Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Transforming Digital Natives to Digital Citizens

A Tough Question
I recently had the enriching opportunity to collaborate with author Marc Prensky whose term “digital native” has become the moniker for today’s students since 2001 when it was first coined. Marc watched me teach a lesson and helped me guide students through a discussion regarding digital citizenship. In our reflections afterwards, he challenged me to rethink the way I was using technology to enhance the learning experience with this question: Are we using technology to do old stuff in new ways, or are we using technology to truly transform learning?

Until he posed that question to me, I could have sworn I was doing the latter, and in many ways I am, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I probably was not doing enough that was transformative. In the week following our conversation, I was stuck. I asked myself, How can we take the solid knowledge of what digital citizenship means live and make it truly action oriented and transformative?

The Ah-Ha Moment
The answer occurred to me one beautiful Saturday when I headed outside with the goal to remain outside and explore new places all day. I started posting inspirational pictures from around the city spaces to Instagram...and watched as my two new student followers liked and commented on nearly all my posts. Then came an email from them suggesting I use some popular hashtags to gain more “likes” on my posts and a bigger following.

This experience on a Saturday was an ah-ha moment for me in a number of ways. I realized that we adults, or to use Prensky’s term, we “digital immigrants” spend a great deal of energy discussing content management with our young natives. Mostly we stay in the finger-pointing mode indicating what they should and should not post lest they be immortalized online in a negative light during their teen days; at best, we coach them on designing their image to market who they are. On the other hand, despite an often blatant disregard or naive understanding of content management, our youth counterparts have an insatiable desire to learn the most effective way to increase their reach and bring attention to their posts. These are skills I do not have...which led me to the conclusion: we could form a great partnership.

The Birth of @FindingGreenNYC
I had been listening to my students discuss how to increase awareness of their service project Finding Green, a documentary call to action focused on creating and preserving green space in our urban environment. 

They were reaching out by phone and email to local representatives and groups to tell them about the initiative and were very actively promoting it to friends. While promoting it via our social media profiles had been a noted goal, none of us thought of using the power of social media to create a profile for the cause itself. It was relatively easy to meet, discuss parameters of involvement, and set up a FindingGreenNYC profile on Instagram, Twitter, and Foursquare.

It started like this:

  • Create the profiles and select a social media savvy group to be the content managers/posters.
  • Check in, post pictures of, and essentially map all green spaces in the NYC area.
  • Follow and promote other groups which share our mission.
  • Engage in social activism with them by retweeting, sharing, and collaborating on all things green in NYC.
  • Continue our service mission to care for our city and its green spaces.

And quickly led into this:

  • One student suggested: What if we got kids in other cities around the United States to do the same, like a Finding Green Chicago? Exactly.
  • Another student said, What if we got kids in other cities around the world? Bingo.

  • We could have others become ambassadors by tagging us in posts about green space as they explored New York City and took part in conservation and beautification efforts in our parks.  
  • The project could be a student project which transcends time and space, growing with our student ambassadors as they leave their middle school and take it with them, becoming a student project in the truest sense of the word.

Three weeks later, we have our feeds live with a growing following; we have participated in two city park events, including one planting event and one post-Sandy clean up; we have presented at one EdCamp event (the native & the immigrant together) and are speaking at the upcoming TEDxYouth@TheSchool conference. I’ve watched the students grow in their roles as citizens, native both to New York City and the digital world; I’ve seen leadership emerge and creativity ignite.

In short, the question posed to me by Marc Prensky is a tough one to think about. I’m still stuck in many areas, and the digital immigrant in me cries out frequently, “Some old stuff is good!” However, this one project has illustrated for me the importance of transformational design in our use of technology. The best applications of technology will not only inform students on the proper use of tools but will erase boundaries between the digital and offline world; merge social, learning, and community spaces; and build agency in the the development of accountability standards in our shared digital world. They were born into it, and they will lead from it.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Let’s Ditch “Rigor” for Excellence

There is a great deal of positive energy abuzz in the education community. For all its needed reform, there is talent and creativity galore. There is professionalism, unified in purpose and diverse in solution. And there is excellence on the universal horizon of the future, a shared destination.

But there is also a wayward universal regard for this word “rigor” which could derail our path to excellence and ground our standards in cement. In “Making Sure They Are Learning”, a video posted this week on Edutopia’s social media feed, teacher Sarah Kaufman is profiled for her use of Post-Its to authentically assess students “where they are”. The method is flexible, differentiated, creative, and yes, authentic. Students in the video are engaged, on different “pages”, at various points of skill development...all moving towards the same high standard. The word used to describe Sarah’s class was “rigorous,” but none of its remarkable qualities match up with any definition of that term...and it’s a good thing! As defined by Merriam-Webster:

Rig ✹ or:
a: (1) harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :severity (2): the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :strictness (3): severity of life: austerity b: an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
2: a tremor caused by a chill
3: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
4: strict precision : exactness <logical rigor>

If we ask any educator whether the pinnacle of education would be inflexible, severe, or strict, I have to imagine (or at least hope) the answer would be a resounding No! If a parent came into our school and asked what we could provide for her child, I have to imagine (or again, hope) the answer sought would not be a severe, harsh, or cruel environment. Even the closest definition to our classroom application of the term, strict precision, implies no nimbleness of thought or action. Do we truly aspire to logical rigor?

But do not fret, word lovers! There is indeed a word, familiar to all, the definition of which would resonate as ideal to every educator, parent, or student.

Ex ✹ cel ✹ lence:
1: the quality of being excellent
2: an excellent or valuable quality : virtue

Words are powerful things. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” Education is a process through which we aspire to help students shine. Let’s pick a shinier word to describe its ideal!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The ABCs of Establishing a PLN

There is much reward that comes with being a "connected educator" with a robust PLN (Professional Learning Network). It's a great way to unify within a large school while also connecting and learning with others outside its walls. A wider perspective is essentially the most valuable gift of a PLN, but when starting to build one, it's also important to keep the task in perspective so as not to become overwhelmed by too much, too fast. In thinking about what advice to give those who are beginning this journey as I did a couple years ago, I went back to basics with the ABCs.

Assess: Take some time to think about your own learning style and preferred modes of interaction. Yes, stepping outside your comfort zone is part of the experience, but starting someplace with a few familiar elements makes it more likely that the new environment will stick. Questions to ask: What will work for you? What social media platforms are you already on? Do you prefer pictures or text? Do you want to simply follow, interact, share, or collect? All of these will help you pick the right network space.

Balance: Think about what time can be allocated without feeling overwhelmed. I believe this is the most important step in the process. When we introduce a new form of connection through technology, we have to do so with moderation so that as we enrich our experience and network in the digital world, we still maintain the richness of interaction with people and nature in the other. Questions to ask: What time can I dedicate to interaction through social media? Is there something which can be replaced with this type of interaction? While the self-regulated boundaries are flexible, having an idea will keep you from feeling inadequate in the level of dedication to it and from overexerting your efforts in one area. 

Connect: Decide which social media platforms are best, and get connected. Aim for internal and at least one external. One of the best experiences for me has been school-based faculty Facebook groups which have allowed for celebration and resource sharing in a way which crosses divisions and subject areas. Because the groups can be set to private and friendship is not mandated by group membership, it's a great professional space. Having a connection to the outside is also critical as we tend to get a little tunnel-visioned without it. Questions to ask: What can I join that already exists or what can I help start? What are my interests? 

Here are a few suggestions for starting from the beginning:

Facebook: A Facebook group is like a faculty lounge and a page is like a FB friendship. It's a place to share on a wall wall, meet/greet, and celebrate. Here are a few groups with pages. Groups are set up privately.  
EdCampNYC (in several locations)

Pinterest: Like browsing shelves in a library & making your own copies of stuff you like. I mostly browse by topic but here are a few boards/people. 
Schools with rocking resources: W.T. White High & Cincinnati Waldorf School

Twitter: It's a bit like a frenetic networking meet & greet. There is an information stream mixed with conversation. I would recommend a tool like TweetGrid so you can view multiple hashtags on one screen. 

Other Great Sites

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 Pick This/Not That Ways To Create the Differentiated PD Menu

There is no need to explain why teachers should have the same benefit of differentiated learning as students do. Fundamentally, most people agree with the idea, but for some reason the differentiated professional development experience seems more the exception than the rule. Here’s are three juicy options to give teachers what they’re craving.

Appetizer: Pick Strategically, Not Randomly
Pre-assessments and formative assessments are critical to the DI experience. How would we know where to begin if we do not assess prior knowledge, student interest, and learning style? Before we start the PD experience for the year, perhaps we should find out a) what teachers know, b) what they are really interested in learning, and c) how they learn. This can all be done prior to the first in-service of the year with the right surveys. Sure, if you have the spare five minutes to set up a Google form or quick survey on Survey Monkey, that’s a fast way to gather information on what teachers know and need to know, but even if you are crunched for seconds, asking teachers to simply email the information or list it on a shared document is sufficient. There are so many sufficient learning style inventories online, like this one which even allows for group analysis and sharing: http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/. By having teachers complete this as a warm up to the year, we can not only design experiences which match or at least allow for some experience in the dominant style, but we can also strategically form learning groups based on individual strengths.

Main Dish: Pick Doing, Not Talking
This is especially true for tech training. Rule number one of any tech training should be Bring Your Device! I recently attended a training on a new software and the ratio of listening/watching to time allocated to working within the program was roughly 99/1. Teachers conferences, at least the most enriching ones, are now comprised of at least three pathways of learning which exist concurrently: listening/watching presentations, tweeting exchanges to share gems of the experience, and engaging in either the active usage or documentation of the material. Allowing for these paths, or like variations, within every tech training is essential because it allows for learners to engage in the way best suited for them. Some may only listen and take notes on a notepad, but others might form a Pinterest Board such as this one on DI as the presenter talks, and others might just start constructing within the new tech platform, learning as they go.  

Dessert: Pick Options, Not Mandates
Just as some people will always say yes to dessert, so too will some teachers always say yes to traditional group training. However, a differentiated approach to learning allows for some level of choice. This can be accomplished by a menu of options which provides both traditional and “flipped” experiences, online and face-to-face ones.

And finally, even if we cannot muster the energy to design differentiated experiences for all PD, let’s try to agree that we will at least practice what we are preaching when it comes to professional development sessions on Differentiated Instruction. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting through a presentation on DI with one mode of learning...listening. Here’s a DI-inspired DI Experience for teachers wanting that path.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

5 Ways You (yes YOU!) Should Be Integrating Digital Citizenship Into Your Classes

Recently, I read an email post to a listserv by a teacher who wrote she doesn’t have time to teach digital citizenship because she has to cover too many other content-specific standards. I get it... the Common Core-state tests-AP/IB/SAT/ACT Madness eats up so much of our time. Still, there is no excuse for allowing students to enter into the digital world without a toolkit for not only safety but also success. Beyond that, there is such a wide range of options for truly integrating digital citizenship objectives that the argument given by teachers who claim a lack of time is simply unfounded. Here are a few ways we all can bring digital citizenship to our classrooms and seamlessly enrich the subjects we teach.

1) Use an LMS: Edmodo and Schoology are free learning management systems which provide teachers with platforms for discussions, resource sharing, grading, messaging and networking. More to point, however, they offer a school-oriented, safe, and age-appropriate space where students can learn how to connect through social media. When should we begin using these? While they are young! If students learn how to interact online from a strictly social platform first, say through their personal Facebook accounts in middle school (or scarier, in elementary school), they have an established disconnect between this type of interaction and their learning experience, and thus have to be reconditioned later to understand the learning value. Furthermore, they fail to understand that who we are online should be who we are in person. If we introduce a LMS early on, we seize the opportunity to teach social interaction through the learning and identity lens first. If students are already old enough to meet the requirements for using social media platforms such as Facebook, use that! It’s where they live, so it's hard to escape that notification that Mrs. D just posted something in the English IV page. If we show them how to use the same technology to learn through a class group, they can see how their online and offline lives and selves are interconnected in a multidimensional way. Not sure about Facebook's value in a learning setting? Check out my first post on this topic: Let There Be Facebook! 

2) Model Good Citizenship by Setting Age-Appropriate Expectations: Students under the Facebook age requirement of 13 should not be on Facebook, and there is a good reason for that beyond the fact that they would be breaking the rules. Therefore, teachers should not encourage a class group to form on Facebook if students are under that age--yes, even if they already have an account. If we do so, we dismiss the rule and encourage a lack of respect and accountability to the community guidelines...the very opposite of encouraging citizenship.

3) Connect and Collaborate: We all have networks outside of our geographic area, and chances are, we know someone who may have a class or know of a class that wants to connect. There are other options, however, such as using ePals or Skype in the Classroom to find partnerships. Collaborating on language learning, historical perspective sharing, or service projects further the objective of broadening the definition of citizenship to include both global and digital awareness.

4) Use Google Apps: I do not remember a time when such a wealth of resources was made available to teachers for FREE as we have today. Google Apps is another great example. Students can create, share, publish, collaborate, and connect through the use of Google Apps for Education. Both Edmodo and Schoology are Google Apps integrated now, allowing for students and teachers to pull resources from their folders in Google Docs into the LMS platform to either create or submit work for grading. Through the use of Google Apps, students learn how to collaborate with people online towards a shared goal, whether it’s collaboration with others in a group or with a teacher for feedback. With people connecting and working with others they have never even met from all over the globe, teaching students how to do this is critical. Another bonus is the ability to go paperless as students are easily able to receive, create, and submit work without ever opening a half-broken binder. Even if a school has not integrated Google Apps at the school level, teachers can still use the platform by helping students set up Gmail accounts if they don’t already have them. It’s absolutely amazing that this is available!

5) Model Balance: Technology is so ubiquitous; we can hardly escape. As a result many teachers have become frustrated and taken the stance of banning it completely to preserve their space as a sort of sanctuary. On the other hand we have teachers who have become so dedicated to using technology that they rarely offer students a chance to disconnect. Both are the wrong approach. Just as students must learn how to interact safely and respectfully by watching us model such interaction, so too must they learn how to balance. Balance is a skill innate to a few but not to most; I believe it is mostly learned. By showing our students when to be connected and when to be unplugged based on purpose, we model how this can look in their lives. Part of digital citizenship is understanding how to contribute to the online communities to which we belong while still contributing to our offline communities.

The very first thing we talk about when we discuss citizenship is the balance of rights and responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities are dictated by the communities we are a part of, including online communities. Expecting students to learn the nuances of online communities and the balance of rights and responsibilities within them solely by happenstance in their own social lives is tantamount to expecting children to learn how to serve, lead, and be nice without ever giving them a chance to be a door-holder, class rep, or friend in school. Of course, that sounds absurd...and so it is.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pinterest: Where Everyone is Pin-tastic

In response to my post "The Unexpected Power of Pinning", I was asked to provide a list of top 10 people to follow on Pinterest. To be honest, at first, I quickly started scrambling to make such a worthy list to be given out for guidance, but in my thought process, I realized something. Pinterest is not like that...and that is one of its major appeals.

How do I say this respectfully? Oh, to heck with respect. I love Twitter, but Twitter is like high school. My daughter recently asked me how many followers I had. By Twitter standards, it’s a pretty modest amount. I don’t leverage as much tweet cred as say some thought leaders in the edchat domain with followings between 20,000-50,000+. Still, it’s many more than my daughter has, so naturally I thought she’d be impressed. But then she asked me how many people I follow (roughly double the number who follow me)...she laughed. She told me it was lame to follow more people than follow you because you appear more popular if you are discriminate about who you follow. I shrugged and told her that adults are different and that we learn from each other, which is the whole point of being connected educators to begin with.

And yet, I found myself researching this later and did discover that on the whole, the most popular of educator voices out there follow a relatively small portion of other educators (some under 3% of their total follower count). There are several valid reasons for this, many articulated in a subsequent blog post I read which explained why one prominent leader was “unfollowing” everyone except those who provided top levels of interaction (sadly, I didn’t make the cut of keepers, but yet, I’m still sympathetic of the rationale). There is simply too much information flowing, and even though at any given minute (or second) if you are following the right people or the right hashtag, you can happen upon something brilliant, so much goes unseen. And even though it is a place of connected people who share like interests, it can feel very much like a party or dance in an overcrowded gymnasium where small groups are gathered swapping the latest information on this or that. If you happen to be in earshot, you might gain something valuable...good for you. If someone happens to hear you speak up and contribute, and gives you a high five and repeats it, you walk away feeling super cool. This, of course, is not the intention of our PLNs on Twitter, but it is the unintentional ramification of the way we connect...all driven by who we follow en masse.

Twitter is a wonderful, bustling and often intimidating place. On a professional level, I cannot do without it, yet many friends I’ve encouraged to follow or get connected have shied away from it entirely.  These same teachers, however, seem undaunted by Pinterest, so what gives? Here are my thoughts...

Many Shelves for Our Many Selves
Whereas Twitter identities seem to be incredibly focused--our tweets, RTs, and tweeps all representative of that identity--Pinterest is conducive to multifaceted individual use. I can collect my vegetarian recipes, dream vacations, and ed tech tools all within one profile and feel comfortable doing it. I treat it as my library with many shelves for my many selves, and it seems that others are doing the same. My Facebook friends (mostly family and social acquaintances) can follow my the non-educationally focused boards while my Twitter PLN can follow my professional boards...and I can choose where to share each pin.

Two Purposes: One for Me, One for You

When I tweet, I do so to share and to have conversations. These are incredibly rewarding, but I struggle with how to keep all the information gained organized. With Pinterest, I can accomplish two in one, building a truly useful and organized collection of resources and sharing with others. We are all starved for time, so efficiency is a very appealing draw for me.

Everyone Has Pin-Cred
Maybe Pinterest will go the way of Twitter with people gathering followers or boards gathering followers to speak to higher levels of credibility and popularity, but for now, everyone matters. Plus, topics are categorized by three different options (pins, boards, and people) so there are easier ways of searching. When looking for resources, I search keywords. If I want to see which schools are using Pinterest in a way we’d like to, I search for schools. If I want to collect ideas on differentiated instruction, I search that exact term. I don’t have to follow one particular person because for now, we are all at the start and sharing in that rare beautiful moment at the a beginning of something.

I’ve put down Twitter a little too much in this post and am feeling a little like a mean girl, so I want to end by saying this. Twitter is a conversation in a way that Pinterest cannot be, or at least isn’t yet. There is no real-time engagement on a topic or discussion stream from a hashtag to watch. There is no centralized strong leadership, which does have a great influence in sharing ideas.

But it is inviting, easy, and rewarding. What it is like, for me, is a space where I can wander through my friends' houses and pick out my favorite things among their collections...and keep them for myself. So no, I do not have a list of top educator Pinners to follow. Everyone on it, sharing ideas through pinning and repinning, is Pin-tastic!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Does it Mean to be a School Founder?

I’m drafting this in the sunset hours of a great man’s life. I am sad, grateful, and inspired all at once, indebted to this man, Mr. Gene Ehlers, for so much of who I am today. Grandview, the school founded by Mr. and Mrs. Ehlers, has been not only formative in my own life but truly transformative in the way I see the world and my place in it. And I am but one little piece of the “together” in the opening lines of our school creed, Together we build our future. How do we begin to thank someone for such a gift as our future?

My thoughts today have led me to wonder what it really means to be a founder of a school. As treasured moments in school life often do, one about the founding of Grandview emerged in response to a child’s striking observation of something illogical. A young student asked as we prepared to celebrate Founders Day, “I don’t get it...what’s the big deal about finding Grandview? It’s right here!” In that moment, it was difficult to explain to him that the “founder” doesn’t get to find anything! The magical part of founding a school is the creation of a place where others can find; the noble part is the relentless, unspoken generosity it takes to support it through its foundation.  

In founding Grandview, Mr. Ehlers created a place where we all feel united in spirit and shared values but where we each find something a little different. For me personally, I found the following while at Grandview:

  • my passion for teaching
  • a home and a family
  • the professional opportunity of a lifetime
  • my voice as an educational leader
  • my first real team, some of the best colleagues I’ll ever work with
  • a network of students who years later still call me Mrs. D
  • my best friend & mentor
  • the childhood chapters of my children’s lives

My children found their own treasures, again collections of who they are today.  At Grandivew, my daughter found her voice as a singer, more accurately, Grandview found it and helped her see it. At Grandview, she found her “siblings”, her best friends who despite distance have the sole ability to love and comfort in times of need. I asked my son what he found at Grandview.  Almost instinctively, he responded, “pride, happiness, friendship, leadership, knowledge and loyalty.” Only these, the most important elements of a successful life, simple treasures indeed.   

I have listed these treasures as they have occurred to me and our family today, but it would be wonderful for others to comment on what Grandview helped them find. Thinking back to that child’s inquiry today, I kept repeating, “What’s the big deal about finding Grandview? It’s right here!” Yes, yes it is. And we are incredibly grateful.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pinterest: Unexpected Power in Pinning

Back in the old days, more or less a few years ago, I would collect shared resources by printing them and filing them into folders for various purposes. Fast forward a year, and I found myself labeling emails into categories, compiling resource lists into wikis, and organizing my favorite sites by Delicious and my notes by Evernote. Despite the clear leaps and bounds I’ve taken, nothing has topped Pinterest for organizing all facets of my life, from classroom ideas to vegetarian recipes. Beyond the curation of content, however, there are a few ways schools and teachers can tap into the power of pinning.

  • Ditch the textbooks for the resource board. Despite popular belief, classes can operate without a hard-cover bound book with chapters. Building up boards with often-free online resources may create wiggle room in the budget for more exciting and interactive tools, like say...iPads?
  • Break down the walls of the faculty lounge. Creating boards where teams can meet and collaborate to build up learning experiences and resources removes, or at least reduces, the frustrating obstacle of shared planning time. A nice example of this practice is W. T. White High School.
  • Market, and dare I suggest it...brand your school. I know that branding is a dirty word in education, but within every school are teachers and administrators who know that something special is going on in there which everyone else should know about. Creating boards which showcase the components of your school’s mission not only helps teachers operationalize the mission but provides parents and prospective families insight to who you are and what your pedagogical philosophy is. One great example of a school doing this is the Cincinnati Waldorf School.
  • Partner with parents and other stakeholders. Parents who want to be involved should have several outlets for participating towards the positive growth of the school. Some parents have time to spend at events, but other parents can offer off-site help by contributing resources and ideas to a planning board.
  • Catch people in the act...of being brilliant. The simple act of capturing pictures which showcase the positive aspects of a school’s culture is an easy way to validate both teacher and student effort. It can be an effective way of motivating everyone to give their best as the recognition is authentic and is repinned by others who learn from the examples beyond the school walls.
  • Get connected perspective. The strongest argument for engaging in social media interaction among educators is the augmenting of our own skill and perspective by connecting with others. Some educators feel intimidated by Twitter, LinkedIn, or other networking sites, but Pinterest seems to appeal to a whole new set of teachers. There is no one-size-fits-all tool for networking or collaboration; the more tools we have to differentiate the approach to connectivity for teachers...the better!

Don’t know where to start? Search a topic relevant to your practice. I have boards for Differentiated Instruction, Ed Tech Tools, Digital Citizenship, Favorite Blogs and I follow many others for tips on technology integration and classroom fun. The absolute best thing about Pinterest is how easy and fulfilling it is to pin, connect, collect, and repin. “Happy Pinning!”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hanging in the Balance (My 2012 8th Grade Moving Up Address)

Today, I had the honor of addressing the class of 2016 as they "moved up" to high school. To my wonderful students, thank you so much for this year! Here are my thoughts to you in commemoration of this moment we shared...

This year marked an exciting milestone for me as a teacher because I had the incredible opportunity to teach this class within a new type of learning environment combining online interaction with face-to-face learning. True pioneers as they are, they were thrilled! Okay, thrilled might be an overstatement for how it all began, but we quickly fell into sync and began to see each other through the digital spaces and physical places we learned...and we learned together. Hopefully, they learned more than a little from me, but I doubt it would compare with what I learned from them. For that, I am extremely grateful to you all. Beyond grateful, however, I was left inspired by you, specifically by the way you always sought the next thing on our horizon and the way you engaged in the interactive components of the class. But as innovative as the experience might have been, what most inspired me was the insight I gained through your writing, something timeless and very traditional.

Through this window, I learned so much about you on an individual level, but I also began to see your perspective on some things on a collective level. At one point, I asked you to think about life as a teenager and to write an essay centered around a thesis regarding the teen experience. One of the central themes running throughout all your essays was how confusing the teenage years can be, and it occurred to me that there’s probably a good deal of fault which must come back to us for this confusion for we are the bearers of some seemingly conflicting messages.

The real trick in emerging into adulthood is finding the right balance of these seemingly conflicting points and in other areas of our lives. I would ask Ms. Petronio to show us a balancing pose to prove this next point, but we made her dress up today so I think you will have to use your imagination. Balancing is not a static condition. My yoga teacher (who isn’t quite as awesome as Ms. Petronio) always reminds us that balancing is the constant state of balancing and re-balancing. I have found this sentiment a very wise metaphor in guiding my everyday endeavors, whether it’s balancing strictness with leniency as a teacher and mom...or exercise with brownie consumption, so I thought I would focus today’s address on the top 5 balancing acts you should keep in mind each day throughout your teenage years. Full disclosure, though...most of this comes right from you!    

Balancing Act #1: Don’t be too full of yourself...but be a little full of yourself.

Has anyone seen The Avengers? Remember when Loki is mouthing off about how powerful he is, and he says to the Hulk, "Enough! All of you are beneath me. I am a god, you dull creature and I shall not be bullied." 

What does the Hulk do in response?
(ask for Justin to act out...ps, good job Justin!)
Yes, exactly, after The Hulk smashes Loki repeatedly, he slams him down and says, "Puny god." 

And that is what happens to us when we think ourselves omniscient and above all others...yet we are told we must be confident. Cailten's confidence expresses the precise balance between self-absorbed and confident. She wrote, "Everyone has obstacles in life. The way people overcome them is how their character and personality shows. Even as a teen I think that I know what I want in my life. I know what I want to be, and how I am going to get there. Nothing is going to stop me." Such belief in oneself helps us overcome the many obstacles in our life.  

Balancing Act #2: Don’t be afraid to be different...but wear your uniform impeccably!  
Evangeline wrote, “[As teens], we really don’t know who we are yet.” There is definitely a lot of experimenting with who we want to be along the way to becoming that person. We talk positively about the role of an individual, and how to be different. When I visited the civil rights museum a couple years back, I stood staring at pictures of angry white faces blocking the path to African Americans trying to make their way to class or to the counter in a diner during the desegregation movements, and I couldn’t help but wonder--if I had grown up there, in that time, with that propaganda about white supremacy flowing all around me, would I be one of those racist angry faces? It scared me because we don’t really ever know whether we will be strong enough individuals in the moments that count and have the boldness, the courage to be different than the mobs around us. And yet, I’ve seen such individual strength in many of you, and it sometimes causes you to be a bit brighter, perhaps too bright for others’ comfort sometimes, but hold onto this light.

At the same time, we have to know when and how to be a team player. There is strength and unified purpose in collective beliefs. And it really is true that “together” we build our future, so putting aside our personal agendas or transferring our light to others so that they may shine instead of us sometimes, is very important to building anything meaningful together. It’s just knowing when to sing above the chorus and when to join in the harmony that makes all the difference.

Balancing Act #3: Don’t FAIL (catastrophically)...but try hard to make and embrace some mistakes.
Claudia echoed this point when she said, “The teenager stage, I think, is one of the hardest stages. It’s the period where we try to figure out who we are, and what we want in life and it’s  all very confusing.  It’s also the age where we learn from our mistakes and use it towards the future.” The trick is not falling off the cliff in the process of misstepping a little, and of course, the ability to reflect on your mistakes to grow.

In talking to Coach Dawson, I asked about the practice of watching film after a game. He said, “When we watch film, we watch what mistakes were made, and we ask ourselves--did we run our plays correctly? Were our kids hustling like they should have been. We highlight the positive, but we look for room for improvement.” He pointed to the Heat v. Pacers series. When happens when you go up in flames and lose by 20 something? What transpires between a devastating Game 3 loss and a convincing Game 4 win and a crushing victory in Game 5?

In life, we often miss the nuances of activity surrounding what we are focusing on, and thereby miss the learning opportunities. The next time you make a mistake, even a big one, don’t just examine where the ball was on the court when you mis-shot; rewind the film so that you can see where the other players were around you, who could have helped. Was there a pass open, an assist opportunity? Rewind, play, pause, reflect, learn...and grow to victory.

He also brought up a point about the role we play in the moment versus the moment of detailed reflection, how they are different. Why can’t a coach see everything (beyond not having 10 sets of eyes)? It’s because in the moment, we have to focus on attitude, on being positive and encouraging (and not yelling our heads off...too much).  When you are in the moments of your life, almost always, it is mainly your attitude that matters, and the same is true for reflecting on your mistakes.

Balancing Act #4: Yes, you will have some new freedoms...but don’t go crazy.
Mark wrote, "Teens just do not notice how many freedoms they have. All they notice is what they don’t have." Summer H. went on to say, "For our parents, our teen years are an experiment, for us it’s getting a glimpse of adult life. Sometimes as teens feel that it’s our “right” to do whatever and be whatever we want.  Being a teen we’re exposed to a whole new dimension of good and bad. We have to be very responsible in exercising our freedoms to make the right choices." 

On this note...cut your parents some slack and realize that it’s their job to instill these freedoms a little bit at a time. Diamond wrote about this actually. She said, "Being a teen comes with a ton of responsibility. This is the period between child and adult. Once you turn 18 you’re an adult. This is probably why parents get so worked up. This is their job, but we know that they are the only people who will always be there for us." Wise words, indeed, and as a parent, AMEN!

Finally, Balancing Act #5: Work hard...but have fun.
All I can say about this one is I went to the Marlins game last night with the softball team instead of finishing this address, fortunate for you because we have to get you from here to your paintballing adventure!

As you move up today into high school and later beyond, remember to balance and rebalance constantly by shifting weight ever so slightly. I hope I have also shown you that as strong as our own voices are, when you pull them all together, there is more wisdom in the collection and more power in the message....so rely on each other! Congratulations to all of you on all the successes (and mistakes) of this stage of your life and welcome to high school!