Saturday, January 24, 2015

Calm My Soul

<Okay.>

<Okay.>

<I got this.>

<Yep.>

<Okay.>

<Really, I got this.>

<I can do this...>

<Maybe.>

<Umm...>

<I am struggling...>

<Nope!>

<I don't got this!>

<Aaaaaaaaargh!>


I had this thought progression several times this week. Not sure exactly why. Just felt overwhelmed several times, by different things.

I've spent this afternoon striving at getting caught up with my homework. I also have a couple of batches of papers in need of marking for a couple of classes. And my inbox is filling up, and I can't seem to ever get it emptied--just more things keep pouring in. And I'm still not done with my homework.

My soul is restless.

Maybe you can relate?

I've had music on in the background as I've been working today, and I just put this one on repeat. It's by one of my favorite bands, Paper Route. It captures my anxiety and lets me give it voice somehow and helps me feel better too, all at the same time.

If you're feeling stressed and burdened, maybe the cry of faith in this song is part of what you are in need of too.

"Calm My Soul" by Paper Route

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Problem with Work-Life Balance

I think of myself as a team player, someone others can rely on to pitch in and help out when possible.

Honestly, this is a struggle for me sometimes, because I tend to be a people-pleaser, and I have a hard time saying "no" to things. My challenge is this: if I have the gifts/talents/strengths to help someone who is in need of that set of gifts/talents/strengths, it feels wrong for me not to help them. I feel like I'm failing them, and I guess...like I'm failing God somehow too. I believe He is the one who has given me these gifts, after all. And I believe He has called me to use them for the good of the body--to help and support others.

Right now, the struggle for me is striking a balance between my work life, my studies, home and family life, church commitments, and still carving out some time for myself. I love all of these parts of my life, and I don't want to drop the ball on any of them. But that's a real challenge! There are only so many hours in a day, and sometimes, something has to give...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why I Will Never Be a Great Teacher

I.

It's Christmas break. I'm halfway through my 16th year of teaching.

I thought I would be better at this by now.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I know I'm a good teacher. I accepted that after the first decade or so. (But even that was hard for me...as a Dutch Calvinist, it's in my cultural DNA to not think too highly of myself--total depravity and all that.)

The thing is, I'd love to be a GREAT teacher!

How do you become great? I read a lot. I try new things. I refine things that are working well. I stop doing things that are clearly ineffective. I talk to colleagues and find out what they are doing that engages their students. I reflect on my own teaching practice.

Am I better at this than I used to be?

Yes.

But am I "great?"

Nope.

And while I keep working on it, striving to improve, I'm not sure I'll ever be a great teacher.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 10 Posts of 2014

The turn of the calendar to a new year is always a time of reflection for me. Thinking back over the past year--the events, the challenges, the joys, the learning--is helpful and beneficial for me as I start to make goals and plans for the next lap around the sun.

Those who regularly read this blog know that I use this space to work out my thinking in writing. It's a space for reflection, for thinking and rethinking. I've learned to blog "for me," but I do usually push the things I write here on social media with the hope that it might be valuable food for thought for others, and to get some interaction about my ideas--both affirmation and push-back.

So it's interesting for me to see the posts that resonated with others from the past year! Here they are, the top 10 posts (by number of viewers) from 2014:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Challenge: A Photo-A-Day

We are so close to wrapping up 2014, it's time to write this post.

My New Year's resolution for 2014 (well, the one I kept, anyway) was a challenge for myself that I had heard of other people pursuing, and I thought it was a fun idea. The challenge? Take a photo every day of the year.

And here we are, at the end of the year, and I haven't missed one yet! It's easy enough to do, really. I have my phone in my pocket almost all the time anyway, and it's just a matter of being mindful of snapping a few pictures throughout the day, which I often did anyway.

Day 36

The challenge becomes trying to encapsulate a day while not letting the photo-taking get in the way of enjoying the activities of the day! (Since the point--for me anyway--was to capture life...not replace it with photographs.)


You can set your own "rules" for the Photo-a-Day challenge, but here were the ones I decided upon for my own project:

1. I had to take the pictures on my phone. (Which was a pragmatic choice for me, since I generally always have my phone with me.) I was curious to see the quality of pictures I could take with a cellphone camera; overall, I am pretty pleased.

Day 358
2. I was to be the photographer for each photo. (Since it was my photo challenge!) I did break this rule three times during the course of the year, when I decided that a photo taken by someone else on my phone was a better way to capture the day. In all three cases, it was because I was in the photo, and a selfie just wouldn't do.

3. I had to take the photo between midnight and midnight of each day of the year. I generally tried to also post the photo the day I took it, but there were a few times I wasn't able to post the picture the day it was taken for various reasons.

That's it! And really, it isn't about the rules anyway...this was just my own challenge, the way I set it up for myself.

If you'd like to see my year in pictures, you can feel to check out my Project365:2014 album. (Also, the pictures illustrating this post are a few of my favorites from the year.)

Day 162

I found a few benefits to taking on the Photo-a-Day challenge:
  1. I was more mindful of trying to capture my year in pictures. As I mentioned earlier, there was a tension of still being present in the moment instead of just trying to capture a shot, especially when the photo was something involving family and friends. But overall, being thoughtful about what photos I would take to sum up a day caused me to be more mindful about the way I spend my time for the year.
  2. Related to the first item, I found myself literally numbering my days this year. As I posted the photo for each day, I found myself really reflecting on each day, and how I had spent it. This sort of meditation and reflection was a real blessing for me.
  3. I looked back at my album for this project regularly. (Actually, I looked at it daily as I posted new pictures!) This was a great way for me to recall the events of the year. Even now, as I look through the album, I recall very specific things I did on certain days, even though the photo of that day might not have captured every activity from that day.
  4. I decided to add a short caption for each photo, which made this project almost a photo essay of my year, or maybe a photo-based journal of sorts. Keeping the writing pithy and to the point and letting the photo (mostly) speak for itself was part of the challenge; I tried to just use the captions for context as much as possible.
  5. I used Flickr for posting my Photo-a-Day, which I liked very much. I use photos from Flickr regularly for illustrations on this blog, because it's very easy to share photos on Flickr with a Creative Commons license (which allows you to grant permission to others to use your photos without giving up your copyright to the images.) Since I have benefitted so much from people sharing images with Creative Commons licenses on Flickr, I found this a good way to begin to give back to this community that has provided me with so much!
Day 311

I encourage you to give the Photo-a-Day challenge a try! Here's a checklist for getting started:
  1. Decide on a platform for posting your photos online. There are lots of options.
    • You might just post them to Facebook--either to a "Photo-A-Day" album, or just sharing them on your timeline
    • You could create a Flickr album like I did for my project. Signing up for Flickr is free and pretty straightforward. Flickr has a nice app too, which makes it especially easy if you are using your phone anyway.
    • Speaking of apps, Instagram might be a natural choice for you, if you are already using Instagram...
    • Notice that all of these so far are "social" in nature. Perhaps you'd like to keep your photos private? No need to share them visible to the world. Flickr allows you to keep your photos private, if you like. You could also set up a blog on Blogger (like this one) or on Wordpress, which you could make public or private as you like.
    • You could also create a website dedicated to your project, if you're feeling really fancy. There are quite a few easy-to-use, free website creators out there. Google Sites is functional and straightforward, if a bit ugly. Wix and Weebly and Tackk are all a bit prettier, and all easy to use as well.
  2. Decide on your "rules." These can be as flexible or stringent as you want. The rules I set for myself were just to provide some structure to the project. You know yourself--how much structure do you need for a project like this?
  3. Get started snapping pics! And...posting them, of course! (Because that's the fun part!) Follow your rules, but don't be afraid to break them as needed.
  4. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a day. This is supposed to be fun, after all! If you miss posting pics for a few days, you can always get caught up later. If you miss taking a few pics, don't stress about it. You can post a few extras, or not at all. It's your project!
  5. Don't be afraid to post "mundane" photos. So you don't have amazingly exciting things happening every day? Don't stress about it. Take a picture of something in your house, in your yard, in your office, in your car. Take a picture of your kids/spouse/pet/significant other/roommate/creepy neighbor. Take a picture of an everyday object, but take it from an interesting angle. Or slap a filter on it and see it in a whole new light!
Day 244

I hope you'll consider taking the challenge! I had so much fun doing this last year, that I'll be starting a new challenge for 2015 on January 1. If you decide to get started on your own challenge, share the link to your album in the comments section--I'd love to see your photos too!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Doctoral Work

I am about halfway done with the coursework for my doctorate. This has easily been the most challenging thing I've ever done...but I'm probably not alone in that assessment. And, c'mon...no one ever said earning an advanced degree would be easy.

It can become consuming. I'm working full time, studying part time, and still trying to be an active and present husband, parent, friend, church member, and everything else. Sometimes I feel like I'm just trying to keep on juggling...


...and sometimes I drop the ball.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Technology Does Not Replace the Teacher

This year I'm serving as an instructional technology coach for my fellow faculty members. It has been interesting getting started on this--it's a new position at our institution, and I'm sort of making my own way. I've been working with colleagues on an as-needed basis to support online teaching, to work with how to use our CMS to support instruction, and to brainstorm ideas for other tech tools they might use to support their teaching.

While I've been met with a mostly positive response so far, and quite a bit of gratitude for my willingness to help with their concerns about teaching with technology, I've had a few interactions this fall with colleagues who seem very skeptical about the value of technology to support teaching and learning. They seem to view technology as a stumbling block, or even a negative influence in the classroom.

I think I understand where they are coming from. Teaching with technology can be daunting, and particularly if one doesn't feel personally comfortable with the technologies at hand. And even being comfortable using a particular technology does not mean one is comfortable teaching with that technology.