Somber yet Uplifting, Rewarding yet Frustrating

In the past five years, I have never missed blogging before my final exams. I believe it’s a time of year where it is especially important to take time to reflect, and as easy as it would be to ignore blogging and keep cramming for my exam tomorrow, it’s probably about time I found my way back to The Life of Pinya.

Finals week is never smooth sailing, but this past week has been particularly rough with a whirlwind of emotions.

A week ago today my uncle passed away. Technically he was my great great uncle, but with the way generations work out in my family, everyone just called him Uncle Early. I’m honestly still a bit in disbelief that he passed, even just writing this paragraph in the past tense is kind of surreal. It was a shock to everyone. He was only in his mid-70s and in good health. Just a few weeks ago he was crushing it on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding and every year he’d still challenge me to a fried chicken eating contest at our family reunion. Then two weeks ago he had a stroke.

He has to have immediate brain surgery, but things were still looking good. He was recovering so well; the last time I went into the hospital his temperature had just come back to normal, the nurses completely took him off of one of the painkillers, and he got rid of the case of strep he caught. Then they found something else in his brain. To be honest, I still am not clear on the details, but he died later that night while I was at the gym coaching.

My Uncle Early was a great man. Perhaps he had a bit of a cynical humor from time to time, like when he called a baby a “chubby little porker,” but he was good-hearted and everyone always admired how he brought people together. As one of my relatives put it, our family is comprised of a lot of halves and quarters and all sorts of combinations, and Uncle Early was one of those people who connects everyone. At his memorial service this past weekend, one of his daughters told us how on the notes in his phone was a list of all the Christmas presents he was going to buy for the people in the apartment in NYC he and his wife lived at once a month and another list of plans for their next family vacation for Summer 2019. It really made me realize just how much he was constantly thinking ahead and thinking of others.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Uncle Early all that often despite the fact that we were in the same city. We mostly talked at our annual family reunion and the occasional family gathering for birthdays and weddings. Two summers ago my grandma and I also got to spend a week with him and his immediate family at a villa in Italy which was an amazing time. I think his passing made a lot of my family realize how silly it is that we don’t stay better in touch, and now more than ever it’s important to actively work to be together with our main connector gone.

And while you may think that having a family member pass away in the middle of final exams is already emotionally draining, my week only continued to get mind-boggling. On top of my uncle passing away and all of our family coming in town, we also had our first gymnastics meet of the season this past weekend. Thus I spent a good portion of the week in the gym for extra last-minute practices trying to get all of our girls prepared for the meet and the gym ready for us to host. And this only became more challenging once it was official that my uncle’s memorial service would be held in the middle of the time our meet was scheduled for. My mom, sister, and I were all supposed to be working at all three sessions Sunday, and thus when the memorial was planned we then had an extra stressor of trying to figure out how we would cover all three of us not being at the meet – there were a lot of phone calls to old coaches and having to explain to our girls why they would have to have a coach they hardly work with at their first meet.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed to not be able to be at the meet. It’s my first year being an official team coach in terms of actually having a set schedule where I’m the main coach for our youngest girls, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing them compete. Plus I felt bad for them because a competition is already so nerve-racking and I can only imagine what it would be like to then not have your main coach there with you. Not to mention it was the very first gym meet ever for most of my girls as they are on our lowest level of team so they’re mostly newbies to the competition world. I’m proud to say that from what I’ve heard they all had a pretty solid first meet, though a part of me still wishes I could have been there.

I was back at the meet though right after the service because to add another level to this past weekend, not only was I scheduled to coach, I was also scheduled to perform at the meet with my acro partner. While some may say they couldn’t even imagine performing after a memorial service, I’m a big believer in the saying, “The show must go on,” and it was making me more anxious and harder to contain emotions to even think about not performing when I knew I could make it work.

Despite what her mom may have said, I couldn’t bear to think about letting my partner down by not performing because acro isn’t the kind of thing someone can just come in to “fill in” for – if one partner is out, then no one performs. Plus we were both so excited though to show off our new skills and the fact that we finally got everything needed to be an official level 8 pair! (Well officially level 8 besides my tumbling which was a whole other stressor this past week of trying to work past my fear of back tucks while also dealing with my hurt wrists preventing me from other options…) Not to mention, I’m studying abroad over the summer and will miss our in-house meet in the spring, so I’m really not sure when our next performance will be which made me especially upset about potentially missing this showcase.

And I think it’s what my uncle would’ve wanted as well. I mean even his own service ended with a party in his honor because that’s the kind of person he was – someone who loved to bring people together for a good time. So my mom braided my hair in the bathroom after the service and I got in an uber and rushed back to the gym. My partner and I had not had the greatest of practices leading up to the meet, and to be honest for one of our routines we had only ever done it successfully with all of the skills once before the show. So besides all the other emotions, I was not in my most calm state rushing into the gym for a quick warm up before performing.

Somehow, thankfully, our performance actually went as good as we could’ve expected! My tumbling was awful, but we made every skill which for this point in the season is good enough for me!

Then Monday came and the whole “it’s the middle of finals week” officially hit me… Between coaching, spending time with family, seeing shows (like my high school director’s annual one-man version of A Christmas Carol, which I hope to never miss, and Elf the Musical – both full of great and much needed holiday spirit), and just trying to stay calm, it was maybe too easy to procrastinate school work…

So now these past few days I’ve been working hard finishing projects, portfolios, and taking tests all the while studying for my one in person exam tomorrow morning before I’m finally done with the semester.

I know I’m a compartmentalizer when it comes to emotions, which is probably evident even in this post, and honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this week if I wasn’t. But that’s also part of why I thought it was especially important for me to blog tonight. It’s often when we feel we have the least amount of time and/or desire to take a moment to reflect that we need to the most.

I don’t have a problem with talking to people about personal things, but it’s been exactly for that reason that instead, this has been one of those weeks where I just kind of avoided people. I knew I would naturally share with people the chaos of this week, but I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat the story so many times with each new person I ran into. That’s a bit too emotionally draining even for this compartmentalizer. The follow-up comments are just… awkward … There’s no better way to describe it personally. It’s a conversation no one knows how to have or continue or what to say or what not to say. I guess that’s just another reason it’s nice to blog- it’s a way to think without stress or interruption and get it all out there at once, not for the sake of sharing or for the desire of a response, but for the purpose of trying to help take it all in.

This week has seen it all. It’s been somber yet uplifting, rewarding yet frustrating, and a whole mix of other things I’ve yet to fully process, but I think writing some of it down might have helped a little at least to get out of my head and start to piece together just everything that happened this weekend. It’s had a bit of a sleepwalking-like feel which I’m not sure I’ve even quite shaken off yet, but “The show must go on.”

And with that, as the tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night.

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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.

 

Punishment Paradigm in Education

In psych class, we are currently learning about “learning.” In particular, I was reading tonight about reinforcement and punishment.

I was really surprised by how much of what I was learning directly refuted the way our school system operates in regards to discipline.

The short summary of my reading is that punishment only really works if it occurs right after the undesired behavior. If it is delayed, then there could be mixed associations about what behavior caused the punishment. For example, if a child cheats and then days later admits to cheating and gets punished for it, then the kid is being encouraged to not admit to cheating in the future and instead lie because their goal always is to avoid punishment. The kid is not actually taught how to improve by being punished, instead, they are taught what not to do, and therefore, are basically just being taught to learn how to not get caught.

I can’t think of many times in education where punishment is not delayed from the time of the undesired behavior; therefore, punishment almost always is not going to do the best job at teaching a child to change the behavior.

Instead, psychology would suggest reinforcing desired behavior oppose to using punishment techniques. This can be hard to do because punishment is a more natural response, which my family has experienced while trying to use this technique to train our puppy… However, despite the challenges, it seems odd to me that I don’t see more prototypes of this technique being experimented with in schools. I’ve heard of a few ideas, like yoga instead of detention, but on the whole, it seems that most schools tend to stick with traditional punishments like missing recess, suspension, detention, busy work, etc.

Furthermore, only slightly related, but very interesting to me, the textbook also discussed the ineffectiveness of physical punishment; spanking being the primary focus of the material.

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We were provided with this visual of the locations where spanking has been made illegal in school and homes. What I found interesting is that if I was asked to name areas I consider to have better public school systems, there is a correlation to the extent which spanking is not tolerated. It was one of those things I read and thought, “Well I’m not surprised, but I can’t believe it!” The idea that in the US children can still be legally spanked in school just feels wrong… (Must be honest, I’ve not done further research on this fact and the study in our book was conducted 2015-16, so perhaps this is not up to date information, but still only two years ago feels crazy enough.)

We know so much about learning that it constantly baffles me when I discover more and more ways that our education system doesn’t incorporate concepts we know to be true.

 

The Gift of Feedback

I truly value people who can give good feedback. It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive feedback, but just people who can balance between praise and critique and make suggestions without sounding like a know-it-all. People who know how to both point out specifics and provide examples of new directions to go in, but can also give general overall feedback on the piece as a whole.

I had a conversation with my bestie tonight about this and we both agreed that knowing how to give feedback well is one of the best skills you can find in a teammate. Yet at the same time, teaching “how” to give feedback never seems to me emphasized enough in school. There are some people that are just horrible at giving feedback. There are two spectrums of the people you don’t want to give you feedback: the know-it-alls who sound like snobs that can only give feedback “obviously you should’ve…” feedback, and then the people who don’t know how to critique at all so they just say everything is great even when you know it isn’t.

Personally, I wish there was more teaching on giving feedback. I learned through experience in the Innovation Diploma (ID) but sometimes it would be nice to get more feedback on how we’re giving feedback. It’s one of those things I really miss about high school/ID- more frequent practice of giving and receiving feedback.

Also, especially in college but I suppose for some high schools too, I wish more teachers facilitated first drafts and peer review. Sometimes you need that nudge to meet new people in your classes and some people need more guidance on how to give feedback if they never had that learning opportunity when they were younger.

I happened to be partnered with someone today in my English class who I found to be a particularly helpful feedback giver. There was great balance in the type and style in which he gave feedback which I truly appreciated. It will now make my second draft much easier to write.

Missing the Meal

There’s a lot of things that aren’t so great about being a freshman, and the even more upsetting thing is that you often don’t appreciate the great parts until you are no longer a freshman.

So far the thing I miss most about being a freshman is surprisingly being forced onto the Meal Plan. I say surprisingly because it isn’t that the meals were amazing. (Though I admit I’m still on a Meal Plan because I did appreciate having a wider variety of at least decent food that you don’t have to cook yourself.) No the reason I miss being forced onto the Meal Plan isn’t because of the food, it’s because of the meal.

The experience of having a meal was more than just the food. You’d accidentally bump into people you knew while you were there and catch up after not seeing people in a while. Or if you knew you’re schedule was similar to someone else you’d intentionally plan to have meals together knowing there were really only a couple of options of where to go. It forced you out of your room and into society. You struggled together running through the rain or scorching heat because if you wanted to eat you had to walk there.

Now living in an apartment, only partly on a Meal Plan while basically none of my friends have one, I feel as if I hardly see people anymore. We’ve started living more spread out. Our classes are more major specific. And we’re just busy in general. It’s easy to want to just stay in your apartment and work through lunch, or not bother walking late at night to a dinning hall when you can make pasta a few feet away.

I miss the meals I had with friends. Sure it’s only a week in, but the first week is an oddly good predictor of how the subsequent ones will go in terms of your routine schedule. We’re creatures of habit and I imagine if I’ve not really bumped into people yet, then there is a good chance I will not for a while without intentionally doing so. It’s not that I’m against intentionally planning to meet with people, but sometimes the spontaneous or necessary part of running into people is what makes it especially great; there’s no effort involved so it doesn’t feel like anything is being forced or like there is any pressure on that conversation needing to be particularly memorable because you don’t know when you’ll have another.

I wish I would’ve better cherished those Freshman meals.

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.

Technological Chaos

Signing up for classes is one of the most stressful things.

It’s chaos online between trying to hunt down what classes you need to take, what classes are open, trying to schedule enough time to run between buildings while still not being totally spaced out.

Personally, I still am yet to get into an English 2 class, a class normally taken by freshman in the spring. I couldn’t get off of a waitlist in the spring, then I signed up during phase 1 registration only to have my class get cancelled over the summer, and now most of the classes are full and the online program is saying I’m too old to sign up for the few free spots. I’ve sent three emails to different people that could potentially help in this situation, but so far haven’t received a response. I’m not super surprised since the emails were sent today, but I guess I’m weirdly used to people responding fairly timely to emails; just another way higher ed is different from k-12 I guess…

It makes me crazy how difficult online systems can be sometimes. Technology is supposed to make lives easier, but sometimes it just drives lives more insane.

Simply Lovely

Some nights you go have dinner with old friends and everything’s just great.

Doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how much we’ve changed over the years, we can always jump back into a conversation.

Tonight there’s no great moral lesson or new self-discovery; it was just a lovely night with people who make my life better.