School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.

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?

Out of the Hole

I’ve had to take a bit over a week hiatus from blogging because life just happens sometimes.

My last blog post was published right before fall break. Right before my mom and I last minute decided to make the 8-hour drive to Indiana for the weekend. One of our gymnasts qualified as one of the top 100 nine-year-olds in the country, and that weekend in Indiana was the testing for all 300 eight, nine, and ten-year-olds to see who would be invited to the USA Gymnastics Camps run by national team coaches. Since we had no other specific plans, we decided it would be fun to go support her and see all of the other talented gymnasts for the weekend.

The thing is though, I had planned to spend that weekend working on essays for study abroad and finalizing my English video project.

So when plans changed and we went out of town, I ended up only getting about half the work I anticipated doing. Then all last week I was trying to play catch up. It’s amazing how a short week can still feel so long…

I only had three days of school and yet somehow we managed to be given more homework than usual which added to the stress. Then over this past weekend, my mom was out of town again for a wedding, so I went home to help my siblings get around and take care of our puppy. Therefore, once again I got very little work done which ended in one very stressful night topped off with losing my student ID and being very late getting back to my apartment.

And to be honest, I can’t blame my lack of work entirely on external circumstances. I probably could’ve made some wiser choices myself in order to try and be more efficient. I could’ve left my sister watching TV with the puppy and went to a different room to not be so distracted. I could’ve gone to bed earlier to not be as grumpy the following day. I could’ve not spent so long procrastinating by debating in the grocery store. I could’ve done lots of little things like that to have been more efficient this weekend, though it’s hard sometimes to get out of a bad rut.

My own mood probably made later situations seem worse then they were in reality as the unfortunate events continued to pile up.

Even today I woke up in a bad, stressed mood. I was already anxious about work because I was still playing catch up.

Last night though, when I was in a mad frenzy to finish a study abroad scholarship application, my bestie helped me power team editing this yucky 150-word short answer question. It was some of the best co-teaming writing workshopping I’ve experienced and we knocked it out! This 11pm get down to business moment reminded me that I just needed to dive into work and stop thinking about all the negative so much.

So when I woke up in a bad mood, I told myself it was a new week and I needed to move forward, and surprisingly the day started to turn around. I caught mostly up in CS, my student ID was found at the gym, I had two good meetings, and I even finished my video project in less time than expected. Thus I am finally able to blog again and do a little work on the book I’m attempting to write…

Attitude makes a bigger difference then we like to believe sometimes. When you’re feeling down, sometimes it takes a best friend to get you back down to business and work out of the hole.

 

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.

 

Decreasing Choking Under Pressure

I love when homework is actually really interesting!

We didn’t have psych class today because our teacher was out to due to religious reasons, so instead she had us watch two videos on our own and write an essay about what we found interesting and do some critical thinking about the two. I found one of the videos pretty annoying, and honestly still a bit annoyed that all of this work took almost three times as much time as the class normally would’ve; however, the second video I actually really enjoyed.

It was called “Power of the Human Brain” and some of the video I had already learned about before, like the concept of using a “memory palace” to better remember long random lists which is a technique mental athletes use. But I also learned some new stuff that really closely ties in with learning and memory and education practices in general which I found particularly interesting.

For example, there was a study done to see if we can train our brain to be less likely to “choke” under pressure. Turns out, the emotional part of our brain is right next to the working memory part. So when we get overly anxious or stressed, the emotional part of our brain can literally cloud up the working memory by overwhelming it with too many signals that take up brain power. Therefore, the study had half of a class take 10 minutes to reflect before taking a test about how they were feeling and get all there worries out, and the other half of the class just sat there. The half of the class who did the pre-writing ended up on average outperforming the control group by half a letter grade. The theory is that the kids who did the writing essentially “out loaded” their worries onto the paper and therefore, lessened the space they were taking up in the brain which allowed for the working memory to work more optimally.

Now I didn’t spend the time to look any deeper into this study or others about this topic after watching the video, but I still think the findings are pretty awesome- especially as a kid who is not the best test taker compared to what I feel my understanding of information is. I’m definitely going to try this pre-writing technique out and believe teachers should really try implementing this practice in classrooms as well. Getting learners to practice reflecting, creating a less stressed out environment, and having better performance result; sounds like a lot of wins for so little work.

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:

Slow Down

The first week or so of a new school semester really sets the tone for the rest of the semester in my opinion. For me, there has been a bit of drama, a bit of stress, a bit of rescheduling, a bit of fun, a bit of gymnastics, a bit of emailing, but primarily a lot of trying to work ahead. This weekend is a long weekend, and a crazy one for me, and whenever there is a long weekend I try to get ahead on homework to have the least amount of work possible over the weekend.

Honestly, I’ve been pretty impressed with my ability to stay overly on top of things thus far and it’s been a pretty great feeling. Though at the same time, sometimes it can be information overload.

Like on days like today where I’ve been working intensely for the last few hours on some stats problems that were annoyingly worded and involved tedious steps. Now I’m just kind of mind numb and when I try to think about everything that happened today, I instead just see numbers and phrases scrambled up flying in every which way. It doesn’t help that I really should be sleeping more then I have thus far…

It’s days like today where I wonder if it’s really best for me to have classes where I’m given almost all of my assignments for the semester up front. In a way it almost makes me more anxious because I never get that feeling of being done when I always know there’s something else I could be working on. Meanwhile, when only given a few assignments at a time, then when I finish those, I have to be finished because there is nothing else I know to do.

It’s really a trade-off. I enjoy the freedom to work ahead and therefore get more of a say in how I distribute my time, but I also constantly feel the need to be working. I’ve gotten better at giving myself breaks though, like when I had a cookie dough and Netflix party a few days ago as a celebration for getting more done then I expected to that day. I think tonight will also be a break day because I’m not sure if I can handle much more after that Stats homework; it was much more laborsome then my first two Stats assignments.

Even if you can keep working, that doesn’t always mean you should; slowly learning that despite my occasional work anxiety…

Don’t Forget to be Awesome

Sometimes you have to remind people that they’re awesome. Furthermore, sometimes you have to remind people that they need to remind themselves that they’re awesome.

Today I made a girl yell out loud that she was awesome because who knows how the rest of her day was going but by the time she got to practice she was having some serious self-doubt going on. I don’t feel that self-doubt is something that just get’s better with age either because a similar situation came up with some Tech kids as we’ve begun our first week of school. There was a big conversation I more witnessed and listened than partook in literally after day 1 of school complete with yelling and tears that was essentially all about self-doubt with school, friends, and life in general.

It seems that mental health problems have started hitting kids younger and younger nowadays. I don’t know if the general pressures of life have really gotten that much more stressful or what it is, but I notice more and more kids of all ages doubting themselves daily. I know the feeling and admit it’s one thing to give advice and an entirely different thing to take even your own advice; there’s no simple fix so I’m not going to try to propose one at this point in time.

It’s just hard to see people constantly blaming themselves and not thinking they’re good enough. Since I’ve come to college it seems to just be a norm though, and now that I coach gymnastics more often, I’ve started noticing signs of self-doubt at even younger ages which is even harder to see.

I wish more was being done to combat this. I can’t help but feel the best place to make a difference would be in schools where kids spend the majority of their day-to-day lives. Yet the opposite seems to be happening. We’re always pushing kids to be perfect; to get a “perfect score” specifically. There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness, but no matter how many teachers try to say “it’s okay to fail because we learn from our mistakes,” at the end of the day I never truly see this mindset in practice. I don’t think we ever will as long as we have grades, standardized tests, and college applications so heavily based on all of the numbers. How often do we just teach kids to love themselves the way they are and that striving for greatness is a personal mission to be the greatest “you” you can be for the world, not a competitive mission to be the best singular thing compared to everyone else?

The competitive nature that comes along with the numbers is inevitable and detrimental. Wheather intentional or not, kids end up comparing and competing in terms of grades. It always happens and it only makes it that much worse when someone slips up. It doesn’t feel good to be “beaten,” and this competitive nature, whether it means vying for valedictorian or messing around with friends about the little participation grades, until the foundational systematic approach to schooling is altered I don’t imagine mental health in society improving anytime soon.

Watch a 10-year-old beat herself up over forgetting two poses in a 3-minute long routine she learned in less than three hours and tell me that mental health isn’t an issue amongst young learners.

Show Time

The old gang got back together today! We had a mini theater reunion with us theater alum coming back to the MVAllStars black box to see Aladdin the Musical tonight. It was great getting to see everyone tonight and even better to also get to see a great show! I miss being up on stage and working with those guys.

I loved how after the show we still went backstage and talked to everyone and helped clean up stuff; it felt like old times.

I was so proud of all of my little acrobats on stage tonight. It’s always fun to see your work being performed especially when you can tell how happy it makes the performers.

I’m hoping to have that feeling again when our gymnastics showcase performs Sunday night. Right now the groups have been looking kind of messy which is getting me nervous again about if I was too ambitious with this year’s routine.

But who knows, maybe I’m just getting anxious due to everything happening at this time of year. It’s been a high-stress time especially with now receiving final grades.

Take a Break

At the point when I started jamming to Aladdin songs silently to myself, I decided having gone over my test two full times was sufficient and I should turn it in and head to the bathroom. However, then I found a cockroach in the bathroom with spooked me and made me anxious because I DESPISE cockroaches. To the point where I found an entirely different bathroom to go into.

There-go, due to this immediate stress post-test, it wasn’t until I was walking back to my dorm that it finally hit me: I’m officially done with my first year of college…

After a week of traveling, performing, and studying, it was the most satisfying feeling to just take a breath and not have to worry about anything for a moment.

Now sure, this week is still crazy with shows coming up and the beginning of the class I’m teaching starting next week, but for the rest of tonight, it’s time to just take a break from thinking and working too hard; an amazing concept.

I sat at my desk for 8 hours today studying math. I got up for maybe 10 minutes total during that time. Then I spent 2 hours in a different chair also doing the same math. I’m very ready to take a break.

So now I’m going to post this blog, walk out of my dorm room and go enjoy some cookies with friends and let a new kind of crazy start tomorrow.