May Lu

Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

No answers: Just Thoughts and Searching for Friends

I’ve sat on this for awhile but decided on my run today that this was worth sharing. For starters, this is very much about my experience and what I see through my eyes. I cannot speak for a larger community, nor should I.

I recently spoke to my school just about who I was and the origin of my name. For a long time growing up, I didn’t like my name because I knew it gave bias. “People will know I am Asian on my resume, my name gives it away!” is what I thought to myself, over and over again. My last name, my first name, why couldn’t I of had a more “normal name”. Every time a teacher called my name on an attendance sheet, I’d hold my breath and hope they didn’t say the name, “Mary”.

I mean, no one really cared about my name. In school Newsletters (as a student), in interviews, in e-mails, everyone reads my name as “Mary” (and they still do now! I guarantee when I contact external partners or folks I am trying to schedule workshops for my students with, 1/2 times I’ll get a “Hi Mary” in return). Do they really think I’d spell my own name wrong on my resume? My emails? People also think there’s something special about my name, like it has some deep Chinese history to it and I always get a “tell me more”! Guess what? It doesn’t, it’s pragmatic and to the point. My Chinese name is May: Jia-Mei…which means Canadian Mei…which if you think about it, May is the Canadian way to spell, “Mei”…so my name makes perfect sense if you ask me, but often it’s followed-up with, “that’s it?” or a “Oh…”:

Named after the good old Canadian flag and the Mayflower

I spoke to my school about implicit bias. My name is something I had a hard time with growing up, but have recently started actively correcting people about it. Some popular mistakes include people reading it over too quick and thinking it’s Mary, to people thinking it’s too short to be a full name and opting to call me “May Lu” instead of “May”. At first, when I was a child, I thought people were just bad at spelling and/or bad readers. As I grew up, I realized because the mistake happened so often that no, it’s because they don’t recognize May and when they see the letters “M” and “a”, the assumption is Mary or that May is just too short, so May Lu must be it; implicit bias.

I thought back to a picture that I’ve always looked at as odd. This is me at about 3 years old. What was I thinking about so seriously? What idea did this crayon in my hand spark? Did this little one think she’d be here today?

Critical thinker from day one

I am iconic in my school for strutting around with my favourite pink Yeti always sipping it in my period one and two classes. Every year, every conference, every meeting, it’s always assumed I am drinking coffee or tea. Okay, in theory I am drinking tea, but it’s not what you’re (likely) thinking. I am drinking:

Too all the aunties and uncles who will scold me for it, sorry!

Yes, every morning, I make myself a cup of Hong Kong milk tea. It’s not necessarily the healthiest option, but I mean, people put cream in their coffee and drink lattes, right? This is just my thing. BUT for some reason, it causes such a ruckus at meetings or when I go to conferences, and I really hate that it causes a big deal, that I often pretend I am drinking coffee (or like it…I think it’s gross).

I get asked a lot, what are you drinking if not coffee or tea? You mean, YOU DON’T DRINK COFFEE?!?! Wait, what’s Hong Kong Milk Tea? How’s it not tea? Or the ever popular, wait–but what tea is Hong Kong milk tea? Oh, it’s Orange Pekoe! We have that right here!

Bitmoji ImageYes, it’s Orange Pekoe tea, but do you also have the Evaporated Milk? Do you have a tea press? Do you have every other thing I would need to make this? No, you probably don’t. You probably have 2% milk and skim milk…soy, almond and coconut if you’re trying to be conscious of allergies…but I am pretty sure you probably don’t have evaporated milk. I also sometimes add condense milk too, because you gotta give yourself a little treat here and there, right? Now, let’s multiply this explanation and interaction another 100000 times because how many times do you go to meetings, conferences, talk with colleagues who drink Hong Kong milk tea on the regular and hate coffee? For me, I go to a lot of conferences and a lot of meetings, but not many milk tea lovers alike have been found for me. Maybe 1 every 500 colleagues on a good day. But to meet that one friend, I have to explain to the other 499 friends why I don’t want to drink what they have so graciously prepared. If you’re not exhausted from reading the numbers, imagine how tired you would be of saying the exact same explanation 499 times in a year.Bitmoji Image

I am writing this because I am thinking a lot about conversations I have had lately with Lara Jensen and Lisa Bettencourt…so much is happening in the DEIJ space right now. I am trying to learn a lot in this space and that can be seen as you trying to be an expert or gain more traction. I am very much a learner in this space and not an expert. I am not trying to be an expert. I told my students, this is an uncomfortable space for me too, but I want to learn and am ready to learn with them. We are in this together and should be brave together. But, as we pondered in discussions, how can we be effective teachers without learning more in the DEIJ space? What is meaningful pedagogy without acknowledging the individuals in our classroom?

For myself, I had to learn a lot about the “Western culture” when I began pursuing a career in education. I learned about Bieber, the Kardashians, Schmitt’s Creek, the Beatles, and anything to make me “in the know” with staff and students. If I went to a staff meeting and said I had no idea who the Beatles were, you know someone would say, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHO THE BEATLES ARE?!”. I had to learn about hockey, golf and camping. Not that I had much experience with any because of my upbringing, but you want to feel “apart” of social conversations, and think about what those conversations are about in our schools. I had to learn the basics of what those things were. I had to learn about basic Western pop culture from Disney classics, to “go-to favourites” like Gilmore Girls, Friends, and That ’70s Show.

I had no idea the popularity of this photo until after university

I didn’t grow up watching this stuff. I took the time and effort to learn. I learned about these shows to not seem like “TOO MUCH” of an outsider. I already knew I was because my parents never took me camping (or know how to camp), I wasn’t allowed TV time as a child, I didn’t like golf, I don’t drink coffee, and when I finally learned how to hack the systems at home (sorry mom and dad), my interests fell to anime, manga, Jdramas, Kdramas, and overall, Asian pop culture. I’ve learned this to be really true of some our students too who are seeking adult mentors with similar interests. Or, are so uncomfortable when their teachers talk about these epic camping trips…I get it. It’s no fault to the teacher. They should share their interests because it humanizes the teacher, but when I was a student, I felt so out of place in those moments because I felt like a weirdo. How could I have nothing in common with any of my teachers?! What’s wrong with me?! If it weren’t for my partner, I probably would have never camped ever because it’s just not how I was raised. It’s not in my psychology, but I made an effort to learn more about these activities; we can all learn. I think back to high school me, just wondering: what if my teachers learned about my interests? What would that mean to me? Everything.

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It was hard to reconcile that I just grew up differently. Culturally, I was different and coming to terms with it is something many of our students have to do in our classes. I am an awkward space where generationally, I don’t really fit in with my parents. Because of the values that were enforced in our household, it almost felt like I had a generational gap with some of my peers at school. Culturally, I don’t really fit in fully with the Chinese culture or the Canadian culture. I am very much a happy mix and blend of Canadian and Chinese; hence, people have coined it “Canadian born Chinese”. This is an awkward space both generation and culture wise, but this is me. I can’t change it, I can’t do it differently, so I learned to accept and embrace me!

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When I was in high school, I wondered if part of “growing up” and “becoming an adult” was switching your interests, because none of my teachers knew anything about Asian pop culture. I always questioned if I’d stop reading manga, listening to Kpop, Jpop or watching dramas/anime because that’s what “growing up meant”. For years in teaching, I pretended I only watched English Netflix shows to avoid being the odd one out. What are our students feeling? This also doesn’t cover every student in our classroom. We need to learn more about all. Learning is for all. Are you a fellow netizen?

Pop culture references that have come up to me lately…food for thought…

I have one student pursuing a K-pop stardom dream. But, there are many layers with their identity and how training camp runs, how the media works with this, etc. Layers of education and age, etc. Do you know the process of training camp? How grueling it can be? Yet, why is is so rewarding to debut? What does it mean “to debut”…I promise, it’s not the same as “debuting” in Hollywood.  What’s a Blink (Blackpink fan)? Their music has been featured in many American Netflix films this year but how many of you know that? Why are there so many BTS references right now, do you know who they are? To protect their own identity, I don’t want to dwell too much more, but have you ever wondered about the Korean entertainment culture? How it’s different the Hollywood culture in North America? What interests do your students have here?

Sailor Neptune and Uranus. This art is from the new reboot!

Netflix is releasing a Sailor Moon movie in June. This is going to be really really big. Why? One, this phenomenon is coming to a Canadian/American platform!! When this was originally written in the 90s, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus were written in the original manga AND the Japanese anime to be lesbian lovers. However, the publishing company in the USA at the time thought that LGBTQ relationships were not acceptable for younger audiences and this was a show said to be geared towards “young girls.” So then, they decided to make them cousins. Yes, they changed the entire storyline and took out a part of the original story to hide an entire relationship. They also didn’t translate an entire arc of the story because there were too many scenes of romance between these too sailor scouts! (Update: the publishing company apologized in 2019 and acknowledged them as official partners), but childhood me…was outraged until about 2019…? Is it wrong to feel like it’s not fair? Is that even reasonable? The movie being released this year in June is about the Dream Arc which is when it is right after the Arc Uranus and Neptune were introduced, but what’s more important is what is offered on Netflix will be an English TRANSLATION (The OG Japanese with subtitles will be there too!). They will not alter the story, the sequence of events, etc. from the original animation.

How many of you know how the hockey game works? Do you know how to keep score in golf? Have you gone camping? How many of you know how to play Mahjong? In the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”, the ending Mahjong scene is one of the most powerful moments of the movie. With what Rachel speaks about Nick’s happiness and the meaning when she reveals her final hand to Nick’s mom, it’s metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor. However, the scene is meaningless if you don’t understand how the game works.

Nick’s mom thought she won it all…

I put these examples up there because they’ve all been in recent discussions in my class. But, giving a space where I talk about pop culture outside the “standardized norm” has helped other students in my class feel that they can share aspects of their pop culture that they’re interested in. I am learning more about my students, I am learning more as a person…and again, I am no expert, I am still just learning.

i am here

I will admit as a student, I never felt seen, I never felt relevant and I never felt like my interests mattered. Running was so epic for me because I finally felt like I had “common ground” with the social constructs around me (I have now learned it is so much more too!). Do teachers actually like dramas? Do they like anime? Do they read manga? Do they check the Spring and Fall previews? I am well into my career and adulthood, and yes yes yes to all! I still read manga, I still watch dramas…and if anyone wants to chat, I am currently watching:

  • Law School (new episodes on Weds/Thurs on Netflix)
  • Mine (new episodes on Sat/Sun on Netflix)

But believe me, I watch lots of Kdramas, Jdramas, anime, read lots of manga, and avid fans of certain writers, artists, actors, actresses, etc. I am the same way some are about Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga but my interests are just “not the same”. I promise there are iconic Asian pop stars like the Beatles. Do you have a colleague or colleagues you get to talk about your interests with? Camping? Golf? When will I get one too? High school me asked that every day: if I become a teacher, will I have a colleague to talk about Asian pop culture with?

I recently watched a video where a speaker asked the question “Diversity from what? Inclusion from what? We are diversifying from the white male standard, we are including into the white male standard. Why is the white male standard our baseline?” Good question. Thought I’d share…because I was like woah, I don’t know. What is the message we are portraying to students? What are we modelling? We have to role model openness and empathy to our students. We have to show students what it means to be welcoming and a learner in this space (and that it is okay to be uncomfortable). I am trying to learn as a means to create a space where everyone feels like they belong and we have to look at our own implicit bias to get there. We have to examine ourselves, our practices, our schools and so much more to get there. No one is immune to it and we all have to be reflective and critical learners in this space for our pedagogy to be effective and authentic. Thank you for reading my story as I know it was a bit of a long one, but I think this is just the one of many many learnings about each other that will help us grow :)!

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Layered like Onions

keyboard smashMy lack of posting is not for a lack of thought, but for an inability to find the right words. Without any doubt, there’s been a huge shift in our profession; workload, balls in the air, various hats, everything has astronomically changed.

Here are some ways I’ve changed what I am doing…running has gotten a whole less intense. I feel like that’s how life has gotten to cope with the pandemic stress. Long runs are shorter, and what in the world are speed workouts? It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of those. But who really cares? I’ve really gotten comfortable with being okay with what I can do in the moment. Remember, teaching is a marathon…we have to pace smart, I’ve never hit the wall in a marathon and I don’t plan to start now.

Like many of you, I am sure COVID-19 has profoundly change the oncall situation at your school, especially when a running nose is enough to have your child or you stay home from school. I personally felt like there was a pivot in oncall culture in that anyone who needed an oncall needed it to take care of their child, themselves or a family member for something COVID related. Teachers were requesting oncalls like toilet paper was flying off shelves and we needed to try our best to be available for oncalls to support our team. It felt like any other reasons for oncalls were  “unfair” as you would be adding strain to an already strained system…but…I had an amazing chance for something super cool!

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I had an celebrity moment. I was asked to do something pretty darn cool (in my biased point of view), but there was just one problem: it fell on a school day. I was asked to participate in a big running campaign about “Runners who Inspire” and how runners have stayed motivated during this pandemic. This included a full day photoshoot and commercial shoot. I mean, it was an AMAZING opportunity–but during a pandemic, can I really take a personal day for something run related? Watching my colleagues stress and stretched thin by the oncall system and watching them run in circles about what to do with their child’s running nose or cough…could I really take a day to do something not COVID/teaching related? I was immersed in so much guilt, but when in my life would I get a chance like this again…?! What would you do?

One of my superiors was incredibly frustrated with the oncall system and on a day I was going to ask their opinion about taking a day to pursue this opportunity (before knowing what I was going to ask) they looked and me and said, “are people really requesting oncalls for non-emergencies? Don’t they realized how strained the system is with COVID-19 right now?! If you take an oncall when it’s not essential, you’re just adding strain to your colleagues…who are already burning out.”

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So if I didn’t feel guilty enough, let’s throw in a bucket of guilt that just got dumped on me. Is running essential? Depends how you look at it. Could I live without it? Sure. Would my mental health be in a good place? No. Then, I thought about something my first boss told me in my very first teaching job:

You’re not an Olympian. At some point, you need to pick between your career and running. You can’t have both. 

Was I forcing running again? Was I adding work to my coworkers to pursue a passion that no one else cared about? But, I did also disagree with the idea that you can’t both run and have a career in teaching. Queue in my sweet dear students who have been sending e-mails such as:

  • “thank you for caring so much about us, it makes us want to keep working hard”
  • “thanks for always checking-in with me, it means a lot”
  • “thank you for wanting me to organize myself”
  • “thank you for investing time in me”

Yesterday, when I stepped out of my classroom to go to the washroom, my lovely grade 10s put together this little creative card…

FYI…I am still running and I am still teaching. The feedback from my students give me confidence that doing both is working out just fine. I am not aiming to be a professional runner, I am just aiming to pursue a passion that gives me balance, self-care and makes me happy.

This is where I think we need to remember who we are as teachers. Pandemic teaching is pandemic teaching, but we are here to mentor and be role models. We are here to share our identity in safe ways so that our students have guidance in ways approach life and learning. We are here to facilitate meaningful relationships and if you dig through my old blog posts, that’s what I keep talking about!

Safe spaces. Student relationships. Socio-emotional learning. Wellness…teacher AND student.

In my last blog post, I said the following:

“We have to show our students what balance and sustainability looks like. We have to be role models to show what prioritizing mental health and well-being looks like. We have to be examples to show how students can be healthy and live a lifestyle where health (physical and mental) is a priority.”

I just thought…how awesome is it to be selected to be one of three runners who will be in Canada-wide campaign…nationwide. If anything, I should be celebrating, right? Yet, all I could feel was guilt thinking about how much I would strain my colleagues for a personal, selfish opportunity.

Then I realized–if it weren’t for COVID, what would my thoughts be about this? Do we just stop being who we were in this pandemic? Yes, we are pandemic teaching, yes we are high-flex and pivoting every second of our day, but we are also every single piece of who we are before this virus hit the globe. What am I modelling for students by doing this?

follow your heart

If you’re wondering whether or not I did the shoot, I did, and it was the coolest experience ever. Surprisingly, it’s a lot of running to shoot a 30 second commercial or for that ONE cool shot. It took about 10 hours of constantly running the same 100-150m stretch 5-6 times, and then moving to a new location to repeat. It was such a humbling and amazing experience, I’d love to show you some photos from the shoot, but alas, I am not allowed to. Instead, I have some cool photos taken by a handy dandy cell phone that we were requested to post to social! 

After this all ended, I thought about this shoot a lot and felt I needed to remind myself what we are showing our students during this pandemic. We are role modelling ways to take on life. What am I aiming to accomplish for my students by doing this? I want to show my students what it means to pursue a passion. I want to show students what it’s like to have goals and to chase them (pun intended). I want to show students that you can learn something later in life, work hard and become so much better at it. I came to running in my adulthood and started at a 43 minute 5km…and now I’ve run the Boston marathon–more than once!?! Doesn’t even feel like me. Click here  if you’re new to this space and have no idea what I am talking about.

I don’t want students to see my for the runner I am today, that’s really not that cool. I want students to see me for the journey I took to get here today. I want to show them that progression is life-long and you’re never ever done. I want them to know that you are more than your career and that you are a person with many layers and experiences. Throw that together with a bunch of other people with different layers and experiences, and you get some pretty darn cool teams.

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What are the layers to your onion? I’d love to hear about others’ passions!! 

Good is Good Enough

It’s been awhile since I’ve found myself here. In March, we had a quick pivot to online that I found myself using my preps to help teachers with small technology troubleshooting things and every break I had to get outside to decompress from being indoors. Now that we are swinging back into the routine, I thought I’d give a good old crack at this blogging thing again. My fingers may be a little rusty so please go easy on me here!

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Let me just summarize my last 6 months in a couple of bitmojis so we can do this whole “how was your summer” thing much faster:

I may have done a disproportionately large amount of running this summer compared to other activities but hey, we all have our own things, right? Funfact: I learned that my bike is of a quality that my other half calls, “one up from Walmart”, and I am such a slow biker that in 21.1km, I probably save myself about 5-10 minutes compared to me running that at my race pace. This is not a testament to my strong running skills but my absolute garbage biking skills. Don’t worry folks, 2021 is the year of the bike! suave

I just thought I’d use this chance as a nice reminder to bring back the running metaphors because it’s really how I see the world. Summer was great. I was running, biking and hiking a lot. In July, I climbed 3500m in elevation between running and hiking. In August, I hit 4600m in elevation gain. I had a phenomenal routine. I’d wake up and do an easy 20 minute run in the morning just to get my legs warm and flushed. Because I had done that early morning warm-up, my afternoon runs felt GREAT and that caused my overall summer to run pretty smooth and groovy (no pun intended, or pun intended?). Running was going great. Great schedule, great weather and I really had the chance to focus on personal fitness and health with no race goals. Sounds odd, right? It was amazing. Running not for speed, but for me. Spending lots of time to get in a mindful zone and appreciate…me.

And then the blissful happy summer came to an end. It was time to go back to school. Having specialized in mathematical modelling of biological diseases in my undergrad, this whole pandemic added a whole lot of stress that I did not need. My anxious self knows too much about how disease spreads and…I am just going to stop there before I go on a tangent that helps no one in this situation. For once in my teaching life, I was dreading back to school. 

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Don’t get me wrong, teaching is my passion, but so is protecting my loved ones. I am sure many of you reading this now also feel the same. We are all adjusting to new normals and working in environments where normal looks different for every individual you encounter. Not only that, there are different levels of careful and everyone has their own comfort level of what they’re willing to do in their classroom.

Now, let’s throw in the mix of what we have to do this year in our classrooms. New tech, new students, new routine and new teaching? So…the way my school has it, my “in-class” students are divided into Cohort A and Cohort B. That is, one day I will see Cohort A, and the next time the schedule rolls around to that same class, I will see Cohort B instead. Don’t worry, the cohort not in school will be following online at home in a synchronous format. Yup, so you’re running an in-class lesson and a synchronous online? Well, don’t forget about the many students you also have to cater to in an asynchronous model because they live in a different timezone. Okay let’s recap because I always have to work it out in my head…in one lesson, I have to plan an in-class lesson, an online synchronous live lesson and an asynchronous lesson for students to do in a different timezone. A reminder, I teach science. I teach a very activity-based class. I do at least one hands-on activity in-class. I don’t know how to teach without activities…it’s just…my style! Okay, so now I need to pivot how I teach, but have three working models that support the needs of the many different learner profiles I have in my classes? Yup…okay.

noted

Oh yeah, don’t forget the newer teachers you need to help mentor and guide through these times because clearly, I am an expert at all these things?! It’s a lot, and the numbers also don’t always work out. In one cohort, I could have 2 students actually in-class, 10 students synchronous online at home (5 from Cohort B and the other 3 as local, online synchronous learners) and then another 5 asynchronous, in a different timezone. Then, the other cohort of that same would have 5 in-class, 7 synchronous online and 5 asynchronous, in a different timezone. Does your head hurt yet? Mine does…

deep breathsI found myself feeling guilty last week for not being able to do my double run routines that I developed over the summer. I found myself feeling like I was giving up on my health because I wasn’t running twice a day. I realized when I really sat down to think about it, that I was not running twice a day last year. I was not running twice a day when I qualified for Boston, or when I was training for the Boston Marathon. Heck, when did running twice a day become expectation? I realized I had to check myself. Everyone around me is overworked, tired, stressed, and setting the bar so high. As teachers, we put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all and to do whatever we are asked of at such a high level. When did this become an expectation? We are in a pandemic.

The expectation is to stay healthy, keep our families healthy and to focus on the well-being and mental health of ourselves and our loved ones.

Bitmoji ImageI don’t think I’ve officially heard that said to me, but I really felt the need to get that out there. How many of you are sitting there thinking about all the things you need to do this week? How many of you are thinking about all the lessons or things you want to try to be that awesome teacher (or school leader)? How many of you are really trying to plan three different lessons for every lesson you teach and pretend that you know how to set up all the tech you were given just a week ago? How many of you are trying to support absolutely everyone around you (except yourself)?

selfcare

We can’t do it all, but we can be role models to our students about what staying health in a pandemic looks like. We can truly be the star examples of showing limits, vulnerability, and remind students that we are humans too. We can’t be the teachers we were a year ago. We have to show our students what balance and sustainability looks like. We have to be role models to show what prioritizing mental health and well-being looks like. We have to be examples to show how students can be healthy and live a lifestyle where health (physical and mental) is a priority. Academics are important, sure; but academics mean nothing if you’re not well. We’re all just trying here. Honestly, if my students learn how to manage and mitigate their stress and how to pursue a healthy lifestyle that is realistic and sustainable, I would be happy. Who cares if they don’t remember mitosis in 5 or 10 years? If my students can develop the habits of healthy living (eating, sleeping, exercising, time management, etc.), I think that’s the big win we should be fighting for; again, we are in a global pandemic folks! If my mic fails or my internet shuts off…go exercise for the period. Mitosis will still be here when you’re back, but that hour you took to improving your health was a deliberate and intentional time you took to focus and work on you.

When I first started at my current school a coworker said to me, “good is good enough.” That statement has never meant so much to me until this pandemic. I can’t put the expectation on myself to run twice a day again–I’ll run as much as my body needs to stay health at its current fitness, but there’s not pressure to do it all. If the time allows it, then sure, but there’s no pressure if it doesn’t happen. I just have to do what I can!

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I’ll teach what I can this year and if I drop the ball in one of the three models I have to do for every single lesson, so be it. If I drop the ball on a full lesson in all three models, so be it. If I am to be understanding of the dynamic and variable situations my students are in, they can do the same for me. I am sure if I continue to focus and prioritize the students’ wellness and mental health, they too will do the same for me. We are our harshest critics. I can only do so much. I am one person. You can only do so much. You are one person.

Love

Good is good enough.

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I have 20/20 vision but can’t see everything

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to hit the blog. Not from laziness,  but because I’ve been so mentally exhausted by the time I get home. Our robotics team is gearing up for regional tournaments, I’ve had to use most my preps going to doctors (nothing serious, just specialist follow-ups who have limited schedules), and haven’t really had a chance to use my preps as actual preps. It’s been a little bit crazy and like all teachers, certain things have fallen to the back, back burner and the to-do list has really become a “get what you can” list. I am excited to share what has been pondering my mind because SURPRISE, I want to change my action plan and my ideas have changed to something different. I am so excited to share all the changes and mind-shifting that has occurred in the last two months. I can’t do that all in one blog post, but I guess I’ll document as much as I can before our third F2F. I still have more things I’d love to share–but one at a time. Breathe and let’s dive into today’s main idea: 20/20 vision.

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Most of you know, at the end of 2019, I got laser eye surgery–so theoretically, I have 20/20 vision. Well, I’ve been thinking lately as I have been talking to my classes about my Cohort project and looking at my classroom and culture, I’ve shifted my mindset and outlook again. A couple years ago I did my Masters in teaching culture around mental health.  I mainly studied building classroom culture that provides a safe space for students to talk about their mental health. This does not necessarily mean a discussion or awareness on mental health illnesses, but more about how self awareness of their mental health may support their learning. My focus was on mental health awareness and language, but all at the individual classroom community level. That being said, I felt I needed some actual teaching experience first, before I got too wrapped up in it all. Practice makes perfect, right?

Bitmoji ImageFast forward to now, I originally wanted to look at classroom community around science literacy–developing growth mindset and a mindset to fall forward that motivates and curates a curiousity in the sciences. Turns out, with an overwhelmingly large number of feedback, my students consistently all commented on how their favourite thing about our class was our community; that was positive, uplifting and a place they felt safe to talk about their mental health. As I kept reading survey after survey, I kept getting similar messages about the “safe and supportive environment” these students felt. I kept getting similar themes of students talking about how happy they were to talk about their anxieties openly in class and where their mental health was on a specific day. Then I got thinking…

How might we support teachers to create classroom environments where students feel mentally safe to express their socio-emotional health and support pathways of emotional growth?

How did I loop back from my new idea to back where I started when I first became a teacher!? I guess I made a full circle back to where I originally started. I sort of laughed to myself because I had this passion, got discouraged,  started slowly building confidence again and somehow ended up here–back to the beginning. I guess in the end, it went back to my genuine self…and we all know, that’s always been the case for building a strong classroom community.

frolicking with mr. unicorn

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This is how I ended 2019. Then, I jetted off to the holidays and averaged about 10-12 hours of sleep. Yes, I am a sleeper. Even so, as the holidays went on and my Instagram feed kept filling with 20/20 vision, and I kept thinking: IS EVERYONE GETTING LASER EYE SURGERY?! Then I realized–oh, it’s a new internet trend. Whooops…

So 20/20 vision–what does that mean? What does that look like? I started thinking about the idea of how much we don’t see in our students. I hate relating to myself because I am not the only person who has every experienced this, but I also don’t feel like I can speak for anybody else. The impression I often hear that I make on people is that I am excitable, bubbly, friendly and talkative. This then easily lends itself to characteristics like enthusiastic, talkative and happy. This then leads to the many similar quotes and phrases I’ve heard way too many times:

  • You can’t actually be an introvert, you’re so social
  • You don’t REALLY have an anxiety disorder, you are so talkative and outgoing
  • You can’t have social anxiety, you always meet so many people
  • You can’t have trouble processing speech, you are so smart and do well on exams

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I don’t know where to start, but these are things I consistently heard in life. I look back at my learning as a student and from the teacher’s lens, it makes a lot of sense why and how I struggled the way I did. I am such a product of my upbringing and the school system that it’s extremely fascinating to me. I have trouble processing concepts when they are spoken to me. Now, generally if instructions are short, I can still follow but if someone is explaining a scientific concept, or really, any concept to me, I cannot follow. Even with great body language and excitement, I cannot follow. University lectures and teachers explaining concepts were the hardest learning challenge I had to face. I could not follow or comprehend or process any of it. I was confused all the time. I'm lost

Emotionally, that was hard. I grew up in an academically driven family that did not like to discuss learning disabilities. I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t understand things when people were talking and felt like I was broken, or something was extremely wrong with me. I felt like I couldn’t admit it openly because I wanted to please everyone. I never expressed confusion in class and went home to learn things on my own, hiding in my bedroom or my play room. I became pretty good at figuring things out; I was good at reading diagrams myself, reading books myself and working one-on-one with my friends. I figured out what worked for me. I felt so weird that I had to hide under my blankets and read through library books or pictures my friends drew to learn everything that the teacher taught that day. I didn’t and couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand the teacher. This cycled a lot to feelings of anxiousness and concern at why I was unable to learn. I have a strong memory, so once I learned something, I could remember it fully, but to actually learn something for me was so difficult. This really shapes my practice now because I always think: what activity or visual method would make younger me understand this scientific concept? Or in our design thinking HMW questioning: how might we create lessons where students can understand that all learners are different and how might they be supported to accept that it is okay that everyone learns differently? Acceptance, culture and open-mindedness. This is what I want to focus on in my Action Plan going forward, including the mental health theme (I will divulge in this in my next post. That topic deserves it’s own highlight).

So much of how I grew up in the education system supports how I teach today. I am constantly thinking about how many people must learn differently in my classes and how I might address these various avenues without bringing attention to their learning differences. I want students to feel that no matter their learning style, I am here to support and help them, trying to find the best avenue possible to success (for who they are). I never admitted any of my processing difficulties to my teachers and I recognize that many students will not admit their struggles either. That’s okay–I don’t need to be their main support avenue. However, I still want them to feel like if my class jives with them, that is a home that they can come to and feel accepted as who they are–personality, learning ability and mental state. I would like to really focus on students feeling mentally safe  to explore many avenues, to take risks and be themselves.

Let me just insert my new HMW question here one more time:

How might we support teachers to create classroom environments where students feel mentally safe to express their socio-emotional health and support pathways of emotional growth?

Further reading: 

 

One of my all time favourite teacher reads.

For next time: mental health in the classroom, how running taught me to accept my anxiety, how my concussion made running hard for me, and the bounce back.

Today at School: I Made a Bracelet…a Cell Bracelet!

Bitmoji ImageWe’re going to hit the pause button on the running/classroom reflection blog posts and take a little dive into what my classroom looks like a bit. We just finished our second F2F session and in true cohort nature, I was completely wiped out and extremely tired after. This tiredness does not come without its excitement–I got so much feedback and encouragement to write about what I do in my science classroom that I now feel inspired! I’ve never really been comfortable sharing what I do in the classroom (probably a mix of nervousness, embarrassment and overall worry about how others will perceive me as a “new teacher”). The positivity and  kindness I received this weekend has really got me thinking today about pushing out of my comfort zone and talk about something that scares me to share: how I teach.

For the first time ever, I was interviewed for a podcast; more specifically, a podcast called Teaching Tomorrow hosted by none other than the lovely Celeste Kirsh. As a mini-preview, I’ll let you know, a topic we talked about was pushing out of our comfort zones. I guess I need to practice what I preach, so here goes!

I hope this is what my students look like before class…

Let’s start with my class structure. Many of my students (and myself) are a creature of routine, so let’s dive into what my classroom looks like on a regular basis. The first 5-10 minutes are always attendance/announcements (important dates, upcoming science events), and then…whatever fun things we can think of. If we’ve been having a day, we might do a little dance, sing some karaoke or run up and down the stairs, just to burn some energy. Example karaoke songs include:

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Once we’ve shaken out all our sillies, we dive right in to the next most exciting 10 minutes of your life…REVIEW. This is a chance for students to catch-up, ask questions or just activate their little (or big) brain networks to remember what in the world we’ve done in science! We do a little short summary on the whiteboard, courtesy of my many colourful whiteboard markers of what students should remember and know from last class. No surprises. Something simple, quick, easy. Remember, this is just a warm-up, we aren’t stressing any brain muscles yet.

Just a small little warm-up. I apologize for the weird lighting, we dimmed the lights to help with my newly laser-ed eyes.

Once we’ve come out of the warm-up feeling strong, it’s time to roll into the core of the lesson. Be prepared for the next portion of the lesson to last anywhere between 20-40 minutes. This timing is generally activity based and depends a lot on our various moods of the day. If you’re curious how we talk about our moods, please take a little peak at the amazing Blob Tree. What number are you feeling today?

Head on over to the Blob Shop if you’re interested in this lovely resource!

In today’s grade 10 science class, our main activity was making CELL BRACELETS. Sounds exciting, right? Well, here’s the plot twist. The class was divided into three teams. Teams can try to earn “fun points” by answering questions and explaining the functions of organelles correctly. Teams with the highest fun points in a round of bead distribution get first choice in bead colours. Don’t worry, there are about ten solid rounds this class so you are surrounded by opportunity, colourful bead opportunity.

How might we use beads to illustrate how the organelles of a cell work together as a system?

riding mr.unicorn

“I am who I’m meant to be, this is me”

That was exactly my question when my coworker first suggested this activity to me last year. I would like to mention her here as I didn’t come up with this idea on my own from thin air. Now, I have edited this lesson a couple times to make it suitable to my teaching personality and class dynamics, but she did originally suggest using beads as a medium to communicate this idea. I probably didn’t phrase the question with the “HMW” language we learned this weekend at cohort, but somewhere along the way, I am sure I asked a question with that premise. Logistics, organization and delivery are the creative parts of this lesson that I change every year and also are aspects that make her class very different from mine. I think that’s awesome. We are two different people who are being genuine to who we are as teachers and keeping this lesson unique to who we are as people. We’re just humans too. I like tech so my classes are a little tech-centric.

Okay, back on track…making your bracelet! Here’s the fun–we look at the organelles of the cell and how they work together to breakdown glucose, convert it to a useful form of energy (ATP), use the energy to make proteins, and modify/transport proteins to where they are needed in the body. This is how a cell works as a system. Here is an example of one of the beads we might use to symbolize the process. Remember, we have 10 rounds for this activity, but for the sake of time, I’m going to hit the fast forward button.

Thank you Amoeba Sisters for the amazing cartoon as always.

This is my bracelet!

Once we’ve gone through the entire process, the picture to the left is the product we ended with. The fun doesn’t quite end there. In true Ms. Lu fashion, no lesson ends without some awesome colours so grab your crayons and your papers and let’s get drawing!!!

We then took our bracelets and drew out the “rough shapes” and colours of our bracelets on a sheet of paper. There’s no use in having a bracelet if we don’t know what each bead means. Students were required to write out each organelle as it matched to its corresponding bead. Then, students were asked to write out how each organelle impacts the other to create our overall “cell as a system”.

Confused? See the whiteboard below. While students were building their bracelets, I wrote down the words they were saying. I then, drew out a bracelet to the quality I expected theirs to be drawn at. See below:

Today’s Whiteboard

This is my OneNote

Alright, that was a lot right? Let’s take a breather. At this point, we’ve had anywhere between 40-50 minutes of activity time and we all need a bit of a cool down, a change in pace. This is about the time where we switch gears, especially in Ms. Lu’s class. Falling behind? No worries, this whiteboard stays as it is for the rest of class. This is where we turn to our electronic binders for some synthesis, slower paced consolidation. This is normally where my class diverges. I have my stronger students who dive RIGHT into their electronic binders and my weaker students who are still working with the whiteboard material and playing a little catch up. Worry not, with my electronic binder, any message I write, gets synced to the students’ notebook in what is known as the “Content Library”. There is a portion of the binder that I hid to prevent you all from knowing my student names, but there are three key pieces to the electronic binder, also known as  Class OneNote:

  • Collaboration Space–ANY student and/or teacher can view and edit anything in this section (all notes and pages). This is a good space for students to share their notes.
  • Content Library–I see this as the “master library” where only the teacher can edit but students can view and copy from. This is where I generally write, give solutions, etc. and students know they can use this as a resource to work through material at their pace
  • Personal notebook–this is labelled by student name where only one specific student and the teacher may edit. Think of this as your personal binder for the course, just electronic…

At this point, students know there is probably a synthesis activity in their OneNote or a scaffolded questionnaire to help summarize the information we just discussed. At this point, some students will finish the synthesis and carry on to their homework which is written on our school’s communication platform, Edsby. Other students will ask questions, clear up any misunderstandings and save their homework for well, home. Still confused? Check Edsby! Check your Success Criteria to make sure you’re on track and if that didn’t help you learn, I post videos on every topic we cover. Thank you youtube for your many many many science resources.

Check Edsby folks!

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After writing out this lesson, I’ve realized how much my lesson is structured around a running workout. Here’s an average marathon workout (in short): 2-3km warm-up, 12-16km at marathon pace, 2-3km cool down. Here’s the structure of today’s class: small brain warm up (sing, dance, shake it out), review last class/ease into the learning activity, cell bracelet activity, synthesis/brain cool down. I said I was going to hit the pause button the classroom and running posts but clearly I just couldn’t help it. It took writing out my class lesson for me to realize how similar my teaching style is to a run workout. Who knew. I guess now I know…

Questions? Confused? I host science parties Wednesdays at lunch, Fridays during break or by appointment.

Feedback? Other activity ideas? Please let me know 🙂 always open and ready for some new ideas!

I totally used this blog post as an excuse to procrastinate marking.

The Awkward Yeti just gets me.

 

A Little Throwback in Light of This Week’s F2F

Bitmoji ImageOur second F2F is this weekend and I am excited, nervous, scared and probably feeling a lot of the emotions everyone is feeling too. I can feel the positive energy and spirits of the various teachers that make up this cohort which is so incredibly motivational and inspiring. As I mentioned in our last Twitter chat, I wanted to write a blog post about something that I’m just slowly getting comfortable sharing as openly as I have this year.

I get anxious too.

I have a very outgoing personality, but I am not someone who thrives off the energy of socializing.  Sometimes, I am not trying to be friendly, I am not trying to be very talkative but it just comes out that way–it’s my word vomit, it’s my way of coping. Social settings scare me. I hate meeting people, I hate small talk, I hate socializing and I start the mental prep for things like our F2F sessions about a week in advance. I need to mediate my emotions and nerves. It takes me a week to prepare for it mentally, not because of the people, I fully trust and believe that those in this cohort support me, I am just that scared. I often use rambling and excessive talking as a way to avoid social interactions with other people; not because I don’t want to hear about others but because the voices in my head just keep multiplying and talking and talking and they won’t let me calm down. They start scaring me, intimidating me and overwhelming me. I promise I am not trying to interrupt, be rude or not listen, I just internally panic and when that panic ensues, I talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. Sessions like our F2F really scare me in that I worry a lot about coming off as rude or not wanting to hear other teachers out. They stress me out because I constantly worry about interrupting other teachers or panicking

A lot of you can probably relate to these feelings really well. A lot of you have probably dealt with similar feelings, emotions and hopefully think I am not crazy when I say these voices in my head often overwhelm and hinder me. I specifically italicized that because I had one time said that to a person in my past and received a response I have never ever forgotten. On top of a laugh like I was a joke, I received the following response:

Everyone has these “voices” you claim to be dealing with.  Everyone deals with it. It’s not overwhelming, you just need to find a way to deal with it like everyone else does. 

It broke me. I won’t lie. I can still picture their face and their fingers in the air as they air quoted my fears and choice of words in saying, “voices”. Sometimes, it still brings tears to my eyes to think that someone would laugh me off like that.

Bitmoji ImageIt’s funny because I just had my laser eye surgery a couple days ago. My students were all excited asking how it went and if I was excited to never need glasses again. I was straight out honest with them. I told them: my anxiety was through the roof. Before the surgery began, I was asked to take a pill that was apparently an “anti-anxiety” medication to help patients calm down during the procedure. I took the pill thinking that this would be excellent. I wouldn’t have to worry about my coping mechanisms or anything! WRONG. I was extremely anxious that I saw that person’s face again. The doctors said this pill made sure that I wouldn’t be anxious, so why was I so anxious?! The minute the surgery started, I panicked, but he was holding my head absolutely still. My right hand instantly started opening and closing my jacket zipper–I probably zipped and unzipped my zipper at least a hundred times in the procedure. My left hand started squeezing my thumb, remnants of bruising can confirm that one. I was counting in my head, trying to think about meditation, trying to breathe but I was so overwhelmed. Odd thing is, I wasn’t scared of the procedure but in the moment I was so overwhelmed by all the people, the voices, the doctor who didn’t even tell me his name, the weird orange light, and the lady counting down. I was anxious because, I just was.

This entire experience (and talking to Lisa Betterncourt) reminded me of an old blog post I wrote. Now I won’t be sharing the entire post, just parts of it. To contextualize the start of this post, I used to host science shows with a close friend. He was the absolute opposite to me: he would purposely play devil’s advocate, be pedantic just to annoy me, extremely disorganized (annoyingly so), but one of the most creative minds I have ever met. He used to purposely annoy me because “it was funny” but make up with a banana pecan muffin, because #teamwork.

Every Race has a Finish Line

August 18, was bittersweet. It was a last of many. This was the last day I would teach in a building I had taught in for the last 8 years. It was the last day I would sing ridiculous songs in front of hundreds of kids. It was the last day he and I would bicker. For some reason, he would purposely cause banter and bickering between us for the sake of being argumentative or as he would say, pedantic. For some reason, I would just as easily participate in this bickering because that was what made us, us. Then, he would give me a banana pecan muffin as truce…that was our peace offering. With a letter in hand and a loud paper bag that held the banana pecan muffin—I walked away as he said, “this is the last banana muffin I will buy you.” Even now, I can only wonder—how in the world did he forget to mention the pecans?!!?

This is where it all begins. For every young adult, that first step into starting a career is the most terrifying, exciting and thrilling experience. With the memories stored in a banana pecan muffin, I was trying to root myself in a new community. Like anyone who has to adjust to a change in pace, I found myself trying to steer through the motions, holding onto whatever piece of my identity I could. The fear if getting complacent, the fear of no longer challenging myself to try new things and to push myself was a worry I held quite dear to me.

​I am lucky. I am incredibly fortunate to be thrown into a position that propels my creativity exponentially, leaving no limits to my thoughts, ideas and ability to create thought provoking and meaningful lessons. A huge load for a little me, but hey, we try hard things, right? Basking in my love for being creative and being a teacher, I got lost. I mean, here I am justifying to myself: I am still bubbly, I still am spunky, I still run, I still profoundly love my job and teaching, I am still aiming to engage and be creative, I am still driving inquiry forward—all these things are me, right? I am still me, right? But this is when it hit me—why am I justifying anything to myself? When did I begin falling into the motions of a community, feeling like I needed to justify pieces of my identity? How did I find myself in a community and home where I felt guilty to go for a run?

On one hand, it is easy to see running as “just a hobby” or “just a sport”, but I am not going to apologize for what I think is one of my greatest strengths. I think what is seen as a weakness in one set of eyes, is one of the most impactful and meaningful self-awareness and mindful experiences I have propelled myself into.

​I can say all that confidently now like I am some badass but that took time. It took a lot of time, reflection and guess what—mindfulness while running. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll read about a tale where I did THE hardest workout I have ever done with my race team mentor and a mentor who I called Karl for reference. I can still picture the tears and excruciating pain I felt during that one. It’s a terrifying workout that I fear every marathon season. Last season, I was lucky enough to run it with my race team mentor. This season, lucky for me—they changed the workout. Instead of a 2km warm-up, 12km at marathon pace, 2km cool-down, the workout was a 2km warm-up, 12km a marathon pace, and after every 2km you run, the next two had to be 10 seconds faster per km, then finally a 2km cool-down. You mean you want to take the hardest workout that I have the biggest mental block for and make it harder?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

What a lesson learned. What a hard, challenging and crazy workout. Was I successful? Yes, I lived to tell the tale; hence, you’re reading this now, but it did not come without its doubts and hesitations. Anything that is hard is scary. Life is scary. It’s confusing sometimes and is full of doubts and hesitations. That’s why we have to tackle it head on. One foot in front of the other, again and again, until you get there, until you accomplish something you never thought you yourself could do. I ended that workout with 2 kilometers at a 4:15 pace. In context, I couldn’t even run that pace for 100m 2 years ago. ​

For some reason, that run made me remember. It made me remember the thrill of doing a science show for hundreds of people. It made me remember coaching and the growth of the students. It made me remember the pillars of wellness that I make a point to emphasize in my classroom. It made me remember that everything I have done, am doing, and will do will be challenging no matter where I end up. It made me remember what it felt like to be in a school culture and community where I felt like I was thriving and that my creativity, running and overall identity brought life, inspiration and motivation to the community. It made me remember that no matter where I go or where I end up—I will always love teaching. I will always form irreplaceable rapports with my students and most importantly—I will still have impact.

​If impact is my strength, impact will be a part of me wherever I roll on over to. The dude who gave me that banana pecan muffin wrote, “you won’t even be able to measure the positive impact you have brought to our community.” Every step I take to improve myself in my running is a moment I can share with my students. Running to me is about taking something that is hard, something where I have a mental block and trying to overcome that fear within me to improve myself. Running to me is about building strength (physically and mentally) and it is about training my resilience, practicing creativity and learning to challenge myself to “try hard things.” Running is really a big metaphor to me on how I approach life and teaching. This run made me realize that if this habit and/or lifestyle makes me lesser than, or “not a good fit”, then this is where I needed to draw my line. I want to thrive, but I want to thrive while being honest and genuine to what I love and the best possible geeky, nerdy, bubbly version of me (which funfact: includes running).

This blog post is years old. I merely bring it back because this entire cohort experience has reminded me about the impact we have on students and the community we are building in our classrooms. I have had many lessons in my own growth this year but I’ve also been very open about the lessons I’ve learned with my students. I’ve told them when I failed, I’ve told them when I’ve been anxious and I’ve told them when I’ve been uncomfortable. It’s interesting how many students want to hear about these lessons and how it taught my coping mechanisms, how I channel a little inner mantra to face challenges, and coming to terms that sometimes, I just want to be alone for hours and hours and not speak to a soul (despite my overly friendly personality).

I use running as a medium to share these feelings and thoughts because for a lot of them, they understand it and it becomes easy to relate to and empathize with. I like to say, “this is how it made me feel because this is how I process things, but you might feel differently depending how you process these moments,” or a “this is why I am doing this because I think this will help me grow in this regard,” etc. My students know you cohort folks as “the group of teachers who hang out in Toronto” and I’ve told them that this cohort experience is similar to our group work in the classroom. We make groups with vast diversity and different personalities, we discuss ideas and we try to help each other be better versions of ourselves. They think it’s sort of dorky that a bunch of teachers all get together and chat about how to become better teachers, but they also think it’s “kind of cool, in a nerd way”.

Popping out from a rabbit hole with 'It Me' painted on a wooden sign

So I cut my hair and got rid of my glasses over the weekend. Hope you can all still recognize me this weekend!

I am a quitter. I failed, I blew up, but I am just a learner.

Bitmoji ImageThis one is going to be a hard post. I don’t know where to start because I am still struggling with the right words. We talked about earlier how I quit on my original race plan to re-adjust and change my goals. Well, my new goal race was this past Sunday and…for the first time, I did not finish. I quit. 

I was very prepared for this race–I almost over-prepared. I knew this because I had done two time trials earlier and knew I was perfectly on pace and ready to take on this half and achieve my goal. My coach had timed me for my time trials and he also had detailed notes proving that my goal pace was going to feel easy and very doable. It was perfect. I was tapered, ready to go to run a goal half time of 1:29…or so I thought.

Saturday evening I was feeling a little off, but I couldn’t figure it out exactly. At about 2:30am on Sunday morning, I woke up in excruciating pain. It was that time of the month. For me, I have a condition that leads to extreme pain, vomiting and cramps. Don’t worry, I have an operation scheduled for Dec 20 to help with this condition and it is being dealt with medically, but for now, it typically lasts about 36 hours. As any runner typically does, I knew I was just going to run through the pain and try to suck it up. Sunday morning rolled in and I consumed the maximum amount of Advil and Tylenol that I could consume. I knew I was just going to have to be a fighter that morning and this was going to be an epic “fight through the moment” day.

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Turns out, 2km in, I completely shut down. I vomited twice and had to go to the washroom. I thought I was going to power through and just run a slower day, even if I didn’t hit my goal but by 3km I threw up a third time and had just had enough of dealing with the smell of bodily fluids, the pain of my body and the intense winds of the day. At 3km, I just cried and stopped. I couldn’t do it. I thought, let’s sit down and let the pain subside and start back up again. I sat. I sat for 10 minutes. The pain did not go away. I needed assistance to stand. I promise, it wasn’t my legs, I was training for a marathon, 3km was NOT going to knock me out. I needed assistance to stand up. I knew this was the end. I had to accept it, I had to quit and call it a day. I did not qualify for my goal marathon (for 2020). I cried my eyes out and called my other half. He was on his way to pick me up.

No. 1 fan

This was hard. After re-arranging my goals and training through a brutally hot summer, I really wanted this race to pan out. I had done two time trials throughout September and October and knew that this race was going to be a realistic and achievable goal. I was so excited to show my progress. I was so disappointed to fail. Bitmoji Image

My coach e-mailed me. He told me not to dwell on the race as I had, “progressed amazingly well” this year and that “I would lose nothing” from walking away. He’s right, I know, but it’s hard to swallow. I had been training for this one race and I just walked away, I quit. I had so many doubts. Was I really in that much pain? Was it really THAT bad? Could I have pushed through? Why didn’t I push through? Am I mentally not strong?

My coach told me to focus on the 2020 season and that I would hit all my goals and qualify for the marathon in 2021. He reminded me that I had lost no fitness and that I was walking into my next season stronger and even better than the last season. It’s still hard. I have never ended a season feeling like such a failure. I was a mess. I am still a mess.

I often talk about my grade 10 science classes, but I also teach grade 12 Biology. My grade 12s asked me today, “Ms. Lu, didn’t you have a race this weekend? Did you qualify?! Did you make it?!” I looked down at my feet and sighed. They asked, “why are you so sad?”. I explained the exact same situation I explained to you all. Then everyone started shouting at me:

  • That’s okay Miss, we still love you!
  • Ya Miss, you’re still so cool, plus, you’re actually still such an awesome teacher
  • Miss, you’re honestly still so inspiring–it’s pretty legit yo
  • Miss, you’re still crazy

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Hah. After all that, I am still the same old teacher who gets excited about molecules and is crazy?! I always talk to my students about failing and being okay with it, that people won’t change their opinions of you for messing up one thing. It’s interesting how I am so hard on myself for failing but always encouraging my students to fail. Am I a hypocrite? 

I know I have a second chance. I know it’s not over and I know I have a chance in 2020 to do this all over again; just instead of trying to qualify for the 2020 marathon, it would be the 2021. Okay–that’s doable, I mean, I used to laugh at the idea of running the Boston Marathon, and now I’ve done it–twice. In talking myself up mentally a grade 12 student blurted, “When are you going to try again? When’s the next one? Where is it? Can we come watch? CAN WE MAKE BIG SIGNS FOR YOU?!”

“Wait. I take that back. We can’t promise this. Where is your race again?”

“Yeah, I think I can only be there if it’s in Ottawa”

“Wait, will it be cold then?”

“What time of year is this going to be?”

Okay, so I appreciated the support and effort, but I would never ever expect nor think my students would come to a race to cheer me on. It amazed me at just how supportive they were. They proved my point about how one failure doesn’t define who you are. What a lesson they just proved to themselves. Their gut reaction upon hearing about my quitting was to ask when I was going to try again. I followed-up and asked them…so when are you going to try again?

That’s the thing, I am still sulking, don’t get me wrong. I need some time to get over this and feel like I am not a quitter. I need some time to bask in my emotions because I am so incredibly disappointed in myself. I am however, fully aware that I have a next time and that this isn’t over. I am fully aware that I am starting another season stronger and ready to grow more as a runner. It’s okay. I know it’ll all come together in time but the silver lining here is that hopefully I can model failing and growing to my students. It’s not over. It’s also not just beginning because I’ve already begun. I think I am in a re-group and continue phase, and that is completely okay.

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Started at 43, now I am here.

Today’s a big day…not only did one of my favourite couples on my race team get engaged, but some major running events happened today. Some friends had some killer PBs (personal bests), some awesome podium performances and overall, my phone was buzzing with updates from Toronto while I was in Quebec (and I also got updates on how my friends in Quebec were doing despite being there). I ran today, don’t worry, but I only ran 22.5km of the marathon that was supposed to be my goal race. Again, worry not, 22.5km was my plan for today once I re-adjusted my goals for the season. We’ll find out if I hit my run goal for 2019 on Nov. 3. For now, let’s celebrate everyone else who had a great day!  One of my teammates broke the 3 hour marathon barrier and she placed third, another friend ran his first marathon ever, two other friends broke the 3:10 marathon barrier, another friend debuted the half marathon with a time of 1:06! I can go on and on but special thanks goes to my partner who played Uber driver for all us today! GO TEAM!

traffic jam

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Even so, today’s also pretty big emotional day because with all the races and running buzz happening, I can’t help but take a moment to think back on yet another reason why running has shaped my practice. At this point, I probably should have posted about my homework from our last F2F but I SWEAR…it’s coming. We are just running some design labs in science right now and the homework didn’t match the flow–it’s coming, later this week. I promise!

Pic or it didn’t happen!

A big thing I talk about in my classroom is the idea of progression. I think as teachers we all believe in it and talk about it with our students as much as we see fit. When I talk to my students about progression, I think back to my running moments. I wasn’t good at running when I started. My first 5km took me 43 minutes and I thought I was a super speedster. I remember my first half marathon, my goal was to run the entire time without walking (I survived to tell the tale, see left). Let’s just say the time it took me to run my first half marathon is the time it takes me now to run 30km (with hills). That’s cool, eh? Progression. It’s a pretty cool thing. It’s one of my favourite things to talk about in the classroom.

I remember the first time I looked up the Boston qualifying times. At that point, I was probably running 12 or 13km tops at a solid pace of 7 minutes per kilometer. To qualify for Boston in my gender and age category, I am looking to run just under 5:00 mins per km for the entire marathon. I remember reading the times and my jaw dropping. The idea of actually qualifying for Boston seemed so foreign and impossible for me. Not only would I have to run 30km more than my maximum but to shave over 2 mins per km?! Are you kidding me?? That’s impossible!! “I suck at running.” is what I told myself. Four years later, I’ve done Boston. Twice.

I promise I have an education point and this isn’t just about running. I teach the Ontario academic grade 10 science class. We have two streams: pre-IB and Ontario academic science. The start of the year always begins with my students saying: Bitmoji Image

  • “I am in this class because I suck at science”
  • “I am just bad at science, don’t expect much”
  • “I am aiming for my credit”

I don’t get mad or annoyed often, but those comments are the one thing that annoys me in the classroom. My students now know we ban certain words such as “suck”, “fail”, “bad at” because what does it really mean? What does it mean to be “bad at science” anyway? When did we allow out students to develop these preconceptions about a subject?! Okay, maybe it is the mark thing and how students think their abilities are the same as their mark. Science is SO MUCH MORE than labs, tests, academics and studying. Science is so much more than “memory work” and “knowing all the concepts”. Science is about curiousity, asking questions and developing problem-solving skills. Science is approaching challenge not in fear but with an attitude of discovery. SO WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?! That’s life. As if any of us went through life making all the right choices (and if you did, well, kudos to you). More importantly, to my fellow teachers out there: how might we measure progression in a way that is meaningful for students?

This is how I science

I tell the students about how I did not do well in science at school; I fell in love with science from doing shows, demonstrations and learning about science communication. I tell them how learning how to run taught me how to be curious, ask questions and challenge myself. Then, without a doubt, I always get the same answer: “But Ms. Lu–you don’t get it. You’re good at running. You don’t know what it’s like to be bad at something.”

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We all start somewhere. I tell them about my first 5km and how it took me a solid 43 minutes. My students always look at me like I am crazy. “There is no way it took you 43 minutes, I am faster than you!” That is my favourite because this is when I can divulge in all the fun things about training, learning about my limits and learning how to live just outside my comfort zone. I tell them about how science might feel uncomfortable right now, but we’re all working together as a team to push our boundaries just a little. Let’s experiment–what can we do when we just push the boundaries a little? If it gets tough, don’t forget you have your teacher, peers and friends to support you in this process! In case there was any doubt, this dance has been done in my classroom by some of my students. Yes, all sections of my grade 10 classes.

This leads into my goals this year. This year I want to look at student perceptions in science and how we might be able to change the way science is seen. I don’t like hearing the words, “I’m not good at science, I am an arts person.” Well, guess what, the two have more in common than we often given them credit. More to be discussed when I talk about the interdisciplinary project I am planning for grade 10 science this year! I am not here to push students to a scientific career–I am happy to support students in whatever path they choose but I don’t want them to give up on something without seeing it from a variety of perspectives. I wasn’t always good at science and I wasn’t always a good runner. I learned science because I enjoyed doing demonstrations and doing science shows–I hated science in school. I was terrible in the classroom but I was great at putting on an awesome show. Funfact: I am a professional bubble blower. Using my two fingers, I can blow a bubble as tall as a five year old.

May the wind by in my favour

To me, science is a curiousity adventure–if that is not their thing, that’s great…but if we dislike science for superficial reasons like, “it’s hard”, “too many labs”, “tests”, “it’s an academic subject”, then my students are in for a hard reality check. I think science is about finding a comfort zone and challenging it. It’s no different than what running has taught me. Everyone walks into my science classroom with a variety of limits, comfort zones and potential. It’s not about who scores the highest on the test, it’s about who is willing to push their comfort zone the most to grow and learn the most. One of the most re-assuring moments I had is when a parent saw me in September and told me, “Student A is SO EXCITED to be in your class again. He spent the week before the timetables were out chanting that he HAD to be in your class. He said that you hold him to a standard that is realistic but gives him a good butt kicking.”

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As a young teacher still figuring out what I am doing in the classroom, that was one of the most reassuring compliments I have ever received. Being told I was “out of this world awesome” helped too but what touched me was that the student trusted me to understand his potential; yet, he felt comfortable to let me push him out of his comfort zone. It’s helpful having students like this already in your class to help develop the culture. I feel as we have now spent about 2 months together, this culture of “pushing our boundaries” is really starting to develop. Granted, not every student buys into it and puts forth the same effort he did, but every student is contributing to this overall classroom dynamic. I am extremely appreciative of this dynamic that has developed in my classroom. I think it’s engaging and a safe space for me to ask my Cohort 21 survey questions (and receive honesty) but that the same feeling is reciprocated. I feel comfortable knowing my students know I just want them to be the best versions of themselves–whatever that looks like.

What’s your spirit animal?

Friday Fun Feature Quotes:

  • Ms. Lu, you’re like a guardian angel–just looking out for all of use and making the right decisions”
  • “Yo Ms. Lu, you know, you actually care about people more than the average–that’s pretty dope”

 

TIL…It’s Okay to Quit.

As some of you may know, I am an endurance runner. Running is a big part of my life, not because I want to be some sort of speedster but because it taught me a lot about managing my anxiety, taking on challenges, accepting change and being open and accepting to uncertainty. I think running has shaped my practice in many ways. There’s something about the training challenge that drives my want to explore inquiry, try new lessons and embrace creativity. Something about running has developed an innate interest to pursue new things, ask questions and most importantly, “try hard things”. 

“it’s by trying hard things that we learn how tough we really are.”

A little throwback to the first year I ran my own team at the Ontario Science Centre

For many years, I worked at the Ontario Science Centre. It’s there that I met an inspiring mentor/manager/friend who shaped my mentality for teaching. She approached every challenge with the quote above. She looked at every difficult moment as a situation to learn and to grow. She told me that if running was something I wanted to pursue, to not be afraid of it and to welcome every challenging moment with open arms. I didn’t believe I could run. At that point in my life, it took me about 43 painful minutes to run 5km. I honestly didn’t think I could run more, faster or ever run for 1 hour without walking. I remember lying on my basement floor thinking , “is the body even allowed to feel this much pain?!”

Turns out, it all ended up okay. I ended up getting hooked onto this running thing and actually ended up a little competitive in the sport. I found a community, a team and a love for challenging myself season after season. This school year, I’ve had a really hard time adjusting to the school year.  For all of September it drove me nuts trying to figure out why I was constantly tired and struggling to find the excitement and happiness I normally feel with the beginning of the school year. I taught grade 9 science last year and was teaching grade 10 science this year. I knew the students who I was teaching well and we had phenomenal rapports! They even called me the GOAT. I knew it wasn’t my classes nor students tiring me out.

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Funny Story: my grade 9s went on and on about how I was THE GOAT and I was so confused, almost appalled. How could these young teenagers go about calling me an animal!?!?! How rude can they get!!? Turns out, “the GOAT” has a different meaning. My bad folks…my bad.

A little throwback to when I worked at the Ontario Science Centre and was a popsicle stick puzzle master.

Like any scientist, the only appropriate thing to do at this point was to analyze every detail of my day and think of a plausible hypothesis as to what was changing my teaching mood! After talking it through with a couple friends, my partner and my coach, I finally figured it out. I signed up for a marathon that I did not want to do. Most of the time, in these situations, most people will transfer their bib or try to sell it. Well, unfortunately, the race directors of this specific marathon created a policy where no transfers, re-selling of bibs or change in events were at all possible. None at all. Trust me, I tried. I tried desperately to change my bib around in July. No success. I tried to give it away for free, to switch to the half marathon but the race directors were strict and did not allow any changes. It’s a shame to think I couldn’t give my bib away to someone who really would have loved to run.

So here I am, dragging my feet through a grossly hot summer running hard workouts and high mileage training for this marathon that my heart’s not really set on. For anyone who’s run a marathon or for all of you with amazing empathy skills, you know–a marathon is mental, if you’re not feeling it mentally, you’re probably not going to love the marathon. After a long chat with my coach and a long mental battle, I had officially decided to bail on this marathon and change my entire fall running line up.

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For a couple days, I was very hard on myself. I kept thinking about what a bad role model I was to the students, that I was a quitter and that I wasn’t displaying much grit to face challenges. I thought that I was letting my students down by failing to model perseverance.

Then, one day this week, a student asked me when my fall marathon was going to be. I explained to them that I had made the decision not to run a marathon this season but to redirect my focus to running a half marathon later this season in hopes to qualify for another international race. I apologized to the class saying that I felt a bit of guilt for changing my goals because I spend so much time in my classroom talking about the fun in pursuing challenges and here I was giving up on my challenge! Without realizing the cloud I was carrying, my student (quite confused) asked, “Wait Ms. Lu, I don’t get it. Why do you feel bad? How’s what you’re doing different from us? You took feedback from your coach and made a change. That’s like when you mark our graphs and tell us next time not to make the same mistakes, right?” Another student chimes in, “Yaaaa. So you just changed your goals, but your goal is still a goal, right?” Of course a smartie pants in the room had to point out, “Ya but a half is way easier than a marathon!!” Then the SUPER SMARTIE pants of the class had to silence the room with one sentence, “Guys. Let’s be real–this ain’t BABY FOOD.”

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Yes, so turns out, 15 year old slang is weird. Apparently, baby food is the equivalent to our “that was easy” button. Everyone decided to settle on the fact that they were proud of Ms. Lu and excited for whatever runventure was next. I was surprised. I didn’t realize how much students didn’t care what I was doing, but cared simply that I was chasing a goal; that I cared about bettering myself, that I cared about progression. I tell them a lot about how one year in high school isn’t everything and that they’ve got numerous moments and all the time in the world to pursue opportunities to help them grow, change and grow more. It just came to me that, somehow, I had forgotten to apply that to myself.

So being the impromptu teacher we all are, I decided to re-frame my lesson based on this little moment I had. Don’t worry, we still talked refraction in my class and rocked the Optics lesson. However, I decided that we would take a small detour and write a little goal for ourselves for term one…something we want to achieve either in science, school, sports, socially, ANYTHING. Then, we wrote out an Action Plan. Woah. Did I just do a mini-cohort 21 thing in my classroom? Then if we felt comfortable, we shared it with the class, because we’re just all part of Ms. Lu’s dysfunctional science family, right (disclaimer: my students came up with that creative crew name)?

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Then, I realized how much of a load was lifted off my shoulder. I am still running the same mileage, workouts and distance I did in September, but I was coming into my classroom excited, energized and better able to teach! I was inspired, motivated and overall, happier. All this…because I shifted my goals a bit. I felt a lot of guilt at first, but my grade 10s made me realize…I didn’t change my idea of having goals and trying hard things, I didn’t give up on pursuing a challenge–I just changed what my challenge would be. To them, I was modelling exactly what I preached: taking feedback, adjusting, adapting, and most importantly improving. An important lesson for me but surprisingly, a lesson that opened up a conversation in my classroom. Somehow, this learning experience for myself has set up a classroom dynamic where my students actively and regularly check-in about their goals, openly talk about what they want to achieve and most importantly, share with one another how they are adjusting, adapting and improving themselves. Fingers crossed for developing a culture of growth mindset this year in grade 10! If you managed to make it through my long ramble…#thankyou #cohort21 #excitedforthisjourney

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My best learning experience

A learning experience that has greatly contributed to my growth and success: 

When I was in high school, I struggled to stay engaged in class. I wasn’t a weak student but I wasn’t very interested in school either. School seemed like a place where there were rules, structures and routines that if you followed, you could graduate with very little bother. I didn’t fuss nor did I stand out very much either. I was happy to be another student who “teachers didn’t worry about”.

When I was in grade 10, I began working at the Ontario Science Centre which has drastically impacted my perspective. I learned about educational programming and developing workshops to engage a diverse group of audiences. I learned about presenting and communicating science and how one idea could be presented in a countless number of ways with numerous perspectives. I worked with a phenomenal manager who taught me how to fail, how to learn and to embrace my natural curiousity. This manager always said to us, “it’s by trying hard things that we learn how tough we really are”. She taught about how science is more than just labs, academics and rules; she showed me how science was just a medium to prompt questioning, develop curiousity, and develop genuine relationships to help people learn, beyond the textbook. She planted the seed of one of my biggest passions now—science communication.

In my opinion, the most important Approach to Learning:

  • Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration
  • Differentiated to meet the needs of all learners

A core routine to my classroom is collaboration. Students know that they will more often have in pairs, small groups or even larger groups. This is very intentional because I believe in teaching students skills beyond the science curriculum. I like to encourage communication skills and relationships between students. I think the dynamic and engagement of my classroom creates an atmosphere where individuality is celebrated and students appreciate the variety of personalities and knowledge levels that as my students say, “create our dysfunctional science family.”  My students know that my classroom follows a specific daily routine:

  1. Review 
  2. Activity (pairs or groups)
  3. Synthesis

I took this model from a conference I went to where a teacher was looking at studies and research about how the reflection and use of recall in one’s class develops the brain and deep learning. Without going into the gory details, one thing that stuck with me was that “interleaving helps students achieve deeper learning”.  Check our Dough Rohrer if I’ve convinced you to dig a little deeper.

Another thing I stress is diffrentiation and how we all learn differently. Though my class follows a specific “routine”, my students know that we will look at a variety of ways to review, a variety of ways to do an activity and a variety of ways to do synthesis. This goes back to the idea of celebrating students’ individuality and actively diffrentiating my classroom to support that. I often quote in my class, “good for all, and necessary for some” from the Ministry Document Learning for All.

Images that best captures the essence of my most important ATL: 


2018-2019 School year. A group of my past grade 12 students looking at how to best sample a hypothetical community of organisms. 

2018-2019 School year. A group of my past grade 9 students looking at how to identify physical and chemical properties in a variety of substances.

 

 

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