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

The Evolution of an Idea

As a follow up to last night, where I choose to read old blog posts instead of writing a long new post, it seemed only right to reflect today on what I read.

One of the posts I revisited I call “The Gymnastics Theory.” I wrote this post back in 2014 but the concept of how the future of education could be influenced by the world of competitive gymnastics is something I frequently come back to. It was interesting to read this post that outlined some of my original thoughts on the topic, and because it’s a topic that comes up often for me I thought it would be good to reflect on what’s changed since my 2014 version of this theory.

Since 2014 I’ve definitely built on the theory quite a bit. In particular, a big difference is simply in my terminology. In this post from 2014, I talk about learning being “skill-based” and I’ve now realized this was my simplified way of saying that gymnastics is an example of an already existing, successful model of systemic competency-based learning. In fact, the main reason The Gymnastics Theory continues to come up for me is because I’ve found that it’s a helpful example when trying to explain what competency-based learning could look like. At a few conferences now, I’ve been given feedback that even for someone with practically no understanding of gymnastics, (ie. you maybe watch it in the Olympics and that’s about it) this was an easy to understand example for contextualizing competency-based learning for people just learning about this concept.

Furthermore, I’ve done a lot more thought into the division of groups in gymnastics versus traditional schools. In my old post, I simply mention how gymnastics levels are not determined by age and how practice groups may not be the same as competition groups because by practicing with levels above and below you there are more opportunities for peer-peer mentorship and leadership. All of these facts are still very true and relevant, but now I’ve taken this a bit deeper and started to imagine how the entire structure of gymnastics levels and transitioning between levels works and how it’s comparable with education.

I don’t want to go too in-depth into this right now, maybe I’ll finally get around to making a more official written update on my entire theory sometime soon… but for now, I want to focus big picture on what’s changed not all the specifics of my thinking. The summarized idea though is that gymnastics actually has two somewhat parallel tracks that gymnast can take depending on their needs/what they hope to get out of the sport, and between the two tracks there are three different types of levels designed to more efficiently test skill proficiency at different points in a gymnast career. I’ve done a lot of imagining about what it might look like if education followed a similar structure.

Finally, I think the biggest change in my thinking in my commentary on school not being a competition. Now that I’ve had 6 more years being in school and gone through the college process, I totally disagree with 2014 Anya. School is a competition. It might not be advertised that way, and we might even be explicitly told sometimes to not think of it that way, but at the end of the day, we’re always competing. This semester even, my Marketing 101 professor spent the first 10 minutes of class emphasizing how we are always competing for grades, jobs, promotions, etc so we might as well get in that mindset now and be ready to fight for the win. People are always being compared to others because everyone wants the best candidates for their team. School might not have formal competition events for assessment purposes, but it’s definitely a competitive atmosphere. I don’t think that has to be a bad thing, personally, I find competitions to sometimes be a great motivator, but it has to be healthy competition in order to be motivating and that’s something that school isn’t always great about creating the environment for. Again, I’ve done a lot more thinking in the realm of what “healthy school competition” looks like, but my thoughts are not fully formed yet so that’s as much as I’ll say for now.

Overall, I’m very amused by how much has grown and changed with my thinking since this original idea came about in 2014. These two worlds of gymnastics and education are both very close to me and it’s always fun to make connections between the two. Maybe re-reading this old post is the prompt I’ve been waiting for to finally attempt writing out all of my thoughts on the topic – and figure out a more articulate way to write them, because I’m sure this post is kind of funky just due to the fact that I’ve been thinking about this concept for so long that it’s getting all jumbled trying to come out of my head now.

(I drafted about three more paragraphs on my “summarized” version of the levels structure description alone before realizing that was way too much for this post… so trust me when I say there is lot’s more. I mean I didn’t even mention the scoring system.)

Mindset of a Historian

One of the more random projects I’ve found myself involved with while in isolation is finally organizing old gym videos. Jump Start is almost 9 years old now, so we have a significant number of old routines at this point. I’m trying to locate videos of all of these old routines and sort them based on level, song, and choreography (some times we may re-use identical routines or sometimes we just use old music but change choreography). This way in the future we have more options of old routines to recycle and also just more ideas for song selections.

This has been an annoyingly difficult process though, especially when there are videos that I know exist but I just can’t seem to find them anywhere between my computer, my mom’s Google photos, or old flash drives. For example, I somehow have old videos that are on my YouTube channel and yet I can’t find the original versions of these videos in order to save them to the Google folder we’re creating. Then on top of the videos I know exist but can’t find, I also know of at least a dozen routines girls competed, and yet I have no idea if we have videos of them. So I’m searching for something that might not even exist.

And I’m spending hours searching… How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you’ve searched every possible option? How do you convince yourself that one more hour of searching won’t make the difference?

I even went as far as manually going through our records of all team kids we’ve ever had and emailing past families to see if they had old videos they’d be willing to share with us. I’m seriously doubting I’ll get any responses on that email, but I had to at least try in order to start to feel like I’ve explored all my options.

This must be what historians feel like – always searching through the past without knowing if anything will actually be found or if there even is anything left to be found. I’m glad I don’t plan on becoming a historian.

Craftsmanship Upgrade

I remember there came a time during Innovation Diploma where we had to all have a conversation about how our level of craftsmanship needed to raise. Our skills had further developed and we had gained more tools since the beginning of the program, so it was time to acknowledge that even “quick prototypes” now needed to have a higher standard of quality.

I was reminded of this conversation today when brainstorming gymnastics music for next year. I have been brainstorming and keeping lists of potential songs and imagining how I might edit the music and choreograph the routines. But then I realized, it’s been at least five years now since I started editing music (probably closer to seven even, but I’m not fully sure when I started), so it’s probably about time I step up my level of craftsmanship.

In the past, because editing music can take a decent bit of time, I usually waited to edit songs until after I got confirmation from others that the song might fit one of our gymnasts. However, I’m realizing now, I’ve gotten a lot better at editing music, so it doesn’t take as long to complete anymore; therefore, I should just go ahead and edit songs I think have potential because even if they don’t get used immediately, then we will have a larger database of future songs.

That’s the approach I decided to take today, so rather than continuing to brainstorm lists, I went ahead and started editing some songs. I finished two songs in one hour and I felt pretty good about that progress. This proved I was right in thinking that my skills have improved to the point where it’s time for a craftsmanship upgrade. So now instead of my “prototype” of new music ideas just consisting of a list of full-length songs I found, I can now provide lists of already edited music which will make it easier to visualize music-to-gymnast fit.

And as we also discussed in ID, once we become more proficient with one tool, it’s time to move on to learning new tools.

Therefore, the next step in my music editing development is gaining knowledge on additional music editing tools available to me. In the past 5-7 years, while I’ve gotten much more efficient at what I do, I believe there are a lot of features I’ve not yet discovered or attempted to utilize. For example, I know several kids would love to do a mash-up routine of several songs. I  typically deny these requests because I have a bias against gymnastics routines that are mash-ups since they often don’t have a logical story-telling flow to them. However, I also deny these requests because I don’t know enough about actually creating my own digital music to be able to make smooth transitions between different songs. So one of my new goals for the year is to learn more about creating my own digital music in order to experiment with creating a mash-up song that I actually would consider giving to one of our gymnasts.

Range Finder

For the last 10 minutes of our Wish For WASH meeting today, I encouraged our entire team to do a mini design thinking activity with one of the tools we used called “The Range Finder.” The purpose was for each of us to think about the timeline of different goals on our subteams; goals right in front of us, beyond the trees, and over the mountain. I thought with so much uncertainty and restructuring happening right now with the shift to virtual teaming, this tool would be a good way for us to check-in that everyone is on the same page with how we view our short term and long term goals.

The tool was so successful that I thought it would be good for me to do a personal Range Finder as well to consider what my goals are for while we’re on break from school (the three weeks still), once classes start again, and once we finish the semester.

Right in Front of Me:

  • Finish sorting through all previously uncategorized blog posts of mine.
  • Make final edits on our Wish For WASH design thinking in the sanitation sector research paper.
  • Edit 5 new gymnastics songs.
  • Have working drafts of the 3 assignments I’m able to get started on already.
  • Choreograph a new dance every week until our gymnast can get back into the gym.

Beyond the Trees:

  • Publish Issue 7 of Trailblazers.
  • Video edit Jump Start Gym’s first-ever virtual gymnastics group routine.
  • Host the virtual Design Jam Wish For WASH has tentatively started to plan.
  • Obviously, complete my school work…

Over the Mountains:

  • Explore whatever more of New Zealand I’m able to – Hobbit Town and the glow worm caves are specifically two things I’ve not gotten to do yet I really want to see.
  • Reconsider Trailblazers business model in order to be more sustainable as an organization.
  • Do more in-depth research into options for post-graduation (ie grad school or work first – and where)

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

Back to Reality

Today was my first full day back in Atlanta since mid-June. It was a fairly standard day for me being at the gym most of the time and then crashing my brother’s tap rehearsal.

Being back in Atlanta though, it hit me today how close it is to the summer being over. It’s about time for next semester to start and I don’t feel the least bit ready. It’s about time for classes, and projects, and coaching, and acro, and tap, and maybe theater though looking unlikely this semester sadly.

It feels like summer flew by and now it’s back to reality time of needing to get ready for the rest of this year.

I’m not really looking forward to going back to school which is kind of disappointing honestly. I feel like the past few years I’ve always been at least somewhat excited for school to start, even if just for the sake of seeing friends and teachers and a few classes and clubs I knew I could count on being great like Latin and Innovation Diploma. Nowadays though I don’t feel like there’s much I’m looking forward to in regards to school. It was kind of a sad discovery to have as I looked at my messy room and realized it was time to start packing, so now I’ve been trying to really process what might be a positive thing about going back to school but still struggling some…

I think I’ll be closer with my roommates this year which could be fun. I’m moving to the advanced tap group which is kind of exciting, though I still kind of feel like a bit of an outsider at times with the tap troupe because most of the people were besties before forming the troupe. Theater I don’t foresee me being as involved with this semester just due to time commitments with actually working a fixed schedule at the gym this year plus 18 credit hours of classes (which I’m really not excited about especially with still taking so many core courses still); I am excited though to do A Mid Summer Night’s Dream again in the spring. Engineers Without Borders will be interesting considering we’ve finished teaching the class with Paideia, which was what I had joined the team for in the first place, but we’re hoping to continue the education team we just haven’t worked out details so I should get a lot of leadership with that. I’m somewhat excited to start taking psych classes this semester, but “intro to psych” is considered to be sometimes a hard weed out course which makes me a little less excited.

So I guess really I just have a lot of mixed feelings about school starting so soon. I’m not really sure how to feel about some things, meanwhile not excited about most of my classes whereas I use to have more classes to look forward to. My conclusion at this point: I wish higher ed was more learner-centered.

Address, Announce, Accomplish

Typically at the start of summer break (and also winter break though that’s currently irrelevant), I end up writing on my whiteboard wall in my room a list of summer goals. (Mostly action-oriented goals so that it’s clear what needs to happen for them to be achieved.) It helps me get a visual for what I want to have accomplished by the end of summer. Then I take a picture of the list and have it on my phone to refer to throughout the summer. Even if I don’t get everything on my list complete, I often get a good chunk of the list done and it helps satisfy the part of me that thrives on the feeling of accomplishment when I get to cross things off of my list.

This summer I did not write my list and I’ve noticed the effects. I don’t feel nearly as accomplished as we head into the end of summer, even though I know I did several things that would’ve been on the said list. I also think I procrastinated tasks that would’ve been my “moonshot goals” because I didn’t have the courage to ever make it “official” that I wanted to get those tasks done by announcing them on my whiteboard.

Sometimes changing a habit is how you learn just how much you appreciated the habit. Like when I had to stop taking band my sophomore year of high school because it didn’t fit into my schedule, I then realized just how much I loved playing the flute and how I didn’t want to give it up.

This summer of not creating my goals list has made me realize just how much of an “accomplishment driven person” I am. (I don’t know what fancy wording would be used to describe this kind of person, but that’s what I’ll call it for now.) I like feeling like progress is being made no matter how small, and I do a better job at getting big things done if I can break up a goal into little tasks and then “publicize/make visual” (even if only really to myself) these goals in order to hold me accountable to them.

To some extent, I already knew this about myself, but I think not creating a list for this break for the first time in a few years has made me realize how much more valuable this realization could be. I want to experiment this fall with how I can use this self-discovery to better my work progress.

I already have lots of whiteboards in my dorm room, so I think I’m going to make one of them my designated goals list. Then once a week, or maybe one every two weeks, or maybe some other time frame I’ll have to figure out, I will readdress my list of goals to see what progress I’ve made and what new goals I need to start working towards. My hypothesis is that developing a habit of more frequently addressing what goals I want to accomplish in a given time period will help give me a better work ethic and more positive attitude about making progress.

Some may say, “Why wait until the fall? Why not start now?” and to that I say that for some reason the process of standing in front of a whiteboard and writing down my goals really makes a difference. So rather than creating a big list for future thinking goals, I will start small for now until I get back to my whiteboard; my goal for next week while I’m in Ohio is to finish editing all of the gymnastics music needed for next season.

Tired of Magicians

I’ve found that as I get older I discover random strong opinions that I didn’t realize were developing over the years. For example, I don’t like magicians.

Today we saw an illusionist’ magic show off-Broadway and as we watched I realized how bored I was, which made me realize how I always get bored at magic shows. It’s kind of unfortunate because I’m impressed to some degree by what magicians do and the time and effort it takes to get good at what they do; however, something about knowing that it’s really all a bunch of logic and mind tricks makes not enjoy the tricks much. I spend more time trying to figure out tricks then I care about the coolness of the tricks; then I get bored.

Honestly, I’d rather a show of someone showing me how they came up with weird illusions because we all know it’s fake anyway and it would be far more impressive in my mind to see the trick and then know how it works. I mean I’ve always thought it would be fun to be around while magicians help make theater and movie tech become really epic; that’s probably the best job a magician could have in my opinion but it involves sharing the secretes to tricks.

I realized also that I’ve been to a lot of professional magic shows which I didn’t think was abnormal until today when I stopped to think about it. Perhaps if I had seen less magic shows in my life I would find them more engaging because they would have more of a unique quality to them.

It’s an odd thing to have such a strong opinion on, but despite not liking magicians, I’m at least grateful for tonight’s illusionist amusing me with myself and my new self-discovery. Learn something new every day, and sometimes it’s about yourself.