Holstee Manifesto

The world is crazy. It has probably always been this way and I have been living in Matrix like world where “reality” really didn’t seep in. The problem with actively working to understand the world and its problems is that inevitably it will start to drag you down. How can learning about the White Helmets in Turkey and Syria not make you weep? How many videos can you watch where People of Color that are unarmed and not a threat get shot without it burdening your heart? When I read about 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen being raped and murdered in a “road rage” attack after leaving her mosque is it a wonder that I start to become despondent?

One of the ways that I try to refocus on things under my locus of control is by referring to the Holstee Manifesto. I will start off by saying that some parts of this are overly simplistic; however, most of it really helps me refocus on what I can control.

holsteeIt starts off with the great advice to find out what you love and do it often. Again such a simplistic statement but it forces me to reflect on what I love to do. I love reading, learning, and spending time with my family. Reading ends up getting pushed to the side often due to my millions of other things on my plate. I have been doing a decent job of reading this summer.

My favorite part of the manifesto is the statement, “If you don’t have enough time stop watching TV.” How many times have we said we don’t have time yet have watched every episode of Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, Queen Sugar, or House of Cards? We make time for what’s important.

Another part of the manifesto that I love is when you eat appreciate every last bite. This is right on par with mindful eating.

Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations. It has helped treat many conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and various food-related behaviors. Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating. (link)

We often find ourselves eating while watching tv, a movie, searching the web, or doing various other attention grabbing activities. Not only do we not appreciate our food we end up taking in more calories because our brain doesn’t fully comprehend how many calories we are taking in. We live in the golden age of food. When else can you get almost any food you want with little to no effort? I realize that certain areas are food deserts but overall we have access to food that would make our ancestor’s eyes pop out of their head. It is imperative that we appreciate our food. One way to accomplish this is to close your eyes and really try to taste and identify the textures of the food in your mouth.

The last part that really helps me refocus is the reminder that life is short. As corny as it sounds I learned this message early on in life by reading the Chicken Soup series. I sometimes find myself wishing time would pass so I can go do something more enjoyable. The problem of this is that this wastes time that I will never get back. In order to combat this, I force myself to smile every time I look at the clock. This reminds me that I need to enjoy the moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s me waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in a meeting that is boring me to death. I do not want to let my life pass me by.

The other part of realizing how short life is that it forces me to stay active. I have to keep learning, attending conferences, getting off the couch and being active with my children, watching webinars or doing anything else to further my goal of actually living. It is not enough to be a watcher of life. I need to participate and the time to be an active participant in my life is shorter than I would like to think about.

Read the manifesto and comment on what part of it resonates with you.

I Am Not Your Negro

“Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” (link) Let’s expand that idea to my PLN or PLF (personal learning family) as some have started referring to it as. I surround myself with producers and creators who are constantly pushing themselves and others to learn. Andy Milne, the National Health Teacher of the Year, creator of slowchathealth.com and sendateacher.com, is one of these producers. Andy hit me up with the kind of text that causes immediate motivation. Check it out:

These texts are catalysts to my continued passion and growth. They are the wood that keeps my fire burning. For those who are unfamiliar with the movie here is a brief synopsis:

I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 French, American, Belgian and Swiss documentary film directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin‘s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar EversMalcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as his personal observations of American history. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards.

The first thing that was apparent to me is that I was ignorant of who Medgar Evers was. How did I not know about this man who is put in the same movie with Malcolm X and Dr. King!! According to the History Channel:

Medgar Evers (1925-1963) was an African-American civil rights activist whose murder drew national attention. Born in Mississippi, he served in World War II before going to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After attempting to segregate the University of Mississippi Law School in 1954, he became the NAACP field secretary in Mississippi. Evers was subjected to threats as the most visible civil rights leader in the state, and he was shot to death in June 1963. Although accused killer Byron De La Beckwith escaped conviction, the unearthing of new evidence decades later resulted in Beckwith’s retrial and imprisonment. (link)

What amazed me about the killing of Medgar Evers was that his killer was finally convicted after 3 trials and 31 years. Mr. Evers death by most accounts had a huge contribution to the national outrage that forced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His legacy should be celebrated by one and all.

After the movie, Andy Milne and I had numerous conversations about what parts of the movie stuck with us. The line that resonated with Andy was when James Baldwin stated, “…that the line which separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line indeed”. This started the conversation about what were we actually doing to make a change in the world? Check out his reflection blog about the movie by clicking here.

That line resonated with me but based on the other end of the spectrum. What do educators have to do not only abstain from being actors but prevent themselves from becoming witnesses? My first thought is that you must tailor your social media accounts to only follow education accounts that avoid discussions and posts about inequity within education and the United States. Unfortunately, it is all too common that educators with the biggest platforms avoid these conversations completely. This allows people to remain blissfully unaware of the harm they are doing to their students.

The next step you have to take is to insulate yourself from having real friendships and conversations with someone from a marginalized group. You can be acquaintances where you show up to work every day and say hello thinking it’s a real friendship; however, if you have not had a conversation about race, religion, SES, or the LGBTQIA community how deep is that relationship? I guarantee you if that person you are speaking with every day is from a marginalized group they have thoughts and ideas that they are willing to share if you only open the door.

Another necessary pattern that must be upheld is only reading writings that deal solely with the cognitive or psychomotor aspect of education. It is impossible to read about Social Emotional learning and the affective domain without addressing differences in how we look and act. I would add that the race, gender, religion, sexuality and national origin should be analyzed. If you are only reading material created by people who look and act like yourself you are only reinforcing your life experiences.

A big piece of the puzzle is that people must travel to conferences that avoid highering speakers whose passions lie in social justice. This allows them to feel that they are learning and growing professionally without having to confront the fact that they are harming the students who they don’t identify or empathize with. Organizers of conferences have a moral obligation to address the ongoing social justice crisis that is affecting our students and our world. This means being explicit with bringing in speakers who will address intersectionality.

The last thing educators must do is have confirmation bias when they do come across anything that deals with race, religion, gender, or sexuality. They must only go to the sites that are going to reinforce their views that People of Color should be able to work hard and get ahead or that LGBTQIA is a choice that people make. How else can you go through life never understanding how much harm you are doing? You have to have your thought process reinforced that things aren’t as bad as people say and that someone is just looking for the easy way out or is “milking the system”.

Circling back to Andy Milne’s musing that he is not doing enough acting I would say that learning is the first step in the process. Many well meaning white people have acted in a way they thought was beneficial to a cause without realizing they were co-opting or causing more harm to it because they didn’t do the necessary work to learn first.  In the movie, James Baldwin asks why we do not consider Nat Turner a hero. In order to form an opinion about Nat Turner we first have to understand who he was and what we did. In my opinion, we have to really understand history before we can even begin to address inequity in the present day society. How does slavery in the 1600’s effect black people today? How does de facto segregation and white flight in the 50’s and 60’s effect Students of Color today? We can not become actors until we become historical scholars. This is not said to absolve him or me from taking action it only speaks to the fact that before action is taken we must arm ourselves with information so that the measures we take are effective.

This is a movie that everyone must watch. James Baldwin is able to strike right to the heart of what is wrong with America and its history of race. There are numerous clips that show the level of his oratory skills. His words punctuate to the heart of how we have harmed People of Color in this country. It is worth watching the movie for those scenes alone.

Some of you may be wondering when will I stop bringing up race, gender, religion, and every other characteristic that separates people. My answer to you is never. Once we are aware that humans are being harmed how can we simply ignore it? As educators, we have a duty to foster empathy and caring within our students. This can only occur when we identify the differences between them and celebrate them. How can we do that if we are stuck worrying only about how to best present multiplication, writing, or movement to our students? We have to continue to learn about ourselves, our country, and our students. This means getting comfortable being uncomfortable. We need to be more like Andy. Become a knowledgeable witness first before becoming an actor.

Again read Andy’s reflection about the movie here.

No Badges for Me!

What is up with badges and professional development? I have to do this set of criteria that you want me to do to get a badge? A picture? How is this supposed to motivate me? I don’t even post my Master’s Degrees anywhere. Why would I care about a badge? My whole philosophy is predicated on the idea that we are all speaking on a level playing field, or as Eric Sheniger told me, “We are all playing in the same sandbox.”  Why are we separating ourselves? It seems exclusionary on multiple levels. Hey, look at me! Check this badge I have! You don’t have the same number of flair as me? If the word flair doesn’t immediately have a negative connotation than you need to watch Office Space immediately!  

I have to be honest I have earned multiple badges or am ambassadors to multiple companies that give you badges. I don’t flaunt nor care about the badge. The only reason I am lending my name to a company is because I love their product. These products include PaddleZlam, Seesaw, and Osmo. I present on these items and show how I use them at home and in Physical Education or Health. When people talk to me about a digital portfolio, a backyard game or a fun activity to use with the ipads for little ones I will speak up with no hesitation. I don’t need a badge to tell the world I love these companies.

It’s not just the companies that want to give you a badge. Conferences have now been all about badging as well. I understand the purpose is to show what you are doing or have done but it comes across as egotistical to me. Here check this graphic out that shows how great I am!

The biggest reason I hate badging is that I have to do something extra only because you want me to do it. Here is this badge now go do these things you weren’t going to do unless I showed you this shiny object. If I wanted to write a blog or promote your conference I will because I find value in it not because I want you to find value in me.

There is one aspect of badging that I do like though. This is the idea of micro badging. Rich Dixon was the first person who told me about this. The idea behind micro badging is that you will be able to see what that person did to earn that badge. That is a much cooler idea to me. The idea that something I have done will be archived together is really cool. I would not be completing the tasks for the badge but for the fact that my work may have real and lasting meaning.

When I step back I know that some people are motivated by the badges and it doesn’t truly harm anyone. I just don’t see the value in it for me. I hate doing paperwork for the state because it is buried there never to be seen again. The extra work needed to earn a badge seems much the same.

MAO or LMAO

I saw the above image and laughed my rear end off. I have to admit my humor can be very silly at times. I mean my favorite joke goes something like this:

Two muffins were sitting in an oven.

One turned to the other and said “Hey, it’s pretty hot in here, isn’t it?”

The other turned and shouted “Oh my god a talking muffin!”

Hopefully, this can help you understand some of the things I find humorous. Ok back to the MAO joke. This meme made me laugh so hard that I was sending it to all my friends. It’s the type of meme that should be enjoyed by others. It’s the type of meme that brings a smile on a day without coffee. It’s the type of meme that makes me wonder how this was discovered or created. Did someone see his name and go, “Wow that his first name is one letter away from laughing his behind away?”

I am going to break down my thought process because this frame of reference will become important in a minute. I saw the name MAO and saw that Chairman Mao wasn’t smiling. I then saw him in the next frame laughing and the letters LMAO. That made me laugh because of the dichotomy of the straight face and laughing face followed by the addition of the L. People that is comedic gold right there!! It really doesn’t get much funnier than the meme in my book. 

I had very little idea of the background of Chairman Moa. I knew who he was and that he was a former leader of the communist government in China. None of that mattered to me when I saw the meme. All I saw was humor that seemed harmless. I didn’t go through a checklist of who may not find it funny or why. I just thought it was hilarious. 

One of my friends tweeted me back and said is this racist? I quickly had a panic attack. Had I liked and RT an image that was culturally insensitive or racist? That wasn’t my intent! Nobody would care what my intent is. We judge by actions. Had my actions been racist or harmful in some way?

What is interesting about the whole situation is where my blinders were. I just saw a funny meme and didn’t look at it through a cultural lens at all. This didn’t even occur to me that I should be looking at everything through a cultural lens that I post publicly. I have that ability not to because I am white. Not everyone has that same ability. This was a good reminder to make sure I am aware of the entire truth of what I am disseminating. 

My friend and I spoke and we agreed that it was a harmless joke that was indeed funny. The conversation was not heated or negative in any way. This reminds me again how important it is to have friends that see the world from a variety of angles. They are the light that shines on your dark spots. Your blinders that get in the way of seeing a more global and humanistic view. 

My goal is to continually work to becoming enlightened. This can not happen when the people we interact with the most are all cut from the same cloth. If your area of the world is homogenous use the beauty of social media to connect with others. Interact with them on a personal level. have conversations outside of education, race, or religion. Find out how their lives are going, what they are reading, what their kids are up to. Once these relationships have been forged cultural awareness will happen authentically. This image is the perfect example of that occurring. Look at your #PLN and personal life. Ask yourself what does it look like and why.

The P in #PLN is for Personal

Last night I went to my first #pln party. The majority of the people were EdCamp NJ team members as well as other local NJ and PA teachers. The idea was for a bunch of us to get together and have a good time creating closer connections. We didn’t have a book club, talk about what we are going to do for the next EdCamp, or have any educational agenda. The evening was hosted by Chrissy Romano (@theconnectedEdu). She had the evening catered and graciously provided her house and yard for our delight.

Any soiree that I attend is going to have music and Paddle Zlam. This evening was no different. I brought out the Ion Block Rocker and the Paddle Zlam travel bag and the evening was ready to be conquered. I teamed up with Fade (@ojfade) and unfortunately, we were defeated by the evil Nicholas Endlich and Adam Schoenbart. Paddle Zlam is such an engaging game that you can’t but be drawn in and want to play. Everyone had a great time playing it!!

As the evening sun disappeared into nothingness we gathered around a fire and talked. Some of the conversation was about education but most of it was about life, family, and other outside interests. It is funny how my world is changing. My #pln is truly merging into a personal learning network. I have more in common with those I come across in education than some of the people I grew up with. I don’t know whether it is the fact that we all have a similar occupation or that I want to be around people who care about others.

I continue to be amazed at how the people I have connected with in the digital realm have become the people I interact with the most in the physical realm. When I look back on the last five years I notice that my life has been shifting more towards education and those people associated with education. I do worry that I am putting all my eggs in one basket. I also realize that my passion lies in education and that shutting myself off from my passion is about as easy as having Betsy Devos explaining IDEA to a group of Senators.

I enjoyed talking to everyone but my conversations with Marcos (@mrnavas), Fade (@ojfade), Shevan (@mrpersad_ba), Dani (@kennisdani), and Adam (@mrshoenbart) were highly enjoyable. The conversations ran the gamut from cigars to birth, to interconnectedness to beverages, doctorates to disciplinarians and everything between. You know you are having a lovely evening when you can’t eat anything else and your brain and body have been stimulated. I had a wonderful evening and wonder where my #pln will take me next!

Hour At a Time

This blog is being written from the perspective of a parent and not at all meant to be interpreted under the guise of the Physical Education teacher.

If you know me at all you know that I work numerous jobs to make ends meet. I have three children who eat lots of fruits and vegetables and that costs real money! One of my many jobs is being a birthday party activity leader. This entails creating games and activities for large groups of children. I have a ton of equipment to use and a beautiful gym to run the games in. The parents of the party usually pick the games and activities for their children. I get an email telling me the time, date, age, amount of children, and games that the family chose to play. I have learned more about children during these parties than I have teaching in 10 years. Let me explain a little more.

The area that the gym is located is truly a diverse mix of people.  I never know what race or origin of people will come through the door. What’s amazing about children is no matter what their ethnicity or culture they all want to play. I am not saying that I am color blind or that culture is insignificant. What I am saying is that ALL children love playing games. This is a universal truth I believe in without a doubt in my mind. It is one of the reasons that I believe recess and Physical Education are so important to a child. Playing games is a great leveler. Race, gender, and SES tend to take a back seat to skill and joy. I don’t believe just playing games will make the world kumbayah but it is one of the best ways of truly integrating people who don’t look and act like each other.

I arrive at the complex 15 minutes before the party and get all the equipment ready for the activities that the family chose. At the start of the party, I have some sort of easy 3-5 minute activity that has no rules so that when more kids trickle in they can get active every time. I make sure to find the birthday child and ask them what games they want to play when their parents are around them. This gives me a true evaluation of what they want to do. Some kids tell me exactly what was in the email while others change their minds. I believe strongly that a child should choose the games they want to play at their own birthday party!!

The other day a group of 3-4-year-olds came rolling in the gym. They did not speak English as their first language. The activity written down was capture the flag. There was no way that 3-4-year-olds can play the game let alone if they couldn’t understand my directions! I set up a quick scooter activity and the kids were ignoring me and just riding them around. This is where my understanding of children and fun kicked in. I brought out jump ropes and starting pulling the kids around the gym. They were having a blast. They didn’t want rigid activities. They just wanted to play. Good old-fashioned free play. I brought out hula hoops and we threw them around and made pathways to jump and hop through. The parents came off the bleachers and helped pull the kids and interact with them. The children had a blast!!

As adults, we manage almost every aspect of our child’s life. We tell them when to wake up and when to sleep. When to brush their teeth and what they can eat. Some of this is necessary while some are helicoptering. I am not exactly sure where the line is for me personally. What I do know is that play is an activity that doesn’t always need to be rigidly set up. Sometimes putting out balls and hoops is the greatest thing we can do for our kids. Their imaginations take over and they create activities that you would never have thought of.

Our kids play time and free time is over planned and regimented. They go to sports, gymnastics, art classes, or tech clubs. Everywhere they go an adult has a plan for them. Sometimes we need to just let go. If you want to learn more about free play check out Dr. Peter Gray’s website.

Another part of doing these hour long activities with children that I have never met before is that I have to create a bond or a connection with them super quickly. This is a skill that is not as difficult than you may imagine. How do you get kids to like and trust you in five minutes? The key is simple. Smile. Have fun. Tell a joke. Make fun of yourself. People want to be around happy positive people. Kids are no different. As soon as the birthday child walks through the door I shake their hand and tell them to call me Justin. This alleviates most of the power differential in our ages. I then do something comedic like shaking their hand for 30 seconds too long all the while telling them to stop so we can starts.

If you want to truly learn about children go to a party where there is little to no structure. Watch children interact with each other in an authentic and natural way. It will shed a whole new light on how and what they can do. I have learned more about children an hour at a time than I have in my ten years of teaching school.

Meander

This blog is going to be a rambling mess and I don’t care. I recently was with a group of educators and was talking about how I passed a car on fire on the way there. One lady responded to me that she saw a car the fireman had just let burn. “It was like a car you would see in Africa” was that comment she said. She immediately retracted it and said well not in Africa but you know it was all burnt up. I said nothing to her. This failure on my part is embarrassing. My fear of rocking the boat or looking like a troublemaker in front of new people held me back. I failed. It reminds of a @sporticus blog where he writes about how he watched another coach berate a child and didn’t step in. Right now I am all talk and very little action.

Second meandering thought. I recently pulled up this doc by accident from Edcamp Voxer (now Edcamp Voice). The doc has some people’s blogs on it from the online Edcamp. @DavidBillikopf was the first entry on it. I remember him as being very friendly and interesting because he worked in the prison system and that is so foreign to me. I click on his blog and was immediately saddened and reminded how short life is. This reminds me to cut out all the crap and really focus on the here and now.

Third meandering thought. I love school. I love kids. I am so thankful that I am an untested area where I can honestly do what I feel is best for kids. I am saddened that other ts don’t have this same leeway.

Fourth meandering thought. There are fantastic leaders out in the world. I met the superintendent of a school district and in a ten-minute conversation, I was blown away with what she was doing. She told a story that I immediately saw was getting the right people on the bus. This is the second super I have met in the last couple of weeks that has renewed hope for me that school is much more than just test scores and coercion.

Last thought. Crepes are delicious. They are even better when eaten with friends.