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.

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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.

Always New Firsts

I love how life can always bring new adventures.

I may have not grown up in NYC, but I visit much more often than the normal person. I’m typically here between 3-5 times a year for about a week visit each if not more. And yet, every time I come here there is something new I try or do. I constantly find myself becoming hyper-aware of growing up based on my adventures in NYC and the independence I develop.

I’ve found that kids in the city tend to have a remarkable amount of independence and seem to mature quickly from learning as they go. Sometimes it seems silly to me when I get excited about my first time doing something in the city by myself because I know city kids have been doing the same things for years before me.

Like today for example, I was really excited about how for the first time I was the one to wake up and head to the TSTK line (day of discounted Broadway tickets line) and last minute get my grandma and I tickets for a matinee show.

Then later in the day, my grandma had a first when we ended up entering the lottery to try and get last minute tickets to another Broadway show. She was so excited about watching other people win that I can only imagine what would’ve happened if we had actually won. She wants to do it again just because of how entertaining she found it all!

As we get older, sometimes it feels like we’re more often focusing on the last time we do things, but it’s nice to remember there are always new “first times” that we can experience.

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.)

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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Piling Up

(Somehow this never posted yesterday…)

It’s amazing how work seems to just pile up sometimes. There was so much I had planned to accomplish today and yet it seems I hardly achieved any of my goals. I made progress which is at least somewhat of a success, but it’s never a great feeling going to bed knowing how much you didn’t get done today means you have to figure out when you’re trying to do it tomorrow…

I’m chaperoning my siblings’ dance retreat this Thursday-Sunday and when I return I’m only home for a day before flying off to Vermont and then all over the north-east for pretty much the rest of summer. It’s crazy how June has practically come and gone already. I don’t know where the time went, but I know the work didn’t go far.

Later this week I will be done with my history class, will have published Trailblazer’s Issue 3, and have posted my 700th blog post if all goes according to plan. Some big milestones are ahead, so hopefully work can stop piling up and I can get my scheduling and goals aligned in a productive way.

Summer Projects

Working on a design/project team over the summer can be very challenging. The hardest part is trying to make sure everyone is adhering to deadlines and being able to communicate well with each other even without having consistent times where the team is face to face and without having everyone on the same schedule and sometimes not even the same time zone.

It can be hard enough working on a non-school specific project during the school year while everyone has various assignments and other activities going on, then it seems summer comes and everyone really just wants to take a break which makes it even harder to keep working on a project.

As we get ready for Trailblazers Issue 3 to come out (later this month!), our team has been struggling a little with communication and getting those last tasks done. We did a much better job communicating with our spotlight learners to make sure we got their drafts and edits done in a timely fashion, now we’re just working on those last design edits which can sometimes feel tedious. It’s amazing how all the little changes together make a big difference in quality, and when your lead designer ends up in Japan it can make for some interesting challenges which our team has been working through.

I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways we can make the process of going from working on article edits to design edits smoother because it seems to be what’s gotten us stuck most this year.

For one matter, hopefully, we can finally keep the same platform to create our magazine on because so far each issue has been on a different platform which wastes a lot of time trying to transfer and learn how to work the new platform.

The reason we keep switching platforms is that most high-quality magazine design platforms cost money, or at least the premium version which has the functions we would like costs money. However, at this point in time Trailblazer’s is a non-profit, and no one on our team has had real experience with trying to turn a project into a for-profit or even just experience with raising money to fund a project. We wanted to make sure we were really committed to this project before trying to worry too much about money, but now it seems we’re at the point where we may need to start spending some brain power designing for that challenge. I’m hoping as we get two new members joining us this summer for the coming school year, the enlargened team will allow us to divide up roles in a way to take more time brainstorming this platform challenge. (We’ve already created the roles, now we’re in a process of accepting applications for the team.)

Another thing I’m hoping will help our design process, is to create a “Trailblazers Brand and Style Guide” this way it is easier for every team member to know what fonts, colors, pictures, page layouts, etc. we use in the process of developing each magazine. This way it will make it easier for our future lead designers to know what the standards are for our brand versus where there can be created with the design and will hopefully make the process more efficient of getting the articles into the magazine format.

We have already started to discuss work on that and the goal is that we will have this document ready for the next school year, and therefore, before issue 4 of Trailblazers begins production in the fall.

Despite the current challenges we’ve been facing internally that have been rather stressful as a team leader, I’m really excited for Issue 3 of Trailblazers to finally be published later this month! I know it’s going to be great and I’ve loved seeing how our team has improved efficiency and quality with each new magazine!

Familiar Faces

I use to go to some sort of sleep away summer camp every year since I was about seven. There were some that I went to them every summer for a given amount of time, and other that I just tried randomly, like this one YMCA camp in Ohio.

I always loved summer camp because of all of the activities and weird traditions and games and meeting new people that you somehow become so close to in as little as a week at times. I’m still in touch to this day with some of my friends from mime camp and nerd camp and it’s been years since I attended either of those camps.

It’s been weird not going to sleep away camp anymore the past few years; however, this week is the second year now that I’ve helped work at a speciality camp. Today was the first day of Olympic Gymnastics Camp run by former Olympian ​Svetlana Boguinskaia who my mom has been friends with for a few years now which is how we learned of the camp. My sister used to be a camper when she still competed, and then last year was the first year we both started working there. 

It’s funny to now have a camp I’m at again but now as a coach. There are so many kids I at least vaguely remember but the passage of time seems so much more significant as a coach rather than a camper; especially since some kids jumped a ton of gym levels since I saw them last. It’s nice to have a new place with familiar faces from over the years though.

Teachers Fail Up Too

Yesterday we had kind of a sad moment with our class. While the kids were doing research, we were having a bunch of phone calls and emails, but in the end,logistics proved too problematic and we had to cancel our field trip planned for Monday.

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The kids were doing research on tiny homes and eco-hostels and tree houses, etc. Then, we were supposed to be actually going to visit a tiny home but turns out the guy who had previously confirmed with us now says no one can open the building. Then we found a different spot but driving would take far too long compared to the amount of time we could actually stay.

So we finally called it off and instead the guy who was going to give us a tour is going to come to Paideia and present to the class. Obviously, this is not ideal considering such a big part of design thinking is the whole getting out into the world component; however, I guess it goes to show teachers can fail up too.

I guess we should’ve done a better job of getting dates like this overly planned with people ahead of time. This wasn’t something I was in charge of planning and it was a last minute idea, but it still is upsetting that we can’t do it, because it’s so obvious now that we should be.

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On the flip side though, we also had a skype call that was not previously planned with a girl who lived in a tree house with a composting toilet for a year and a half which was super helpful. So sometimes last-minute ideas can work out which was also a good learning moment of the day.

Cleaning Up

It was crazy to move out of my dorm and realize just how much stuff I have!!! Now it’s been even harder trying to go through stuff and organize everything. I just spent the last hour or so going up and down stairs trying to figure out what’s just needed at college versus what I need this summer and in a weird way it’s kind of been nice.

Sorting through things, realizing how I don’t need nearly as much as I have, and overall being weirdly relaxed trying to find a spot for everything and finally being able to walk through my room again.

End of the year cleaning up is sometimes just what needs to be done.