Exploring Genius

In addition to the StrengthsExplorer curriculum that started the year (I have students writing personal narratives based on their strengths right now – I’ll let you know how that goes after we get past the first drafts), I’ve also been exploring the idea of doing Genius Hour with my students.

I’ve admitted before and I’ll confess again – I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. I blog, but that’s mostly personal reflections typed out of the world to see. There’s not much on here but basic word processing, and maybe the occasional embedded image or video. I’ve been on Facebook since the early days, but in every other area I’m slow to the game. I got my first smart phone in 2015. I like technology in the classroom if I can see its value to what I’m teaching, but I resist tech for tech’s sake.  Continue reading

The gears are still turning.

I got a call from a teacher friend yesterday.  She calls a lot, actually.  She likes to use me as a sounding board as she plans out her curriculum and lesson plans.  Yesterday she was formulating a plan for an independent reading project, but over the years and countless phone hours we’ve hashed through job applications, challenging students, and administration difficulties as well as mountains of curriculum ideas.  Truthfully, she’s very good at her job, so my end of the conversation usually ends up sounding like various forms of the phrase, “yeah, that sounds good.”  Occasionally I offer ideas or raise a concern or two, but mostly, I think she just needs to talk through whatever it is that she’s planning, and I’m an understanding ear willing to listen.

I like it.  I feel like it keeps me fresh, keeps my brain engaged in a field that could have easily passed me by time after time.  It’s funny when I compare our career trajectories, though.  We like to say we’ve had some very similar experiences.  We met in college and went through our first year teaching at the same time.  A few years later we found ourselves job hunting again at the same time.  We’ve both worked in an urban demographic for a year, and both left knowing that it wasn’t the right place for us.  We have a similar way of relating to teenagers, both enjoy teaching literature more than writing, and share many pedagogical perspectives.

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Three Boys, 70.3 Miles


Victor, Alonzo, and David

Meet Victor, Alonzo, and David, collectively known as V.A.D.  All seniors in high school, these three young men have taken on the challenge of training for and then competing in a 70.3 Ironman.  They are doing this with no similar experience and no previous training to give them a boost in their preparations.  The challenge they’ve taken on is insane – and they’re doing it for a good cause.

For those who don’t know (which included me until about a year ago), a 70.3 Ironman, also know as a Half Ironman, is a triathlon.  The boys will have to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles.  Their trainer is a veteran triathlete who qualified for the 70.3 Ironman world championships in Las Vegas this past year, so the boys are in good hands in the months leading up to the race.  That being said, they certainly have their work cut out for them!

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Real Life World-Changers

This week I had the opportunity to witness amazing examples of teen leadership.  I’ve read the stories of world-changing teens and seen the absolute potential pulsing in my classrooms, but I haven’t had many opportunities to work with living examples of what’s really possible.  This week I did.

I should probably toss on a disclaimer to this post before I get any farther.  As I write these words, I’m exhausted.  Like, sitting-on-the-couch-staring-off-like-a-zombie-more-than-I’m-actually-looking-at-my-computer dead.  My muscles certainly are not working correctly, and my mental state is questionable at best.  I apologize now for any incoherency that may work its way into these ramblings.  I could detail the many contributing factors that brought me to this point, but I’ll sum it up in the words “teen retreat.”   Continue reading

The Cost of Passion

“Our generation wants to be passionate about causes without suffering for them — yet “passion” means “to suffer.” Are we ready to grow up?” –Alex and Brett Harris, The Rebelution

This little quote piqued my interest when it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed, so I decided to do some quick research.  I looked up the word “passion” on merriam-webster.com, and scanned down to the word origin.  This is what I found:

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My Next Step – Rethinking “Classroom Management”

I knew that if I was to seriously discuss bringing strengths-based training into high schools, I would eventually have to read this book.  I honestly wasn’t that excited to read it, because I kind of figured it would just be a repetition of what I’ve already read in Find Your Strongest Life and The Truth About You by Marcus Buckingham.  I’ve stayed away from the books written for business managers because, well, I’m not a business manager and have no intention of ever becoming one.  But about a month ago, I was in Barnes & Noble and saw StrengthsFinder 2.0 on sale, so I bought it.  Now I’m sitting around waiting for my transcripts to come in the mail so I can apply for an Illinois sub license, so I figured it’s a good time to force myself to actually begin reading the book.

I’ve only read about 10 pages so far, and I’m already feeling the urge to stop and write a blog post.  Yes, it is more of the same.  Yes, I’m already familiar with the concept of spending time focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses.  But what is surprising to me is my own perspective as I begin to read.  While I have no intention of ever becoming a business manager, I am a teacher.  When the book talks about managers focusing on their employees in the workplace, I began to think about how I as a teacher focus on the students in my classroom. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of the Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone (Photo credit: Trevor Blake)

One of the common themes that comes up in the books I read is the idea of “the comfort zone.”  Brett and Alex Harris consistently encourage teens step outside of their comfort zones in order to grow and accomplish big things.  On the other hand, Marcus Buckingham says that it’s a myth to think that people need to step out of their comfort zones in order to grow.  Instead, he encourages people to push themselves within the bounds of their individual comfort zones.  So which is it?  Is the comfort zone a limiting device we use to hold ourselves back, or indication of our innate talents and abilities?

 As our culture does these days, when I decided to write this post, I looked up the phrase “comfort zone” on Wikipedia.  Here’s the opening sentence:

“The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”   Continue reading

Success in Excitement

“Your ability to excel at an activity depends on your ability to be excited by the activity. Excitement drives practice drives performance.” – Marcus Buckingham

This quote showed up on my facebook newsfeed a few days ago, and despite the fact that I haven’t had a chance to blog much, the quote is a good reflection of what’s been on my mind the the past month. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been teaching College Discovery classes for The Princeton Review this month.  I’m almost done with my last week, and it’s definitely been an interesting experience!

If the class from my first session was essentially my dream class, my second session has been made me think quite a bit more.  They are a good group, but they do keep me on my toes – both because they’re a bit more chatty in class and because they ask a lot of interesting questions.  One of the things that’s come up several times is the idea of passion and success.  We’ve discussed the definition of success and finding the right match for colleges, subject majors, and career choices.  But a lot of these discussions still leave me with questions.  Some students know exactly what they want to do, but others have no clue.  I don’t have the tools to help them narrow their choices yet.  But I like the Buckingham quote, because it equates success with excitement.  That’s when a job becomes a vocation – when a certain love and excitement accompanies the work. Continue reading

More From “Start Here”

In my last post, I discussed the practical advice on doing hard things from Brett and Alex Harris’s book Start Here.  The bulk of the rest of the book is spent on the mindset of a rebelutionary – not on the need to do hard things (that’s what their first book was for), but on how to think and act and live like a rebelutionary.  They covered topics from dealing with peers who don’t understand and time management to keeping up the motivation and how to respond to the unintended consequences, both positive and negative, that come from doing things that go against the cultural grain.  And over and over again, they bring it back to full dependency on God.

17 yr. old Zac Sunderland on the cover of ESPN magazine (photo via therebelution.com)

I was impressed with how strongly they warn against pride that may come from the attention and praise that may come from doing hard things.  Teens that have followed the rebelutionary lifestyle have made it on the cover of ESPN magazine, have written their own books, and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charitable organizations and social causes.  Brett and Alex themselves have been interviewed by media venues such as NPR and The New York Times for their work.  In Start Here they very candidly address the dangers of such attention.  They remind readers that everything they do is through dependency on God, and when they remember that, pride is transformed into humble thankfulness to God for allowing them to be a part of His work.  As they so often remind the reader, they don’t want to be considered exceptional, special, or “better” than other young people.  They sincerely believe that ALL teenagers have the capabilities to do hard things when they break away from society’s low expectations and make themselves faithful to God. Continue reading