Reflecting on the Reflective Writing Club

 Arcata in the Winter. Photo by Dayamudra.

Arcata in the Winter. Photo by Dayamudra.

Last Summer, as I prepared to attend my first Online Teaching Conference, I decided to create my own website, with a new blog. I wanted a place to keep the things that I normally post and lose on social media, to share with my students and colleagues, and for myself. I've been quite irregular with these blog postings though, and so I was delighted to get a little "nudge", as a member of the @ONE Online Reflective Teaching Club, to write 6 posts on 6 topics in 6 weeks.

Reflecting on this collective blog posting experience, I realize what an eager student I am, and how I adore assignments. Toward the end of the week I started to anticipate what the topic might be and how I might respond, according to what is alive for me. Other teachers in the group started posting their blog links on Twitter, and it was fun to read each person's individual entry, and see how they presented their ideas; with photos, with videos, with sketch notes. And then, what a delight, as others in the club started posting comments on my blog and sharing the links on their Twitter pages. It was an authentic audience- someone was reading! We were interacting with one another!

My big take-away is how much writing I do in isolation. I develop presentations, I do assignments, I apply for grants. But it's hard to imagine who my audience might be. Similarly, my students write random assignments with no authentic audience, just me, reading them with my purple pen, circling incorrect verb tenses and making suggestions about their organization of ideas. It's a back hole!

Moving forward I'd like to stay more consistent with my blog entries and share them with more courage. I will stay motivated if I look for engaging topics, like the ones suggested in the Reflective Writing Club. And I'd love for my students to post their writing on more authentic platforms, where their peers could kindly comment and praise their ideas, where they can encourage one another. Creativity and inspiration are meant to be shared!

Thanks, Reflective Writing Bloggers.

#CCCWrite

 Shasta in the Summer. Photo by Dayamudra.

Shasta in the Summer. Photo by Dayamudra.

Unplugged

 Gecko at Akashavana Retreat Center in the Tarragon mountains in Spain. 

Gecko at Akashavana Retreat Center in the Tarragon mountains in Spain. 

Retreat: (1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable. (2) : the process of receding from a position or state attained: the retreat of a glacier. (3) a place of privacy or safety : refuge. (4): a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director. (Edited definition courtesy of Merriam Webster dictionary)

No phones. No computers. No internet connection. No newspapers. No contact with the outside world for 3 months. "But you can keep your phone right?" "But you can check email, right?" "But you can post on social media, right?" Nope. Just life on a mountain for 3 months, meditating and studying. Living in community. Chopping wood and hauling water. And hauling more water. 

 

In the Buddhist tradition we take time away from our day-to-day life, to simplify. We cook meals and eat mindfully, we reflect, we are together in silence. We spend time in nature. We practice gratitude. It's rich and it's nourishing. On the mountain in Spain I slept in a tent in a pine grove at the edge of a cliff. I was awoken at dawn by birds. I watched the flowers grow. I baked the bread. I made the peanut butter. I meditated. I hiked up the mountain. I built my own little shrines under trees. I watched vultures on the peak. I cleaned the composting toilets. I heard lambs being born. I watched ibex sparring. I wrote poems. I wandered through the woods with new friends. I watched the sun set.

It's not easy to take a 3-month break from the routines of life, and a lot of people supported my unplugging. I am very grateful for that love and support. It's getting harder and harder for me to unplug. These days I carry my office in my pocket, using my phone to plan lessons, text friends, send photos, take classes, and attend international meetings. I love the connection and the ease. But it also keeps me distracted. These days I do shorter repeats. Unplugging for a month. A week. A weekend. An evening. Whatever I can get. And I carry that mountain, those meadows, that panorama, those friendships, and that stillness, in my pocket too.

#CCCWrite

 A hand-made bench outside the shrine room at Akashavana.

A hand-made bench outside the shrine room at Akashavana.

Live and Learn

I made my student Thanh cry. I've made a lot of mistakes in my teaching practice, but that moment still hurts, and it's one I share with my students regularly.

It was my second year of teaching at a middle school in Oakland, and we had 2 new students from Vietnam, Thanh and Mei. It was hard for them because there were no other Vietnamese students in the school, and everything about the language and the culture was brand new. But they were hard-working and determined and they learned English quickly. I remember that year they were like my shadow, popping in to my room during passing period, coming to class early, staying after school to help me arrange books, file papers, create new bulletin boards

One day after school I was talking to Thanh, asking her a question. It wasn't anything particularly important, but I remember exactly where we were standing, her in front of me, just at waist level, the afternoon sun pouring in through the big windows. I was asking her a question and I couldn't hear her reply, as she was looking down at the floor. I asked her again and she replied, a bit louder, still looking down. So I said, "Thanh, look at  me. I'm asking you a question." When she looked up she had tears streaming down her cheeks. It wasn't the question that was making her cry, it was that in her culture children never look adults in the eye. So she was feeling conflicted about how to show me respect as the teacher. She was physically experiencing culture shock. Looking me directly at such a close distance, from her perspective, was inappropriate. I figured out my mistake pretty quickly and I think maybe even I started to cry a little. Luckily, children are very forgiving. By the next day we were back in harmony. And I really learned something.

 Selfie with my global mix of students, caroling in December. Photo by me.

Selfie with my global mix of students, caroling in December. Photo by me.

Those first few years teaching were a steep learning curve. There were so many different cultures I was learning about; classroom culture, faculty lounge culture, inner city Oakland culture, and the Cambodian, Mexican, Philippino and Vietnamese cultures of my students' families. The environment where I. teach now, at a community college in San Francisco, is quite different, and my students are adults, from 18 to 88, navigating life in a new city, some alone, some with an American spouse, some with American kids, some with American grandkids. Some work in nail salons and restaurant kitchens, others own a bakery, and others practice medicine or engineering. What they have in common is the exploration of a new language and a new culture and the mystery of how things are done away from home. I share my story of Thanh and how we can easily offend or confuse one another by our expectations of what is polite or respectful. We spend a lot of class time talking about their experiences, their joys and their occasional sorrows. I love when they bring in questions about American behavior, and we try to unpack what is rude and what is polite across cultures.

The most important thing I have learned from my students is that language learners are very observant. And so I try to be as consistently encouraging as possible, smiling, laughing, giving high fives, moving gently through the room. And I now observe a lot more about what's comfortable for them, in how they sit, how they write, how they interact with one another, how they ask me questions. I'm pretty sure I make a new mistake each day. But Thanh was the last student I ever made cry.

 Selfie with my student Ksenia on Halloween last year.

Selfie with my student Ksenia on Halloween last year.

(By the way, Thanh went on to graduate high school with honors and study at UC Berkeley.)

#CCCWrite

Mindful Conferences

 

 

I am a conference geek. I love the escalators, the gilded chandeliers, the carpeted meeting rooms, the lanyards. Before I presented at a conference recently I escaped to an office supply store to calm my nerves, filling my basket with gold star stickers, markers, poster board, post-it notes. I thought to myself, "I am terrified to make this presentation and I am also in heaven." Conferences are a showcase, a chance to share what's been working in class, to be in the presence of inspired and resourceful colleagues, to hear what's new in the field. And they are a chance to connect, to relax, to refresh. 

 With participants at our SxSw EDU presentation, March 2017.

With participants at our SxSw EDU presentation, March 2017.

I appreciate conferences so much that I have made them into a practice. In preparation for a conference I take advantage of the technology; checking the website for a map of the hall, setting my schedule on the app, finding the hashtag to livestream photos, connecting on social media with common interest groups, reserving my spot at the rooftop happy hour. I love that most conferences are now paper-free and that the apps are getting better. Some conferences will alert you if a session is full or near-full. Some give attendees the chance to text in questions to presenters in real time. And many presenters now share links to their slide deck, rather than handing out stacks of paper. Much better!

 Our presentation at SxSwEDU in March 2017.

Our presentation at SxSwEDU in March 2017.

I have a practice of taking notes by hand at sessions, to bring in the kinesthetic aspect of learning. Then after the conference, often in the airport waiting to fly home, I turn my notes into mindmaps, drawing them in my sketchbook. I am much more likely to look at them again if they are eye-catching. On each mindmap I have the name of the presenters, their institution and any links they provided. So handy. This Fall I presented my SxSwEDU mindmaps at one of our Professional Development Days, just laying them out with post-its and colored pens, inviting questions and conversations about each of the sessions. It worked well.

A final step in preserving the mindmaps is uploading them to a digital platform. Unfortunately, many of my old notes were on tackk, which shut down operation. But Adobe Spark pages and video are great, as are Google Slides, Google Keep and Padlet. 

Here's an earlier blog post I wrote about the Practice of Presenting.

Let a new season of conferences begin! #CCCWrite 

 The sound crew at our presentation are teachers in training!  

The sound crew at our presentation are teachers in training!  

What I Know Now

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Back when I started teaching, at an urban middle school in East Oakland, it was important to me that I be seen as a "teacher".  I was fairly young and would get stopped by the security guards for my hall pass! I wanted respect, from the more experienced senior staff, from the administrators, from the students. I came in ultra-prepared;  up-to-date on my pedagogy, a tight classroom management plan, carefully-designed and engaging lessons. That was what mattered to me.

In the past 27 years, teaching has taken me to Indonesia, Guatemala, Hungary, Mexico, India and back to San Francisco, and I have taught learners of a variety of ages and backgrounds. That careful attention to detail in my early days gave me a strong foundation and has helped me build my craft.  I now have a sizable toolkit. What experience has truly given me is agility.  I feel confident wherever I am dropped in to lead a class. As an experienced teacher, I can now read the room in an instant.  And I now have an understanding of the urgency of presence.

As a teacher, what is the quality of my presence? How am I showing up? How am I feeling? What shall we explore today? What is happening in this moment with this collection of iearners? What do they bring to the day's session? What new information do I need to provide? Where have we been together and where are we headed? What is the energy of the room? How are the dynamics between people?

What I bring now is my whole self. Not "teacher" me, but me fully present in this moment, with an eye to "Is this helpful?" "Is this working?" "Is this interesting?" What I know now, that I didn't know then, is that what truly matters is that I show up, fresh, curious, undistracted. What truly matters is that I be encouraging, warm, responsive. What I didn't know then is how much joy I would feel, teaching 27 years later, and that I'd still be having so much fun. 

#CCCWrite

 

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Blue Zones in the New Year

 Arcata, California. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Arcata, California. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

What 9 habits would allow you to live your very fullest life? What gives you a sense of ease and connection? As we begin a new rotation around the Sun, let’s look to the so-called Blue Zones for tips on resolutions worth setting and keeping, with grace and delight.

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The Blue Zones are “longevity hotspots” in different corners of the world, where folks set records for living the longest and healthiest lives. These zones are Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California USA, Ikaria in Greece and Nicoya in Costa Rica, and they share 9 lifestyle habits.

According to an article by The World Economic Forum, folks in the Blue Zones have a purpose in their life, something that keeps them inspired and motivated. They keep active, moving naturally throughout the day,  and they also regularly take time to chill out. Their diets are plant-based, they avoid overeating by stopping when their bellies are 80% full, and they drink a regular and moderate amount of alcohol. These people are committed to a faith-based community, they are tight with family and they have strong social networks. According to the WEF, the way people in these communities "move, eat and connect" keep them healthy and vibrant.

Dan Buettner coined the term "Blue Zones", and in his TEDX talk  "How To Live to Be 100+", he describes the Blue Zone habits in detail. He concludes that "if you hang out with unhealthy people, that's going to have a measurable impact over time. Instead, if your friend's idea of recreation is physical activity, bowling, or playing hockey, biking or gardening, if your friends drink a little, but not too much, and they eat right, and they're engaged, and they're trusting and trustworthy, that is going to have the biggest impact over time." In his in his book "The Blue Zones of Happiness" Buettner describes the three strands of happiness as pleasure, purpose, and pride.

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 The daily habits, routines and rituals of the Blue Zones provide a sense of balance. emotional support and meaning. In the year ahead I resolve to bring awareness to these 9 areas and see how I feel. Why not try it with me? Let's spend 2018 in the Blue Zone.

Student-Centered Reflection

 

Every semester has its rhythm. Every 18-week gathering of a learning community has its unique beginning, where we are building the culture, the middle, where learning is in motion and students are discovering their own talents and supporting one another, and the end, where we prepare to dissolve the circle we have co-created. I notice a  bit of sadness in myself as the end of the semester nears, mixed with fatigue. I've created some learning rituals to celebrate this ending, to appreciate the energy my students have brought and to give them space to reflect on what they have accomplished, individually and collectively. So, the last 2 weeks; no new content. Just reflection. Here are a few of my favorite student-centered reflection activities. See how you might adapt them to your own teaching situation.

 Students working on portfolios using Adobe Spark

Students working on portfolios using Adobe Spark

PORTFOLIOS: This can be simple or elaborate. For my ESL Writing class, I have asked my students to prepare 5 sections; an overview of how the class has helped them, 25 new vocabulary words with definitions, 3-5 new grammar points they learned with explanations in their own words, 3-5 sentences from their writing, with errors and then the same sentences corrected, plus an explanation of their error patterns, and 3-5 sample paragraphs. We spend two weeks workshopping, where they go through all their work, design their sections in their notebooks, discuss their work with one another and check in with me. And then in the Computer Lab they create their own unique portfolio, using Adobe Spark. An alternative is to have students design their portfolios using colored pens and paper. The digital file, however, allows them to have an electronic file of their work that they can share with their family and in future learning environments.

 A Flipgrid assignment designed by Denise Maduli Williams for her writing students in San Diego. Image use with permission.

A Flipgrid assignment designed by Denise Maduli Williams for her writing students in San Diego. Image use with permission.

ADVICE FOR FUTURE STUDENTS: My friend and colleague Denise has her students reflect on their learning and prepare advice for next semester's students. She uses Flipgrid, so there is a video grid with each student, wherethey can see one another. I love how this allows the students to reflect on their own successes in learning and articulate to future students the strategies they have developed to do their very best work.

LEARNING GAMES: Since we are all so tired by this point in the semester, I try to create fun learning games that give the students a chance to laugh and work together in teams. My favorite online game platform is Kahoot, and I use it create a competition where students need to identify the names of staff members in our building. This could also be lo-tech with photos on cardboard.

RECOLLECTING: I bring in a lot of completely kinesthetic activities too, and an easy one is to have students stand or sit in 2 rows facing one another. They have 2 minutes to tell one another how they have been able to use what they have learned in class outside of class, in their daily life. It is set up like "Speed Dating", so after 2 minutes, everyone in one row moves down one partner and the last person moves to the front of the line. Doing this standing keeps it dynamic, but I adapt it according to the mobility needs of the students. I usually keep the time and direct the movement, but you could also have one student timekeeper and one student movement coordinator.

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 Students in my Level 1 class reflecting on their work together.

Students in my Level 1 class reflecting on their work together.

REJOICING: My tried and true end-of-year activity is to arrange the class in a circle. Everyone writes their name on top of a piece of paper, with the words, "I appreciate you because..." They pass their paper to the left and that person writes something they appreciated about that first student over the semester. The ground rules are no mention of physical appearance. It has to be a personal quality or something kind or helpful that person has done. If they cannot think of a quality, they can draw a little picture or symbol. The student writes their comment on the bottom of the paper then folds it up, "exquisite corpse" style, then passes to the left. It is a little clunky, because one student inevitably shows up on this day who has been absent for most of the semester. Papers tend to get "stuck in traffic" in the middle of the circle. And some students do not know everyone's name. (Name tags help!)  But the results are always very touching. I include myself in the game, and over the years I have kept these papers. I have a few in my office and look at them when I need a  boost.

What about you? How do prepare to dissolve the circle at the end of the semester?

Gratitude Intensive

 Bushes along the canal in Mission Bay. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Bushes along the canal in Mission Bay. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

For the last several years I have been celebrating , Buy Nothing Day. It is a day to consciously choose how to spend this precious day off, a day to NOT shop on so-called Black Friday. We are citizens not consumers. Shopping does not bring happiness. 

This year I have decided to spend the day celebrating what I love rather than resisting what troubles me. I have decided that this year I will celebrate Green Friday, and make gratitude an intensive 4-day practice. Here are some of the items on my agenda:

1. Spend the extra time cooking and eating well. I've got a box of delicious produce for the week and a rack full of spices. I will savor my food at the table and give thanks to everyone who brought this harvest to my kitchen.

2. Write letters. This is the time of year I connect with old friends and I like to do it pen to paper. The stories will take as long at they take. I am grateful for old friends.

3. Go for a wander. I will get outside and explore my neighborhood. I will be fully present for all the colors and textures of the day. I will be surprised. I am grateful for this place.

  

 Mission Creek signs by children in the local elementary school. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy.

Mission Creek signs by children in the local elementary school. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy.

4. Get moving. I will go for a long swim in my favorite rooftop pool. I will take a dance class. I will go for a long bike ride. I am grateful for this body, for mobility, for independence.

5. Make space. I will clear out what I don't need from my closets and finally make that drop at the thrift store. I have everything I need. I am grateful for a house that is clean and clutter-free.

6. Read. I will spend the evenings reading rather than consuming digital media. I am grateful for literacy and grateful for the care that went into publishing these authors' ideas.

7. Reflect. I will look back on my goals for 2017 and reflect on what went well, what was a challenge, what surprised me. I will start sketching out my dreams for 2018. I am grateful for this "one wild and precious life". 

8. Connect. I will telephone, have video calls, invite friends over. I will listen more and better. I am grateful for love.

I invite you to take on your own 4-Day Gratitude Intensive. Who has time to shop?

 Restaurant in Mission Bay. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Restaurant in Mission Bay. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

New Thanksgiving Stories

 Saturday Farmers' Market in Arcata. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Saturday Farmers' Market in Arcata. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Thanksgiving is a pause. One of the rare days of the year that everything goes quiet, and we simply gather to feast. I love Thanksgiving. And I also feel conflicted about it. Why do we tell Thanksgiving stories that we know are based on lies? And why, as teachers, do we celebrate these untruths with pilgrim hats and feathered headbands, pictures of a harmonious first feast and Plymouth Rock? As Malcom X famously said, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. The Rock was landed on us."

As authors Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker write in their book, "All The Real Indians Died Off", the Thanksgiving tale "is a collective amnesia that fuels the perpetuation of Native American stereotypes, playing out over and over again in the classrooms and textbooks of American schoolchildren, generation after generation."

How do we teach an honest version of the Thanksgiving story, one that honors indigenous and African voices, while also practicing gratitude and joy? We can do both, with an open heart. It begins with the stories we tell. I propose we challenge 5 old stories and start telling 5 new ones. 

 Diego Rivera’s lithograph “La Escuela de Aire Libre (Open Air School), 1932. Photograph taken at The Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Diego Rivera’s lithograph “La Escuela de Aire Libre (Open Air School), 1932. Photograph taken at The Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

OLD STORIES. #1: The Pilgrims: According to The United American Indians of New England "The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland. They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and gay bigotry, jails, and the class system to these shores. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod -- before they even made it to Plymouth -- was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians' winter provisions of corn and beans as they were able to carry." James W. Loewen writes in “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong", "They were also coming here in order to establish a religious theocracy, which they did. That’s not exactly the same as coming here for religious freedom. It’s kind of coming here against religious freedom.”

#2: Plymouth Rock: In the short video "How Thanksgiving Really Went Down", we learn that "Plymouth used to be the location of a cleared Native American village. The land was cleared because the Native Americans who had lived there died in an epidemic left by slave raiders." The real history is one of genocide.

#3: The First Thanksgiving: The UAINE teaches that "The first official "Day of Thanksgiving" was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children, and men."

#4: The Feast: “Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries,” Loewen explains. "What is known is that the Pilgrims harvested crops and that the Wampanoag brought five deer. If fowl graced the table, it was probably duck or goose." Read more in David Cutler's blog.

#5: The Indians: As for Squanto, Loewen writes that"Tisquantum, known as Squanto, did play a large role in helping the Pilgrims, as American children are taught. His people, the Patuxet, a band of the Wampanoag tribe, had lived on the site where the Pilgrims settled. When they arrived, he became a translator for them in diplomacy and trade with other native people, and showed them the most effective method for planting corn and the best locations to fish, Ms. Sheehan said. That’s usually where the lesson ends, but that’s just a fraction of his story. He was captured by the English in 1614 and later sold into slavery in Spain. He spent several years in England, where he learned English. He returned to New England in 1619, only to find his entire Patuxet tribe dead from smallpox. He met the Pilgrims in March 1621." 

Another short video "Native American History Tell The Real History of Thanksgiving" tells of the appropriation of Native land, that Abraham Lincoln made the modern version of this holiday official, to boost patriotism during the Civil War. "Abraham Lincoln, the same president who ordered the largest execution of Dakota people in United States history."

 Chocomole, made with a recipe from “Decolonize Your Diet”, eaten under the redwoods in Eureka. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Chocomole, made with a recipe from “Decolonize Your Diet”, eaten under the redwoods in Eureka. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

These are difficult stories to read, to hear, to tell. But it essential that we listen to Native American voices this time of year and learn from this cruel history. As we do so, we can tell new stories, stories of gratitude.

NEW STORIES. #1: Gratitude for the Earth: What if we learned from the Native American traditions and viewed the Earth as a Living system?  What if we considered how every choice we make will affect the next 7 generations? Imagine the beauty we would discover if we saw our planet this way.

#2: Gratitude for the Farmworkers: What if we took time before each meal to really thank those who saved and planted the seeds, who nurtured the soil, who tended the crops, who harvested the fruits and vegetables? So much energy went into feeding us. Imagine if we appreciated all the effort it took to bring food to our tables.

#3: Gratitude for Democracy: Our representational government has roots in the Iroquois nation. It is easy to get cynical about politics, but what if we truly organized ourselves  and our communities? What if we committed ourselves to justice and problem-solving, collectively? What if we actively participated in our democracy?

#4: Gratitude for Friends and Family: We never know how long we have together. What if we made the effort to share what we appreciate about one another, often. No grand gestures, just quiet moments of recognition. More curiosity and more wonder. We are lucky to find ourselves in good company and to be loved.

#5: Gratitude for Colleagues, Staff and Students: In teaching we find a lot of moments to celebrate one another. We have some great traditions in our field. I feel very lucky to work with so many dedicated and creative colleagues. What if we expressed that more? And what if we expressed  more daily gratitude for our support staff, our cleaners and our maintenance people?  We couldn't do our jobs without them. 

I have a daily practice I would like to share. At the conclusion of every class that I lead, I thank my students for their hard work. They make coming to work each day a true joy. I am grateful and I tell them so. How could we make even more of an effort to cultivate a daily practice of gratitude in our classes?

These are my reflections on Thanksgiving this year. This is how I will be celebrating, not taking anything for granted.

 The Saturday Farmers’ Market in Arcata. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

The Saturday Farmers’ Market in Arcata. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Personal Wellness: The 3 R's

 Photo of a Norfolk road sign courtesy of Vajradarshini. Used with permission.

Photo of a Norfolk road sign courtesy of Vajradarshini. Used with permission.

"I'm exhausted." That's the mantra in our staff room these days. The middle of November is rough. 6 weeks left of the term, the days are colder and darker, holidays are approaching, and there are piles of work to do in wrapping up the semester. This is the time of year to take our self care seriously. It's time to return to the basics; The 3 R's: Refresh, Restore and Reflect. Just like on the airplane, we need to put on our own air mask first, before we can be of help to anyone else.

REFRESH: In her book "The Weekend Effect" Katrina Onstad describes 2 kinds of leisure; Passive and Active. Passive Leisure, she says is collapsing with Netflix or sports, whereas Active Leisure, such as a hobby or sports with other people, are activities where we can hit the FLOW state. Active Leisure activities provide deep engagement and have long-lasting benefits, leaving us feeling truly refreshed . In her wonderful "Weekend Manifesto", Onstad recommends taking time to connect, to care, to play, to go into Nature, to be alert to Beauty. "Don't make plans," she suggests, "make space. Wander. Wonder. Be."

RESTORE: In her book "Relax and Renew", my Yoga Mentor Judith Lasater teaches that stress can make us sick. "In a chronically stressed condition," she writes, "quality of life, and perhaps life itself, is at risk." She states that "the antidote to stress is relaxation. To relax is to rest deeply." In her wisdom, Lasater tells us that, "One thing is certain: The more stress we experience, the more its effects compound within us,. When stress becomes chronic, a residue builds up in the body that can lead to disease." We need to place value on stillness, on unplugging, on being idle.

Similarly, sleep! Neuroscientist Matthew Walker says, "Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health." For myself, I am taking on a practice of winding down an hour before bed, dimming the lights, turning off all the screens, and moving into a quieter space, every evening.

REFLECT: The third R is making time for reflection. In his book "The Art of Reflection", Ratnaguna defines reflection as " considering, pondering, wondering, cogitating, reasoning, imagining, contemplating". It is a neglected practice, he says, and is different from regular thought and different from meditation or prayer. He describes reflection as "simply the ability to attend to the world we live in."

It is a perfect time of year to take on a Reflection practice, winding down from the day, the week, the semester, the year, looking back with curiosity on where we have spent our energy, how we have grown, and how we have met challenges with creativity. I use this point the semester to guide my students in Learning Reflections, having them look through all the material covered in the course and to describe specific learnings, challenges and accomplishments. They build portfolios, recording their own learning journey with care. It is a relief to take a rest from goal-setting and forward-thinking, and just look back, taking in and the way that we have grown and changed together.

As our lives get ever busier and the world get ever more stressful, commitment to self-care is  urgent. As the seasons move from Autumn to Winter, make wise choices, making time to refresh, restore, and reflect every day.

First Week Tools

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The first week of the semester just wrapped and it was a great five days of community-building, goal setting and new learning.  My class is a mix of lo-tech kinesthetic activities and social media tools, all with the same purpose of promoting language acquisition and building student confidence. In addition to my usual repertoire of yoga, vocal warm-ups, bhangra dance and post-it activities, I experimented with some new tech tools, and we all really enjoyed them. I'd like to share 4 easy-to-use platforms that made it a satisfying first week of classes. They are Animoto, Remind, FlipGrid and Kahoot.

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1. Before classes started I created a simple Welcome Video on Animoto and shared it with them in the first day. It gave the students a visual of who I am and what I care about. And on "Chocolate Friday" I quizzed them on some details in the video. The winners got a chocolate treat. 

 

 Remind announcement from me to my students, with a homework reminder and a photo from the class.

Remind announcement from me to my students, with a homework reminder and a photo from the class.

2. On the second day of classes I had students join our Remind group. Remind us a great tool for staying connected with students individually and as a class. It's a quick and easy way to share announcements, send links, and share photos, without needing emails or phone numbers.

 

 The Flipgrid interface for mobile phones.

The Flipgrid interface for mobile phones.

3. Flipgrid is my new favorite tool. It seems teachers everywhere have got #flipgridfever ! This online tool allows students to easily record and share videos of themselves on a topic created by the teacher, creating a video grid of the group. The students took to it right away, assisted each other and found fun features within the app that I hadn't yet discovered! We'll be using this weekly in our class, maintaining a video library of student progress. 

And also fun: I was selected to as a Flipgrid Certified Educator. This means I'll be in a cohort of other educators, from around the country, even from other countries, sharing innovative ways to use the tool with our learners. 

 

 This week's Kahoot screen.

This week's Kahoot screen.

4. Since I now have a "smart classroom" I can easily use Kahoot, an educational online gaming platform. It's super easy to create your own games to review material covered in class. This week's Kahoot was a quiz about their teacher, based on my Animoto video. They competed in teams. And the top 3 teams got...chocolate, of course!

How was your first week? What tools did you use? How did you buiid community with your learners?

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Back to School

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It's that season again. The chilly SF fog is rolling in, the days are slowly getting shorter, and the sidewalks are full of French tourists. It's back to school time, my favorite time of year. The weeks leading up to a new semester I start reflecting on what matters to me in the learning environments that I create with my students. Here are a few ponderings, as I prepare for the most important week of the term.

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1. The Learners. Who are these people? I want to know about them, and I want them to get to know each other. By the end of Week 1 I will know all of their names, and I challenge them to know each else's names too. here are they from? What is their learning background? How long have hey been in SF? What do they love to do? We spend a full week learning names, with correct spelling and pronunciation, and doing introductions. And I introduce myself and share my hopes for our class. We will be together for 18 weeks. We are a Learning Community.

2. The needs. Why are they here? What do they need from this class and how will they achieve that? They collaborate to set short and long-term learning goals for the class and start to create their own strategies, for in and out of class, to meet their goals. In addition, we share our mutual needs for respect, for patience, for punctuality, for consistency, for friendliness, and we agree collectively on the kind of learning environment we are creating together.

3. The space. Right away I get the students out of their seats. They change partners, they form groups, they mingle, they stretch, we do yoga and we dance. As much as possible I want the students looking at one another and not at me. I try to move from the front of the room and meet them individually where they are, listening to them, supporting them, seated while talking to them if they are sitting, standing if they are moving around the room.

4. Engagement.  How can I make the material meaningful for these learners, so they stay curious and engaged? What I have done in the past that has worked well? How canI update? What new ideas can I try? What new technology tools can I incorporate? How can I share what I am learning myself into this learning environment? These 2 weeks, before classes start, are my time to reflect and dream.

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I tell my students the first day of classes that I have the best job ever. Being with a mix of people from around the world, learning a new language, taking time out of their busy lives to improve themselves...what a dream. After 26 years of teaching I still feel that way.

Refresh

This Summer I was in the mountains on a month-long silent retreat, sleeping out under the stars. We were 30 people, living in community, doing all the work, from chopping vegetables and serving our meals, to mopping the floors and scrubbing the toilets.  

 The Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

The Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

As a language teacher it is so interesting to be with other people without speaking. To just be. Silence allows space around the space. It allowed ease in meditating 8 times a day. It allowed us to slow down, to embrace stillness. It allowed us to be in Nature, observing, appreciating, delighting.

It was demanding in the discipline, but the structure of our days led to ease. No phones, no screens, no media. Just bees in the lavender, ferns and moss on forest paths, dragonflies on the pond, families of deer and wild turkeys in fields of golden grass. 

I feel refreshed. Rejuvenated. Alive.  

 The Pond. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

The Pond. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

LOST by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree of a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. 

 The Trail. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

The Trail. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Educar. Agitar. Organizar.

Last Summer I was in Mexico, studying Spanish, taking yoga classes and practicing with our Buddhist sangha. My dear friend Diana Platas invited me to visit the UAEM campus where she teaches mostly first generation college students from agricultural families. Diana leads classes on environmental sustainability and these learners are motivated, curious and thoughtful. I was very inspired to hear their stories. 

As we were touring their campus tv station, managed cooperatively by students, I was asked to give an interview, about my project in India. As we spoke we made connections between these students in Mexico and ours in India, at Lokuttara Leadership Academy.  They are similarly from impoverished village areas, the schools are underfunded and poorly staffed, and they have few local role models. And still their families have supported and encouraged their education and they have found inner motivation to excel. Additionally, the discrimination and injustice  these indigenous communities face is similar to that faced by Dalit communities.

I am always interested to have conversations with young people who are committed to learning. That day on that small campus in the mountains was one of the highlights of my Mexican Summer. In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, "Educate. Agitate. Organize."

 Last Summer with the UAEM students in Mexico. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

Last Summer with the UAEM students in Mexico. Photo by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy

The Practice of Presenting

When I tell people that I teach, they often say, "Oh, nice. Summers off!" I wonder if non-teachers have any idea how many new ideas are generated in the Summer; learning new skill sets, preparing for future courses and submitting conference proposals. We are never really "off'!

One of the joys of Summers for me is dreaming up proposals. I adore presenting. It is an opportunity to reflect on what is alive in my teaching practice and what I might share with colleagues near and far.

Preparing a conference proposal is its own practice. This Summer I have been crafting a new proposal to present at SxSw EDU in Austin in March, 2018. My co-presenter is my friend and colleague Denise Maduli Williams. We have so much fun swapping ideas and then giving form to what we can't wait to share. Denise is an imaginative, compassionate, resourceful teacher and our collaborations are their own form of professional development for me! I've been lucky enough to have presented twice with Denise, at #CaTesol2016 and #SxSwEdu2017. And today we just completed our newest proposal for #SxSwEdu2018, called "Deep Learning Collaborative: Giving Every Student a Voice".

Take a look at the video for our proposal. We welcome your comments below, and a "like" on youtube! And here is the video we submitted last year, called "Serious Fun: Building a Learning Community". Presentations are serious fun!

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Teaching Pride History

When I first started teaching at CCSF a young Korean student firmly told me that there were no homosexuals in his country. Just a few years later another Korean student, and his global classmates, were bringing photos to class from The Gay Pride parade. There has been an international cultural shift among young people and the conversation about LGBTQ identity has become more open. I have a male student who tells stories in class about his husband. And I also have other students who express a religious opinion that homosexuality is a sin. I know that I have LGBTQ students from across genders, across cultures, across class, across caste, and across abilities in my classes. I want them to know, without embarrassment, that they are seen and that they are safe in my class. 

The Gay Pride Movement is part of San Francisco's culture and people flock here from around the world to live in freedom. And so I have developed lessons, as part of my Civil Rights curriculum, on LGBTQ Rights as a Human Rights Issue. When approached this way, all students are able to connect to the universal desire to live in safety. And many look to the culture of their home country with new eyes and a fresh commitment to building LGBTQ movements there.

The NY Times did a beautiful series on Coming Out a few years ago, and my students were very moved by an interactive photo essay by John Albuquerque, a young man describing his life experience growing up gay in The Bronx. It is a very personal story and the students are moved by it. It easily led into a research assignment on the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth and best practices for preventing bullying and harassment. It made my students curious to know more about The Queer Resource Center on our campus and The SF LGBT Center in our city.

This set a frame for us, as a learning community, to explore LGBTQ protection as a commitment made by The United Nations. From there we explored some California history, studying Proposition 6 written in 1978 by State Senator John Briggs that would have prevented gays and lesbians from serving as public school teachers. And we studied the local boycott of orange juice in response to Anita Bryant and her proposal for a special referendum attacking LGBTQ rights. That gave us the foundation to understand the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, elected to the city's Board of Supervisors, who built coalitions across San Francisco communities to defeat John Briggs and Anita Bryant, activating a proud and resilient LGBTQ community where citizens could live without shame. There is so much rich history, from The riots at Compton's Cafe in San Francisco to Stonewall Riots in New York city, and beyond.

This weekend my city, San Francisco, celebrates its annual Pride Parade in style. The Rainbow Flag, a symbol of unity for the LGBTQ community was created here, and wherever you go this week you'll see this flag flying, as people from all over the world gather to celebrate the freedom to love. In this spirit of festivity,  as educators and lifelong learners, let's remember the vision, the courage and the love exemplified by those who fought for this moment of self-expression. Freedom of expression for LGBTQ folk is still a human rights issue and the safety of the LGBTQ community is still real. As educators and lifelong learner let's study this history, tell these stories in our classrooms with pride.

 Photos of the Asian Art Museum and City Hall by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy. Flower Power street art by Megan Wilson.

Photos of the Asian Art Museum and City Hall by Dayamudra Ann Dennehy. Flower Power street art by Megan Wilson.

Connecting with Students Online: Interview with Ida Jones

At this week's Online Teachers Conference in Anaheim I spent time with veteran teacher Ida Jones, a Business Law Instructor from Fresno State University, who's been teaching online for 18 years. Ida told me about the strategies she uses for connecting with all her students and encouraging more reflection in both learning and teaching. And Ida spoke of what she is taking away from the 2017 conference to try in her own classes.

 

 

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Building Online Communities: Interview with Michelle Pacansky-Brock

I had the very good fortune to participate in The Great Online Teachers Seminar in Anaheim this week, facilitated by Michelle Pacansky-Brock. Michelle teaches online, trains online teachers and works on creating best online teaching practices within the California Community College system. I asked Michelle what excites her about online teaching right now and about her impressions of the 2017 Online Teaching Conference.

 

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Great Online Teaching

Spending this week in Anaheim attending the Online Teaching Conference, and today spent a whole day in a Great Online Teaching Seminar, led by Michelle Pocansky Brock. It was such a rich day! Michelle teaches online herself as well as teaching online teachers, and her emphasis is on building community and empowering students. As a learner here I was very inspired by the environment Michelle created. It was a spacious opportunity to learn from the wisdom of the group and to dig deeper into what we value as educators. In that space we were all re-inspired. I have so many practical ideas for creating online learning environments, with students both in SF and in India. Feeling nourished! 

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