Just Breathe

The 1983 movie Mr. Mom is, in my opinion, Michael Keaton’s finest performance of his career. Mr. Keaton plays Jack, a family man who loses his job and becomes a stay at home Dad while his wife goes back to work full time.  Given that we have yet to fully appreciate the immense amount of work that parents do as a society, I’d argue its still as relevant today as it was 34 years ago.  But I digress.  My favorite line from the movie comes when Jack, who has started to let himself slip a bit, argues with his wife about how tough his new role has become.  Check it out below.

“I yelled at Kenny for coloring outside the lines!”.  If you can’t identify with this statement, you may have found your peach tree to sit underneath and meditate long ago, and this post may not be for you.  But if you have ever had one of those days.  The kind where you have been prone to snap, make judgements a bit too quickly and you think that your brain may be turning into oatmeal, then read on.  With the hustle and bustle that is everyday life as an instructional coach, husband and dad, it has become abundantly clear to me that a proactive approach to overall wellness, especially regarding mental health, is essential to attempt to move from the “survive” column to the “thrive” one.

The Importance of Breathing

We all know that it is important to take care of our bodies.  So much of that discussion focuses on the food that we put into our bodies.  Much of that discussion has progressed, I believe, towards more sustainable “wellness” models as opposed to yo-yo dieting.  Sleep is also essential and more people are advocating for both our children and adults that being tired is not a “weakness” and that to be a healthy and productive human being, sleep is as important as the food we eat.

However, one of the most obvious keys to a healthy well-being is a tool that we are using every minute of every day: breathing.  Focused breathing can significantly reduce stress in both adults and children.  So while we may not get enough sleep because we have so many responsibilities and we may not eat a perfect diet becomes sometimes running to Wawa is the only option that fits into our schedule, taking 1 minute to stop and just breathe is an incredibly effective option for reducing our stress and improving our overall well-being. When you breathe deeply, you lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase the oxygen supply to your brain and you relax all your muscles. Imagine being able to enter such a state right before a difficult meeting or class. It might be the edge that you need to be just that much more empathetic towards the people you are interacting with.

Tech and Breathing

Mindfulness is enjoying its time in the wellness spotlight lately and for good reason: its a cheap and effective way to reduce stress and it has been embraced by a larger percentage of the population that may have thought “meditating” was for weirdos or hippies. Dan Harris, an anchor for ABC news even wrote a book about his personal journey towards mindfulness that is exceptionally accessible to people who might think of meditation as too touchy-feely/foreign.

More than a couple good friends of mine have recently started to use the Spire wearable to help deal with some stress and anxiety and focus on their breath.  Its a small device that clips to your belt line and communicates with an app to measure breathing rate and notify you if you seem tense or at ease.  By getting a notification that you are tense, you can stop what you are doing and focus on your breath for a moment.  My one friend describes it as magic – that when he tenses up, he “focuses on his dots” and brings his breathing back down to a normal level.  It reminds me of the Ed Norton Jr Hulk movie, in which he wears a heart rate strap so that he doesn’t turn into the hulk unless he really wants to.

Headspace is one of the most popular mindfulness apps out there right now but my personal favorite is Calm.  They offer a free premium account to all educators and have meditations specifically designed for children of all ages.  I can’t think of a single classroom that wouldn’t benefit from access to this tool.  I’ve used Calm sporadically for a number of years now.  I got over my initial misgivings and attempt to sit for 10 minutes of guided breathing each morning before work.  I used to put the nature scenes on over my projector after a particularly difficult class and just listen to the ocean or rain for a few minutes.  It’s an incredibly feature-rich app that I consider an essential part of my mental health toolkit.

While I love Calm, there are many days where 10 free minutes does not exist in the morning. I recently got the Apple Watch series 3. One of my favorite features is the “Breathe” app. During the day, the watch will buzz you and remind you to breathe deeply for 1 minute. This may be the closest I ever get to daily meditation. Frankly, it may be all that I need. Initially, I relied on the app to remind me periodically through the day to complete a breathing exercise. However, I have found myself opening the app either right after something stressful or right before I know that may become stressed. This is my greatest takeaway and habit from my experience in learning about mindful breathing. It may not be a full body meditation, but its enough to recenter me and slow myself down.

Breathing and Mindset

If there’s one absolute truth that I have found as an instructional coach it is this – we are ALL fighting our own battles. It is so easy to forget. None of us sets out to only think of ourselves and our issues.  Biologically speaking, we need to take care of ourselves first. The quality I wish to impart of our young people and the one that I feel will not only ensure more successful schools but also a more successful world is empathy. If everybody paused to breathe before responding to each other we might make the world a better place. Some places where breathing may be important:

  • People didn’t read your email.  This is not a personal attack.  We all have too much information coming at us.
  • You have to repeat instructions.  See above.
  • The wifi isn’t working (May need to find a paper bag. But it will be ok)
  • You are about to judge somebody or contribute to the rumor mill
  • You are about to resort to anger (See “coloring outside the lines” above)

We are all human. We’ve all faced the situations above and no technique will eliminate all negative feelings we have. I hope that bringing attention to breathing may help you avoid one stressful situation from becoming bigger than it needs to be. Start small. As one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, states: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Don’t think that in order to be mindful, you HAVE to set yourself up like the Buddha.  You don’t HAVE to close your eyes or commit to a 10 minute or longer program. JUST BREATHE. You already have everything you need to try this strategy. Try it yourself, share it with your students. Breathe together before a test or a meeting or before every class – and see if there are positive results.  One of my favorite benefits of mindful breathing? It can bring about an immense sense of gratitude. And it’s not just me – in the words of the almighty Eddie Vedder, from the song “Just Breathe”: “Oh, I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love”. How much better would the world be if we took a breath and said thanks to start our day.  Thanks for reading 🙂

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Edcamp Garden State – Year 2 Reflection!

Blogging Buddies

I’m excited to get started writing again for the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches PLN “Blogging Buddies” challenge.  I have a wealth of drafts but without an external deadline I find it exceptionally hard to hit publish.  I’m happy to have found not only that accountability but to be paired up with 4 other tech coaches to give me feedback and to write together.  I need to write once a month but I’m shooting for once a week.  I hope you enjoy what I have to offer!blogging buddies

Edcamp…

24 hours after year 2 of Edcamp Garden State I was standing at the start of a 5 mile race.  The enormous amount of positive vibes I received from the edcamp experience propelled me through every mile in a way I rarely feel when running.  I had one of my greatest running performances ever and I really believe it was the energy from all the people that attended that carried me to the finish line.  In a word, I was so PROUD of our organizing team, school and community for creating such a worthwhile experience for the educators in and around South Jersey.  Now I want to make it even better.

What went well

We went out on a limb as a team to try some new things this year.  For starters, we wanted to utilize some of our outdoor spaces.  Thankfully the weather cooperated and we had 2 session “rooms” located outside our cafeteria by picnic tables.  This was a highlight for me.  It harked back to the days as a student and pleading with your teacher to “have class outside”.  I led a session on “Digital Minimalism” based on a blog post by Cal Newport as well as inspiration from The Minimalists, Gretchen Rubin, and Tristan Harris among others.  My headspace is stuck, in a good way, on determining how to use tech in the most intentional ways both professionally and personally.  It was a great discussion and I loved being able to have it outside.

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Many people said they enjoyed the outdoor spaces and I think they naturally lend themselves to that Edcamp session ideal – a free flowing space for the exchange of ideas among educators.  No chalkboards, projectors or whiteboards to distract us.  We were fortunate to have our own Ms. Carol Wahl open her Greenhouse to everybody and even facilitate a session on the program that she runs with our students here.  I hope to expand our use of outdoor spaces for EdcampGS 2018!

We also ended the day outside with a local food truck that serves amazing crepes and Mr Softee to help cool us off.  While people lined up for food we were serenaded by our own chemistry teacher, Ms. Dominiak, and strings teacher, Mario Desantis, playing the violin. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a beautiful culmination to the day.

What I learned…

I can’t thank the organizing team enough for helping put on such a great event.  I have a long way to go when it comes to delegating (I hate asking other people to do things…).  Thank you to the folks who stepped up regardless of this and said, “Dan, I’m doing this, stop worrying about it, we’ll be fine…”.  After 2 years I think I can improve that leadership when we plan Volume 3.

Hosting an Edcamp is a lot like planning your own wedding.  Months of decisions, stress and worrying end in a day that feels like an absolute blur.  There were ideas that I had, that I may have even written down somewhere, but that I just did not follow through and execute.  I wanted to circle up chairs in session rooms.  I meant to not include names/handles on the session board.  I wanted to explain that it is ok to have sessions that are more presentation than discussion (I know I know… more on this in a second).  The week leading up to Edcamp was PARCC testing and some of these ideas got lost in the shuffle.  That’s why I’m writing now – to look back, take stock and take a step forward.  The mantra I repeated to myself over and over was, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes, “good enough” is just that.  Its good enough.  I constantly want to improve but not to the point that it paralyzes me or others, or worse yet, turns them off.

I learned a long time ago from my dear friend Jess Raleigh, organizer of Edcamp Denver, and founder of the Breakfast Club chat on Twitter,  that all you need to put on an Edcamp is a place and people.  The rest is just gravy.  Its really true.  An Edcamp is basically a bunch of impassioned educators getting together to exchange ideas over coffee.  With lots of bells and whistles.  The minutiae should add to the experience and I would hope that everybody who walks away from an Edcamp feels empowered, inspired, re-awakened or some combination thereof.  The early feedback indicates most of our participants would identify with this.

I would be remiss if I didn’t formally thank both my co-founder Brian Kulak  for being a constant “Yes man” when I had doubts, for all his hard work in making this event happen and for being a postive source of energy to fuel the Edcamp Garden State experience.  Also, to our superintendent, Dr. Scott Oswald, for supporting such a progressive experience, opening the doors to our district to educators from around the state, and for being an active participant in the experience.  The first step to planning an Edcamp is securing a venue and that has been our easiest accomplishment thanks to the support of Dr. Oswald and all the administration.

Future Edcamps

If you’re reading this when I publish it, this weekend is Edcamp Happy Camper in Washington Township.  Keep to learning and momentum going!

Did you attend Edcamp Garden State? Do you have feedback on some of our “Bells and whistles”? Let me know in the comments and I hope to connect in person at an Edcamp someday!

Patience Compromise and Edtech

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As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  At the close of the school year and as part of the beginning of my internship plan, I created surveys to get feedback from the staff on my value to them, their comfort level with technology and other questions that can help me to plan for training in the fall.  The following is a post about my process of reflecting on this first year as a tech coach and the expectations I place on myself and others.  

 

My mom has told me, more times than I would have liked, the story of when I threw a tantrum in a supermarket when I was 3-4 years old. I wanted some candy in the checkout aisle (watermelon Bubblicious gum if my memory serves correct). It was a doozy: full throttle, arms and legs pounding the ground, screaming, kicking and crying. It is only now, when I have children of my own, that I understand the complete and utter embarrassment that I was causing her. What did she do? She calmly placed her items on the belt and waited to pay.  And ignored me. Even as people started to stare at the spectacle I was causing (No cell phones back then to divert your attention) she just kept moving forward.  Channelling her inner Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want” was the lesson my mom started teaching me that day.  It worked, sort of.

Confession time: I still throw those little hissy fits.  The only difference is that they happen inside.  They happen when I get impatient with the process of change in utilizing technology in our schools and becoming a more relevant educational institution.  As we wind down this school year, I have reflected on all my work and found myself frustrated that we haven’t moved even further ahead than where we are. I’m frustrated that I haven’t helped more people realize the amazing potential of social media to advance one’s own learning and connect to educators around the world.  I’m frustrated that more blended and flipped learning could be happening in classrooms and faculty meetings.  When your catch phrase is “relentless forward progress” it is hard to exercise patience.

Then last week I was watching the Tonight Show and President Obama was the guest.  Jimmy Fallon asked him about this part of his commencement address at Howard University:

“Listen to those you disagree with, and be prepared to compromise.  Democracy requires compromise, even when you’re 100 percent right,” Obama said. “You can be completely right, but you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want.”

There it is.  Whether we are talking about Democracy, Public Schools and the Educational system or our everyday personal relationships, the hissy-fit method just won’t cut it.  We need a serious dose of patience when it comes to the evolution of the American classroom.  So many connected educators get frustrated at the state of the modern classroom.  It is not without good reason, but an overnight change just won’t happen.  We can not create an “us vs. them” culture with regard to educational technology.  Doing so will only further increase the gap between so called “modern” classrooms and the “old school” model of teaching and more importantly, the educators in those classrooms.  For the greater good, as well as our own betterment, we must focus on positive, incremental change.  Any frustration we feel should be channeled back into better efforts at modeling the change we seek and patiently helping those who need guidance.  We need coaches, integration specialists and administrators who consistently show the positive benefits of progressive pedagogy and savvy technology use.  As my good friend and colleague, Cathy Isaacs (@iwearthecrowns) once tweeted to me, “It’s like teaching a kid how to cross the street. How many times did we (and still) tell our kids to look both ways?”.

 

So what’s the answer? Rest on our laurels while others catch up? Give up and resign to the idea that some people will just never change? No. We relentlessly pursue the best methods of teaching and learning for our students.  We model and share those. Every. Single. Day.  We are persistently patient with our colleagues who are resisting change.  Change is hard after all. As educators it is imperative that we model the type of collaboration and collegiality we want to see more of in this world.  Look around.  There are plenty of grown ups throwing hissy fits and hoping the “other side” will change.  Let’s be the change we want to see in our schools to positively impact student learning.

The Right Tech

LCD Projectors.  Smartboards.  Internet Filtering.  Televisions.  There can be a lot of technology in a school building.  There are certainly tons of companies who want to sell it to schools.  Buzzwords abound but is it the right tech? I walked the aisles of the expo at ISTE and saw some incredible stuff.  The robots, augmented reality devices, the Google booth with demo after demo.  But I also saw a TON of sales pitches.  Tons of “Interactive White Board” companies and Internet blocking/filtering.  Lots of Apps that will give you 7 days for free and then ask for a few thousand bucks to provide their service to all of your students.

Is any of this improving education??

How much better is an interactive whiteboard than a chalkboard? (I don’t think it’s $1500 better… ) And isn’t a plain old whiteboard interactive when you write on it?

Why shut off the internet for students to learn? (Instead of teach them how to learn from it)

Why keep buying technology that keeps a teacher at the front of the room and students seated quietly in rows following the lockstep rules?

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We are in an age of cheap information and easy access.  We need devices in every student’s hands.  Student’s accessing the web in their palms every hour except when they are in school are going to find a better way than our traditional schools to get a great education.  We need to be precise in our technology purchases. We need to consider what is happening in classrooms before diving headfirst into the newest technology.

Make tech a part of your classroom experience.  But make it transform the way you teach, not substitute for traditional methods just to be able to check off the box that says you use technology.  Using the right technology is messy  and difficult and a very foreign experience even for those that embrace change.  But it is also liberating, uplifting and trasnformative.  The kids deserve this kind of environment.  So do you.

Change. It’s hard. Even when it looks easy.

I’m willing to bet you’ve been on a diet.  I’d also venture that you stumbled somewhere along the way.  Sneaking some ice cream late at night, a slice of birthday cake in the teachers lounge, hey, it’s Friday, I EARNED this doughnut! Being on a diea64fb82c-c6c6-470a-9101-7e404411d5d6t is rough.  It’s restrictive and you are literally fighting your biological tendencies to eat as much as you can and move as little as possible.   Yet you know, somewhere deep inside, that you should eat more vegetables and fruits and less junk.  You know you want to look better on the beach and be able to keep up with your kids.  See the thing is, at least for many of us, we grow up without too much concern for how we eat, then BAM, we start gaining weight without realizing it.  All of a sudden you are hauling the laundry up the steps and you’re out of breath.  Maybe you change, maybe you don’t.  Some say it’s easy, you just have to decide you will do it.

If you’ve lost weight and most especially if you have kept that weight off, you very likely have had that moment.  That moment when you just KNOW – I am doing this!  I am doing this for my spouse, for my kids, for my teammates, for my dog, for my parents, for ME.  For me, a huge motivator was reading these lines by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, creaters of the Whole30 eating model:

“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You won’t get any coddling, and you won’t get any sympathy for your ‘struggles’.”

Thats great and all.  In theory, it’s not hard.  But it is hard.  Change is hard.  Even for the people that make it look easy.  The first step is just committing.

Then you fight and scrap and sacrifice with all you have to make sure you get healthy.  You go to the birthday party and politely say no thanks to the cake.  You get up at the crack of dawn and go for a run… before anybody else in your house is even awake.  You spend hours preparing your food for all your lunches so that when everybody is running to the fast food joint for a quick lunch you are prepared.  And then it happens. You feel it.  Not just the weight loss but the utter joy and energy that have returned.  The struggle that was so hard is now a memory and you are living the life you feel you were meant to. BxNWTDmCIAAv6-0

You got through that messy part.  That’s where most people stop.

As teachers we need a diet.  We need to have a collective moment that we are going to do this.  Not for the politicians and their mandates or the testing companies and their profits, but for the children we have devoted our lives to and for our very selves and the dignity of our profession.  We need to make a commitment that we are going to fight through the “messy part” over the next decade (yeah, I said decade) as technology continues to become more pervasive and students continue to look less and less like the kids we remember ourselves being.  They deserve this.  WE deserve this.

It is easier to stand in front of a room and demand cell phones and lecture than it is to have kids on laptops working on different projects at the same time (and no, I don’t mean that teaching is easy in any format…).  It is easier to give everybody the same worksheet than it is to give kids a choice in what they want to learn about and to (dare I say it) let them use their cell phone in class.  It’s easier to just eat the birthday cake too.  Anything worth doing is… look, you get the point right?.  You have heard this before.  But now is the time.  There’s no starting tomorrow any more.  We need a collective wake up call.  We need to realize that this change is both easy (in the sense that you just have to decide) and a feeling that it is insurmountable because it requires such constant vigilance and support and learning.

Here’s the good part – we are all in it together. You do not have to go it alone.  Even if nobody in your school wants to help you (and I doubt that) you have to world of teachers on Twitter, Voxer and Blogs.  I’ve met a lot of them.  They are awesome and they want to help you.  Yes, YOU! So put down that cookie and start tweeting.  The kids are coming for you and they’re eager for change.