My 85 year-old mother lives independently in Ottawa. I live in Sudbury, with my husband, dog and a varying quantity of our 4 grown children. This summer, she needed to have knee replacement surgery. I offered to spend the summer living with her while she adjusted to her new knee. In the end, it turns out I have been caregiving both of us.
I arrived in Ottawa mid-July with a carload of books and magazines, a laptop, iPad and iPhone, my recent notes, calendar and some assorted files. I had my bike, a yoga mat and enough clothes to keep me going for the season (and more). I had big plans about how I would spend my time balancing caregiving, crafts, fitness, reading and professional learning. I had an agenda. It was full.
Goal # 1: Fitness
In my plan, I was going to join a yoga studio and/or a gym. I would ride my bike there, take a class and ride home.
Goal #2: Professional Reading and Writing
In my plan, I was going to read all of the 20ish books and magazines I brought, take notes and thing about an outline for my own. I would curate all of the notes and documents on my laptop. I would blog all summer.
Goal #3: Learn to weave.
In my plan, my mom would teach me to warp her looms and she and I would weave, using her treasure trove of wools and cottons and leaving her with something to tinker with in the fall.
Goal #4: Reading for pleasure.
In my plan, I would read all 10 of the novels I had brought.
I am an "all and everything" kind of girl, always curious, always aching to learn. I say "yes", take risks and jump in with both feet in my work life. I am forever coming up with another "crazy idea". I juggle the many balls that life brings me - as an educator and a parent - with tireless (reckless?) abandon. But, honestly? I was pretty tired. Perhaps my plan was a little too ambitious.
A wise colleague once told me..."Pick one thing. Do it well."
So I focused on Goal #1 and got on my bike.
Every day, I got a bit stronger. My muscles ached less.
Just riding was enough.
It turned out that riding gave me the energy to blog a bit.
I read bits of the books on my shelf. And tweeted about them.
I took in as many sessions as I could in #buildmathminds18 and tweeted. A lot.
Riding gave me space and time to think. Time to write in my head. Time to breathe.
But what does the word SIMPLIFY have to do with teaching? Why is it my #1?
As I focused on this one thing - riding my bike - everything else began to make sense. I allowed myself to slow down and make connections.
As educators, we feel compelled to do everything at once. We plan lessons, inquiries, assessments and more in a variety of subject areas for a broad range of learners. Every day is a new adventure and we must be prepared for everything! As enthusiastic lifelong learners, we are inspired by new ideas, want to try cool things and jump on bandwagons. However, this frenzied multi-tasking is taxing. By June, we are exhausted, drained and often disappointed in ourselves for the things we didn't achieve.
The Oxford Dictionary defines "simplify" as "make something easier to do or understand".
www.mathwords.com defines "simplify" as "To use the rules of arithmetic and algebra to rewrite an expression as simply as possible."
Both of these definitions make me think of "reframing" an idea, bringing it into focus by removing clutter.
As educators, when we focus on good pedagogy, make connections and leverage them with students, we are simplifying the classroom experience for everyone. I was blessed to have phenomenal collaborative partners. As we created and refined our shared Grade 3-6 long range plans, we began to realize how much easier planning became when we leveraged key ideas, strategies and skills across subject areas.
For example, we began our year focusing on visualizing. We practiced visualizing with our students in language, math and the arts. We talked about how visualizing helped us to learn and why we might want to use this strategy to makes sense of any text, including a math problem. Students started to make connections out loud, noticing that visualizing is something they can use for anything.
Well....that led us to focus on making connections. In math, we talked about connections across strands, between representations, between problems. At one point, a student noted "Wow! It's like everything we do is connected!" Mic drop. That was a great day.
How did this happen? We sat back, took space and time to think, and brought our planning into focus by removing clutter.
In their book "Coherence", Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn state "coherence consists of the shared depth of understanding about the purpose and the nature of the work in the minds and actions individually and especially collectively." (pg 16). This book, written for system thinkers and leaders parallels the experience we had in the classroom.
What we discovered is that students became agents of learning and carried their schema forward with more confidence and purpose, when they had core strategies as a focus, rather than content. In fact, the content became a tool for exercising their strategies. Our classroom cultures weren't focused on who knew the most or least, instead we were all building our capacity as learners.
So, what has this summer taught me?
1. Brainstorm/make a wish list of goals.
2. Pick something that's important (to me).
3. Do it well.
4. Everything else will begin to fall into place.
I gave myself permission to SIMPLIFY, in order to navigate the complex world that lies beneath.