Like many of us during these uncharted times of the COVID-19 shutdown, I’ve tried to keep myself busy (sane?) over these past few months by taking on a bunch of hobbies and passion projects to help pass the time. Some of these initiatives went better than others — but I figured I’d take a moment to share what all I’ve been up to for those who might be a new visitor to the site.
Hi, by the way!
In March, I threw myself at full-tilt distance learning and upped my podcast production schedule to DAILY episodes every school day instead of the usual once a week approach. And since we’re all working from home, I temporarily changed the name of the podcast from “Talk to Mee in the Car” to “Talk to Mee in the Coronavirus” (but you can still find it under it’s original name on iTunes, Spotify, and wherever else you enjoy your podcast streams).
I likewise added a Distance Learning tab here on my website to offer a bunch of newly created resources for teachers looking to make sense of this “new normal” of online teaching. You can check out the full collection by clicking this link.
In April, I launched a brand new passion project podcast dedicated to the short stories of one of my all-time favorite American fiction writers, Flannery O’Connor. If you’ve ever had the chance to check out the film White Christmas, you might recall the age old question where Bing Crosby asks no one in particular: “what do you do with a General when he stops being a general?” I think the same can be asked of teachers when we’re taken out of our classrooms — and as an English teacher without a proper English classroom to ply his trade in over these past weeks, I’ve found myself looking to scratch that itch to talk books with fellow lovers of literature. A few text messages to some old friends later, and BOOM! Everything That Rises: A Podcast on the Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor was born.
Along the way, I tried teaching myself how to master the basics of Zencastr (highly recommended!), and each week I invite a new teacher friend on the show to dive deep into a short story of their choice. Nothing formal or fancy; kinda’ like a socially distanced book club for the 21st century. I’ve often said that “reading is breathing in, and writing is breathing out” — and I’m really happy to report that binge reading all of this O’Connor has likewise inspired me to get back to some fiction writing of my own. So some friends and I decided to revive our writer’s group. And twice a month since early April, we’ve dialed in for a regular Zoom call to trade pages with notes, feedback, and suggestions as we enjoy the process of rolling up our sleeves to put together original works of short fiction.
In May, I started to get into the groove of all the mental exercises that I’d packed my calendar with in this time away from school. So I felt it was time to bring the same level of effort to some physical improvement. And since I’ve been a distance runner and obstacle course enthusiast for the past ten years or so — I made the ambitious (foolish?) decision to try to tackle the challenge of completing 100 burpees a day for every single day of the month of May.
Do we have video footage of this experiment?
28 days into #30days100Burpees.
This is what the last set of 25 looks like after a full day of @zoom_us calls and 75 more before I turned on the camera. Not gonna lie – those last five are UGLY.
— John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) May 29, 2020
So yeah. That happened.
(Note to self: next time I want to write a book, maybe I should call it “DopEDmine” or “SerEDtonin” — that way I can ditch all of this “on-brand” high energy stuff and focus instead on the restorative powers of sleep and relaxation!)
But all in all, it’s got me thinking of a bunch of ideas for how I can better improve my own student-centered instruction for the fall. Here are ten of the biggest takeaways that are on my mind so far:
- Real learning is messy and non-linear — and that starts with your physical space. It’s ok to re-arrange your furniture to suit different tasks at hand. And this goes double for our classrooms.
- Physical exercise is essential. If you’re not moving around for hours (or days) at a time, it dramatically affects your mental health and motivation. Think of the sheer amount of time an average student spends SITTING in a given day! We need to change that — even if we’re just injecting momentary shots of adrenaline to help break up the monotony.
- It is SO liberating to work on passion projects that you actually LOVE. No grades. No deadlines. Just you against you. Whether I’m running, writing, or reading — it’s a joy to know that there’s nobody staring over my shoulder as I do it.
- To quote a line from Michael Cohen’s Educated By Design, “creativity is a mindset, not a skill set.” The more you do it, the better you get.
- This is sort of a piggyback off of number four, but “Learning Styles” are woefully overrated. To the point where some might even go as far as to call them fake. Yes, we all have preferred ways to learn, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn in other ways.
- The inimitable Michael Matera, teacher, author of eXPlore Like a Pirate and host of the outstanding Well PlayED podcast first introduced me to the concept of Kaizen — a Japanese term meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement. In other words: set a goal for yourself that’s so insultingly small that you’d be embarrassed NOT to accomplish it. Then do it again. And again. And before you know it, it’s almost automatic to find yourself tackling bigger challenges.
- A corollary to the previous item — and a call-back to a line I frequently quote from EDrenaline Rush — enthusiasm is infectious. In this era of heightened awareness of the power of contagion, it’s critical to observe that POSITIVE FEEDBACK can become addictive. When the pleasure centers in our brains start to see results, and we believe that we’re making progress. That’s what makes video games and physical exercise so rewarding!
- The internet can be an amazing tool for holding yourself accountable to an audience outside of your own head (or your own home). You don’t really think I would have done all of those stupid burpees if nobody was watching, right?! The same holds true for our students. To borrow a line from author and educator Rushton Hurley: “when students write for their teacher, they’ll write until it’s good enough. But when students write for an authentic audience, they’ll write until it’s good.”
- Choice and voice are the key to intrinsic motivation. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he notes that carrots and sticks are passe — and that people are more likely to complete their tasks (and do them well!) when they have a sense of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose to what all they’re doing.
- But there’s always more work to be done. Ernest Hemingway famously would write all but the last few words of a sentence before going to bed for the night — that way he could hit the ground running with newfound momentum the very next day by picking up where he left off and knowing exactly where he’d start. I really like that idea.
Till next time…