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.
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Off the Checklist

Even on vacation, sometimes you need a work day. Especially when I travel for about half of the summer because the rest of the world including work doesn’t stop just because you take off to another city.

Next week I go to Capon, our annual trip to West Virginia for our family reunion, but Capon is pretty old school, which I love, though it means I won’t have internet or phone access next week. Therefore, today I had some things to take care of before I travel basically off the grid for a week. (As usual, I will still write blog posts. but they will be in the notes of my computer and then they will all be posted when I return to having internet after the trip.)

I was quite proud of myself today for getting some spreadsheets edited, a mandatory online gymnastics safety course finished, more research on floor routine music, plus I did laundry and got packed up for my flight tomorrow afternoon.

It can feel really good to just spend time knocking out work and getting some items off your checklist.

A Goose on a Witch Hunt

Today I went on a wild goose chase. Or a witch hunt. Whichever metaphor you prefer really, I myself used both descriptions today, the point is I struggled to track down what I was looking for and had to travel across town to find it.

I love finding myself getting hooked into a really good book series. My standard of “really good book” means that I’m more likely to want to find a spot to sit and read for hours rather than go on Netflix. Additionally, I can find myself getting nauseous after trying to read while in a car, bus, etc., so if I even attempt to read until I simply can’t, then it’s really gotten me hooked. Recently, I’ve been reading “The Darkest Minds” series by Alexandra Bracken, and this series has hit both standards of “really good book” for me.

(Sidebar: It’s one of those “I actually don’t typically read education books…” moments where instead I’m reading a dystopian story about children who develop dangerous powers and how the government reacts to the situation poorly… Good read, sorry for my poor summary, and it’s being turned into a movie coming out in August!)

When I say “recently” I literally mean I started the series about a week ago and read the first two books in three days each, which for me, three days is pretty good for a 500-page book.

Today my mission was to find book three.

I wanted to go to a Barnes and Noble because I have a bunch of gift cards that I’ve just not used recently. (College finds a way of keeping you from doing too much “reading for fun”…) However, that meant going 30 blocks downtown and all weekend the subways were skipping most stops on the 1 Train due to construction, so I decided to wait until today to go on my adventure which meant anticipation all weekend long.

I walked down first to my favorite bagel shop in the world, then hopped on the train downtown (after finding it because I’ve not gotten on or off from that station in a while), to my surprise I found the bookstore with ease. However, after looking around for a while, because who really enjoys having to ask customer service to find a book for you, I finally asked a lady and discovered they were out of stock at this store! Then in my stupid judgement call of the day, I agreed with her idea to call the next closest Barnes and Nobel to see if they could hold the book for me.

This was a stupid judgment call because I forget that in NYC it’s not always about proximity. Just because one place is technically closer than another does not make it easier to get to. The bookstore the customer service lady called was across town on the East Side on the other side of Central Park. If I would’ve been thinking logically though, I should’ve checked the location downtown since that’s where I had to go by later in the day or if not I’ll definitely be close by to the store tomorrow.

Anyway, I already called the store, so I decided I had time to kill while my family was debating what our evening plans would be, so I went out on my adventure across town. I hardly ever go to the East Side (no particular reason, just no need), and I also hardly ever take the bus because the subways are often more efficient; therefore, this was a double adventure on uncharted territory, and I was impressed with how little stumbles there were after originally being at the wrong bus stop for ten minutes.

In the end, I found my book!

But then I realized, in all my work trying to figure out what store to go to and how to get there, I had forgotten that Columbia University is only a few short blocks away from my grandma’s apartment. And Columbia’s bookstore is a Barnes and Noble store… I could’ve had my book in 15 minutes (assuming it was in stock), and yet instead I ended up the silly goose on the hunt for a book kind of about witches.

While maybe I did some things out of the ordinary today, I don’t particularly feel like I learned much new or had some super impactful moment or met some incredible new person – nothing that makes you go “Oh wow the journey was really worth it, I’m so glad I mess up!” Because you know what, not every journey is remarkable. It seems like sometimes we tell only the remarkable stories, but sometimes life just happens and if you could’ve gone back and not made the mistake, you probably would’ve chosen to do so. Not every journey has to be life-changing, and I think that in itself is also something worth learning and remembering because otherwise, expectations might just be a little too high.

Honestly, it was a depressing moment to realize I could’ve saved three hours of my day, but sometimes we make decisions and just have to roll with the punches, go on the adventures, and make the most of the journey. Then hopefully next time we’ll have learned how to make our journey shorter.

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.

Prepared Beyond

Today I heard a former classmate of mine say that after 12 years of schooling he found himself not having any skills marketable for applying to the workforce as much more than a dishwasher.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

I mean the time old story of school is that it was established during the industrial revolution in order to prepare kids for the workforce. That is supposedly the mission of a traditional school system: “to prepare kids for the workforce.” However, the irony is that apparently, the traditional system isn’t even a good job at that anymore.

Joining the workforce no longer means being prepared to work on an assembly line day in and day out. The world has changed. Jobs are changing. Schools need to change and maybe so should their purpose; life is more than just work.

I want to be prepared beyond the workforce.

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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Old Ideas Brought to Life

I’m a proud advocate of taking time to acknowledge and celebrate the little wins in life. Today I had a double little win party.

First I discovered that I have officially written over 700 blog posts and am celebrating the beginning of my fifth year now of blogging! I mean five years is a pretty long time- it means I’ve been blogging for over a fourth of my entire life.

With the realization of this momentous anniversary, I decided it was time for an upgrade of sorts. Time for me to finally do something I’ve been talking about doing since only a short bit after I started blogging: create business cards.

I’ve been to a number amount of conferences and events in the past five years, and beyond that, I’ve run into dozens of people outside of event situations whom I’ve met and thought, “Well too bad I don’t have a business card to easily give this person all of my information…”

Thus I made it a goal of mine to prototype some business cards this weekend before heading off to the International Seminar in Vermont tomorrow.

I don’t think I realized how much I had been anticipating doing this over the years, but when I finally got them to print correctly I most certainly did a little happy dance and let out a little “YESSSSSS!”

Sometimes it takes a big realization to finally set in motion old ideas, but that doesn’t make those old ideas any less exciting when they finally come to life.

Improv and Show Tunes

I love theater people. Doesn’t matter the age, everyone kind of has the same dramatic vibe.

Today the dance troupe kids put on a performance between the junior troupe and senior troupe while the parents (and me) all watched. It was hilarious and impressive, yet not fully put together all at the same time. There was singing and dancing and lots of improv. Then we played charades Broadway-style which was fabulous even if some of the younger kids didn’t really get how to play… And to finish off the night we played “Heads Up” and “Name that Tune” with TV shows and 70s/80s/90s songs.

Life is always better with a little bit of improv and show tunes.