Aspirations and Inspirations

Tonight I spent two plus hours on an amazing webinar with Seth Mosley of Centricity Publishing who is “one of the most awarded and in-demand songwriters and producers in the Christian Music industry.” It struck me how important it is to teach others about our craft – no matter what that craft is – in order to fuel the world. Seth and his team were inspiring and encouraging about songwriting for people of all ages and abilities.

Why was I taking part in a webinar about songwriting? Because I’ve been a songwriter since I was a pre-teen. I have never done much with my songs, and I haven’t written much in recent years, but it is something that I have always done. A few of my songs have been performed and a couple have been recorded semi-professionally but that’s not what’s really important. What’s really important is that songwriting has always been a part of me. It is part of who I am.

I don’t think that I’ll ever become a famous songwriter. Mostly because I’m not willing to dedicate the time that it takes. At least not right now. Maybe I will feel compelled or driven or inspired to write more purposefully someday soon.

However, for some reason this week I needed a little more inspiration for my aspiration. I needed a confirmation that what I have done for joy and creativity isn’t just something to keep tucked away in multiple binders in my piano room. So I signed up for this webinar and I’m glad I did.

While I am not ready to revisit my previous songs right now, I want to think about my reasons for writing music. I want to understand why I write songs. I know I write best when there is something emotional going on. Thankfully, my life is not in emotional turmoil and hasn’t been for a number of years now. Maybe that’s why my songs are tucked away.

I love performing music. Thankfully, I have that opportunity every week by playing and singing on a Worship Team. I also love teaching private piano to my small number of students. It is somehow gratifying to know that while none of them will become a concert pianist (that’s not my style of teaching!) they will all enjoy playing for the sake of playing. Besides, they are really great kids!

Finding your inspiration for whatever it is that you may be passionate about is so crucial. Where do you find inspiration? What part of your life fulfills you beyond your job? Where do you find joy and creativity in your life? It can be something as simple as a quiet afternoon reading a great book. It can be that toddler that is a whirlwind during the day and looks so angelic asleep. Maybe it’s found in a silent look from the one you love or an amazing trip to a foreign destination.

Whatever your inspiration is, be sure to nurture it. Dream about it. Your aspiration to be or do or experience is just what your heart needs.

I hope to keep growing towards opening my tucked away pages again soon. Maybe I’ll even begin something new tonight. But this aspiration reminds me that I need to be the inspiration for all of the educators that I come in contact with. I might not need to teach them much more than to have confidence in themselves. Just as Seth really did in his webinar tonight. Maybe it’s really that simple.

Thanks for the inspiration, Seth. You have made a difference.

#SongChasers Full Circle Music

What’s In A Title?

I look at the title of my blog and realize that I have written less about tech lately than about life in general. Tech seems somehow too impersonal to write about. I can share the latest gadget, or deal on some new device. But, I find myself wandering into what I really care about: Other people.

30+ years in education has made a profound impact on my life. The teacher and person I was when I began this journey has long faded away. Thank goodness! Those early years of teaching had so many failures. (No one was permanently injured that I’m aware of…)

Now that I work mostly with adults, I hope I convey the compassion that I have for fellow teachers. I understand feeling so tired that there is literally zero left at the end of the day. I understand isolated when you are a specialist and there is no one in your building that shares your struggles.

My title is Digital Learning Coordinator. My title is also teacher, facilitator, specialist, Mom, Wife, Daughter, friend and Grandma. Notice what titles come first?!? Why do I identify with what I DO instead of who I am?

Your title brings you a sense of importance, or power, or belonging. But it still can be an empty title if you forget your real purpose. Your real purpose is to care about others and to develop strong family ties. No matter what your family looks like. No matter if your family is your four legged pet or a significant other. Or your church friends or most importantly, yourself.

Work is important. Teaching is extremely important. But living your life caring for others and self is the most important role of all.

What title guides your life? Will your friends remember you for what you did at work, or what you did in life? Or best yet, both of those!

Should I retitle my blog? The title is Vinal Tech Blog. Maybe it should be Something Else? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Friday Night Musings

teachers at training As I reflect back on the previous week, I find myself returning to the same conclusion. Using technology and using technology well is an ongoing goal. While some might think I know a lot, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I have so much more to learn.

Maybe it’s age. But the more I work with teachers and principals, the more I realize I need to learn much more than I know.

I have never considered myself an expert. I know a lot about certain things but I have so many areas that still need so much work.

Where are you in your Digital Learning? What are you doing to build your skills?

Fortunately, those that I work for have a vision of building capacity and reaching as many teachers as possible. In our 24 schools, we have worked with more than 475 teachers since the creation of this position. We have begun building relationships that I hope will sustain the work that we have started.

After three days as part of the NCTIES Conference as a learner, partner in education and presenter, I am further convinced that I have so much to learn.

#NCTIES19

How will you sustain your excitement about your latest professional learning? Will you share your excitement when you return to the classroom? Or will you tuck your knowledge away in the “been there, done that” file?

Let me encourage you, no, implore you, to extend your experience. Step out of your comfort zone. Take a risk. Fail forward. Model this growth mindset for your students and colleagues.

Public education is an amazing place. You make it an amazing place. WE make it an amazing place!

Spread the word, the ideas and most of all the enthusiasm that you have for each child, every day. You’ve got this!!

The Nature of Summer

Every day of summer vacation includes some professional time. I’m not one to take the summer off. Even if I could truly take the summer off, I’m sure I’d fill my time with professional development or a project of some kind. I’m not good at vacating!

While summer gives me time to regroup and change up my routine, it also allows me time to reflect on what’s truly important in my career as well as my home life. What parts of your work life spill over into your home life? If you’re an educator, then probably a lot.

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Photo by b. on Pexels.com

Educational professionals lead a different kind of life. There is a constant need to reinvent oneself as technology changes, curriculum changes, schools change and demands change. It can cross into your personal life in such a way that you never truly feel like you are away from your job.

So how do you balance it? Every person does it differently, but I find that I have to still teach all summer. Maybe you teach at a summer camp. Maybe you give professional development sessions to other teachers. Maybe you teach your own kids. Or maybe you teach yourself new things. I try to combine as much of that as I can but on a less demanding schedule than the traditional school year.

I teach teachers online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. Two of my established technology classes are running concurrently right now. The summer is the only time to run two at the same time while working full-time! This adventure is full of new things every time I do it. These teachers find new angles that I hadn’t even thought of! I get a “2-fer” – I get to teach and I get to learn at the same time. Now that’s a great summer!

The nature of my summer might look a lot different than yours. Yes, sometimes I long to go take a really long walk on a beach somewhere, but my family has other demands that just don’t allow for much of that. It’s all good, though. I’m able to help them out and still get to do something I love: educate and learn.

How about you? What’s your “Nature of Summer”?

 

Am I Really Making A Difference?

At least once a week I ask this question: “Am I really making a difference?” I don’t ask it out loud. Sometimes it’s so subtle that I’m not sure if I really want to know. But every educator asks the question sometimes. I just find myself asking it more often lately.

No, I’m not looking for a pat on the back or even an affirmation that I’m really functioning well. Mostly I’m wondering if I’m “doing enough” or “making my work worth it”.

Do you ever feel that way?

So why do we question our ability when we know we’re doing the job?

Because the true educator is never satisfied with pretty good or finished. The true educator tries to find a better way or a more engaging topic. The lesson plan always evolves.

It feels like a restlessness. It might come across as if I’m unhappy with my job. I’m not. Not really. Mostly I’m feeling as if I could do more. Help more. Facilitate more. Listen more. Communicate more. Care more. Okay, answer fewer emails and phone calls!

Yet, I’m passionate about learning. My learning, my students’ learning and the teachers around me learning. But I can’t do it all. There. I said it. “I can’t do it all”. Not at work. Not at home. Not anywhere. So I start to feel like less than what I am. Silly, right?!?

Maybe you’re nodding in agreement right now. It’s okay. All educators feel it. Even you. Maybe especially you.

So do we look for a different job? Always. Do we change up what we do? You bet. Do we try to stop long enough to let the truth sink in? Probably not enough. The truth, friend, is that we are burned out. Our emotional bank is overdrawn. Our light is dimming under the bushel basket. And our energy is depleted.

Does that stop us? Briefly. Or maybe it paralyzes you like it can me.

So I cope. And I look for jobs. And I realize that I am what I do. I AM a teacher. I AM a coach. I AM a mentor. And all of those things meld together nicely in my life.

Do I need a change of scenery? Maybe. Do I need to reinvent myself yet again? Maybe. But the bottom line is that I love people. People of all kinds. People who need me just as much as I need them. To quote Barbra Streisand, “People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”

So, am I really making a difference? I think I am. Are you making a difference? Don’t be afraid, speak up. Tell someone. Tell me. We are stronger together.

Did someone say vacation?!?

Is it Teacher Burnout?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
“superwoman” by hans van den berg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While I like to think that I am superhuman and can go on little sleep, work multiple jobs and manage to tend adequately to my family, that just isn’t so. I TRY to make that so. But in reality, I find myself frazzled and stressed. Yes, I believe it might be Teacher Burnout.

It’s easy to write this during my summer break, even though my calendar reminds me to “Do a Blog Post” every Monday year round. (Thanks, George Couros @gcouros for the challenge!) Writing during the school year when my double full-time job, multiple piano students, and online teaching are in full swing and the reality is definitely different.

Dr. Jenny Rankin’s First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success. Taylor & Francis, 2016, provides strategies for dealing with burnout. In her book, Dr. Rankin provides some Teacher Burnout Statistics.

Teacher Burnout Statistics

The statistics listed are not current, but I can’t help but imagine that with the increased demands on teachers and administrators, that those numbers might actually be higher than Dr. Grant has communicated.

Attitude is a huge part of our burnout rate. It is a huge part of our overall health. A perfect example is my 89-year-old father. He has an incredible attitude. He rarely complains about anything, he is helpful and easy to get along with. He does things for others with a smile. But if you read his medical history and what he has “wrong” with him, you’d think he should be shouting at little children in the street and shaking his cane at every passerby! Not only does he treat everyone with respect, but he doesn’t even need a cane to go on his 3 or 4 mile walk every day!

So, how can we strive to keep ourselves sane in the ever burdened education world we live in? I believe starting with a simple, positive goal each day is helpful. The following are a few of my strategies:

  • Take a moment to reflect on why we do what we do, realizing that it’s not about the money or the fame but about lives of humans that we want to nurture and grow into productive citizens. (This includes the teachers you work with, too!)
  • Avoid the “toxic” people in your life. Find a way to remain friends, but avoid those gripe sessions that can be so prevalent especially towards the end of the year.
  • Practice your smile. Greeting people with a smile and a warm “Hello!” sets the tone for the following conversation and might even help someone change their day.

Finding time to indulge yourself, even if for a few moments at work, with something that brightens your day or lets you breathe is imperative. For me, going to bed earlier and using my lunch as a private reflection time help me. Oh, and not taking complaints and criticism personally. It’s easy to fall into that trap!

Breathe deeply. Do things purposefully. Encourage those around you to do the same things. You might be surprised at the results.

Think you might be suffering from burnout? Try taking this self-test: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_08.htm

Developing a Growth Mindset

“I just can’t do it!” proclaims a second grader in my technology class. Everyone else in the class yells out “YET!” and keeps right on working. They encourage each other to not give up. There are many tasks that are frustrating for my “littles”. They often have the attention span of a flea and the same inability to sit still. While this is a generalization,

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Used under a Creative Commons license

more often than not, my younger students give up easily. Instant gratification is the phrase of the day for many of these students. I daresay that it has become a part of the culture for many of us, little or not.

 

Changing our thinking to one of Growth Mindset is not always easy. I used to find myself saying, “You’re so smart!” when I should have been saying, “I can see you really worked hard on that.” Children that hear those around them seeming to get it when they don’t, begin to label themselves NOT SMART. My answer? You just can’t do it as well YET.

“But, they all got it right away and I can’t do it!” “Of course you can do it. You just can’t do it YET. Did you learn to walk at the same time as everyone else? Did you learn to talk at the same time as everyone else? No! We’re all different. With a little practice, you’ll get it too!” (By the way, the tears almost stopped at this point).

Technology can be frustrating for everyone. The teachers I work with often struggle the most because they think they should “get it” right away. Well, that just isn’t the case. Oh, and even though they seem to think I know everything, I make sure that they hear me say, “I don’t know how to do that YET, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

No one likes to fail. But, I tell my students that FAIL is my favorite word. Or more correctly, my favorite acronym. First Attempt In Learning = FAIL. I would give credit to whoever came up with this, but I don’t know where it came from. So, “Thank You” if it was you that invented this great acronym!

Safe failures that happen at school encourage our students to grow. The more they fail in our environment and get built up for trying, the less they will fail in the real world when it can become dangerous. Talk to your students about the need for failure. We all have small failures every day. People need strategies for handling those failures without it being a devastation to them.

Where can you FAIL today?