Monday, June 29, 2015

Running, BET and Some North Shore Climbing

I write about love.  Happy love. Sad love.  Love is powerful.  --Smokey Robinson BET Awards 2015

I don't know about you but sunrises make me mindful of people and places who mean something to me.  Hope you can find time for one this week. 

Birthday Challenge Countdown to my 51st birthday is a run every day for 51 days.  So far so good. Just completed 17 days in a row of 3-12 miles depending on how I'm feeling or where I want to go. Ultimately I'll do three 17 mile runs in 51 days to equal my age.  That started June 21, and with the first 17 mile run on this weekend's schedule, I've been banking the training miles.  Still, my favorite blog and inspiring person is Steve Edwards so if you haven't been following his blog, you should go to it right now and get psyched - I never miss it at least once every few days and definitely when he has a new blog post up and if you're looking for a Birthday Challenge - well, he and Todd Mei are the originals.  I have a good playlist already but I'm counting on y'all for new music recs.  And BTW, thanks for the book ideas - I have dedicated and interesting friends!

If you weren't watching the BET 2015 Awards Sunday night you missed one of the best performances and tributes so far this year.  Don't miss the clips - check Nikki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Smokey Robinson, Sean diddy combs, that best ever Bad Boy Reunion, Big Sean - damn! There were others but I had to go to bed so sometime today I'll be watching my way through the hour I missed.

Anyway, we went climbing today - here's what happened when Brad, Kael, Sam and I left as the sun rose this morning and headed to Devils Lake to boulder on the North Shore - we hit the warm-ups, Earth Mechanics, and Bark Biter.  

Fun day!  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

News on Race, Love and Getting after it

It's okay to document every day micro-aggressions.  It pushes us all to be more robust in our thinking and approach about the relationship between race, culture and class, among the several others.  Here's what happened to me recently: 

1) In May, I was on a plane heading west to Las Vegas seated next to an older woman from Cleveland, OH.  She was sweet from the moment I squeezed into the seat next to her and clearly ready for conversation, she said: "There are so many people on this plane with passports!  Now which country are you from?"
2) Misa and I were in Boston and Chicago last week and if prompted she might tell you first about one of our best cab rides into the city.   We had a few hits and misses, but this one was a hit in spite of how it started.  The first thing the driver asked me was if I was Chinese.  Seriously.  No context, no purpose - just if I was Chinese.  After telling him my family is from Guam and we are Chamorro, he followed up with: "Oh so you're Portugese?" 

3) Finally and thankfully the last experience happened at a Boston Red Sox game in one of the outside bars at the infamous Fenway Stadium and our super enthusiastic server said, "You look like my nieces best friend.  Let me show you a picture of her  . . . She is Thai.  Are you Thai?"

Sheesh. I hope to get a break for at least a few months from these every day acts that represent how stereotypes, discrimination, biases and prejudices generalize.  The real deal though isn't about others and their mostly unintentional demeaning actions; it's more a responsibility I have to reflect on what I do and can do better.  

In the professional world, I spent time with a group of teachers and instructional coordinators engaged in critical literacy work.  During one incredibly important discussion where contention turned to really good work, I felt psyched to be a part of #TheWork to facilitate understanding about critical literacy.  The fact that teaching literacy ought to be planned and thought about through the lens of privilege and power -- the essence of social justice and critical race theory made the process fun and exhausting both, the kind of work at the end of the day that tells us all there obviously is more work to be done. 

So now it's 15 days since the last day of school and I'm sleeping and running and climbing.  And thinking and feeling and reading.  I finished reading three books I'd recommend:  Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chaste - if you are a fan (or not a fan) of cartoons, still pick this up.  It's a great memoir.  Also check out A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Conner which was especially purposeful to me as her beautiful complexity and forthright questions along with a full range of emotional upsets and realities both startled and connected me to back to that place of love and spirituality.  If you're interested in writing education, read Thomas Newkirk's Holding On To Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones - it's resourceful and makes you think.  If y'all have recommendations, I'm ready for a few new ones to add to my summer list. 

Here's what the climbing scene looked like yesterday at the Lake.  Flat Iron is so classic and kinda f'in hard.  Brad held his own climbing and being the ultimate spotter-boy and Lisa unlocked the sequence and made the problem classic-fun.  The good thing about quartzite is it takes you back to climbing basics: footwork and super subtle micro moves that make big differences. 

 view from the edge

brad still in mocs, still got the footwork

warming up


micro-foot placement

deadpoint or not

spot the poison ivy

if you roll your blood will flow - what did I do without this?
In other news activity oriented . . .

this was a 9 minute train during my run

a long days play ends with John-Pio doing his own work

reminds me we're always in training

Wanted to share my favorite quote:

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked while the bamboo or willow survive by bending with the wind. --Bruce Lee 

Get out there.  Find the bamboos and willows.  --V

Monday, June 15, 2015

Vacation Reflections Start with Dear Teacher Thank-You's

Fenway Park in Boston.  Taking a break to reflect and blog.  
Teaching cycle: part memoir, part credo, part polemic, part review, part summary, and always actively questioning what just happened?

All kinds of things happened:  One bold friend and educator counted down the days before her last one as a math teacher.  I went to her Quitting Party and know her passion will transfer and she'll still educate because she's a voice for teachers in Madison, so if you didn't catch the article explaining her experiences this year, you can read it right here.  Others I know are resolved to working in pre-established systems that sharply limit our capacity, and still more are resigned and see education as a rational science driven by standardized data, enhanced by standardized data, dependent on standardized data (read: standardized testing) - which goes against the sheer complexity of individual lives. And still more are apprehensive.  But most educators I know cannot and will not fit an entire school year into a rundown of events and feelings.

Not to get pedantic but it's way more optimistic to reflect on a school year as a learning experience. A previous post I wrote emphasized Eventually's - the idea that I might not ever know when influence or change happens, but if I bank on one student coming back to tell me, then I know that was one.  But to me, one isn't enough; it's never enough.  Because if all I'm doing is influencing one life, then there is something wrong with me and the system.

This year though, the love happened the day I left school when a bundle of thank-you's landed on my desk.  From students and parents.  And not just a few, but many.  And it was just what I needed when I honestly felt I had no bright ideas left, that my best charm and best thinking had run dry.  I'm showing y'all them here not because Kate, Nina, Maggie, Ed and I are such an awesome team but because I want educators to know that differences are not always gonna be big splashes.  In fact, they rarely are.  I'm certain there were very specific things that contributed to a good year of learning (I'll write about them later), but I'm even more convinced it's a few abstract things that got these expressed thanks from our adolescents and their families:

-being critically astute as a team,
-being radical as a team, and
-having a profound obligation to teach social justice - and not just social justice, but one that's restorative and forgiving and healing
-as a team.  

I'm documenting some of the sentiments from students and parents because more than gift cards, chocolate and flowers, thank-you's matter.  More importantly, what they described affirmed and sustained my belief that #hiphopeducation #socialjustice #notjustbeatsandrhymes is worth it.  When things get rough I need to pull these up and remember these small sentiments can and do lead to better teaching.

Here go the Dear Teacher notes, in full and partial texts.

Full text from a student:

In the past two years I have learned more in school than in all my elementary school career.  Integrating L.A. and S.S. really emphasized the point of how a lot of things are interconnected.  The unit we have been doing about poetry has been my favorite unit.  The 1st year in a half you guys taught us to be opinionated and to care about controversial issues, and poetry showed me how to express those opinions. You have been very kind and generous to me over these past two years which I very much appreciate.  You have also been very supportive of me, and a great role model. You always push me to be better and I look at you to see what I will become if I keep going.  You are the best!  

Partial text:

I will always remember how you can be strict and funny at the same time . . . 

Partial text from a student:

You have been one of the best teachers I have ever had!  You taught me many things for example, a lot is two words, what alliteration is, also many "rad" women like you.  You didn't just teach us academics, you taught us about the real world ...

Partial text from parents:

. . . you provided such excellent teaching and strong positive role modeling.  You appreciated her, understood her, and challenged her, while always wrapping her up in your class community. 

. . . Thanks for two great years of teaching.  She has had such a wonderful experience on your team. Your creative teaching, inclusive class "family", focus on rigor and clear care and commitment to your students is exceptional.  

There were others w/similar themes, and several parents told us in-person or through email what we meant to them.  It's probably self-congratulatory to post and write these out, but teachers are so under-valued and the profession is in such danger, that I couldn't let these sentiments go un-noticed, especially because I know teachers received tons of notes just like these and while most will not publicly post like I am, they need to know that I know those thank you's matter to them too. 

I'll end on this high note: What I truly believe makes a difference in teaching young adolescents are these conditions:

-authentic engagement (#relevant #studentcentered #voice #hiphoped #notjustbeatsandrhymes)
-formative and summative assessments (rapid, real time feedback)
-honest communication w/students and families (no sugar coating - give 'em reality, even if it's hard)
-accountability (based on our values and commitment to make a difference)
-looping (two years to track growth and build relationships)
-hard work (it's a given ...)

As a team.  

In other news, I'm in Boston visiting Suzi and today we climbed at Metro Rock. We tried hard, failed, and tried hard again and again.  We had fun!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

On Passion and Process: One Thing Leads to Another

It's easy to introduce one of my favorite people in the world to talk about passion -- or in this case, process.  This wonderful piece tells Annie's athletic journey.  I've known her for 17 years and I am still learning from her, and about her.  Sometime in the next 5 years I'm hoping to pull her out of the water, careen her from her tri-bike, and steer away from road running - and BACK to rock climbing.  I've missed my first and best climbing partner these past few years, but I'll be there running alongside her during this next pursuit.  Read on and enjoy her journey!  --Vera

Love this couple. 

One Thing Leads to Another -- by Annie Hughes

From the looks of things, you’d think all that matters to me is swim-bike-run-eat-recover.  It turns out that training to perform your best in an Ironman takes a whole bunch of swim-bike-run-eat-recover.  And yet athletics aren’t even a passion of mine.  So why train eleven to fourteen hours a week for fifty weeks?

Forty years ago I was an art student.  People who knew me then don’t recognize me now.  Art was a sedentary, creative and introspective career. I wanted to be an artist forever.  I’d never done a sport.  After all, I was an adult when Title Nine came into being so I hadn’t been exposed to sports when I was young.  Art was my thing.

Then, thirty years ago I became a parent.  Art faded into the background.  Parenting is actually kind of like Ironman training, a long road where you can’t see the end from the beginning.  You just do the work and somehow trust the process.  It turns out I loved parenting more than anything I’ve done before or since!  But when you parent successfully, you work yourself out of a job.

One thing leads to another in my life.  With our youngest finally in school, I slipped away to celebrate my fortieth by backpacking for a week in the Grand Canyon.  There was nothing to do but walk, gaze at this wonder of the world and think.  The age of the Grand Canyon compared to my forty years gave me the new perspective that my life was just a flash in the pan.  I might as well do the things I enjoy because my little life would end before I knew it.  Now, at 60, I feel this even more urgently.  On that trip I decided what I enjoy is being with people, helping people, and experiencing things. Making things, even beautiful things, while all alone in my studio wasn’t what I was looking for.

I returned from the Grand Canyon and a friend I met on that trip introduced me to rock climbing. 
Soon I’d met Vera, my climbing partner and friend. The next thirteen years were some of the happiest of my life, climbing with a group of women, holding each other’s lives in our hands metaphorically because we were good friends, and literally because we belayed each other.  We climbed together almost daily, for thirteen years. 

Climbing is an engaging puzzle solved mentally and physically.  I became fit and strong for the first time in my life. When I climbed I thought about nothing but the next move.  I was focused, on high alert, moving through space and time, across beautiful rock in the great outdoors.  High alert, but at the same time relaxed -- life’s concerns receded until I called “Take!” at the climb’s end, or fell into the safety net of my friend’s belay.  Climbing is not solitary like art.  It’s social because a belay or spot is needed, and it is fun to support others and watch out for their safety.  Climbing gyms are easy environments for making friends.

So after forty sedentary introverted years, I’d found a sport!  I haven’t stopped moving since.  Sports in general began to make more sense and catch my interest.  While winning a race or climbing to the top aren’t really important events in themselves, sports, races and games are opportunities to practice for the important challenges life throws our way.  Climbing taught me to face risks, keep moving despite fear, be responsible, overcome obstacles, and care for others.  I learned to break big goals into smaller steps, believe in myself, persevere, be patient when I can’t yet see the solution, rise to the challenge even though I might fail, and to work on my weaknesses.  One of the harder lessons was learning to ignore the doubting little voice that whines who do you think you are? -- You can’t do this!  You’re not strong enough and you’re too old!  You are going to get hurt, you’re in trouble now!  My mentor and climbing buddy Mattie taught me to shush that meddlesome voice with a firm, “Be quiet, I’m climbing!” and then change the subject in my head.... “now, what am I going to do here?”

Six years ago when Vera wanted me to join her for some mid winter personal training, I met Pat
Gilles of Pat’s Gym.  Pat’s Gym is not a place to read a magazine on the treadmill; it’s billed as a gym for highly motivated and elite athletes..... but I was just an average recreational climber, and one who integrated new skills slower than my climbing partners.  In other words I thought of myself as not being athletic.  As I’ve said, I was also sometimes frozen by mental struggles on the climb.  Mental toughness was not yet in my bag of tricks.  Highly motivated? — well for that you need a goal and I hadn’t found that yet.  Pat helped me define a goal and began to train me for it.  I saw that I could trust him and learn from his challenging workouts.  His expected me to work amazingly hard and never hold back.  I learned to give everything I had, even if I might fail trying.  Through a sprinkling of successes, and more importantly the hard earned improvement from doing lots of demanding exercise sets, Pat earned my loyalty and trust.  The training process was well worth my time and effort.  I began to develop as an athlete.  It was rewarding to pick a goal I couldn’t imagine and then do the work needed.  In time I reached my goal, often exceeding it.

Pat introduced me to indoor rowing because he saw I had talent on the rowing erg.  I was powerful.  I’d never been told I had a physical talent.  I prepared myself to race on the erg, with Pat as my trainer.  We worked from April to February for my race at the CRASH-B Sprints, the world championships of indoor rowing.  I took 5th place in my age group the first year.  The following two years I got faster, more mentally disciplined, fast enough those next two years for the manufacturer of the rowing machine, Concept 2, to fly me to Boston to race at CRASH-B.  I took a second and a third place, competing against athletes who’d rowed indoors and on the water continuously for decades!  I broke the eight minute barrier last year: 7:57!   Racing sub 8 minutes was something I’d not have dreamed possible.

Rowing races lit my competitive fire.  It wasn’t wanting to be better than others that motivated me to race.  Competing was about discovering my potential and then pushing it as far as I could toward excellence.  Having a goal race gave me a target and a time frame.  It took discipline to train nine months for an elite competition lasting only a few minutes.  I had to be strong mentally too, and that is so hard to develop without a tough goal.  Why do all that work just to do well in an eight minute race on a stationary machine, for heaven’s sake? — as authors David Shields and Brenda Bredemeier say in their book True Competition, competition is a special form of cooperation, each participant pushing the others to excellence.  Excellence is satisfying in and of itself.  There is intrinsic power associated with skillful or powerful movement.  Excellence in the more significant arenas of life, excellence there can change the world.  Sports are a good place to practice skills that make a difference in life.  Do the work, cut no corners, surround yourself with others with good work habits, take care of yourself, be honest and fair, make no excuses, risk failure, and build your tolerance for physical and mental pain.

I never wanted to do an Ironman until I thought about it differently just after watching Ironman
Wisconsin again last September.  Pat and I were talking about it and he posed the question, “Wouldn’t it be exciting to try for a different world championship, to see what is involved in endurance events compared to what you’ve done in rowing?  And haven’t you liked having a big goal to work toward?”  Absolutely!  So I’m preparing for a thirteen or fourteen hour race finish.  I’m enjoying learning to swim and run.  I had been a so-so runner and a horrible swimmer.  Now I’m a pretty good runner and just a bad swimmer which actually is an improvement! I’ve always loved cycling and have years of experience recreationally.  I’ve become a strong cyclist.  If I win my age group I will be awarded a berth in the world championships of Ironman races in Kona Hawaii!  Anything’s possible.  The journey will challenge me and change me and that makes me feel alive.

Now I need to go to bed.  And then swim-bike-run-eat-recover-swim-bike-run-eat-recover-swim-bike-run-eat-recover…..