Got an EDU Mountain to Climb? Tap Your PLN! Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This!

Part 2

When I originally listened to my daughter and Daisy tell about their experience with hiking Handies Peak in Part 1, Got A Mountain To Climb: Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This.,  I thought I knew which direction my posts would take, and then I didn’t.  I immediately saw an amazing teachable moment about motivation, failing forward with students, and the guide on the side (Dave Burgess, Teach Like A Pirate) applications. Then I realized it had general life applications, so that’s the direction my first post ended up, real life.  As I considered which educational applications to write about in Part 2, I was again struck with the multitude of possibilities even by narrowing it down to education.  As a result, there will be at least one more post in this series.mRHand_102

For Part 2, let’s examine and reflect on ourselves as educators when we try new things for our lessons (either in pedagogy and/or technology), or are faced with problems that seem like mountains to climb.  We will do this in the structure of Daisy, Shalyn, Austin, and Kiana climbing Handies Peak, so grab your gear. Here we go.mRHand_105

There are at least two different mindsets of teachers when it comes to trying new things in the classroom. We have the go slow, research, get prepared, then go approach, and we also have the Speedy Gonzales crowd. If you had to click the link to understand the allusion there, then you now know I’m old, but let’s examine Speedy first.mRHand_107

In our Part 1 story, Shalyn (my 19 year old daughter) stayed with Daisy, her guide and mentor, listened to her, followed her lead, and more.  Kiana (Austin’s 23 year old girlfriend), on the other hand, decided that even though she had never climbed a mountain before, much less a 14’er, she should follow her own strategy.  For those of you who read the first post, the answer to a question you may now be pondering is no, her strategy was not to vomit up and down the mountain.  That just happened to be an unfortunate by product of her strategy.  The reason Kiana took off at the beginning of the hike, continually pushed herself to go faster than her guide and crew, is that she believed that would enable her to have more rest when she stopped to wait for the group to catch up to her.  Hiking in high elevations, even up the side of a mountain along established trails, will push your body to limits you weren’t aware of previously.  It burns calories. A lot of calories.  In order to keep your body going, you have to provide it with calories to replace those you are burning.  Energy is a necessity to hiking a mountain.  Energy is essential for life. For creativity. For Teaching. For us all.mRHand_109

Kiana didn’t like the bread Daisy choose for their sandwiches (though the groundhogs she fed it to certainly did!).  It was a thicker sturdier grain that would hold up to being hauled in backpacks.  Even though her sandwiches were made to her specifications (turkey and mayo only, no cheese), the fact that the bread was unfamiliar and of a different texture than usual prevented her from eating the sandwiches.  She only ate the granola bars and nuts Daisy had included in their backpacks in order to supplement the sandwiches.  Kiana’s body burned calories and didn’t get replenished. Her energy waned, she vomited what she did eat and drink, and her body objected to the abuse.mRHand_113

The “go as fast as you can so you can rest longer” approach reminds me of how educators approach trying new things sometimes. It’s almost like the experience of taking unpleasant medicine.  Or ripping off a band-aid.  If I hurry, I will get through the hard parts quickly and can then coast through the easier sections of this mountain. Sure. And yes, Kiana did make it up the mountain and back down. However, she did experience physical ailments that the others did not.  She made the trip much more difficult and unpleasant than it needed to be. She did not do much to fuel herself with the energy needed to perform well.  She had a support system ready to go, already in place, but she chose not only to not use it, but to risk her own health by not taking advantage of the support, experience, and assistance offered by Daisy and Austin.  Sound familiar? I’ve been that way in education before, and I hope I’ve learned from my mistake. Let’s put down our packs and rest a second. Have a cool drink of water.

Austin too had climbed 14ers before with his mom, Daisy.  He also ran cross country in high school and in college before switching to the college track team.  He is no stranger to the value of pacing, teamwork, and experience.  And though he worried about her and alternated between Kiana and his mom and Shalyn, Kiana didn’t take advantage of the assistance he could have given her. She received his sympathy, but rejected his help. She got further and further behind as the group worked their way back down the mountain. Her plan backfired. She ran out of gas. Her battery died. As a result, she (Kiana) has no intention of ever climbing a mountain again. Ring a bell? Have you ditched a tech tool or new strategy because it didn’t go well, was too hard, or you blazed right through it without seeking a guide?mRHand_115

Shalyn, on the other hand, knew that she didn’t know everything she needed to climb the mountain.  Shalyn didn’t particularly care for the bread either, but she trusted Daisy. She understood that Daisy HAD done this before. Shalyn knew that Daisy found out the hard way about altitude sickness, stress, lack of preparation and training, etc. How did Shalyn know this? Daisy shared it with her, each baby step up that mountain. Daisy let Shalyn know that she wasn’t alone, others had gone before (yes, a Star Trek allusion), and that she, Daisy, had failed but still prevailed.  Daisy isn’t an expert climber; she just likes to climb one mountain a year.  She doesn’t claim to know everything, but she is not afraid to climb the mountain. Daisy’s not afraid to try, and her enthusiasm and cheerleading, each step of the way, were what helped Shalyn up the mountain. Baby steps.  Are you ready? We got this.mRHand_116

The key phrase that Daisy used repeatedly with Shalyn that day was: We got this.  Shalyn knew as she stepped out of the truck that she wasn’t climbing the mountain by herself. She had help. She had support. She had a guide with experience.  Isn’t that what a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is or does?  If you are standing at the foot of a mountain, or even most of the way up but have a few thousand feet left to climb, don’t you want to tap into the power provided by your PLN? Whether it be a personal problem, professional problem, or a new technology you want to try in class, ask that teacher, coach, administrator or counselor who has climbed the mountain before to help you. Ask for support. Put their experience to work for you. Let members of your PLN choose the bread for your sandwiches that you need on the climb. Let someone from your PLN tell you about the times they lost their footing when climbing up or down their own mountain.  They can share the mistakes they made and help you avoid them.  If a thunderstorm rolls in as you reach the summit, let a member of your PLN provide you with rain poncho.  Don’t get wet just to prove you don’t need help. Life is too short, and we have AMAZING things to do. This isn’t a race..We ALL need help. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this!

Got A Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are you Ready? We Got This.

Part 1:

I love the mountains out west. I really do.  My favorites press upward past the tree line and have snow draped around their summits year round, or nearly year round.  During our recent vacation in Colorado, my cousin’s wife, Daisy, had a day picked out to climb Handies Peak near Lake City, Colorado (my new favorite place), and she talked my nineteen year-old daughter, Shalyn, who was home from college for the summer, into hiking to the summit with her.  To round out the group, Daisy’s 24 year-old son, Austin, and his 23 year-old girlfriend, Kiana, were also planning to hike.  Austin and Daisy had hiked Pike’s Peak (another 14ner) twice previously, but Kiana and Shalyn had never done anything like this before. Ever. Though Shalyn had played basketball and softball in high school, she was not in “mountain climbing” shape. Shalyn also did not have waterproof winter gloves, a proper hiking backpack, and her hiking boots were much to heavy, being made for fashion and not actually for hiking.  To be clear, if you’ve never hiked a 14ner, the distance isn’t really how you gauge the level of difficulty.  The hike Daisy planned for the group is Class 1 or Exposure 1, 5.7 miles total.  That doesn’t make it an easy hike, since you start at 11,600 feet and must hike to the summit of 14,048 feet in elevation. There are all kinds of weather you must prepare for, physical conditions, and wildlife (bears), all while keeping your pack light enough that you can carry it up the mountain, all the way to the summit. Then you have to carry it back down, which can be just as challenging, though in different ways.

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To see all seventeen of the photos that go with this one, click here.

Now, Shalyn could have made excuses not to go on the hike. She wasn’t prepared. She hadn’t trained for it . She didn’t have all the right equipment (sound like any educators you know? Yourself? Myself?). She didn’t know what to expect, so she was a bit scared of the unknown. Shalyn has some health issues and cannot tolerate heat, which has been known to trigger a panic attack. She has anxiety. While not diabetic, she has low blood sugar issues.  The list could go on, because it did while we packed her bag the night before the hike.  Daisy and crew were heading out at six the following morning. My husband and I told Shalyn that she didn’t have to go. She could hang out at the cabin with me in the morning then go riding trails on her 4-wheeler with her dad, eleven year-old brother, my cousin Randy (Daisy’s husband) and his two younger sons (ages 13 and 11), all of whom would be on dirt bikes.  Now Shalyn loves riding mountain trails, but the problem was, that is something she does every year. We load up the bikes and 4 wheeler and head out to Colorado. That wasn’t a new experience, and it wasn’t a challenge. During the whole trip out to Colorado from Missouri, I kept thinking of the challenge to try new experiences set by Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance (a favorite book of mine) in his guest blog for Dave Burgess. To read that great post, click here. I sat there watching my daughter struggle with the decision to go on the hike or not.  I wanted to switch places with her and try hiking a mountain, but my recent surgery prevented that. It would be physically demanding. It would be mentally demanding. It would NOT be easy. It would be new. It would be exhilarating to reach the summit. It would be amazing. I was concerned about her health if she went, but I would not stop her or tell her not to go. I’m not that kind of mom. She can make her own decisions, and she did. Shalyn went.

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Loading up for the ride on the day before the big hike up Handies Peak.

I helped Daisy pack the food for the hike, since their bodies would be burning through calories faster than they could replace them. We had been in the mountains (8,500 elevation or higher) for nearly a week by this time, so their bodies were already acclimated to the higher elevation. I woke up at the crack of dawn to make sure Shalyn had what she needed and saw her out the door.  I then said a quiet prayer for her that all moms can relate to, and went back to bed, but I couldn’t go back to sleep.

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Once they returned, Daisy filled me in on how their hike went.  They showed up at Daisy’s cabin starving and exhausted, and I was amazed at how much food they consumed.  Then later I got Daisy alone and she filled me in, which in turn, sparked this blog post.  You see, Daisy was the guide on the side, and the three with her, mainly Shalyn and Kiana, were her students.  Daisy and Austin had split the majority of things all four would need between them in their packs, while Shalyn and Kiana carried packs with stuff they would personally need. Daisy instructed the group to stay together, take it slow and steady, and that they could take as many breaks as they needed.  To add to the stress of the hike for Shalyn, the area was flooded with people, since apparently a race up to the summit was taking place, and people and cameras were everywhere.  While this reduced the chance of interrupting a bear’s daily routine, it did not lesson the anxiety my introverted daughter was feeling, but she listened carefully to Daisy as they prepared to leave the trailhead. Kiana, however, took off running.  Daisy was baffled but just reminded Shalyn that this wasn’t a race (for them anyway, but it was a race for the people in the actual race) . They could go as slow as needed. After maybe one hundred yards, my out of breath daughter declared, “I’m dead. I can still see the truck, and I’m already dead.” Calm and reassuringly, Daisy explained to Shalyn how she managed to climb Pike’s Peak for the first time without knowing anything but what she’d manage to research on the internet.  However, as with most experiences in life, there are certain intangibles that you can’t always discover online. Daisy was unprepared for the realities of hiking in higher elevations that first time, even though she had the right gear and knew the route and the destination. She made it to the top by simply placing one foot slowly in front of the other. Baby steps. She gave Shalyn the same advice. “Just take baby steps. Put one foot in front of the other.” Off they trudged.

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Shalyn thought and verbalized on multiple occasions up the mountain that she was “dead,” or that she “died,” but she kept putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Daisy stayed with her the whole time. Kiana, who took off running from the trailhead, threw up several times, but she kept running ahead every time the rest of the group approached, didn’t stay with the group much, and wouldn’t eat to replenish the calories that they were all quickly burning as they trudged up Handies Peak. Shalyn, on the other hand, ate when she felt she needed to eat or when Daisy told her to eat. When she thought she couldn’t go any further, Daisy would say, “Let’s just go a few more feet.”  And Shalyn did. A few more feet, a few more baby steps, and Shalyn climbed the mountain. At one point, Shalyn exclaimed breathlessly, “I think I died and lived to tell the story!” Daisy laughed and replied, “Let’s go a few more feet.Baby steps.

Instead of the cold that the group had expected, they encountered heat. The weather stayed somewhat mild while they hiked, so Shalyn had to combat the heat that her hardworking body was generating. Her body doesn’t handle heat well, remember, so this added a layer of struggle to her efforts.  When she struggled, Daisy was at her side saying, “Are you ready? We got this!” Once, when Shalyn kept repeating that she was dying, Daisy said, “Well, you can’t go back now!” My daughter replied, “Oh, I never said I was going back.” And she didn’t go back. She kept putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Slow and steady.

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The snow they trudged through was wet and cold, the air was thin, and the hours mounted. Her muscles screamed, her boots were too heavy, and the backpack was killing her shoulders. Just a few more feet. We got this. Baby steps. And then they reached the summit. They rested there a bit, took a bunch of pictures with their cell phones (which I’m using in this post), and then had to begin their descent. Going back down would be every bit the challenge that going up had been, only the problems would be different. Their toes would hit the end of their shoes repeatedly. Painfully. Keeping their footing and balance was often hazardous. A thunderstorm moved in, complete with lightning. Kiana threw up some more, and kept running ahead. Daisy and Shalyn headed back down the mountain, with Austin somewhere between his mom and his running then stopping then running girlfriend. Slow and steady. Are you ready? We got this. Baby steps.

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Handies Peak selfie! Front: Austin, Kiana, and Shalyn. Back: Daisy, the guide on the side.

To break up the tension of physical distress with comic relief, Daisy fell down a lot. Okay, so she didn’t fall on purpose, but going down a mountain in snow, rain, and treacherous terrain is not easy to do without falling. Daisy fell, even though she was the guide, the experienced one. She fell, she laughed, she got up again and kept going. Shalyn, in her heavy Dr. Martens hiking boots, did not fall. Those heavy boots may have been killing her tired legs, but their tread kept her upright. She was the only one who didn’t fall, but each member of the group who fell got right back up again and kept going. Come on, Shalyn. Slow and steady. Are you ready? We got this. Baby steps.

The group made it up to the summit and back down the mountain, the measly but excruciating 5.7 miles, in approximately five and a half hours. They made it, even Kiana, who pushed her body too hard, too fast, and without replenishing enough of the calories. Daisy and Shalyn made it to the truck before Kiana, who had to stop repeatedly as her body reached it’s limit, but they all made it. Upon arriving at the cabin and eating macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, and more, they told me about their experience. Kiana flatly stated that she’d never do it again. Shalyn said she probably wouldn’t do it again. Not without better equipment, like water proof winter gloves. No way she’d do it again. Well, not without getting lighter hiking boots. She absolutely wouldn’t do it again. At least not without training first.

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My tired happy daughter, Shalyn, resting at the summit of Handies Peak.

Why am I blogging about this? I dare say many of you will have already seen the connection to education that I saw as this story unfolded, and I’ll focus on that in Part 2, my next post.  However, this doesn’t just relate to education. This story applies to life.  Your life, my life, everyone’s life.  We all have mountains in front of us at one time or another. We all see the mountain of work or trouble that keeps piling up, making us think it is impossible to manage, escape, survive, or conquer. While my kiddo struggled up and down her mountain and prevailed, I was reading Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda  back at the cabin (and if you are facing mountains in your educational or professional field, get this book. It has strategies, advice, and will help prepare you to navigate the trail to the summit of your mountain). I was only in chapter two at the time, but the real stories of educators in the book who were facing serious mountains of their own, and my worry for Shalyn climbing her mountain, had me thinking that both situations were actually similar in some ways. Neither are easy, both may seem impossible to do or survive at first, and all of us want to turn around at some point, or at least think about it briefly. But what if we can’t turn around or leave the mountain, and instead we have to face it? How do we manage the mountain?  Listen to your own personal Daisy. Your guide on the side, whoever it may be. You don’t have to go it alone. Find a we. Don’t have one yet? Then listen to my Daisy: Slow and steady. Let’s just go a few more feet. Put one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this! 

 

 

Work-Life Balance or Unbalance?

Everyone wants a magic formula to create the perfect lifestyle and to know they are doing things right.  If we just had this formula, then happiness and success would invade and take over our lives. Sure. That would be great. But there’s a good reason that no such magic formula exists.  The things in my life that fulfill me might terrify, bore, exhaust, or disgust others, and vice versa. The trick here is to find what works for you, your spouse, your family.  Why is this an important topic for those in education? Who we are, how we are, and what we do affects our ability to be our best for the students and staff we work with every day. And since I brought it up, keep in mind that my best, your best, and (insert your colleague’s name here)’s best will not look the same any more than our work and life dynamic does.  We aren’t the same, so we need to stop comparing and start finding what works for us as individuals, couples, and families.

Building off of my last post about finding your own joy, happiness, and fun in order to bring those elements to your classroom, take a few minutes to examine your lifestyle and habits.  Are you merely existing, make it day by day, just barely? Are you finding yourself content, miserable, overwhelmed, satisfied, bursting with joy and energy? (Time to self-reflect, folks.) Have you built something into your morning routine that ensures you’ll be angry, upset, fired up, pumped up, joyful when you get your students (for you elementarians–shut up, spell check, it’s a word…now) or first students of the day (for us high school and some middle school peeps)?  Yes, how you start each day matters. Figure out what triggers your negative emotions or attitudes and change anything in your daily morning routine that may feed those negatives.

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Unbalanced life.  Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But maybe it’s the right way of thinking. I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and other articles surfacing recently about the power of failing in education and learning, the need to share failures instead of hiding them, and yesterday I watched a powerful TED Talk by Brené Brown where she weaves the story of her discovery that vulnerability in life was the key to courage, creativity, and more. Taking risks in education will involve vulnerability. It involves getting out of our comfort zones. I’m not going to hit you all (y’all) over the head with this concept, but if we as educators want to challenge your students, then we need to be willing to challenge ourselves. Every so often, I think of an area in my life where I’m clearly in my comfort zone, and I get out of it. I start small. If I see that I am constantly choosing to wear tennis shoes with jeans, (hazard of coaching), then I take a break from that zone and choose a different style of shoe for a set time (more than a day or week in length).  If I don’t like getting up in front of people and speaking, singing, presenting, praying, participating, debating, whatever, I make myself do it.  If you start rocking things in your own life, that will help you grow as a person and educator.

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My husband, son Ryan, and daughter Shalyn at one of our favorite spots to ride dirt bikes and 4-wheelers in Colorado at Taylor Park.

I don’t think of my life or lifestyle in terms of balance. I like the thoughts posed by Kelly Christopherson in his recent blog that challenged educators on this subject. He quotes Chris Brogan from his post on this subject (told you it was popular right now) in that balance is not what we should seek, but instead, we should seek to THRIVE.  As I read and pondered this, I realize that although my life is crazy and busy, it is how I thrive. I am now considering my life in terms of unbalance. My husband (tech director for my district) and I could beat some of you in a “how busy are you” contest, but I’m also sure others would beat us at this game. For us, busy is part of how we thrive. It keeps us challenged and unbalanced. We attend every school event we possibly can (EVERY school event we can, not just band, or just art, or just sports.), sing (me) and play lead guitar (him) in a local contemporary (rockin’) Christian band, hold leadership roles at school, follow our 11 year old son around on his travel basketball and baseball teams, currently assistant coach for two sports (me, but that means he has to attend softball and volleyball games and act as admin or field maintenance crew as needed),  sing (me) and play guitar (him) for our church praise team, and the list actually goes on. We are seldom home, but we enjoy this. We challenge ourselves. We put ourselves out there.

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Setting up for our first set at Silver Dollar City’s Young Christians Weekend, 2017. Clearly I’m talking. Par for the course.

The first few concerts (gigs) we did as a band were terrifying and exhilarating.  That probably pushes me the most out of my zone, the singing. It’s much easier in the car, singing with the radio. I’ve sung for crowds of a hundred or more, and sometimes that is less scary than singing for a small church crowd on a Sunday morning. But I’m glad I do it, each and every time, despite the fear, nerves, and mistakes.  There are and will always be mistakes. Vulnerability. It’s there too, and that’s okay.  Not fun, but it is necessary. For all of us. Take some time this summer to discover what pushes your comfort zone boundaries the most, then do it. See if you can create a lifestyle that helps you thrive as a human, then turn that energy toward your classroom, and turn up the heat. Let’s grow things: ourselves, our students, our colleagues. When you get comfortable with that, turn your energy toward the world. Turn up the heat. Rather, rinse, repeat.