Disclaimer—if you are here to read about libraries, education and children’s literature, (the usual stuff of this blog), you might want to reconsider. This is yet another navel-gazing reflection on my life, brought about by my participation in the #nerdlution movement. I promise this will be the last post on the topic, until perhaps January 20th when this 50-day challenge ends.
I’ve written previously about acknowledging failure as a tool for learning. Today’s focus–the water level in my drinking glass and the color of my spectacles. In other words, I’ll be taking a look at my particular reality and how one can frame one’s outlook on life. I can proudly say that because of #nerdlution, my glass is just a little more than half-full and my world looks pretty darn rosy.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of reality a lot lately.
Spending long hours in hospital waiting rooms (family member, minor procedure, all is well) exposed me to a “surreality” of suspended time. Day runs into night runs into day. Endless strangers come and go. Life’s daily routines are sidelined.
Holiday “hustle-bustle, cook, bake, clean, repeat” presented yet another version of reality, far more joyous, but equally separate from Standard Time. Meals eaten at unconventional hours. Dishwasher running nonstop. Family coming and going.
Events such as these can (and did) interrupt my 50-day commitment to meditate, write and exercise regularly. I could have easily fallen into the trap of castigating myself for failing to live up to my self-established goals.
And yet, because I feel sustained by the Twitter community that created this commitment and because I believe in the redemptive power of the restart button, I am buoyed, not disappointed, by my current reality.
There is a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The teacher appeared yesterday morning in the form of my yoga teacher, Pat Lebau, who read the story of Krishna, Sudama and the desire to experience “maya”. Maya, according to Merriam-Webster is the Hindu belief of a “powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real.” I do not claim to completely understand this concept, but I would like to think that if life is an illusion, why couldn’t it be the illusion of my own making? Why not wear rose-colored glasses and drink from a half-full cup?
We are past the #nerdlution halfway point and I haven’t kept up with my resolutions as measured by the letter of the #nerdlution law. But, by the spirit of the law, I am a rose-colored success.
I have reestablished my meditative practice. I have written and published 6 posts in December (second highest monthly production since I started blogging). And I have exercised considerably more than I would have if I hadn’t joined this community of self-improvement. More importantly I am doing significant work at quieting the Inner Critic, that busybody of a kvetcher who kibitzes, disparages and belittles my work and deeds.
The rosy fingers of dusk signal the beginning of the end of another day. Time to drink up to this wonderful life! L’Chaim!
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away; know when to run.”
With apologies to Kenny Rogers and to my readers for the weak metaphor to follow, I have been reflecting on the gamble I took when I publicly committed to 50 days of self-improvement known as #nerdlution. Whether viewed as a re-alignment of self or an attempt to form lasting positive habits, fifty days of three lifestyle changes (meditation, writing and exercise) seemed challenging but doable. Failing in public was the gamble.
I have thought a lot about the basic premise of the assignment and the definition of failure over the last two weeks. Today (Day 13) has been a good day, as were days 1-11. But yesterday, I just didn’t have it. And so, I rested. The morning meditation was successful. In fact I have increased from five to twelve minutes since I began. (Building my stamina!). But exercising every day turned out to be too much of a good thing. Between the cold and the damp and the daily exercise, my arthritic hip decided enough was enough. As for writing (or reading or pondering), it just wasn’t in the cards either.
All of which led me to the conclusion that the fifty-day challenge (for me at least) wouldn’t work. What would work, however, would be a challenge with built-in time off. Acknowledging that within the structure of this self-improvement trial, I could take a little R and R—a resolution sabbatical if you will– without sacrificing the end goal. Without meaning any disrespect, even God rested on the seventh day. And so, taking yesterday off was in fact not a failure but a strategy, a recharging of the batteries of commitment.
This personal revelation has significance for me in my role as teacher librarian as well. Just like me (and I imagine many other #nerdlutors out there), children do not have limitless ability to concentrate and focus. Children also need breaks. They need recess. To them, a fifty-minute lesson might be as difficult as my fifty-day challenge. It is not failure if children don’t bring their A game every day or every minute of the day. It is our job to help them perform the best they can.
In an Education Week article entitled “Classroom Shock: What I Am Learning as a Teacher in Finland” (published online November 26, 2013), teacher Tim Walker wrote, “Finnish schools often schedule lessons into hour-long blocks: 45 minutes of instruction, 15 minutes of break. Students rarely have back-to-back lessons without breaks—and at the elementary level, it’s expected that children will spend their breaks playing outside, rain or shine.”
Breaks! Every forty-five minutes! The positive result—children are refreshed, and “stay balanced and sharp throughout the day.”
So, what can I do, short of moving to Finland? While I will continue to focus on being a teaching librarian with an important curriculum, I will acknowledge that for some students library class provides a recharging station. This doesn’t diminish the importance of what I teach, but will allow me to be more understanding of those whose concentration wanes. I can advocate for developmentally appropriate recess in our schools. When the weather allows, maybe I can build in some outside lessons. Storywalk anyone?
I will not be walking away from #nerdlution. Back in the saddle, meditating, exercising and writing/pondering/reading my way to improving my self and hopefully the world (at least a little bit) as well.
Early this morning, when I should have been getting ready for work, Jennifer Reed’s Slice of Life post beckoned. As is often the case, she arrived at the revelation party a few steps ahead of me. (Must be because she has more spring in her step than I.)
The topic of her post this week was “choices and decisions”. She segued easily from a personal reflection about her own life choices, big and small, to observations of her students trying to make choices about what books to borrow. As you can see in the reply I hastily posted to her blog, this same subject matter has been on my mind lately.
Okay, you really have to get out of my head, Jennifer!!
You so often seem to be writing about just what I am thinking. This morning’s thoughts were to choose two books for each child in a certain class, have them browse/peruse and then write a few sentences about why they would pick one over the other. (And then, of course, hope they would actually borrow the book.) Narrowing the choices! Can’t do this for all classes (don’t have time to make that many thoughtful choices), but going to experiment with one to start. I’ll keep you posted.
You see, I too experience the frustration of that frenzied browsing and borrowing time at the end of library period. Twenty children, ten minutes, one librarian.
“Mrs. Kellner, where are the origami books?”
“Mrs. Kellner, remember that book that Johnny borrowed two weeks ago? The one with the hot air balloon on the cover?”
“Mrs. Kellner, when is it going to be my turn to borrow Battle Bunny?” (The library has three copies, by the way).
“Mrs. Kellner, I want a book with a sparkly tiara in it.”
Important questions, all. But, while I am assisting these children, the ones who are having a hard time with choices and decisions fall by the wayside. They leave without a book, hastily grab the closest book at hand or linger as the next class walks in the door. Not an optimal situation at all.
So what’s a teacher-librarian to do?
Here are some choices I have made or plan to make in the near future:
- Gather up all the superhero books (whether DC comic, folktale, or the amusing contemporary picture books like Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds or Max by Bob Graham) and put them together in one bin
- Curate an ever-changing and easy-to-find collection of pretty, pretty princess books
- Use signage, special displays and stickers (as Jennifer noted in her post)
- Create “If you like…” bookmarks
- Try not to answer every “Where are?” or “Do we have?” question. The older students have the skill set to work this out on their own. I’ll just give them a gentle (figurative) shove in the right direction
- Have a “Backwards Day” where we borrow first, before the lesson
- Invite the children who struggle the hardest to come back when I can devote time just to them
What choices have you made to insure your collection is browsing friendly and accessible and to ease the decision-making process for your students?
Timer set. Thirty minutes. Go.
As part of my #nerdlution challenge (an intention to make a new healthy habit part of a regular routine), I pledged to write thirty minutes a day for fifty days. As an “out”, my pledge allowed for thirty minutes of pondering or thoughtful reading in lieu of writing, but my intended goal was to write every day. Writing could take the form of notes for my blog, a blog post itself or free-writing in a journal repurposed for the occasion. In addition to writing, my #nerdlution makeover included daily meditation and exercise.
As many fellow nerdlutors have reported, the exercise pledge has turned out to be far easier to uphold than the writing commitment…and I think I know why. To exercise, one only has to put one foot in front of the other. Two legs. Simple. Finite.
Words, on the other hand, are bountiful. Which ones do I choose? What am I trying to say? How do I phrase it? Do I even have a kernel of an idea with which to start? When the words don’t come I stare at a blank page or computer screen. When the will to exercise wanes, all I must do is find my two feet and set them in motion.
Setting words in motion is not so simple. Riding the stationary bike may be repetitive and boring, but once the pedaling starts, the momentum keeps me at it until I reach my goal. Writing has its own rhythm-creating momentum but, for me at least, it has speed bumps and stumbling blocks that can’t be overcome by pedaling harder. There are gaps where the proper words haven’t presented themselves yet. Or, the same old same old words show up for some pretty dry reading. Or, worse still, the inner critic voices off. “That’s no good. Scrap it.”
Ding. The timer goes off. Words are on the page. No looking back. Time to publish. I guess I can do this thing–one word in front of the other.
Le Petit Prince was right. On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
As a high school student (lo those many years ago), I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in the original French. This classic fable has stood the test of time, offering up a plenitude of memorable quotes, but none more resonant with me than this one: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Today while students spent one more day digesting turkey; teachers devoted time to professional development. As one of our district priorities is curriculum mapping, the teacher-librarians met to develop essential questions (and enduring understandings) to go with each of our instructional units.
According to our curriculum mapping software, “an essential question is used to provide focus for a course or a unit of study in the form of a question and keeps the focus on inquiry as opposed to answers.” While I have informally used essential questions in the past, today’s endeavor required a rigorous approach, correlating essential questions to standards, content and skills already input into the database.
And so we dove in. Fingers were flying on keyboards, questions and clarifications ping-ponging back and forth. As a professional development session it was extremely productive, yielding dozens of potential essential questions such as:
- How can we be safe and savvy on the Internet?
- How does the medium and technique of a book’s illustrations affect the mood of a story?
- Why do we classify and organize information, knowledge and things?
- How can historical fiction help me to have a better understanding of history?
- How can I develop strategies to find information relevant to my research question or personal need?
Productive? Yes. Focus on inquiry? Absolutely. Collaborative? Without a doubt. A successful workshop indeed.
And yet, a little itchy thought niggled at my brain. Something essential is missing from these essential questions. And the little prince had the wisdom to see it. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Yes, these essential questions are important. But we must not forget the (invisible) human connections and relationships between teacher and students. They are as necessary to arriving at an enduring understanding, the “big idea that has enduring value…beyond the…classroom” as the essential questions themselves.
Since this revelation is so important to me, I turn to those who can express it more eloquently than I. Please find time to take a hop, skip and a jump over to the words of two profound writers–Katherine Sokolowski and Jack Schneider. Katherine, who blogs at Read, Write, Reflect, (a must-read blog for teachers, librarians, parents, principals and policy makers) talks about relationships as the core of her teaching. In this sm post she links to Jack Schneider’s wise words published in the Washington Post. In my humble opinion, these are both essential reading.
I would love to hear what you think.
I had already decided to turn over a new leaf a good month early (by starting my 2014 resolutions on December 1st) when I came upon a Twitter conversation on Thanksgiving evening. Several members of the Nerdy Book Club were discussing renewing their commitments to writing and/or exercising daily. A discussion among a few grew to a thread. When the thread earned its own hashtag, I realized they were on to something. I lurked in and among the tweets to see where this thing would take me. It turns out I am not the only one beyond the original group who was intrigued. They say they want a nerdlution and here (and here and here and here) it is.
Not wanting to be presumptuous enough to speak for the original tweeters by interpreting their intentions, this will reflect my own text-to-self connection. I had certainly fallen off the exercise bandwagon and writing is not yet a daily activity for me. Self-improvement projects have been started and abandoned with well, with abandon.
I have participated in group challenges but have never been able to commit to the one-size-fits-all focus. After attending a weekend meditation workshop I vowed to meditate for a year. Lasted six months. Facebook’s 30-Day Plank Challenge looked promising. Made it to Day 20. Instead of celebrating my success, (Six months meditating! Doing a 2 ½ minute plank!) I lamented my failure.
But this time is different. Each nerdlution is personal and yet by nature of social media, public. A customized resolution, publicly stated and made at a time when motivation is high has a better chance of success. Plus, I’ll keep it simple and small. I will be part of a supportive community with the encouragement of tweets and posts and instagrams galore. It’s doable. I am going to do it. I am. And so I commit to the following over the next 50 days:
- Physical-30 minutes of daily exercise on average during the week
- Spiritual-5 minutes of meditation a day
- Cerebral-Write, read or ponder for at least 30 minutes daily
Join me. 50 days. December 2-January 20 #nerdlution
Let’s do it!