Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Reflecting on Life

As a lifelong learner, I am pretty curious.  I enjoy thinking about new ideas and looking at research about all kinds of topics: space, education, Biblical studies, science... you name it.  I like to be stumped and have to think on things for long periods of time so that when I learn something new I work to see how it fits into things I've already learned.  Sometimes my views change, sometimes I wait and see, and sometimes my views are reaffirmed.  There are a few things that have me thinking, growing, and changing.  They also are reaffirming.

  • Parkinson's.  My dad has it, and I've watched it take a brilliant, funny, humble, and godly man on a personal journey that tests his faith, and reaffirms it.  They say when people start losing their cognitive abilities you see who they truly are.  In my case, my dad is even more humorous, more godly, and more humble than he's ever been.  He's also just as brilliant, he just can't find the words to show it.  I'm so proud of him.
  • Education.  I made the choice to move to a school of choice middle school from a wonderful position teaching gifted students.  I loved teaching gifted students, but I also wanted a challenge. This middle school is very much a challenge, and it has pushed me to shore up my beliefs about education.  It also reminded me how much I love middle schoolers, even when they drive me crazy.  They have real issues going on in their lives, and I want them to know my class is their safe place.  
  • Mother-in-law.  This year I welcomed two daughters-in-law into our lives, and I am so amazed at how God brought together the perfect helpmates for my sons.  They complement each other perfectly and push the boys enough to encourage growth.  I love their new traditions they bring, and the fact that they are both letter writers. They have strong values.  I love them. 
  • Growth.  I finished my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in 2017, and I have used what I learned SO much.  That education changed my thinking about what good education looks like, and made me a better educator.  However, I'm not finished.  Another masters is on the horizon, and once I committed I became more and more excited.  I'm happy to say I will be pursuing a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policies beginning at the end of August.  I look forward to learning from this same university again.  
  • Personal conflict.  My eyes were opened in a big way after hearing and understanding about covert aggression.  It is something we have been dealing with for many years and was a way of life for us for a while but I haven't been able to put it into words.  Hearing this term and what it represents was so joyful for me, because it describes perfectly the problems we have been dealing with.  That affirmation was life-changing because  I now know how to deal with them and that the hope they would someday change so that we could have a relationship we once had will never happen unless God moves and changes their hearts. I do hope for that, but I'm more realistic about the possibilities. 
It's good to be in this place of reflection before school begins again.  I'm blessed. Not because our lives are free from difficulties....they're not.  Not because we are reaping financial gains.... we're not. A lot of people confuse those things with being blessed.  Sometimes God blesses us with difficulties so that we can know him better and can grow and change.  Growth comes from struggle.  I love that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Embracing the Struggle

One of the things I push with my students is the importance of embracing struggle.  We should be actively looking for our weak areas and working to shore them up.  This means that we need to be willing to grow and change.

This year I decided to practice what I preach. I was in a comfortable place at my old schools.  The rotation of themes I taught each year was in a good place.  Everything was routine.  My students were challenged with design thinking, Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development, the circle of control, collaboration, leadership, etc., along with deep and rigorous content. But there was a new school in town, and I liked the concept:  a gaming school.  The school focuses on students who game, and those who typically do not do well in a traditional classroom.

Let me tell you, I am embracing the struggle.  It has not been easy.  There are NO gaming schools on which we can model this school.  We're breaking new ground. This year we made mistakes.  I will start the year differently.  I will break up my classes differently.  I will prepare in a broader way.  And I will cast a vision to my students. 

However, once again, my students have taught me so much.  They know SO much more about their technology than I do.  I now know how to make multiple desktops, how to use shortcuts, and how to "rollercoaster."  But more than that, I know there are kids who are so resilient in the face of their circumstances.  I know saying, "I hope you have a good day" can make someone's day. I know they listen because they tell each other "All you have to do to pass math is listen to Mrs. Hughes." I know pets die, family members die, hearts break, and friends leave, but 11 and 12-year-olds have it within them to keep going and rise above.

So, here's to last year's struggle and growth.  Bring on next year.  I can't wait to see where it leads!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Growth mindset is something I have been studying for awhile.  The term was coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, and the idea has taken the educational world by storm.  The idea is fairly simple, but as I've learned, life is made up of simple rules with complex consequences.  This idea enables us to find the simplicity in things but allows for complexity and beauty. This idea can also make things more complicated.
Growth mindset, simply stated, divides how we react to and learn from situations into two categories: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.  Carol Dweck relates these ideas to learning. Someone with a fixed mindset believes they are not able to grow, they don't have the mental capacity to do so.  Their intelligence is fixed, so their learning is fixed. If someone with a fixed mindset makes a mistake, their inner voice (or the actual voice of others around them) reminds them of their fixed state, and that failure means learning and growing is futile. Growth mindset is just the opposite.  Failure is expected, but instead, it is seen as part of the growth process.  The expectation then is to learn from the failure and let that learning inform future decisions.
This is great for me in the classroom, and I have found that growth mindset is transformational not only for my high achieving and gifted students, who tend to be perfectionists, but also with low achieving students.  Those who are low achieving very often have higher ability, but are crippled by the fear of failure.  They have voices around them that look forward to failure, or tell them, "See, I told you you'd fail." Additionally, lower achieving students have been put in a box, and are expected not to achieve, so they conform because it is too exhausting to fight. 
Enter my epiphany as a teacher.  I need to be careful not to put and keep students in a box. I have conceded that I might have a fixed mindset about them!  In taking Carol Dweck's idea of fixed mindset a step further, I came to the realization that our fixed mindsets about others may be preventing growth in them.  My influence on some students may be fixed, and it may be stifling their growth.  That's a weighty thing.
When students are frustrated, a lot of their energy is placed in something they can't control.  They are angry about things outside of their realm of control: other's thoughts, other's actions, other's words.  It is quite possible that students are also frustrated by the mindsets teachers have about them.  That also is out of their control.  What if we used a little empathy, and worked to understand the motivations of our students' frustrations. What if we identified our role, and worked to change that?  We might open up a whole new world of possibilities for our students.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Catching up

I'm feeling a little shame-faced.  I had every intention of taking a blogging break for a few months and then get back to it.  Now here I am, two and a half years later, and the break has been a bit too long!
A lot has happened since this last post!  I am now a mother-in-law for one amazingly talented young lady and am about to be a mother-in-law to another amazingly talented young lady. Our last child graduated high school, our oldest has successfully navigated the job force even through her disability, and we are blessed beyond measure. I've entered into the part of life in which my parents are not as healthy as they once were, and we all have learned to navigate the healthcare system and insurance companies. (Lord help me and them!) I earned my Masters and changed positions from teaching gifted children to teaching 6th-grade math at a gaming school (Texas' first!).  And of course, our Student Spaceflight experiments have continued to make it to the International Space Station every year, and our students are continuing to present their experiments at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.  Life is full and good.
Writing this blog started out as a way to express my thoughts about things going on in my life, then I went through a phase of using it to communicate to someone indirectly (bad idea), and then moved on to documenting our family activities and keeping track of some of the fun/funny things we've done.  One friend told me it felt like she was reading my personal diary.  I don't want to be that personal at this point, but I do want to use this blog to document life as I learn it and to reflect on the things I have learned.
I never want to come across as an expert on life, or that you all should be learning from my experiences.  While I may have an experience you can gain insight from, we each are still bringing our own experiences to the table, and applications, insights, and results will be different for each of us.  SO, I will never feel like I have "arrived" and you all should listen.  Instead, these are conversations, give and takes if you will.
Life is good, is perfectly imperfect, and this is Life as I Learn it.