by Julie Brock
I do not protest to understand the stock market. Even though Bloomberg runs in the background while my partner in this life checks Robinhood, I am happily ill equipped to invest your money. However, I do like metaphors. Lately I have found myself saying two phrases ad nauseum as they pertain to education:
University of YouTube
Is there an actual YouTube University? No. There is a channel named YouTube University, but no, there is not an actual YouTube University. However, think about how many times you have used YouTube to figure out how to change a headlight, remove a stripped screw, or build a retaining wall.
There is valuable information on social media platforms that people are using and gaining knowledge for free and it isn’t just for hobbies. As a college first-year, my son found his way into a physics class that was harder than any class he had previously experienced. He went to office hours, met with the graduate assistants, asked for resources, and at the end of the day, he found an educator on YouTube that explained the material in a way that worked with his learning style. In addition, he learned how to build a chicken coop to code, how to replace his graphics card, and numerous other helpful learnings that he continues to build up in his learning portfolio.
And I ask my higher ed colleagues:
This matters because students are opting out of higher education. According to the Minnesota Student Longitudinal Data Set (SLEDS), roughly 70% of Minnesota high school graduates who enroll in college settings persist in earning a Bachelor’s degree. The number drops for 2017 high school graduates, which makes sense: their 3rd year is the 2019-2020 academic year.
A disruption as large as a global pandemic will have serious consequences on college persistence, however, the trend was holding prior to COVID-19.
There are many variables playing into this scenario that were barriers to higher education well before COVID-19:
Internet learning is disrupting traditional education, and unless higher education institutions find a way to compete, their relevance is waning for rising generations. According to NPR, more students are opting to stay out of higher education because of rising costs of tuition and life. Without a clear return on investment, it is hard for people to see the value of attending college when, perhaps, they can learn the skills on the job or online.
Corner Market, no longer
Offering credit for prior learning is one way higher education can stay relevant in this ever-changing education market, in addition to helping students understand the importance of accredited programs as a solid investment of time and money. And both these are good return on investment arguments. Thinking that higher education has the corner market on knowledge and information is no longer relevant or real.
Crowdsourcing is not just for restaurant recommendations. People have eye witnesses across the globe at their fingertips. There is no need to rely on an educational institution for information or knowledge. Operating as such only perpetuates an antiquated system of learning. What higher education institutions do have to offer, if accredited, is the verification of learning for employers. However, with a 3% unemployment rate and more employers offering livable wages, it is tough to compete with going straight into the workforce.
Instead, how can higher education institutions create experiences that pull in the technological advances that students cannot get elsewhere? How about simulators, AI, and accredited degrees that can transfer and pay-off over time? How do we transform higher education as a conduit of information and knowledge that accentuates and builds on the skills students are learning elsewhere?
What can higher education do?
Overall, if higher education promotes themselves as a collaborative partner in the success and growth of individuals and the community, then higher education can find their place in this open and free education market.
by Phil Olson
The school year has been long and full of challenges. Sisyphean, even. Still, the fact that third quarter is almost over is genuinely surprising. How can an interminable year slip away so quickly? Part of the answer, at least for me, is the approach I’ve employed: I am planning as I go.
In the before times, I meticulously organized detailed units; I even published calendars that included daily plans for a month or two at a time. This year, my practice has been to sketch and communicate a broad overview at the beginning of the week, then plan specific experiences on a day-by-day basis. This is definitely more time consuming and fraught, and I don’t want to work in this mode forever, but--darn it!—it is effective. I remain close to the action, at the students’ level, and I can speed up and slowdown in response to their needs.
This practice has led to some important, much needed wins, and it has proven an especially powerful way to tackle the most challenging works I do with students. One example--Romeo and Juliet—(which I have been teaching since only men were allowed on stage), felt both meaningful and fresh.
I took a break from the Bard last year, as the idea of grappling with a challenging, middle-English play in distance-learning mode seemed too heavy. Teaching Shakespeare again this year has been part of the slow return to normalcy. A challenge, but a worthy, achievable one, and on our day-by-day journey, I made lots of adjustments.
Here’s what worked and why:
Act I: Two "Texts"
My freshpeople and I launched our Romeo and Juliet experience using minimally-annotated, paperback copies of the play. I knew I’d need to combine readings with various resources from my files (summaries, contextual pieces, vocabulary lists, and the like), but in doing so I discovered that the supplements became replacements. Not what I had wanted.
After doing some hunting I landed on an amazing alternative: the website myShakespeare. It offers an unabridged, “glossed” text (see below), as well as a host of useful tools linked in the margins, including modernizations of tough passages, explanations of allusions, identifications of literary techniques employed, and deep dives into “weird words.”
Additionally, and perhaps most awesomely, the site offers two different types of videos. In the first, actors perform important passages with minimal trappings; this foregrounds the actors’ talents, as they lean all the way into their characters and express Shakespeare’s lines in more than words. The second set of videos feature character interviews, in modern English, that weave in important aspects of scenes, explore the characters’ psychologies, and play up the humor.
For most of the play, students did their reading on screens using myShakespeare, while using the paperbacks to do things that screens make cumbersome, like revisiting passages during in-class discussions, citing lines within papers, and practicing dialogue.
Act II: Multiple Films
I remember studying Romeo and Juliet in my ninth-grade English class, and I can still picture my teacher stealthily making her way toward the TV (relatively tiny, and on a mobile cart, of course) to slide her folder in front of the screen at an especially interesting moment in Zeffirelli’s film version of Act 3, Scene 5 (the morning after the young lovers’ wedding night). Mayhem avoided. Master teacher!
Back then, watching the film was the “reward” for having endured the play, but today, I find it much more impactful to use several film versions and to weave them into the reading process. Films reinforce understanding, amplify interpretive possibilities, and invite critical thinking about all facets of a production. For contrast, I like to use three very different versions: The traditional Zeffirelli from 1968, the modern Luhrman from 1996, and a recording of a live, Broadway production directed by David Leveaux in 2014.
The “original” is corny, but retains its charm; the modernization is bold and over-the-top dramatic; and the Broadway version showcases the powers of live drama. In class, we had many passionate discussions about which production did things best, and most conversations led us back to the text.
Act III: Assessments
In addition to reading, discussing, journaling about, and watching the play, my students also engaged with several formal assessments, and my goal this year was to make them meaningful without being so heavy that they weighed down the experience (i.e. a paper about the history of iambic pentameter--here is a fun one—or a multiple choice test about who said what and when). Instead, my students made the most out of discussions; wrote short essays; did some not-so-serious sonneteering; and performed some passages in “table reading” fashion.
So, we made it through a Shakespearean play, despite the wintry-gray cloud that always hangs over quarter 3. Of course, along the way, we had some less-than-great days, several strategies fell flat, and not all students bought the notion of Shakespeare’s genius. The unit was messy and hard; teaching Shakespeare always is, it’s part of the experience. So, I’m taking the mess as a sign that we did it right, and concluding that, sometimes, improv beats a script.
by Stefanie Whitney
I am one of them.
And, the list goes on...
I’m only getting started, but for the sake of time and my increasing anxiety, I will stop for now.
If this list is all you know about me, then you have likely formed judgments, perhaps even drawn conclusions that all point to: I am or I am not “your kind of people”. Yet, I hope curiosity will encourage you to learn more.
As one of “them”, I have also found myself hustling to find my “us.”
In so many ways and to so many people, I am one of “them.”
And for the longest time, I have hustled to show the “us’s” that I’m one of the good “them’s.”
I am hustling to be one of the good ones.
Focusing on the hustle.
Martha Beck believes that “Integrity is the cure for unhappiness.” I’m currently reading The Way of Integrity by Beck, and she explores the concept of hustling. Brene Brown deserves credit as the first to help me reflect on my own hustle, and Beck manages to take my self-reflection to another level.
“Humans create elaborate cultures because we are intensely social beings, dependent on the goodwill of others from the moment we’re born. We also have an enormous capacity to absorb and replicate the behavior of people around us. From childhood, often without even noticing it, we learn exactly how to win approval and belonging in our particular cultural context…. In this rush to conform, we often end up overruling our genuine feelings–even intense ones…to please our cultures. The extent to which people will defy nature to serve culture can be truly horrifying.”
Literal and figurative battle lines are drawn because of people serving a culture–and, as Beck uncovers, often battle lines built not on our integrity but on our desire to fit in, to belong.
This quest to belong can be as catastrophic as a world war or as seemingly innocuous as cheering for your favorite hockey team. Seemingly is appropriate here because I cannot be the only one who has observed cheering turn into leering, then smearing, and finally–something much more sinister.
So–about our personal hustles. My personal understanding of both Brown’s and Beck’s explanations of the “hustle” is to do whatever it takes to be accepted into a culture of people, often at the expense of our own internal nature, or value systems. The definition is easy to accept. However, the extent to which we can get lost in the hustle is much harder to actualize, which is why Beck’s request of readers at the end of chapter two “admit–just to yourself–that some of your actions are designed to impress or fit in with other people” shriveled up my soul like a raisin.
"Us" vs. "Them": a living history
As a former member of the “not a math person” team, I feel a bit proud of my observation that division seems to be the most popular of the mathematical operations (I also feel flummoxed, sometimes defeated, and always overwhelmed by this reality). I’m not sure if test scores or climate surveys quantify this, but observational data suggests we have been and continue to be really good at division in this profession, in this state, in this country, in this world.
Continue ad nauseam.
Choosing to be an outsider
I know I am most motivated by curiosity and compassion for humans, animals, and the occasional inanimate object. Because of curiosity and compassion, I believe that crossing over to hang with “thems”, while initially unsettling, almost always ends in a feeling of warmth in my insides and a smile that is hard to wipe from my face.
There are rare moments when this type of rendezvous doesn’t result in blossoming warmth and shared smiles. Upon reflection, I realize in many of these failed moments that I was/am hustling–trying to cajole, convince, fit in, or defend myself–often through evasive jokes, ducking and weaving, and the occasional speed talking. I leave these conversations frustrated, short of breath, and filled with the sinking dread that my position as a “them” has been solidified.
In the spirit of selective attention, I’m struck by just how often even those with the best of intentions manage to divide us. Take this recent quote by Adam Grant:
“In cultures of arrogance, people get rewarded for expressing certainty and conviction. The most confident speaker claims the most status. In cultures of humility, people are applauded for admitting ignorance and asking questions. The most complex thinker earns the most respect.”
My initial reaction: “Yeah. See? It is them, not us.”
But I have been an active member of both cultures. I know where I feel most myself and how I show up among folk who inspire me rather than how I show up when inclined to bring my hustle. I prefer a culture of humility, but I need to frequently pause and consider how I am contributing and upholding this culture rather than perpetuating a culture where hustle and arrogance are the play calls.
Grant brings up an example that does not have to be about division. If I accept my role in the situation and choose to avoid deflection and blame, then I understand he is talking about being human—choosing arrogance or humility. We have choices. Timshel.
And while both of these things can be simultaneously true, what is more important is that I stop trying to convince anyone else of this reality and simply know my own truth.
Going forward, I am reminded that at the first sign of battle lines being drawn an opportunity exists to calmly step over the divide and ask questions. Listen and seek to understand. Fight the instinct to grab my ruler and Sharpie (it’s taking everything in me to not make a hurricane path reference here).
When we are in places where lines of division are being drawn, rather than choosing sides, I strive to be an outsider who starts asking more questions. (In this regard: I have been known, on rare occasions, to weaponize questions--sorry Socrates—so I find it helpful to check my tone of voice and know my authentic intent of asking before boldly striving for that outsider status.)
“Us vs. Them” only exists if we let it. We are the perpetrators of division and discord. We can either pick up the golden apple, pull out a sharp knife, and argue over who gets rewarded, or we can peel the superficial skin off to reveal the parts underneath where common ground exists. (Too much? Did that allusion get out of hand? Probably. Some will like it; some won’t. Oops, I did it again. Gah. Free Britney. Opportunities for division are everywhere.)
by Heather M. F. Lyke
A simple Google Search or a scroll through a social media feed from an educator, and it’s easy to confirm that this is a hard year—a hard year that follows two previously hard years. This is a truth that has not alluded us here at Third Eye Education: simply explore some of our articles from this past year to confirm:
In the past year—particularly, over the past few months—there is one phrase we hear over and over from educators: We just don’t have enough time.
Yep. That tracks. Over the course of a school day, teachers have classes to prep for, labs to set up, emails to answer, students to follow-up with, make-up assessments to give, test scores to analyze, poor student choices/behaviors to address, copies to make, coffee to drink, emails to answers, bathroom needs to attend to, parents to call, papers to grade, meetings to attend, assignments to create, messes to clean up, referrals to follow up on, chapters to preview, grades to update online, club meetings to facilitate… and those are only the basics. Not to mention what happens when the classroom phone rings: Can you cover __ class during your prep hour? Could you attend this IEP meeting in place of __ since he is out ill today? FYI, there will now be a mandatory after school meeting.
So the day finishes with work undone; which means that teachers take the work home with them, or they stay late to finish it, or they feel guilty that they did neither of the two. Little of this refuels the soul, little of this is why teachers went into the field, and none of this is sustainable for the long term.
While too much to do in too little time may be a truth universally acknowledged in our field, it’s not one to embrace. In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, readers learn that you must “treat your time with respect” (227) and ensure there are many opportunities to do deep work, or “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration” (3).
Considering how little time educators have, the likelihood is low that most Third Eye Education readers will have time to complete Newport’s book in the near future (maybe once summer arrives), I bring you the following key reasons and applications for educators:
3 Reasons Why Deep Work is Needed
It increases job satisfaction.
Counterintuitive though it may be, “jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because…they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it” according to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Newport 84).
Hungarian psychologist Csikszentmihalyi is perhaps most famous for his work on flow states, which is outlined here along with how educators can utilize this concept in classrooms:
Newport notes that a state of “flow generates happiness” and that “deep work is…well suited to generate a flow state” (85). Therefore, to increase satisfaction with work, educators may wish to find more opportunities for deep work, just as educational leaders may wish to remove/limit the many barriers that can get in the way.
It increases the ability to learn new things.
It is not uncommon to hear that “the educational system is broken” nor that someone would like to lead a new initiative but they “just don’t have the energy.” If we want to try new things, if we want to fix broken systems, then we have to have a capacity to learn new and hard things.
Newport notes that “to learn requires intense concentration” (34); yet, we often try to squish it into 10 minutes at the start of a staff meeting, 30 minutes of table conversation in a room where other groups are also talking, or 45 minutes of PLC session that is filled with interruptions by emails or visitors. But learning requires “deliberate practice”: attention “focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or idea you’re trying to master” (35) for long periods of time.
The educational system we are working in right now needs change, but to learn and apply what is needed to make that change, we first must ensure there is time for deep work.
It increases productivity.
Deep work pushes past that concept that being busy is being productive. “Doing lots of stuff in a viable manner” isn’t the aim (64). Instead, when deep work is embraced one identifies what tasks are most important and ensures they can be completed during periods of high concentration.
If one has “clarity about what matters” it then “provides clarity about what does not” (62), and knowing the difference allows one to focus on the work that will have the greatest impact. In turn, productivity—at least the productivity around what matters most—is enhanced.
3 Ways to Reclaim Time to Do Deep Work
Take control of your tasks.
Newport notes that the “key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and to add routines and rituals into your working life,” to “minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration” (100).
Some routines to try:
Some of what Newport suggests when it comes to limiting distractions doesn’t fit in education. For instance, as much as I would love to try his “Don’t Respond” method for dealing with email, I don’t think that would go over well with the staff, parents, students, and community members who email me frequently. Nonetheless, here are some ideas to do work in the education field:
I know there are those who might scoff at some of these suggestions, usually with the argument that we need to be available for our students at all times. While that may be true in some cases, for most of us setting and sharing boundaries like these is a way to teach students time management as well as a way to model the importance of focused work. Setting boundaries lets us become even more available for students in those times when we are not engaged in deep work: these boundaries allow us to be more focused while working with students, as we know our other tasks have already been, or are scheduled to be, completed.
Build capacity for future focus.
Perhaps this is the most counterintuitive of the ways to reclaim time and embrace deep work. To focus deeply, one must also have time allotted for boredom, reflection, meditation, and creativity: this is the yin that balances out the yang of deep work.
In Deep Work, Newport notes that he doesn’t “work at night and rarely on weekends;” yet, during the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2014 he published 20 peer-reviewed articles, won two highly competitive grants, published a book and wrote the bulk of another all while being a full-time professor at Georgetown. His ability to sequester work to Monday through Friday, and to finish each day by 5:30 PM, actually provided him with stronger focus; knowing he had limited time enhanced his productivity and allowed him, upon getting home, to be more present as a spouse and father.
Some ideas for reclaiming the downtown needed to do deep work while at work:
By putting into practice some of what Cal Newport recommends, we might be able to make educational change happen faster and achieve more ideal outcomes. Whereas, as Henry Ford is attributed with saying: "if we keep doing what we have always done, we will always get what we have always gotten."
Now, with all of that said, I have just spent two hours doing deep work by focusing on this article (awesome!)—but I did it on a weekend (not so awesome)… So, that is a change I will need to make going forward.
In honor of my own suggestions above, I am now going to turn off this laptop and take a nice long soak in a warm bath so I can better focus on work when I arrive back at school on Monday.
by Nick Truxal
Recently, I took a break from my years as an educator to get new training on better leading and applying evidence: specifically, data driven evidence. The focus of my program is the corporate world, and as such, I am having a number of revelations.
The one that I want to focus on today is that the corporate world is transforming in many of the same ways that we have been doing in education. There is an enormous focus on skills: building new skills in employees, breaking jobs down by associated skills, understanding the skills needed to perform well in teams, as well as assessing and reporting based on skills.
Since our inception, Third Eye Education has been speaking about skill-based reporting. Just a few examples:
I personally love feedback only, skill-based instruction and reporting. The remarkable thing is that the entire world seems to be making a pivot in this direction as well. There are a few key reasons driving this transformation, and a few key takeaways for educators.
What's driving this transformation?
These reasons may sound familiar, but the slant on them I find unique:
What may educators pull from this?
I see these as being parallel to the conversations we’ve been having in education. Of course, each can be applied to how we, as teachers, are assessed as well as how we assess our students. I do wish that I had considered the third bullet point above, which is offering options to better our practices, before jumping into the work, myself.
Ultimately, this means a few things for educators:
A small disclaimer as I conclude: I’ve always hated the idea that education should take anything from business. We are not a business. We are here to help young people to grow. I’ve often found it difficult to accept the best practices emerging in the workplace. I think I found it easier this time because it so closely mimics what we’ve been working on for a long while.
Further, it does show a fundamental shift in the way our society is thinking, and having advanced knowledge of such a shift can indeed help us better prepare our young people to grow.
by Julie Brock
February is the longest month in Minnesota. The snow and cold have settled in. Cold has nestled deep into marrow and snow is a welcomed relief to cover the dirt and sludge covering the roads and—if we’re honest—our hearts.
On the wind in February
It is the same routine. Start the car, scrape the windshield, drive to your destination seeing your breath hang around your head the entire way, and maybe--if you are lucky--the car warmed up by the time you get there. It's a grind, even for the most optimistic.
Add “the beginning of the end” for high school seniors and it is fertile soil for teaching absurdism and existentialism. Welcome, young friends, to the existential crisis season for 12th graders. Although many have pronounced their plans for all their peers to hear, the confidence behind the bravado is small, infinitesimal, in fact. And the questions seep in as they hear the choir around them sing of their collective, positive plans. Some are questioning their early action to college. Others are digging their heels in and fighting against the idea of any more school. Others are looking abroad at a gap year and others are gearing for military. All are trying to have conviction about their choices, but the Ides of March are near, and the tides start to turn in February.
Absurdism results from the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning and the inability to do so with certainty. Albert Camus, a French absurdist philosopher, believed individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence and then gave characters to challenge our inability to do so.
Absurdism? It is a literary genre? Are you serious? All great questions I’d greet with a smirk.
I’d start class with a series of questions:
Small blinks from eyes followed by silent contemplation, then discomfort.
Camus’s The Stranger was the cornerstone to the Existentialism Unit I used to teach. Meursault became the unsettling presence for many students. They were confronted with a character who planned nothing, who was connected to nothing, and had no cares for what others thought about him. He had needs, and he filled them. That’s it. No more, no less. When he shoots the man on the beach the prosecution asks him for his motive, and he says the sun was in his eyes.
This outraged every class. How can that be? No one shoots someone because the sun was in his eyes. There must be more!
But there isn’t.
The acceptance of life as a series of choices is one that is hard for my February friends to grasp during their own crackling façade of identity. Who am I really? What am I really? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?
Pushed in class to consider the idea that there is no one answer to any of these probing questions, and that the truest answer is in the recesses of their DNA, happy in the shadows of self is one thing; contemplating it in the second year of a global pandemic is another.
Transition from high school into what comes next is a big milestone in one’s journey. Doing that under the shifting sands of COVID-19 is exhausting at best and damaging at worst. Conscious or not, these young adults have built up expectations and stories following the close of their high school chapter. To do that without any true knowns pushes them off their axis and the world cannot turn without glitching. It doesn’t feel stable.
Absurdism pushes on the construct of certainty. How can we be certain of anything other than the breath that enters in and out of our lungs? And even that is not a guarantee. Existentialism asks the questions, “What else is there than existence?” and “What else is there to existence than the choice we make now, now, or now?”
Watching eighteen-year-olds grapple with the idea that their life is a series of choices and even the best laid plan may not work brings both anxiety and relief. Collectively, there is nervous laughter as they contemplate how much energy they have poured into the future without a thought to what happens when they walk out the door when the bell rings.
Isn’t it absurd that when you walk out the door you will make a decision, turn right or turn left, and that decision will lead to a series of choices that will ultimately lead you to your next destination?
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.