Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teach Fit Tip: Teaching with Flexibility

April Blogging Series: Teach Fit, the "cross-fit" between my two worlds (fitness & education) in exploration of how fitness has more to do with teaching than we might think.

Teach Fit Tip #2: Teach with Flexibility

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When we exercise, we build strength by taxing our muscles and forcing them to grow. Tiny ruptures in the muscles occur when we have upped our fitness and forced our body to adapt. The medical term for that Oh my god, I can't lift my arms to wash my hair feeling after a great workout is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It's a normal part of fitness but can have detrimental results such as tightness and poor posture if we don't balance our strength training with some stretching and flexibility training. By engaging in yoga and other forms of flexibility, we not only ensure our fitness leads to healthy growth over time, but we also bring balance to our practice.

Core Training
As teachers, we face much that is rigid and inflexible. These things cause us pain sometimes, but they are not necessarily the evils of education we make them out to be. The problem is, we don't necessarily have the right flexibility training in place to balance their impact on our practice. Here are three rigid-Ed buzz words along with a flexible practice teachers can use to counterbalance them.

1. rigor: a (1) :  harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible (Merriam-Webster)

Rigor must be among the least accurate words used ad nauseam to describe quality education. It's unfortunate because it translates to piling up the mental exercises so excessively as to remove any ounce of free time students might have after school. While a rigorous program may prepare students to be even more competitive and accountable in life, it can also be emotionally exhausting in its unforgiving magnification of inevitable mistakes.

Flexibility Exercise: Rapport building can counteract today's rigorous atmosphere of competition. While there is no escaping the high stakes and high stress, teachers can serve as voices of reason instead of contributing to the madness. Skilled teachers can also complement high expectations with high support and genuine care. They also have a way of lifting students up in moments of crisis.    

2. standard :  something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality (Merriam-Webster)

Standards-based grading, standards-based learning, standards-based assessment...clearly standards are at the "common core" of our daily practice. Standards are valuable because they serve as a musculature of learning design. However, what we allow students to do with those muscles can be far more flexible.

Flexibility Exercise: Choice-based learning is like a yoga practice with many modifications in play. Anyone who has taken a yoga class can attest to the instructions being given in tiers for almost every move and the fact that in many classes individuals choose to veer into their own practice for chunks of class. I do this when we go into plow or headstand. I just don't like the idea of putting pressure on my neck, so instead I move over to the wall and do a handstand. I'm still upside down, so I get the benefits of that portion of practice, but I accomplish this in my own style. In our classes, we have several opportunities to allow students to make modifications on their own through choices along the way. The standards keep us generally in "flow" together, but allowing for variations in content based on interests or self-assessment, process based on preferred learning style, and outcome based on creative disposition, is an excellent way to allow students agency over their learning practice.

3. schedule : a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done (Merriam-Webster)

Schedules are necessary for school safety and learning, yet even the most progressive bell schedules still constrain us in our attempts to maximize exploration and foster deep understanding. 

Flexibility Exercise: Open up time and space by creating blended learning opportunities. Using a platforms like Schoology and Google Apps for Education, learning via collaboration can extend far beyond the allocated time and space. This practice also creates diversity in learning space where one may attract a learner who feels intimidated by a more traditional space.  

Cool Down (Stretch!)
In the early years of our teaching careers, we are nimble with optimism and energy for our practice, but these perspectives can become jaded and worn over time if we are not careful just as we become tight and achy as we age! But there's a solution to this. When we are presented with inevitable soreness of our practice, whether in the class or on the track, we can rejuvenate through a dedication to flexibility training. #teachfit  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teaching With an Adventurous Spirit

As much I flooded my blog with shameless bragging over my preparations for and "reasons" to, it was hard to miss that I was in a triathlon race this weekend. When it was over, my 28 days of race blogging also came to an end, and I was left thinking about the connections between two central pieces of my identity: fitness and education. I feel strongly that one informs the other constantly, so I set out to explore these connections a bit as I bring my readers and self back over the conceptual bridge.

One synapse through which energy flows between all the facets of my personal and professional life is adventure. When I think of adventure, my heart returns to my childhood favorite The Goonies, in which an eclectic crew of well-intentioned, ill-prepared teens sets off to find the hidden pirate treasure that will "save the Goondocks" from foreclosure. With no forethought, the group hops on their bicycles with nothing more than an old map and key, an asthma inhaler, and a ton of brash courage. Along the way, they find friendship, purpose, compassion, inner talent, and (of course) the treasure.

While it would be hardly responsible to send students off to impending doom by booby trap, it seems today that too many teachers are fearful of teaching with an adventurous spirit. As I stood in front of the waves on Sunday's race day, it was not without a fair amount of trepidation, but I also felt sure that I could at least survive and succeed given my level of preparation. In an age of so many creative and collaborative possibilities, educators would benefit from confidence in their abilities in order to dive into an adventurous sea. When facing something new or unexpected, we need to remember that we have arrived on this shoreline of possibility with no trivial amount of preparation. Unlike our beloved Goonies, we have far more in our packs to help us avoid danger and find the learning treasures with our students. Here are five adventurous seas most teachers face and should feel confident diving into...

1) Tech Integration: Beyond checking age-appropriate guidelines for platform use, which are clearly outlined in the user terms, the integration of technology, especially that which has been specifically designed for the classroom, is a safe sea. While there will be waves to contend with, nobody is going to drown. Allowing students to play around in the surf and share with each other how they used different techniques to arrive at the same task completion is a great practice.

2) Project-Based Learning: The best projects are often the most open-ended ones. It's uncomfortable for teachers to set forth projects with vague rubrics, but students can benefit from ones that set high standards for creativity, collaboration, and quality, with very little else detailed.

3) Choice-Based Exploration: As long as the prerequisite standards have been set so that students know how they must show they have learned, allowing students to choose what they learn and design their own demonstrations of learning is an excellent way to foster agency and creativity.

4) Unfamiliar Topic: In today's data age, information is as easy to come by asking Siri. What is far more difficult to find is guidance, rapport, and connection. Allowing for student choice sometimes means allowing for topics outside our expertise. That's okay though because teachers are adept at the latter skills so as to guide students to the best resources and connections. We are boosters of brain power and creative, critical thinking...not databases for facts. Think Socrates--he never answered any questions!

5) Being Ourselves: This is a personal and sometimes polarizing topic. Teachers cannot and should not try to be separate people in class and outside of school. While it would be unprofessional to over share information about one's personal life, our families and our interests make us human and relatable. These are two qualities a computer can never be. Yet, teachers are understandably fearful of sharing about their family if they feel the environment is intolerant. A moving example is Chris Friend's Edutopia blog "Silence is not Golden" in which Chris explores his missed opportunity in helping students embrace their own identities and differences. "Because I never brought up my sexuality on campus, I continued the discrimination. By hiding, I silently expressed my fear and added to the problem I feebly wanted to protect students from. I was trying to make sure that students felt safe in my classroom. Instead, I showed them that even I was not." 

There is no shortage of fear in teaching. Sometimes we fear for ourselves, but mostly we fear the impact our mistakes will have on our students. We feel the weight of each interaction because we know that there are no neutral moments or do-overs. Still, with safe boundaries for exploration, we can trust in our skills as educators when faced with some trepidation. Our adventurous spirits can inspire our students to learn at new heights if we provision our packs with trust, creativity, and strong rapport. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Finish, for the story & the glory!

Reason to Race #28: For the story & the glory...oh yes, and pancakes!

Up at 4, I was starting to question this brilliant idea, but my team (mom, dad, & Gabriella) were in full swing getting coffee on and my gear ready to ride down to South Beach.

Thanks to dad's front door service to the transition area, I was set up in no time, and by 6 AM, I was taking the presunrise 1 mile stroll up to the Olympic starting point. 

The sea was far less helpful than my team. The chop was strong and endless, causing a delay in our start time, even for the professionals. This news had me shaking in my wetsuit (which incidentally I had accidentally put on backwards in my nervous state). Soon it was time to go or go home, so I manned up and started my flailing attempts to dolphin (manatee more like) out to the bouey while the sun rose with quicker pace over the gorgeous  seascape.

While the ocean looked beautiful, it felt brutal! I really felt like I was being tossed around in a washing machine and my chosen swim mantra bubble, bubble, breathe quickly turned into bubble, bubble, gulp-spit-cough. I won't go into detail regarding how I managed to make the mile to the orange bouey, but suffice it to say, a lot of backstroke and other forms of flailing which can hardly be classified as strokes were involved. 

When the beach finally spit me out, I was on my bike within two sips of a Gatorade bottle. Ah, finally I could breathe, if not relax during the stunning 25 mi ride over the causeways, through Key Biscayne, on closed roads to the consternation of locals trying to get to brunch in their Lambourginis. #thumbsup!

I was spared the despair of a flat (thank you Tri gods!) and made it back to transition at my target pace. My rubber legs felt less rubbery than expected as I repeated my run mantra light quick feet, light quick feet! I was passing people left and right feeling super--see my smile as I said hi to my team which had grown to include my brother (photo creds) and sister-in-law:

The smile and feeling were very short lived, ending as soon as my feet hit the two mile soft sand part of the run (meanies!). The rest was painful and hot despite my light and spry mantra. I honestly, felt like walking it in, but just kept putting one foot in front of the other until finally I saw the finish line up ahead. I managed to sprint it in and not pass out immediately...however, I was not smiling! 

I was exhausted, but I felt great when I joined my family and Mandell & Rocket colleagues. We headed to Big Pink where I welcomed the biggest pancake I've ever seen to my table. 

That's race story: Reason to Race #28, for the story & the glory!

Though the race is over, it's not too late to donate to my race cause, Scholarship America. If you'd like to, please click the link below. And that's a wrap for the SoBe Tri. Thanks for all the support and love along the way. It's been so motivating! #thumbsup

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race 27

Reason to Race #27: I'm already here so I might as well!

Tomorrow is race day--thank goodness because I'm running out of reasons! I woke this morning feeling strong and race ready. We headed down to pick up our packets, and it was beautiful out. What an amazing site for the event:

Why not go for a little swim, bike, run tomorrow?! Reason to Race #27: Why the heck back to elevating my legs. #thumbsup

If you'd like to contribute to my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below and thank you for all the support!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #26

Reason to Race #26: Well, it's not for the fashion!

There are some great reasons to race in a triathlon (see numbers 1-25) but let me tell you, fashion is not among them. I went to buy my tri suit today; the race is this weekend, so you can tell how (NOT) enticing this purchase was to me. 

There was a good reason people stopped wearing bike shorts and neon in the 80s. 

So reason #26 is not fashion, but don't worry; I've still got a great reason to race. There are only a couple moments when the following advice applies, especially connected with fitness and a healthy lifestyle. 

From my cousin (awesome and inspiring coach Sean Edwards  @personalbesttri)..."Wed on should be when you start to carb load, basically adding carbs in to your diet, and Thursday is the big carb night."

You got it coach! I'm onto day three of carb loading (mixing in protein now) and loving pre-race life. So the real reason to race #26: 1 word--CARBS. Happy Friday indeed!

Even though it has nothing to do with carbs, please consider donating to my race cause, Scholarship America, by clicking the link below. Thank you for all the likes, shares, retweets and other support. Only one more day until race day!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #25 Zombie Apocalypse Training

Tiffany & Lizzy Zombies

I was running out of ideas as I headed into the final days before the race, but hey, you have to power through those last miles. So I asked my students while eating lunch with them the other day, "Why do you think I should race?" Of course, one of them (my girl Lizzy) gave me the best reason yet. "Because if there's a zombie apocalypse, you'd be able to outrun the zombies...or at least the other people!" #brilliant #stuvoice

This got me thinking...not only is running looking advantageous, but I also can't imagine zombies can swim. I took this thought home with me and asked my resident zombie experts, my kids Joe and Alina. We all came to the conclusion that zombies probably can somewhat swim (in an awkward floating motion) or walk under water (though we debated this for quite some time). Either way, even as slow as I swim, there's a decent chance I'd be faster. #greatnews

So there you have it, thanks to the creative genius of my student Lizzy. Reason to Race #25: Also training for a zombie apocalypse. #multitasking

If you'd like to support the creative genius of other human children, donate to my race cause, Scholarship America, by clicking the link below. Thank you for all the love, shares, retweets, and other forms of support. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reason to Race #24: For the Kids Who Still Race

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Let's address the elephant in my cyber room. Those of you who have visited my Crowdrise fundraising site may have noticed my absurd fundraising goal of $25,000. If you haven't seen it, here's how my progress looks:

Though the generosity of friends and family, I've raised $1285, which is no small amount. Still, I knew going into this that the chances of raising $25,000 were more or less impossible. So why set the goal so high? There are a few reasons...

#1 Because that's what it feels like to face something which seems impossibly far away despite all your hard work and the support of many. Being aware that this is a reality for so many of my students who envision an excellent education for themselves gives me a glimmer of perspective. It's no wonder that it seems so daunting and unreachable, and much more of an impervious reality than an arbitrary number on a fundraising site.

#2 The average annual cost of college in-state at a public university is $18,391. The average cost for a private college is $40, 917. Even if we get beyond the misconstrued use of the word public to describe our state university systems, the reality is there are too many students for too few spots at these schools. Even if a student gets in, aid is sparse and usually falls well short of covering expenses at even the public universities.

#3 The public annual cost of $18,391 would consume more than 3/4 of the total annual household income for a family of four living at or below the federal poverty line.

#4 The school-to-prison pipeline is stronger than the school-to-college pipeline in impoverished communities. These communities and the children who live in them have less access to high achieving schools and resources. Instead, they have access to the plagues of poverty: fear and crime.

#5 See these articles on how our education system is still a) inequitable and b) racist: "American Schools are Still Racist, Government Report Finds" & School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines.

#6 Because a shocking number of students I have taught in NYC simply ended up without a zoned public school at the end of the "public" application process. Where do families go when there is no public school which says, "We'll take your child"? They turn to private schools to fill that basic education need. The average tuition for a year of private school in NYC is $39,700 per year. While schools, like Mandell, are working earnestly to supply enough aid to families of pretty amazing students left without a public home, it's impossible to cover the extensive need.

#7 Because even despite these obstacles, I hope that my students and their families will continue to fight for educational opportunities. There are a lot of brick walls, but there are open doors and people to help along the way.

So, I'm going to fail in raising my $25,000. I knew that before I started this journey. I told myself I would likely get my straight A's in swim training, hit my target scores for pacing, and finish the physical race strong...all the while failing in one major goal. I wanted this experience because it's only a drop in the ocean compared to the feelings of inadequacy and failure millions of students really live through. And yet, they still race--Reason to Race #24.

If you'd like to contribute to my race cause, Scholarship America, which funds open doors instead of brick walls, please donate by clicking the link below. Thank you so much for your support, sharing, liking, retweeting, and other forms of support! It really means the world to me. #thumbsup

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reason to Race #23: Ocean Swim Sans Sharks

Yes, this is Miami...and yes, those are sharks.
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I can think of few things as beautiful and serene as the ocean off South Florida. A swim in these crystal clear, warm, and calm waters is among life's greatest pleasures...unless of course, there are thousands of sharks migrating up or down the shoreline to keep you company! Yes, this is the one thing I am terrified of when I swim solo in Florida, but when I get the chance to train in the open water, I tend to suck it up and swim while this soundtrack plays on repeat in my head, "Was that a shark? I think I felt something! It's in your head. Just keep swimming....Is that a shark? I think I felt something!"

I'm looking forward to the race on Sunday as my first 2014 ocean swim without the fear of sharks mistaking me for food. According to, the #1 way to avoid a shark attack is to "Stay in groups and do not wander away from your companions, since sharks are more likely to attack individuals." Check! 

Reason to race #23: To lose the fear of a shark attack and only have to worry about the "Just keep swimming" part. Easy breezy! ;)

If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below and thank you for your continued sharing, likes, comments, retweets, and other forms of support! #thumbsup

I do want to go on record as a postscript that sharks are amazing creatures. Also cited on is the following fact: while sharks kill 10 humans a year, humans kill between 20-30 million sharks. Usually, sharks only attack us because they mistake us for their natural prey, while humans catch and kill sharks for entertainment. That video gone viral from Boca is evidence of this...shameful! #sharklove #justdon'tbiteme