Going Back to School

I’m becoming excited about my place again, excited about what I am learning and doing. It has been a while since that happened, but I think that a pretty big change in direction has helped with that.

I decided to go back to school. A mentor has been suggesting it for a while, but I have brushed it off as unnecessary, since I have had the business and all. But the business isn’t cutting it, and it hasn’t been going the way that I intended for it to, so it is time to continue on my own personal journey so that I can figure out where the business needs to go. I have a really awesome idea where it should go, but I need time to get it there. And schooling. I think learning more will be a good thing. It usually is. After my mentor mentioned it and I scoffed at it (I actually filled out the application but didn’t follow up with my transcripts), I spoke to another woman who has had years and years of experience in the early childhood community as a consultant. I asked her how she came to be doing what she has done, and one of the major things that she mentioned was schooling. So apparently necessity in this field. I thought I could be one of those people that can drop out of college and make their mark. And in a lot of fields you can. But not this one. That may seem funny to some people who are reading this – that I actually thought that. But when you look at the innovators of this age, the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs, those are some pretty big role models who did not need to complete college to get where they are today. I look at the people I admire in the business world and they are saying and doing the same thing. But this isn’t the business world. This is the education world. Its a little bit different and I am working really hard to accept that. I love to learn, but I hate classrooms. I know that as I get farther along in this journey that will probably get better, and luckily there are more online learning programs now than there ever have been. That helps.

So I’m packing up the business for a while and going back to school. It is actually almost a relief. It will give me more time to post on here, I know that. I’ve missed it here.

Advertisements

Getting What We’ve Paid For

I don’t generally comment on presidential elections; I had my political phase a few years ago and now I’m content to spend my time worrying about things that I’m more passionate about, such as education. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention. I follow news stories and generally know what is going on, but I don’t obsess about it. This stage of the election cycle is the part that I really try to stay away from. I call it “The Circus,” when all of the clowns that feel that they are uniquely qualified to be the President of the United States come out of the woodwork and begin shouting at each other and generally doing anything they can to discredit each other. If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of this part of the process. While I recognize my need to know who the clowns are and what they bring to the table, I’m not going to obsess over their antics from that point on.

One clown that I have been looking at a little more closely is Donald Trump, but not for the reasons that you would think. I am fascinated by the fact that so many Americans view him as a viable candidate. Now, don’t read more into this than I’m saying; I’m not saying that he isn’t a viable candidate. I’m completely neutral on all of the candidates right now because it is still early in this race. But this Donald Trump phenomenon has my attention because it is different. This man captured the attention of the American people. He’s popular. And I can’t help but think that this system that we have been paying into is finally showing its real fruit. Yes, I will tell you what I mean by that.

Look at our education system. Children are in a system that rarely teaches them to think for themselves or problem-solve their way through a lesson. Worksheets upon worksheets make our children good at doing one thing: worksheets. Schools don’t teach children how to be creative because most teachers are looking for one thing: the right answer. I would argue that some of the most successful people in this day and age are people who have dropped out of school and created something. Look around and tell me I’m wrong.

Schools do teach children some things that aren’t academic, however. They teach children who the cool kids are, how to dress to be one, how to talk to be one, and what to watch to be one. You aren’t cool unless you know what happened on the hottest new show on television and can wear the clothes and have the hair that the girls and guys have on those shows. And Donald Trump just happens to have starred in one of those hot shows. He got the reputation for being tough and not putting up with any crap. I’m sure he probably is that way in real life; you can’t be as successful as Trump is by putting up with anything. But life seems to be mimicking a reality television show at this point, with everyone rooting for the star. And that is why the Donald Trump candidacy is so fascinating to me. Trump is treating other candidates and even former candidates as if they are in the boardroom, calling them out for things that (to me) don’t even matter when it comes to a presidential election – such as whether or not John McCain is a war hero. And the public is eating it up, just like they were when he was on reality TV. To me, it feels like reality TV has met real life.

 

The Cult of Personality

In an effort to really understand what has been going on with me and my crazy mind-swings, I have been doing some research into areas that I believe will help me understand myself. I am reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, to be followed closely by Social Intelligence by the same author. I got these books originally as research for a book that I have been working on about conflict resolution (not the one that I was excerpting on this blog; that one has been shelved for now). Emotional Intelligence has been really fascinating so far, but I put it down for a few days to research something else that I have been curious about: personality.

I took a personality test years ago. It defined me as INTP. I didn’t know too much about that except that it means that I am definitely introverted. This past weekend I have been reading more into personality tests, what they measure, and what they mean. Did you know that, out of all of the personalities out there, INTP is the rarest? And from what I have read, it is amazing that I really get along with anyone at all since I live in my head so much. That’s an INTP for you.

I have a lot to learn about this whole personality thing, and it may be something that I read some more about. I had my fiance take the personality test so that I could see not only what his personality type is, but how our personalities interact together. I know, I can see how our personalities interact together on a daily basis, but one of the hallmarks of our relationship is that we don’t fight very much, and not over some of the things that other couples fight about. I was wondering if I could figure out why that is by examining our personality profiles side by side to see how our personalities work together. Also, it might be helpful with children in the classroom, too, to be able to see who has what personality and how we can work to make the classroom as comfortable for those personalities as possible. I think it will help me when I am dealing with my extroverted child, as well. She is about as extroverted as I am introverted, and I’m pretty introverted. That has already made for some interesting differences of opinion as far as how we should spend our time, among other things. There are many useful applications of this knowledge, and I can’t wait to share what I learn about it. And about emotional and social intelligence, as well.

What Am I Doing Here?

So a few months ago I told you that I was not going to be posting on this blog anymore; I was moving to a new website named after my company, Project: Preschool. My intent was to export this blog to that website and keep things going there, but somehow it never felt right. I never got that done. I got a few things moved over, but not the entire blog. After much introspection, I decided to continue my blogging efforts here. After all, I have my entire blog history on this site. This is where I started. This is where I can see how I have changed my thinking in the many years since I started.

So what caused all of this? What am I really doing here? Well, being in introspective person that I am, I really started examining where I was going and what I was doing. I haven’t been happy in the classroom in quite a while, which is a shame because that is where my passion has always been. I have been pounding away at the professional development business with a little bit of success, but I’m not sure what kind of gains I have been making with anything because the business is still very new. And exhausting. I mean really, when we get right down to it, starting a new business is one of the most stressful and exhausting things you can do, especially if you have a full-time job as well. And I realized that somehow my priorities had gotten mixed up. Somehow the business became more important than the classroom. I think I know how it happened: when you are an assistant teacher in a classroom, you don’t have quite as much responsibility for the direction of the class or how the classroom is going to look or anything like that. That is where I started with this new job and because I didn’t have the added responsibility of being in charge of the classroom I put the business at priority number one. Of course, it had been a big priority before that, when I was so stressed out at my other job. Anything to get out of there, right? At least, that is how I felt. I wanted to grow the business so that I could stop working for other people and be my own boss. And that is great, if that is what you want to do. But in the middle of all this stress I lost sight of the classroom, which was where my passion started. Heck, that is where my passion is – I just didn’t realize it for all of the stress. The business was always supposed to grow organically from what I was doing in the classroom. The classroom was always supposed to come first. It didn’t end up that way. It ended up with me being completely stressed out about slideshows and presentations and did these people like what I was doing and what am I going to do to market this thing and what product am I going to produce next and how fast can I get it put together.

STRESS!

I hated my job in the classroom. I’m not sure how much I liked the business. Don’t get me wrong; I love doing the workshops. It is all of the work that I have to do to get the workshops and after the workshops that I don’t particularly care for. And I started thinking about what was going on. Why did I hate the classroom? I used to love the classroom! I used to get up every morning fired up to go to work and play with the kids and explore things and do things and I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to work and play and explore. And I did. And I loved it.

What happened?

I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of my love. My love for the theories of education and creativity and curiosity were replace by books about how to grow a business. If you are like me, those books aren’t nearly as interesting as the theories of education and creativity and curiosity. I just got rid of a huge pile of those business books this weekend in an attempt to get back to what is important.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the business at this point. I love doing the workshops and I don’t see me stopping at this point, but I don’t see the workshops happening the way that they have been. I don’t see the marketing happening the way that it has been. I see me getting back to what is important to me: the classroom. And I hope that you will stay with me on this journey as I continue to push forward into the things that are truly important.

Leaving the Past Behind

Recently I was confronted with a situation in which one of my ex-coworkers was discussing problems with her center, many of them reasons why I left the company. The news of what was going on opened up the deep disappointments that I had felt while working there, and I thought about writing a letter to the corporate office to express my concerns. I voiced my thoughts to my colleague, who urged me to do it. So I began composing the letter, and while all of these disappointments began to bubble to the surface, a funny thing happened. Actually, several funny things happened: I didn’t sleep good that night, and yoga the next day was impossible. Not only could I not center enough to do yoga, but I couldn’t quiet my mind enough to meditate. When I got to work my co-teacher repeatedly asked me what was wrong. My mind felt foggy and I couldn’t concentrate well on what was going on.

After I finished the letter I had an uneasy feeling. Did I really need to do this? I talked to my fiancé about it and he urged me to really examine my motivation for sending the letter. After all, it really wasn’t going to help me any to send it. I wasn’t planning to go back to the company, and I had already voiced my unhappiness by leaving the company in the first place.

And then it hit me: I didn’t have to send the letter, and I didn’t have to worry about what was going on at my old place of employment. It didn’t concern me any longer because I no longer worked there. I didn’t have to write anyone a letter and tell them anything. I had moved on to something infinitely better, and all of that stress and drama was in the past.

As soon as this realization sunk in I felt the weight of what I had been carrying lift off of my shoulders – the weight of issues and concerns that weren’t even mine. It is hard to carry around so much when you have so much that you are already carrying. I felt happier and the fog lifted. And I thought to myself, “How much of this have I still been carrying around? Have I been carrying this around inside me ever since I left my old job? Have I been pushing away opportunities to connect here because I have been holding on to things from my old job?”

Because of these questions I have begun to really examine my interactions and my frame of mind in my classroom to see if I am holding myself back from having the best experience I can possibly have at this center. I work in a great, Reggio-inspired environment that affords me more opportunity than I ever had at my previous job. The best thing I can do at this point is to make sure that I am fully enjoying the journey, and I am sure that I will be doing plenty of meditation to that end. After all, the past just weighs us down. It is the present that lifts us up.

My Confession

My way of ringing in the New Year has always been to look back on the past year and figure out what I can do in the next year to improve upon it. Rather than just picking out some random things that I would like to do and creating resolutions or goals to that end, I think about my journey thus far and the next steps that I want to take to further that journey. For example, I started writing my book in 2014. For 2015 I am planning on scheduling my time and creating goals for completing my writing because I am not getting as much accomplished on that front as I’d like. It wouldn’t make much sense to me to create a goal having to do with going to the gym because that isn’t a passion of mine. If I just started doing it because I think I should do it, I wouldn’t get anywhere with it. I’ve proved that with that very goal for several years; this year I am being smart enough to not join a gym. It all goes back to my belief (that has become stronger in the past couple of years) that life is a journey, and you need to focus on the road that you are taking. Once you focus on the road, when you come to a fork you will be able to better decide which direction to take.

One of my big accomplishments in 2014 was graduating with an associate degree in Early Childhood Education. Ever since I graduated I have been contemplating my next steps for educating myself. I’ve discussed options with my director, and thought a lot about what I want to do but the thing is, the answer has been in front of me the whole time. For a really long time, actually.

Ever since I was in high school, I have wanted to study psychology. People fascinate me. Why they do what they do fascinates me. But my fascination has become a lot more specific since I began studying education, because a lot of what I have been studying has a lot to do with psychology. How people learn fascinates me. How they think, what they think, how they solve problems, all of that fascinates me. The brain fascinates me. How infants and toddlers learn so much so quickly fascinates me. Not the fact that they learn so much, but how they learn so much. All of that is a big, wonderful puzzle that I am dying to uncover.

In all of my conversations about furthering my education that I have had with other people (except for the ones with my fiancé), they have told me that it would be hard to get a job if I study psychology. But I don’t want to just be a psychologist. Psychology is a vast area of study with many different branches. I want to study educational psychology. I want to study how people learn, how different people learn differently, and I want to apply the knowledge that I gain in a classroom. That is what I want to do. That is what I’ve wanted to do for years now, and it is high time that I stop listening to everyone around me and do what I really want to do.

This whole thing reminds me of the Sir Ken Robinson video that I passionately share with anyone I encounter who is at all interested in education; in it Robinson states, “You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that.” That is pretty much what every administrator I have talked to has said about my ambition to study psychology. The problem with this advice is that they don’t know that I won’t get a job doing that, they don’t know about my absolute passion for the field and how long I have been holding this passion, and their goal is to have teachers in their building with the highest level of ECE education that they can get. Their goal shapes the words that come out of their mouth, and their goal is different than mine. My goal is to learn how people learn and how they think. For once I need to be true to myself, that self that has long wanted to study psychology, and do what I really want to do. And that is one of my goals for this year.

My New Mindful Year

‘Mindfulness’ is a term that has been bandied about quite a bit recently on the internet; I didn’t even know this until just a few weeks ago when I discovered just what mindfulness means to me. I was looking up information about mindfulness in teaching when I realized that there is a trend going on. I’ve managed to stay out of the general trend of mindfulness as it deals with the masses. I don’t like getting caught up in the trend stuff because it cheapens it for me. It makes it almost faddish, and that isn’t a good thing for an idea that has meant so much to me lately.

So what does mindfulness mean to me? It means being aware of what is going on right now, and being less concerned with what is going to happen in the future or what happened in the past. My mind practically lives in the future. It lives in the “what would happen if I do this” or “wouldn’t it be nice to do this in six months” place where nothing is really happening yet because I am fantasizing about something that can’t possibly happen yet because there are many steps to get there. Yes, I know – that was the worst run-on sentence in the world, but that is just how my mind works sometimes. On and On and On and On. Constantly.

As you may know from a previous post, I just finished reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. In it, he talks about how pressure takes away creativity and the power of play. He quotes several authors who say that in order to write a book, you can’t think about your audience or the critics or anything else; you simply have to write the book. I haven’t necessarily been struggling with this, but it did make me think about the whole writing process, especially since I have been stuck (with no good reason to be). Actually, I’m stuck because I was thinking too much about the audience or what other people would think about what I was writing. I attempted to revise an entire chapter because of a conversation that I had with someone. There was nothing wrong with the material that I had at first, but I chose to try to re-work that chapter, and it failed. Miserably. I really tried to make it work, but I know that it doesn’t. So I have to go back and re-write the whole thing because I didn’t trust my own judgment. And the kicker is that this material that I am writing on has already been tested – I’ve done several workshops on the material, and they’ve all been very well received. So there was no good reason for me to change the material.

Because of this, and the fact that it just happened a month ago or so, that part of the book really resonated with me and made me think about my intent to be more mindful. Of course, I want to inject mindfulness into every aspect of my life, not just my writing, but this example shows just how much can be impacted if I stop thinking about the future or everyone else and simply worry about the next step that I need to take in order to do what I want to do.

I recently saw a video of an interview with Oprah in which she talked about the concept of mindfulness and how everyone has a path. You know when you are on the wrong path because your body and mind tell you that you are on the wrong path. Be mindful of the signs and do what you can to get on the right path. Everyone has one. That is mindfulness.

The Year In Review

If there is one thing that I hate, it is New Year’s Resolutions. To me, it is a bunch of hyped up junk about things that we want to do, but we never really say how we are going to do them; we just state that we want to do it. And so we set off with great intentions, only to fizzle out a couple of weeks, a month, two months into the year. So I stopped doing the New Year’s resolution thing several years ago. Instead, I like to take a look at everything that I have done in the year past and celebrate the year that it has been. I think it is more motivating this way; if, at the end of a year, I can be proud of my accomplishments, it makes it a much more productive year than if I state half-baked goals at the beginning of the year and then don’t complete them. 2014 brought a lot of interesting changes to my life:

  • I got the live workshop portion of Project: Preschool up and running, only to put it on hold after I changed jobs.
  • I graduated last May. No more school for a while.
  • I started writing a book about classroom management.
  • I ditched my high-stress, low-autonomy teaching job for a low-stress, high-autonomy teaching job.
  • I tried (and failed) and tried to start blogging more regularly.
  • I bought a bicycle so that I could enjoy the great outdoors more. And then I promptly didn’t use it.
  • I continued doing the yoga that I started when I was completely stressed out last December. I don’t know how I lived without it before, and I surely don’t want to live without it any more. I can tell when I don’t do my yoga. From what I hear, everyone else can tell, too. But I’m stronger than I was a year ago and more flexible, too. And much less stressed.
  • I started doing some meditation. It is amazing how much meditation has helped me as far as focus and slowing down. I haven’t really been that consistent with it, but it is amazing when I do put forth the effort to include it in my routine. And the more I do it, the more amazing it is.

As far as I’m concerned, 2014 was an amazing year. It definitely had its ups and downs, but overall it was great. I’m going to carry that greatness into 2015. I have a lot of things that I want to do with 2015, like

  • Start offering online workshops for Early Childhood Educators
  • Finish my book. Or at least make a lot of progress on it.
  • Do some research about play. I’ve already started this one.
  • Take up photography. I’m planning on getting myself a camera for my birthday.
  • Continue my yoga. I can tell how much stronger I am now than I was at the beginning of the year. There’s no telling what I will be able to do at the end of 2015.
  • Be more consistent with my meditation. I use a timer app for my meditation practice. It tracks how much meditation I do based on when I use the timer (and I use the timer every time I meditate). This morning I looked and it said that I had meditated 36 times since I started using the app, which was last December. There are 365 days in a year. That’s just pathetic. Especially with all of the insights and progress I have made with meditation lately.

Will I do all of these things? I don’t know. I’m not sure if the online workshops are going to happen. That used to be higher on my priority list, but now writing the book has taken over that spot. I am learning a lot from the research I am doing for this book, and that alone is motivating me a lot to try to work on it more throughout this year. Plus, I try a lot of new things in my classroom based on the research that I do, so you will probably be seeing a lot of that this year. I haven’t done quite to much research or experimenting since before I was in school. That alone should make 2015 a year to remember!

 

Meditation

I’ve been practicing meditation on and off (mostly off) for the last year. In the past few weeks I have tried to make it a more permanent part of my routine. I am attracted by its claims to help increase focus and bring some stability of emotion to the day. And it does. On the days when I do my yoga and meditation I feel less impulsive when it comes to acting on emotion – something that is important when working with children. I have to have patience and the ability to think through my reactions before reacting. Meditation has helped me with that.

Meditation is not easy. Sitting by yourself in a room with your eyes closed for even five minutes is difficult, especially when you have no idea what in the world you are supposed to be doing for that five minutes, because we always have to be doing something, right? We always have to be showing in some way that we are being productive. At least, that is how I have felt. But what is the quality of our productivity?

I have been in the process of writing a book. I would call it a grueling process, but so far the only grueling part about it is my inability to truly focus on what I am doing. I’ll write a little, then pick up my phone and check Facebook. Write a little more and pick up my phone and play some silly game. Write a little more… The process goes on and on. Sometimes I have wonderful productive moments when I am in flow and nothing else matters, but these sessions aren’t as common as I would like them to be. Meditation has helped me be more focused on the process of writing the book and less focused on checking to see if anything new is happening on Facebook since I checked five minutes ago. It helps me develop the ability to let go of my wonder about what is going on in the Internet realm and focus on what is truly important to me – this book.

It is amazing to me just how scattered our attention spans truly are, and how easily we get sidetracked by the most mundane things, but every story that I’ve heard from people who meditate says that meditation helps them cut back on all the noise. Just today when I was meditating, I was able to let go of my wonder about how much time I had left in the meditation! This is a huge stumbling block for me because every time I open my eyes to see how much time there is, it breaks the concentration and that inner “looking”, all because of a clock. The trick is to learn how to push that worry away and focus on something else – breathing or a mantra or whatever. And that is a hard thing to do, but meditation is a practice of learning how to do it.

Connecting With Myself

For eight years I have chased down all of the knowledge that I could about my chosen field: early childhood education. I have an impressive library of education themed books, some of which I haven’t even cracked open yet. I also have a huge Amazon wish list of even more books that I would like to own. To me, knowledge makes the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher. I have used my classroom as a way to try out ideas and find out what works and what doesn’t, and I have counted myself lucky that I have worked in environments that celebrated that rather than tried to stifle it. And I have used this blog as a place to chronicle the journey as I have gone through many different phases in my teaching career.

Through most of these years the pace I had set for myself was frantic: I was constantly stressed out and worried about doing well, learning enough. I even used my vacation a few years ago to go to a conference. I wouldn’t trade the experience of that conference for anything in the world, but as I sit here today and look at all of that hectic energy I have to ask myself, “How did I do all of that? And more importantly, why?” Because just in the past month my demeanor has become a lot calmer. I still have all of the books, and the desire for knowledge is still strong. But the frantic pace is gone. The desire for the frantic pace is gone. At least for now.

I remember when school would let out for the semester and I would try to dive back into the independent research that I had been doing. It never worked. It seemed like my mind needed a little bit of down-time from the craziness that was school before it could focus on anything else. I learned to take that time to catch up on some shows that I hadn’t seen in a while, or catch up on my house cleaning, or play some video games that I hadn’t had time for. After a month or so my brain would be ready to tackle the books and the theories and the blogging and the frantic out-of-school activities that I had for myself.

I haven’t been in school since May, and I left the job that was causing me all sorts of stress in September. In October I took the first real vacation that I’ve had in years – I didn’t do any work at all during that vacation. I had planned to do some work, but all I really needed was the down time. My long Thanksgiving weekend was spent playing some mindless singing monster game that my daughter wanted me to get into with her, along with some other video games. I read some books, but not the technical, early childhood based books that I have glutted myself on for so long. I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with myself. Teaching can leave you feeling so stressed out because you are constantly taking care of others. There have been some days when I have threatened to change my name because I have been so tired of hearing it when children need something from me! I have tried to reconnect with me and feel myself here. For so long I have felt like just a brain – that may sound funny, but when your primary purpose is to educate yourself and gain knowledge, it can feel like the only part of you that matters is your brain. You forget that you are a person and you have other needs and wants and hopes and dreams that may exist outside of the classroom or the books on your bookshelf.

I thought that when I got my degree things would change. I thought I would have a little more credibility in the field and be taken seriously as a teacher. I was wrong. The degree has turned out to be just another piece of paper, and that fact has made it hard for me to justify going back to school to get a higher degree. Especially since I have all of this knowledge built up from all of my own work that I have been doing. Credibility comes from action, not from a piece of paper. When I take myself seriously, I am taken seriously as a teacher. I have to recognize that the education that I received is for myself and not for everyone around me. And I will continue to educate myself, but because I am recognizing that my education is for me and not for everyone else I can choose what I want to educate myself about. I can take charge of my own education.

But enough about education and school. This post is about connecting with myself and recognizing that I am more than just the brain that I have been filling with knowledge. It is time for me to reconnect with myself first of all, and all of the things out there that I want to learn about. There is an entire world out there to explore, and only one life to explore it in.

In my last post I talked a lot about values and defining what your values are. The last time I sat down and defined my values it was for my classroom. I defined my purpose as Exploring Natural Curiosity, but that purpose wasn’t for me; it was for the children that I had in the class. I am naturally curious about a lot of things, and I think that we all are. Throughout our lives we tend to say, “I want to do x, y, and z,” but then we never actually go out and do it. We get caught up in jobs and life and that dream passes us by. And then we grow old and wish that we had done those things that we said that we wanted to do. It is time to reconnect with our selves and the passion that lives within us for life.