Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Need for a Twitter Timeout (aka the history of my internet according to me)

When I was 12, we got a new fancy PC.  We had window 95!  I could "journal" on my computer in a fancy handwriting font (ahh, Lucida Handwriting).  

At 13, it was the internet.  I was excited to feed my desire for knowledge.  I wanted to be an astronaut, so I spent hours behind the computer listening to the modem make it's musical sounds to connect me to a world where I could spend hours on the NASA website learning about the upcoming shuttle launch.  I could also send electronic mail to my one other friend with the internet at home who also had electronic mail (also, she lived next door).

At 14, the hormonally charged teenager in me discovered my first online chatroom.  It was on a website that allowed me to play chess online vs. other people who loved chess.  I thought this was amazing.  I met a guy at the University of Nebraska.  We spent a year as pen pals, emailing back at forth.  This seemed so extraordinary...I could talk to someone in NEBRASKA! I could tell him all those things I couldn't tell my parents and friends.  In fact, I would tell him things I probably wouldn't tell anyone, I mean, he didn't really "know" me after all, right?  After a year, I got bored of his stories of college life in Lincoln, and I'm sure he got bored of listening to me complain about how hard it was to be a 14-year-old girl. I mean, is there anything more difficult?

At 15, I discovered ICQ.  Before MSN messenger, there was ICQ.  I was in grade 10, but in Math 11 (a big deal in a small private school), and made all new grade 11 friends.  The circle of us would talk online at night.  We could have 3 conversations at the same time (UNBELIEVABLE!) and because we didn't have to say things to each other face we could be more honest, more cruel, and more intimate than any previous relationship I knew.  Something about being behind the screen made me feel safe.  It was a year of school night 4am ICQ chats when my parents were sleeping and I snuck into the computer room that led me to develop typing speeds in excess of 100 wpm.  Of course, from time to time this sense of security would backfire.  Someone might reference an online conversation at school, a friend found out her boyfriend was talking to someone else about their relationship drama, or someone would confess a secret that they would immediately regret the next day.  The use of ICQ caused our relationships to blossom quickly - at least online.  In class, it was like they didn't happen.  We talked about Math.  The Weather.  Maybe the upcoming dance.  For a year, I thought they were my best friends in the world.  But none of these relationships lasted.

At 16 MSN replaced ICQ. The number of people chatting online increased - and they were making many of the same mistakes I made the previous years.  People were divulging personal secrets left and right.  Many joined different discussion groups and chats, sharing with strangers online their innermost thoughts and feelings.  Being online magnified these feelings.  If you were depressed, the chat rooms became a spiral to feed your depression.  If you sought out advice on doing drugs or having sex, random strangers would tell you that you only live once, and then walk you through overly detailed or overly intimate experiences.  Knowledge was being acquired at an enormous rate, but we lacked the ability to process it.  We didn't know how to judge safe from unsafe situations or good from bad advice.  By now everyone had email, and the novelty of writing long and personal letters began.  It got worse when it was long and attacking emails to the friend you felt betrayed you.  It's amazing how mean you can get when given time to draft, edit and improve the quality of your cruelty.

At 17 I was getting ready to graduate.  We'd begun to settle into our world of email, online chatting and the information age.  I did a lot of research for class projects and applied to college online.  I started downloading music for the first time.  I spent a lot of time educating my parents and grandparents, friends and extended family on the uses of the internet.  I began to see the dangers in online conversations, and frequented MSN a little less.  By 18 I was in University.  It was only here that the internet because a source of email with professors, setting up group meetings, newsletters, online course registration and a slew of practical purposes.    By now almost everyone had a story of a chat room conversation gone weird, a MSN chat that was super intimate, or an email that was sent to the wrong person, or accidentally (or purposely read by their roommate).  It was at this point that we started to see that there may just be a problem with being online.

I could continue my story, into the world of IRC, personal websites, blogs, Facebook, twitter and into whatever comes next.  But that isn't the point.  The evolution of the online community started with an assumption that is was SAFE.  That is was the appropriate place to vent without consequence.  That it was a solution to our emotional strife.  That we could be anonymous.  That things could be private.  But it's never been true.  Through every phase of development we lost more and more of privacy and anonymity.  We continue to give up a little more with every email and every website that we sign into via Facebook (Pinterest, Kayak, Voting for Dancing with the Stars....)  And yet, I still watch teenagers and adults a like online venting about their friends, family, colleagues, boyfriend, girlfriend, coaches, teachers or mailman.  They are sharing personal information about themselves and their emotional states.  They get angry or hurt and act rashly, and need somewhere to do or say something.  It seems making an emotionally charged statement online is the modern day equivalent of punching a wall.  I need to do something permanent.  I'm hurt.  I'm angry.  And I want to do something so big and bold that if for only one moment, I will have made a statement, garnered some pity, or at least feel something other than the misery I am feeling right now.  We are all guilty of it.  It may be an email response written back too quickly.  A poorly decided tweet.  A Facebook status you shouldn't have shared.  A blog post written in haste.  [If you have never made an emotional e-mistake, please comment below].  But the internet is not a safe place for this.  Everyone is watching.

And the thing is that most of these moments will pass.  Going for a run, curling up with a cup of tea, a good nights sleep will all help.  Also healthy conversation with parties involved (if that is the nature) and seeking resolution with an open and fair mind is an appropriate set of actions.  Personal journal writing or face-to-face dialogue with a spouse or close friend may help give you perspective.  These are all good choices. But being emotionally charged, getting behind a keyboard, and typing is not going to help.

So here is my suggestion.  When you are having a bad day, when you are hurt, upset, angry, frustrated, lonely or furious; if you have an issue with a parent, teacher, friend or loved one; if you are looking to hit a preverbal wall.....

Take a Twitter Timeout.  Shut down the computer. Put away your phone.  Turn off the iPad.  Logout of Facebook.  And take a self-imposed break.  Cool down, reflect, run, sleep, eat, cry, work out, read a book, play with lego, take a photo, play with your sister, do your homework, bake some cookies or any other activity.  Seriously.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Value of Authenticity

First day of PDP, first lesson.  We teach who we are.  The first thing I was taught on my teaching journey was that how we teach and who we are in the classroom has to be authentic.  Anything less just won't do. This lesson set the tone of pretty much everything I have come to hold dear in education.

Over the course of my short-yet-eventuful career thus far, I have heard so many stories and strategies of how teachers have worked hard to separate their professional lives and personal lives.  Some go by different names in each domain of their existence.  Many choose to work a decent distance away from their homes.  Most have a story or two about the awkward run in with a parent or student while out buying a bottle of wine or box of tampons.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing to want a home life with a degree of privacy.  Privacy isn't my issue today.  But with twitter, tumblr, youtube, Facebook, flickr, iPhones, foursquare, geotagging and a never ending list of ways to which we have been willing to give up our privacy in a digital evolution, can we any long hide our heads in the sand and pretend this is possible?

With the rise of social media, the ability to create separate spheres of existence is coming to an end.  I mentioned it briefly in my last post - we are now in an era of life that is going to calls for teacher congruency.  This involves two aspects.  Firstly, teachers accepting that they are role models 24/7.  This was always true.  I knew this the minute I submitted my application to SFU.  I was choosing a calling that was going to require me to lead by example.  I CHOSE THIS.  I can't complain.  I wanted this.  I consider is a privilege and an honour to be a teacher and I am proud of the role I play.  And with it, I was ready and willing to make choices to live up to it.  If any teacher is unwilling to be that roll model 24/7, they may want to consider another profession.  The spotlight it on us, whether we are willing to accept it or not.  The second aspect that comes with this is the acceptance of teacher fallibility.  This means that parents, students, faculty, administrators, media and public at large may have to accept that teachers are human.  We make reasonable decisions.  We make good decisions.  We may even, gulp, make bad decisions.  We are real people.  This is a new and uncharted waters for the educating community.  I'm not going to pretend these are waters I know how to navigate.  But I am ready and willing.

If I was going to pick one thing that will make these waters EASIER to navigate, then I would have to say it is authenticity.  As individuals we now need to be one person.  Our teaching, inside and outside the classroom, the messages we share and the relationships we build, need to be true to who we are.  And as we continue to wade deeper into the murky waters that social media has exposed, my goal is to the lead the only way I know how - by modelling authenticity myself.  This can happen through consistency in our words and actions, transparency in our motives, and willingness to be vulnerable and honest with those around us.

If you know me, and you are reading this, I hope this rings true (if it doesn't, I ask you to call me on it).  If you are just getting to know me, I hope you grow to see that there is only one version of me to get to know.  And if you want to get to know me, I can assure you that the 'me' you will meet for coffee, in the classroom, on twitter (via @sullyteacher or @lysmekah - 2 handles, not for personal/professional separation, but for different audiences), curled up with a good book, backpacking through Europe, taking pictures of families or pitching a tent in the woods - she's all the same.  Of course this kind of authenticity is a work in progress.  It requires vulnerability and transparency.  But that is the journey I am on, and I hope to be better for it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Top 11 Things I Learned in 2011

I don't know if it is possible to really say I learned 11 things that were the "most" important.  What I can say is there are 11 things that stick out in my mind as being very significant.  They vary from facts to life lessons.  While I was compiling this list I started wondering, what would this look like if I had to write down 11 things every DAY.  I'm sure I learn at least 11 new things per day.  Via Facebook I learned that the song what was number one on the billboard charts the week I was born was "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar.  In conversation at school I learned the topic of a colleagues upcoming paper and that two of my students have mutual crushes on one another.  I learned that there is more than one type or moraine and where you would find each, and read a great article teaching me how to best photograph fireworks.  Also, online research led me to discover there are amazing waterfalls in Croatia (I would like to go here).  And it's only noon.  But of course in the grand scheme of a year, these may not seem like the most important pieces of learning I have acquired.  But these 11 items slightly edged out the rest on my learning journey this year.

[One]  Who you are with is more important than what you are doing:  I spent two years working in an amazing school, when in Fall 2010, with no control over the situation, I was posted to a new school.  I originally was very optimistic about it.  I thought maybe the grass was greener on the other side.  I started my school year bright eyed and full of enthusiasm for the new adventure.  I quickly realized, that, though the courses I given were awesome, and I had my own classroom, and admin was providing my with lots of resources, it wasn't home.  The staff of Sullivan Heights Secondary were my home.  They were more than just people I worked with - they were family.  It didn't matter what I was teaching, but who I was teaching with.  I was fortunate enough to get a permanent posting back here starting in September 2011 and it has enriched my life more than I could imagine.  I love going to work and am grateful for the time I get with my colleagues and friends - in and outside of the building.  It's people that make all the difference.

[Two]  Intentional Effort is the key ISO vs. Exposure vs. Aperture vs. Shutter Speed vs. Focal Length, aka, my photo archenemies.  After years of struggling to understand the relationships between all of these fun photographic ideas, I was finally able to work through it until I could say I GET IT!  It wasn't a magical "click".  I embarked on a 365/2011 project (mentioned in my last post).  Working hard every single day was the key to actually developing the skills I sought.  It was a joy to work towards and accomplish a goal driven completely by intrinsic motivation.  I found that being intentional (the heart of which was discipline driven by desire) really is the heart of learning.  Intentionality and its friends motivation and discipline rule the show.

[Three] Learning is most efficient when sought, not forced: The last year has been full of a lot of perpetual professional development, most of it via twitter and educational blogs, as well as developing photography skills.  It seems the more say I have over the method and type of learning I do, the more I invest.  My learning is enriched when I am choosing.  This isn't just limited choice (like welcome to the convention, pick a seminar) - this is big 'C' Choice - the media, the message, the time, the place, the who, the how - all of it.

[Four] We are all creative: in my masters program (on Critical, Creative and Collaborative Inquiry) I spent me semester learning, researching, dialoguing and writing about creativity.  I have learned that we are ALL creativity.  Creativity, building something novel and of value, is domain specific.  It is possible for one to be creative in any discipline and subject.  My best friend has a great deal of creativity when it comes to working with numbers and budgeting.  My cousin is creative when it comes to finding away the best way to organize a small space.  And of course I am capable of creativity - whether in designing a science lab or taking a photo.  (However, if I start talking about freedom and safety to create, we will be here another 22 I'm going to move on)

[Five] We are our own worst enemies: We can all fall prey to our own insecurities.  Being confident in who you are will lead to joy and freedom.  I've realized that many of the people that inspire me (in a multitude of fields) are those who demonstrate confidence and self-belief.  Though, I'm sure they struggle with this one like the rest of us.  Believe in yourself, let go of the fear.  We are all powerful beyond our wildest expectations.

[Six] Don't let technology be a crutch: Yes, the world is changing.  Yes, students can navigate technology effectively.  Yes, we want to develop 21st century learners.  I've started to realize that so many have fallen into the trap of incorporating technology into the classroom because it is technology.  Using a laptop to research a project instead of books is efficient.  It doesn't by definition make it better learning.  Just like doing an online lab doesn't necessarily enrich education over the hands on opportunity and creating a cartoon strip using an iPad app isn't innately more meaningful than drawing one by hand.  How we use technology and when needs to be smarter than all that.  My goal is to get students to think critically and creatively and to see them communicate effectively.  Sometimes this means using technology, sometimes it means avoiding technology.

[Seven] Aim for Congruency: As many teachers begin blogging and using twitter, there is a difficult line between our personal lives and our professional worlds.  This is a challenging conversation.  When I started as a student teacher, those seasoned teachers around me would give advice on how to create a separation between who were are personally and who are are professionally.  The rise of social media and other technologies have led this advice to be moot.  It seems there may have to be a great deal of congruency between our personal and professional selves.  As for me, I'm striving to be but one person.

[Eight] I am a photographer: I have hesitated to use the word.  Seems every man, woman and child out there with a $500 SLR and picnik thinks of themselves as a photographer.  What once required an eye for composition, and understanding of optics and light and the ability to worked expensive and complicated equipment, to be able to create beauty without the ability to check and adjust, has been reduced to point and click or instagram.  The definition of photographer has changed.  So I've had to define it for myself.  And then feel confident enough to say "I am a photographer."  I'm still hesitant to use the word, but I'm working on it.

[Nine] Engage your imagination: I'm always happier when I engage my imagination.  And I try to do it regularly.  You should to.

[Ten] The world is magnificent: Want proof?  Hit the open road.  I spent 3 weeks this summer driving from ocean to ocean.  I cannot begin to recount how many beautiful things I saw.  From the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, The gorgeous landscape in the Badlands, the Dunes in North Carolina, the Buffalo herds of South Dakota, the rolling hills of Kentucky and sunsets of Cloudland Canyon.  The more I see, the more I want to see.  The world is magnificent.

[Eleven] Power of Balance: Learning to let go has become one of the most important lessons I have had to learn this year.  Creating time for family and friends, or even time to curl up with a good book has been a struggle.  Being intentional about saying yes, and saying no, is so incredibly important.  Family, friends, health, solitude, reflection, work, learn and play all need to be given their time.  Being aware of the decisions I am making has allowed me to achieve a greater degree of balance, and for that, I am grateful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Retrospect: My 11 Favourite Photos of 2011

A colleague of mine posed a question on twitter: "What are the top 11 things you learned in 2011."  And while I've been thinking through that question over the last three weeks and jotting ideas down, I noticed that a good portion of the list fell into the photography category. This year I did a 365 project (a picture a day for the whole year).  Unfortunately I didn't finish (only got through 248 pictures).  Once the yearbook began I was taking photos for the school, and my photo-priorities shifted.  However, through both opportunities I found that my abilities as a photographer grew immensely.  So while I am finishing up my top 11 things "learned" I am here to share with you my 11 favourite photos taken this year (in no particular order):

1.  Hatteras Island, North Carolina.  After driving from Langley, BC to Hatteras, NC, we were finally about to set our feet in the Atlantic Ocean.  It's just over that ridge. #coasttocoastroadtrip

2.  Underneath the St. Louis Arch my eye was drawn to this family, who appeared to be #lost

3.  Fire.  Every camping trip needs a camp fire.  And every campfire needs a boy to find a stick, and carry that fire around with them.  #campingtraditions

4.  These are a few of my favourite things.  Books.  I love love LOVE books.  Strangely enough, I have not yet read Crime and Punishment (but have read all the others).  But I singled it out because I love the colour red. #justaddawarmcupoftea

5.  Tassels and Beads.  Each bead is represents someone or something important to me.  The four tassels represent my university graduations (BSc and BEd) as well as my husbands. #blessed

6.  Pike Place Spices.  This is an amazing store in the Pike Place Market with wonderful spices and hand made loose leaf teas.  I love the colours of the spices and would have taken so many more pictures if I wasn't getting the evil eye for wandering through with a camera.  #pikeplace

7.  Being that my family is entirely dutch, I cannot help but love tulips in the spring.  I hope that one day I can go to the Netherlands in the spring to take pictures of fields. #proudtobedutch

8.  Crispness.  I love taking pictures in the spring (Which is evident in most of my 365 pictures as well).  I enjoy a beautiful piece of nature, the colour green, and great bokeh.  My Nikon 35mm/1.8 lens is by far my favourite and used for 90% of my pictures this year. #makeawish

9. Lake Michigan, Indiana Sand Dunes, facing Chicago, Sunset.  #beautiful

10.  SPLASH!!!  This photo, worked on along side one of my yearbook editors, took 5 hours of staging, manipulating light, perfecting the writing, hanging sheets, rearranging mugs, choosing new mugs, and testing shutter speeds.  It was created by dropping a rubber chemistry stopper into a mug of warm tea.  400+ photos later and we had one we loved!  #perseverence

11.  Movember.  Many of my colleagues grew moustaches and raised money this past November in honour of prostate cancer research.  In commemorate their hard work we had a photo shoot.  The goal was to show the many faces of a man. #testosterone