Saturday, February 1, 2020

Embrace the Rock: The Myth of Sisyphus

Image result for rolling a boulder uphill"

As the warm sunlight peeked through the blinds on a Saturday morning, I opened my eyes and realized I'd slept twelve hours straight. I crashed on the couch watching new Netflix episodes of Grace & Frankie around 8:30 p.m., and somewhere around 2:00 a.m. I made my way to bed. When I turned to look at the morning alarm clock, I was stunned to see I'd slept until 8:34 a.m. Clearly, my mind, body, and soul needed rest. January has been a hell-of-a-month. 

My Facebook feed this week has been littered with teacher memes about how long the the first month of the year is for teachers. Although I'm currently not in the classroom, I'm starting to think I'd prefer "teacher tired" over "systems change" tired. 
Image may contain: possible text that says 'Mnemonic Thirty days has September, April, June and November. Unless a leap year is its fate, February has twenty-eight. All the rest have three days more, excepting January, which has six thousand, one hundred and eighty-four Brian Bilston'Image may contain: text
When I got home from work yesterday, I said to my husband, "In this role as a literacy coordinator/coach, I feel like I'm rolling a boulder up a hill only to see it come crashing back down almost daily." He smiled and asked if I knew about the Myth of Sisyphus. I snuggled up next to him and we proceeded to watch the TED-Ed video linked below. 

Within seconds, I identified with the futility of Sisyphus's plight. Chris asked me if I thought I was being punished by the proverbial gods for leaving the classroom, and before I answered, I paused—weighing my words carefully. 

The story I've been telling myself goes something like this, "I was born to be a teacher. The four walls of my classroom gave me stability, continuity, and predictable structures that provided a sense of competence and control. Because I desired to have greater influence, I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and instantly everything felt terrifying and impossible. Almost three years later, I still question my ability to adapt and assimilate in a world that constantly makes me feel powerless."

The way I frame the narrative dictates how I feel about my work. On hard days (or weeks or months), I rarely pause to interrogate whether or not the story I'm telling myself is accurate, true, or complete. Who have I turned into a villain? What conclusions have I drawn that might be false? Do I have all the details correct? From moment to moment, the story changes, and because I currently reside in a feedback desert, I don't always know what to do when I receive criticism from leaders and teachers who have never walked in my shoes.

In this work, I often feel like I am spinning my wheels. It's an uphill climb, and the whole "two steps forward—three steps back" idea constantly rings true. From time to time, I see glimmers of hope and recognize the work I do matters. But more often than not, I feel defeated, frustrated, and dissatisfied. Thus, the reason I relate so much to Sisyphus.

There are days I feel the need to write in order to make sense of all the conflicting emotions I'm experiencing. Today is one of those days. As I sat down to compose this blog, I did a little research and I stumbled across the Medium article linked below. It offers a perspective I hadn't considered, and I'm choosing to look at the boulder as a gift. I may surrender to gravity as some point, but for now, I'm choosing to embrace the rock.

What we can learn from Sisyphus and his rock

Let me start with a small introduction on Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a cruel Greek king who was punished to push a large rock up on a steep hill, only to find it rolling back on nearing the top. Ever since, he has been known for pushing the rock tirelessly till eternity.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

One Word 2020: Power

One of my all-time favorite teacher truisms is, "The kids with the most words have the most power." I believe this with my whole heart—yet recently, I've begun to see potential problems in this small, but mighty phrase. You see, power is complicated. It's a loaded word full of nuance, intricacy, and dynamism. A quick look at associated phrases certainly illustrates the complexity of the five-letter word.

Power With
Power Up
Power of Good
White Power
Power Nap
Power Within   
Power Down
Power of Evil
Girl Power
Power Trip
Power Over  
Absolute Power
Black Power

As a new decade unfolds, my context has kicked into high gear. I'm hungry to understand systems which dictate how power is both hoarded and shared. When this word first began to percolate, I rejected it—mostly because it made me uncomfortable. I probed for alternate words like advocacy, reformation, and transform. Yet, none of these captured the stirrings of my heart. As I considered all the ways this word could shape my year, I continued to study, read, view, think, wonder, and question. And then I stumbled across these two videos. 

📽 The Work of the People: Power With featuring Brené Brown

Even after viewing each of these thought-provoking messages, I still wasn't convinced I could embrace power as my word for 2020. As small children, my siblings and I experienced physical and emotional abuse, which rendered us powerless. Thankfully, my grandparents rescued us, and we've each spent a lifetime attempting to regain a sense of control. My troublesome relationship with power kept me quiet, compliant and scared for many decades. In my twenties, I found my way to Al-Anon where I learned that acceptance was the answer to all of my problems today. In these meetings, we were taught to embrace powerlessness as a path toward healing. This worked for a while, and I came to understand that the cunning, baffling, and powerful disease of alcoholism had far-reaching effects. 

Fast forward to my forties, and I'm now ready to wrestle with the word power again. Over the holidays my 11-year-old niece, Mabel (who happens to have extremely conservative parents), asked me, "Tenille, when and how did you become a liberal?" I chuckled a bit and proceeded to explain how my lived experiences have shaped my world view. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the intersectionality of literacy and liberation. Words, did, in fact, give me power. Thanks to my education and white privilege, I gained social mobility which provided me access to a wealth of opportunities I never dreamed possible. These experiences brought to light the bigotry, ignorance, and inequities I'd been blind to for years. Speaking truth to power still scares the hell out of me. I'm not brave or courageous enough, YET. But I'm ready to take a journey. 

Ultimately, I decided to accept power as my word for 2020 after discovering the simple photo pictured a the top of this blog and now displayed on the cover of my FB page. The power button is a symbol of hope in my life. It represents choice and fresh starts. When my laptop acts up and the screen freezes, I can push the power button, resetting the entire system. Sometimes it fixes the glitch and other times it makes me want to throw my device against the wall. Power is perplexing—as are most humans. 

I'll close with these two profound quotes—one from a superhero movie and one from the greatest Presidents to ever live. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Prayer Emergency: Yikes!

I feel pretty certain I can't be the only person this has happened to, but if not, it was definitely a moment worth remembering. As soon as the red splotches subsided from my cheeks due to utter embarrassment, a colleague said, "Hey! This is a story you can blog about!" So here I am, writing it down for posterity. Enjoy . . .

Image result for bob ross no mistakes

While attending my first school board meeting where the district leadership team would meet our new superintendent, a bit of a mishap occurred. We stood to our feet, and a trustee asked us to bow our heads for the invocation prayer. Oh no!, I thought, I forgot to silence my cellphone! Reaching into my purse, I held down the volume button on my iPhone and all of a sudden an SOS 🚨 sound blared. Mortified, I frantically clicked buttons trying to stop the madness. The next thing you know a trusted friend is nudging me because everyone in close proximity could hear the operator repeatedly saying, "Hello? Hello? Are you there?" I glanced down rushing to hang up. Pure fear enveloped me. I had unknowingly dialed 911. Colorful expletives raced through my mind, and I beelined it for the hallway, hoping emergency vehicles weren't waiting in the parking lot. 

A quick Google search revealed what you see pictured below. 

No one had attempted to call me back and red lights weren't flashing outside, so I took a deep breath and prayed I would survive the shame sh*t storm I was experiencing. A brief break in the meeting occurred, and gracious colleagues flooded the hallway, reassuring me everything would be okay. Needless to say, once my overactive amygdala calmed down, I found humor in the situation. Thanks, Bob Ross for reminding us, "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents!"

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Recollections & Changing Seasons


Day 15

In the hustle and bustle of an average Tuesday, I paused long enough to notice this perfect fall leaf positioned in the middle of the sidewalk. Leaning over, I gingerly picked it up, careful not to let it crumble. I grabbed my iPhone, snapped a quick photo, and went about the rest of my morning. 

Fast forward to 10:00 p.m., and I'm frantically trying to write something before drifting off to dreamland. After studying the photograph a little more closely and forcing myself to craft this blog, my mind wandered back to a childhood memory that occurred somewhere around 4th or 5th grade. 

My class was studying plants in science, and every student was charged with curating a robust leaf collection. I traipsed all over town looking for unique leaves. Back in 1988, there was no Internet, so I spent hours scouring encyclopedias, attempting to identify the plant species and tree names. 

Each leaf was carefully placed on the pages of a yellowing photo album, complete with adhesive pages. I remember thinking, "This is kind of a dumb assignment. Who cares if we know the names of all these trees?" But Nora, my saint of a grandmother, reminded me there is beauty in nature and we should never become so busy we don't notice. 

I still have that leaf collection and if I wasn't dog-tired right now, I'd go dig it out of my trunk of childhood memorabilia and capture an additional image for this blog. For now, my words will have to suffice. Goodnight readers.  

At The Exact Same Time

Day 14

I got into a Twitter war with a stranger today. After Tweeting out what I considered a powerful comment overheard during an  #ILA19 presentation, several literacy experts decided to chime and give their opinion. 

Although several folks found the quote validating and affirming, it didn't take long for naysayers in the Science of Reading camp to pounce. Don't get me wrong. Structured literacy is something I want to learn more about and study, but when people write crappy things, it's hard to stay positive. 

In an effort to take the high road and stand my ground, I quoted my favorite thought leader of all time, Dr. Brené Brown. I firmly believe I can believe in the Science of Reading and the LOVE of Reading at the EXACT SAME TIME. Perhaps the comparative adjective "even more" was problematic, and I can understand why this person took offense to the quote, but I am super tired of false dichotomies and extreme views. *Sigh* 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Anyone Else Despise Compliance Training As Much as Me?


Day 13

Today's acrostic poem is dedicated to all the teachers out there like me who waited until the very last minute to complete the dreaded online courses mandated by their school districts. We will never get those eight hours of our lives back, but we can check the box ☑️, right? 

Completely and utterly BORING!
Obligatory practice with limited impact
Mundane and meaningless—not sure I learned a thing
Passive exercise.
Likely to have zero influence on how I do my job
Insufferable experience in which no authentic learning occurs
Annual torture and absolute waste of time
Necessary evil in a litigious world
Cleverly answer the quiz questions without actually reading a word
Every year I always wonder, "If I don't complete these, will they fire me?"

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Access & Equity: ILA In My Pj's


Day 12

It's not every day you get a chance to hear from some of the most brilliant minds in literacy, so when I woke up this morning I quickly tuned into the 7:00 a.m. live-streaming session at #ILA19 which included a panel discussion featuring the world-renown researchers, P. David Pearson, Nell K. Duke, Sonia Cabell, and Gwen McMillon. My biggest takeaway from their discussion came when David Pearson said, "For too long now, literacy has been a bully—pushing science and social studies off the stage. It's time for literacy to evolve from a bully into a buddy." 

As a passionate advocate of literacy, these words stopped me in my tracks. I'm afraid at times, I've fallen victim to this truth. When I consider the number of teachers who constantly tell me they don't have time to teach science and social studies, and I passively allow literacy to dominate, I suppose I am complicit. Needless to say, I was deeply convicted by this statement, and I will need to do some serious soul searching in the weeks and months to come. 

Ever since I enrolled in graduate school around 2009, I have been a long-time fan of Nell K. Duke's work. As she cautioned us to consider the role confirmation bias plays in our lives and reminded us about the importance of "weight of evidence" in research, I found myself thinking about how critical it is to have professional research mentors. In her closing statements, she said, "Our field is in a very tumultuous time so we must commit to civility even in the face of the uncivility of others. Many people talking about the science of reading have never opened a research article or done so w/o a confirmation bias." I will heed her words and do my best to remain open and willing to evolve.

Following the research panel, I tuned in to hear Tricia Ebarvia's featured session titled, We Need MORE than Diverse Books. Boy, oh boy, did she bring the heat! 🔥 




There were so many Tweetable moments, but the thought that lingers the most is this question: How can I unlearn the dominant narrative and relearn a more complete narrative?"

I am grateful to be a part of a collective learning community that transcends time and space.