Changing the Prompt

I’ve been working today on writing an article for an organization about,“Why/how I continue to be involved with the learner-centered movement despite no longer going to a learner-centered school/being in college not k-12.”

I’ll end up posting the article here once I get some feedback and finish editing it, but for now, I’ll just say that I rather enjoyed writing it. Writing the article made me realize that I’ve managed to do a good bit this past year in terms of transformative education stuff even despite not being in a k-12 or learner-centered environment.

It’s been more challenging to stay involved in the movement, but it’s also meant that I’ve been growing more independent and learning to find opportunities on my own and make them happen.

I’ve often been very negative about the fact that I’m in such a traditional environment now, but perhaps in a weird way, it’s been helpful to others at least in the big picture of things. Now I just have another perspective to add to the table as somewhat of an “outsider” in the movement and yet still very much involved.

Sometimes it takes changing the prompt to realize the good in a not ideal situation.

 

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Progress Made, More to Go

Ever get so involved in a project that you forget you’re technically “working” in a sense?

I did a very poor job blogging over the past year of school. I procrastinated and the more I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to blog, the less likely I was to blog at all unless the urge and the timing were too strong to not right; which only happened about 12 times. I found that without blogging that I was taking less time to reflect upon my successes and failures, and reflection is a key part of learning so I was disgruntled with my lack of writing- especially since I know a lot of the time I didn’t write was just out of laziness.

The more time I spent not blogging, the harder it became to feel the urge to actually want to spend the time writing out blog posts, even when I thought of things to write naturally during the day. (This is significant because most days I don’t know what I’m going to write about until I get my computer out and just start typing, but some days I start blogging already with something very specific that I need to talk through and get off of my mind. When I write those kinds of posts the writing comes easily because the need to share is so strong and typically these end up being some of my better posts. However, I also know it sometimes takes longer to write those posts because I get so into it; therefore, I would tell myself I wouldn’t have the time to properly write the post, so I just wouldn’t at all.)

Due to my “writing block”, as I called it, I assigned myself a second 100-day challenge to blog for 100 days in a row. I guess at some point along the way, my little challenge stopped feeling like a challenge because it turns out I have surpassed my 100 days! I technically completed my challenge almost two weeks ago, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t had put the date on my Google Calander and then happened to look at my calendar this week to schedule a meeting.

I know I didn’t quite blog every single day, but I’m pretty sure I did a fairly good job at only slipping up a few times, so I’ll take it; no challenge is ever executed perfectly according to plan.

To be honest, it’s not become “easier” to write so to say. Every other night I find myself thinking “Ugggg I don’t know what to write about!” Sometimes I say it out loud, especially over the summer where more days than normal turn into “lazy days” where I just read a bunch or play games or get work done on my computer. Yet, somehow I find myself having the will to type something down each night and most of the time I think it’s blah but sometimes I find myself impressed with my own discoveries that would’ve have come up had I not started writing about the day. I know too that if I had decided not to write anything for every day I complained about not having anything to write about, then I never would have had those good discoveries either, so I’m grateful for my persistence (stubbornness, commitment to a challenge, whatever you may call it) and hope to try and continue the habbit of blogging despite my challenge completion.

I can honestly say after 100 days back that it feels good to be in the habbit of blogging again, yet I still don’t feel like my posts are as good as they maybe once were. I suppose I still need to work on my habbit of observation and mindfulness so that I have better things to actually blog about.

Something a Little Weird

Sometimes it can be really fun to intentionally do something really “weird” compared to normal society, but you have to own it with complete confidence.

To some extent, I feel like that’s kind of a trademark of me.

I’m the girl who wore a fuzzy hat to school every day of the year after it got a little chilly outside and long past when it got warm again. I’m the girl who would wear a cloak to school just for the joy of walking down the hallways more majestically. I’m the girl who takes a picture squatting on top of a stone water fountain every year because it’s an amusing Capon tradition that started when I was one. And I’m part of the family who spends one night each time we’re in Ohio dressing in our pyjamas to go out to an ice cream store.

Tonight was “Pyjama Michelle’s Night” and my siblings and my grandparents and I all put on our pjs and go out to the busiest ice cream shop in town, confusing lots of people along the way. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for at least seven years now and we always pull in thinking “Are we too old for this?” but then we walk out of the car with our heads high and just laugh our way in. We get all sorts of weird looks and compliments and questions and it’s really just great. My favorite thing is when people think it’s actually some legit thing that they were just out of the loop on.

I truly believe everyone should go out and do something a little “weird” every now and then because it’s a great way to practice getting out of your comfort zone and taking low scale risks; it helps to prepare for the harder, more uncomfortable risks that sometimes have to be taken.

Writing Beyond Authoring

My brother is entering the 7th grade, and today at dinner he said, “I don’t understand why we have to take English and grammar class; I’m not going to ever be an author of a book.” This comment gave me a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand, I was impressed with his willingness to question the nature of things. Part of me also could relate to him; I was never gifted in grammar and any teacher who I ever wrote for would testify to that. At his age, I would’ve probably made a similar statement about how I’d never write a book, but here I am years later with an outline and introduction to the book I keep saying I’m going to write… You never know what will happen, he may write a book one day, but even if he doesn’t we all tried to explain at dinner how important writing is to every job out there.

This made me realize two things:

  1. As a rising seventh grader, how is it that my brother doesn’t understand the importance of writing? I asked myself this question, but I’m not even sure if I understood the importance of writing in eighth grade for that matter. I don’t know if I ever understood the importance of writing until I became a part of the Innovation Diploma and had to write emails, scripts for conference talks, professional write-ups, and started my blog which lead to a few articles for magazines. I was writing on a daily basis, but it wasn’t ever five paragraph essays or eleven sentence paragraphs which is what I remember being shoved into my head as “the way to write” in years leading up to me joining the Innovation Diploma. When do we teach why we learn to write? When do we teach how to enjoy writing?
  2. Realizing the moment when I came to appreciate writing made me realize a second observation: why don’t we spend more time learning the different ways we need to know how to write? School spends a lot of time about writing essays, and in high school that turns into more specifically: how to write essays that AP graders and college admissions will like. We write narratives sometimes as the “fun creative writing time,” and we learn about what persuasive writing is, we even read and attempt to write poetry or plays from time to time. But most of my peers in college still don’t know how to write an email. Lab reports were always something English teachers expect you to learn in science classes and science teachers typically just tell you to “look up a template online,” so who really knows how well I ever learned how to do that… I’m now working on a team wanting to write a professional documentation of our recent project to potentially try publishing and as I’ve started to write it I’m feeling like my closest experience to ever doing something like this is the way I reflect about projects on my blog; this seems like the kind of writing most people will do so it would be nice to have more practice and feedback in school. I could even imagine a project of buying a bunch of random items and having kids test them out and write reviews for them, learning to write feedback on a product is a huge skill for so many professions. It just seems like in education we talk about a lot of styles of writing, like persuasive, narrative, expository, etc, but I don’t recall talking much about different forms of writing like emails, essays, write-ups, surveys, talks, product feedback, notices, articles, memos, etc.

I by no means think English class is irrelevant as my brother seems to believe, but especially after our dinner conversation, I do wonder about ways English classes could foster a better understanding of the importance of writing perhaps by having a wider variety of types of writing taught. I’m sure one day my brother will learn the importance of writing, but it just seems like by the time a kid enters seventh grade they could have already learned this.

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.

Library Chats

Every now and then everyone just needs to release a good rant. Surprisingly, this time I wasn’t the one doing the ranting.
It’s important for people of all ages to have safe spaces to talk, and one of the nice things about Capon is that we often end each night with some of the older kids just chilling and talking in the library for an hour. It’s a great time to not only catch up with the details of people’s lives over the past year (past just the typical “Ya life’s been good.”) but also for people to talk about things with people probably not directly involved with anything you may be dealing with.
We all have known each other since birth, and yet most of us know at most 2 of anyone else’s friends outside of Capon. It’s kind of weird in a nice way because it’s a medium between talking to your closest friends and yet practically strangers at the same time; truly the best of both worlds when it comes to chatting.
I’ve always been fortunate enough to have really good friends I believe I could trust with practically anything; however, not all teens are as fortunate. A lot of kids I know don’t truly trust their friends or barely consider themselves to have one best friend they can maybe speak completely honestly with. It’s a sad truth of the world, so I’m glad that places like Capon or even other sleep away camps can have this impact on kids. This is one of the reasons I think sending kids to sleep-away camp is one of the best things a parent can do; it’s amazing how close you can get to people in just a week maybe annually maybe not, but either way camps can often create a needed safe space for people to feel like they can share without judgement.

Safe to Challenge

There’s only so much that can be covered up with flashy lights and crazy tricks. Performers are storytellers and sometimes the artist can only take the story so far; at the end of the day, you also need to have a good story for the performance to truly be worthwhile.

Broadway right now has a lot of flashy shows with big fan followings and it just seems odd and almost a little sad to me. I want more original stories. Don’t get me wrong I saw Frozen in theaters 3 times and thought the musical version was a pretty good adaptation, and I’m still wanting really badly to see Mean Girls the Musical; however, I miss being surprised by a totally original story. No gimmicks, just good old fashion storytelling.

Today I saw SpongeBob the Musical, and somewhat to my expectation, it was a bit too gimmicky for me. The cast had some really impressive actors and vocalist who I appreciated very much for their efforts, but unfortunately, I don’t think the storyline did their talents justice. The set and costumes were also very intricate and fascinating to see, and I feel like I’d almost suggest seeing the show just for the sake of experiencing everything technical that somehow get’s pulled off. At the end of the day though, I just really wish there could have been more substance to the show. It was pretty one level the whole time and I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters or story, which you don’t always notice during the show with everything going on, but afterwards your like “eh,” and that’s never a great way to feel at the end of a performance.

I’m excited to see more shows that I don’t know that much about later this week and then when I’m back in town two weeks from now. I really appreciate how fortunate I am to get to see so many shows. I know I can be a little judgy sometimes when it comes to theater productions, especially with so much of my family being in this business, but it’s just because I value the art of storytelling and feel the need to give my honest opinions on the shows I see.

I was having a conversation with one of my aunts the other day about how someone tried saying, “Isn’t the theater suppose to be a safe place?” In actuality, though it’s almost the exact opposite. Theater that doesn’t challenge ideas, beliefs, and/or opinions is typically the boring kind. The theater is all about making big and bold statements that make you think and question; safe statements don’t tend to leave you thinking or questioning your core values. Theater is “safe to challenge,” it’s a safe bet that anything and everything might be said and you have to be okay with the fact that you might not always be comfortable; that’s the best part is when you leave with your mind blown.

Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

Different Pages

Day two at the International Seminar was a lot of fun (as expected) especially when you end the day with an Escape Room! (Even if we didn’t escape…) What I found particularly interesting about today though was that we broke off into stakeholder groups for a large chunk of today’s conversations. Therefore, I was in a room with all of other students/ young learners/ youth advocates/ whatever you want to call us (I think there were around 18 of us total).

I realized that this is the first conference I’ve been to where there are young learners in attendance that are not either from my learning environment and/or the SparkHouse community that has been developing over the past two years.

There are about 9 other SparkHouse members here, which is great because one of the main things that the SparkHouse has helped facilitate is more common language between learning environments. A common language is key because it allows us to move past the point of debating and distinguishing jargon and just get to the point faster about the why and how we currently do things and our hopes for the future. Not to mention even with our still existing gaps in communication, working with people you’ve met and worked with before typically makes working together again easier.

The complication is that not everyone is a part of SparkHouse currently, so half of the room is on much more of the same page than the other half which could in itself be on three different pages.

This wasn’t an overly complicated challenge but it struck me as an interesting dynamic today. It struck me because it made me realize that learners at a conference like this are often used to being the center of attention to some extent. They’re often leaders in their own community who are used to having one of the only student voices represented in a given convening and therefore, become a novelty of sorts who everyone wants to hear from. Now when you put 18 of these students in the same room who are used to having a prominent role in the conversation around education due to their student voice, all of sudden there is bound to be a power struggle because no one is a novelty anymore.

My hope is that one day this is the problem at a faculty meeting. No one is a novelty.

This is not to say that I hope there becomes a power struggle between students and adults, actually, I hope for just the opposite. One of the big points us students talked about today when discussing successes and challenges in our stakeholder group was the idea that there are a lot of adults who believe that giving students a voice/leadership/agency/power thereby means that power must be lost by another stakeholder group. What we strive for though is equal voice, equal representation, equal power. If either side of the equation is a novelty, then there will never be equal power and our education will be incomplete.

Timing is also key for this to be a reality. Giving students a voice doesn’t mean just give students a survey at the end of the term about giving teachers feedback; that’s just asking for student voice when convenient and wanting to confirm what’s already happened in class. The student voice we strive for is when students are brought in beforehand and are involved in the creation of school work, then sure you can get feedback in the end as well, but from both sides of the equation, students and adults alike, and discuss the outcomes and next steps together as well.

 

I’m going to be quite honest, at this point in writing this post I’m not super on the same page with where this train of thought was going… I’ve read it over and realized I’ve attempted to synthesise a lot of different highly debated topics into one train of thought and I’m not sure if I’m being all that coherent. So, therefore, I’m going to stop writing now. When you lose your train of thought, sometimes it’s best to just stop where you are and let the thoughts exist until maybe at a different time or with a different person the train reappears in a more insightful way. Until tomorrow then.

Invite Curious Community

Today has been long and tiring. Starting at 4:50am after about three hours of sleep, my day consisted of first travelling to Vermont and then have the whole second half of the day engrossed in day 1 of the Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership International Seminar hosted by Up for Learning at the University of Vermont.

IMG_0910Like most first days, we started our conference getting to know our community which is always fun! I love networking with new people and reconnecting with those whose paths have crossed with mine before. We started the day with a poem activity where we were given a powerful piece by Margaret Wheatley (featured image) and then asked to pick out a sentence, phrase, and single word that stood out to us in regards to our conference. We then shared with our table and then did a “wave shareout” with our one word to the entire room. I found that if you took the most commonly chosen single words we got an interesting sentence to describe what this gathering is all about:

“We invite a curious community to trust in brave conversations.”

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Personally, I had some good “ah-ha” moments today that are going to frame the next two days for me:

  • Most students don’t just decide one day to researchabout innovative schools, and therefore, they remain unknowing that there is anything besides the traditional system even as a possibility for their education. Yet we know the movement will be strongest if learners are driving the change since, after all, learners are the largest population in a school community. So how might we engage students from traditional school systems who aren’t being supported in thinking about alternative education paths? How do we help these students know what their options are because from my experience when presented with the option of a traditional school versus a learner-centered school, learners almost always choose the later.IMG_0919-1.JPG
  • There is an interesting distinction between student voice, student agency, and student-adult partnership which I haven’t considered before. Students/learners can feel like they have a voice, but that doesn’t mean it’s being heard; students can have agency in their work, but not take ownership of the work. How might we achieve various levels of all of these distinctions of student worth in our everyday learning communities?
  • In education, we often are debating the semantics of what it is that we do in our learning environments. However, perhaps we need to spend more time focusing on why we do it then thinking about how we do it before we start to dive into what exactly it is. With this in mind, I believe I need to spend time with our production team taking a deeper dive into why we do what we do with Trailblazers in order to start exploring what the future may hold in terms of possibilities for growth.

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