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 Read Karsell
If you haven’t had to come out, you likely don’t know how overwhelming and all-consuming it is. From early middle school when I began to realize I wasn’t interested in women, being gay was all I was thinking about. It's paranoia. Every second you talk, you worry you don’t sound straight enough.
I didn’t say gay throughout high school; yet, a day didn’t go by when it was not on my mind. Throughout my education, I had to insist I was straight whenever I was asked if I was gay (which began in forth grade when I didn’t even know what gay was). In high school:
I’d arrive home, struggling daily, because I had this secret I was keeping from my family. I knew they'd be accepting of me, but every day until my coming out was riddled with guilt because I felt I owed it to them. To combat this, I started setting goals:
What ended up forcing my hand was a combination of my mom asking me directly and my self-made rule that I wouldn’t come out to my dad by bringing a boy home--and I held myself to it.
And, one more thing: my experience is privileged.
My Story is a Success Story
I am privileged to have been born into a family that, for whatever reason, is accepting of me. Having met a lot of queer people after coming out, my story is a lesser known one--one of total acceptance. Most people don’t get that. Many have family they have yet to tell, and/or have family that doesn’t acknowledge them. The family of a person very close to me “accepts and loves them unconditionally, will never accept that part of them.”
So, to sit and write this, know my story is true, but I share it sitting unscathed in the rose garden while so many in my community are being pricked by thorns.
My Character Helps Students Sketch their Own Character
I am was not the first closeted kid in that high school and I won’t be the last. This is and will always be true about every school in every town across every state in the U.S. no matter the laws that are in place. Every day I get to be the teacher I never had: the openly gay teacher
When I told my students I am gay at the start of the school year, I promise you, not one student was fazed. Each class had multiple faces light up, each class had one or two students who gasped with happiness, and one class had two students who exhaled a “YESSSSSSSS” and then turned to high fived each other.
In the immediate days following, those students talked to me more, they brought their significant others to class and hugged or kissed goodbye at my door, and they all showed a relaxedness in the space we had created. It confirmed to me that there are students who are looking for queer educators and it makes a difference to have them.
Help Students Draft Authentic Stories
No matter who you are as an educator, there are ways to support LGBTQIA+ students.
Support Character Interaction
Start by going to GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) meetings.
This was a hurdle for me because I had actively avoided my own high school’s GSA (out of fear of being seen there and being outed), so doing so as an adult in the school I teach was still strangely difficult for me. I found it’s because I still have to come out to myself in different daily moments. The cause of that: internalized homophobia mashed with toxic masculinity. A horrendous cocktail that has a hold over the gay community and could be a doctoral thesis in and of itself.
My first GSA meeting was magical. It is a group of students in many different stages of their journey--some already aware of their sexuality and/or gender, some still trying to figure it out, and some trying to have a place where they can live as their true self for an hour a week.
This group of students--so special and unique--are the students you see in the halls every day, the students you have in the front seat of your class, and the students who just need an adult to say, I see you. I hear you. I am here for you.
Having attended regularly, I have been able to make connections with students who now stop by my room to check in with me. I can share my lived experiences with them, and they teach me about their lives and what they are discovering as they go along--so impressive and so empowering.
A GSA meeting from just a few weeks ago brings me to my next “here’s what you can do” point. A speaker came at one point and talked about a “Day of Silence'' as a day that the GSA could host at school. They explained it could be one of two things: (1) a day of silence for participating students to not talk as an act of solidarity with LGBTQIA+ people who live in silence everyday about who they are, or (2) a day to celebrate not being silent anymore and getting the word out through conversation and advocacy.
It was when the presenter referenced “people living in silence everyday about who they are and out of fear for their safety” that the student sitting next to me, a student I have in class, mumbled, “Relatable. That’s me everyday. Living in silence.”
Hearing that from my student, I was shocked; yet, not all. Living in silence wasn’t a new concept to my personal life, but it hurt that the student I teach everyday felt the need to be silent.
Add Some Dialogue
This student is in one of your classes too. You’ve walked by them in the hall many times, you teach their best friend currently, you’ve smiled at them as you chat with another teacher in their room. They are there: silent.
Consider writing a note.
I wrote that student a note the next morning. And it simply said,
Student, I heard what you said yesterday during GSA and I want you to know that I see you. I hear you. And when you do talk, know that I am listening and you are heard. When you’re ready and if you need, you can always talk to me or I can help you connect with someone you feel comfortable talking with.
Super simple. No pressure. But assuring. Then, at the end of class, in a tone and confidence that I never saw coming, the student came to me and assured me that if they ever needed, they would talk to me. Then I walked out just as casually as I had dropped the folded note on their desk at the start of class.
You can do that too! You don’t have to be queer or attend GSA, but you do have to listen. You have to pay attention to your students, and you’ll be able to find what to say. You also have to say gay--because gay ain’t going away.
Word Choice Matters
I want to touch on the other side of “Don’t say Gay”--straight isn’t going away either, and neither is being cisgender. The idea of “Don’t say Gay” enrages me because wedding rings won’t leave the ring fingers of all the people in man/woman relationships. The family photos won’t be taken off desks. The stories of my husband/wife, kids, and I went to the water park last weekend won’t go away. The straight and cisgender world will continue.
Meanwhile “Don’t say Gay,” as it is solely meant to, will eliminate a school community where students who aren’t checking the straight and cisgender, 1950’s expectations can be seen and heard.
Please, do say gay. Please, say they/them. Please, say Tanner even though the student roster says their name is Emma. Please, talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and how to get through the rough patches. Please, talk about sex instead of pretending abstenance works. Please, do say gay.
"Don't Say Gay" is a Fictional Tale
The “Don’t say Gay” bill is, at its core, impossible.
Even though it was hard to get the word out of my mouth, it was in my head every second of every day, from my bus rides home to conversations during math class. And, it’s on repeat in the minds of students today too.
Let’s acknowledge these silenced students, and the students who have made their voice heard too:
And, if none of this sits well with you, start with reading a book or watching a movie/tv show about the LGBTQIA+ experience: acquaint yourself with what your students are going through currently. If you’re feeling ready to take bigger steps forward, hang up a pride sign on your door and put an “I accept and support all” paragraph in your syllabi, write that student a note when you hear they need it, go attend a GSA meeting or start your own club.
And, of course, make sure to use the word gay.
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.
ideas by Tan Huynh and Katie Miller, compiled by Third Eye Education
In our recent podcast interview with Tan Huynh and local Minnesota expert on Multilingual Learners, Katie Miller, our conversation quickly cut to the core of education.
Throughout the conversation, Huynh and Miller share some strategies and resources that help them access that educational core quickly and effectively. Their ideas tended to fall into two categories: (1) leveraging what motivates and engages students and (2) modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner.
They come to school for each other
Huynh shares a realization he had early on in his instruction: students “do not come to school for you, they come to school for each other. So why don’t we use that as the framework for instruction?”
This takeaway inspired a sharing of ideas: a few favorite strategies and resources from Miller and Huynh that help all students, multilingual learners as well as all classroom learners. They both agree that by upping the amount of talk in our classrooms, and by teaching students structures and protocols for quality conversations, we give them a greater access to success.
Talk - Read - Talk - Write
A strategy coined by Nancy Motley, Huynh shares a favorite tool of his: the Talk-Read-Talk-Write protocal.
Learn about this tool here:
"Question, Signal, Stem, Share, Assess" was another tool shared by Huynh. This stratgy might be used in this way:
Katie Miller, along with the Third Eye Education podcasts hosts, share a love of visuals for enhancing understanding. Pairing words with pictures is a simple way to increase comprehension and language acquisition.
For each of these three strategies, students “can do this in their heritage community language too,” Huynh points out.
Learn beyond what you were taught
In our conversation, Huynh also highlights the importance of being continuous learners: we must set aside outdated practices to “Learn beyond what you were taught.”
A few resources Miller and Huynh shared, which may help you push outside of what you areadly know, are:
The book Cultivating Genious: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad is a resource Miller loves, and Huynh just interviewed Muhammad on his podcast last month. Find out more here:
Carol Salva's work was brought up by Huynh: specifically her book Boosting Achievement. Dig into Salva's resources here:
For more strategies and resources from Huynh and Miller, considering exploring some more of their works.
“When teachers approach students with a Can-do mindset, everything is possible.” 〰 Tan Huynh
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 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.