by Heather M. F. Lyke and the Third Eye Education team
As Third Eye Education, our main focus is to be a network of learners that shares their own learning as a way to propel learning in others. Additionally, we aim to keep our resources free of fiscal barriers—and we do this as a nonprofit run by volunteers with no budget.
One learning we've been leaning into lately is an individual's need to find balance.
A commonality between those of us who make up the core team of Third Eye Education: we thrive on new challenges. While new challenges open doors to new learnings, create new conenctions, and allow for new collaborations—they can also lead imbalance.
Brené Brown's newest book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, states:
"When we don’t understand how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions, we become disembodied from our own experiences and disconnected from each other."
Wishing to not become disconnected—we value our readers, our listeners, our collaborators in learning far too much—it's high time we share something with you: our team is stressed. Stressed, and wanting to ensure we don't dip into the world of overwhelm.
To differentiate between stress and overwhelm, Brown shares stories from her time as a waitress, breaking down two common terms used in the service industry. At risk of oversimplifying, Brown explains:
"Stressed is being in the weeds. Overwhelmed is being blown."
We are in the weeds. No doubt, without question, 100%: the weeds are surrounding us.
In Atlas of the Heart, readers learn that,
"We feel stressed when we evaluate environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully. This includes elements of unpredictablity, uncontollability, and feeling overloaded."
Here at Third Eye Education, we are no strangers to environmental demands, but lately they have been piling up more than ususal. For perspective, here is a glimpse:
All of this in addition to the stressors bought to all of us by 2022—the ongoing Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the increase of mass shootings in the United States, and so on...
Of course, these are no different from what many have been juggling. Increasingly, many are tiptoping on the edge of overwhelm. Teacher strikes are on the rise,cost of living has been steadily climbing, and the ability to leave work at work has been deminishing. The great resignation—or what Ranjay Gulati is calling "The Great Rethink"—exists for a reason.
"Overwhelmed," Brown explains, is "an extreme level of stress;" one where the "emotional and/or cognitive intensity [gets] to the point of feeling unable to function." We here at Third Eye Education don't want to reach this tipping point. While we may be in the weeds, we stand tall: we maintain sight of the horizon.
For this reason, we are making some adjustments for the foreseeable future:
These are temporary adjustments. Thank you for your compassion as we as we cut a new path through our shifting realities.
We always want to be honest with our community, even when it means admiting something hard, like stuggle. It brings us back to Atlas of the Heart, where Brown shares that:
"Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage."
We hope you agree.
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 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 Stefanie Whitney
I hear myself using the phrase “messy middle” quite frequently of late. This meander seeks to make sense of what the term “messy middle” even means.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine the messy middle as a place where one is suspended in an ocean between two shores–both shores well beyond reach. Solid ground no longer underfoot, it’s incumbent upon me to make decisions that will, once again, lead me to a steady, grounded place.
Some moments I have experienced this uncomfortable feeling in the classroom and community have been when I have turned over the reins of control and held my breath in wonder about what my fellow humans will do with them. What will they do with the foundation I have built? What will my role look like now? Will they need me? What if a mess is made of the beautiful ground I crafted? What holds? What falls apart? And what was my role in both outcomes?
We cannot possibly know how all of this (envision widespread hands, palms up, gesturing at our world) is going to turn out, which is a bone chilling reality for anyone who appreciates a semblance of control. A reality that seems all the more staggering as each month passes in this extended twilight zone in which we all exist. (Though, I’d argue that messy middles occur whether we are in the middle of a global pandemic or not.)
From here, my mind wanders to William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” particularly this stanza:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
I am always admittedly stalled by Yeats' use of the word “loosed” twice, placed so closely together. In a little search for an improvement that I’m certain Yeats would appreciate, I arrived at Merriam Webster’s definition of loosed:
Loosed: (1) to cause a projectile to be driven forward with force (2) to find emotional release for (3) to set free as from slavery or confinement
Misters Merriam and Webster are speaking my language. For the purposes of this essay, please focus on the latter two definitions. Because of them, I will leave Yeats’ word choices alone. Also, if I may continue being so bold, it seems clear to me that Yeats was stuck in the messy middle of something, and he leaned on language to help make sense of it. The messy middle. Here we are. The middle of the school year, in the middle of a global pandemic, in the middle of hope for progress.
Observing myself and others during this sustained time of discomfort, I am starting to believe that the messy middle really indicates that moment when logic and structure disappear and emotions begin to creep into the fray. Of course, it makes sense to feel like things are starting to fall apart. That the center is not holding.
I find myself considering: Who built the center? And why is it their axis we seek to latch onto?
In fact, what if this discomfort isn't indicative of a “falling apart” at all?
What if we are active participants in the collision of our outdated systems and our ever-evolving value systems? And what if the result of this “turning and turning” is the suggestion that logic and structure do not hold without an awareness and grounding in values and emotions? Maybe the feeling of a messy middle simply indicates we are now entering a phase that cannot hold upon the foundation and structures of the past, without an approach that requires us to tread water while we look around, feel things more deeply, and root ourselves in updated, albeit still developing, value systems.
Safir and Dugan, in Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation, address this type of uncertainty:
The idea of throwing yourself into a change process with no known outcome and just a line of inquiry may feel uncomfortable and revolutionary all at once--a blast of fresh air on the stale econometric framework, which assumes we can data-fy and plan our way into new results. By contrast, emergence calls on us to slow down, listen deeply to those at the margins, bring folks to the table to reimagine the landscape with us, and move in partnership to build a new reality. It is a liberatory change model, freeing us from the fantasy of control while pushing us to maximize our influence in service of equity and antiracism.”
“...fantasy of control….” – “...the centre cannot hold….”
If we are finding that our old norms, our old systems are not working right now, then perhaps we need to investigate what those systems are built upon. If our souls are unsettled and we feel the bottom dropping out, then maybe our old systems are crashing head-on into our developing values; we are trying to hold our old systems up against an evolving human experience. It’s uncomfortable because that system felt safe and I knew my role, but I see more clearly all those not meant for that old system. They do not belong in it. So we don’t belong here, either. Change is crucial, and hard.
A bit about belonging
Brene Brown’s latest work, Atlas of the Heart, aims to help us identify and name experiences and emotions in order to gain power of “understanding, meaning, and choice.” While delving into the experience of belonging, Brown interviewed 8th graders about what it feels like to belong in a place. In their words:
Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you.
Brown juxtaposes the definition of “belonging” against the definition of “fitting in,” which they describe as:
Being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
Brown further explains,
Because we can feel belonging only if we have the courage to share our most authentic selves with people, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our self-acceptance.
Which begs the questions:
Heart is sea,
(1) Belonging to myself–getting square with my values (for me, compassion and curiosity).
For an exercise on isolating your core values, check out Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead value activity.
(2) A sense of belonging within my communities.
It’s not lost on me that I have the privilege to seek out agency in most of my experiences. Do our students have this same privilege? All of our students, I mean? Social and emotional learning is an educational hot button right now, and rightfully so. The more language I have as an adult to work through my discomfort, my emotions, and get clear on my values, the more agency I have when working for equilibrium. As an educator, how can I build systems in my spaces that allow all of us to get grounded in our values, to belong in this community?
The Students’ Take
Inevitably, the responses of all 43 students, grades 8-12, revealed themes surrounding relationships, trust, and belonging. Feedback is an action, often a system at play. As an English teacher with limited time, logic centered my feedback, even if emotions (pride, frustration, excitement, passion) bolstered my feedback process. Students also acknowledged the existence of emotions at the heart of their feedback experience. All of the students spoke of how feedback, their teacher, or the classroom environment, made them feel.
Rarely did students talk about grades as the sole reason feedback is helpful, but all students discussed the need to have a relationship with the teacher or person giving feedback and a need to feel a sense of identity and belonging in the class. Some even spoke of the need for passion–from the teacher regarding their quest for students to learn and within the student for the subject area or topic. In short, students want to feel like they belong, like they are seen, and that their voices matter.
I’m struck by how students spoke of values and emotions, yet as adults we often find ourselves rumbling about external systems.
Of course, in this sustained discomfort, we are apt to fight harder to reach one shore or the other; some form of solid ground. But what are we hoping to accomplish with all the splashing, thrashing, and death grips on past systems that don’t serve everyone? What if we normalize the kind of discomfort that bends toward progress, inclusion, and shared humanity?
Maybe the next best step is to calmly look inside at what is causing the turbulence, ground ourselves in our values, and then confidently and slowly start moving in a direction that aligns our value systems with the external systems that demand our attention? In that slow motion, one shore starts to loom larger. We can belong to our messy selves, and we can move with those folk who want us among them exactly as we are.
Stefanie Whitney, EdD, works with the Curriculum and Instruction team in Rochester Public Schools (RPS). She's also been an English teacher, an AVID instructor, and both a high school and a middle school instructional coach in RPS.
But Alexander goes on to note that while we “cannot condemn anyone for processing quickly—life really is tough enough when you think of the many things an adult must concern themselves with” there are, “some things which we do need to stop and think about…”. That since “judgement is quite base; we have to learn to understand complexity.”
In the world of education, the benefit of being curious might prove more useful than judgement from three levels.
On a Micro-Level
On a Meso-Level
On a Macro-Level
Perhaps the hardest part of downsizing was that we sometimes run into those items we needed to get rid of but struggled to part with. Those items that served a purpose in their time but were no longer of use. Items like:
- The quilt I once bought on sale at Carson Pirie Scott—the one that covered my bed in the home I purchased when I was 24 but has become ratted and faded over the years.
- The Lego sets my husband used to play with growing up—the ones his parents gave us when they were cleaning out their closets that suddenly sat stacked in ours.
- The extra wedding invitations we ordered because ordering in bulk was cheaper, but once in our home they simply sat on a shelf.
In our classrooms, just as in our homes, there are always items that are easy to donate or toss:
- extra paper handouts
- past seating charts
- meeting notes about things that have since occurred
However, also like with our homes, there are items that are hard to part with, although maybe we should:
- that lesson on ___ that didn’t quite work out as planned
- that article I thought was great but that students didn’t quite get into
- that teaching strategy that just doesn’t seem to keep students engaged anymore
In 2019, to get inspired to downsize our home, my husband and I (along with much of the US), found ourselves watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondō on Netflix. Now, in the fall of 2021, a reminder of all the downsizing we did has resurfaced in the form of Kondō’s newest Netflix show, Sparking Joy with Marie Kondō. Having read her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, when it was first released, both Netflix series have served as a reminder to me of many of Marie Kondō’s key ideas (which are also reinforced by her newest book, Joy at Work). Ideas that, of course, work great in homes, but that also can be used to help create even more magic in our classrooms.
7 Steps for Applying the KonMari Method to Our Classrooms:
Commit to tidying up all at once.
"From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order."
Imagine the ideal to prevent relapse.
Is there a certain skill your students consistently struggle with and you need more time to fortify that skillset?
- Is there a certain group of students you struggle to connect with and want to add some material that might better engage them?
- Are there new strategies that you’ve learned and want to try, but are not sure where they best fit?
Keeping the answers to questions like these at the forefront will help you stay on track, should the tiding ever get overwhelming. (And, if you’re anything like me, it will.)
Ask yourself questions for each item.
When working with home items, she suggests:
- What is the purpose of this object?
- Has it fulfilled its purpose already?
- Why did I get this thing?
- When did I get it?
- How did it land in my house?
Since these questions don’t really work with instruction; instead, we might ask ourselves questions such as:
- What was the purpose of this activity/resource/lesson/text/etc.?
- Does it still fulfill this purpose?
- Why did I start using this activity/resource/lesson/text/etc.?
- When did I start using it?
- Why has it remained in my lesson plans?
- Does this still spark joy in my classroom?
- Am I still passionate when I teach ___ the way I’ve been teaching it?
- When I use/do ___, is joy sparked in my students?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ then keep it around: teach the lesson again, use that text next year, and/or continue to utilize that strategy.
However, if doesn’t spark joy, set it aside. Consider making three piles or lists for those items that no longer spark joy in you and your students:
- Must keep, but need to revamp. This pile/list is for items that are critical to student learning: items that align tightly with power standards, essential learning outcomes, or prioritized learnings which help scaffold instruction for struggling learners, or that are specifically noted as a curricular requirement. However, despite them being critical, they are not sparking joy—so they need a makeover.
- Donate. This pile/list is for items that no longer work with your course or student population, but that would still spark joy if used in a different course or with a different group of students. Maybe it’s a strategy you used to use with 9th graders that now would better fit 8th graders. Maybe it’s a book that used to work in the Contemporary Novels course, but due to its publication date may now fit better in American Literature. Share these gems with your colleagues!
- Discard completely. This pile/list is self-explanatory, although it certainly can be challenging to let go of items we once used as a reliable activity/resource/lesson/text...
“when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
Finish discarding before moving on.
Likewise, in our classrooms, we have to get rid of—or least commit to revamping—those items that no longer fit our students. Only then, once we see what remains, do we know what new format or structure might work best for the year to come. Only then, do we see if we have any gaps in our instruction.
Organize by category.
Designate a spot for everything.
This step reminds me of what I did over decade ago when I revamped the American Literature course I was teaching. After having purged a few novels and some grammar units that were no longer sparking joy in my students, I rearranged. Because I figuratively laid everything out on the table, I was able to then see that my remaining content, texts, lessons, etc. fit into six themes. Embracing that fact, I rearranged from teaching American Literature chronologically, as I had always done in the past, to teaching it thematically. But it also meant I had some holes to fill: I was suddenly able to weave in a new book group unit and adjust how I taught grammar by embedding it into our reading and writing tasks. It was a lot of work, but, ultimately, it led to more effective learning in the years that followed.
As Marie Kondō states:
“the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming...not for the person we were in the past.”