Tag Archives: learning

Joy of Life

The most important lesson I have learned in half a century is that there is joy in every day. I can have a horrible day at work but come home and have a dance party with my kids. This lesson took years to understand, and takes strength to accomplish. I have to leave the bad day at work to fully enjoy dancing with my kids.

I know that this list will not surprise anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, I’ve touched on these in different ways through the years. But hopefully this post will remind you of the things that bring you joy. 

Number 5

I love learning. School was my escape from all the craziness I was going through. Even when I was the new kid so many times growing up. Each school provided opportunities to grow. For the last couple of years I have participated in the challenge to read 60 books in a year. I don’t get to 60 every year, but I spend the year learning and I love that.

Number 4

When I thought about the role walking has had in my life, I thought back to all the times my best friend and I would walk by the river. How, especially in junior high, we walked all over town. And how I was the only senior that had to walk to school everyday… the consequence of me wrecking a car my junior year. Walking is good exercise, but the joy is in sharing with others. I take the girls on snack walks, we have nature walks, there is a certain joy to sharing the moment and world with others as I walk.

Number 3

One of the best parts of being a dad is watching my kids in activities: elementary concerts, basketball, soccer, and science fairs to name just a few of the activities I’ve spent enjoying, my wife at my side, and sometimes a coffee in my hand. It matters to me, in part because my father never saw me compete in anything. I swear I tear up every time one of my kids sees me in the crowd and they wave or nod their head at me.

Number 2

I park the minivan facing the lake. My wife and I people-watch as we enjoy a Blizzard. Cookie dough for my wife. I usually will try the special flavor of the month. These small moments intertwined joy into life. And if we pay attention, not getting lost in the routine of life, every day is filled with these small moments. Talking with my kids before bed. Letting them help make blueberry muffins. Holding hands with my wife as we watch Miami Vice. Yes, I believe joy is the thread that determines the way we live.

Number 1

This is no surprise for anyone. Writing brings a level of joy that ignites my soul. When the thoughts in my head and feelings stirring in my heart find their way to the page, I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel vulnerable because the words I write are honest reflections of who I am. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me as I start the next half century. Do something that brings you joy today… because if we are not here to feel joy, to love others, to sing badly to our favorite songs… then I don’t know the meaning of life.

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Move

Sharks have to move to stay alive.

This is mostly true (Must Sharks Keep Swimming to Stay Alive?). For most species they have to move to push water thru their gills to breathe. So, to stay alive, they must constantly swim, be in constant motion.

What about us?

Do we need to move to live?

I say, yes.

And not just physically. We need to move mentally and emotionally. Living is moving. One of my dadisms is “We are all works in progress.” I know that we can stop growing, but we shouldn’t. Yet, there are too many things today that hinders us from moving in our lives.

The obvious factor is smart phones. I see the effects of this device as a dad and as a teacher. 

My students get restless when we take notes, but if I give them some down time with their phones… the room is quiet… and they just sit there looking at the screen. I see this with my daughters, too.

The way we use our smart phone gives us a false sense of motion, of living. An interesting TED Talk, “Why our screens make us less happy” by Adam Alter, highlights the fact that many of the apps, social media, and games have no “stopping cues”. Moments that allow us to consider moving on to something else, like the end of a chapter in a book. So, we scroll through Twitter or Instagram because we can, it feels like moving. It keeps us scrolling because the feed is moving, too. There is nothing that cues us to stop. Of course tools like this don’t want us to stop.

Adam’s talk also highlights why this can be an issue. In his talk he visually shows how much time we have in a workday from three different years; 2007, 2015, and 2017. The blue sections indicate work, responsibilities for family, and eating/sleeping. The white space is our “personal time” and the red area overtaking the white area is how much time we spend on a screen.

Chart from Alter, Adam. “Why are screens make us less happy.” TEDTalk. April 2017.

Life is moving. We are not moving when we hold a screen in front of our face. It’s not just the physical aspect either. If you think about it, much or our life is lived in our hearts and minds. The way we think, what we feel, our motivation affects how we move about in a typical day. 

We need to move in this field of our lives, too. Screen time is not the main hurdle in this area, attitude is. As an English teacher I have to fight the belief students have that reading is stupid. Understand, I teach seniors, so their belief about reading (and writing) is hard to break through. Reading is one way we can learn, but we can learn from others through listening to their stories and perspective. Social media is not the place for this, especially at this moment.

Growing takes emotions and thinking. Feeling all of our emotions allow us to understand ourselves. This takes courage and a willingness to face our own shortcomings. Thinking through our emotions and our perspective makes us better people. Also, this type of moving allows our everyday life to be lived on a deeper level, to have a fuller, more joyful life. We stop taking things for granted because our hearts and minds are in constant motion. We are moving. We are living.

Maybe Ryan Bingham (character from the movie Up in the Air) was right…

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What are you doing?

The video was produced by my son. This is our first poetry video. We are working on a new video as I write.

My third daughter is teaching herself how to play songs on her keyboard. She learned the opening to “Purple Rain” for me.

I took my daughters to a crane viewing site by the river to learn how to draw landscapes.

I know life is challenging right now. I am teaching English online. My kids are attending college through kindergarten on line.

It is tough in so many different ways. But maybe this is also an opportunity. An opportunity for you, for your family, to do something you didn’t have time for… to do something outside your normal routine before the pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, now is the time to build your skills to go after your dreams.

What are you doing, today?

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What I am Learning

In July I decided to tryout for a musical. My oldest son has been in musicals and plays since fourth grade. My two middle girls have done junior shows the last two summers. I just got a crazy idea to audition for our local community theater. To do something outside my comfort zone this year. So I auditioned for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

And I got a part… Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. Opening night is September 13. I am excited.  I have learned a few things by stepping out of my comfort zone that I would like to share.

Opportunities are there

Sometimes our lives feel so scripted. The routine sets our pace. The days fade together. But there are so many ways to step out of that. I decided to audition for a musical. You can take a class, volunteer, or join a club. There are so many different opportunities in our life to learn something new, develop our skills, ignite a passion for a new hobby. We just have to step out of our comfort zone to get involved.

Getting Feedback is Uncomfortable

As an educator and a coach I know this. I try to keep this idea in mind when I talk with an athlete or student. Instead of giving the feedback, I am receiving it… and it is tough at times. The director knows that I am a rookie, but he is holding me to the same standard as the other actors. I enjoy being held to a high standard, but it means I get a lot of feedback on how I can improve me lines, my dancing, and other aspects of developing my character. Feedback is an important aspect of growing as an actor, as it is for a student, or an athlete. And growth is uncomfortable. It has to be for us to realize our potential.

It is Fun

Even with the stress and struggle, being involved in this musical is fun. I am excited for opening night. I am excited for my family to see me on stage. Being involved is fun.

Confidence

Being involved in something, working on a skill or learning something new builds your confidence. As a coach, I try to define confidence for my athletes as “trusting the work they put into their practice and preparation.” That holds true for me as I practice my lines and memorize the blocking for different sections. I feel more confident as I am able to deliver my lines off book, as I complete the correct steps during a song. By learning to do something outside my comfort zone, I am learning that I am capable of more than I knew. That confidence filters into other parts of my life.

Deciding to audition for a musical was outside my comfort zone. It has been a great experience. I suggest you take the opportunity to find an opportunity to do the same… you won’t regret it.

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I Love School

This morning my youngest daughter informed that she loved school.

“Dad, I love school!” my daughter randomly exclaimed from the backseat.

“That’s cool,” I replied.

“Dad… Do you want to know why I love school?”

“Yes, little one. Why do you love school?”

“Because I get to do jobs.”

Now, we had been discussing the fact that this week she was music helper. Next week she gets to be “fish helper.”  Other jobs that I am aware of are line leader, lunch helper, and some job that is connected with the activity areas in the classroom.

My daughter is five years old. School is pretty awesome.

What happens?

Where does the joy go for students?

This post is not going to answer that question. It is too big for a simple blog post. But my daughter reminded me that for most students, the start of their school experience is filled with joy. With a love for helping. Filled with anticipation to feed a fish, pass out music sheets, and to enter the doors of their school every morning.

I can’t change the whole landscape of education with a blog… but for grammar today we are using Grammar Rock… at least the students will be humming in the hallways.

Hopefully you will, too.

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Not Under the Tree

Yesterday at church Father started his sermon talking about which experience was better: Attending a Husker game in person or watching it on TV. He expanded on the idea to discuss how important it is to be present in our faith, to be present in our lives.

Then my youngest daughter noticed that time moves. I let her wear my watch during church. At first she was fascinated by the backlight button. She would push the button, then cup her hand over the face to see the numbers light up. Toward the end of the service, she noticed that the numbers changed. My daughter updated me every minute through the last song.

“Dad, it’s 10:28 now!” she announced.

She was fascinated with this new knowledge… that time moves on… no matter what we do.

We can spend it on a phone. We can spend it on a computer. We can spend it learning. We can spend it with friends and family. Are we present as time moves forward?

Being present means that we have to deal with both the positive and negative of our lives. This is the biggest hurdle for us. It is easy to be present in our life when things are good. But to be present in life when things are tough, when you have to face the truth of your life, to face your fears and doubts; that takes strength.

The other hurdle is the simple task of being present in the routine of life. We work, we clean, we post on social media, we eat a snack, we live everyday. Being present in the routine is hard. It is easy to just let time move forward. “It’s 10:17! Time for bed.” And another day goes by without us really living it.

To be present everyday. To embrace the complexity of this existence. To face our fears. To love with an open heart. To find joy in this world. That means living our life. That is opening a present that can’t be found under the tree.

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#Life

Even for me, sometimes too many things happen at once that challenge us. Too many dots show up and it is hard to connect them in a clear meaningful way. Right now I am in that situation. I am hoping that writing this blog post will help me find the connections, while bringing something toward your life to think about.

So here are the dots that have happened over the last few days:

Dot One: Reading poetry by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Blake (to name a few) in English class. Poems like “Sonnet 60,” “To an Athlete Dying Young,” and “The world is too much with us.”

Dot Two: Attending the funeral of a family member on my wife’s side that battled cancer for four years. She was only a year older than I am.

Dot Three: Returning to Centura for a basketball game to connect with past colleagues. I also saw the school’s new academic display that had a section for the Teacher of the Year award, which I received in 2010.

Dot Four: Going through a “first year.” Dealing with all the positive and negative components of that.

Dot Five: Getting a chapbook of poetry ready for submission… actually, dot five is writing in general.

So let’s connect some dots with a quote from Macklemore:

Every dot is connected to this quote in some way. This life is fleeting. We all die. We don’t face that reality. We don’t live like our death is a truth. We have songs, we have graduation speeches, we have posters reminding us of the fact. Expressing the idea that our lives should be lived for something more deep and meaningful… but we watch another YouTube video, or retweet a meme, or spend time talking bad about someone. We simply waste time, waste our days on things that don’t make our life incredible.

See, the second part of the Macklemore’s lyric takes all the dots to a deeper level. What we do with our lives dictates how long it takes to die a second time… Think about that for a second…

Dot One: Reading poetry from the 1800’s.

Dot Two: Family. The love we create by being family.

Dot Three: Being involved in people’s lives.

Dot Four: Being involved in people’s lives. Even when it is tough.

Dot Five: Writing so that my words can be a part of somebody’s life.

When will Shakespeare’s name finally be said for the last time? When will yours? When will my name no longer be said?

I don’t know the answers, but I do know that what we do while we are here determines how long we will be remembered.

This isn’t about being famous. This is about facing the truth that we will die. At some point we will no longer see a sunset. We will no longer have a great cup of coffee. Be able to hold hands with the person we love. If we truly lived with the truth of death, our lives would be different. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t work, or that we wouldn’t watch a YouTube video. It means we wouldn’t waste our time and energy on hurting people. We would chase our goals. We would cherish the opportunities we have to learn, to read poetry, to drink a good cup of coffee.

But most importantly, we would love with an open heart. We would love our life and the people we get to share it with. I may never truly make it as a writer or poet (but I will keep trying), but I am a father, a husband, a teacher and a friend. How I live my life in those roles will determine how long it takes to die a second time…

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What I Learned from My Students

It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.

Education Matters

Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.

My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.

Life Can Be a Hurdle

In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.

I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.

Education versus Learning

This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.

The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice  was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.

What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.

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Snap Bracelets

My two little girls were excited this morning to go to daycare.  Fridays are show-and-share days and they had something cool to show today.  Snap bracelets.  I gave the girls the snap bracelets last night.  The girls had no idea how they worked until we showed them.

I brought out the bracelets straighten out, then held my girls’ hands and then snapped the bracelet on to their wrist.  They responded with a wide-eyed expression that then turned into laughter.  My youngest hollered, “Again!”

For the next five minutes my wife and I snapped the bracelets on our daughters’ wrist, on our wrist, and of course even the older ones had to get into the fun.  The girls soon wanted to snap the bracelets themselves.  My youngest had a tougher time getting enough force behind her snap to get the bracelet to curl around her arm, but she did get it a few times.

My second daughter, though, took off with it.  She had it on her ankle, “Look daddy, look at the lizard on my foot!”  She had it on her upper arm; she was snapping it on her brothers’ wrist.  And she had to take it to bed with her.

This morning they had their snap bracelets on and excited to share with their friends at daycare.

As life does, it got me thinking about education.  Without getting too bogged down with deep issues, the snap bracelets are a great example of learning.  When my girls were presented with the bracelets they recognized the animals, but did not understand the apparatus the animals were sitting on.  We “told” them what it was.  They still didn’t totally understand, but they knew what jewelry was and this didn’t look like a bracelet.  Then my wife and I demonstrated how it worked.  It was the coolest thing they had seen.  My girls understood, but weren’t ready to do it themselves, so we demonstrated for a while then handed the bracelets off to them to play with.

Now comes the powerful aspect.  My youngest daughter could make it snap once and awhile, but she still needed assistance.  Plus, she only wanted it on her wrist.  That’s were she is as a two-year-old.  But my second daughter, almost a year and a half older, took off with the snap bracelet.  Understanding the concept, she tested it out on her ankle, on her upper arm, on her siblings.

Isn’t that what we want in learning?  As teachers we are there to show our students the subject matter (a poem, cell division, drawing perspective).  We can “tell” them stuff, but once we show them how powerful the subject is, to practice the concept with them until we let them go to expand their own learning.  To test the ideas out, to experiment with the concept, to create a new idea… to learn.

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What I learned from “taking” my own class.

iPods

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

For the past month or so the TECHS class has been working with HTML, CSS and Java. As a final product, the students will produce a simple slideshow web app.  Programing is just out of my expertise, I learned Pascal in high school.  But, my job has sparked ideas for different apps for education.  So, I have been taking the class too.  And I reached a level of knowledge that I took the T3 Workshop and remixed it as a web app (See the Web App page).

But the process has reinforced a few ideas I have about education.

First, 50 minutes a day is not a way to learn something.  I spent hours studying code, experimenting with code, and researching code.  On Friday, I spent a couple of solid hours working with my app idea.  I struggled. I got frustrated. I accomplished small steps and had light bulb moments.  It was awesome.  But it took time, and high school is not set up for this process. Both time and frustration.  Growth comes from tension, from having the edges of our abilities and thoughts challenged.

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

Second, I needed help from co-workers.  I might have spent more time in the network room than my office working out my problems.  And when I needed help, the guys were there.  Writing and editing code is a lot like old school grammar, you have to pay attention to all kinds of writing errors, from capitalization to unwanted string information.  There was one situation that took a third set of eyes to see the problem, and it was a simple problem.  They network guys were my teachers, but I presented them with what I had done and we worked from there.  Learning is a relationship.  Sharing, guiding, and helping work with and through what ever the lesson may be.

Third, writing code is still above my head, but I am getting better.  And I am excited to see my ideas meet a real outcome.  What gives our education meaning is that fusion of ideas and reality.  That age old question, “Why do I need to know this?” At times lessons are steps to future goals and we have to build that foundation.  But do we give students an avenue to take their learning to a level that affects the world around them? To show them the power behind what they are learning?

I enjoyed being a student, and can’t wait to share what I learned with my students.

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