Category: Reflection

EdcampNJ Two Weeks Later

EdcampNJ on December 1 kicked off one of the the busiest periods of the school year so far for me, so I haven’t had much time to sit and collect my thoughts on it until now.  Much of what I’ve said before about Edcamps still applies; it was great to flatten the hierarchy of teachers – building admins – district admins, if just for a day, in order to talk about improving our practice.  As I said on Facebook the following morning:

Yesterday I met principals, teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, reading specialists, and librarians, among others. They were all there on their OWN time, on a Saturday, UNPAID, to improve their craft. It’s easy to get beaten down when you work in public ed, especially in NJ, but beyond being good for our professional practice, yesterday was good for the soul. Can’t wait for the next one.

And I think that second-to-last sentence is where I’m spending a lot of time these days, thinking about the role of personal relationships in our professional practice.  When any group of people comes together to plan an Edcamp, they do so under very natural, organic circumstances.  They choose to involve themselves in the process, and although the ultimate goal is professional growth and improvement, the vibe around the process – especially in the week or so leading up to it – is akin to getting ready to leave for summer camp and seeing all your camp friends you haven’t seen since last summer.

I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but the blurring of those professional-personal relationships seems to be where a lot of the positive energy surrounding these events comes from.  When I got to Linwood Middle School for EdcampNJ, it was handshakes and hugs all around, just the same as when we put on Edcamp Leadership back in July.  These were not only people I respected on a professional level, but also people I liked hanging out with, and we somehow managed to pull off a thoroughly professional event while learning a lot and having a blast doing it.

As a future school leader, interpersonal relationships are something I think a lot about in terms of the development of school culture.  It would be great if everyone at work just got along well, but that’s not realistic.  This component of the Edcamp experience is (probably?) not scalable to a whole building or district, but it’s very similar to starting a garage band with your buddies or when the neighborhood kids decide, “Hey!  Let’s put on a show right here in the backyard!”  Everyone’s all in from the word “go”, and what happens after that is, at least in part, a direct result of that micro-culture that’s been created by the volunteers.

Yes, we had good conversations about pedagogy, technology, and learning, but like I said above, it was good for the soul just to be in a social learning space with fellow educators.  I’m definitely not one for woo-woo, but metaphorically speaking, the energy surrounding the event felt rejuvenating, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  Makes me wonder if and how we can do this more frequently or more pervasively, for students as well as educators.

EdcampNJ Is Almost Here!

Just a quickie post to further publicize an upcoming Edcamp event with which I am involved – EdcampNJ!

If you’re not familiar with Edcamp/ “unconference” events, here’s how I described the event this past summer:

Most of you who read blogs by educators are at least passingly familiar with Edcamp, the participant-driven “unconference”  for educators based on the BarCamp model.  Edcamps typically do not have keynote speakers or even pre-determined workshop schedules; rather, attendees come together first thing in the morning to offer sessions based on their own knowledge, expertise, and experience.  Sessions are typically more conversation-driven than lecture-driven, and those who offer sessions act more as discussion facilitators than presenters.  In other words, the Edcamp folks have taken the most valuable parts of the professional conference – the “coffee pot conversations” held with your colleagues in between sessions and at lunch – and built the entire event around them.

This event will take place this coming Saturday, December 1, 2012, at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ, from 9am – 3pm.  As of last count, we have over 400 educators of all backgrounds and geographic locations (including some from across the pond!) signed up to attend; if even only 50% of those show, it will be one of the best-attended Edcamp events ever.

As always, the cost to attend is free – we just ask that you register so we know how many to expect.

There promises to be something for everyone at this event, and if nothing offered tickles your fancy – run your own session!  You don’t have to be an expert to run a session, you just have to want to hold a conversation.  I will be there, and plan to blog my reflections on the day later in December.

Hope to see you there!

Mind Over Mudder

Much is made in my ed leadership doctoral program of goals: organizational goal-setting, alignment with vision/mission, monitoring progress, etc.  Though I hadn’t originally intended to blog about this recent life event*, when I think about it in terms of goal-setting, it seems to parallel much of what my coursework has focused on.

After my surgery to correct femoral acetabular impingement late last December, I set myself both a short-term and a long-term goal for my rehabilitation.  My short-term goal was to run a post-surgery 5K on Memorial Day weekend.  The annual Doylestown (PA) 5K holds a special place in my heart, as we owned our first home in that town and lived there when our first child was born.  It wasn’t my fastest time, but on May 26, 2012, I did it (and have done a few since).

My long-term rehab goal was to get fit enough to run Tough Mudder, a 12-mile obstacle course through incredibly muddy terrain (“incredibly muddy” doesn’t begin to cover it; check out their website or Facebook page for pics).  The two nearest TM events to me took place in Poconos, PA in May, and Englishtown, NJ in October.  Being a Jersey boy born and bred, I chose the October event (that it would give me another five months to work on healing and conditioning was also a factor).

While I can’t say that having goals made me heal better or faster (that’s anatomy and physiology, as well as the dumb luck of having avoided any major cartilage damage), it was incredibly motivational for me during PT, especially before I was able to run on the treadmill and I was just doing basic stretching and resistance exercises.  Thinking that this (boring exercises) was what I had to do in order to get to that (running) helped get me through the tedium and focused me, even when my attention wanted to be anywhere but in that rehab room, side-stepping or squatting.

Even as I wrapped up PT and started running again, having the specter of Tough Mudder over me pushed me to increase my mileage, even as I was becoming complacent and satisfied with my times on 3-mile runs.

So did I meet my long-term rehab goal?  A picture is worth a thousand words:

Up next: my first 10K on November 3.  Once I get comfortable with that distance, I think the next logical step has got to be the half-marathon, which will basically be like the Tough Mudder minus the electricity obstacles and freezing water, right?  I’ll keep you posted.

Speaking solely as an individual, setting goals did motivate me to persevere in my rehab.  I would have done it anyway without the goals, but I feel that having an endpoint toward which to work fueled and charged my work (PT) in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  Once the goals were reached, you move the goalposts back a bit further – not so much so that it becomes discouraging, but just enough to encourage growth.

Reflecting on this experience, I’m starting to get a better sense of how organizational goals (ideally should) charge our work as members of the organization… IF the buy-in is there.  As for me, I was as bought-in as I was going to get, what with my physical well-being on the line.  Now, if it was only as easy to get unanimous organizational buy-in…

*Shout-out to childhood friend, Dirty Birds teammate, and OG Tough Mudder Dan Staples, who, as we were catching our breath and staring down yet another obstacle, asked me, “So, you gonna blog about this?”  Yessir, Dan.  Yes, I am.

Habits of Mind: Metacognition & Precision

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Thinking about your thinking (metacognition): Know your knowing!  Being aware of one’s own thoughts, strategies, feelings, and actions and their effects on others.

This was one of the primary reasons I started blogging – I wanted a space to reflect on my practice, share what worked and what didn’t, and welcome critique and conversation from my contemporaries around the world.  More recently, choosing to blog about the sixteen habits of mind was a way for me to further focus my self-reflection on the degree to which I engage these strategies in my personal and professional life.  Now, in this paragraph, I appear to be blogging about what I’m blogging about when I blog – is that meta-meta-meta-cognition or just navel-gazing?

At any rate, one way in which I would like to improve in this arena is to formalize time for my CST colleagues and I to debrief and reflect upon our practice and discuss areas for improvement.  I tend to do this more in isolation, but I think that’s at my own peril.  It’s one thing for me to go home and spout off on my blog about whatever, but I think collaborative reflection may hold us all a little more accountable.  It’s something we’ll have to fight to carve time out for, though – the rush of the daily workflow, as well as the little fires that need putting out here and there, conspires against us in this regard.

Striving for accuracy and precision: Check it again!  A desire for exactness, fidelity, craftsmanship, and truthfulness.

In my undergraduate teacher training program, I recall one of my student teaching seminar teachers telling us to proofread, proofread, proofread every last item we created, and to scrap it and start over if we found even a single error.  Thankfully, that isn’t quite as necessary in the computer age, but his point is well-taken – even though we’re all human, nothing ruins an educator’s credibility faster than typos or inaccurate information, especially in writing (and we English teachers are perhaps held to a higher standard than others in that regard!).

It’s a habit that, fortunately, my parents instilled in me long before I got to the end of my college career, almost to a fault.  When it comes to perfectionism, there’s a fine line between the good and bad flavors, and I admit to straying to the wrong side of the perfectionist tracks at times.  In my rapidly advancing age mid-thirties, however, I think that finding that balance is starting to come easier to me, simply through life experience and trial-and-error.

The case manager dimension to my job (which is unique to school psychologists in New Jersey, I believe; feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) demands attention to detail and precision in order to demonstrate compliance with state and federal law, as well as to provide the best degree of service to students that I can.  This is usually documented in formal paperwork but also through case notes, conversation with colleagues about coordination of services, my administration of psychological and behavioral assessments, formal and informal data collection, and my face time with my students.  My almost-but-not-quite-except-for-sometimes neurotic perfectionism has served me well in this regard, even though I must admit, from time to time – much to my chagrin – to being only human.

References

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).  It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

A Break From The Norm: My Month of IF

I’ve been test-driving Martin Berkhan’s Leangains intermittent fasting (IF) protocol for the past four weeks.  For an excellent overview of the program, see his post here.  The rest of this post will be written assuming you read what’s at that link.

My Plan

I wanted to test-drive IF for a few different reasons: first and foremost, to see if I could survive the fasting period.  Second, assuming I survived (SPOILER ALERT: I did), to see if it could fit into my daily schedule.  I was not about to rearrange my life for this or any diet program – not that I could if I wanted to, anyway.

In addition to fitting in with work and family obligations, I planned to continue my current regiment of running 3x/week (3-4 miles per) and lifting 2x/week (few heavy compound lifts, e.g., squats, overhead press, etc.; no isolation work).

The protocol I chose went something like this:

  • 1pm: First meal of the day (lunch at work)
  • 5pm: Second meal of the day (family dinner)
  • 6-7pm: Run or workout
  • 8-9pm: Last meal of the day

Water is not only permitted, but encouraged during the fasting period.  Diet soda is also OK (that has really helped to take the edge off when I get hungry, especially toward the end of the fast), as are coffee and tea without milk/sugar (calorie-free substitutes are OK).

As far as what I ate, I didn’t micromanage my macros.  I tried to keep it in the neighborhood of that 40/30/30 carbs/protein/fat ratio and between 2300 – 3000 calories per day, depending on whether or not I was exercising that day (less on rest days, more on work days), but stopped tracking closely after a few days of using FitDay just to get a general sense of what everything’s caloric and macronutrient values were.  I tend to eat the same few things every day anyway, so that made eyeballing the balance a little easier.

My starting weight was 203.  I didn’t take pictures of myself because this isn’t that kind of blog.

How It Went

I started my fast at 9pm on Sunday, Sept. 2.  As I suspected, I was way too busy at work to miss food; in fact, it was often like that before I started officially fasting, and there were also days this month where I didn’t get to break my fast til closer to 2 or 2:30 because I was just that busy.  Weekends, on the other hand, are a different story – it’s much easier to get distracted by the thought of food unless I’m actively involved in something.

That said, a month into it, I feel fine.  A little diet soda takes the edge off the hunger, and I’ve also found the fast period helps me to eat more during the eating window.  Unsurprising, but important for someone like me who generally does not like to eat a lot – in fact, eating too little has been my primary obstacle in making lifting gains over the years.  I just can’t eat like a powerlifter.

Some people report feeling cold in their extremities or a general sense of fogginess.  I was a bit foggy the first day, but ever since I have experienced no negative effects.

I have tried training in a fasted state; I do not like it at all.  Berkhan recommends taking a BCAA before working out in a fasted state.  I haven’t tried that yet, but have had to both lift and run “hungry” in the last month due to weekend time constraints, and I felt very unfocused and tired.  That said, my lifts have continued to progress over the course of the last month, and I have slowly but surely increased the speed and distance of my runs.  My physical performance seems to have had no negative impact from the fasting.

Like I said, I didn’t take any pics, so you’ll have to take my word for it on this: my belly is visibly flatter.  I still have more fat than I would like, but the “spare tire” has deflated a bit.  I weighed in every Sunday, but not at a consistent time and not in a consistent state of fastedness, so take these numbers with a grain of salt:

  • Sept 2 (starting weight): 203
  • Sept 9: 199
  • Sept 16: 200
  • Sept 23: 198
  • Sept 30: 200
As I mentioned earlier, I’m less concerned with the numbers on the scale than I am how I look in the mirror.  While I still have some way to go, I am visibly leaner than I was a month ago, and I’ve had to start tightening my belt another notch or so.  I definitely think another month of this is in order to see if the trend continues.

Deviations

There were two occasions this month when I broke my fast early: once at a work function thrown specifically for my department (thanks LIS colleagues!) and once at a family breakfast one weekend morning.  Can’t find the citation, but Berkhan seems to be OK with these slight and occasional deviations; like any behavior support program, the change has to be liveable, and I wasn’t going to let this program turn me into an anti-social jerk.  Two minor breaks out of 28?  I’ll take that.

Besides those, the only other deviations were when I didn’t get to lift or run as often as planned due to work or grad school obligations.  September is a crazy enough month for educators, but when you have two living in the same house plus two kids of your own, the Back-To-School Nights alone take up a week’s worth of evenings.

Where To Next?

I plan to continue the same IF protocol for another month.  I’m hoping that as we get further into the school year and my schedule starts to normalize a bit, I’ll be able to be more consistent with my workouts.  I should also make it a point to weigh in at the same time every Sunday in order to keep the data points a bit purer.  Beyond that, I’m content to let the mirror and the fit of my clothes be the biggest indicator of how well the program is working or not working.

If I sound a bit cavalier or casual, it’s because while fitness is very important to me, it’s not the only thing in my life.  I have a career, a family, graduate school, and a part-time job to squeeze into my 24 hours, so whatever I do fitness-wise has to fit into the spaces in between.  I can usually make it work, but sometimes it’s not possible, and I’m OK with that.  I’m not a competitive bodybuilder or athlete.  What I do try to do if I have to alter the feeding/fasting periods is minimize the impact of the alteration on the overall program (e.g., I’ll fast an extra hour or start early in order to reset the window if necessary).  The beauty of this IF program is that it is flexible.

I’ll report back at the end of October with an update on my progress.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your questions or your experiences – good or bad – with intermittent fasting.