Gathering #SOL2021

We had planned to meet last weekend, but we didn’t. We wanted to gather in our small planning group of three, but we knew with marking, and family, with deadlines and conflicts with other events, we could not do this with a sense of ease and purpose.

Friday night we texted our plans in the group chat. We agreed to meet at 9am on Saturday. Tobi asked if we could meet outside because she is allergic to Amanda’s cats, but loves them from windows.

The weather was cooler than previous days, but the sun was out and Amanda had set up her outdoor propane heater on the back deck of her house, an ancient brick home nestled in the centre of the city where lattice and vines provide privacy but dogs still visit and birds are perennial guests. Three chairs with quilts and blankets circled around a small glass side table. We settled in an adirondack chair, a pair of folding chairs in our coats, opened our laptops, and books while Amanda emerged from the sliding glass door to her kitchen carrying a ceramic teapot next to mugs releasing steamy smells of chai and vanilla into the cool morning air.

We talked, sharing easily among the three of us.We had time to settle in to the comfort of this circle for some time before getting to the functional purpose of our meeting – planning the next unit of our English classes. Initially, the conversation moved and morphed around our three different teaching spaces until we landed on the task in front of us. In what seemed to be less than 20 minutes, we talked through a four week unit of informative writing in English: summary, infographic, and podcast.

The heater, seemingly a member of this group, ran out of propane just as we completed our plan. Rising from the chair to leave, I felt the cold in my feet and smiled. We hugged goodbye as we had hugged hello, and the ease that characterized the preceding two hours travelled with me.

I thought about Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering and wondered what made this one so perfect.

“But here’s the great paradox of gathering. There are so many good reasons for coming together that often we don’t know precisely why we’re doing so. You are not alone if you skip the first step in convening people meaningfully, committing to a bold, sharp purpose. When we skip this step, we often let old or faulty assumptions about why we gather dictate the form of our gatherings. We end up gathering in ways that don’t serve us, or not connecting when we ought to.”

While our purpose was clear, the unfolding is what warmed me – our voices swirled in this outdoor space along with the updraft of warm air lifting and falling in a what felt like a perfect gathering.

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Resting in Effort #SOL2021

I thought I would feel an overall level of comfort in the first few weeks of school. I thought I had a good plan for lessons, a structure that could work, and this was largely because I’d been planning and creating resources for my school board with colleagues all summer. We had sustained effort with virtually (pun intended) no rest. I was ready for this teaching year. So, when the classroom reality struck, I struggled to understand my quickened pulse, sweaty armpits, and digestive distress – I know these signs.

Most of the first few days ran smoothly with students reading and writing freely, but engagement in the lessons dropped and varied wildly over the next few weeks. On one particularly difficult day, I heard audible groans, and witnessed bodies slumped across desks. The three hours of planning felt like lost effort. That night, I knew I needed to respond and revise.

The next day, in whole class discussions students were silent or sometimes outright hostile. As preparation for “The Iguana in the Bathtub”, I asked, “Who knows what an iguana is or has owned one as a pet?”

One boy angrily blurted out, “That’s cruel! They belong in the wild!” I heard some follow up grumbling and saw him turning to seek agreement from the crowd behind, but I quickly nodded and agreed with him. Afterall, he was right, and I knew that we would be viewing a short BBC video clip about an iguana deftly escaping some snakes. It was full of narrative drama and that was our unit – narrative. Showing the video brought them back to life as they collectively and enthusiastically slammed their hands on desks, cheering on the struggling iguana until its eventual and incredible escape. Rather than have them analyse the narrative text – as planned – I decided to back away from that task, release the plan, and just read for pleasure. I read and they followed along in silence.

It’s not adjusting in the moment that is difficult for m – I have done this all the time. This feels different – significantly different. I’ve been getting to the end of each day and revising everything that I’d planned. Everything. Every day. I’ve rewritten tasks and edited slideshows and created new slides and searched for new videos. I’ve added more hours to my school day and what feels like more days to my week.

Then, serendipity struck. Sunday, while I was out on a run, listening to a podcast, I came to a resting place – not physically, but mentally. My son had shared “Controlling Your Dopamine for Motivation, Focus and Satisfaction” from Huberman Lab. I listened to this long, mainly scientific episode, but there was one part that really shifted me. The narrator says, “subjectively attaching the feeling of effort and friction to an internally generated reward system” is what is needed during difficult tasks. There is a part of the brain that will adjust if “you can tell yourself that the effort part is the good part. The rewards are inside of effort.”

I thought my summer effort was wasted because none of that lesson planning is helping this lesson delivery. But, maybe that’s the point. The making of lessons is only a part of the learning, my learning and not their learning. Now, the resting in effort – in sustaining this effort – matters most.