Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day-to-Day, I love you!

I live and thrive in the warp-speed world of education, constantly connecting with parents, fellow educators, administrators, students, and friends to discuss their lives, ideas, successes, failures, and collaborations. It is hard for me to turn work "off", not because it demands my 24/7 attention but because I enjoy it so much. I am accustomed to the go-go nature of my duties. I change "theaters, sets and casts" three times a day in my Wonderland-style schedule, leaving things at my prior location askew [The Mad-Hatter randomly shouts "Move down!" and everyone abruptly changes seats around the tea party table]. 

When looking through one of three windows surrounding the instrumental music office, you will see two desk. My desk's "art installation piece", consisting of extraneous paper, books, things to grade or read, programs, notebooks of ideas, etc. is in stark contrast to my colleague's. However, considering the pure height of my stacks of who-knows-what that has accumulated is awe-inspiring. "How does it all stay to precariously in place!", one may ask. This disparity prompts my students to joke, "... take a hint". 

I have always had two quotes at the ready for my defense: "If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, Of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" (Einstein) and "A messy desk is a sign of genius." Based on the quantity of my messes, I should be teaching theoretical physics or quantum mechanics, and sometimes it feels like I do!  While drinking my morning coffee this past Monday, I nostalgically remembered my 'out the door at 6:30am ... stop teaching at 3:30pm" life I had for nine months; a schedule that was abruptly paused. Was a mourning the passing of another school year? I do not know - but I am sure of something: my daily impact on students was not being made. But was I really making the kind of impact I desired in the first place? Was my desk an abstract picture of me?! 

Einstein's desk at Princeton.
It was during a conversation with my principal, Dwight Carter (@dwight_carter), at Reynoldsburg's Summer Academy (@RaiderEducation) that I realized how much of an impact the school year had on me - and him. "On Friday it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders" I said to Dwight. He responded with, "It was Thursday of last week when that happened for me. I could not believe how much stress I had been under." We both care deeply about our jobs. It is our calling, our vocation, our passion. This relationship to our work drives excellence; however, leaving that drive unchecked takes the same toll on our bodies as an engine driving with little oil and, - oops, the check engine light just came on! With a reduction in my efficacy, was I permitting myself to have the highest impact for my students ... or my desk?

Last summer, Megan and I welcomed Ewan into our family. His first birthday is quickly approaching, and he is definitely a little Boy - capital B! He is into everything. He is my summer job, and I am loving every minute of it - though when nap time comes around, daddy is ready for one also! Ewan is helping me recalibrate. How on earth is this little guy more energetic than me?! After all, I have the power of caffeine on my side. Simply put - he rests and recharges.
Daddy and Ewan napping (2011).
Photo taken by the family paparazzi, for blackmail purposes. 
I found this while perusing, take a look!

Where am I going with all this? This summer I have started to "power down" and reflect on the year. Admittedly, too much of what I did seemed haphazard. The day-to-day schedule caused a gradual accumulation of stress and mess - which in turn caused more stress. I often visualize my life as the plate spinner at the fair, saving one dish after another from sudden peril. Each year I fill my time with so many great things (plates) that the great things are all I had time to do! The pinnacle moments demand much, if not all of, my time, attention, and focus; however, many day-to-day things become neglected. Can you hear my wife saying, "Amen!" right now? 

Below are the symptoms I have noticed over the course of the school year related to stress and mess. Remember, there was nothing I hated doing this year - it wasn't "negative stress", it was self-imposed "positive stress." But to the body stress is stress. It is important for us as educators to keep our energy and stress level in check. Easy is it for you and I to become so engulfed that the day-to-day responsibilities are set aside to conquer something we deem more important or valuable. Yet, it is the day-to-day that define us and our ability to become the best teachers we can be . Love the Day-to-Day! Take care of the little things - Clean your "desk", whatever it may be. 

Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
Cognitive SymptomsEmotional Symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness
Physical SymptomsBehavioral Symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

For your consideration, 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Little Bird and a Book: Using Twitter and Facebook In Education

I was a student at The Ohio State University when Facebook first came on the scene, and admittedly a lot of time was wasted checking various friends' status updates. However, after five years of teaching, my relationship with the social network has changed. It is more of a vehicle to connect to the community, colleagues, school, families, and students. (Caveat: I have a strict, personally-instituted policy to not friend students - or former students -  on Facebook - I suggest and recommend this to any teacher; however, I do invite students into various closed groups for dialogue and feedback - always with an administrator with "admin" privileges.)

So how exactly does an educator best use social media? Like Gahanna! The Gahanna-Jefferson district is brilliant with its use of social media in promoting the "Gahanna brand". Creating and monitoring these accounts allows us to be our own reporter. If your district does not have a social media presence, change that. It will take time for it to gain steam, but once it is established a twitter feed and/or Facebook page could become someone's primary information source!

I have learned more about what our schools' amazing teachers, students, parents, and initiatives do through our Twitter and Facebook pages than anywhere else. That is the information your community needs to hear. The press release is still critical to the well-being of any district; however, a constant feed of positivity is long overdue in our "24 hour news cycle" world. While local news agencies are constantly bombarded for competing stories, having one's own communication presence is vital. Refocus from press releases to post releases.

As the primary administrator of the Gahanna Orchestras Facebook page and twitter feed (linked so a post in one platform will appear in the other) I am responsible for distributing pertinent and positive information about my program. With each post, I am digitally spreading news of our "brand" to over 300 people. Is that a lot in today's digital world when the viral video of the week tops 2 million views? - No. But, it is being shared with stakeholders - and more people than if I never shared the information in the first place! Those 300+ people are now more knowledgable about what the Gahanna Orchestra is all about.

In addition to these two public accounts, within Facebook I have another 'closed group.' This is for my 9-12 grade students to request access and membership is approved by me. Again, I have my principal as an 'admin' within this group to ensure parents know that it is a school monitored and authorized group - not rogue. The group is for the sharing of student-specific information that does not need shared with masses. Example: "Remember orchestra, the changing rooms open at 6:45 to dress into our tuxedos.", "Chamber: Rehearsal next Wednesday, 4:30-6:30pm.", "Fantastic rehearsal today, freshman! Keep up the great focus on intonation!", etc. It is also a meeting place for class discussions, feedback, and building of esprit de corp.

So, what are you all about? What do you want to be all about? Does your community think this? Does your community know how dynamic your school is? They should - they are supporting you financially. They are your "benefactors", and every benefactor or donor I know understands fully the cause in which they contribute. If I am not knowledgeable about an organization, I will not contribute my money toward it.

What do you have to brag about? Does your community know it?! There is an easy way to change that. Know that with one click your "friends" or "followers" can "unfriend" and "unfollow" you - so the content you share is critical. Build your brand. Build your support system. Build your advocacy. Build your community's pride in its schools!!! Make your school the only viable option for your students and families.