I don’t know about you, but my summer/COVID experience has been filled with anxiety, stress eating, and somehow extra time. I have found myself with more time on my hands and the guilty feeling that I’m not getting enough done. School is a big unknown which isn’t fun for teachers who like to plan and start the school year strong. We have an idea of how things are going to go but things will change. Ideally, for students and teachers, school needs to happen in person. We’re social creatures. We miss the interactions that make school fun.

I’ve found that I need to be doing something with my time or I feel directionless and even worthless. I know some people relate to this feeling. It’s no fun to feel responsibility and not be able to produce anything.

It feels dishonest. It feels empty.

Creation and Direction

I’ve been working on this blog, some YouTube videos, and now I’ve started a podcast to keep my summers a little busier. But I’ve also been trying to create something of value to help people. I love reading and believe that it can help advance peoples’ abilities to problem solve, and advance their careers. That branch of my creative experience didn’t work. It’s difficult to make reading interesting and helpful in a YouTube video.

I felt directionless. I didn’t know how to produce things that would help people. It turns out that this experience of confusion and frustration is a part of my journey. As I’ve tried different things and talked with many different people, I’ve discovered what I really love and what I’m really good at. I help people solve problems. I can help direct people’s energy and focus. I knew that I could do that in the classroom, I just couldn’t see how to make that happen “in the real world”. After a lot of questioning, pondering, listening to others’ podcasts, and stories, I found my thing.

Introducing the Own Your Good podcast

I want to help people own their good. I believe that whatever you’re good at is to some extent why you’re here. It’s part of your life’s purpose. For some people, that is solving car problems. For others, that might be creating art and fostering a love of art in their students. You might really enjoy statistical analysis in professional sports. Whatever it is that drives you, whatever gives you that buzz, whatever it is that puts you “in the zone” is your good, and everyone has one.

Creation is something that drives us. What does it feel like to struggle through learning? Ceramics, for example, is not for everyone. It requires a talented touch and a keen eye. How does it feel when the first thing you produce is uneven? What about the process of getting to mastery? You know you’re growing. You know you’re learning. But you might not see it along the way. If it’s something you truly love, you feel the energy. It doesn’t matter how many times you mess up. It’s a process, and you’re okay with temporary failure because it’s fun, or interesting, or maybe it’s inexplicably valuable.

My goal is to interview different people with a wide variety of experiences about how they discovered and grew their “good”. I hope people will listen for themselves.
Life shouldn’t be about working in a miserable position for most of your life. You shouldn’t be working for the weekend or the next vacation. Sometimes those things help us get through difficult times, but the world is big enough for everyone to chase what they love. The hard part is figuring out what that looks like.

So many people think that to be successful they need to stay with one company for as long as possible. That might provide stability, but it doesn’t necessarily provide happiness. And success looks different to everyone. If you are content working a particular job because it leaves you with time to do what you love in the evenings, that’s great!

Your success should be determined by what you enjoy and what you want out of life. If you’re trying to cope with your terrible job by spending all of your time after work at home watching tv or relaxing, will you ever be happy?

Energy From a Bottomless Well

Creation is an energy fountain. Remember that feeling when you built something or finished a project? That happiness, that feeling of accomplishment comes from a bottomless well. The more you do it, the more energy you feel. Self-doubt and distractions will still occur, but not as frequently, and not as severely. What is it that you can produce? What hobby or skill could you focus on to increase your energy? You want to increase your energy, don’t you?

This is what I’m all about now. I’m looking for people to interview, trying to figure out what they did to own their good. I’m looking for ways to help individuals in person, and online own their good. Teens are struggling with where they fit in this crazy world. Adults are unsure of what to do, particularly if employment has become a problem. But there’s time. We have time to evaluate, think, plan, and execute. We have time to experiment and document what we’re doing. These steps help us, but they can also help others if we put what we have created out there for others.

Check out the podcast!

The Own Your Good Podcast on Spotify
Let me know what you think!

I hope you can figure out how to Own Your Good!

-Dave

 

 

What is education, really? The system that we use today is based on the Classical Education format called Trivium. There are many resources online that can illustrate what each stage of this Classical system looks like. Basically, Classical Education has three phases: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

Are your kids’ teachers expecting them to do assignments that they are capable of doing? I’m not saying you should challenge your kids’ teachers, just be aware of what your kids are generally capable of, and what they are trying to do in their schoolwork.

Homeschool is a totally different process with many different theories to back up every parent who chooses to teach their kids at home. The end goal, I think, is the same. Parents and teachers want to see their students be successful in whatever it is that they choose to do. The processes are different, but only in some ways.

Education is to help each of us learn how we learn, and that we can.

Grammar

Little kids learn massive amounts of information when they are young. Elementary, or Grammar school is all about memorizing letters, words, processes, steps in math, etc. Reading skills grow intensely here. Learning is generally interesting and fun. Kids love to discover new ideas and tell family members all about it. This is where some students who struggle fall behind. If they miss a skill because of illness, it is very difficult to catch up.

I don’t understand how teachers manage to continue this type of teaching remotely. Kids need so much in-person instruction.

On the other hand, homeschooling this age group is totally manageable. What do students need to learn? First of all, students need to be comfortable with curiosity. Parents and teachers should be careful to foster research when their students have questions. Everything should be discoverable. Coach kids through internet research. Guide them to reputable sources. Provide them with equal opportunities to read or watch video about what they are interested in.

Don’t get confused and try to mix the two. Maintain whatever the teacher has assigned. Keep up the best you can. If you get behind, don’t worry. Help your student in other ways. Read with them. Watch fascinating science videos with them. Have interesting conversations about things that they are wondering about. Remember, they are discovering new things every day. They find things fascinating that you have known for a very long time.

Logic

Pre-teen and teenage students are in this category of taking the things that they learned in the Grammar phase and verifying whether they are true or important. They don’t consciously ask questions, but they are validating and discarding ideas every day. These students are thinking about how what they have learned applies to them as a person of a larger societal group.

They also start to worry about whether other people their age think the same way. They are just as worried about their friends’ opinions, as they are about the rules of the world around them. They function on the if/then process. They start to see consequences and benefits to behaviors and actions. Some students obsess over what is logically correct and worry about everyone else following those rules. The best example I can think of is the student who is in charge of keeping the whole class “in line” going to lunch.

These kids are difficult to wrangle during class at school. When I taught 7th and 8th-grade students, they behaved in what seemed like chaotic ways. I think that observation is valid because they had so many different stimuli to respond to. In a single class, students could be more manageable. They understand the process of being on task and being rewarded. They understand how class just before lunch or after lunch changes their behavior.

They are the most likely student to be confused and frustrated during a switch from school at school, to school at home. They know their teacher has the skill to direct them in class. They are a lot less likely to trust parents when it comes to knowledge and assignments.

Rhetoric

High school and college students are much more manageable in the adjustment from school at school to school at home. They might not be organized enough to stay on top of assignments, but if they have been to school enough to know the teacher’s expectations and systems, and if the teacher maintains those systems, the students should be okay.

According to the Classical Trivium system, Rhetoric is the phase when students have the ability to take knowledge from the Grammar stage, and experience from the Logic phase and put them together and run them in the background while they begin abstract thinking. This is the big idea and imagination phase. This is the phase that I enjoy teaching in the most. They start to see that questions or controversies about communism (or any controversial ideology) are intricate and never black or white, right or wrong. Students can have ideas but have a difficult time trying to explain them. I enjoy talking them through their thought process. I love asking questions to see what they really mean. This is so much easier to do through the internet.

Assignments are reasonably easier too. If I have done my job through the beginning of the year, students already know what I expect and how to do the work. I can assign a research paper, provide guidelines for what sources will be appropriate, and which ones won’t work. I can have a group conversation where students can help answer questions because they have already been in a similar situation, or had a similar experience with a different assignment.

What makes a student “career or college ready”?

Little kids need exposure to a vast amount of information. There is so much out there that helps a student understand the world, and life, and people. Curiosity is the most important skill to nurture and grow. Reading and writing are important too. Can you really be successfully curious without the ability to read and write well?

Hopefully, our kids can make it through the Logic, pre-teen, and teen phase with as little emotional damage as possible. Fingers crossed!

By the time students are in the Rhetoric stage, they are learning, or have learned how to get things done. They are also learning responsibility. This is the toughest place to parent. We want our kids to be successful, and we don’t want to see them make mistakes or fail.

Success only comes through failure.

If we really want our students to learn and not permanently mess up, high school is the place to do it. They need to know what they are capable of. They need to see that they can plan their own day, and make it happen. If they miss a deadline, they need to deal with the consequences. If they can fix it, they should fix it, not you. They can do it. We just don’t let them.

I often joke with my students who want assignments to be easier, or for me to give them easy answers instead of them looking it up. I tell them, “I would love to go to college again. I’ll be by your side to answer your questions and do your work, for $50 an hour.” They kind of laugh like I’m being ridiculous. I don’t know if they’re really thinking about it. They can do it. They can train themselves to be successful. They can use their ability to think abstractly to solve problems for themselves. We need to let them.

I love learning. I want my kids to love learning. I want the students that I teach to love learning. It is supposed to be difficult, but not impossible.

Keep learning. Keep reading. Keep smiling.

-Dave

 

 

I have a routine. I like breakfast by myself. I like to think about things as the morning slowly unfolds. I enjoy the drive to work, a part of the community waking up with increasing energy.

Well, I still have my morning routine up to the point of leaving my house.

Do your kids have a routine?

Do you?

Routine is a big deal for productivity. If you know that you have a dedicated space to work in, you will find doing that work easier. Kids are the same way but they don’t have the discipline to stick to it.

It has been my experience that kids want to learn how to do difficult things. They can be nervous about the unknown. They can be nervous about doing things correctly. They can be worried about how long it will take. Regardless of all of those potential delays, kids can do what they need to with a little help.

Create a quiet space where everyone can work. It can be at the dinner table, at the coffee table, or sitting on the couch. If you have something to read or work on, you are demonstrating the process simply by sitting there next to your child. You can’t be on your phone or your student will think it is okay to be on his or her phone. If you’re reading a book, that demonstrates that it is possible to sit down and focus. If you have something to write, it demonstrates to your student that they can sit down to write.

How long should you sit and work? As long as you can or need to. One thing I know for sure, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

There is another side to being productive and working. It is just as important to take breaks and have fun. Take turns playing fun music. Spend some time singing and dancing. Have Alexa tell you some jokes.

Hard things take practice. If you get out of practice, you can get back into it.

What an adventurous time we live in. We get a second chance at building relationships with our kids. We get a short amount of time to help them develop lifelong skills and processes.

Our students will get to go back to school sometime in the future, more ready for school than they ever have been.

Hang in there! Life is good because it’s what we make of it.

-Dave

I left my classroom today, shortly after an earthquake aftershock and possibly for the last time for weeks (nope, just got word that I go in tomorrow). I haven’t seen my students for 5 days. I don’t know how they’re dealing with all of the things that are happening around us. I hope they understand my assignments. I hope they see my video and can feel how much I care.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spurred the need to send everyone home and continue the education experience over the internet.  I know that many school districts, schools, and teachers around the world aren’t ready to teach their students remotely. Many classes are nearly impossible to teach from across the city. Fortunately, at least I think so, I have been teaching students to read and write in small chunks. I have a system set up on Canvas, a multi-user learning management tool. Students know how to write responses to prompts, and have been reading almost daily from the beginning of the school year.

The problem I am worried about, with my students specifically, is whether they are doing it. I can’t be there to talk them through what they are thinking. Should I be? Would that help? Shouldn’t they be able to take the experiences and understanding that they have acquired, and apply that to today’s assignments?

Here is some context to the dilemma of teaching, both online, and in person. I was watching a documentary about Mr. Rogers. It is a very personal and insightful look into who Fred Rogers was, and what he believed about people. Mr. Rogers has been quoted as saying, “Deep and simple is far better than shallow and complex”.

Today I realized that I generally follow that philosophy. Obviously, teachers are not universally the same in any way. We have preferences, systems, strengths, and weaknesses that shape who we are and how we teach. Education shouldn’t be confusing. Learning should be challenging, but manageable. Students should express some resistance because they don’t know if they can manage what is expected of them. That is why I teach. They can do difficult things. Students can improve their reading skills. Students can improve their writing skills. Students are critical thinkers and can get better at problem-solving.

This particular quarantine situation is the perfect time for teachers to take some time and get familiar with programs and websites like YouTube, Zoom, and Skype.

I know that parents feel overwhelmed with what all of the different teachers are planning and expect from their students. Kids should know what their teachers do. For the most part, schoolwork or homework shouldn’t be any different than what has happened in the school. Systems should basically be in place. Of course, I’m thinking of high school and junior high/middle school. I can’t imagine trying to create work that elementary students can learn from.

Therefore, teachers should consider video messages of encouragement, understanding, and homework explanation. Teachers should do their best to use systems that students are familiar with. Avoid the temptation to create something new just because we have to communicate online. Pick a process and stick with it.

I know that students are going to do what they do when it comes to schoolwork. What does that mean? Some will, some won’t. Some care, some don’t. Some are dealing with things at home that they don’t have control over.

Long story short, we need teachers. We need in-person education. Some will learn just fine online. Most, however, most need to be in a room with a caring and educated adult, guiding them through their assignments (with objectives and outcomes). Teachers are more than education. Teachers are examples of behavior. Teachers are examples of problem-solvers. Teachers are examples of tenacity and courage.

Especially in the face of being asked to do more than stated in a contract, with no model to follow.

Hang in there. We got this! #itsonlyafewweeks

 

Ashamed

I’ll admit, embarrassed and somewhat hesitantly, that I wasn’t totally excited to go to English Quest. I love to be involved at school. I love professional development conferences like the Utah Conference for Teachers of English(UCTE), and Utah’s Coalition for Educational Technology (UCET). However, every time English Quest has been announced, there wasn’t a very good response from other teachers. It’s like nobody understands what it is really about.

Why?

English Quest seemed to be half-heartedly advertised. Sort of like the announcer wasn’t sure how to describe the events that make up English Quest. This isn’t really a criticism as much as it is an observation. There are many aspects to English Quest so it has to be hard to explain it to teachers who hear all about new programs and new trainings. There has to be a better way to explain what it is. There are five books that students can read, and there is so much more. But why? What’s the point? What activities take students out of school for a full day? What benefit do students get from this? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it!

Apprehension and Aha!

Somehow, I got invited and assigned to be our schools new English Quest advisor. At the beginning of the school year I thought, “Sure, I can do that. What do I have to do?” It was far enough away, that I thought for sure I’d figure it all out by the time the day arrived.

I have amazing help from administration and other teachers at my school. I had never been an advisor for any kind of activity so I didn’t know what to expect. We had a small group of good students who knew what they were good at, and what they wanted to do. By then I had figured out what the events are, and how English Quest works.

English Quest at Weber State 2019

English Quest is a day full of English Language Arts appreciation through reading, writing, spelling, art, Shakespeare performance, spoken poetry, and spoken story. It’s for students in high school (9th through 12th grade). Students can sign up for three events, but most do just one or two. Some of the events require writing and reading in advance while others are perform-on-the-day events. It takes a lot of practice and bravery for students to perform in front of other students from around the state. The bonus to me is that students can take what they have been learning throughout the year and show off what they have learned, internalized, and produced.

Poetry Slam

My favorite unit as a teacher has to be poetry. I love seeing kids struggle with older writing, and showing them how words form ideas and emotions. They realize that they sometimes feel like the poet, but that the poet is using words unfamiliar to them. We shift from poetry to slam poetry and they light up. They connect to the rhythm of the phrases and the emotion of the message. We address all kinds of topics from love to loss. I show them examples, and read some of my own writing and sometimes I get emotional and cry. And (hopefully) that gives them permission to reach deep and write about what they love and what they hate and what they wish they could say to people but they don’t dare.

And then we slam in class. We share. We laugh at the silly ones. And nod and snap in understanding to pain and loneliness. Some cry, and some support with hugs and pats on the back. Boundaries crumble as students realize that though they are different, they are dealing with the same feelings. They are not alone.

English Quest Is

English Quest is a place where students can compete with the best students from schools around the state. English Quest challenges students to read deeper, memorize more, write more, try new angles, explore new themes, and not be afraid to try.

And there is recognition. Students are judged and awarded. Medals are given to the best interpretations of Shakespeare, the best spellers, the best slam poems, the best story tellers, the best writers of argument and narrative. It’s a blast to see so many kids alive with support for each other.

English Quest Is Amazing!

Write On,
Read On,
Poem On,
Shakespeare On,
English Quest On!

-Dave