Tuesday, January 5, 2021

#OneWord2021: Commit

The air was crisp, deceiving considering the bright sunshine and the wide blue skies.  A slight but steady breeze cut into me, forcing me to zip up my sweatshirt and pull the hood up over my ears.  The only sound was the crunch of rocks beneath my feet. I strained to hear other sounds, hoping for something out of the ordinary, after all, this was a ghost town.  Even though I couldn't hear anything, another strange sensation overcame me; it was almost as if I could feel the presence of those that were here before me, over a hundred years prior.  

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park
I had been to Rhyolite before, but this was the first time that I truly had the opportunity to explore the ruins of the former gold mining town.  Located about 120 miles from Las Vegas, Rhyolite was a boomtown in the early 1900s after gold was discovered but quickly depleted.  A town that is estimated to have been as large as 8,000 people disappeared by 1920.  A quiet New Year's Day walk around what was left of Rhyolite was a great way to kick off 2021, followed shortly by a drive to Death Valley and a handful of short hikes along Artist's Drive, Devil's Golf Course, and the salt flats of Badwater Basin.  The day was a great way to continue my daily exercise routine, marking 43 days in a row of getting outside, mainly walking 3-5 miles a day.  

After the turmoil of 2020 and everything that came with it, it would be very easy to go through the motions or even give up on things.  And in all honesty, I did that with many aspects of my life, personally and professionally.  As remote teaching and learning, or more appropriately, emergency teaching and learning, progressed in the spring, it became harder and harder each day to commit myself 100% to my craft.  After a strong start to getting outside and walking or riding my bike in the spring, I made more excuses that I made commitments to stick to the routine, especially after my move and the heat of the Mojave Desert intensified in the summer months.  Rather than writing and reflecting on a regular basis, I got away from this blog for weeks at a time, did not interact as much on social media, and spent less time participating in professional development (I even spent money on a virtual conference that I DID NOT attend because I simply "did not feel like it").  

As the calendar approached the new year, I began to think about goals for 2021 and a return to One Word.  For reasons that I cannot quite pinpoint or remember, I did not choose a word for 2020 and did not write a blog looking ahead to 2020.  The closest I came to any sort of looking ahead was refusing to predict the future in my end of the year reflection piece from late 2019, The Closing of a Decade: 2010-2019. I am not so pompous to suggest that 2020 turned into the proverbial dumpster fire because I did not choose a word, but if you want to blame somebody, I'll fall on the sword for you.  

Circling back to the start of the new year at Rhyolite and Death Valley, I mentioned that January 1st marked 43 days in a row of exercise and getting outside.  It marked substantial commitment on my part, one that has continued through this writing.  Even when I was younger and playing sports, including four years of football in college, I don't think I had ever exercised that many days in a row.  Rest days were rest days where I did not do anything.  That said, for 2021, I have selected COMMIT as my One Word.  Basically, I want to own the things I say and the commitments that I make and follow through each and every time.  But it's more than just a continuation of my exercise streak:

  1. Take my streak one day at a time.  I am not committing to 365 straight days of exercise, but each morning, I can commit to working out that day.  Even if it is just a short walk, a short walk is better than not getting off of the couch at all!  I know that at one point, the streak will end, but as long as I am physically able to continue my streak, I will do it!
  2. I have struggled with my weight for a long time.  I have always been big, but at least in high school and college, I was more fit and toned.  My wake-up call came on Sunday, January 3 when I stepped on the scale for the first time in probably eight months.  For the first time in my life, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  No matter my muscle mass and excuses that I have made in that regard, that kind of weight is not healthy for a person with a family history like mine.  And while I have a goal weight in mind, like my exercise commitment, I am committing myself to one day at a time of eating better, making better choices, and holding myself accountable to make a permanent change to my weight and my health.  
  3. 2020 has brought to light issues that have always been there and have needed to be addressed for hundreds of years: equality for all and educational equity.  I will be the first to admit as a white male that I have a lot to learn and more that I can do to become an antiracist educator and advocate for educational equity.  I am committing myself to learn more, not shy away from tough conversations, and be more of an ally for all that are unfairly disadvantaged.  
  4. In 2020, I applied for the Google Innovator Academy and unfortunately, was rejected.  While I believe that my initial application included a solid idea, I know that there are thousands of people that also have solid ideas, and competition for that coveted Innovator certification is fierce.  I am committing myself to evaluate my ideas, polish the application, and hopefully, earn the opportunity to participate in the Innovator Academy in 2021.  
  5. Lastly, the first half of the 2020-2021 school year was a tough one, completely online.  And while we are starting the new semester virtually once again, regardless of how the remainder of the school year and beyond plays out, I commit to being the best educator that I can be for each one of my students, their families, and my colleagues.  
What is your One Word for 2021?  What goals do you have for this year?  How do you intend to meet your goals?  What do you perceive as possible barriers to achieving your goals?  Think about it...

Until next time... 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Putting a Bow on 2020

2020 worst year ever
Without overlooking the terrible things that effected so
many people this year, was 2020 the worst. year. ever?

It goes without saying that 2020 was a tough year, an interesting year, a somber year.  A global pandemic not seen in over 100 years caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the United States alone, plus millions more infected with varying degrees of severity with long term effects unknown.  Cities and states shut down, sending the economy into a spiral where millions lost their jobs or had their hours cut significantly, making it difficult for people to pay their bills, buy groceries, etc.  Schools closed their doors to in-person learning and canceled extracurricular sports and activities, forcing students to learn from home over programs like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams.  But as difficult of a year that 2020 has been, there are many positives that have come out of this year that are changing things for the better.  

Before I continue, I do not want to discount those that have lost friends and loved ones due to COVID-19 and the financial struggles that have resulted from the pandemic. Thousands are testing positive for the disease on a daily basis still, with thousands more requiring hospitalization or dying from COVID-19 each day.  While a vaccine has been approved on an emergency basis, we still need to be vigilant to combat this pandemic.  We still need to wash hands frequently, wear a mask, keep our distance from others, and limit time in environments with large groups of people.  The world needs time to get the vaccine to people and even if you receive it, you can still carry the virus and pass it on to others.  And there are also people that may refuse to get the vaccine because of religious beliefs, concerns with side effects, or concerns that the vaccine was rushed and that research on any long term effects are unknown.  If we can all work together, we can beat this!  

Prior to March, many, if not most, educators had never heard of Zoom or Google Meet, let alone used it in their instruction.  Many educators also were still hesitant or resistant to other ways to engage students through technology, programs like Pear Deck, Nearpod, Quizizz, and more.  However, when schools shut down, it forced educators to reevaluate how they were teaching.  Suddenly, it became imperative to have a place to house curriculum for students, places like Google Classroom, Schoology, and Canvas.  It became imperative to create activities that went beyond worksheet packets.  It became imperative to get creative in communication with students and families.  It became imperative to impart more flexibility and empathy in teaching.  And while some schools have begun to return to a face-to-face model, the importance of these shifts has not faded.  Even when we return to "normal," all of these things are going to be essential to education.  Gone are the days of teacher-led instruction where students receive piles of papers and textbooks.  Educators must be able to collaborate with others to create ways to engage students in "the new normal" and realize that if we were able to make this shift in a matter of days to accommodate the situation, we can make permanent shifts that effect permanent change in how we deliver instruction and assess student learning.  

For the last couple of years, many blogs, books, and sessions as conferences have focused on the importance of social-emotional learning and whole-child instruction, emphasizing that students that know that they are cared for and have their needs met are students that will learn better.  The pandemic really brought the idea of social-emotional learning to the front burner.  Food insecurity, the need for many students to get jobs to help their families make ends meet, the stress and depression that many students face, and the effects of a lack of social interaction between students became more important than any curriculum standards.  And while these were all important prior to the pandemic, the pandemic shed more light on these issues.  

And it isn't just the importance of SEL for students that was highlighted, it was the importance of educators having their needs met as well. Most teachers have expressed that the pandemic has caused them more stress, depression, and exhaustion from working in a distance format.  Because very few had ever worked in such a situation, the self-doubt of teaching effectiveness crept into the minds of many.  I myself experienced all of these things over the last nine months.  As a result, more and more educators began to realize the importance of taking care of oneself.  Exercising more, unplugging from work-related items, spending more time with family, and embracing hobbies became more commonplace amongst educators.  When talking to colleagues and friends, most have scaled back many things in order to be more active and to step away from screens, eliminating things like podcasts, Twitter chats, blog writing, or other creative ventures.  And while I enjoy all of those things, I have done the same for the sake of unplugging more.  

Hiking at one of my favorite places, the
Calico Hills trail of Red Rock Canyon, 
just outside of Las Vegas. The beard, while
grey before the pandemic, has gotten a little
greyer as the year has progressed...
Over the course of 2020, I made a lot of changes in my life.  I left a school in Carson City, Nevada that I loved and returned to Las Vegas after a two-year absence, but the choice was not an easy one.  After many discussions with my family, it was decided that the benefits of returning to Southern Nevada outweighed the benefits of remaining in Northern Nevada (I miss Carson High School every day and the amazing educators that I was honored to work with during my two years there).  But making a move in the middle of a pandemic is certainly something I would not recommend.  I began to be more active and get outside more, but the heat of the Mojave Desert sapped my motivation for several months.  Once the scorching summer faded into fall, I was able to motivate myself to become more active again, and as of this writing, I have gotten outside for a walk, hike, or bike ride (sometimes several a day) every day for over a month!  My goal is to do the same for the rest of December, then continue into January.  On January 18, the Peloton bike that I purchased will arrive, so while I may not be getting outside to walk each day at that point, my goal will be to exercise every day in some way, shape, or form.  

It is easy to say that 2020 has been a terrible year.  I am fortunate to have my health, my family, a position teaching special education at a wonderful school with supportive leaders and colleagues, and friends that while I do not see in person are always available to chat via text, video, or on the old fashioned phone.  And while I do not want to discount the pain and the struggles that the circumstance of 2020 may have brought you, I do want to encourage you to reflect on the good that came out of this year and how 2020 has made you a better person, spouse, parent, educator, etc.  Here's to looking forward to 2021 with hope! I wish you the best as 2020 winds down and can't wait to see what the new year will bring.  

Until next time...