of life, I have realized that not every experience will meet my expectations. It won't come neatly folded. It won't come in a box with a bow. It will come with challenges that are by design, necessary for improvement. It's all about how you view the obstacle. Viewing the obstacle as an opportunity is a great way to let being broken build you into a better and stronger version of you.
To teach is indeed a calling. To know that what you do daily has the capacity to live far longer than you do is mind-blowing! I can't help but wonder if there are certain people that need the very words that come out of my mouth? Perhaps there are students who, for whatever reason, are in situations that you can speak life to, provide solace in, and help them get out of through embracing, encouraging, and empowering them.
Embrace: This could be a physical embrace or a metaphorical one. Maybe a hug is in order or perhaps simply knowing that they can talk to and relate to you because though you are a superhero in their eyes, you are still human.
Encourage: Maybe they need to hear something positive. Acknowledge their strengths, help them to identify and find areas of weakness to work on and improve themselves. Help them to see the value of personal responsibility.
Empower: Teach them to reach, to dig, to expand and to grow, whether you are standing there or not.
I was recently engaged in a conversation at an EdCamp during a session called "Building a Positive School Culture." In the session was the discussion of the concern raised by teachers, namely the "the loss of instructional time" that comes through school-sponsored events, the time taken to redirect student behaviors and combat the societal things that walk boldly into the classrooms, etc. I challenged them at the end of the session to flip the script.
I create lesson plans every two weeks that are to guide the teaching and learning in the classroom. More times than not, there is a deviation from what I planned. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I hardly ever stick to the strategic plan that I've outlined on paper. What I find to be true is that the real strategy is being able to deliver, provide or allow for what is needed by the students in the classroom at that moment, in the here and now, dependent solely on discerning the environment, knowing students and being able to be sensitive to the needs of others. That cannot be planned for, however, as an educator, I have placed myself in the position to be flexible and shift based on the needs.
Perhaps in lieu of building school culture and cultivating a rich, innovative and dynamic learning environment, we should not see these deviations from the norm as loss of instructional time. Perhaps these deviations are more instructional than any 'instruction' will ever be. Perhaps it is the words or activities that flow that are much more meaningful for the time, and without them, the curriculum would not stick anyway. So, if I flow with the needs of the class and increase my sensitivity to the needs of the day, how much more will the content itself stick when it does occur.
One who does not stay the same.
Well, this is officially my first post of 2018. Times have been so busy that I had not had the grand opportunity. I recall about three years ago as part of a team-building exercise, I along with staff members at my school went to an improv comedy show. I'd never done it before and thought about the opportunity to laugh and decompress at an event such as this. Being that is was improv, I suppose I had no idea at the time that I could (or would) become part of the show. In fact, the topic had shifted to "pick up lines" and I was positioned as a judge to determine whose pickup lines were worthy of a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It was a lot of fun, I won't lie. I was nervous and had no idea how this would end but now I can say that I did it, had the opportunity and laughed a lot as a result. If it ever happens again, I won't be so nervous I suppose.
My point today is this...being a stand up teacher. I clearly stand up all day, and rarely sit down, whether at a table or desk. My feet tell me so at the end of the day, coupled with all of the walking and getting my steps in without any problems at all. This is not what I mean at all though. Challenging times and scenes today both in and out of classrooms seem to suggest a need for educators to be sensitive to environments, students and needs. This is not to say it hasn't always been important, but I have encountered many experiences this year alone where I have had to alter the course of travel for a class, for a week, for a student, for a group of students because the climate dictated a different way that day. I spend so much time planning and even learning in order to plan effectively. However I realize more and more that these lesson plans do not always go "as planned."
I'd learned about a strategy for teaching that includes drama, more specifically referred to as "Actor's Toolbox" which includes aspects of social-emotional learning as well as opportunities to teach students about those elements of themselves that are necessary in order to experience success in school. It further provides an opportunity for students to move, form randomized groupings for class activities as well as reinforce expectations.
There is a part of the Actor's Toolbox that includes a focus game that students love. The students move to a circular standing formation in the room when the cue is provided (music for our class). They "sign" the five-part contract that says they will be in charge of their bodies, their voice, their minds, their focus and finally cooperate with others. This is all done with miming or gesturing (drama). I then get the opportunity to try to distract them as they focus on a point on the wall opposite where they are standing. The goal is for them to remain calm, focused and balanced. Additionally, I like to ask students to point out any "strong" choices they observed other students do, such as moving quietly and calmly. We also discuss "weak" or undesirable choices made by students, like laughing while coming to the circle or running. This is such a powerful way to start our class and I really have seen students step to the plate and develop in maturity.
Actor's Toolbox is fun. I've had students group using the following statement: "By the time I count to 6, find yourself in a group that has an even number" (or someone wearing glasses, or someone wearing black, or having at least one boy). They can use non-verbal communication but are not encouraged to talk while moving into these groups. However once assembled, they might discuss a topic that comes to mind, like a book they read over the weekend. Or I might create a talking piece based on something we are learning in class at that time, giving them an opportunity to discuss it with random students (and those not normally paired with). I always follow up with sharing as a whole class a couple of the really great thoughts from the groups.
My point in sharing that example is that I have used it during times where there was clearly a need to "do something different." I use it almost every day as it is, but definitely use it to break up any potential monotony and in those times that the conditions call for something more. I feel educators are the great balancers and jugglers! Or at least we should be flexible and aware of the climate, which changes oh so frequently in order to meet the needs of the diverse learners that we all have in our reach. As I have heard many times, Maslow, before Blooms, because Blooms will be so much more effective once Maslow is in place.
Thanks for reading! Have a good one!
So I decided to use Book Creator to "capture" the ISTE experience. After this brief introduction, you will find visual images with text that more closely capture the immensity of time spent in San Antonio. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such a conference. I don't think I'd ever seen so many educators in one place at the same time. It was noted by ISTE leaders that about 21,000 people were in attendance (including vendors) representing every state in the US and over 80 countries around the world. That's amazing right! I attended several sessions, those that were part of the #ISTE17 schedule and those that were not. Many learning events happened outside of the four walls of a room or session, yet that pushed me, motivated me, inspired me and changed me for the better. I learned a lot from sessions including: the @Newsela Certification Workshop (Sunday - starting things off), Getting Started with Swift Playgrounds (coding), Google Drawing - Going beyond the Drawing, Developing Natural Curiosity through PBL, The Power of Music for Learning: Garageband, Closely Reading with Thinglink, Real World Coding: Apple App Development, Digital Formative Assessment, and Virtual Poetry Slams. These of course were aside from the awesome keynotes delivered by Jad Abumrad & Jennie Mageira. I was not able to make the last one since I had to prepare to leave. Jennie Mageira was a POWERFUL keynote speaker who literally told stories that took you through a few emotions. Her delivery was quite impactful.
It was indeed an honor to meet many that I'd interacted with to some degree via social media, whether on Twitter, Voxer or other means. You have conversations and then you see that they are real! How amazing is that! Here it goes!
Challenges & Limitations: Are they the same thing? Can challenges lead to limitations? Can challenges open the door to opportunity? This blog has been written as something to consider and maybe even open the door for conversation, inspired by nature itself. (Side note: there is much to be learned by observing and appreciating who and what we are surrounded by.)
Are challenges limitations? I was watching a nature documentary recently, titled "Africa's Deadliest," I couldn't help but notice the sheer number of animals with physical and perhaps geographical challenges that may serve to box the animal in or by which we are able to identify the animal as it's species. For example, the crocodile is regarded as a fierce predator, who has intense bite force and is able to take out animals that are equal or larger in size. The water is where the crocodile's greatest strength is realized because of its ability to ambush prey, often by surprise as they draw closer by holding their breath underwater.
You might say that the water is the croc's livelihood. However, the crocodile's teeth are not designed to tear and chew it's prey once caught and suffocated. Instead the crocodiles must group together and rely on each other to tear prey and then swallow it whole. Not only that, crocodiles are sloppy & less balanced and effective while on land versus in the water. You might say that the challenges that the crocodile experiences are opportunities for them to capitalize on their strengths and/or cooperate with other crocodiles in order to accomplish the task at hand. Are these challenges experienced by crocodiles also their limitation? Well that depends on how you view it.
Let's take another example. The cheetah is hugely regarded as the fastest land animal on Earth reaching speeds of 65 miles per hour or more. This is of course a feature that enables the cheetah to attain its prey when it travels at intense speeds. Unlike its counterparts and related species, it is able to traverse distances in order to reach what may otherwise be unreachable. A drawback however is the need for cheetahs to recuperate after traveling at such immense speed before it can devour what it's speed allowed it to reach and overtake. In fact, the documentary identifies that the cheetah becomes so overheated that it is close to going brain dead after working so intensely to feed itself. If this wasn’t enough, the cheetah then has to deal with the lions and hyenas, opportunists, that pose a serious threat to the cheetah itself, not to mention its prey being stolen. Is the cheetah’s speed a challenge or a limitation?
A third example is the Monarch butterfly, a delicate creature, faces more than one challenge in its lifetime. Of its challenges are habitat loss, pesticides and herbicides, and climate change. Starting out as a caterpillar, eating constantly, it has to undergo a complete physical change, only to have a limited lifespan once its metamorphosis has taken place. An average butterfly has an average life span of two weeks in which it must carry out its life obligations in order to ensure that generations behind it may carry on, survival in mind.
And so now we attempt to bring it home, to the crux of the matter, the reality of the world we live in today. We all have challenges, animals and human beings alike. We all have things that we face on the daily that we have the opportunity to overcome. If we sat here and thought long enough, we would be able to identify challenges for each animal and even plant on the face of the earth. All living things face obstacles and challenges that “challenge” the existence and survival of the species. Could we ask the cactus plant to stop sucking up water so that it can survive during the harsh times of drought? Could we ask the kangaroo to stop digging holes into the ground in order to cool itself in times of extreme heat? Would it be appropriate to ask the alligators and crocodiles to remain in the water so they do not threaten our existence on the earth? The truth is that challenges can be viewed as obstacles, but are not necessarily limitations at all. They are opportunities to be creative, adapt and find ways to conquer what could have conquered you. We fill continue to face challenges but we do not have to allow those challenges to keep us from moving forward in the best way possible.
So let’s think about education and the roles we have. Our students. Do they have challenges? You bet they do! We as the educators face challenges as well. Our students have various backgrounds, cultures, experiences, values, morals and beliefs that may not necessarily line up with the next person. Does that mean they are any less valuable? Of course not, but perhaps these challenges are opportunities to learn how to embrace and celebrate the various aspects of our world that make it unique and diverse. Where would we be without challenges? We’d never learn how amazing the world and those therein truly are without challenges. We’d never see the bravery if there was nothing to fear. We’d never know love, if rejection wasn’t a reality. We’d never see the stars if they didn’t shine in the middle of darkness. We’d never know the opportunity ahead without the challenges that propel us to pursue with patience that which lies before us! Turn your challenge into an opportunity, don’t let it limit you.
Your Pain is Not in Vain, that it what the intent of this post is to convey.
Would you have ever thought that as a teacher or maybe just as a person who happens to be a teacher would ever experience pain? No way! Not in the education profession. If I were to poll the population in question I wonder what results would find. Now I'd say that this is not a topic that I enjoy talking about at all but I've had a revelation. Pain has a purpose. Pain is necessary for you to first identify that there is an issue somewhere whether physically, mentally or emotionally that needs attention. Second, pain is a reminder of the imperfect creature I am. It says hey Dene, here is a challenge for you that if you overcome it, has the unlimited potential to make you more than you were, or improved from yesterday to today.
What is this pain?
Pain just like people, comes in many different shapes and sizes. It doesn't favor anyone but has the ability to land on us all. So many times I've wanted pain to end, but as I continue to exist on this earth I acknowledge a different perspective of the pain. The pain helped me. The pain reminded me. The pain grounded me. The pain hurt me real "good."
When my father passed away from this earth I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. In my mind, my dad (and mom who still lives) was the reason I strived and kept going and moving. I emulated them and cared so much about their approval and affirmation. My dad was my strength and when he left me; I felt like Samson (the Bible character) that my strength had been wrongfully taken from me. Nevertheless, my dad was ready to get the heck out of here after having raised seven of us to be productive contributors to the society in which we live. He said give when people take. He said smile in the face of adversity, and it will come! He stood strong when others decided to sit down. He rescued me in times I knew it was impossible. He was in essence the hero that with my mother are the reason I live and breathe air today. Thus, when he took off I felt like I didn't have that wind beneath my wings anymore. In retrospect, I wonder if that's why he took off, because the pain of his departure propelled me into the purpose that he often spoke of in conversations I'd had with him. He believed in me when I didn't know to believe in myself or what to believe. So imagine the pain and devastation of a strong father saying goodbye to this life? Well I had to understand and embrace the pain within this situation. Why? Because there was something to be gained from the pain. If my father was here today, he would say I don't know why you're crying, get up and do what is in you to do! Strength came in the pain of my father who was "half" of my strength, moved on to a better place. So I've fully embraced the conversations I recall having with him, so much so that I passionately pursue them in the knowledge that he knew me! He knew I could, and now I can see it for myself! That's not to say that I still don't have doubts but the pain reminds me that yes, I can, even when the odds say I can't!
As an educated black male, the pain, the stigmas and the burden that I carry to bring change to eyes blinded by untruth, injustice prejudice and stereotypes that would suggest that I'm not good enough, or the realization that people look carefully when I walk into a room because they are unsure of who I am, or to allow me the opportunity to be who I am without first passing judgment on me. That's painful. It's a pain that shouldn't be but even in that, it's a pain that has benefits. You say I'm "this" but I am "that." To parents that have qualified me as illegitimate or unworthy of operating in the capacity in which I do, to those that are naysayers that have attacked the very place in which I sit and stand, that's painful. It's true. But at the same time, there is a thank you somewhere inside of me. I am more aware now and because of it, I go harder. I work harder. I strive harder, despite those that for whatever reason diminish your capacity with their thoughts, words and deeds. It's pain that I endure because I know that someone may look to me as an example of pure love, genuine care and concern and a peacemaker, just like my father.
I don't wanna (yes I said wanna) be perfect. I want to work on continuing to make myself better. Perfection assumes that I've learned it all, seen it all, done it all, and that there is nothing more to strive for and achieve. I've learned to revel in my imperfection and despite the pain of the moment that may reveal weakness and may cause you to be embarrassed around others who may be better than you, or perpetuate themselves as such, it is an opportunity to identify where you may be weak and work toward making yourself (myself) better than I was the day before. I'll never stop trying to be more, do more, at every chance I get. I'm not what I've gone through. Tomorrow isn't promised so the pain, as hard as it may be to accept at times, is necessary for life and certainly not in vain.
So if pain greets you at the front door, know that it has value and shift your perspective to the place where you can see that value and use it to be better than you were prior to the pain.
That is all.
Communication is a social skill that is integral to the existence of any individual. How we communicate is in part, determined by the bank of knowledge, in this case, the depth of vocabulary that we have. Is the point to use language that is above another's capacity to understand? Absolutely not. However, there is a certain power in the words one chooses articulate his or her intentions. There is power in what you say. In fact, there is power in saying what someone else has said.
One of the key pieces of my classroom is writing, one form of communication that I practice and dialogue with students about all year. Though sometimes it is considered a cumbersome task by students, it is a necessary life skill, to be able to write, and for a variety of purposes. Expository or nonfiction writing is writing that reflects what has happened, or might explain the rationale or history or reason(s) for something occurring. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how to explain and elaborate. Also, since this is not a narrative form, often lacking the flair of figurative language, it is necessary for the writer to develop this form of writing as well, and using quotes is a great and powerful way to do so.
Dissecting quotes and understanding the meaning behind them aids students in determining whether a quote might be relevant in writing and how it can be used to engage the reader and/or listener and solidify the intended message. Consider the quote below.
"Words are like paint in which the writer becomes the artist and creates a masterpiece.” – Dene Gainey
In that quote, words are being compared to paint, and metaphorically, writing is being compared to artwork. In this way, the writer can now form an explanation to support how this statement applies to his or her writing, furthering the explanation and engaging the audience, prompting them to think as they read. Quotes are powerful and modeling this power for students will enable them to not only notice the power of quotes (words) but begin to manipulate words themselves.