The Last Straw

This year in my classroom, we have established a few important philosophies.  The first is having a “yes, and…” attitude toward things - an improvisational technique that encourages us to “just go with” things that happen and find a way to make it work.  The second is liberal use of the small, but important word: “yet”. No person in our room is allowed to say they they are not good at something without appending the sentence with “yet” at the end (... and yes, they frequently correct their teacher on this when they catch me forgetting to do it too!).   Recently, a third catchphrase has started to embed itself in our classroom culture as well: “Do something!”

Earlier this school year, our talented District Literacy Resource Teachers introduced us to a powerful video called, “The Tree” .  The message is so transformative that we have gone back to re-watch this video multiple times since, for a variety of purposes.

Each time we have watched this as a class, we have followed up with a talking circle to discuss our thoughts on how the theme is related to our current topic. The important messages that we have pondered as a result of watching the video are that it’s important to “do something” (don’t just sit there and wait for someone else to solve the problem), that kids can make a difference, and that (based on a connection to an important message in a short TED talk by Derek Sivers that we also watched as a class) often the first couple of people to join the “lone nut” trying to start something are actually the most courageous ones, helping turn a good idea into a movement.  

This week, due to the fact that it is Earth Day (April 22), we chose to address this year’s campaign of ending plastic pollution.  As a provocation, I shared a beautifully filmed, yet challenging to watch, video trailer for a movie called “Albatross”, that illustrates the negative impact that the plastic waste being generated by humans is having on our oceans and marine/bird life.

Many of my students were shocked by the video, and had no idea that their plastic waste is impacting the planet and its inhabitants in such a harmful way.  We had a really rich talking circle after watching the video, where many of the students shared their surprise and distress. I spoke frankly to them about my honest concerns that, despite its many positive aspects, social media has helped create a culture where many of us feel that we are “making a difference” by simply clicking a “like” button, re-sharing something, or changing our profile picture to temporarily include a logo or colour scheme. While these actions can show support for a cause and help an idea to spread, if that is all we do when we are truly upset or passionate about a topic, are we really “doing something” that will lead to any positive change?  This led to more great discussion and sharing. Most agreed that more action than a "like" needs to be taken in order for something to create a measurable impact. Fifth graders can be pretty amazing, and I was impressed by their thoughtful and mature conversation!

One thing that was touched on in our talking circle, and that I will be going deeper into discussion on with my students in the next week or two, is the impact of single-use plastic drinking straws.  We’ll be watching some more provocative videos on this topic, including this difficult-to-watch piece about a beautiful sea turtle who is having a plastic straw extracted from its nasal passage, and another about a sea turtle who has a plastic fork caught in its nose.  We’ll also be talking about some exciting advances in the area of plastic waste, such as the recent discovery of a bacterial enzyme that “eats” plastic, and interesting innovations that humans are designing to try to address the problem, such as a collapsible, reusable drinking straw that fits on your keychain, and using quickly biodegrading food products to create items usually made from plastics.  I am curious to hear their thoughts on the ban on plastic drinking straws that has recently been implemented by Great Britain, and that Canada has been invited to be a part of as well.

I am interested to see, as we learn more about this topic, what my students come up with as ideas to “do something” to address this issue. Kids CAN create a difference. It only takes a few people to start a movement.  Courageous, curious and caring humans can come up with creative solutions to our world’s problems that we don’t know how to solve YET, and a “yes, and” attitude will help get us there! I wonder how we can leverage technology to make a bigger impact? I am excited to see where this goes in the next few weeks!

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The Worst Presentation Ever!

I don't think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you can also know the dark side of life.     

- Bessel Van Der Kolk

If it was never dark, we would have no way of understanding what light was. If we had never experienced suffering or sadness, it would be hard to comprehend what joy and happiness feel like. If we had never been sick, we would take times of good health completely for granted. In order for something to be truly and deeply understood and appreciated by humans, we also need to experience its opposite.  

The negative aspects of things can be our best teachers, even if they are painful or difficult to go through. While they are not always enjoyable, these experiences often contain lessons that we might not learn as quickly or deeply another way, and the education we receive by going through the difficulties can often be much more powerful than the learning we might otherwise glean from more positive, "easy" experiences. It sucks, but it's true. Sometimes, when we are sitting in the middle of something painful, it is difficult to see how it will benefit us in the longer term, but looking back later, we can understand how the difficulties have made us smarter, stronger, kinder, and more resilient. Working through challenges can help us develop a sense of gratitude for the many wonderful things in our lives. 

All of the above are ideas I have been processing and pondering as part of the path my life has been leading me on lately.  I wondered if there were any lessons that I could take out of what I was learning in this part of my personal journey that could be applied in my classroom. I decided to try to put these concepts to use to help improve upon one of the more painful things I have had to experience as an educator: really bad presentations.

I am being somewhat facetious, and am not trying to minimize terrible life experiences by saying that what we feel while enduring a presentation with bad Slides or PowerPoints is on par with the pain we feel when going through something traumatic (although... I suppose it may depend who you ask! LOL). Nevertheless, I have heard people share feelings that mirror what I have heard others describe in terms of physical pain when they are anticipating, or have had to sit through, a presentation that is truly horrible.  I wanted to do my part to help improve my students' abilities in this area to prevent grievous potential injury to their future audience members, so I came up with an idea that I thought would help.

I recently went through part of a free e-course called "Designing Presentations" on the outstanding KQED Teach website. This course does a great job of leading educators through some modules that help with learning good presentation design. I was inspired by ideas from a resource shared in these modules and modified them to share with my students.  I have embedded the slides I adapted/created below. You can also access them here if you would like to make a copy.

Rather than show my students a good example of a presentation slide deck, I gave them exposure to one of the worst ones I could create - a total FAIL - with tips as to what was wrong and how to avoid the mistakes. It was tempting to then give them an assignment to create a really visually appealing slide deck of their own as a way of showing what they had learned, however, I decided to continue to let pain be the best teacher and challenged them instead to create a Google Slides presentation that was even worse than the one I had shown them.

I had no idea how much the students would love this exercise in failure and suffering! In some ways, it was "exciting" for them to feel like they were breaking the rules, and they were truly delighted by the pained sounds of their classmates groaning, cringing as they shielded their eyes from the horrible designs, colour combinations, and font choices that were shared. Pain and joy did not have to be separate. I dare say that the learning they got out of having to explain their appalling choices (and what made their decisions to incorporate them into their slides truly terrible) was exponentially more powerful than if they had simply created a "nice" presentation deck and called it a day. The value of the lesson actually INCREASED because we were actively making mistakes. Pain and failure for the learning win!

I really enjoy reading the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book, "No Mud, No Lotus", he discusses how perspective can be powerful, and suffering and happiness are not separate. He says, "People often ask, 'Why do I have to suffer?' Thinking we should be able to have a life without any suffering is as deluded as thinking we should be able to have a left side without a right side. The same is true of thinking we have a life in which no happiness whatsoever is to be found... If there's no right, then there's no left. Where there is no suffering, there can be no happiness either, and vice versa." It doesn't have to be either/or. Pain and joy can exist at the same time.

None of us are able to get through life without experiencing pain, making mistakes, and suffering.  But by using these principles in the classroom to teach our students about better slide design, maybe.... just maybe... we can at least spare them the pain of sitting through any more bad presentations in the future!

Jay Shetty is quickly becoming one of my favourite media personalities online. If you still need more convincing about how failure and pain can become amazing catalysts for change, take a few minutes to watch the great video below. It's worth your time!

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What If You Just Said, "Yes"?

2017 was the first time that I picked a word to guide me for the year ahead. I liked the idea of the simplicity of that process - rather than a whole list of resolutions, streamlining things into one word of intention that would keep me focussed and moving forward.  I won’t share publicly on the blog the word I chose last year, but I WILL say that the Universe had a whole different definition of it than what I had intended in my own mind - and not at all in a way that worked with my plans and dreams for 2017. Things definitely did not turn out the way I had hoped with that one carefully chosen word. As a result, I was a little nervous to choose a word for 2018, fearing that I might face a similar situation with my new selection.

My friend, HyperDoc guru and amazing educator Lisa Highfill, tagged me in a post about a special “One Little Word” HyperDoc created by the equally outstanding educator, Sarah Landis.  It was beautiful and inspiring enough to convince me to revisit the value of this process and practice, to try it out with my students, and to choose another word myself.  I have embedded the HyperDoc below, but you can also access it at: http://bit.ly/onewordhd  As always with HyperDocs, please maintain credit to the original author in your copies or iterations.

While browsing my Twitter feed, I noticed others posting similar One Word activities, and sharing their own words for 2018, using the hashtag #oneword2018.  I was inspired by the great posts, the quality word choices, and the ideas for extending this activity.  There were beautiful graphic designs, amazing decorated doors, stellar sketchnotes, and much more to peruse. So much One Word goodness was being posted!  Another terrific One Word HyperDoc was shared by Meredith Akers on her website.  I definitely recommend you check it out as well. It is similar in idea to Sarah’s HyperDoc, but has a slightly different format for sharing out each student’s word. You can choose what might work best for your class - or possibly a mash-up of both! You can find Meredith’s activity details by clicking here.

Choosing a word does not have to be something that you do just at the beginning of the year.  I can see this being a powerful practice at the start of each month, each term or semester, or even each season of the year.  It might be something you do each year on your birthday, or at other pivotal times where you would like to refocus yourself.  It is never a bad time to stop, reflect, and move forward with intention. The word you choose is a great touchstone to come back to as you ponder next steps and consider how it has influenced the time in between choosing it and where you are now.  In British Columbia, where I live, our students are required to self-assess on a number of important core competencies.  The One Word activity could definitely tie very nicely into these reflections and assessments.

Maybe choosing a word is not your thing, but you would still like to have your students thinking about the year ahead and setting goals and intentions.  You might be interested in this additional activity that talented Texas educator Kasey Bell posted on her blog about creating digital vision boards.  I love this idea so much that I think my class will be doing it in addition to the One Word exercises!  You can find instructions and inspiration for Kasey’s vision board activity by clicking here.

I kept resisting picking my own word for 2018, but there WAS a word that kept showing up for me that was really resonating.  That word was, “Yes.”  It showed up when I had to decide whether to take a friend up on her incredible offer of a special, last minute vacation getaway.  It appeared in some beautiful meditations that I practiced from incredible teacher and author Tara Brach.  I kept finding it in articles and posts and books that I was reading.  It also showed up when Lisa tagged me in the post about the One Word HyperDoc, inviting me to reconsider choosing a word for this year and encouraging my students to join me. I have decided to let go of my fear from last year, say “Yes!” to the word, “yes”, and claim that word for my own this year. I am choosing to believe that "yes" means that good things will come to me when I release fear, try new things, choose to shift perspective and see the underlying freedom in situations that might feel like they are currently burdening me, and receive opportunities that are sent my way. My fingers are crossed that this year my word takes me places that are far better than I ever could have imagined.

If you are struggling to choose a word, even after looking through the great resources, inspiration, and word lists, maybe you should consider making up your own word? My thoughtful father recently came across and shared with me a really incredible TEDx talk by John Koening called, “Beautiful New Words to Describe Obscure Emotions” which might inspire you to start generating words of your own. John is the author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows where he shares the words he has created to describe things that have previously eluded a single expression to define them.  He also has a YouTube channel where you can view all of the videos for the words he has carefully and thoughtfully crafted. The videos are absolutely, breathtakingly, poetically beautiful.  “Socha” made my breath catch.  “Sonder” touched my heart.  I have posted it below. Sonder means, “The realization that everyone has a story.”  What do you hope your story will look like in 2018? What word will you choose to represent it this year?

Have you chosen a word for 2018?

Have you tried doing a one word or vision boarding activity to start the new year with your students?

Do you have any other great activities that you like to use to start a new month, year, term, semester, or season in your classroom?

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!  Your voice and ideas are important and valued. 

525,600 Minutes

“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?  How about love? Measure in love.”

- Seasons of Love from the musical, “Rent

December is always an interesting month for me. While I prefer the summer months because of the sunshine, longer days, and many outdoor activities (especially lake kayaking!) to partake in, December always signals a time for getting still and quiet, reflecting on the 11 months that precede it, and thinking about the new year to come. It is also the month where my birthday falls, so in addition to starting a new calendar year, I am beginning another trip around the sun myself, causing even further desire for self-reflection, exploration of personal growth and goal setting.

2017 was an extremely difficult year for me personally. In addition to my own difficulties, I feel like there were a lot of challenges in 2017 for many people on our planet. I don't feel I am inaccurate in saying that I have very few friends, acquaintances or people who I follow through social media who would express that it was their best year yet; in fact, for many, the opposite may be true. Nevertheless, we have made it through to the end of it. We learn from both our successes and our challenges, and sometimes the most powerful lessons come from the most difficult of circumstances.  Here are some of my most important takeaways from 2017:

  1. I forgot that one of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is the amount of sleep I lose worrying about the students in my class.

  2. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help you process and work through some pretty difficult stuff that medication cannot.

  3. It is ok to stop, breathe, and take time to take care of yourself.

  4. There are many people around you going through hard things, including the students in your class and school - and your colleagues too. Be kind to everyone.

  5. When you are really, really struggling, sometimes you are often surprised by the people who show up to support you that you never expected… just as you are sometimes bewildered by the ones who you thought would be there for you, but are not.

  6. Sometimes when things feel the darkest, you don’t have any idea how close you actually are to getting to the other side of the tunnel where the light is shining.

  7. If you are willing to be courageous, curious, and caring, you begin to realize that almost everything is figureoutable.

In addition to personal contemplation, this time of year is a great time to ask your students about their own reflections on 2017 and their wishes for the new year.  I absolutely love this article about doing a nightly debrief with your children at home, and have borrowed some of the questions to add to a quick reflection for 2017/18 printable (go to "File - download as - PDF document" for the most printer-friendly formatting.) I left it in grey-scale for photocopying purposes. You are welcome to use it with your own students, and I will be using it with mine.  I am not a gifted graphic designer, so if anyone wants to take this template and improve upon it, I would love it if you would do that and then please share it back with me: info@theglueedu.com, so I can share it here on the blog for others to use as well.  We are better together. UPDATE: Thanks to @mrmaltais for sharing his version of the above reflection printable.

One thing I know for sure: my life has been made better in 2017 through the incredible gift of connection. I am lucky to have so many rich connections with people - both face-to-face and online, and I can’t imagine having gotten through this year without them. I am always slightly mystified by people who still blame technology for disconnect between humans. So many of the people in my friend circles, my “tribe”, and my support networks have been those who I connect with from a distance, and this would not have been possible without the use of technology.  I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel every day for the ability to spend time with these people via the use of the Internet and my technology devices.  It is possible to feel a dark, deep loneliness and disconnect with someone whose face you have an opportunity to see in person every day, just as you can experience absolute joy from a connection with someone who feels like sunshine to you, in a time zone 9 hours different from yours. It really is what you do with technology that matters.  If you are purchasing technology devices for yourself or others this season, please keep that in mind.  The best technology is that which allows you to create and connect, to share stories and support, and get to know and understand others better. There is no better gift than that.

As you think about the 525,600 minutes to come in 2018, how can you use your devices and Internet connection in the service of human connection?

Happy holidays and here’s to an amazing new year! 2018 is going to be the year that love wins. For me. For you. For all of us on planet Earth. I just know it.

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Nothing Sticks Together If We Don't

This content is cross-posted from the EdTechTeam blog.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?” I felt like the Universe was taunting me with this question after a challenging series of difficult life events and unexpected changes in rapid succession.  In addition to feeling defeated and depleted on a personal level, I was feeling anxiety and concern about the world at large. Every time I turned on the news, scrolled through social media or perused trending topics, I was bombarded with stories that were steeped in negativity.  I needed help finding the positive, and looked for inspiration in books, podcasts, online courses, and videos from people who have worked through difficult times with great courage. I noticed that many of them had the same core message, expressed beautifully by Viktor Frankl:  “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Perspective is powerful. Seeing difficult times as a catalyst for change and growth can help mitigate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  Instead of perceiving “Whatcha gonna do about it?” as a call to surrender to sadness and wave the white flag, I decided to choose to see it differently – as a challenge to do something good.  My response? The Glue EDU.

If we focus on the negative, we tend to see more of it. If we look for the positive, it begins to appear more frequently. I decided I wanted to create a blog that focused on the good, that helped myself, other teachers and students work toward becoming more “Wholehearted” (as defined by Brené Brown), and generate a positive ripple as a result.  

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Sketchnote by Leonie Dawson

I came up with my site’s mission: We appear to be existing in a time in this world (and often in educational systems) where the focus seems to be on things such as power, programs, policies, politics, plans, and procedures. It feels like decision makers sometimes overlook the most important “P word” of all: PEOPLEThe Glue EDU aspires to be a place where we can share lessons, activities, ideas, resources and more that help us work with our students to become human beings who are courageouscurious, and caring  – both to themselves and to others.  This could be through mindfulness activities, acts of service, global projects, storytelling, perspective shifting, and more!  Many of these activities can harness the power of technology to help us be even more effective and/or wide-reaching.

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As someone who has worked as a tech integrator for more than a decade, I am passionate about sharing ideas about using technology for GOOD, and teaching our students to do the same. I listen to a lot of people blame technology for many negative things in the world – that we are more connected to our devices but less connected to one another, just for starters.  In some instances, this may be true, but I believe we can work to shift our perspective here as well, and focus on all the positive ways we can use our tech tools. I have been incredibly fortunate to attend and present at many EdTechTeam Summits and events where I have seen this demonstrated over and over in presentations by other amazing educators. We can work with students to use technology to inspire curiosity, engage in empathetic interactions, and create, create, create – whether it’s connections to others, stories to share, solutions to problems, or moments of joy. It’s what you do with it that matters – and there are so many ways and opportunities to do it well!

It is scary to share your work publicly. When I began The Glue EDU, I worried that my only blog followers would be a couple good friends and my mom.  The response has been so much better than I ever expected. Colleagues in my own district are using some of the mindfulness resources I mentioned. Teachers from across North America, in New Zealand, and from Singapore, among others, shared how my post about #eyebombing brightened their day, made them smile, and inspired them to try it with their students. Kids in California are now getting a hug, handshake or high five from their teacher every day. An educator in Ohio reached out to say she made some big connections to the truthbombs I shared and thanked me for writing about them. Knowing that I am creating the positive ripple I had hoped for it gives me the courage to keep posting.

Human relationships, empathy, and compassion: they create the glue that connects us. I would love to hear your stories about using technology for good and possibly share them on the blog so others can hear them  – your perspective is important and necessary! Let’s use technology to connect our classrooms, share good ideas, and shift perspective to the positive together. Nothing sticks together if we don’t. Please join me!

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