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).

Roles and Responsibilities

It’s been a crazy break, more so than usual this year. And on top of all the traveling and family drama, it’s not really felt like much of a break when I’ve also had so many other things to do for various organizations and also trying to stay on top of other people so they get there work done.

I think my biggest struggle as a leader is navigating when is the appropriate time to put deadlines above responsibilities; the struggle of getting people to actually accept the leadership they’ve been given and do something with that responsibility.

Not sure if that is the best way to phrase it, but I find that I am always debating how long I should spend nagging team members to actually do the work they are responsible for being in charge of or if I should just do the work so that it actually gets done on time.

It’s only the third day of the year and this has already become a recurring problem and I’m not sure how to proceed at the moment. My last text to my team was literally, “It’s been days past the deadline and x & y still have not been completed. I honestly don’t know what to say at this point.” It doesn’t help my teammates grow as leaders and it puts unnecessary stress on me if I have to go through and still do the work in the end. Though at the same time, we can only push deadlines back so far and sometimes it’s simply a matter of the work just needs to get done.

So as we begin 2019 I ask, How might I encourage team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities? And how do I proceed if they choose not to?

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.

Thankful for Gymnastics

The world of gymnastics has had a lot going on in the press recently, and unfortunately, the majority is negative. The thing is though, you only ever hear about the bad stuff in the news when the truth is that I think everyone could benefit from gymnastics in their life.

I have literally grown up in the world of gymnastics. My mom was coaching while she was pregnant with me. I was taking classes by the time I was a few months old. I first crawled on a gym floor. I started competing at age 5. I had to quit competitive team due to moving but was still in a gym taking classes until we started a new team program. I started helping with coaching occasionally with birthday parties and camps by age 10. My mom then opened up her own gym and I started training in acrobatic gymnastics (versus artistic gymnastics as most people think of due to the Olympics). By age 13 I was choreographing competitive routines for other team girls and occasionally competing since I was around and kept up my skills. Since then I’ve stopped competing in artistic gymnastics, but am currently training level 8 in acrobatics and have an official coaching schedule as a team coach for our lower levels and choreographer for almost every girl on our team.

Despite several moves at a young age, changing interests, and normal growing up stuff like going to college, gymnastics has always been a part of my life. And I imagine it always will be there in some way because as an athlete, coach, and general lover of gymnastics, there’s so much I’m thankful for about gymnastics.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has taught me to always keep brainstorming and learning from others because there are always new ways to use your resources.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to express my artistic side through choreographing routines and occasionally performing myself.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to play a role in helping kids grow up by working with them to develop their confidence and resilience as well as physical ability.

And I’m thankful for so much more because I know this sport is about more than the scandals and policy changes you might hear about in the news. It’s not even all about the metals or getting to the Olympics either.

Gymnastics at its core is about growth through movement. It’s about the process of setting goals, mastering skills, and performing at your highest caliber. It’s about balance in all senses of the word.

This past weekend I attended a camp for upper-level gymnasts and coaches which is what prompted this post on gymnastics. I appreciated the chance to listen and learn more about drills, techniques, and mindsets currently being developed in our sport. Coaching is about more than just how to teach skills, and what I find most people don’t realize is just how much time coaches spend learning and discussing sports psychology, mental health, and safety on top of the practicality of how to best teach skills. We have a duty to train kids beyond just physically but also mentally and emotionally which is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

And on the note of mindsets, one of the biggest things I was reminded of this weekend is that in the midst of change we have to stay positive and continue to share the reasons we love what we do.

The simple truth is that a few bad apples can never describe the whole batch. Despite what the media may currently say about the world of gymnastics, there are a lot of great coaches out there doing great things for kids nationwide. And I’m thankful for those coaches and the world of gymnastics for all it has, is, and will teach me.

 

Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

W4W_2018Paideia_CourseReport

From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

Living in the Chaos

Somehow I managed to forget to blog every night last week. Well I would typically remember, but not until it was almost 1am at which point I decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s been kind of a crazy week looking back. I was at a wedding in North Carolina; ran a SlackChat for the Pioneering Education community (kind of like a Twitter chat, but on a project management platform called Slack); had my first test of the semester; performed an acro routine and had the kids I coach perform group routines I choreographed at what ended up being a huge event which ended up going well despite my stress on how they were looking up until the performance; had my first advanced tap class and got whiplash from the combo to a song from Hair the musical; joined an intermural ultimate frisbee team and won our first game; and that leads up to now pretty much.

Some weeks are just so busy you don’t always get the chance to stop and look back on all that was accomplished. There was an unusually large amount of stress and chaos last week, but looking back on it, I think everything turned out pretty well in the end.

In particular, I’m really proud of how the gymnastics performances went. The routines performed last Spring were not so great, especially compared to the year before, so I really wanted this show to be better. It was a challenge because we never really had everyone there on the same day many times between breaks and the Taylor Swift concert… So the girls maybe had 4-6 practices total with me and some were as short as under 30 minutes. Then to add to the chaos I found out on Tuesday that we had one of our top level girls hurt her arm the weekend before, so I had to fill in for her with one practice before show day to work out.

In the end, there were obviously parts that could have been more in synch (especially the endings) but the routines turned out really well under the circumstances and all of the parents and other members of the audience seemed to really enjoy them. It was also the first time in Jump Start Gym’s history that we had every team girl present at the same time for a show. It made my job so much nicer because I could choreograph for specific groups and kids without having to tweak things depending on who had to fill in from my original vision. Plus it meant we could have 4 different routines, and even though it made my life harder trying to divide my time between groups, it meant that we had a much more fulfilling show overall oppose to having to just do one routine and then basics which aren’t exciting to watch.

Sometimes the hardest expectations to live up to are your own. Not sure that these routines fully lived up to those expectations, but I was happy with how they turned out and proud of the performance from our gymnasts.

If you care to watch them, I’ve added the videos below:

The Editor

I’ve recently been giving a lot of feedback on senior’s college application essays. It’s been an interesting process helping with the editing of all of these essays.

First, I’ve realized just how lucky I was to have gone to a school with such an amazing college counseling program. So many of the kids I’ve talked with barely know their college counselor and don’t really get much time for feedback from them.

Second, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten so much better at giving feedback and mostly because of the amount I’ve learned to ask for feedback. It’s a pretty straightforward concept really: the more you get feedback, the better you become at giving feedback to others. I just had never thought about it before, but while talking with these seniors I even find myself quoting feedback that I’ve been given by other friends and mentors of mine.

Then again, I know some of my feedback is still probably much too wordy, though none-the-less I think the content of my feedback has been on point. I didn’t realize how much my skills as an editor have grown between giving feedback to people on their essays as well as my role in Trailblazers with helping with the editing of those stories.

In school we spend a lot of time trying to become good writers, but there’s a lot to be said of having a good editor. I cherish the people I ask to help edit my writing. They know me, my style, and help with the grammar skills I lack and organization skills I’m still developing.

Plus I think the more you practice editing someone else’s work, the better your writing can become. For example, I’ve gotten much better at noticing when people aren’t really answering the prompt directly in their work which has made me more cognitive of trying to stay focused during my own writing.

Yet I’ve realized, being a good editor is not a natural skill. It’s hard to figure out how to word feedback in ways that will inspire new ideas from a writer; giving constructive criticism while also proposing potential new approaches/suggestions for the work. Part of my role in Trailblazers has been helping with not only the editing process, but also giving feedback to the high schoolers about how to be an effective editor. These conversations involve discussing how to help with prompt creation, key things to look for in an article, and how to keep a writer motivated long enough to get a good end product. It hadn’t occurred to me before the past year that people don’t naturally have a sense about how to give feedback in this way; I only knew the role of an editor because I had worked with one a few times when I myself wrote for an e-magazine.

I wish in school we spent more time focusing on how to be a good editor not just a good writer, I think it could benefit everyone.

Frozen Learning

I’ve been really interested in psychology and the science behind learning for a long time. Today though, I finally got to have my first official psych class and I’m already loving it and my professor!

In our overview of the course today, our professor made a comment: “Memory is really just frozen learning.”

I found this weirdly profound and I’m not fully sure why. I guess it’s because it made me think of how pointless it is when we talk about just trying to get kids to memorize things for school. Short-term memory will get you through a test – I say from experience… But if we truly want knowledge to get to the long-term memory, the key is to teach how to learn. The frozen screenshot of the learning moment is what will be remembered.

I’m excited for my own frozen learning moments in psych especially this semester as we learn about learning, memory, thinking, intelligence, perception, and so much more.

When Stuck in a Costco

I had a very productive day. However,  part of this day involved getting stuck at Costco for a few hours while waiting for our tire to be fixed. I couldn’t go anywhere, because the car was being worked on. I wasn’t with anyone that could consume my time by talking to me. I didn’t have internet access to be pulled into trying to do a bunch of different things online. And there wasn’t anything super amazing going on around me for me to be distracted by watching my surroundings.

I was just stuck.

The weird thing was that it actually felt kind of nice to be stuck.

It was time where there was nothing I really should do because there was so little that I could do. I had my phone, headphones, a notebook, pencils, and some other random things. But I couldn’t go on my computer or clean out my room or anything like that, so instead I just kind of chilled and did what I can. When you feel like there is very little that you can do, it makes the things you do accomplish feel like such a big deal.

I had to call back the GT pharmacy and then call CVS to work out a prescription thing, and I expected this to be a big hassel. I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone, especially in a situation like this where I thought I handled everything online and therefore go into the phone call knowing that something has already gone wrong so it seems bound for more problems to appear. Surprisingly though, the phone calls were very smooth and everything got worked out and I even was able to pick up my prescription right after getting un-stuck from Costco.

After the pharmacy got sorted out, I had some time where I read through and responded to emails on my phone. It’s a great thing I read those emails because it later inspired me to check on registration stuff again when I got home after Costco and CVS, and then I was able to somehow get into the English class I wanted/needed which was stressing me out all summer!

I was at Costco so long that I even had some extra time to just sit and listen to gymnastics routine music on repeat enough to start fine tuning some choreography I’m about to start teaching in the upcoming weeks. I’ve been too distracted once I get into the gym to just listen to the songs, and when I’m home I feel like I have “better things” to be doing, so this time was invaluable.

I’m not sure any of these productive things would’ve happened today if I hadn’t gotten “stuck.” I guess sometimes it can nice to just stay put with ample time and no distractions to get some of those random little things done that always seem to be shoved to the back of priority lists on a normal day.