Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2020 Vision

If you are fortunate enough to have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly with no need for corrective measures of any kind. Up until my early twenties, I assumed I was one of those fortunate ones with normal vision, having gone without glasses or contact lenses my entire life. However, during my last semester in college, I began noticing that I was not able to read the writing on the whiteboard unless I sat in the very first row, and so I scheduled an eye exam. During the exam when I was asked to read the eye chart, I could barely see the large letter at the very top. To say it was a rude awakening was an understatement. I immediately ordered my first pair of glasses and within a few days, my world was transformed. Everything and everyone changed. Road signs, lecture talking points, facial features. Everything was not only clear but looked radically different. For years what I had seen as normal, had been completely distorted.

As we approach 2020, I am pondering my vision for the new decade. The more I ponder, the more I see how vision acuity impacts our reality. The lenses through which we view our world can potentially present us with a false reality, causing us to miss out on what is really there.

There's lots that can keep us from having clear vision, but as I reflect on 2019 and search for my "word" for 2020, there are three things that immediately come to mind:
  • Regretting the past. The past has come and gone and there's nothing we can change. Dwelling on the good ole days or torturing ourselves over mistakes, will not change the past, but if we are not careful, it will change the present. Regret can potentially cripple us with insecurity and cause us to lose momentum. Conversely, building on successes and learning from failures helps us to see possibilities and help us pick up speed.
  • Worrying about the future. We can't predict what will happen tomorrow, but worrying about what may or may not happen will not change a thing. Worry causes us to lose focus and keeps us from seeing all the good things happening in the present. If we take one day at a time and deal with challenges as they come, we will be more at ease and in control. You may also agree that we will usually handle things much better than we anticipate and in the end, most of what we worry about will never happen.
  • Comparison. Comparing ourselves - our work, our families, our achievements - will often not only steal our joy and peace, but it can also make us either believe that we don't measure up or it can swell us up with pride. Neither is good. While healthy competition can inspire growth, comparing ourselves with others keeps us from seeing all the good that surrounds us. If you are on social media (like most of us) you can be especially vulnerable to a distorted view of reality, as most of what is published is not accurate. Let's celebrate each other's uniqueness and be grateful for what we have. In doing so, we will be able to clearly see the truth and count our blessings.
-Bill Keane

Writing this post has helped me determine my "One Word" for 2020.  My word is "PRESENT." By focusing on the present, I will stop regretting, worrying, and comparing. In doing so, my vision of reality will be more clear, enabling me to make the most of today so I can be a blessing to those I get to share life with.

Wishing you and yours a very clear and blessed 2020!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Can We Make Lessons Relevant to Students' Lives?

Learning can't always be fun and interesting, but it must always be relevant. This is at the core of my educational philosophy. But what does "relevant to students' lives" really look like in the classroom?

Let's look at Webster's definitions of the word relevant:
(a) Having a significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
(b) Affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion
(c) Having social relevance

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Relevance in learning is not only about the "matter at hand", the age, and/or the intellectual level of our students, it's also about social relevance. Inarguably, we can analogize the material so learners can assimilate the content, but a crucial aspect of relevance is presenting lessons that contain true, authentic, updated information, applicable in the "real world", theirs ideally, but certainly to society at large.

One of the ways we can help students find relevance in lesson plans is to tear down classroom walls and virtually connect with classrooms and experts outside of the school building. Here are some ways I have facilitated connections without having to leave the building:

Global Communications & Collaborations. From across the district to across the globe, students collaborated on projects with other learners using technology. In my early teaching days, students connected via discussion boards and chat rooms. These days, we videoconference and use Google tools. When time zone differences prevent real-time communication, we've shared video recordings and blog posts for partner classes to view and read as convenient and respond accordingly.

Paired Reading. Pairing fictional reading with informational text is a great way to bring relevance to academic content. Pairing current events or non-fiction reading with academic content takes learning to a whole new level. Add a Skype session with an author or an individual featured in an article can energize a unit. Last year, I connected a Spanish teacher at my school with a professional translator who had been featured in this LA Times article. Students were reading a fictional novel and the plot closely resembled the content of the article. After reading the post, I emailed the writer who connected me with the individual. After a few emails and a Skype call, I introduced him to my teacher and we planned a lesson that brought the novel to life.

Virtual Guest Speakers. This works perfectly in Career & Technical Education courses, but it can work in any content. Regardless of our subject area, we are all preparing students for the workplace. When young people hear from industry experts how their content connects with real life, it energizes our lessons and helps students find meaning and purpose to their work. While an in-person speaker is ideal, time and travel sometimes make scheduling classroom visits difficult. Furthermore, when connecting virtually, our students can hear from people all over the world. And as remote work becomes ubiquitous, getting students comfortable with remote conversations is very valuable.

Most of my learners have found these experiences to be fun and interesting, but there were always moments that were not so enjoyable. My goal in connecting with other classrooms, pairing content and bringing in virtual speakers is not about enjoyment, but about making content relevant. And relevance is about bridging gaps and moving our students forward in their learning journey.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Thankful for the Starfish

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like you are spinning wheels and going nowhere? Whether you are a classroom teacher, an administrator, or in a supportive or coaching role, we all have those days. Sometimes, it's not just a bad day, but a bad week, month or year. Perhaps you may be wondering if you should explore other career opportunities, or you may have considered leaving the education profession altogether. While I haven't felt lead to explore opportunities outside education, there certainly have been many times when I'm not sure I am making a difference. And then when I find myself hanging by a thread, someone - a student, a colleague, or a supervisor - will say something that will turn everything around and will help me reclaim my calling. Even if I impact one life, I know that my work is not in vain. What I find fascinating is that once I realize I am making an impact, I suddenly find that I am actually touching many lives.

Image Source Unknown

It's November and I've committed to practicing gratitude and looking for good things around me and blogging about it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude will not usually change my circumstances, but it does shift my perspective and alter my reaction to challenges, which in turn do sometimes change my reality. 

So, my fellow educator, as you go about your day, I challenge you to search for that one starfish in your building, focus on saving that one life, and be thankful for the impact you’re having. Whether it may be a student or a colleague, let this person reignite your passion for teaching and learning. I'm certain that once you find that one, you will soon realize you are making a difference in countless lives.
Image Credit: Reader's Digest

Thursday, October 31, 2019

30-Day #ThankfulTeacher Challenge

Tomorrow is the first day of November and I as I do every year, I will challenge myself to maintain an attitude of gratitude all month long - not just on Thanksgiving Day. Starting on November 1st, I will post on someone or something I am grateful for on my personal Instagram and Facebook accounts using the hashtag #30DaysofThanks. In past years, I have posted an occasional gratitude tweet related to education, but for the most part my gratitude posts are shared with family and friends, and are personal in nature.

This year, using the hashtag #ThankfulTeacher, I want to focus on all the ways I am blessed in my professional life and I challenge my fellow educators to do the same. I want to practice gratitude and post expressions of Thanksgiving all month long. Whether it's about major events or simple things, having an attitude of gratitude is about counting our blessings in spite of the challenges that come with being an educator and maintaining a love of teaching and learning.
Image credit: Etsy
Won't you join me? Let's spread gratefulness during the month of November in the hopes that it will stay with us all year long.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Key to Consistent Blogging

Image source: Pixabay
I love blogging. While I may not be a prolific writer, blogging (or any sort of writing) for me is therapeutic. Writing helps me process my thoughts and challenges to better develop ideas and solutions. As a teenager, I kept a diary. As a young adult, I kept a prayer journal. When I became an educator, I debriefed by writing notes on my lesson and unit plans. But when I discovered blogging, my reflective practice and my mindset were transformed.

However, once I left the classroom, I felt as if I lost my blogging voice. While time is certainly a factor, I mostly struggle with content. I’m like a newcomer English learner in her silent period. My blog has always been reflective in nature and I wrote about what worked and what didn’t work. When I entered the coaching role, I was taking in the newness of the role and didn’t feel as compelled to write and share as I did when I was a classroom teacher.
Image source: Pixabay
I recently read an ASCD post on content-area writing and it was like an epiphany moment. “The Keys to Content-Area Writing: Short, Frequent, and Shared" offers practical ways to help educators incorporate writing across the curriculum - the title says it all - but it gave me exactly what I needed  to help me get out of my writing funk. Just like with content-area writing, the key to consistent blogging is short, frequent and shared. Keeping posts as short as possible, writing frequently and sharing them with our professional learning networks.

So here’s my plan:
  • Short. I often overthink my posts and worry about reader-friendliness. In order for my blog to serve its therapeutic purpose, it must be more about reflection than about readership. When I first started blogging, I often wrote a paragraph or two and published a few times a week. As I honed my skills, my posts were lengthier but I published less frequently. This may be a good place to start to get me back on track.
  • Frequent. Making blogging part of my weekly routine will help me stay consistent. I made a calendar entry to remind me to publish every Friday to keep myself on track. However, my goal is to write a little something every day, even if just a few sentences.
  • Shared. Social media sharing is the quickest and easiest, but I will share my blog with anyone who’s interested. While my blog is intended to be read by educators, I have shared my work with students in an effort to model reflective writing. Moreover, although reflection is on my evaluation instrument, weekly blogging is not. Just like we want students to write for more than a grade, I write for more than checking off an item on the list.
If you’ve been in a blogging funk or struggle with consistent blogging, please share your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Start the New School Year By Building Relationships

I love the newness of the beginning of the school year. New clothes, new shoes, new school supplies, freshly painted walls, and newly waxed floors. All are wonderful reminders of our opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. If you are like most teachers, you may be tirelessly preparing for the first week of school and the to-do list seems never-ending.  But as we ready ourselves for the kickoff, let's keep in mind the reason we teach.  
Image Credit: Pixabay
The start of a school year has to be about building relationships.  It's a time to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and support so that significant learning can occur. Aside from imparting knowledge and skills, educators have a tremendous responsibility to lead young people on their learning journey. As they learn the rules to follow and the content they'll be taught, it's imperative that students build relationships with those who will be on the journey with them.  
Image Credit: Pixabay
Here are some of my favorite activities to help build classroom community.
Every student is given a bingo sheet. Each square contains a question and students must find classmates who can affirmatively answer a question and sign the corresponding square. Because students cannot sign more than one square, kids must circulate the room and talk to many different classmates in an effort to cover five in a row or even the entire sheet.  
Let's Break the Ice

Developed by Shelly Sanchez Terrell, students are given a list of questions, and for a period of one minute, pairs of classmates will interview each other and answer a given question. After a minute, they find another classmate and move to the next question. The game ends when all questions have been answered. This activity will help find commonalities. Students are often surprised to find how much they have in common with those they perceive to be most different. Afterward, students reflect on the results, which could lead to a group or class discussion, a writing activity or blog post. 
Using the presentation tool of their choice, students create a collage of images that represent a vision of their future. When completed, students present their vision boards to their classmates. While this a great strategy for focusing on goals and aspirations, sharing the boards with peers helps to find commonalities that can strengthen the classroom culture. Here's a sample.
Developed by Kyle Schwartz and featured on national news networks, the lesson plan was first implemented with third graders as a sentence starter. I adapted the lesson when I taught secondary English learners and used it as a blog post prompt. Students were asked to compose a paragraph and share any information they deemed essential to their learning. Teachers can gain invaluable insight from this activity. It can be implemented with any student population and can be tremendously helpful in planning for differentiation.
As we embark on the new school year, let's remember the words of Dr. James Comer. 
Learning about our students and helping them learn about each other helps develop significant relationships that should, in turn, maximize their learning experience.

Modified from its original version, I originally wrote this post as a response to Larry Ferlazzo's question, "What are the best ways to start a school year?" published on August 8, 2016. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Voice of a Quiet Leader

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Regardless of where an educator falls on the leadership spectrum, if they inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, they are leaders. Leadership is not about position, paycheck, or prestige and is not limited to administrators.
The term “teacher-leader” has become a ubiquitous term, commonly found on evaluation rubrics, résumés, and publications. Leadership is no longer limited to principals, central office personnel, or superintendents. It has become an expectation of all educators. But what exactly is a "teacher leader?"

Commonly referring to those teachers who have taken on leadership roles and additional responsibilities in their school communities, teacher leaders are perceived to be visible, vocal, and impactful. These individuals are often found chairing committees, mentoring beginning teachers, leading professional development sessions, and involving themselves in decision-making alongside the administrative team.

But how should we define being "visible, vocal, and impactful?" Do we need large crowds to make an impact? Do we need to undergo mentor training and be official mentors? Does leading professional development require a large group? Must the decision-making be part of a school improvement team or school leadership committee? If you concur with John Quincy Adams’s thoughts, your answer to these questions might be, “not necessarily.” A teacher leader identifies a need, steps up, and attempts to find solutions.

Whether or not we are vocal and visible, sitting on committees, or taking on additional duties, we are all leaders. Our work as educators is as much about connecting with learners, as it is about curriculum, standards, and student data. Effective teachers not only impart knowledge, but they also inspire students to, as John Quincy Adams purportedly stated, “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” Regardless of your official title, from the teachers' lounge to PLCs to formal professional development sessions, we are leading our peers in larger and smaller ways. We are also leaders to parents who entrust their children to our care. To other stakeholders, we are leaders who foster their support for the children, schools, and community.

Teacher leadership is about relationships. It is not necessarily about how visible or how vocal we are. It’s about seizing every opportunity to make a difference in the life of another human being. Adams’s quote sits on my office wall serving as a reminder, to me and the teachers I serve, that every day we have the opportunity to lead - to make a difference.

Just as oxygen is not seen or heard but is critical to our existence, quiet leaders are the invisible force behind the learning process. Their efforts may be seldom acknowledged, their accomplishments may be rarely recognized and their voices may not be heard loud and clear, yet without their leadership, our schools could not survive.

If you are a quiet leader, know that you are invaluable to the school community. And for those who are at the front and center, let’s not fail to affirm those who are leading from behind.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Is Stereotyping a Form of Racism?

If you're like many people, you may have found yourself assuming a person's food, language and/or religious preferences based on their ethnicity or race. While you may not think these assumptions are racist, your blanket, stereotypical assumptions that may not be accurate. And just like we buy in to positive stereotypes, we likely believe some of the negative ones as well (even if we don’t want to admit it). But what is most damaging about stereotypes (positive or negative) is that they interfere with our ability to connect and form relationships with individuals.
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Is stereotyping a form of racism?

Just like racism, stereotyping carries a negative connotation. But is stereotyping always negative or ill-intentioned? Before we answer that question, let's look at the definition of a stereotype.

According to Webster, a stereotype “represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude or uncritical judgment.” While you may not consider yourself prejudice, you may hold oversimplified opinions about groups of people that are stereotypical in nature. And if we pretend to know things about an individual based on our knowledge or experience about their group, we are giving in to stereotypes. 

Stereotyping, just as casual racism,"is as much about impact as it is about intention." Australian Human Rights Commission. Even if you may not intend to harm, pander or patronize, or even if your assumption is accurate, stereotypes are offensive nonetheless, and there is no place for them in schools.
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I entered the education profession as a CTE Business Education teacher when my husband and I moved to the town of Sparta, North Carolina in 1996. Prior to our move, we lived in Miami, Florida. Sparta and Miami are drastically different - demographically, geographically, socioeconomically and in every which way. Despite being fluent in English, well-educated, having traveled throughout the United States and vacationing in the Sparta area many times, I soon realized that I had no idea what it was like to live outside of Miami. Growing up Cuban in a predominantly Cuban community, I had never experienced racism or stereotyping of any kind. That is until I left my hometown.
"Are you a Spanish teacher?"

The first time someone asked me that question after introducing myself, I chuckled and thought, “How crazy, why would they think that.” But then I heard it time and time again. At one point, I talked about this with a colleague and they responded, well it's because you have a Spanish last name. My response was, "Well, if my last name was Jones would you assume I am an English teacher?" At that point in time, Sparta was not very diverse. However, it's 20 years later and despite living in a much more diverse community, I occasionally get the same question. I also hear comments about my features and my accent. I happen to be racially Caucasian and green-eyed, so I often hear, “but you don’t look Mexican" when they learn that I speak Spanish. I usually respond by reminding those individuals that Spanish is spoken in over 20 countries.Thus, not all Hispanics and are Mexican and we come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Even those that know I've lived in the United States since I was a toddler,often comment on my lack of Spanish accent. It's clear that in the mind of those persons, Hispanics are Mexican, olive-skinned, speak with a Spanish accent, and who knows what else they may be assuming.
Image credit: CTS Consulting
Let’s look at some examples of widely held stereotypes about Hispanics.
  • Spanish Language Skills. Not all Hispanics are fluent in Spanish and if they speak Spanish, they may not be literate in Spanish. Do we assume that Americans of German descent are fluent and literate in German? Generally, we would not.
  • Food. If the only Hispanic food you’ve eaten is Mexican, you have no idea what you’re missing. I love Mexican food, I actually like it better than Cuban food, frankly, but they are quite different. Most Hispanic foods are not spicy, although it’s safe to say most recipes call for exotic spices and condiments, similar to French and Italian cuisine.
  • Religion. We can't assume that the predominant religion of a given territory is observed by everyone in that area. Not all Hispanics are Catholic, not all Middle Easterners are Muslim, not all Asians are Buddhist…and so on. And even if they identify with the predominant religion, they may not observe it the same way. For example, Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated on All Soul's Day. It is not a Hispanic holiday.
  • Socioeconomics. Not all Hispanic immigrants are poor and/or uneducated. While many families do immigrate for economic opportunities, many immigrants are professionals from upper or middle-class backgrounds. And while some families may be struggling financially, it may be a temporary situation and most importantly, not indicative of their educational background. Which brings me to the next point.
  • Educational Background. I've had students whose parents are blue-collared workers, but in their home country they were doctors and lawyers, currently unable to practice due to licensure requirements. English language proficiency level, or perhaps they are transitioning to a new career. On that note, we can’t assume literacy skills either. English language proficiency is no indicator of intellect.
  • Physical Features. I always say that Hispanics come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. And this applies to all ethnic groups. The world is a very small place and we have ancestors from all over. The Americas - North, South, Central and the Caribbean - was conquered by Europeans settlers and many of them (sadly) brought African slaves.
  • Family Dynamics. Some students may live with only one parent, but they are not necessarily a broken home. It’s not uncommon for one immigrant parent to move to the United States prior to the rest of the family or send their kids to live with an older sibling or extended family. Sadly, some families are separated due to immigration issues or incarceration and while we can't pry, we should never assume the level of support available at home if you assign homework regularly. For some you may be pleasantly surprised, but don’t be quick to assume students are lazy or apathetic when their home life includes childcare and housekeeping responsibilities.
  • Academic Interests and Potential. Blanket academic achievement assumption or work ethic, even if positive is unfair, just as it is to assume level of intellect. High achievers come in all colors, shapes and sizes. And as you know, members of the same family can be as different as night and day.  
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While I address this issue from a Hispanic perspective, most notably my personal experience, one can find parallels across all subgroups. Bottom line, there’s no room for stereotyping at schools. But how do we combat our own personal biases and perspectives? First and foremost, never, ever assume. Maintain an open mind and give everyone a blank slate. In doing so, consider the following:
  • Read up and listen before you ask. Note that order. Listen and take note before asking, so we avoid unnecessary, inappropriate questions. There are certain questions that are illegal for educators to ask, such as regarding immigration status.
  • Think carefully before asking questions. For example, instead of asking, “Are you Mexican?” ask them where they (or their family) are from? Rather than assuming that a parent doesn’t speak English, ask if they prefer documentation in another language. For example, Brazil is located in South America, but their official language is Portuguese and while it's a bit similar to Spanish and many Brazilians understand Spanish, it is a completely different language.
I could go on and on. I do believe that most educators are good at heart and have students’ best interest in mind. If you remember nothing else, just remember that everyone is unique, regardless of genetics or upbringing. All students deserve a fair chance – every single day. Most importantly, educators are there to empower students and their families and enhance their educational experience. We can't allow our assumptions or prior experiences keep us from giving our learners the educational excellence they deserve.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Teaching Is Like a Sushi Roll

In the spring of 2016 as two of my English learners were about to graduate high school, their classmates and I planned a "Sushi Party" to celebrate their rite of passage. They had immigrated to the United States four years prior, not knowing a word of English and despite their limited English proficiency, they had made great academic gains and their graduation was cause for celebration.

The students are originally from Laos, and while sushi is Japanese, it happens to be their favorite food - and mine. Sushi was often a topic of conversation whenever we discussed food in class, so when a classmate suggested a sushi party, she didn't exactly need to twist my arm. All of their ESL classmates were invited, as well as their parents and brother. Some of the students ate sushi for the first time and loved it, others not so much.

Aside from a delightful evening of fun and fellowship, this celebration culminated in a job offer for both students and they are still employed at this restaurant, one is a sushi chef and the other is a server.

As I reflected on this night, I began pondering the many ways teaching is like a sushi roll. Here are just a few:

Raw - Though there are endless varieties of sushi rolls, most of them contain raw seafood. Webster defines raw as "being in or nearly in a natural state." The most effective teachers are authentic and natural - not afraid to admit when they're wrong or when they've failed. Kids see right through us anyway, so why not be upfront and "raw".
Fresh - Teaching, like raw seafood, is best when it's fresh. Teaching is continually changing, and we can't be effective teachers if we recycle our lessons and strategies year after year. Just like sushi, we must keep our instruction fresh or it will go bad and therefore, stifle growth (ours as well as our students'). From emerging research to shifting perspectives to innovative technologies, change is constant despite the perception that many areas remain relatively unchanged.

Not For Everyone - To some, sushi is a delicious delicacy, while others find it nothing short of repulsive. Teaching is about heart and soul, not paycheck or prestige. Despite it being a difficult, draining, and often thankless job, most teachers can't imagine themselves doing anything else, while many outside the profession wouldn't do it for a million dollars.

Sticky - You can't have a good sushi roll without sticky rice. From classroom management to grading policies to parental conflicts, teachers can potentially find themselves in some really sticky situations. While we dread being in an uncomfortable spot, these tough situations are essential to our personal and professional growth. It's important that we handle issues with diplomacy and grace, always asking ourselves what we can learn from these circumstances. Hopefully, one day we can look back at those times and laugh. 
Image Source: Pixabay.com

Chopsticks - Most sushi eaters I know use chopsticks. Rather than using silverware, chopsticks are the utensils of choice because sushi pieces are intended to be consumed in one bite, and chopsticks help keep the pieces from falling apart. Like chopsticks, the best teaching tools are those that enable us to keep our instructional delivery from falling apart, helping our learners take in knowledge piece by piece. Furthermore, learning to use them can be tricky, especially at first, but they are fun to use. While some people are natural at using the utensils, it takes practice for most of us to master the art. Same goes with teaching tools. The most effective tools and strategies can be tricky to implement but when utilized effectively they can add lots of fun to our practice.

Expensive.  Sushi rolls are expensive, and you don't get a lot of food for the money, but to a sushi lover, there's lots to appreciate. Teaching is no different. We spend countless hours planning, grading, reflecting, in spite of the fact that it's not exactly a lucrative field. But if we love it, just like sushi, we will savor every bit.

Roll - A good teacher has to roll with punches and not get discouraged when things don't turn out exactly as planned. We can't stress too much, especially about the aspects of our job that we cannot control. Quick thinking and an optimistic outlook are as invaluable as sharp pedagogical skills.

Like a good sushi roll, I find education to be enormously fulfilling and satisfying. Having the opportunity to inspire young people and make a positive impact on their lives and their choices is truly an honor and a privilege. Sure, some days are grueling and exhausting, but most days I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Below are some photos of our sushi party at Fusion Bowl.

*This post was adapted from the original post published on my former blog "ESL Musings"

Sunday, February 17, 2019

I Choose Beneficial

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Two years ago I embarked on a weight loss journey and within six months I lost 45 pounds, gaining back my energy and youth. After watching the number on the scale steadily increase year after year,  I was beyond exhilarated when I finally found a plan that helped me win the battle of the bulge. The plan required me to eat my choice of shakes, bars or other prepackaged meals five times per day and a lean and green meal I usually prepared at home. The program promised that if I followed the plan with fidelity, the weight would come off quickly and safely. Day after day, I checked off my daily food and water requirements and sure enough within a few months, I was at my goal weight and had accomplished what I had unsuccessfully tried for many years. It was certainly difficult at times, but attaining a goal that I had pretty much given up on fueled my determination and strengthened my resolve.

But once I embarked on the maintenance journey, I had to develop a sustainable plan that would fit into my family's lifestyle. While the weight loss plan promised quick results, it also discouraged vigorous exercise because it was a very low-calorie plan. I was now able to eat anything, but not everything was beneficial - that is if I wanted to keep the weight off.  Without an exercise plan, once I expanded my menu, so did my waistline. I quickly realized that I had to get serious about my fitness and nutritional choices.

Education, just like health and wellness, is all about choices. There are lots we can add to our plate that while may be good and acceptable, may not actually be effective. From differentiation strategies to technology tools, just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Just because it's available and meets criteria on the list doesn't mean it's beneficial.

Last December as I began pondering on my "word" for 2019, the verse pictured above kept coming to mind. I often quote it when I'm trying to steer my family and friends away from poor choices (especially dietary), but it's my go-to verse for keeping myself on track. While the verse may have been written to address the spiritual issues of the day, this verse applies to choices I make in every area of my life - personal, professional, relational, nutritional as well as spiritual.

For 2019, I want to step up my game and not just get by checking off the boxes on my list. I want to rewrite the list. I want to make sure that what I do is truly beneficial, even if that may or may not have immediate, measurable results. In fact, we all know that change doesn't always produce instantaneous results, but that shouldn't stop us from challenging the status quo and pursuing that which is most beneficial in the long run.