I know the last thing people want to read is another post about coronavirus. We're being advised to limit media intake to protect our own mental health, and then we're stuck at home with nothing else to do but scroll through more upsetting news.......how this is a marathon and not a race.....how "we're all in this together" (cute at first and now it's starting to wear on me.....I don't know about you). And as someone who has close family members working in hospitals right now, the reality of the situation doesn't feel real....because at least for now, thank goodness, the people close to me are unaffected.
But anxiety about the future still lingers, especially in moments of quarantined silence when all I have are myself and my own thoughts. How are we going to survive until April 30th? How many people are going to die today? I feel so helpless and I want to help....but the situation is so out of my control, and I hate that feeling (and who doesn't?) With all this uncertainty, unhelpful politics, anxiety about the future, and very real danger that surrounds us......it feels like the world is moving backwards.
I also worry about my students. As a 10th grade advisor, I have seventeen students that I'm tasked to watch over and check in with throughout the next few weeks/months. One of them hasn't left his house since March 13th. Another has been practicing baseball in his basement (also hasn't left his house). A few others have been diligently submitting assignments on Canvas, even though they know very well the assignments are ungraded and won't "count". Others text me during random hours of the night expressing their frustrations and worries over the uncertainty of school and life right now.
One of the things I worry most about is our human tendency to fall back into old habits during times of crisis. For my students, that means falling back into old patterns of waking up after 10 am and staying up playing video games until the early hours of the morning. For me, it means revisiting old patterns of being alone.....old patterns of thinking.....old ways of being that I thought were past but seem to creep up behind my back in moments of silence like this. Move forwards....not backwards I tell myself. Surviving takes real effort.
In moments of crisis, all I want to do is do something. I've been taking extra volunteer shifts with Crisis Text Line this week as well as volunteering to pack boxes of food....all in an effort to progress rather than regress. As we all try to find our own roles in this global mess we're in, maybe we can think of this time as a call for us to discover and move towards new ways of showing up for each other (and notice when we're falling back into old habits). What would it feel like to not just hope for survival but to actively channel our energies towards supporting our communities and ourselves?
People who know me say I'm impulsive. After having the idea to adopt a dog, it took me less than 72 hours to actually go through with the adoption. It took me less than 24 hours to decide on and go through with getting my first tattoo. And starting this blog? One night I decided to make the blog just because. I then proceeded to draft three blog posts that same day (of course spacing them out throughout the next three weeks to make it seem like I actually put more time and thought into my writing!)
When people ask me how I can afford to be so impulsive...I'm not actually sure. For me, ideas are like fast moving trains.....you better catch them and hop on for the ride before the idea leaves forever. Ideas are energizing and fleeting. Ideas feel incessantly nagging, saying "Hey I'm here! Don't forget me! Act on me now!". Ideas are opportunities that give me that boost of energy to get stuff done. It feels good to be inspired.
And yet, lately I haven't been writing because I haven't been feeling inspired. I'd sit down to type out a blog post and.....that idea has already been said....this idea I already wrote about....this idea isn't interesting...this idea won't be relatable. One by one, I met ideas and rejected them. They weren't perfect enough.
And then I realized.....why the hesitation? What I was feeling was fear......fear that whatever I created would not be good enough. Because to create something is vulnerable, and who likes that feeling anyway?
The thing about creating is we ask students to do this in school all the time. We ask students to write their ideas, participate in debates, perform in front of an audience. And especially at my school (where we focus on inquiry based projects), students create all day for a grade. The thing is.... putting one's creation out there for a judge (the teacher) to assign a grade to is terrifying! No wonder why students are afraid to put their real ideas out there. No wonder why students would rather plagiarize than risk sharing their own real thoughts.
To create something doesn't require us to perfect our creation before we share it with the world. Yet, our society latches on to the misconception that you either have talent or not. We think that people are born naturally talented. It's like we ignore the fact that hours of training and practice are required to be good at anything. Everybody's got to start somewhere, so how can we celebrate this messy in-between, especially in school where students are conditioned to think they either "get it" or they don't?
People call me impulsive. I think a dash of impulsivity is needed when the task is to create something and throw that creation out there....just to see what happens. If I'm too careful all the time, I wouldn't jump at any of my ideas! Writing is like taking a leap of faith into the internet and waiting to see how people connect with the ideas. It's scary and exhilarating all. at the same time.
Me: Do you know the treatment for coronavirus?
Student: There IS no treatment
Me: I'll give you a hint....it's a system in your body that we've been studying since September
Student: Uhhh.....is the treatment just to die?
Backstory, we've been learning about the immune system since the beginning of the year. We spent one month learning about viruses, one month on pandemics, and a few months on how the immune system works to fight disease. And yet, here's this student standing right in front of me with some crazy amnesia of everything we've been learning. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing I spent dozens of hours setting up lesson plans and labs only to have this kid forget everything??
To be fair, he wasn't the strongest student, but (as many teachers will tell you) this kind of amnesia ("wait....we learned that?") is pretty common. Helping students make connections is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It's like we'll spend a whole month learning about some topic......but by the end of the month students have just spotty understandings of individual concepts. They understand the trees but not the forest. They understand the textbook questions, but it's harder for them to relate those questions to what's happening in the world around them. Even as an adult, I struggle to connect ideas across different systems, but when I make those connections I know the feeling (that lightbulb moment of "oh THAT's why that's there" or "oh THAT's what that is for").
Then along came my grad school classmate Lior and his awesome workshop on systems mapping! Systems mapping is a method of concept mapping meant to help students see the forest and not just the trees. Here's how we did it.
Step 1: Brain Dump
Step 2: Connected Circles
The awesome thing about systems mapping is that the task is group worthy, meaning students naturally work in groups without the teacher requiring group work to happen. Because this kind of concept mapping was more cognitively demanding, more heads were better than one in order to get the job done. I definitely plan to use systems mapping more moving forward. It's a great example of an inquiry based way of concept mapping new ideas, where areas of dense connections naturally appear for students to notice and analyze.