A True Break

Since this weekend is supposed to be Easter “Break,” I’ve decided to try and cut myself some slack and not focus so much on the idea that I have to use all of this extra time we’ve been given to always be super productive.

So, after the interview I conducted for my human development project, a brief call home with a little discussion about gymnastics, I then basically watched Netflix all day. And it was very relaxing.

I’m a busy person by nature. I always have been. Even way back in 4th grade I was playing on two soccer teams, competing in gymnastics, a Girl Scout, and playing the lead in the school theater production while making straight A’s in school. Since I’ve spent my entire life going from one activity to the next, I’ve grown used to the need to always feel like I’ve accomplished something by the end of the day.

But this need to be productive can be overwhelming in a situation like we’re in now where we have so much time that it seems foolish to not use the time to try and get tons of things done. I’ve been trying to get ahead in classes and draft papers; I’ve seemed to have a meeting almost every day for some project or another; even when I just do something like play the flute I never end up stopping until I have completely learned and recorded all of a four-part song. However, I’ve had several professors and seen several articles circulating around about how it can be a good thing to actually rest during this time and not stress about trying to have so many achievements.

So my goal for this weekend (though perhaps it’s paradoxical to call it that) is try and truly take a break. No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog. I’ll post about how it went in two days. I’m a bit doubtful I’ll actually be able to last the weekend without doing anything productive, but I know it can be good for the mind to take a break and just be mindless sometimes so we’ll see how it goes.

 

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)

The Gift of Time

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Felt like I did pretty well for day 1 in isolation.

I started the day by reconnecting with some of the gymnasts I coach. I woke up early so I joined their afternoon Zoom workout and it was nice to see so many smiling faces in the midst of so much crazy. One kid changed her username to say “I love coach Anya” and it was kind of the sweetest thing ever.

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I then spent a good chunk of time playing my flute – I am very happy I decided to prioritize bringing it with me to New Zealand despite the extra weight. I’ve been practicing getting better at keeping time and listening to different parts by “playing with myself” (ie videoing myself playing each of the different parts in a song). Today my song of choice was, “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton the Musical.

After lunch, I decided to start brainstorming some ways to make this challenge into an opportunity, specifically in regards to our gym. We’ve always said we wanted to get better at journaling and now that we have to move online anyway, I figured it was a great opportunity to start making progress on this task. So I made some prototypes of “Gymnastics homework” where we can give conditioning assignments and a place to share weekly goals and accomplishments related to healthy living; that way all of our girls feel like they can be making tangible progress on their gymnastics even without being able to train their skills full out. I also started brainstorming some potential new gymnastics social media challenges and various workshops we might be able to offer via zoom.

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 7.05.55 PM.pngNormally around this time of year, I would be finishing up choreo for our end of the semester showcase and starting to teach the routines to the girls. Since this isn’t going to happen under normal circumstances, I’ve been working on creating a whole new routine so it can be performed and recorded at home and then I plan to video edit all the parts together. Two things I needed to learn to make this happen: better video editing skills and learn more sign language to use as part of the dance. I got started on both of those learning goals today and feel pretty good about the progress I’ve made.

The most important thing I was reminded of today is how much fun it can be to learn new skills and to revisit and build upon old skills. I know of my friends and family have already come to this conclusion after having lived in this reality of social distancing, online learning, and lots of free time for about a week now, but experience really does make a huge difference in understanding. Sometimes having time for “nothing” can truly be a gift for all sorts of wonderful new ideas.

Being Prepared for College

There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)

I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.

However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.

My heart was actually broken.

And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.

So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.

First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?

Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”

This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.

Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”

The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:

“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.

Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.

Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.

You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”

So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.

It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.

So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.

If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM. 

We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.

So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.

And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.

However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.

That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.

I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.

However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.

Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.

SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system

Champions in the Making

I wasn’t able to blog this weekend because I was in Ohio watching the US Classics gymnastics competition then driving back home; kind of a crazy weekend honestly.

We went to the gymnastics meet because a friend of ours, who we’ve known basically all of her life, qualified for the Hopes Championship in the 12-13-year-old division of this meet. That might not mean much to non-gymnastics people, but basically, she qualified as one of the top eighteen 12-13-year-old gymnasts in the country which allowed her to compete in this championship meet.

While I loved getting to watch our friend compete, it was really cool to get to see the senior age division where I got to see some of the best gymnasts in the world compete!

I’m blown away daily by the amazing talents of young people. When I see the dedication and hard work of these gymnasts it just makes me wonder all of the other amazing things young people could do if they’re in an environment that fosters developing passions, setting goals, and finding creative ways to accomplish the improbable.

Most young gymnasts that are really dedicated to trying to go far in the sport end up homeschooling or going to part-time schools, like our friend at this meet does, from a pretty young age; typically around age 8 or 9. They homeschool in order to have more time when they can go into the gym to train more and more with each level they progress to. I know homeschooling or part-time schools are also common with other sports as well as young actors amongst others. I wonder what other kids could benefit from only spending part of their day/week in a school building, and then spending the rest of their time going into the environment they are interested in to actually do training in the area. What if “training in the gym ( or another environment)” was the norm in schools?

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.

Going for the Goal

I decided this year to play in the annual adult shuffleboard tournament with one of my friends, and we lost horribly… We didn’t even make it into the bracket technically because we had a play in the game and we were expected to win too.

It was one of those moments where you’re reminded that practice helps, but so much of playing in tournaments is about the mental game. My partner and I hadn’t played at all the first few days at Capon and then we ended up playing a bunch the morning before our official game. I don’t know where our heads were the time we played the real game because we were far too defensive and then just couldn’t make things stick.
At Capon we have a saying, “Don’t try to win, just don’t lose,” meaning that sometimes your goal just needs to be to play it safe and let the other side slip up while trying to do something fancy. However, I guess to counter that point, you have to actually take a shot in order to score. (A little more of a soccer reference than shuffleboard, but I’ve been watching the World Cup semi-finals this week too so the analogy is working in my mind.)
We can’t always just play defensively and worry about the other people around us and how to keep things “safe,” sometimes you just need to go for it and trust your training. We have to be willing to go for our goals if we ever can hope of achieving them.

Scaling Down

Today was the first day I worked with most of our team girls on the group routine. Turns out I may have been a little too ambitious with this choreography…

I was excited because our younger team girls are fairly advanced this year, so when we decided to have everyone in one routine, I left the same choreography that was intended for our upper-level gymnasts. I thought it would be fine because of our girls being advanced and whatnot, but I definitely fell into the trap of maybe dreaming a bit too big on this routine. Thus I was quickly reminded of the importance of testing and iterating on the fly.

Coaching today reminded me that while it’s great to be ambitious, dream big, and strive for crazy goals, you also need to keep in mind feasibility and sometimes scale down goals to build up to big ideas.

Luckily, I think the routine will all work out, but today definitely got me second guessing some decisions.