2015: The Year of Change

It has been a while, but I felt like blogging again, so here goes. Nothing major on my mind, nothing major to reveal. Just a vague sense about the need to tell you that I am hopeful 2015 will be a good year.

As 2014 came to a close, the blogosphere was filled with posts about how 2014 was a really crummy year, and how our society is developing in the wrong direction. And yes, 2014 presented us with too many stories of people suffering various injustices, of people dying, of people unable to overcome prejudices and hate.

And still, I am hopeful. I am not sure why. After all, I just read another article about the ship in the Mediterranean, abandoned by its human smuggling crew; hundreds of refugees, most of them from Syria, left alone to perish. Extreme right parties are gaining political ground all over the world; hundreds of women raped and assaulted in Sudan. In the face of all this, what can possibly make me hopeful?

I honestly do not know. It is just a sense I have. It is a sense that hopefully, this will be the year when we finally stand up to injustices, at home and abroad. It will be the year when we say to the people in power: enough is enough. It will be the year when we realize that it is up to all of us to enact change. It is a sense that together, we can and will make a difference.

Maybe I am naive. I could be. But, I would like to think that I am not. History is filled with examples of people and communities coming together to change things for the better, and I am hopeful that 2015 will be the year when this happens. In your neighborhood. In your town. In your state. In your country, and all over the world.

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Blogging and Creativity (Thank You @mikepaul!)

I just read a blog post from @mikepaul where he argued that teachers need to blog everyday. As difficult as this might seem (and this blog is proof of that!), he contends that in order for us teachers to hone our creativity, we need to create every day. I agree with him in that blogging is one of the best ways of tapping into our creativity.

After all, I started blogging to reflect more on why and how I teach. If I write more blog posts, the more I tap into my creative juices, which will help me design better and more engaging lessons. I cannot promise that I will blog every day, but @mikepaul reminded me of the value of doing so, and I thank him for that.

Lastly, here is to a good day tomorrow. For the first time, I will have my students try their hand at note card confession videos. We will explore the relationship between the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora, which will hopefully make for some wonderful videos!

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Back from Haiti

I just returned from a five day trip to Haiti. This was the fourth time I went, and I always come back a  different person. Yes, I am exhausted. Yes, I am torn between hope and despair when I think of all that has been done and yet still needs to be done in Haiti. But most of all, I am grateful.

My school has a partner school in the Central Plateau in Haiti, and each year, I bring 10-12 students down for a visit. We spend most of our time at the partner school, interacting with students and teachers. We spend time with the students, we are privileged to be part of a Haitian Christian Church service, we visit a rural Haitian market (about as far away from Whole Foods as you can get), and we meet a number of fascinating people.

I wish I could explain properly how impressed I have been with the students that we bring on these trips. This trip is challenging, both physically and mentally, and still, our students were friendly, good-natured, compassionate, and engaging. I will never forget the memory of our students making friends with their Haitian counterparts. Despite the language barrier, they managed to find common ground, whether it be in the form of arm wrestling (mostly the boys) or simple Creole/English lessons.

On the last evening, as we were sitting in the Hotel Olofsson in Port-au-Prince, we had a few minutes to reflect. Unprompted, one of our students said the most profound thing. I cannot quote her verbatim, but these were her sentiments: “We make all these plans to teach all these lessons, or to build all these things at their school, but really, all they [the Haitian students] want is to get to know us. They are just like us, though they happen to live in a very different environment. They just want a new friend.”

I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear that. We try to tell our students that the primary purpose of this trip is to make connections. However, sometimes that is easier said than done. Language and cultural barriers are difficult to overcome, and yet, somehow, our students managed. They understood that despite our differences, we are all humans, longing for connection.

Yes, I am tired. But, I am also incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to take this trip and to work with the students that I do. They are amazing young people.

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Leaving for Haiti

A great deal has happened since the last time I blogged. I am a little disappointed that I was not able to continue with my consistent blogging, but the last few weeks have been more than insanely busy. However, I am back, and will attempt another go at sustaining this blog. I feel so much better when I blog, but I still struggle to make it a part of my daily routine. Maybe this time.

As the title of this post indicates, I cannot believe that we are almost into March. During the past couple of months, I kept on teaching my blended class, presented at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools’ Annual Conference in Philadelphia (what a great city!), and made it through a couple of snow days.

But, at the forefront on my mind at the moment is my impending trip to Haiti. This will be my fourth time taking students and teachers to our partner school in the Central Plateau in Haiti, and I am equal parts anxious and excited. Anxious because it is always a daunting responsibility to travel with students; excited because I hope and think that it will be a great trip.

While most people probably associate a visit to Haiti with physical labor and helping out with a variety of projects, our trip is mostly focused on making connections with the Haitian students and teachers at our partner school, St. Jacques Les Bays. To be sure, we raise money each year to support the school, and we are excited to see the building of the new well that we helped finance, but the majority of this trip will be spent trying to connect with our Haitian sisters and brothers.

This is not as easy as it might seem. The vast majority of the Haitian students and teachers speak nothing but Creole, and as you might expect, neither I, nor my students, know much Creole besides a few standard phrases. Still, judging from past trips, these connections somehow happens. We let our students run more or less an entire school day, and they do amazing things. They bring out arts and crafts projects; they conduct English lessons; they sing; they dance; in short, they exist alongside their newfound Haitian friends.

In one of our recent chapel services, one of our religion teachers said that sometimes, all that is required of you is to be with your fellow man or woman. You do not have to change the world today. Just be with people who walk this earth with you. Allow yourself to feel a little bit of what they are feeling, and encourage them to feel what you are feeling. Just be with them. Just experience fellowship, though you might be walking drastically different paths.

This is the message that we try to impart on our students. I hope they heed this message, and judging from our meetings so far, they will. As this trip draws near, I get increasingly excited. Excited at the prospect of seeing my Haitian friends again. Excited at seeing my students interact with people from a different culture. Excited at the possibility of making a new connection. Excited to grow. Excited to be with my fellow man and woman.

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Snow Days And Unstructured Time

Our school just announced that we will have our second consecutive snow day due to the winter storm that is hammering much of the east coast.

Growing up in Sweden, snow days are still kind of strange to me, as I never recall having a snow day, no matter how bad the weather conditions were. For most of the winter, I would stand at the bus stop, in -10, -15 degree weather. I do not mean this as some kind of macho statement, it is just what we did.

But, I am also well aware of the fact that Sweden is drastically different from the state of Virginia, and I am grateful that my school leaders make decisions that place an emphasis on the safety of our students and parents. If our municipal workers cannot make our streets safe, we should not be traveling on them. And to make sure I am not misunderstood, this is not an indictment of the people clearing our streets. They do a marvelous job with the resources they are given, and I am grateful for all the long hours that they will put in tonight to make our city more manageable tomorrow.

Rather, the two snow days make me reflect on the notion of unstructured time. I have had an on-going conversation with one of my colleagues in regards to how we teach (or not teach) our students to deal with unstructured time. Most of my students lead very hectic lives where all of the hours of the day are dedicated to either academics or extra-curricular activities. That is of course good, as they are spending much time turning themselves into good students and well-rounded human beings.

But, part of me thinks that we are doing our students a disservice by packing their school day full with classes and activities. Part of me thinks that it would be interesting to see what we could do with, let us say, an hour of “unstructured” time each week. What if we offered a few open spaces around campus where students could meditate, read fiction, or just be? What if we during this hour offered workshops on a number of different topics? How to manage stress? How to get along with your parents during what might be turbulent teenage years? How to be a good friend? How to be a compassionate human being?

Of course, none of these workshops would be required (after all, that would go against the whole idea of this blog post), but instead, they would be part of this “unstructured hour.” In my conversations with my colleague, we both agree that this might be worth trying. Part of me is scared of letting go of this much control. I have no idea if this would work out; maybe the students would end up wasting an hour that could have been better spent doing something else. But, part of me is very intrigued by this concept. I would love to try it to see what would happen. My hope is that it would benefit our students (as well as faculty and staff), but I am not sure. However, I always come back to this idea: if we do not try it, we will never know if it will work.

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The Importance of Being Grateful

It is Sunday, and I am getting ready for the second week of school after the holiday break. As I am doing this, I feel the need for a confession: the first week back hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was not pretty. Between tired or hyper students, Internet connectivity problems, a stubborn cold, and me struggling to connect students with the material that we learned before Christmas break, it was certainly not my best week of teaching. Lessons went astray, students were confused, and things were clearly not flowing the way that they should have. In addition, I was so overwhelmed that I fell off the #Nerdlution bandwagon and abandoned my daily blogging.

But, as I reflect on the past week, and as I make plans for the next week, I am grateful. For a number of reasons. Grateful because I get a new chance this week, and I am confident that since I spent a lot of time this weekend preparing, this week will be better. Grateful because of the fact that though I had a rough week, I still had the privilege of being around wonderful students. Grateful because of the fact that despite the fact that I was clearly struggling last week, one of my students told me that she loved the unit that we are currently covering. Grateful because last week taught me that even in difficult times, I have people who support me and my teaching. Grateful because though I might have perceived last week as difficult, it is nothing compared to the problems that many children and adults are facing every day, in this country and around the world. Grateful that I have a job that I love. 

So, as you enter this week, take a moment to be grateful. Be grateful for whatever you have in your personal and professional life. I firmly believe that gratefulness is one of the key to happiness, and I always try to remind myself to be grateful, no matter how bad my day has been. Do yourself a favor: reflect on what you have. It will make you a happier person. 

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Why I am Optimistic About The Future of Education

After having made my way through the first day back from winter break, I find myself in a reflective mood. Throughout the evening, my Twitter feed has been filled with great observations from all over the world with links to thoughtful blogposts about every imaginable topic. I do not want to sound too sappy, but all of this makes me believe that in many ways we are blessed to be educators today.

Yes, I know, the discourse surrounding education is not all that positive at the moment, and I am fully aware of the fact that educational systems around the world are facing more deep seated and more complex problems than ever before.

And, yet at the same time, I cannot help but be optimistic about the future of education. A quick glance at my Twitter feed fills me with pride and hope as I learn what other educators are doing in their classrooms. And it strikes me that this is a new phenomenon that we should not take for granted. At no other point in history have teachers from around the world been able to share ideas and learn from each other to the extent that is possible today. This is truly a unique opportunity and I hope that as many people as possible take advantage of it. Only a couple of decades ago, it would have been almost unthinkable to connect fifth graders from Iowa with fifth graders from Texas in a Mystery Skype session. It would have been nearly impossible to in an instant learn what teachers in Australia are doing to keep their students engaged and motivated.

I do not think that I have ever stopped and actually thought about the enormous benefits that this can bring all of us. As recent as the 1990s, I would have been mostly confined to the ideas and opinions of people at my own school, with the added bonus of meeting people at a yearly conference. Now, at my fingertips, there is all this knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm, and it is entirely up to me to take advantage of all these resources.

Can it be overwhelming? Absolutely. Can it be intimidating? Without a doubt. But at the same time, I try to remind myself that this is an opportunity that all those teachers before me would have relished. They would have loved to exchange lesson plans with a colleague in a different state. They would have jumped at the opportunity to exchange views and opinions on the latest trends in education.

So, at the end of a pretty challenging day, I reflect on my profession, and I am hopeful. Hopeful that we can assist each other to serve our students as well as possible. Hopeful that we can draw inspiration and courage from each other. Hopeful that we can help to make all our schools better. Hopeful that we can change, in whatever small or large way, our current and future society. We have some incredible opportunities at our fingertips. Let us use them to serve our students to the best of our ability.

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