Monthly Archives: July 2017

Attitude of Gratitude: Andrew Vasily

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about all these young physical education teachers who have high social media profiles and have less than ten years of teaching experience. Many see these teachers as experts in the field due to their use and knowledge of technology. I would lump myself in that category as well. My technology knowledge may be beneficial to some teachers but teaching is more than just technology. It is about creating meaningful relationships with our students and allowing them to see that movement is necessary to flourish. The newest app or easiest way to collect data isn’t necessarily going to do that. Let’s not overlook the veterans of the teaching game, and their wisdom, just because they aren’t the Googliest of the bunch. With that idea in mind, this blog is going to highlight one of the greatest teachers I have ever come in contact with. His name is Andy Vasily.

Some of us only half-jokingly call Andy the Yoda of the Physical Education World. When you talk to Andy he has an aura that can only be described as Zen. He looks at life through a different lens. One of the reasons why I hold Andy in such high esteem is that he understands just how fleeting life can be. He seems to understand life at a much deeper level than the rest of us.

One of the reasons for this was his near death experience when he put his arm through a bus window. He talks more about that in depth during his Voxcast interview. Andy also has lived through the death of his brother due to drugs and alcohol. He speaks openly and candidly about it on episode 46 of his Run Your Life Podcast. I can only imagine that once you really entertain your mortality as well as your closest family member’s it will completely change your outlook on life.

Just to give you a quick understanding of Andy’s background:

Andy Vasily is a leading teacher who has taught at International Baccalaureate schools in 5 different countries over the past 18 years. He completed his teaching training at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Andy is currently a pedagogical coach at the King Abdul University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. He is also an international educational consultant and founder of the award winning blog www.pyppewithandy.com. Andy previously worked as a Child-Youth Counsellor at a young offender’s facility in Windsor, Ontario and it was through this experience that he first realized the stumbling blocks and injustices that many of these young people faced in their daily experience. As a direct result of seeing a need for change, he pursued a full-time career as an educator. Wanting to push his own understanding of teaching and learning to a deeper level, Andy made the decision to begin blogging in order to share his teaching practice and connect with other educators and top researchers around the world. The value that he saw in this exchange of vision and practical applications led to an enriched professional learning journey that he has shared with practitioners and scholars alike. Andy is an innovator in the area of education and has continued growing his commitment to student learning by bringing the global community together to create meaningful progress in the way students learn around the globe. Link 

Here is the crux of Andy’s philosophy in his own words:

“I highly value the physical education profession and believe that we, as PE practitioners, can and should have an amazing influence on the students that we teach. PE is no longer just about teaching essential skills related to sport. We have a responsibility to empower our students to believe in themselves, to deepen their understanding of the life skills that are necessary now and in the future, and to provide them with as many opportunities as possible to learn about positively interacting with others.”

I am still finding my way in the education world. My educational philosophy has directly been impacted by Andy and two of his guests he has interviewed on the Run Your Life Podcast. Those two people were Dr. Kretchmar and Jim Roussin. All three of these people understand that teaching is about journeying to a deeper level. It’s not about movement or sport or even being healthy. It is about getting to understand yourself as a person. Our students are just starting to explore who they are and what they are about. The beauty of teaching though is that we as the teachers are gaining that same insight into our lives by interacting with our students. We are co-constructing this knowledge together. I may know more technical information that my students but I don’t have all the answers. Together we go on a journey and learn from and with each other on the way.

Andy is the embodiment of a life long learner. He continues to read, write, and interview people in order to achieve personal and professional excellence. The best part of that is he is allowing us to go on the voyage with him. I have to admit I am not only a better teacher because of him I am also a better human being.

You can find Andy’s blog, podcast, and tons of other resources here. I highly recommend you start with listening to The Power of Self-Authoring episodes #46 with Jim Roussin, #44 with Maddy Hewitt and Cathy Berger Kaye, and #52 with Dr. Kretchmar. There are plenty of other people he interviews such as Eric Sheniger, Dr. Kriellaars, Dean Dudley, Martha James-Hassan, Jorge Rodriguez, Jarrod Robinson, and Mike Kaczala who will expand your mind as well as make you question whether you are living your life to the fullest.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Andy for taking the time and energy to help the next generation understand the depth and complexity of teaching. We are searching for meaning not only in our professional lives but in our personal lives as well. As Andy says there is no separation between the two. I know I personally have benefitted from his work which means that my students have had their class experience shaped by him as well. In an age where technology can be mistaken for excellent pedagogy, Andy is a beacon of light that shines high above the fray. He encourages us to be the best version of ourselves we can be, and that my friends is something to be grateful for.

 

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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.