Apr 252013

[Note: This has been cross-posted from my quotidian truth blog.]


I’ve been reading this book.


And I’ve been thinking about it A LOT.

I can really identify with having a fixed mindset when it comes to sports. I think I need to change this. I’m about 55% through the book (that reference was for you, Alex) and that’s the main area I’ve identified so far that I need to re-think, but it has certainly got me thinking about other areas where perhaps I have a fixed mindset. I need to seriously re-evaluate these areas.

One of the stories that struck me most in this book is the story of Michael Jordan. Before reading this book, I quite honestly had no idea that he was pretty much a crap basketball player when he first started playing. He was cut from the HS Varsity team! He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have taken him. He worked his butt off — doing things like practicing for hours after the last game of the season after they had lost; he was preparing for next season (Dweck 85-86).

I remember once getting into an argument with an administrator — a principal at a previous school — about professional growth. I had started the argument, because I was really miffed that an entire year had gone by and I had not participated in any formal professional development activities. My then-principal told me that there would be times in my career when sometimes I just needed to sit back and slide through, that I didn’t always need to be reaching for something bigger and better. He told me that maybe one day when I had a family I would understand (which I found interesting because he himself didn’t have a family). He said that I really just needed to “sit tight” for the time being and coast for a bit, and that that was okay, that I didn’t always need to be “so ambitious.”

This man clearly did not know me well.

I told him that I couldn’t ever — ever! — imagine plateauing in my career, that I didn’t think that way about being an educator, that I never wanted to coast, and that I was dedicated to always wanting to become better. I told him I would be going to a conference that year whether the school paid for it or not.

(And I did. And the school did end up paying for it, thankfully. But I was fully prepared to go on my own coin that year.)

He still argued with me. I remember him muttering something about how I’d been teaching long enough that I should know that there’s really a limit to what you can know about being a teacher, and that after a while it all is the same, anyway.

He had a fixed mindset.

I, thankfully, did not. And I daresay it’s the reason I’m a better teacher now than I was then, several years ago now.

Dweck tells the story of the one time Michael Jordan decided to coast, the year he returned to basketball after trying out baseball, “… and he learned his lesson. The Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs.”

You can’t leave and think you can come back and dominate this game. I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on.

(Michael Jordan, in Dweck 99)

The question I’m ruminating over now — and it may well be a question I spend my lifetime thinking about — is this: how can I transfer the growth mindset that I have about being an educator to other areas of my life? How can I continually keep growing, developing, and learning as a human being?

I have a lot of work to do.


Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. London: Robinson, 2012. Print.

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Nov 292010

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a while. Not because I have wanted to avoid this blog; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I miss blogging here immensely. But I’ve been putting off this post because I knew it was going to be big — epic, really. Or so I thought.

You see, I didn’t even post ONCE in the entire time from January 1st, 2010 until now.* That’s nearly 11 months, and marks my longest absence from blogging ever. I’m saddened by that, and embarrassed even, particularly because I do consider myself to be A Writer Of Some Kind. You’re possibly wondering why the absence. It’s nothing earth-shattering, really: I just had a really rough Spring semester. I mean, the Fall 2009 semester was rough too because of the whole lifestyle adjustment thing, but Spring semester felt like a steamroller compared to Fall semester’s mountain climbing expedition.

Yeah, so this is my (very late) reflection post. And I hate that I’m reflecting on something that A) happened a while ago now, and B) was such a big chunk of time. I usually prefer the as-it-happens, contextual kind of feedback, the kind that’s most aligned with my educational philosophy (y’know, formative assessment and all). But here we are with all this time since my last post. I guess I have some answering to do.

If you know me personally or follow me on Twitter, you might be saying to yourself, “Huh? But your Spring semester ended months ago! What gives?” And you’d be totally justified in saying that. See, the semester was such a doozy (that’s for you, Clint) that I needed some serious steeping time to get back to my “regular” life (whatever that is) and let things sink in. So, first, I give you…

Why this semester was a doozy

  • I can sum it up like this: I was much busier than during my Fall 2009 semester, but felt that I learned less. The reasons for this are complex. Some are evident below.
  • One of my courses in particular had me playing the role of project manager rather than grad student. This was troublesome for me, not because I don’t like project management (truth be told, I think I’m pretty good at it, as I’m a big-picture kind of thinker), but because it ate up time that I should have been devoting to research and processing. It also put me in a difficult predicament with my classmates, because I was not an authority but needed to behave as one in order to get the final project done. Color me uncomfortable. It didn’t take long for the project to turn into a game of politics and that left me even more uncomfortable. In the end, all worked out fine, but it was not the route I had in mind when I signed up for the course.
  • Another course had me annotating articles like my life depended on it. Every. Article. Posted. And. Then. Some. This amounted to approximately 150+ pages of reading and 2,000 words of writing per week (just for 1 course!). Annotations for this particular prof required regurgitated information (think: low levels of Bloom’s taxonomy) rather than any processing or reflection, which meant I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to consider just what the heck I was actually learning, anyway. It was a LOT of busywork. My annotations amounted to a 50-page document, which I actually had to turn in at the end of the semester. I mean c’mon — does my prof actually read those? (And hey, if you’re reading this, Dr. You-know-who-you-are, I’d actually really like to know if you DO read them. Really).
    • Let me publicly state here — not that it will be a surprise — that I see little value in this kind of work. I successfully summarized between 56-60 articles over a 14 week period, but what did I learn from them? That’s hard to say, because I did not have time to process any of the content that I was so busily transcribing into notes. Had I had the chance to choose one or two of the 4 weekly articles and spend time thoughtfully annotating them and — even more importantly — reflecting on how they apply to my experience and previous knowledge, I suspect I would be sitting here now telling you more about what I actually learned in that course, and how this new knowledge became synthesized with my previous understanding — or at the very least, how it challenged my understanding. But, sadly, that’s not the case, and though nearly 6 months have passed since that course finished, I still sit here and am not sure how to make sense of it all. That tea needs more time to steep, which is a shame, really, because I suspect it would have been much more of a healthy tonic for me to drink while I was actually in school rather than somewhat removed from it.
    • Note: I must be clear here: I highly respect the professors of both courses mentioned so far. They are well known, prominent, and prolific researchers in their fields and regardless of my criticism, I learned from them (rather than the coursework) deeply. As an experienced educator well-versed in teaching and learning sciences, I have difficulty stomaching some aspects of their styles, but this is fine. Any experience helps me learn — I take what I can from it and accept responsibility in my learning. I offer my criticism here as a reason for why this semester felt like busywork rather than learning. And, lest you think I’m just ranting — as both a professional and a mature student, I’m quite comfortable discussing anything I’ve said here with any of my professors in person, and I did indicate my honest thoughts on the end-of-semester evaluation forms.
  • My aunt passed away. This happened while I was on Spring Break in sunny (yes, really) San Francisco. While my aunt had been sick for many years, I learned that despite how prepared a family thinks they are for the loss of a loved one, they really cannot start grieving until the day of death. It was a very, very sad week for my immediate and extended family, and I missed a full week of school between flight changes, funeral arrangements, and an emergency passport renewal. Stress all around, not to mention the mountains of catchup work required for me when I finally did return. It took me about 4 weeks to finally get back on top of things — just in time for the stress of finals to begin.
  • Finals. This semester I worked on some really amazing projects, some which took me way outside my comfort zone and into areas of research and design I’d not even thought of before. This was good, of course, as I felt really stretched in terms of my skills and knowledge. However, because the learning curve was so steep for me, these projects required considerable brain power, research, and outside-of-the-box thinking. The projects included:
    • a mobile application to teach basic Math skills to elementary-aged children in Bangladesh,
    • a community development program for digital mobile storytelling in Suriname,
    • a combined physical and virtual learning space for future NYU ECT students, and
    • a re-design of a musical instruments exhibit at the Met (which currently is quite boooooring but with our redesign would be quite fantastically awesome and fun).
  • Before finals, I also worked on several smaller projects involving:
  • My parents visited — during finals. Not that having your parents visit is a bad thing — actually, in my case, I usually love it when my parents visit. But it was just bad timing this particular instance. During finals = ugh. So yeah, there was some stress this time ’round.
  • Personal relationships. Without going into too many revealing (and unnecessary) details on this — a professional — blog, I will simply say that some close relationships in my life changed rather dramatically in the 6 months from January to June 2010. It is too soon to tell whether all of these changes are for better or for worse. At this point, I can simply say that the relationships are evolving, and it has caused a significant amount of stress, as these kinds of things do. Nothing to be done about it; this is just the way life is, and I am grateful for having these relationships to teach me about the world and about myself.

That’s just a brief rundown of all I dealt with in my Spring 2010 semester. I haven’t even gotten into the summer yet. Wow. Or this semester, a.k.a. ThesisLand.

I hope that my next post will begin with…

What I actually learned

… in those 4 months of that Spring semester. But who knows. Things have become somewhat unpredictable lately!**

*well, not really now. As you can see I’ve already posted thrice. But this post has been in the works the longest.

**were they ever really predictable?

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Nov 222010

Ballerina“Practice is . . . a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful.” -Wenger, 1998.

For those who haven’t been following along, my thesis work has been looking at Communities of Practice theory and applying it to make design recommendations to an online professional development community for MYP teachers. When I first came across the above quote, my mind immediately went to yoga. I’ve written before about the connections between yoga and education, and I’m certain I’ll write about them again in the future.

“Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.” –David Williams, original attribution unknown

The disconnect between theory and practice is a hot topic in education — always has been, always will be. I’m hard-pressed to think of another profession where it is not mandated for theory and research to be incorporated into the actual practice (Medicine? no. Law? definitely not. Finance? unlikely.) In education, I think one of the reasons for this disconnect is because it’s so easy for us to go into a classroom, close the door, and completely forget about our teaching practice. I realize this sounds strange, but it happens all the time. I’d be lying to you if I told you that every single minute that I’ve been a teacher, I have been thinking consciously about what I’m doing that makes up my teaching practice. And I bet that for many of us, an entire day (or days) could go by when we don’t actively reflect and think about what it means to be a teacher. What are those things that make up our practice and make it effective? What is it that we do every day? Are the pedagogies we laud embedded into every routine, policy, lesson, and mere utterance in our classrooms? Of course, it’s probably unrealistic to expect such a thing, but my point is this: how often are we thinking about what our teaching practice is?

Definition of PRACTICE

1 a : actual performance or application <ready to carry out in practice what they advocated in principle> b : a repeated or customary action <had this irritating practice> c : the usual way of doing something <local practices> d : the form, manner, and order of conducting legal suits and prosecutions
2 a : systematic exercise for proficiency <practice makes perfect> b : the condition of being proficient through systematic exercise <get in practice>
3 a : the continuous exercise of a profession b : a professional business; especially : one constituting an incorporeal property
My last post advocated for professional development to be contextual; I argued for it to be part of and exist within our teaching practice. Today, I’d like to go beyond the scope of a professional development mind-set. I’d like to ask educators everywhere to make their daily teaching practice mindful. What do I mean by this? I offer here a set of questions — guiding questions, if you will — that I daresay might help educators focus on the aspects of their practice that are most crucial to its success and effectiveness, and may give further insight as to how to connect practice to that elusive but important theory we often seem to forget.
  • What defines your teaching practice? If you had to sum it up in a sentence, how would you describe it? What is its essence?
  • Where do these essential concepts of your practice come from? Did you create them? Were they adopted from another teacher — perhaps someone who taught you? Are they a tradition of our profession? Are they part of your personality? Or were they handed to you by someone in your school, as a requirement?
  • How does your daily teaching practice embody pedagogy? Which pedagogies are represented? Did you choose these pedagogies, or did someone else? Or did they simply evolve?
  • What drives you to continue your practice? What inspires you in your practice? Why?
  • Who do you turn to for guidance, mentoring, and encouragement in your practice? Who provides you with mental and moral support? What is it about this person/these people that draws you to seek them out for assistance or leadership?
  • What aspects of your teaching practice do you feel perhaps don’t belong there? Are there aspects that perhaps need to be refurbished, repurposed, or simply tossed? Why? Do they have value?
  • Which learning theories are you aware of? How is it that you became aware of them? When did they first cross your path? Are there new learning theories that you don’t yet feel you know well, but would like to? Or ones you’re aware of that you’d like to learn more about?
  • Do you see any connections between your practice — as defined, described, and stated by yourself — and learning theories? Any gaps you’d like to fill? Any surprising connections that deserve more focus, dwelling on, sharing, or elaboration?

I suspect that if educators went deep into this kind of self-reflection, and shared it with others, that they might develop a new appreciation for the complexity and richness that is their teaching practice. Indeed, it should be examined, talked about, and celebrated. Your teaching practice exists because you care about your students and want them to learn. By investing in your practice, you invest in your students, your institutions, and yourself. Letting your practice lead your professional learning is a reciprocal and generative act. Your practice is beautiful.

“So, are you a guru?” I asked Mr. Iyengar. I had been going to Iyengar Yoga classes for three years, and B.K.S. Iyengar was visiting Australia for the first time. I was making a one-hour radio program on yoga and interviewed the great master. He replied, “Your guru is your practice.” The greatest thing a guru could ever say. You learn to do it by doing it. -Baranay, 2007


Baranay, I. (2007). “Your guru is your practice.” In Busia, K. (Ed.), Iyengar: The yoga master (pp. 15-24). Boston, MA: Shambhala Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ballerina by Mait Jüriado

seventh sense by woodleywonderworks

Practice Yoga! Be Healthy! by VinothChandar

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