When Communication Sabotages Creation

No Stone Unturned

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“We are often too busy communicating to think, create, or collaborate.”                  — Reclaiming Conversation, p. 319

Just recently, a colleague reacted to the fact that my work e-mail inbox contains 4,040 unread messages. “That would drive me nuts,” he told me. I replied that the number didn’t bother me; in fact, I told him, I’d like to think that this lofty number relates to having a decent filter for what is worth clicking on — at least that’s what I tell myself. Another personal e-mail account has 2,058 unread messages…

Click here to continue reading over at medium.com.

Shooting Free Throws Underhanded in School

No Stone Unturned

Here are some thoughts about teacher leadership and facing discomfort when attempting to do the right thing, especially when it challenges the status quo.

Washington Bullets v Golden State Warriors

BALTIMORE, MD – CIRCA 1974: Rick Barry #24 of the Golden State Warriors is at the free-throw line against the Washington Bullets during a circa 1974 NBA basketball game at the Capital Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Barry played for the Warriors from 1972 – 77. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Busyness Is Not A Badge Of Honor

No Stone Unturned

After devoting the vast majority of my writing and thinking to education-related issues and other publishing platforms in the past year or two, I’ve decided to revive the ‘Stew!

Out of curiosity, I used Medium to post my latest effort.  Thanks for reading!

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Student Portraits: Honoring Diverse Learners

No Stone Unturned

If you follow education or teach yourself, you’re probably aware of all the latest trends and issues. There’s the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which is hotly debated. There are schools experimenting with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and other technology, hoping to empower students by teaching “21st Century” skills. There’s debate over teacher tenure and charter schools.

For those of us in the trenches, all of the aforementioned issues are secondary to honoring, understanding, and reaching the diverse learners populating our hallways and classrooms. Above is a tribute to some of my current and former students at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, KY.

Despite having many one-sized-fits-all policies in education, we must find ways to understand, engage, and support each student as individuals. Try to Imagine any “program” or “curriculum” that will meet the needs of all of these students.

Difficult, right?

Creating Time and Space for Just Being.

No Stone Unturned

It has taken me nearly 32 years of living, but I’m finally coming to fully appreciate the importance of stillness. Just being. Doing nothing.

When I start class, students are invited to participate in a mindful breathing meditation.  When I drive home from work now, the radio is turned off. I’ve even begun practicing a simple breathing exercise for 15 minutes a day.

 So far, count me in as someone who believes in the power of mindfulness, which is covered in depth in this story from The Atlantic. For fifteen minutes every day, I lie down and pay attention to my breath. There are times when I’ve gotten restless and don’t quite reach 15 minutes. There are times when I have to gently redirect my thoughts to my breath hundreds of times (or so it seems that way). But more often than not, I feel refreshed, calm, and focused after the practice, even after a stressful day mentoring and teaching my 110 students.

The initial results of structuring this simple, but challenging, contemplative quiet in my life has been overwhelmingly positive: I’m sleeping better, generating more ideas, and feel less busy: for many of us, myself included at times, I’ve fallen into the trap of allowing thoughts of busyness manifest themselves as reality.

Think about the last time you felt like you had too much on your plate: to what extent were your emotions and thoughts causing feelings of being overwhelmed? Right now, maybe you’re skimming this blog post, wanting to read it carefully, but automatically triggered impatience or anxiety causes you to think about the e-mail you must compose. Or what happened yesterday in a frustrating meeting. Or what you’re going to cook for dinner.    

While I do have dozens of items on my “to-do” list most days, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming when you’re truly tackling one thing at a time. Some days, I’m tempted to tell myself I don’t have time for this. But the truth is: if I’m able to be calm and focused with whatever I may be going, I’m more efficient. I’m less worried about what isn’t being done and more in tune with what I am engaged in.

It might seem trite, but the idea of being in the moment, aware of what’s going through your mind, is at the heart of being mindful. It’s certainly easier said than done. The practice is cognitive exercise; if I wanted to run a mini-marathon, it’d take weeks of training for me to simply be in a position to finish the race.   

Liz Kulze concludes in The Atlantic: “The practice may have great potential, but its advocates are quick to note that it will only do for people as much as they decide to put into it…Like fitness of any sort, seeing benefit from meditation takes time, discipline, and dedication.”

Readers, do you have any experience with meditation? How’d it go? If not, are you intrigued?

Wealth As Community, Time, and Freedom

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I’ll be the first one to admit it: I value financial security and material comfort, I save for retirement, and I sometimes worry about finances.

But after reading Ben Hewitt’s book Saved: How I Quit Worry About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World, I’ve been inspired to blog.  Like Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, the text challenged me to ponder just how unsustainable the modern paradigm of constant corporate and economic growth is, urging us to examine what it means to be wealthy.   Let’s consider community, time, and the freedom to think and act outside the realm of money as undervalued measures of wealth.

Community

Valuing wealth based on massive accumulating of material goods and services is a historical anomaly for most of the world’s inhabitants, yet it has become the norm. Hewitt writes:

Of course, the economic and social arrangements we know today have scant historical precedence, and it was not long ago that our investments were not primarily fiscal in nature. We invested in property, to be sure, but also in less tangible assets, like trust and community. We understood that we could not stand separate from others in our communities, nor from the natural world that provided the foundational essentials for day-to-day survival.  

If this doesn’t echo Wendell Berry, I’m not sure what does. Berry writes in The Agrarian Essays, “A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members – among them the need to need one another.”

Community membership offers measures of wealth, of course, that are vastly different than accumulation and six figure bank accounts. If you can trade handmade material goods or services with a neighbor, is that not a form of wealth? If you can strengthen relationships with others by borrowing tools, or counting on someone to feed your pets while away, is that not wealth? Hewitt contends that to be wealthy is to maintain interdependent relationships that allow us to skirt the impersonal transactions of corporate America.

Time

We are all offered 24 hours in a day. No more, no less, no matter our lot. I consider myself wealthy in this regard, despite the fact that I have a demanding job as a high school teacher. I take active steps to ensure I work efficiently and have ample time at home, hours spent bow-hunting in the woods, and time to simply be, to relax, to read, to write. Hewitt writes, “Given the egalitarian nature of time, not to mention its scarcity, the capacity to choose how we spend out time could be viewed as the ultimate expression of wealth.”

I thought about this quote the other day, as I sat in the school cafeteria for an extra three paid hours for parent-teacher conferences and department meetings. Most of my colleagues said they’d rather be with their families, pursuing a hobby, or simply choosing how to spend their time. I was in complete agreement.

Thinking/Freedom

Hewitt’s most interesting idea regarding the modern wealth paradigm of material consumption is that it can detract our ability to be more mindful about the world around us, to be critical thinkers, to be artists, to feel unburdened from thinking about bills and acquiring more stuff. Consider this: if you spend all of your time working to earn money, then worrying about how you’ll spend, invest, and save your money, how much time is left over to think about other things?

“We tend to think of freedom in the context of flesh and blood, but of course our thoughts can be shackled too…How often, I wonder, do we deny ourselves the pleasure of offering our gifts to others, be they intellectual, artistic, or of pure toil? I can’t afford that, we say, and we believe it…” Hewitt continues.

This post probably doesn’t do these ideas justice, but I’m hoping to hear from y’all.

Is someone wealthy who has a 4,000 square foot house but is a slave to their mortgage payment, having to work 60-hour weeks to make house payments and fill up every room with furniture and gadgets? Is someone wealthy if they have a huge nest egg, but hasn’t been able to–or chooses not to–pursue hobbies or take vacations? To what extent do you value the aforementioned ideas as wealth? Is the old maxim “time is money” problematic in any way to you?

What Do You Do Without A Screen?

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I’m not sure when I realized a determination to continue to learn and do things that do not actively require a digital screen.  

This desire to be present and hands-on could have been fostered at an early age; I remember putting on a plastic hard hat and hammering away on rocks, shards of stone rocketing off into the grass, while my uncle fixed the foundation to our barn.  I remember constructing forts out of plywood and potato guns out of PVC piping (sorry, mom).  My friend Chris once allowed me to borrow his stick-shift Honda Accord for a week so I could learn how to drive a manual.

Here I am at age three, attempting to help out with some paint scraping.

Here I am at age three, attempting to help out with some paint scraping.

With each passing year and new gadget becoming the latest rage, it’s far too easy to let convenience, leisure, and screen time consume all waking hours. I’m victim to bleary eyes from staring at a screen, checking my phone too often, and defaulting to mindless internet browsing.

But I check myself. I don’t feel good if I fail to step away from technology on a fairly regular basis.

While I’m an active Twitter user and blogger, my students don’t understand what I do when I’m not teaching.  “Do you have a life?” they inevitably ask, when I tell them I haven’t seen the latest viral YouTube clip, or TV show, or haven’t heard that a pop star has gone into rehab.  I’ve got hobbies, I tell them.  I like to try and build things, cook, brew beer, hunt deer (although this past season was my first shut out, to my dismay).  They shake their heads.  They are truly perplexed, but they don’t do much questioning when I tell them I’m glad I grew up right before the smartphone revolution. 

Is it becoming a norm in society to not know how to do anything of disengaged from digital connectivity? Is it the norm to pursue as much leisure and convenience as one can?

Sure seems like it. Effort becomes devalued, as does work, in favor of instant gratification, a point Wendell Berry makes in The Art of the Commonplace: “We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from. We have debased the products of work and have been, in turn, debased by them.”

With Berry’s quote in mind, I suppose a lot of what I like to do might be considered work or not worth the effort. But here’s what I take pride in being able to do:

1.  I can drive a 5-speed.

2.  I can–at least most years–kill a deer with a bow and arrow, gut it, butcher it, and stockpile various cuts of meat for the year.

3.  I can build simple furniture like bookshelves and coffee tables.

4.  I can make my own beer.

5.  I can make a variety of home improvements or repairs, from refinishing hardwood floors to constructing rain barrels.

6.  I can make bread from scratch.

Being able to do these things is part of my identify and fulfillment; I don’t desire to buy everything I consume, nor do I desire to save time in order to free up more internet browsing or Tweeting.  

I often challenge my students to disconnect and find a hobby that does not require them to be glued to a screen. Many remain glued to their screens while I tell them this. I wonder if, at some point, they’ll have their own epiphanies and start to engage themselves, with others, and the world around them in different ways.

What do you take pride in being able to do without a screen?  What are some pros and cons to the relentless onslaught of technologies that promote leisure and entertainment?  How well would you cope without your phone or internet for 48 hours?

Rethinking My Online Presence for 2014

No Stone Unturned

This is a great reminder that in the dense world of digital communication, you may write something great and it could get lost in the crowd, ignored, or not receive the traffic you feel it deserves. I’ve asked the same questions addressed in this post many times, and I’ve come to realize that my desire to engage in the writing process, the intellectual exercise, is enough for me. I’m honored and grateful when people comment here nonetheless.
Happy Blogging! New post coming soon:)

L.M. Sacasas

A couple of weeks ago, more or less, I stumbled on a post by Matt Mullenweg in which he discussed the seemingly arbitrary logic governing what gets a lot of attention online. Work really hard on a piece that wrestles with something you think is important, he notes, and you may end up getting a trickle of attention. Post something offhand on a whim, and it may get a ton of exposure.

In his view, there are two unhealthy responses to this state of affairs. One is to despair and stop writing. The other is “to deconstruct the elements of what makes something sharable and attempt to artificially construct these information carbohydrates over and over.”

The third way that Mullenweg offers is to write for two people. Write for yourself and write for “a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write.”

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