It's been a year
"What a strange anniversary?" That's what I wrote in my journal this past week as I thought about the events of March 2020. It started with reports on NPR, then the colleges announced that they wouldn't be returning to in-person learning, then the restaurants closed, and then spring break turned into the end of the school year...almost. Once we began to teach online, I predicted that it would make us become better teachers. Can I be a teacher without a classroom? Will the technology be helpful or a hinderance? Will anyone show up? If they do, can I keep them engaged? It became the educational experiment of the century. What did I learn? I learned that students still want a social/emotional connection and it cemented my opinion that teaching is not just delivering information. And just like in the physical classroom, some students learn some things some times with some methods. Teaching is questioning. My mentor and good friend, Eugene Fracek, challenged me two years ago with the question: "How do you know your students have learned what you taught them?" Over coffee, he repeatedly told me to check for understanding. "How do you know they know?" This is the most important question to answer.
One of my favorite authors released a new book. The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler has already filled my head with so many great concepts. I naturally gravitate toward books like this but I also read them because I want to become a better teacher. Some key take aways from the first three chapters are: Biology is the answer not personality. So often we go about something the same way someone else did and we fail. While copying and failing are both ok, it's better to identify that you're both human with a brain and a body. Your brain is filled with some really powerful chemicals that can aid you in doing anything. Evolution is shaped by available resources. And in Kotler's words: "You can fight over dwindling resources, or you can go exploring, get creative, innovative, and cooperative, and make new resources." I love his take on "flight." Instead of the definition I was taught to remember, runaway scared, his definition is: explore, create, innovate, cooperate. And what is the biology that releases the brain chemicals that allows us to explore, create, innovate, and cooperate? Flow. The term was coined by University of Chicago psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. "Flow follows focus. The state can only arise when all of our attention is directed at the present moment...[Flow triggers] drive attention into the now." Be in the now. It's that simple and that complex. The complexity is getting to a flow state. In my son's words, "we all have debris in our heads...plastic bags swirling in the wind, distracting us." We need motivation. There's two types: intrinsic and extrinsic; inside and outside sources of motivation. This is where I get excited as a teacher...this is what I'm challenged with every day. Kotler says that research shows again and again that intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic except "where our basic needs have not been met." Boom! That was the sentence that got me thinking. I immediately started thinking of my own life; where I was and where I am. I started thinking of every student I've ever had and what they accomplished...and what they didn't. I just started Chapter 4: Goal Setting 101...I'll keep you posted on what I learn in future blogs.
I have a new song to share: Directions South. I wrote the song in 2013. It was one of four songs I wrote that year. I rerecorded it a couple of months ago and it was featured in a masterclass on Paper Garden Workshop. You can find the song at the top of my Listen page as well as my Home page and you can download it for free. While you're listening, have a look around; I've cleaned up my website and got rid of some clutter.