An Alternate Reality

There’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve...

Our perception is everything. How we interpret the world around us and our engagement with it greatly determines our lives in both quality and creation. Check out an Amazon review for almost any product and you’ll discover five star and one-star reviews—for the very same item! Listen to couples—happily married, on the brink of divorce and every state in between—and you’ll hear two different tales regarding the same relationship.

Technology is in the midst of creating an ever-evolving AR (Augmented Reality), where you can simulate life in an alternate world (i.e., bungee jumping in Costa Rica, skiing in Aspen, playing tennis at Wimbledon).  The pandemic has caused us to gravitate to this screen-laden world where attendance is taken virtually or noted in the clever acronym, IRL (In Real Life). Our life lessons are growing more comprised of chats, texts, emojis and screenshares, where an icon is considered sufficient (albeit online) presence.

I’m not knocking the myriad of gifts that arrive as a by-product of our tech-savvy world. I’ll be the first to admit that I love knowing my lessons can be found easily on a universal learning platform that our school uses, lessons that I create and decide when to share with a convenient click of a button. Children with underlying health issues are no longer prevented from engaging in learning now that we offer a streamlined learning program; students can learn at their own pace, replaying a lesson for greater understanding, translating into their first language where necessary.

But there’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve: the ability of humans to alter their perceptions and by extension, create their own reality. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer said (author of The Shift

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The other day, one of my 6th graders sounded palpably upset when I announced an assignment to read a few chapters independently that week. His icon glowed as he spoke:

“I feel so much pressure. My head hurts. This book is hard for me to enjoy.”

The boy is a voracious reader and extremely bright. His voice was tight with unshed tears. The stress he was feeling was his reality, his perceived reality.

I reminded him of how much he loved to read. I asked him what was different this time.

“I like to read at night, under a blanket with my favorite stuffed animal beside me.”

“Then that’s what you’ll do,” I said.

Oh, how he let out an audible sigh. Gone was the shaky, holding-back-tears in his voice. Gone was his perception that the world was closing in on him.

We are no different from my sweet 6th grader. We all possess the power to perceive the best and worst at every moment. My student had perceived me as “safe” to articulate his anxiety, which in turn, created an alternate reality for him. 

Consider your own life and how you perceive it. If there’s an area you aren’t happy with, how might you alter your understanding of it? Each moment is a gift for you to interpret and manifest a different reality.

Tween Hunger

Our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

I’m working virtually as a middle grade teacher these days. Teachers and students alike are expected to perform their respective roles as per pre-COVID protocol: showing up for class on time, paying attention, staying engaged, testing…testing…testing.

There is no doubt that we are all craving a return to normal, but when it comes to our educational system, do we really want to maintain the academic world we left in March of 2020? The bell ringing-standardized-test-taking-one-size-fits-all-remnant of the Industrial Revolution American educational system is past its expiration date and in need of a reboot.

Today’s educational system was literally designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober.” (Source: Quartz qz.com, Reporter: Allison Schrager). Before that, an education was considered only something reserved for the elite. And while two-hundred years ago, the factory-model of education may have served its purpose, in our 21st century, the same system that helped future factory workers learn punctuality and obedience in order to do what their managers told them, no longer works for our post-industrial era.

The pandemic highlights the cracks and fissures in our educational system. American education is a sinking ship and we are sending our children on a veritable Titanic, stopping up the ever-growing gaping holes with standardized tests. If we were sinking before COVID, our educational system is already on its way to full submersion. 

As an English teacher, I have the fortune of connecting to the tweens I work with through creative writing and open discussions regarding their respective connection to texts we read. This past week alone, the following comments, whether in writing or articulated verbally, were shared with me:

“I’m so stressed.”

“I’m having a mini heart attack.” (regarding testing/assignments)

“I am so insecure. I struggle with that.”

“My uncle died of COVID this summer. It’s been really hard.”

Here’s the crux of the problem, as I see it, with education: We are steaming ahead with a system that has not changed yet society has DRASTICALLY changed. We wouldn’t treat a diabetic with asthma medication, but that is exactly what we are doing to our children.

Our students are hungry for engagement, compassion, and challenges that help them grow academically, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But such growth is hard to come by when it is based in a world that relies on a battery of tests, when the educators which comprise this nucleus are bombarded with a barrage of to-do’s that are all about politics; veritable academic dog-and-pony shows that leave little time to actually engage in authentic student assessment and lesson planning. 

If you are a parent, give your child a much-needed hug; pay attention to what they are saying, how they are behaving. Based on these first six weeks of school with them and almost a decade of time in the classroom, I see that our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

What is the solution? Elon Musk created the Astra Nova (New Star, in Latin) School that focuses on learning “simulations, case studies, fabrication and design projects, labs, and corporate collaboration….We redesign each year based on our students. We apply the lessons learned from every project, lab, and discussion to inform our next move.” (Interesting Engineering Source: Oleksandr Pupko)

Redesign…that’s the key word that is missing from our current system. We need to rethink, reflect, and redesign the antiquated world of education like Elon Musk has and does. 

In the meantime, I will continue to carve out lessons that inspire our students, reminding them that they matter, feeding their hunger to make a difference. To educators everywhere, I thank you. 

Feeding Our Minds

Remain curious and open to learning new things!

A colleague reached out to me over the summer and let me know about a teaching opportunity that involved working on camera for our school district. I jumped at the chance.

The audition involved creating a mini lesson, replete with standards and curriculum that followed the state’s guidelines. It required a specific rubric to follow. 

Did I know what I was doing? Absolutely not. With content as a teacher, I shine, but with technology…well, that wasn’t in my wheelhouse. But I wasn’t going to allow a lack of experience using technology to impede me from doing something I love: teaching AND teaching on camera!

Creating the material for the lesson didn’t take me long, nor did the Power Point itself. Uploading my video with me on camera simultaneously…well, let’s just say, I didn’t eat for the entire day and it was dark outside by the time I was ready to hit submit to the district with my uploaded lesson.

Playing around with the unknown of the technology was frustrating but by the end of the full day, I had accomplished a new skill.

When I inquired whether or not my fellow teachers were auditioning as well, they looked at me as if I had acquired several heads. Their responses ran the gamut of:

“I don’t want to give myself anymore work.”

“That sounds too hard—no thanks.”

“Uh—no.”

In the end, over one-hundred teachers submitted their audition (I’m part of a large district), so there were plenty of teachers, eager for the exciting opportunity. 

I am grateful to note that I was one of the 25 fortunate teachers to get “cast” for the TV virtual teaching. And when we met for the first time this past week, I was not at all surprised by their positive energy. I felt like we all felt we had earned a “Golden Ticket” like something out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Our lessons will air on local TV weekly for 30 minutes. Since it’s only local to our state and city, I want to share the lessons I’ll be creating here for any potential parents or students out there, hungry to feed their minds. To that end, I’m my first episode at the close of today’s blog post. Feel free to use the lesson as a starting point or follow along directly and participate in the activities.

I encourage you to consider an area of your life where you find yourself reluctant to try something new and go for it anyway. When we push ourselves past our comfort zones, real growth takes place.

Happy learning–for all of us!

Students can bolster their reading comprehension skills through this 10 minute video, connecting text to reader.

“Serving Yourself a Pause”

What is Your Hunger Telling You?

School starts this week—for me, a middle school English teacher. The kids arrive virtually next month, so this is the time we educators start to ensure all of our academic ducks are in a row.

There is an uneasiness that often comes with the unknown, and virtual teaching in the midst of our pandemic is no exception. How will I effectively reach my new students? How will I effectively engage and connect with these young minds I have the gift and responsibility of educating?

Last week’s post focused on the magic-like pleasure experienced when embracing your passion. The example I shared was my love of writing and acting—a venture I reveled in manifesting and sharing with you on my YouTube channel.

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in a creative endeavor, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Last week, I was so hungry to combine my passion for writing and acting that I lost sight of the bigger picture: the optic and auditory effects of my comedic characters on the audience. 

My characters were meant to connect us, to create belly laughs and to promote my book. In my hunger to tickle your funny bone, I inadvertently eclipsed the gravitas of my book. So, I’ve taken the comedic characters down from my YouTube channel (I did keep my dear Sylvia Richmond. They may resurface as they were or in future comedic bits on a separate channel—apart from my book. I’m not sure where I want to go with them—and that’s okay. Like all of us, I’m learning as I go in this surreal experience called life.

The Friendship Diet is a book that focuses on the deep connection between our edible and emotional nutrition regarding our personal relationships. This includes our relationship—first and foremost—with ourselves. Today I write to you, aware that my emotional hunger is telling me to serve myself a heaping plate of pause, of rest, of time. My students deserve a teacher who is focused and hungry to educate and inspire her students. 

Whatever is happening in your life right now, if you are feeling overwhelmed and like the figurative walls are closing in on you, it’s more than okay—no, it’s vital that you serve yourself a pause dish. When we serve ourselves a pause dish, we are better serving others.