I need a new system

It has taken me a little while to realize that changing my teaching means changing my work habits. I used to know how to manage the flow when the plans were clear and the same assignments came in at the same time. There were piles, and they were manageable. I planned on my own and shifted in ways that made sense to me.

For the last six months, I have been shifting more and more to individualized learning and diverse projects. My professional development occurs on a daily basis as I connect electronically with colleagues through social media. Many of my seniors are keeping blogs to document their research process rather than putting it all together in one long paper at the end. I need to find time to check in on those on a regular basis, as they are updating them. I am giving more process oriented assessments, which means I need to read what my students write as they work through the material, rather than simply a summative assessment at the end. I am trying to help my students get their work out to a wider audience, so I need to remember to tweet out links. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of revision to student work for learning, but that means I now see many assessments more than once per student. I also feel the urgency to return work quickly and with adequate feedback, since I know that is what will help my students the most. I am learning about and test-driving new technologies to see what might be useful for my own classes and my department.

Those are just the changes that come to mind off the top of my head. I am sure that if I reflected more the list would be longer. So, just stamping out fires and getting ready for the next class, the next day no longer works. Even the “to do” list gets buried and out of date very quickly. I think I need to create a schedule for each day with goals, tasks and enough built in crisis time so that the train does not get derailed. I would say I need to prioritize, but the reality is that the most “urgent” things may not be the most beneficial for my students. I may need to be a little less ready for some classes in terms of content to be more ready to provide feedback. There is a certain amount of planning that is necessary, but there is also such a thing as overplanning.

I am not sure what the new system looks like, but I know I need one. It needs to be structured enough to keep me moving among the various tasks regularly, but at the same time it needs to be flexible enough to accommodate variations and evolution.

Oh, yeah – I need time to blog, too.



A Personal Retreat

I am connected. I am out there. I blog. I tweet. I am part of a PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) cohort at school. I am connecting my students with other students and experts. I spent some time Friday evening following live tweets from Syria for my Middle East elective. I check email religiously, maybe even obsessively.

I am an extrovert. I naturally process best externally by talking things out. I have a noisy classroom where I encourage student voices. Most of the time, I have a hard time with silence.

Yet, sometimes I crave the silence, and the chance to focus on one thing. When my family cleared out of the house for a few hours today, I did not catch up on reading the blogs I have been meaning to read (my apologies to those folks). I did not catch up on my Twitter feed, where I know there were fabulous ideas and resources waiting. I even only checked email twice. It seems that nobody needed me desperately after all.

I read a book. Recommended by my friend Cristina, The Swerve took me back to the dawn of the Renaissance and then even further back to the world of the ancients, Greece and Rome. I found myself slowing down, reading every word and taking in a distant culture where manuscripts were copied by hand – a few steps removed from our digital culture of instant publishing.

Retreats have come to mean going off with a group of people to work on a specific task away from the crowd. Today I needed to take it a step further by retreating away from the digital crowd. I am emerging more centered and focused. Maybe next time I will even forgo email.

We owe it to ourselves and our students to model quiet spaces and focus. The world is awfully noisy. I love the connections as much as anyone, but sometimes we all need to unplug for a few hours. Can we help our students find these moments, even in our classes? I am all for collaboration, but maybe not all the time. An article reminding us of the introverts in the world gave me pause earlier this week. My Saturday reminded me of the value of introversion even for an extrovert, who feels the need to blog about it.