Teaching, Running, and Chasing Greatness

The Running Begins, by Mike Roberts

The year was 2007. I was an out-of-shape and overweight thirty-three-year-old, and in an attempt to turn my health around, I decided I was going to run from my house to the local high school, run four laps around the track, then head back home. All told, this journey should have been about 1.5 miles. Having never run more than a mile in my life, and that in eighth grade PE, I wasn’t prepared for the challenge that I had laid out.

Nonetheless, I jumped into my basketball shorts (I was still a weekend warrior basketball player, despite my weight), laced up my high-tops, and headed out the door, ready to turn my life around. I didn’t even make it to the high school. Nope, before I even made it to the end of my street, I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest and my calves were going to explode like microwaved hot dogs.

I was sweating more than I thought was humanly possible, and being that I had never run any type of long distance in my life, I was clueless about bringing water with me to cool me down (not that I even had a water bottle at the time). Simply put, my body just wasn’t ready for what I was asking it to do, and rather than risking what I felt was certain death, I turned around and walked home.

But as I shuffled back toward my house, gasping for air, I tried to look at things from a positive perspective. I reminded myself that the quarter mile I’d just finished was still the farthest I had run during the past twenty years. Granted, it was a total disaster, but it was something. And while I didn’t know it at the time, that was the run that started my running journey.

Broken but not defeated

I decided to give running another shot a few days later. This time, based on the previous failure, I cut my goal down to only two laps around the track. I knew that if I wanted running to become a part of my daily life, I would have to be patient and let it come to me little by little, and this new goal seemed much more manageable than the previous one.

And yet again, I didn’t even make it to the high school before fatigue set in. But rather than turning around, I decided to keep going. Unable to run, I slowly crossed the street, regaining my breath little by little with each step. A few minutes later, with my breathing a bit more under control, I found myself standing on the track of the high school. And while the next ten minutes included a combination of running, walking, and resting, I was somehow able to complete two laps around the track.  It was a small victory, to say the least, but a victory nonetheless. As for the walk home, well, let’s just say I didn’t set any speed records.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

Over the next few weeks and months, courtesy of twice-a-week training, my speed and mileage began to inch up. And while the gains were slow, I had decided that if I wanted to get into shape, running was going to play a role in my transformation. To help, I set a goal of increasing my weekly mileage by one mile per week. This not only helped me get out the door on a regular basis, but also provided me with a target that was both manageable and within reason.

While an additional mile per week might not sound like much, it definitely added up. In fact, by the end of my third month of running, I was putting in twenty-five miles per week. Twenty-five miles per week!

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That was well beyond anything I’d ever thought I could do when I was walking back from the school on that first day! It was also when I first gave some thought to running a marathon. But just as a reminder, a marathon is 26.2 miles—all at once!

So while I felt a sense of accomplishment about my twenty-five-mile week, I also knew there was still a lot of work to do if I hoped to cross a marathon finish line in the future.

As it turns out, a marathon, like most things worth doing, takes time and effort to prepare for, and it took me almost three years from that initial run before I toed the starting line of my first marathon.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

The Final Kick: College and Student Teaching

For me, teaching began in much the same way as running. I was near the end of my junior year of college, and while I had officially declared myself an English major with a history minor, I still didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do after graduation. In the back of my mind, I had always considered teaching as an option, but I wasn’t sure if I was “grown up” enough for such a serious job.

When I began my senior year, I decided to dip my foot into the teaching waters by registering for the Introduction to Education class offered at my school. I thought I could use the class as a barometer to see whether or not I should pursue teaching as a career. At best, it would light my fire and start me on my teaching journey. At worst, I would drop the class and continue trying to figure out my direction.

I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

I don’t remember much about that first class, except that quite a bit of information was shared about educational theory. I remember feeling like a lot of talking was going on, without much being said. Looking back, I realize that my boredom stemmed from the fact that I didn’t care much about theorists from the past. What I wanted to talk about was the future of education, including all of the cool ways school could be used to improve society. I wanted to discuss my innovative ideas regarding how I’d run my class, and hoped to hear how other people envisioned schools of the future as well.

And while the thought of being a teacher had drawn me to the class, I was still looking for that extra push to really sell me on the idea . . . and theory from the past wasn’t doing it for me. So I walked out. Yep, I didn’t even make it through the entire class. But over the course of the next week, as I sat through my English and history classes, I couldn’t shake the idea, or more accurately the feeling, that I should at least reconsider being a teacher.

So, like on my first run, I decided that though my career in education wasn’t off to a great start, I’d give it another shot. And while the second class wasn’t what I’d call the most exhilarating educational experience of my life, I did manage to make it through the entire session. And by the time the semester was over, I had not only learned a thing or two about the history of education . . . I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

There’s more to chasing greatness

For the rest of this Mile and more from Chasing Greatness, read the description and take a look inside here.

Share your own running and teaching stories with us on Twitter at #ChasingGreatness

It’s time to allow the F word in your classroom

When someone asks how your day was, do you say, “it was so satisfying?” Do you exit a roller coaster and exclaim, “That was a very satisfying ride?” When you last dined at a 5-star restaurant, did you tell the server that you just couldn’t wait for a satisfactory meal?

Hopefully, you answered no to all of these questions. Hopefully, your day, your roller coaster ride, and your fine dining experience were wonderful, amazing and, most important, involved the F word — FUN!

For most people, yearning for fun is a basic response to many situations. Shouldn’t this be true in teaching and learning?

The answer seems obvious, but I learned recently that many teachers believe that it’s more important for learning to be satisfying, rather than fun. Witness this Twitter conversation:

The article that inspired the Tweet was by a blogger, suggesting that it’s not important for learning to be fun. If you read the comments on the Tweet linked above, you’ll see that some people agree with the blogger, while others believe academics should be both meaningful and fun. Here’s one example from that Twitter conversation:

Why does school have to be “fun”? So many educators sacrifice learning for activities that are “fun” but that don’t support the instructional core. How about school should be meaningful?

Here’s another tweet from the same thread:

I definitely prefer satisfying as it connotes a long term feeling and memory. Fun is just a split second like a laugh after a joke. Satisfying feeds the soul.

I emphasized more than once that there is rarely a time that learning can’t be both meaningful and fun. Granted, it took me a long time as a classroom teacher to understand this.

When I finally learned that making lessons and assignments fun would entice even the most reluctant learner, everything changed in my classroom, and the F word became the standard in my classroom.

Bring on the F word

Mike Roberts, author of Hacking Classroom Management, is a big fan of the F word. Here’s what he writes about it in his book:

At South Bonneville Jr. High in the mid 1980s, Mrs. Rowberry’s room was the place to be! In the mornings, she would open her classroom early so we could hang out. At lunch, after chowing down our food, we would head to her room and draw pictures on her chalkboard. And during class, well, that’s when things really got interesting.

I remember her telling us stories about her childhood. She also gave us a few minutes each week to share the latest (appropriate) joke we had heard. I think of the times she had her husband come to class and play songs for us on his guitar, and us making up geography lyrics based on some of the most popular songs of the time.

Click cover image and look inside now

And more than anything else, I remember wanting to impress her, because I didn’t want to be the reason that the fun would end. So while it was fun that drew me in, it was my respect for her that kept me in check.

Current high school junior Sydney Young understands the connection that Mrs. Rowberry made with her students, and she sees the benefits that come from weaving fun into the daily curriculum. “Fun related to the material, such as watching a video, hearing jokes, or getting on a tangent all feel like off-task fun, but actually lead me to make new connections, enjoy the material, and spend time processing the information.

“The best classes I’ve had blended the curriculum with a perfect combination of fun and mini-celebrations, and it’s that combination that led me to be successful that class,” Young says. She adds that the value that comes from these experiences runs much deeper than simply gaining a better understanding of the content.

“During these activities and celebrations, I connect with students I might not normally speak with, which increases my confidence about participating in discussions or presenting because I feel as though I am amongst a large group of friends.”

Mrs. Rowberry knew how to use the “F” word in her class, and Sydney sees its benefit from the student perspective as well. Are you willing to add the “F” word to your class?

Podcast Archive

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How to Create Mental Velcro in Your Classroom

PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: one of 33 Hacks in Hacking Instructional Design, by Michael and Elizabeth Fisher

THE PROBLEM: PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ALWAYS ENGAGED

One of our largest educational conundrums is deciding what, how, and why students need to learn, and making sure we’re moving in a logical direction as we guide them. We can utilize the greatest resources in the world, but unless we’re connecting to previous learning or experiences, we’re not taking advantage of the neural pathways in a student’s mind. 

Click the link below for 61 pages of FREE content from the authors

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Prior knowledge exists outside of standards, outside of grade-level expectations, outside of assessments, and outside of the numerous pedagogical ideas we’re sharing in this book—but it is a vital piece of any student’s education.

If we want learning to stick, we need to anchor it in a way that allows students to build on their existing foundations, using their prior knowledge.

THE HACK: PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE

Students grow neural pathways when new learning builds on knowledge that already exists in their brains. Plug students into their own brains to figure out where to start. You don’t put a roof on a house with no walls or foundation, right? You lay the foundation first; the same theory is true in the classroom….

For the rest of of Hack 7, listen to the podcast episode, embedded above.

For 32 more Hacks from Michael and Elizabeth Fisher, check out Hacking Instructional Design

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Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

Popular author and speaker James Clear says, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” That is, the effects of your habits multiply, when repeated, much like your money multiplies, as it sits in an interest-bearing account.

Clear is the author of the new Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, and he has a simple formula for making your habits Atomic, which he shared with Hack Learning creator and Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes for Episode 127 of the Hack Learning Podcast

Excerpts from Mark’s brief interview with James Clear

 

MB — In your new book, Atomic Habits, you say, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” Talk about that statement.
 
JC — The basic idea is that habits don’t add up, they compound. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
 
This process can work for you or against you. That is, habits are a double-edged sword. We’ve all experienced this with bad habits: eating junk food or procrastinating for an hour seem like insignificant choices on any given day, but when you repeat them week after week they can really add up. 
 
It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes very obvious.
 
This is why it’s so important to understand how habits work: you want to be able to design them to help you rather than hinder you. Understanding habits allows you to avoid the dangerous half of the blade on that double-edged sword.
 
MB — People often connect habits to goals, but in Atomic Habits, you say “Forget about goals and focus on systems.” Why should we forget about goals and what systems should we focus on?
 
JC — This is one of the core philosophies of Atomic Habits: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. 
 
Setting a goal is fairly easy. Anyone can sit down for 10 minutes and complete a goal-setting exercise. But what you find is that setting a goal often has very little to do with actually achieving a particular outcome.
 
In fact, the winners and losers in any particular domain often have the same goals. Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates them.
 
MB — So what makes the difference?
 
JC — I think it comes down to the system that you follow each day. Throughout my book, I give dozens of strategies and examples of how to build a system of atomic habits that make it easier to stick to good habits and break bad ones. 
 
Also, it’s worth noting: I don’t believe goals are completely useless. Goals are good for setting a sense of direction and gaining clarity about what you’re working on. But systems are better for actually making progress.
 
MB — Can you share a system from your book?
 
JC — How to stop procrastinating with the “2-Minute Rule.” The Two-Minute Rule states “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:

  • “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
  • “Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
  • “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
  • “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
  • “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”

The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away. And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.

A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.

MB – You have a wildly popular site and newsletter, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. What can our listeners expect to find when they subscribe?
 
JC — I write about self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Newsletter subscribers get a new article from me each week about topics like habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. Over 400,000 people subscribe to those messages.

Check out Atomic Habits

James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, just arrived and is appropriate for us, because like Hack Learning books, it looks at a problem through a unique lens and offers simple, right-now solutions to making your habits Atomic. You can learn more and grab your copy at atomichabits.com.
Learn how to become uNforgettable at uNseries.com

James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning.

How Finding Balance Can Make You an uNforgettable Teacher

Listen to “126: How Teachers Can Find Balance” on Spreaker.

Consider for a moment your responsibilities as a teacher. Now, ask yourself how many of those are real necessities.

Find Balance

Veteran teacher, author, and presenter Chuck Poole believes that one of the keys to becoming an unforgettable teacher is to find your balance. In his book, uNforgettable: Your Roadmap to Being the Teacher They Never Forget, Poole says that balance “frees us from unnecessary responsibilities.” 

But how can busy teachers find balance? Poole explains it this way:

from uNforgettable

Finding balance is not easy, but it is worth it. Professional surfers have balance. They have the remarkable ability to stand on a board without falling off while powerful waves continually attempt to knock them down.

They understand that in order to stay upright, they have to control their own actions, rather than letting the waves beneath them control the situation. They learn to respect the power of the ocean and just enjoy the ride.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

As teachers, our work can sometimes feel like a wave crashing beneath our feet and trying to knock us off balance. We become so overwhelmed with lesson plans, expectations, and initiatives that we have little time to enjoy anything else at all, and our job becomes more of a burden than a labor of love.

We feel as though we are surfers who just can’t stay upright, and we find ourselves falling into the ocean time and time again. Finding a way to balance is the only way to keep from drowning. When we find balance, our vision becomes clear and we are able to rise above the waves and make an even greater impact.

Don’t drown; find balance

uNforgettable teachers understand the importance of balance. Although we find ourselves falling from time to time, we follow a plan and maintain a set of boundaries that show us the line between our surfboard and the raging ocean around us.

The plan and the boundaries give us a path to follow, even when things become a struggle. It’s easy to get consumed by what’s going on in the moment, but a plan keeps us on the path toward success, and the grander scheme of things.

Manage your energy

Identify your peak time to help you start to build balance in your life and teaching. When you consider your usual day, when is it easiest for you to work, and when do you feel most efficient? On average, people have three to five peak hours in a day, so pay attention to the tasks that require the most energy, and accomplish those during your peak hours.

Use your not-so-peak hours to accomplish the tasks that take less concentration or motivation. Doing these important—and perhaps most difficult—tasks during these hours will guarantee that you get them done, and leave the rest of the day for lesser tasks that take less energy and focus.

uNforgettable author Chuck Poole talks about finding balance

You will find that your days are more organized and that you end up getting more done. We often spend too much time trying to figure out how to fit everything into the limited amount of time we have each day, and end up failing at many of our goals.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

Here’s an example of how I work to manage my energy throughout the day:

High-energy time (5–8 a.m., 3–5 p.m.): Spend time with family, write podcast episodes and blog posts, brainstorm ideas for the uNseries.

Mid-energy time (11 a.m.–1 p.m.): Plan lessons, grade papers, collaborate with colleagues.

Low-energy time (6–9 p.m.): Work out, read/answer email, watch TV, check social media.

Follow these simple steps to help you match your energy level with the proper task:

Step One: Consider which tasks take up most of your energy. If you’re struggling, try creating a list or chart and classifying your tasks in regard to how difficult they are.

Step Two: Determine when you are at your best during the day; when you have the most energy. For some teachers, this will be in the morning or during a prep period. For others, it may come at the end of a school day, after the students have left the building.

Click here and learn how to be uNforgettable

Step Three: Plan to complete your high-energy tasks during your peak hours.

Step Four: Complete your mid-energy tasks during other times of the day, when you still have energy, but are outside or at the edges of your peak time. These tasks might include things like grading papers, completing paperwork, or planning units with colleagues.

Step Five: Leave your low-energy tasks for the time of day when you have the least energy. These are the things that take the least mental work and can be left for times when you have the least mental energy. Include things like checking email, social media, or working out.

Sign a boundary contract

Finding balance is not only about time. We might budget our time perfectly . . . and still find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything we have to do.

Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Becoming overwhelmed and stressed about a lack of time is not the way to become an uNforgettable teacher. Instead, you’ll be going through the motions and treating your students as afterthoughts. So how do we avoid the problem?

Click here to learn how to find balance

Many of us have trouble saying no because it is in our nature to help others. We end up taking on more than we can handle, which causes stress and resentment. Instead of teaching, which we love, we get busy doing favors that we never wanted to do. Our life begins to spiral out of control—all because we never set boundaries, and therefore we said yes to too many things.

Ultimately, our passion takes a back seat to stress—and our students notice. Combat this problem by creating a contract with yourself. When we sign a teaching contract, we are saying we will abide by what’s in it, and meet the expectations we’ve just signed on for.

If we do not follow through with that, we can be fired or sued. They are powerful pieces of paper that bring joy to those who receive them and pain to those who break them.

The same concept works with a boundary contract. This contract is one you design and outlines what you’re willing to take on outside of your normal teaching responsibilities—and what you are not.

Click image to look inside

Here are some examples. If you enjoy heading up committees to help develop the school, include it in the contract as one of your outside activities. If you do not, include it in the contract as a responsibility that is not acceptable to you.

If you are willing to take on a coaching responsibility or an after-school club, include it in the contract. If not, make sure to list that as something you are not willing to take on during the year.

Put these things down in writing and then sign it, and you’ll have a document to review down the line when you’re faced with a decision. Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Finding balance in our lives will benefit everyone we come into contact with, and by implementing a few strategies, we can change our lives for the better.