I heard you needed this today

September 9, 2017 § 4 Comments

I heard you needed this today:

a kind word, a smile, a listening ear.

It doesn’t matter how I knew,

just that I am here.

Go ahead; it’s okay; no one will see.

Your exhaustion is just exhaustion.

Okay; fine.

Your secret weakness will stay with me.

You know all the cliches so I won’t waste your time.

But I’m listening if you need to echo them

long enough to unwind.

Yes, unwind.

You’re wound up and wounded.

Anxiety is at its peak.

Don’t worry, I won’t use that word again.

No stigma here.

Just mystique.

No, no. There will be no betrayal while you’re with me.

You can breathe;

just breathe

comfortably.

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I am not a poet

April 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am not a poet.

My rhythms are suspect and my word

play awkwardly lingers in the doorway like angsty

teenagers, trying too hard to fit in.

 

I erase more than I keep,

often more than I write too.

Case in point,

I once wrote a poem with this exact title.

It was lovely and sincere

even if it was a tongue in cheek response to a class assignment.

 

Alas, I lost it

much like my train of thought,

replacing it with easier to follow cliche.

So in its place, I present

an ode, a tribute, an imposter,

whose truth is much closer to the title than intended.

Wandering the Path: Leisure, Relaxation, & Recharging

October 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Inspired by my lovely wife and her observation that I embody the Tolkien quote “Not all who wander are lost,” my goal is for this piece to be continuation of a series highlighting aspects of my thinking, my strengths, and my authentic self as I attempt to connect more deeply with you all.

Talk Nerdy to Me

Recently a word-of-the-day meme crossed my dashboard and piqued my curiosity. “Otiose,” an adjective meaning to serve no purpose or result. I thought, “Cool!” Then, my inner word nerd rejoiced and dragged me to my OED to find the entry and etymology. And bang! I was derailed. What I thought would be an interesting way to express my distaste for purposeless drudgery and aid in rekindling the usage of somewhat obscure word turned inconceivableout to be another Vizzini lesson. That word did not mean what I thought it meant. To be fair to Litographs, Dictionary.com, and probably Merriam-Webster as well, “serving no purpose,” “idle,” and “useless” are how most contemporary users of the word employ it. Capturing the usage is important, but it’s a bit more complicated & culturally influenced than that.

“Otiose” comes directly from the latin word for being at leisure, ōtiōsus. This puzzled me at first. Why would anyone consider being at leisure to mean serving no purpose or result. Being the total nerd that I am, I jumped down this rabbit hole and started digging. Almost all definitions of leisure center on freedom otiosein some way or form, yet it’s origin of licēre means “to be permitted.” Permissible freedom is quite an interesting concept in itself, yet it is one we live with every day in America. Our freedoms are not without boundaries, leaving them defined by what the law or society deems permissible. That in mind, how does a word like “otiose” with its origins in permissible freedom come to mean idle or useless? Context.

Much of the definitions of leisure, though centered on freedom, are juxtaposed with work or duty. Being the binary obsessed creatures we humans are, it only makes sense that we would use this context to extrapolate a new meaning for an adjective connected to leisure. It seems our focus on work-related productivity requires that the opposite of said productivity must be non-productive, i.e. serving no purpose or result.

This sort of word evolution that devolves from the central meaning reminds me of the child’s game of Telephone where one person starts with a phrase or sentence, whispers it into the next child’s ear, who then repeats the phrase as best as they remember to the next child, and so on until the last child hears the message and speaks it aloud for the group to giggle at how much the message changed when filtered through a series of varying interpretations.

To befog the leisure evolution further, we often use the phrase “leisure time activities” when discussing recreational activities. Recreation now deemed synonymous with leisure has no connection denotatively to uselessness and only indirectly connects to freedom through the defining word of “relaxation.” Though relaxation is not freedom itself, most people would say freedom would be required in order to achieve relaxation. So why would we connect permission to freedom, uselessness, and relaxation? By now, I’m sure my rabbit-hole wonderings have left many of your exasperated and itching to say “Clearly, I cannot choose the cup in front of me!” I wouldn’t blame you for spilling both of the cups and leaving in a huff, but I promise this is going somewhere.

Mr. Rodger’s Breathing Exercises

Please, sit back down, take a deep breath, and R-E-L-A-X. Whatever we call it, relaxation relaxis a necessary part to maintain our well being. The reason “otiose” and its etymological relatives matter is that “leisure” nor “relaxation” should be held in the same breath as uselessness or idle. Yet, I have found that many times it is. From what I can find, this directly correlates to our willingness to juxtapose freedom with work. In many ways, leisure’s most colloquial use is to describe the time we aren’t working or performing duties of some sort. It is the time that is all our own. How we use this time and with what we fill it are entirely up to us. That is a huge part of the freedom leisure encapsulates. Some people relax with a book, others with movies or television, an increasing number choose games, yet others still will choose nature walks or star gazing. However you choose to fill your leisure time, the purpose is often the same: to relax and recharge. It is in these moments of respite that we regain the energy exerted in our work and duties. But make no mistake, recharging is not idle nor useless, and it most definitely serves a vital purpose that will yield lasting results.

Batteries Not Included

In June, the Harvard Business Review published an article on resilience by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan. In it, they challenge the long-held belief that resilience is about how much adversity one can endure. Through the analysis of multiple studies, they concluded that resilience had little to do with how one endures and that it instead is connected to how one recharges. It is through active and purposeful recharging that some people can endure much longer than others.

recharge-meme-1To be idle or at rest may be a form of physical recovery during or after a long walk. However, simply being at rest is not the same as getting rest. Anyone who’s stared at the ceiling while trying to sleep understands this difference. The same goes for our mental and emotional recovery. Simply being idle is not useful and therefore, is not leisure or relaxation. In order to relax, we know that we need to do or not do certain things (which vary from person to person) in order to recover and rejuvenate our spirit. This is often called “selfcare,” and it takes planning and effort to accomplish. The difference is the effort expended while recovering is used to purge negativity from our bodies and our minds. To neglect our recovery is to allow the toxic negativity that is a part of everyday life to continually build without providing any release. When we don’t purge the negativity through intentional and prioritized recovery, we make ourselves overly susceptible to burnout.

What recovery looks like and how it recharges a person will vary for each individual. For me, nerding out on words like the path that lead me to writing this post is one way that I recharge. For others, it might be napping or partaking in a recreational activity like a sport, cooking, or crochet. Many experts promote the use of mindfulness meditation as well. How someone recharges is vital and should be intentional in order to activate their own recovery process. To outsiders, it might look like relaxation or it might look like work. But what it looks like on the outside is irrelevant. What matters is how it helps the individual rejuvenate.selfcare

I may not know what recharging looks like for you or even be able to provide a relevant example for your life. However, I do encourage each of you to reflect on your daily habits. What activities do you engage in that uplift, encourage, and inspire you? What activities drain you? Do you wait until you are totally exhausted before recharging? Do you use a hobby as an escape instead of as recovery? All of these things will impact your well being. Burnout often comes from waiting too long to recharge, but it can also manifest by not addressing and recharging after small draining activities that you experience regularly. Be aware of your needs, your state, and your activities. It matters to your health and well being. By taking care of your recovery needs, you will help yourself maintain and sustain the best version of who you can be. So, remind yourself that #YouMatter by investing in your selfcare, even if it is leisurely.

My Farewell [Guest Post]

May 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have the immense honor of sharing my blogosphere with a friend and fellow educator today. Below is his powerful piece on his relationship with school and education. Thank you Jordan for joining me here at Involuntary Verbosity. I am grateful for the words you share with us today.

Letter

I met you when I was 18; rather, I admitted that I loved you, that in my heart of hearts I thought we’d be together forever when I was 18. It seems like you’d always been there, somewhere behind me as all the major events of my life carried on. You gently placed a hand on my shoulder when my grandmother died and told me that to cry is to be human, to mourn to have loved and to remember to grant immortality. You gave my confidence with my umbrella and rain boots in Kindergarten and saved my life in middle school. I thought we could be together forever, until I was gray in the beard and my eyes quivered as I retired, older, wiser, but ultimately me. I thought I’d teach until my students were grandparents and their children’s children looked at me and questioned “who’s that old guy?” and with a pause they’d answer “that’s the man who taught me what it means to keep going when I was sad”.

And yet here we are, 31 days away from our divorce. You can say I’ve changed. You are of course right. You held tight that boy that dreamed that education could deflect bullets and a syllabus was a way to safeguard, ultimately, against the fading of the light. You can say I’ve lost my idealism and I would say the same to you. When we met, you surrounded me with applause. You told me I was Golden. You said “All children deserve you”, but 5 years later, you tell me I’m not qualified enough. That I ask for too much, that children can get along without me.

Four years ago when you put me in the hospital, when you beat me for the first time, I laughed. I thought surely, I had done something wrong. I had knelt a little too long talking to students; I had played a little too hard on the playground with the kids; it was my fault, who even plays basketball in dress shoes. Here we are, and you’ve put me in the hospital twice. My nerves are shot. My headaches are so bad that to get up to see you another day, I have to take medicine at night. I cry when I am away from you, I cry when I am with you.  You’re the only thing I’ve ever known and you’re killing me, slowly.Dearly Beloved 2

I thought if I stopped our public relationship and kept it private it’d be better. We could charter a new flight together, we could learn what it meant to be each other’s everything again. We could consume one other and be so intertwined that they would know before seeing my ID, before I talked about you that I was yours. I thought we could mean more to each other, but you keep telling me I’m not worth it. I ask you for more, for help supporting myself, for help supporting the family you said I could provide for one day, but you tell me you don’t have it. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s always my fault.

I promised you I’d stay until all the paperwork was done. I said I could hold on until all the tests and games you make me play were through. You said you needed that. You said I was strong enough, I don’t know if I am. In 31 days, I’m leaving you. I’m taking the years I spent learning what you liked and how to be the best for you and putting them on a shelf. I thought I’d hang them, one day, from the rafters like a champion and go out the same way I came in, with applause.

You once told me that children needed me, even greater, that they deserved me and I deserved this. Now after every cut, every time you come up short when we go out together, you say you’ve given me everything you can, that your last offer is your best offer and I’ve gotten what I deserve. You say you do it for our children, but if that was true, wouldn’t you love me?

I didn’t want to leave without saying anything. I didn’t want to vanish into the summer and let you find my room empty, all my things gone. I wanted to tell you that I will always love you. I will love you more than you love me. I will love you more than you say you love me, but if I don’t walk away now I’ll be teaching when my students are grandparents. I’ll be teaching when their children’s children walk up to me and say “who’s that old guy?” and with a hesitant pause they’ll answer “I don’t know, but that’s not the man I remember”.

I hope you don’t treat your next one like you did me.

Jordan

About the author: Jordan Lanfair is a veteran teacher with experience across the world and US.

Wandering the Path: Seeking Detectorists, Silver Bullets, & Philosopher’s Stones

April 25, 2016 § 2 Comments

Inspired by my lovely wife and her observation that I embody the Tolkien quote “Not all who wander are lost,” my goal is for this piece to be continuation of a series highlighting aspects of my thinking, my strengths, and my authentic self as I attempt to connect more deeply with you all.

The Detectorist’s Hope

Treasure hunting draws the attention of many, young or old. We find ourselves imagining “what if” from the pirate treasures and golden tickets of our youth to the job opportunities and lotto tickets of our adulthood. Much of our fascination can be traced back to a deep desire, a hope, for something better, something surprisingly — even unfathomably —  in our favor. There is nothing wrong with such hope. In fact, various studies on hope show a correlation between our hope levels and a number of positive outcomes ranging from life satisfaction to well-being to academic success.

detectorist definition

In comes the detectorist. When  I was aimlessly scrolling through Hulu in search of a new show to capture my interest, I happened upon The Detectorists. Though the show quickly turned out to not be for me, I was quite smitten with the title. I found out that “detectorist” is an actual word, not a glamorous one with a storied etymological history but a published definition nevertheless . Detectorists often are considered modern-day treasure hunters in a parallel category to garage salers, dumpster divers, and pickers (another term that I learned from a TV show that means people who look through junk yards and the collections of hoarders for valuable, resellable items). They seek out the priceless among the ordinary and in some cases the downright disgusting.

What could drive treasure hunters, both real and fictional, to seek out what others haven’t or cannot find other than hope? It isn’t optimism because I know some very negative people who still play the lottery every week. It can’t simply be self-efficacy because self-efficacy can lead to results anywhere and need not be narrowly applied to the rarity of discovery. Yes, both optimism and self-efficacy could very well be at play in many of the successful cases where treasure is found by our intrepid detectorists; however, they are not required. Instead, I am convinced that hope plays an essential role in the motivation of treasure hunters.

Having hope matters, even if it is the fantastic belief in treasures left undiscovered. Many of us traded in the treasure hunting of our childhood literature for the hope of monetary gain or career success. We hope one day to be discovered, to have or make our big break, or to come into a large sum of money such as promotions, lottery tickets, or inheritances we never knew existed. The reality is that Black Beard’s treasure, which may have ignited our childhood imagination, is about as plausible as long lost rich relatives who leave us their estate, and the big breaks we hear about are usually the result of a little bit of perseverance and a healthy dose of luck. The Powerball odds are what again? Okay, we probably have better career odds than that, but without hope, there is no reason to believe that the treasures we seek are possible.

Sorry, Coors. No beer here.

As the odds of our adult treasure hunts become more daunting, we turn to new treasure hunts. Many people in many industries hold out hope that they create, discover, or at least bump into the next innovation because innovations in our society are as good as gold. If you don’t believe me, do a little digging on the number of lawsuits filed by major corporations in the tech industry over proprietary designs, features, code, etc. Technology is our modern day uncharted pirate islands filled with the possibility of hidden treasure. But the tech world is not alone.

Education is as guilty of this infatuation with innovation as any other industry. In education, it isn’t just technology, mind you. It’s technology, curriculum, tests, accountability measures, and in many cases student performance. If it isn’t disheartening enough to realize that we treat students as outputs, outcomes, and commodities, we do so while innovating all over them. Worse in my opinion, the powers that be use the “oh but the children” line to allow only one shot at hitting the mark (Get it? Mark. British for grades. Too much? I’ll see myself out.) before declaring incompetence — often attributed to someone else — and starting all over again.

Why?

No, seriously. Why do we keep doing this absurd process that would never meet reputable standards of research in other industries?

I have a hypothesis. We have silver poisoning. Silver poisoning like water poisoning is having too much of one thing, for example water. In the case of educational innovation, it’s too many silver bullets. The silver bullet metaphor has become toxic to education. First of all, we don’t need any guns even in implied metaphors in our schools. Secondly, no one in education is a vampire or werewolf or any other evil creature mystically believed to be slain by such an item, not even if we carve crosses into the bullets. Most importantly, the idea that any one thing (read: lesson, curriculum, textbook, technology, teaching style, etc.) can create educational success for all is assimilation through erasure. The only way that one intervention of any sort will work for all students is if all students are the same. Period. Leave your exceptionalism at the door. Silver bullets erase the diversity of the student populations by assuming they know what is best for every student in every situation. Yes, even the flexible, differentiated ones.

Human beings like our students are complex creatures who cannot and should not be defined by any one particular trait or aspect of their being. Because of this, they deserve a variety of educational supports to further their growth. Fortunately, many teachers, principals, counsellors, parents, tutors, friends and other students already provide such a variety of supports whether we as a society allow them to be leveraged successfully or not. I use the word “allow” carefully here because we cannot lose sight that the only mythical beast deserving to be slain by a silver bullet is the system itself. We’ve created a monster, a monster we too often refuse to take responsibility for and one we feed with the shattered fragments of the hope we cast upon the silver altar of short-sighted interventions.

All Philosophers Must Get Stoned

We have poisoned ourselves with silver. We’ve become so entrenched in our denial of our malady that we’ve fooled ourselves into not just believing that silver bullets exist, but that we can even create them out of the mundane.

Silver Bullet Tweet 2Recently, I read a tweet from the #asugsvsummit that called for educators to stop seeking silver bullets in favor of polishing lead until it becomes silver. While I understand the intent of this quote by Mr. Collins whom I have never met and assume is a very nice gentleman, the metaphor he uses doesn’t follow. It is the equivalent of a modern day philosopher’s stone, making us believe that we can transmute materials if we just try hard enough, care enough, practice enough, <fill in the blank> enough.

To be abundantly clear, my quarrel is not with Mr. Collins or the tweeter, who I also assume is a wonderful person. My quarrel is with the mythology of the metaphor and our societal obsession with one-size-fits-all interventions, including home grown ones. No amount of trying is going to make any one-size-fits-all approach work unless we assimilate ruthlessly and promote an education erasure, which can easily be argued already exists. I don’t know about you all, but erasure has nothing to do with why I teach, why I give of myself to my students, why I fight systemic constructs and the bureaucracies that made them. The presence of erasure in our school systems is why I teach resistance to my students. It’s why I tell them to be skeptical of what they are told in favor of discovering their own truth. It’s also why up to this point I’ve stayed on the fringes of grit and mindset debates.

None of these concepts are silver bullets nor are they philosopher stones. I’m inclined to believe that very few of them were originally conceived to be either. How do I know that? I don’t, but why else would Duckworth and Dweck both come out in defense of their research and to admonish its use as a silver bullet? Could it be that their intent varied from the application, even some of the application they committed themselves? Though I have no crystal ball, I would guess that these defenses are much less nefarious than some make them out to be. Dweck and Duckworth both seem to be pushing back against narrowly focused teaching construct.  Plus, aren’t they just trying to polish their lead into silver like the rest? Regardless of the intent of these edu-interventions, too much of any of these one-size-fits-all approaches is more poison than solution, and this is where the silver-bullet-polished-from-lead metaphor ends for me.

Philosophers StoneWe don’t need silver bullets. We don’t need philosopher’s stones. We don’t need one-size-fits-all interventions. What we need to do is find our inner detectorist, spark our curiosity, and harness our motivation to learn about, from, and with each other. We need to have hope again. Hope, not in a solution, but in and for one another.