The Lucy Ricardo Effect #edusnap16

As you may already know, we are releasing our first #EduMatch book in a few days. More about that later. The purpose of this post is to thank my fellow collaborators on this project, and many others. I know I have said time and again how excited and grateful I am. I never usually say why. 

Lucy Ricardo and I are kindred spirits. Since I was a kid, I have been coming up with crazy ideas. In first grade, it was the underground newsletter (yes, this was a thing). A few of my friends and I wrote articles, based on things that impacted our six-year-old lives (I can’t remember what, maybe cartoons, hula hoops, and Bobby Brown). This was inspired and encouraged by my parents, both writers themselves, among many other hats. My mom would let me use her computer to type everyone’s article; my dad would make copies for the whole class and the teacher. Cool News only had maybe two or three editions, but I remember how exciting it was to create something together. 

As I got older, I became more distracted by extracurricular activities, socializing, and the like. The next big Lucy Ricardo moment came in college. The summer of junior year, I was doing an internship at a nonprofit law organization that helped artists in my area. Being artistic myself, and considering a career in entertainment law, it was a great opportunity. One day, while filing papers, I came across a flyer for a workshop about starting a record label. My eyes lit up and it was on. 

I organized every musical friend I had, and Royal-T Records was officially born in October of 2002. Broke college kids, we had no money, but we were determined to make it work somehow. The research was the most fun. I read every book I could find about the music industry. I must have called every studio in DC, until I found one that charged $25 an hour. It was still a little pricey, but we gave it a shot. 

After a few sessions, we ended up bonding with the owners and built a partnership of sorts, and eventually recorded there for free. They mentored us, showed us how to work the equipment and told us what to buy to do it ourselves. As the years went by, we looked out for one another, wrote songs together, performed together, etc. The more we learned, we shared, and we grew together. This was yet another early lesson about the power of collaboration. (Alas, this came to an end, as I fell in and out of puppy love with one of the owners. There may or may not be some Alanis Morissette-ish songs I wrote about him floating around somewhere. C’est la vie.)

Anyway, the point of the story is that these are the times where I have truly felt alive. Coming together to create something is magical. This time is no different. 

I can easily remember a time in the past when I felt like a teacher outcast. Had I attempted to try anything outside of the ordinary, it quite possibly would have blown up in my face. The idea would have been ignored at best. Some of our colleagues face such toxicity constantly, and it really can kill your spirit. It almost did mine. I try to always remember this when encountering someone hesitant to sip the connection Kool-Aid. It can be very scary to take that first step, especially if you are afraid of consequences. 

I’ll admit that, even though everything has turned around (and more) beyond my wildest expectations, I still have that fear before trying anything. What if it blows up? What if people ignore me? Regarding the latter, many times people do 😂 But I’ve learned that’s not the end of the world, and to try new ideas anyway. If it’s good, people may want to collaborate later. 

This book project in particular has been an absolute joy. I got to work with 19 other amazing people, learning this process together. It was a throwback to the newsletter in first grade, while uncovering the roadmap as we went along, much like the record label. These are some of the most brilliant, funny, open, kind-hearted, and passionate folks I have met. Before we began, I thought this would be hard…that nobody would want to do this…that if anybody did, I’d mess it all up and it would be like pulling teeth. Guess what? None of that happened! My co-authors are so amazing and have made this process super-easy. In fact, after such a positive first experience, we plan to expand in 2017!

All of that being said (in a very disorganized way…yes, I am laying on the couch. Yes I am on my WordPress app on my phone. No, I probably won’t polish this up later 😬), I need to take a moment to thank those of you with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating, especially in this educational space. It has meant the world to me. This goes out to all of the co-authors of the book, the entire #EduMatch crew, all of the co-organizers of any edcamp or conference planning team I’ve been on, my teammates at work, my other work families (MAFI, OHHS, and more), GEG DC Metro, anyone who has reached out to me to invite me to their table, anyone who ever believed in me (especially when it was cool not to), anyone who positively impacted me, and especially to Mom and Dad for showing me that anything is possible, and when it gets hard to keep fighting for it. 

That felt like the Grammy acceptance speech that never happened 😜


The Subtle Art…

I’m currently reading this great book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****. Since I tend to give way too many, wasting a lot of time worrying about stuff that doesn’t matter nearly as much as I think it does, this book is right on time. Yesterday when I was at an event, I took an introvert break. There was no cell reception, so I cracked open the Kindle app and continued to read where I left off. 

Excuse the potty language. Not my words. Also, while I’m asking for pardon, know that I am writing this from the gym, so the post won’t be polished. Very stream of consciousness. 

Anyway, I had been reflecting on this idea for a little while now. A few months ago, I had heard someone talk about how so many people are results-driven, when the process itself is often more meaningful. This has implications for education, for bettering ourselves, and for many of other things I care about. It just makes sense. 

Yesterday in a Voxer group, I was chatting with some friends about gatekeepers in our field, and how my early feelings of powerlessness drove my passion to be connected. When I discovered there was so much more out there, and that I didn’t need to wait to be spoonfed PD, that there were other millions of educators out there just like me, willing to connect and learn together around the clock…it was like a drug and I couldn’t get enough. 

Yesterday, I had the honor of attending a symposium at the White House. It was my first time there since a tour in 8th grade. My mind was blown when I saw my name tag:

#EduMatch!!! At the White House!!!

It was a little over two years ago when I was chatting on Voxer with my good friend Rafranz Davis on a Friday night. I remember saying something to the effect of, “you sound like my cousin. You guys should meet and talk gamification in math. Hey, wait a minute…” 

Those 30 seconds were the birth of EduMatch. I wrote about it at length in our upcoming book. More on that later. 

Anyway, people are usually surprised when they hear how long (or short, more accurately) #EduMatch has been around. It has grown exponentially and that is all thanks to everyone who joined the family. Everyone who comes in leaves a little piece of themselves, and what we have built together belongs to all of us. I didn’t mean for this to turn into an EduMatch commercial. Got carried away. Back to the point. 

“Who you are is what you’re willing to struggle for…the joy is in the climb itself.”

I was a very inquisitive kid, and read anything I could get my hands on…encyclopedias, magazines, dictionaries even. My parents encouraged this habit and would often lend me their books. I remember reading one of my dad’s books around the age of nine or ten, and coming to the realization that life has to be hard at times. If there is no challenge, it would get boring very quickly. We have to struggle…we have to work. That’s what makes success taste so sweet. You must have something to compare it to.

In another Voxer group, or maybe the same one…I can’t remember, we were talking about learning. I had an aha moment when I realized the things I was proudest of were the ones that I had to work for. I assume the same is true for many others. 

For example, I had a student once who was an amazing kid. Great sense of humor and leadership skills. He had some academic challenges at various points, but when he tackled something, that’s all he wanted to talk about. He was so excited every time we got to the unit with his favorite topic. The kid had a grasp on poetry! This was his thing. He had worked hard, and nailed it. 

But he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to learn more. The joy was in the climb. Standard eighth grade curriculum wasn’t enough for him. He put me to work (which I did happily), looking for high school level vocabulary and concepts so that he could be challenged in this area. 

There is so much more I’d love to say, but it’s almost time for work. I will add that this morning, I picked my struggle. It is cold as a mug, as we say in the DMV, and I’m sleepy after an exciting day yesterday. However, I am committed to the gym, so here I am. The joy is in the climb. Results are slow, and sometimes non-existent, but I love seeing the progress in personal records for lifting. I’m choosing not to focus on results, i.e. visible changes in my body.  If they come, they come. But I am enjoying the journey!

Playing Basketball 

Yesterday, I went to visit my former students and work family at the K-8 school where I had been for 7 or 8 years. Whenever I walk in those doors, it’s like going back home. This was the school I loved (and still do) for so long. Some of my coworkers are like brothers and sisters; the students feel more like nieces and nephews, having seen them grow in some cases from 3 feet to 6 feet. A lot of the parents also feel like family, especially those I have grown close to over the years. 

A few weeks ago, a former student reached out to me and said that the boys’ basketball team was doing very well this season. Two years ago, I helped establish the team. At the time, the county was bringing back the program after a hiatus. During the break, a lot had happened. We had split from the Montessori school and got our own building, so we were now two separate teams. In the French immersion school, the main sport among teachers was soccer. The kids needed a coach. 

Having played a little myself, I always participated in, and enjoyed, the staff vs. students games. One day after English class, a couple of eighth grade boys came up to me and asked me to coach them. 

I was a little thrown off at the prospect of coaching, especially with the limited experience I had as a player. On top of that, I was hesitant about coaching boys. I was never a boy. I don’t have sons. The boys assured me they had asked other teachers, and nobody else could, would, or knew how to do it. I followed up and confirmed this with our Athletic Director. I decided to try it. 

I was horrible. I had so much fun working with students outside of class, but I won’t lie. Coaching is totally different than teaching. While drills and practices were pretty cool, I had no clue what I was doing at game time. Often my anxiety would go through the roof. I won’t go into all the gory details, but let’s just say middle school basketball games are fun…when you’re winning. I did everything I could to make sure that players gave it their all and kept a positive attitude, win or lose. However, the pressure as a coach was intense. There were some parents who stepped up to lend their expertise, and for that I am very grateful. 

Still, it was very tough. The phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” is an understatement. Again, I won’t go into gory details, but if you’re thinking about coaching and really want to know, I’d be more than happy to tell you. Despite all of the hard times, and there were many, I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to work with these amazing young people and get to know them outside of the classroom. Would I do it again? Never as a head coach. Maybe as an assistant. For two year olds. Maybe. 

What I do love is being able to go back and watch these seeds sprout and blossom. Now, the sixth graders whom I coached two seasons ago are the leaders of the team. They have grown in height and maturity, and it made me so proud to see them do their thing last night.  Watching the girls’ game in particular moved me, because I remember how, every opportunity I had, I would go down to their PE class on my planning period and work with them. There were 2 or 3 who had experience, but most of them had never played on a team at that point. We practiced and scrimmaged all the time. Now those same girls are about to go to high school. Hopefully they continue playing there. 

Tl;dr: basketball is fun, unless you’re the coach and you don’t know what you’re doing. Even then, it’s sorta fun…

To Sir, With Love

In August 1999, I walked into Freshman Honors English class. My professor was truly a master at his craft, a gentleman from whom I had the pleasure of learning for two concurrent semesters. 

Professor Braithwaite wrote To Sir, With Love, which I read for the first time in his class at 18, and leaned upon many times years later, during my hardest days as an educator.  Although I was a Radio-TV-Film major while in his class, his stories about teaching inspired me, and no doubt influenced my decision to seek alternative certification soon after graduation. 

Professor Braithwaite allowed us to write about topics of our choice, and made learning fun. Looking back on papers from that class, I can see exactly how much I grew as a writer freshman year. 

He showed us the ropes of publishing, as he had our class make an anthology of our work. Everyone contributed a story, and at the end, we had built a strong community, and had assembled quite a collection. It is still sitting on my parents’ coffee table. I also remember his generosity, as he took the entire class out to lunch in DC to celebrate our achievement. 

Even more powerful, Professor Braithwaite shared his story. He was very transparent as he told us about the obstacles he faced as an educator, especially the racism directed towards him as a Black teacher in London in the 1940s. Hearing how he was able to achieve all he did, even when forced to navigate such a hostile climate, was inspiring. 

There are so many things that I can no longer remember, so it says a lot that my time with Professor Braithwaite is so vivid. Thanks to an amazing educator, and cheers to a life well-lived.