Trying to Be Better

” …we don’t match, but we don’t need to match to be a family and love each other” – Lauren Jordan

People are speaking up. Black lives matter. Human rights matter. Injustice can not be tolerated.

I haven’t blogged or otherwise posted on social media recently not because I’m trying to ignore the events currently happening in the US, but simply because I haven’t known what to say. I respect, appreciate, and support everyone calling for change, but at the same time in some ways it’s felt better to just take the time to listen rather than try and say something and accidentally say the wrong thing by mistake.

Even with the “#BlackOutTuesday” campaign where theoretically you would think, “You don’t have to come up with anything to say, just post; it’s so simple to show support.” But again at the same time I read a lot of posts talking about negative side effects of this trend for how it was unintentionally blocking the distribution of a lot of resources, so even that seemed controversial. I also fear for many it was a hollow post and I didn’t want to post out of fear it would be a hollow post myself and also for not being convinced any message I share will reach anyone new.

As one of my friends put it: “I think what’s so frustrating to me as a white person it that I’m sharing information and resources and expressing my own support for BLM but I’m screaming into an echo chamber. I have no followers or friends who don’t support BLM (that I know of) so who am I helping by sharing? I want to help, but don’t know the best way to do it.”

So instead of posting, I spent the past day trying to better educate myself. My work on this journey is not comprehensive nor is it complete, but it’s a start, and it’s an action. To me actions often speak louder than words, so I don’t have any reflection or takeaways to share – I’m still processing and some of that requires internal thinking-  but I wanted to say that I know where I stand and want to do something about it, so here’s what I’ve done thus far as I try to personally be better so we can make a better future together:

Watched “13th” on Netflix

Read and signed 10 petitions.

Read the following articles:

END THE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE

First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources For White People

“MOM, WHY DID GOD CREATE MATCHING?” A mom’s conversation with her adopted 6 year old about racially mixed families.

100 RACE-CONSCIOUS THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO YOUR CHILD TO ADVANCE RACIAL JUSTICE FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

Responding to Racism Anti-racism tips from the NZ Human Rights Commission.

Discourse and Debate: Is performative activism inherently bad?

This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like

Act of Kindness

Midterms during lockdown, check!

These past two weeks have been incredibly stressful not only because of midterms but because on top of midterms, all of the other project teams I’m on had last-minute long meetings added into this past week.

Needless to say, I don’t have much to say today other than being grateful to have gotten to sleep in for the first time in forever and just take a breather day. I woke up late, got to watch some video clips from practice happening at the gym back home, went through old Renaissance Fesitval pictures, did a little bit of job-related work, finally went grocery shopping, and made a pretty great soup for dinner.

It was a simple day with no major accomplishment.

However, I did get some free bread today which was kind of cool. The smaller store I get my spices at hadn’t sold any bread all day so they just gave it to me because they make it fresh I guess (to be honest I hadn’t realized they sold bread before today because it’s behind the counter). I was pretty surprised honestly and got a little flustered when asked if I wanted the bread – I’m not sure the last time I got something for free that wasn’t for advertisement purposes. It was a small thing, but it felt really nice and reminded me that every now and then there are some people still willing to do random acts of kindness even when looking at the news and feeling like the world seems at it’s worse.

A Conversation of Values

Today in my human resources class we were talking about the different ways people view work and the importance of  “good work” and a “good workplace.” The idea of “good work” entails 6 key components:

  • intrinsically interesting
  • varying/challenging tasks
  • opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment
  • teamwork with autonomy
  • pay and job security
  • investment in human capital

These factors are important because “good work” leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and motivation which leads to better job performance and overall a more productive business, so it’s mutually beneficial to employees and employers to make a good workplace.

Naturally, me being me, I saw these 6 components and wondered, is school a good workplace? For all stakeholders (admin, staff, teachers, students, parents)?

I mean if we know incorporating these elements leads to better performance based on this business research, to me it seems like a no brainer that we’d also want these opportunities at school.

I’d argue that I see evidence of these components in school, but I think what’s more important is the question of if they are valued. Ie, do we value students being intrinsically motivated at school? Do we value creating a variety of challenging tasks? Do we value-creating opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment? Etc.

And when I say value, I don’t just mean we appreciate when these things coincidentally happen, I mean do we have goals and action items put in place to ensure they actually happen?

Some may say yes, some may say no, either way I think this framework is an interesting way to think about the kind of environment we’d like to see in school workplaces.

And I know it’s hard to brainstorm goals and action items around concepts like “intrinsic motivation” – it’s something that’s been personally stumping me for years, to the point where I think I’d actually really enjoy partaking in research study around student motivation one day. But maybe sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to try and figure it all out, I think what’s important first is to just know what you value and why and claim those values so others know what you value and why. Then we can start worrying about how to make it happen. But a conversation around values is something I think every school needs to have, and more frequently than just when there’s a change of leadership.

A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

Oh the Place’s You’ll Go

My rabbit hole moment of the day was when I found myself reading through lots of Dr. Seuss quotes. I went out into the “real world” today, and though I’ve already been to the university since moving out of lockdown, the school building is just up the mountain literally through the woods so I hadn’t seen stores and busy streets again until today. I realized I had actually gotten used to all the quiet streets with closed stores so today it seemed so weird to see so much life happening. When I got back I found myself thinking about this experience and an earlier conversation I had with a friend where she was saying she was excited I’ll get to go exploring again, and somehow that made me think of “Oh the Place’s You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, and thus, here I am now with just a bunch of Dr. Seuss quotes to share that resonated with me in light of the pandemic.

Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

Physical Development in Education

One of my classes this semester is Human Development Through the Lifespan. Our textbook is broken down into chapters that represent each stage of development as seen with the lifespan theory (so pre-natal, infant, toddler, early childhood, middle childhood…) Within each chapter there are three sections to breakdown the three major types of development: cognitive, social-emotional, and physical.

Currently we are studying middle childhood which is highly associated with the beginning of formal education. Something that stuck with me after reading the chapter today is that I feel like school disproportionately focuses on these three types of development. Cognitive development being the most emphasized, then sometimes social-emotional development, and really physical development seems to be more of a side thing.

Sure we may have “Physical Education”(PE) time, but often this is a short amount of time, sometimes it’s only for a few days a week, sometimes it’s on rotation with other classes so kids only take PE maybe for a semester or a quarter, and as kids get older recess time becomes smaller and smaller and PE often becomes a choice class that kids can elect to take or not. Granted, as you get to high levels of education most schools will still have some sort of physical requirement like playing a sport if you choose not to take PE, but learning about development is making me wonder, is this enough? At the same time though, as a student, I’m personally very grateful I didn’t have to take PE in high school. PE was kind of seen as a class you tried to avoid because it “wasted time” in your schedule and wasn’t fun… But what does this say about the societal views on physical education?

Research says kids should be getting at least one hour of physical exercise a day for healthy physical development. Furthermore, physical ability is correlated with increased cognitive ability (which school definitely stresses). And there is also a trend in decreased physical activity and increased child obesity levels over recent years.

Physical Development So why is it that physical development in school is often treated as just a box that has to get checked off and then ignored?  Why don’t we spend more time not only talking about it’s importance, but making it fun so kids actually want to spend an hour a day exercising rather than sitting on their computer?

Ghost School

Now that New Zealand has gone down to a level 2 alert level, the university has begun to reopen certain on campus facilities. This was very lucky for me since I got an assignment this week that would be much more challenging to complete without the textbook, and I had been using the textbook from the library when needed to complete my work for this class thus far. So for the first time in 7 or 8 or some large amount of weeks (I kind of lost track at this point…) I returned to campus.

It was so strange.

The whole place felt like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian novel. You’re required to use your student ID to buzz into the building, then to get into the library there are the taped Xs to mark the line to also buzz into that space as well. Papers are hung everywhere reminding people to stay one meter/one chair a part at a minimum at all times. Purel and sanitary whipes are at every buzz in station for going in and out of rooms along with a staff member monitoring. Not to mention everyone just has this somber look to them as they’re spread out so formulaically around campus. Plus I’m pretty sure the lights were dimmed to help save energy/costs since not that many people are using the facilities at this point and there is still some natural light at all hours since the building now closes at 5 (vs midnight, might have even been later, but definitely at least midnight during the school week) .

I totally understand and agree with why these measures are being implemented, but it’s still one thing to read about new procedures in an email and then a totally different thing to experience the changes to our normal routine. In some ways complete lockdown actually felt less weird because that was a total change in everything for extreme circumstances, but now to have so many little changes feels much more odd. Not good or bad because rationally it all makes sense, but just odd because it brings attention to little tasks that would typically go unnoticed – like the process to enter a new room when you’re already in the building.

I will say the change of scenery from my bedroom was quite effective though. Considering I was only at the library for two hours today I got way more done then I expected to, and definitely more than I would have done if I stayed in my apartment. And this was even with the gloomy atmosphere, so I definitely plan to go back, but I can tell it’s going to take me some time still to get to the point where I’m actually there every day again.

Going out today reminded me that while things might be starting to look up again, we are still far from “normal” and things will never truly be the same again which is very ponderous to consider.

Getting Students to the Table

One of my primary goals for the future of education has always been to include more students, as well as other not as represented stakeholder groups, in the school decision making process. And I’ve found that a lot of educators share this sentament, and furthermore, there are a lot of educators who actively try to engage students in these conversations. And yet, we still don’t notice all that much student voice in education, and if it is present, it’s often the same few voices. Why is that?

Well this isn’t the full answer to this question, but something I’ve observed is that most students don’t respond to mass open invitations. Doesn’t matter if you blast it in a school email or try to “be with the times” and use social media platforms students frequent on, if it’s a general invitation, most students don’t respond. This isn’t something I can explicitly point at research to support (maybe it exists but I’ve not looked for it or seen it accidentally), but it’s something I’ve noticed from experience when trying to create opportunities for student voice.

I’ve experienced this when trying to get writers for Trailblazers, when hosting events, and when just trying to get people together for a causal but focused discussion. Every time I try a mass marketing method to try and get students involved with education initiatives, I end up with little to no responses. And yet, as a student myself, when I’m just going through life I will frequently hear other students say, “Oh ya, I have a lot to say about XYZ.”

So how do we capture those thoughts? How do we get students to show up to the table? Because it’s not a question of if they have opinions to share, it’s a question of how we hear them.

I didn’t realize that this was a unique insight until working on this project with OpenIDEO where I was involved in a conversation around trying to brainstorm social media marketing geared towards getting students to contribute to the design challenge. The brainstorming was discussing things like word choice, length, what slogans are cool now, what platforms to use, what if we could get students to respond on the platform then challenge their friends to do it and like all of those other challenges happening in quarantine, etc.

But I realized the conversation was likely pointless… I told them how I don’t consider myself to be gifted with social media or marketing but in my experience most students don’t respond to those kinds of campaigns for education stuff. And the other student on the team (who I had no relation to before joining this project), confirmed my opinions with a bit more socially minded perspective suggesting that kids use social media mostly for fun and entertainment and those challenges that get passed along are because they’re easy and goofy; an education challenge would require actual thought work and time, so student’s probably won’t engage with it.

I actually don’t know what kind of marketing they ended up going with because I didn’t really look out for it. Though considering I find myself more frequently viewing education social media than the normal student and I didn’t see it, I’m guessing not many other students did either if there was a specific marketing campaign geared towards students.

Yet, for some silly reason, even after this conversation, I still choose the same strategy for trying to get people to join my discussion/brainstorm session held earlier today about learning during COVID-19…

I posted on every social media platform I have including some group chats with students who have previously demonstrated interest in education transformation focused events, and even got some likes and retweets, yet, as I expected only 1 person actually showed up to the Zoom call today. And that was my best friend who I explicitly asked before setting up anything, “Hey does this time work for you, because then at least worst case scenario, no one else shows up and I can at least pivot the discussion to an interview with you.” My little sister did also show up about half way through, and the three of us did have a good conversation from a variety of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities with online learning. So I don’t think the event was a total bust, though it was pretty much exactly as I had cautioned the rest of the IDEO team.

So what to do about this?

Well, what I have noticed is that students are very likely to respond if they’re specifically reached out to. For example with Trailblazers, which I consider a long term individual comittment since the writing/editing process takes place over a number of weeks mostly independently, this means we try to contact teachers we know from different schools and get them to identify specific students we can ask to write. While in school, it looks like seeing students in person and 1:1 asking them to join a meeting then following up with the calendar invite. Even when trying to get teacher participation to join a student-teacher card game tournament, we were much more successful when we individually delievered each teacher a typed and stamped invite in person. And for short term projects, such as this design challenge it means I try texting individually all the other students I have info for.

Now I knew this information before sending out my mass media open invitation, so you may wonder, why did I still choose the mass media route anyway? Well, it’s a lot easier to send mass invitations, esspcially in regards to time which is something I have not had much of this past week with midterms being upon me. So trust me, I know it doesn’t seem like the most efficient method to individually send out requests/invites for students to share their thoughts/opinions/stories, but in my experience it has always proven to have a greater response rate.

It was the exact same message I shared on social media, yet when texted individually I got 12 responses with-in 30 minutes even when sent at 10:30pm/later at night and had at least 3 others specifically say they’d get back to me tomorrow. Versus my media posts had been out for a week and I had 0 people respond to my questions in the comments and 0 people show up due to those posts. (My best friend and sister only showed up to the Zoom because I specifically asked/bugged them about it and they confirmed as much.) That’s an over 1200% better response rate with the same message… And for some responses I was given paragraph long answers per question. That means students had a lot to say and were willing to take the time to say it, they just had to be prompted to thinking their opinions in particular mattered.

There’s a lot that can be claimed about what this says about my generation that we don’t respond to mass messages but will give lengthy responses to personalized messages. (Really not even personalized, just individually sent because I sent pretty much identical messages to everyone, just sometimes slightly changing the initial greeting sentence if I was texting a parent to get their child’s response vs a peer.) And again, perhaps I’m making this sound too generalized, but I feel like I’ve had this happen on a lot of occasions at this point (I can think of at least 5 examples off the top of my head). However, I don’t share this information to make claims about my generation, I’m just sharing an observation/theory that has proven to be true on numerous occasions:

If you want a greater variety of student voices involved in the conversation, try asking indidviduals directly rather than just, “Hey anyone who’s interested I would love your response to…”

Kylie’s Graduating?!?!

It’s honestly so hard for me to fathom that my sister, Kylie, is done with high school and heading off to college at the University of Pennsylvania so soon!!! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I graduated. Especially on days like today where soon after I wake up I find myself talking for an hour with friends from high school.

I feel so sorry for Kylie and all the graduating seniors this year that have to miss out on so many special moments associated with ending k-12. It’s hard to imagine high school without those last moments, but I know they have created their own very memorable moments during this time. I’ve loved seeing online all the carpool parades, surprise house visits thanking college counselors, and the artwork done by lower schoolers in celebration of the seniors and their college choices. It shows how strong and powerful a true community is when distance isn’t a barrier for sharing moments together. And that community lasts long after graduation day.

So to Kylie and all the other graduates of the class of 2020, congrats!!! You’ve worked hard and faced some crazy odds these past few months, and now it’s time to celebrate just how far you’ve come and how exciting your journey will be next!