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Note to self: the joy is in the journey

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The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly incredible place. When you first pull up, it’s not much to look at. It isn’t until you are right up on it that you can really appreciate the sheer magnitude of the Dunes.

Then begins the climb. Shoes aren’t really conducive to this particular climb; they get instantly bogged down by the sand. The sand is often too hot to do the climb barefoot; my method of choice is two pairs of socks and no shoes. If you’ve ever run on a beach, you know that sand is a different running experience than asphalt or grass. It requires more from you, it’s constantly shifting. This is particularly true when the sand is in dune form and the goal is to reach the top. One step forward inevitably feels like taking two back. It’s slow going and can feel endless. As you actually climb up the dunes, scale gets lost and everything begins to look the same. I remember on my first trip to the Great Sand Dunes making it to the ‘top’ only to realize that there was another peak to climb that I couldn’t see as I was climbing the first. So, you slug through sand and keep climbing, muscles start screaming, wind blows sand in your eyes and nose, the sun reflects so brightly off of the sand that your eyes water, and you are hot and sweaty. You start to wonder if it is worth it? How much better could the view really be from the top? You reach the next peak and there is more. It feels never ending and you begin to wonder if this is some cosmic joke and there is no top of the dunes. Of course, it isn’t. It is in this moment that having a friend along is helpful. They cheer you on, reminding you of what is waiting.

There is a top.

It is glorious.

It is breath taking and awe-inspiring.

Beyond the view, you sit atop the sand knowing that in the past, you would have been in water. Incredible. An experience that could only happen this way in this moment in time.

The trip down the dunes takes no time at all. There is great joy in sledding down the sand, or rolling, or taking giant leaps down and pretending that you are on the moon.

Learning is a lot like climbing the Great Sand Dunes. You might begin the process excited, or nervous, or with anticipation. And likely, at some point it will start feeling like work. There will be moments when it feels frustrating to learn something new. Moments when it feels like climbing a hill of sand. One step forward and two back. There may even be those moments when you feel like giving up, like maybe the view from the top isn’t worth it. Moments when it feels hopeless and you are tired, and sandy, and hot. But, just like with the dunes, when you reach the top, the feeling is like no other.

Glorious.

Breath-taking.

Awe inspiring.

Elation.

It is in that moment that you can appreciate the journey. All of those moments that you pressed on despite wanting to give up. You have the gift of hindsight knowing that you made it to the top. And then the trek down the dunes where it is fun, playful, where you can appreciate all of the hard work that it took because now you can use what you’ve learned.

I wonder why we don’t share this more often with kids? That learning can be hard, that it can feel endless, but that just like climbing a sand dune, that struggle is worth it. That when you reach the top, you appreciate it all the more because of what you overcame on the journey.

We live in a society where everything appears to be easy. Where what we see is the happily-ever-after part of the story. When we share on Instagram, it’s rarely the picture during the climb in the moment that we are ready to give up. More often, the picture shared is the perfect shot from the top. The one that has been retouched so that you can’t tell we are covered in sand, and sweaty, and almost didn’t make it. We share the happily-ever-after where the journey is glossed over and we’ve skipped straight to the win.

Consider the way that our grading system sends this same message. A grade celebrates and highlights one moment in time and completely ignores the journey. We celebrate the test score, the grade, and fail to talk about the journey: the excitement, frustration, the moments where we wanted to give up. We fail to talk about the journey of learning. I think this failure to talk about journey leads to apathy. It leads kids to give up too soon. Or assume that others can learn, but they don’t have what it takes.

Our students generally only see the happily-ever-after part of the story. This is true even as we watch documentaries like Caine’s Arcade. Students see the highlight reel of Caine’s story and the way that a movement started. How often do we help our students remember all of those moments that Caine sat alone waiting for someone to show up and care? How often do we talk about the trial and error and amount of time that it takes to build an arcade like Caine had? I’m not suggesting that Caine’s Arcade isn’t valuable for students to see, but equally valuable is the discussion about the hard parts. The parts where you feel like giving up. The journey.
I had a visit from an Anastasis alumni a few weeks ago. She is frustrated that she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do in life. That she can’t see the path, but she knows she has worth, and passion, and something to say. “I just feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like I should know what I’m supposed to do next.” She wants so badly to see the finish line…the happily-ever-after. She wants to know that she isn’t going to be climbing a peak on the dunes only to realize that it isn’t the top, that there is another peak.

I tried to reassure her, “None of us know what we are doing. We all choose a direction (and if we are honest, we really don’t know if it is the ‘right’ one) life has a way of shifting and suddenly our path looks different than we would have ever imagined.”

She told me that it was easy for me to say, “Look at you, you started a school! You know what you want to do and you are doing it. You are living your dream!”

And it was then.

In that moment that I knew that I hadn’t shared enough of my journey. I had only shared the highlight reel. She has only seen my “happily-ever-after” (if only she knew!) She doesn’t know the parts of the climb when I was frustrated, hot, had sand in my eyes, and wanted to give up. She doesn’t see those moments when I’ve reached a peak hoping that it is the top only to look up and realize that I haven’t made it. (Riley…this happens to me DAILY!!)

I wonder what would happen if we helped students see that learning isn’t really about the happily-ever-after moment. It isn’t about the grade. It isn’t about the career that we have.

It is about the journey that we take.

The moments of struggle.

The glorious moments of inspiration and breakthrough.

The fun and elation we experience when we are doing something we could have never imagined for ourselves. That in hindsight the journey makes sense, but often as we are living it we are unsure of where we are in the journey, how far we have yet to go, and if we are even headed in the right direction.How do we help students to see that none of us really have this figured out?

How can we be more transparent and help reveal the joy in the journey?

 

One of the things I love about Anastasis is the intentional travel that we do with students. Our Jr. High students take several trips a year where they get the opportunity to live this kind of journey. They visit the Great Sand Dunes, or the Black Hills, or Santa Barbara, or Costa Rica, or Moab. They get to experience some of this struggle first hand and then reflect on the journey (read those reflections here). It’s an incredible way to get them outside of comfort zones, build community, and help them experience the joy in the journey. (Hat Tip to Simply Venture for making those trips possible for our students!)

What language, systems, and structures do we have in place in our schools and classrooms that keep kids believing that they can skip directly to the happily-ever-after? Can we be more transparent as teachers, as administrators, as parents in sharing our journey struggle and all? Can we change the way that we grade to help students track the learning journey instead of just the ending point? Can we spend time helping students recognize that every story includes moments of struggle, or feelings of being lost? Can we reflect on the happily-ever-after moments with students and help them recognize the journey that it took to get there?

Can we reveal joy in the journey?

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Changing the Algorithm: Changing brain patterns after age 25

Starting a school is a big job. Starting a school that doesn’t operate like any other school…that is enormous. It can be a lonely task; while others can relate to starting a school, being an administrator, or being an eduprenuer, very few do all three at once.  It is a lot like treading water. Every. Single. Day.

When I have a moment to really sit and reflect on what has been the biggest hurdle to overcome, I keep coming back to the same thought: The greatest challenge has been changing the mindset of adults about what education is.

The kids are agile and make this transition in no time.  They are flexible and have a neurological plasticity that is ready for new connections and new neural pathways to be built. At Anastasis, this equates to a week of “detox” every year. Our Detox Week gives students a chance to unlearn some of the false messages they’ve come to believe about themselves as learners. It is about giving them “spaces of permission.” It is about helping our students think about education differently. For the great majority of them, this thinking about school differently doesn’t take long. They are agile.

But the parents, the parents are a bit more challenging. This week I’ve run into a video and an article that have me considering how to face the challenge we have with changing the algorithm for adults.

Michelle shared the following video with our staff this week:

It is fascinating to me that something like riding a bike can be SO engrained that even when we know that something works differently, and make an effort to change the way we think about it, the neural pathways in the brain are so heavily relied on that it is near impossible! Something tangible like riding a bike where you can actually feel and see the change seems like it would be relatively easy to relearn. As the video shows, it is not! This had me thinking about the parents that send their kids to Anastasis. There is 12+ years of schooling and thinking about what education is and how it works that is in play. And that kind of thinking isn’t so tangible. That thinking is pathways and assumptions that are made. It is a lot to overcome!

This morning I read this article from Fast Company What it Takes to Change Your Brain’s Patterns After Age 25. It asserts that after the age of 25, we have so many neural pathways forged as “shortcuts” for our brain, that it is nearly impossible to change the way that we think about something. Our brains are lazy and choose the most efficient paths…I’d call these efficient paths assumptions.

The article suggests ways to keep our “lazy” brains agile. The first is by using parts of the brain that we don’t frequently use. A new task that is challenging enough that it makes you feel mentally exhausted.  You know, the kind of tasks that we generally try to avoid as adults. The next is deliberate practice and repetition. New connections and pathways are forged only through practice and repetition. Without both, the connections won’t be established enough to become habitual. Depending on the complexity of the activity, this could take up to four and a half months!! Finally we have to have the right environment for change. We have to be physically healthy, build strong relationships with others, and generally do all we can to keep our brain out of “survival mode” which shuts out innovative or new thinking.

So, the question remains. How do we help adults (I’ve called out parents here, but it could just as easily read educators) change their mindset? How can we help challenge and engage people to use a part of their brain that they don’t normally use to rethink education? How can we help offer enough support for repetition and practice? How can we help provide the right environment for this change in thinking about education to happen?

I haven’t come up with the answers. I’m not sure exactly what this could look like, but it does have me considering the problem from new angles. What have you found to be useful in this process of helping other adults change their mindset?

 

Breaking free from assumptions: 5 Sigma Edu Con

5 Sigma Edu Con- a truly innovative education conference!

At Anastasis Academy, we are continually considering the assumptions made in education. We regularly seek to step away from those assumptions about how education must look, and dream together. Many of you have seen this dreaming (we do it pretty publicly), and have asked LOTS of questions about how we do what we do.

As a staff, we’ve asked questions about how assessment must look. We’ve asked questions about what a report card looks like and about what their purpose is. We’ve asked questions about how learning space must look. We’ve reconsidered the timing of the school day. We’ve questioned standards and testing. We’ve questioned the purpose of school. We’ve looked at the part that community plays in a school setting. Most of what we do at Anastasis every day looks very different from what most schools look like, and yet, what we do is not so revolutionary that it can’t be implemented in classrooms everywhere. In fact, our larger goal is to help educators everywhere do what we do.

Dreaming is nice, but in order to really transform education (and classrooms) we must go beyond dreaming . We have to learn, iterate and find a way to launch. It is only when all three of these happen that we can truly transform education and learning.

This February, Anastasis Academy is hosting a 3-day conference to facilitate this transformation in education. We chose 5-Sigma Edu Con as the name for our conference. Why 5-Sigma? 5-Sigma is a declaration of discovery. In science, it is used as a measure of confidence in a result. At Anastasis Academy, we are in a continual process of discovery. We call our conference the 5-Sigma Edu Con because that is what we hope for, declarations of discovery. Our goal is to transform education to be the very best that it can be for kids everywhere. We want to offer a conference experience where educators can come together to learn with world-changing thinkers and innovators. This conference will go beyond the typical how-to sessions; we will be hosting conversations where educators can come together to learn, iterate, and launch. There is something for everyone! This conference is for educators (of any level), administrators, and anyone involved in education.

I can boldly tell you this is like NO education conference you have ever been to. Some special features you can look forward to:

  • Tour Anastasis Academy- if you’ve wanted to see Anastasis Academy in action, this is your opportunity! Get a first hand view of the innovative learning that takes place at Anastasis Academy. Our students will offer an inside look at learning, free from assumptions. Tour our space, ask questions, meet our team, and see education re-imagined.
  • Learning Excursions- At Anastasis Academy, we seek to help our students understand that learning happens everywhere, not just within the four walls of our school building. We have reserved February 22 for adult learning excursions. These are opportunities to experience Colorado, think outside the box, and consider different ways of approaching learning. We cannot WAIT to let you experience learning the way that our students do.
  • No last names or titles rule- We all have an inherently unique perspective about the world, teaching, and learning. Yet, when we interact in our society (or education circles) these can get lost as we operate from the perspective that some people’s ideas are more important. We tend to give more weight to people on a stage, those who have been published, and people who hold titles of authority. The truth is, we all have something that only we can contribute to the discussion. We want to create a level playing field where ideas can be shared freely and everyone is comfortable to network. The labels shouldn’t own us. Before our final keynote, there will be a “grand reveal” where we will share our last names and titles.
  • AWESOME keynotes, sessions, and panel discussions: Christian Long will be the opening Keynote and will kick us off for a fantastic weekend of learning, panel discussions will include Team Anastasis and Anastasis alumni, and sessions are being led by incredible educators and thinkers from around the country.

Registration for 5 Sigma Edu Con is now open. Also open, calls for session proposals. You have something to contribute, please consider presenting! Registration and proposal for a session can be found on the 5 Sigma Edu Con website.

To learn more about the 5-Sigma Edu Conference, visit http://5sigmaeducon.com!

5 Sigma Edu Con- a truly innovative education conference!

2010 in review

This is a handy little feature that WordPress sent me this morning.  Thank you all for encouraging me in my blogging habits 😉

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 9,200 times in 2010. That’s about 22 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 24 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 21 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 15th with 321 views. The most popular post that day was As iron sharpens iron….

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were ilearntechnology.com, twitter.com, Google Reader, ipadcurriculum.com, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for standardized curriculum, dreams of education, what is standardized curriculum, gutenberg printing press, and learning attributes.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

As iron sharpens iron… July 2010
6 comments

2

When hunches collide September 2010
13 comments and 3 Likes on WordPress.com

3

A Vanilla Education March 2010
15 comments

4

Redefining Cheating August 2010
25 comments

5

Teachers as Expendables August 2010
3 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,