Breathlessly going Forward

Although I have put in the required hours, my learning project is not complete. I have learned a lot, but I am not done. I have learned:

  • Meditation may have medical benefits for people who make it a regular practice, including rewiring the brain, better resilience for stress, immune support, emotional wellness, and improvements in sleep
  • It’s not easy. Meditation is work. Every time. Making time to practice it daily was difficult, and the little voice in your head gets louder if you have a large “to do” list

  • The focus is important – whether it is visualization or focusing on breathing, giving your attention a clear task is the route to training your mind.
  • There are many types of meditation to try. Some are based in theological rituals, others are based on physical practices, and others are based on mindfulness
  • I did not have success with my original goal: improved sleep. However, I noticed that I had less headaches, I was better at self-calming, and I began to personalize less of my challenges
  • For my best learning, I need a blend of online, self-selected content, books to read, and human contact to check in and seek answers to questions
  • Reflecting openly about my new interest has increased my connections and PLN – reflecting regularly has increased my support network and also kept me engaged in my learning
  • Journaling helped me to process my personal learning experiences and growing knowledge base to transition into my more public thinking out loud blog

    Meditating at my local little beach.

    Meditating at my local little beach.

  • A meditation “space” was less important than I thought. I tried meditating in my bedroom, my front porch, in the woods overlooking the beach, as a passenger in the car, while cooking, and even at work
  • I like my new mindfulness! This part is simpler than I thought. I connect with my senses to ground myself in the present. I smell Spring in the air while walking the dogs, I hear my dogs lolloping around me, and I see the diffusion of light as I move through my day
  • There was one component of my chosen app Headspace that I did not have a chance to fully utilize and I believe that it would have added even more of a dynamic experience, based on my time as part of our #tiefit group: the ability to connect with other Headspace buddies. You can encourage each other and cheer one another towards daily practice. I never did find another Headspace partner. That is ok, as it took me 7 months to accept my first FitBit buddy. So, in terms of connecting with other Headspace users, it may still happen over time.
  • The way that the app is gamified (it tracks your “streaks”,
    My run streak from earlier this term.

    My run streak from earlier this term.

    there are incentives for reaching certain milestones, and your progress is represented in multiple ways) encourages you to compete against yourself and ensures that you keep returning.

  • It is actually less about doing a little “something for yourself”, and more about considering the people who will benefit from your ongoing practice of meditation. Focusing more on the benefits that your work will provide to others will make the practice easier, your mind softer and more malleable to the process. Meditation should be done as an act of service, not solely as a treat for yourself. However, your increased calm and self-understanding may lead you to be less critical of yourself and others.

  • Some days are better than others. At first that was difficult and when I re-read my journal I can see how critical I was of my efforts. Now, I realize that it is about the practice. Learning a sport is similar: you attend practices and some days are better than others, but ATTENDING the practice still counts.
  • I have begun to practice some of the strategies and reminders as a new part of my daily ritual. Headspace teaches you to “flash” some of the teachings as often as 5 times a day to ground you in the moment. I have taken some of the lessons to help me ease into sleep on restless nights, or visualize my busy thought traffic as a road that I step further and further away from. I am in the process of owning this new learning!

So, my journey continues. I have paid for a year’s use of this app, I am enjoying the practice, and I feel like I am getting something out of it. I am learning the skills to be more in the moment and to be present in whatever task I am attempting to do. It is actually feeding my sense of gratitude and joy. The guided meditations are working for me, but I hope to try a few more guided mindfulness activities on the move.

Thank you Alec Couros for giving me the opportunity to learn something new and to explore new ways to bring balance into my life. And thank you to my expanded PLN for supporting me along the way with resources, ideas and encouragement.

My mental "clutter" that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

My mental “clutter” that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

 

#makered

The #makered movement is a powerful force that is empowering our learners to move from consumers of information/technology/ideas/etc to creators of . . . well, anything! I don’t know when we moved to a Maker mindset, but there have been ripples along the way that fit into this category. For example, Genius Hour has been around for a while now, as has robotics, coding and spaces designed around creation.

As I was listening to Sylvia Martinez, the co-author of Invent to Learn, speak about making and tinkering, I was reminded of the amazing session that Keith Rispin hosted last fall with John Harris.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I am a “one-off” #makered teacher. I create #makered assignments like Rube Goldberg assignments, or encourage “making” in Genius Hour. I create opportunities for making, but I have not created the culture for making in my Middle School classroom.

I used to be a proud #makered teacher. I ran a wild Lego Mindstorms group where my favourite answer to any question was “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” Experiments ran amuck, learning happened, robots evolved and challenges were extended. I loved it! I also had my students flip our learning. Any of my students were welcome to create a tutorial on any topic (currently being learned in our academic life, or beyond!) and post it on our wiki.

How do we create an environment that encourages tinkering, entrepreneurial spirit, and making in Middle School? Is it a matter of having the right “stuff” available? Do we need to build it into the schedule?

My Middle School has cycles of “enrichment” three times a year. I pitched the idea of having school-wide Genius Hour this year take the place of enrichment. Our current enrichment is somewhat teacher-drive: we offer choices to our students, they pick their top three favourites, and get sorted into an activity. I thought about reverse-engineering this process. Teachers would offer “spaces” instead of activities. If your Genius Hour required computers, our two computer labs would be staffed during this time. The library would also be staffed, as would the art room and home ec room. Other spaces would also be opened, such as the gym, music room, and multiple classrooms. Students could self-organize, bring or request the materials that they need. They could change paths as needed. They could change spaces as needed. And, ideally, the teachers would actually be free to explore their own projects too. I don’t know how well this would actually work, but I would love to see it tried.

Committing to Breathing

I made the purchase. The Headspace app is my favourite resource, and teaches me in the manner in which I prefer to learn. So, $100 later, I am committed. I wavered over the purchase for DAYS – I don’t spend money easily. But, after sampling through the resources listed on my previous blog posts, I realized that I am seeking a developmental program. I have a destination in mind: a calmer mind, increased presence, ability to adapt to stress as it comes, and more sleep. Sampling from all of the free guided meditation resources actually increased my sense of feeling disjointed, scattered and frustration with the lack of progress. I wanted a sequence, and I wanted one that held meaning and engagement for ME. The guided meditations from Headspace seem to grow over time. You are required to apply skills from previous sessions. It feels like I learn something about myself and how my mind works. I feel like I am unlocking something, and moving towards my goal. Headspace feels like a course of study, and that ideas and information will be revealed to me in a timely fashion, as I gain new skills and readiness.

One of the first animations was about visualizing your thoughts as cars and our need to chase and control them. I can use that! Right now! I can use it as I move through my day. When the stress of impending deadlines overwhelms me and I have been dwelling on that stress for hours at a time, and my shoulders have crept up around my ears with the tension…. I can pause and realize that I have chased that “time pressure” car down the highway and I am now being dragged along the street as I grip the bumper. This visualization helps me to break that cycle and have a laugh. Since these are early days in my mindfulness lessons, I am not given tools to tackle or control my relationship with my thoughts, only a suggestion that it is really all about that relationship and perspective.

Something that I love about these guided meditation sessions is that they start and end in the same way (so far). You start with absolute focus on your space. You identify the sounds and the physical sensation of your body in the position it is in. By starting with an inventory of sound and feeling, you are required to engage and acknowledge your present state. By ending the meditation with the same awareness, you are returned from your “mind work” to your physical space. This serves to help me be more present – to get “out of my head”. I found myself using these strategies to move myself out of a long, busy-brained, sleepless session the other night. I began by actively listening to my space: a clock ticking, my husband’s relaxed breathing, waves roaring on the beach, and the rain on the roof. Then, I inventoried my body – places where it was in contact with a surface, places of tension, pressure points. My fists were clenched, so I unclenched them and re-visited my body scan. The last step is to focus on your breathing. That was the last thing I remember. I was asleep.

Barely Breathing Complications

I am now two weeks into learning more about mindfulness and meditation into my life. I have now completely ditched the Stop, Breathe and Think app and I am solely using the Headspace app for Guided Meditation. I had a bit of a laugh when I was doing more research on the Headspace app and the voice behind it and I learned who was guiding me through my meditations. Andy Puddicombe studied meditation in the Himalayas and eventually became ordained as a Buddhist monk. I didn’t pursue anything beyond the science behind the app for the first week and a half, and solely enjoyed learning and listening to Andy’s voice. I had an image of him in my head. I was so far off!! He has a light English accent, and I pictured an older, white-haired, pleasantly plump gentleman speaking to me through this app. Did I mention that I was WAY off?

Andy Puddicombe presented a TED talk “All it Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes”. I viewed it, and enjoyed learning more.

I have also reached out to human experts. A former co-worker (who used to offer Meditation and Mindfulness sessions at Professional Development sessions – why, oh why didn’t I start then??!) suggested that I re-subscribe to Audio Dharma podcasts – I had tried listening to them in 2013. I found that they have a fantastic resource page where you can find specific talks or even guided meditations to listen to.

My husband’s co-worker is a yoga instructor and takes his practice very seriously. He shared two books with me:

Meditations from the Mat: this book has daily essays to guide you on the road to increased mindfulness

Meditation Inc – Osho – also many related resources available freely online.

I am learning that this is a difficult topic to learn publicly. There are varied resources available for a range of prices and plenty of options to choose from. Sharing out my learning and measuring success is difficult. My brain is still busy. My mind is cluttered. And, what works for me may not work for you. Knowing that I need to reflect on my learning actually intrudes into my meditations in an impactful way. I almost feel the need to take notes as I attempt to meditate so that I would be aware of what I

My meditation journal

My meditation journal

learned, what thoughts intruded, the level of focus I maintained, etc. Another thing that made full relaxation difficult is attempting to document my experience. At first I would pull out my computer and drop in a few notes about my learning. Last week, I began using a mini notebook to jot down some notes. Using my computer lit up my brain, notified me who had posted on our community and how many Twitter notifications needed my attention. It was exactly what I was trying to avoid! Keeping all of my thoughts in a journal added to that sense of reflective relaxation. It was affirming, in its own way. I felt validated as I documented day, date, time, resource used, any new learning, key distractions, and an overview of my focus. It’s not necessarily measurable, but it is a placeholder for growth.

I fell behind in my goal of 5 meditation sessions each week. I still managed to complete hours of research and resource curation, but I have learned that I struggle to focus well when I am sick. My head is foggy and I am exhausted. It saddens me to learn that even going to bed an hour (or more!!) earlier most nights has not resulted in more sleep. 😦

Andy Puddicombe’s advice as you begin using the app is to meditate every day and he suggests starting your day with meditation. I have tried that once, and it was a very productive day. However, I prefer to meditate at night in the hopes of settling my mind before sleep.

This week’s average sleep stats:

January 25 – February 1: 5 hours 45 minutes of sleep

Turning the Tables

Like any Masters course, our EDCI 569 course has several assignment components to it. The second assignment is causing me the most sleepless moments currently. We have been given the choice between an inquiry into some facet of digital learning, taking on a 50-100 hour open learning project, or participating/evaluating a MOOC.

I am least interested in the MOOC, because I’ve already tried them. I like and dislike the same feature: the anonymity. You can hide in the massive-ness, but you can also be lonely in it. I felt like I did a good job “listening”, but my very little voice was indistinguishable from the others. MOOCs generally remind me of the huge auditorium-style lectures in my early University days. Your voice gets heard when you break off into little groups for labs, but the professor has no idea if you even showed up for the main lectures. You could learn the content in other ways and sleep in instead.

My conundrum is between choosing the Open Learning or an inquiry into digital learning. I feel like the Digital Learning option will encourage me to explore more dynamic resources related to my Lit Review for EDCI 515, and will provide me with a richness and depth that I may otherwise overlook. But, the lure of learning anything that I want to learn and sharing out the process continues to be a siren call.

I started Genius Hour in my classroom in October 2013, and it was inspiring to see what huge projects my students tackled. I learned so many new things as my students acquired new knowledge and shared it out on their blogs and in class discussions/presentations. I collaborated with a student on learning a new piece of technology in our class, and shared out my learning as well. Several students were overwhelmed as they faced the buffet of learning options and took weeks to decide on a topic. That is where I am right now: I have a huge brainstorm web on a poster behind my desk where I am brainstorming what I would like to learn. This is my next Genius Hour learning project, and thinking that it could possibly fit in with my Masters is an exciting idea! However, I have questions before I commit:

  • What about collaboration? Can this learning project be completed in pairs or small groups? Most 20% Time or Genius Hour teachers encourage their learners to collaborate, to work together to extend thinking and challenge each other.
  • Can it truly be any topic? Does it have to have a tangible product at the end? I have limited my wish list down to 3-4 ideas, but one does not have an actual end product, only growth over time.
  • How do I decide….??? Too many topics to choose from!!

What would you learn if you could choose any topic? How would you reach out to find support to pursue and celebrate your passions? Who would be your cheerleaders in this project?

The decision is coming soon. Stay tuned!

Reflective Teaching – Day 27

Te@chThought‘s Day 27 Challenge is: “What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

Whew, right now my weekends and the all-too distant holidays play the role of bonus “catch-up” time. Teachers in BC are only two weeks into teaching after a period of job action. So, it still feels like the beginning of September. I am tired every day! My mind is completely overwhelmed with the problem-solving that begins every school year: who are these learners? How can I best support their efforts? What plans do I need to work on? How do they fit together? Do I need to make changes to our classroom lay out? How can I ensure that they feel welcome? Why is my room such a mess still???! What could this space be like if we got rid of all of the desks? How should I review math concepts in order to best meet the needs of the most learners? What book should I read to them? Will they like me?

My mind does not stop when I get home. It does not stop when I lay down to sleep. If anything, sometimes the questions get louder!

And, that is only one piece of the puzzle. I am almost half-way through a Masters of Education program. And I am enrolled in TWO courses this term. I have class meetings regularly. And homework assignments. And blog posts to write – I have not completed any of the three that I thought I would have done by now. I have Twitter to respond to. Blog posts to read. Two text books to read and respond to. A book club. A MOOC. A Literature Review to craft- um, and I guess I will need to actually begin reviewing that literature!

The most important part of my life is my family. My wonderful husband has not yet complained that the cookie plate (that was full all summer) has not been filled in over a week. And that I am too tired to be any fun. My dogs, however, have been giving me “guilt eyes” and needing extra cuddles to make up for our new time apart.

My weekends are filled with work right now. That is a necessity so that I can keep up with the academic and workplace demands. Balance will eventually be restored. I know this. I am COUNTING on this!! Soon my weekends will be times where I can recharge my batteries, devote some time to planning fun learning opportunities for my students, learn things to help improve my practice, AND spend time with my loved ones and do the things that I love to do.

Reflective Teaching – Day 16

Te@chThought‘s Day 16 Challenge is: “If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?”

My original response to this was the ability to clone myself – to be everywhere at once, to be present wherever I was needed, to be able to meet the needs to all students as they arose. But, I think that Superpower would actually be a negative. If I was cloned, no one would get all of me. Everyone would only be entitled to a piece, and no matter how effective that Superpower was, my attention and care would still be divided. And everyone would know.

I think that I would like to be able to manipulate time. Childhood goes by so quickly! I would love for those exciting moments to last much longer, and to speed up the painful ones.

I don’t even think that this needs to be a Superpower. When we give our students more choice in their learning experiences, those exciting, joyful moments can become the bulk of their day. The more painful or tedious moments can be done in a supportive, collaborative fashion. I wouldn’t like to think  of our learners rushing through unpleasant tasks, so maybe the tasks change to reflect the needs of the learners? I don’t have an answer for how this can be done in a classroom of 30 students, but I believe that even small changes can impact the perception of how time flows in our classrooms.

Now, if only I can apply the same sense of flow to my own organization and task list!