There is Power in Passion and Immersion

311005_4738011524039_1917190594_n“When one is engaged in pursuing one’s passion and offering the very personal gift of doing what he does best, the power is undeniable” (TLAP, p. 151)

Last night in the yoga class I subbed (I teach fitness), I played a very multicultural, fusionist mix of yoga trance music with beautiful renditions of Ghungroos (the bells worn on the feet in some forms of Indian dances), a delicious karsilaama on African drums, and a more serene sitar and droning harmonium piece.  A woman about my age (late-40s) sprung up from the mat following shavasana and started jabbing the buttons on the stereo.  “Those drums,” she screeched, “those drums are driving me crazy!  Oh, god, those drums!”

After I got over my initial shock, I calmly asked her if she was staying for the next class (I was using the same music in that class).  I asked her, “Was it that particular piece or the whole CD?”  I knew it was probably the African piece, and offered her a concession that I wouldn’t play that particular piece in the next class.  She reluctantly agreed and stayed for the next class, but I could sense her ill feeling throughout the class, particularly toward the music (which I stopped half-way through class) and eventually directing its way toward me.

The yoga classroom, whether I am a sub or not, mirrors the classroom.  I am there to teach, listen, serve, coach, and encourage.  I hope that I learn something new and I hope that my class learns something also.  I am passionate about fitness, not just yoga.  I workout almost every day and I practice what I preach:  I eat right for myself 95% of the time, I learn new things and try new things, and I find a way to quiet that omnipresent self-doubt that burbles just below the surface, saying, “Oh, this isn’t going well.  Not well at all.”

One student, we all know as teachers, can really ruin a lesson, a class.  The turmoil they feel, the angst and unwillingness to let go and just be in the moment, can drag everyone down.  As a teacher, I am responsible for lifting people up, so its even more important to reflect on their needs.

The missing link was I was not tapping into my passion.  I wasn’t connected to what makes my regular class special and my students are willing and joyfully open to all the music I play, evidenced in their asking about the name of the CD or artist or song.  That joy and openness manifests itself into the movement in yoga, where we spontaneously dance and laugh and genuinely enjoy the practice.

In Teaching Like a Pirate, Burgess encapsulates this so well, writing:  “An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity.” (p. 16)  Passion without immersion will not do it alone.  They work hand-in-hand.

My personal passions involve improv tribal bellydance, which (in teacher talk) involves collaborative structures (a troupe formation), an academic vocabulary (one which allows us to dance with others all over the world without even knowing the language), and a specific purpose (as if I needed a reason to dance).  It is a discipline like no other.  It is beautiful, exquisite, life-affirming, and all in the moment.  I am passionate and fully immersed and there is such power in that for the audience.  In fact, I can perform on stage (or even in troupe practice) in terrible spiritual distress (there’s been a lot of long-term medical issues in my household and for my fellow troupe members) and I forget all of this and just am focused on the dance and my fellow dancers.  Passion and immersion have power.

Dance and yoga are both metaphors for life.  These so clearly resonate within my being, and both are so accessible to all (like learning).  If someone cooked up your favorite meal with all the sides and desserts you could ever dream of and placed it on a table before you, would you say, “Oh, I just couldn’t.  No, no, no!”?  Our classrooms have to be powerful.  Our teaching has to be powerful.  What we offer students has to be relevant and challenging.  We have to show them our passion and immerse them in our intensity.

We are going to have students who only hear the cacophony of the drums and whose issues explode into technocolor (sorry, I’ve lived a bit…this means with high definition) within a heartbeat of a lesson.  The mere challenge of silencing that little voice or reflecting on why-is-it-I-feel-this-way gives way to reactions and impulses (some biologically rooted deep within the brain).  It’s not that I was trying to save the student, I was minimizing her to save the class.  It didn’t work.   I have to hone my skills even further (more endless learning and practicing opportunities–yay!) and train myself to draw from a place of passion so that I am fully immersed.   Burgess offers us ways in TLAP right off the bat to go there–that place of passion (it doesn’t have to be your love of teaching because gosh, knows there is no love when your impulsive, angry drum-hating student is acting on impulse).   Instead of saying, “They don’t pay me enough for this” or “Oh, no! Another year of this nonsense,” I choose to go to where I am immersed and in the moment (and yes, I will use good strategies to de-escalate the drama), but there is power in passion and immersion.   Misery is optional.


The Business of Transforming Vs. Change

This summer I am learning Twitter for educational purposes thanks to our really awesome literacy/reading/instructional coach (she wears so many hats).  Last night, one of the educational persons I am following posed:  “Are grade-levels and age-level groupings a social or learning construct?”   To which, I replied:  “A learning construct would honor and celebrate kids where they are at.”  At which point (one of the things I love about this new thing for me called Twitter is the conversations in less than 140 words or less!), another chimed in:  “Where does the [paradigm] shift begin to move from social to learning construct?”  And, again, I thought for a moment and replied:  “When we take the business out of high stakes testing.”  Yet, I kept reflecting…

I was thinking about the depth of the questions asked on Twitter and how I was relating to these intellectually.   When I first started teaching 10 years ago, I thought of myself as a change agent.  I felt as a teacher I had agency–a feeling which, as a mother of three small children in her mid-30s, was magical and transforming.  Here I can thank the lofty, impractical pedagogy and readings of graduate school for this.  I was going to change the world.  And so, I started teaching.

Ten years of teaching under my belt, these questions all but disappeared.  Even when I pose a few at work, I’m met with silence at best or a comment about the size and quality of words I use when I talk.   Intellectually, I need stimulation and conversation, so I am eating up Twitter questions and chats voraciously.  I discovered I am not alone–there are others who want a shift in one-size-fits-all (and not through lip-service and endless reminders we need to differentiate–duh!).  Perhaps, we were told about collaborative efforts and team work during my graduate career, but I was taking notes on what to do in the classroom.   In fact, I know we were told we didn’t need to teach to the test, and I have since been reminded of this by homeschool parents and hippie friends and even a few PhD’s.   My graduate school was not in the business of teaching children.   They were in the business of making money while maintaining a firm grasp on their philosophical mindset.

This is weighty stuff to change a mindset.  A paradigm shift means we have to move from where we were to something unknown.  We can all feel it happening–why is everyone so surprised that many of the states are reconsidering the Common Core (my home state of Florida included)?  Thus, in the second summer of Common Core Implementation, we have lots of workshops to help us embrace this change.

And what we get told?  The high-stakes tests aren’t going away (again, duh!).  Don’t get me wrong, however.  I embrace this change and I like learning about how I can put DOK4 in my classroom on a daily basis.  I like that my county is embracing change; nonetheless, I believe we are missing some critical components to make a paradigm shift, even if there were no high-stakes testing at all.

This morning, I read through a wonderful blog:  The True Purpose of Testing (another Twitter find!).   I was hesitant at first because I don’t like to read about high-stakes testing at all.   No one writes articles to or sells strategies so teachers can call parents and tell them their child will be retained.  There is no research on how these retentions and phone calls affect teachers, parents, and students.  There are no self-efficacy studies.  There are no words that can describe what it feels like to tell parent that the State Law says thus (as if the child were some criminal) or how deeply you feel you have let the child down.   Yes, I was a bit hesitant, and still I glanced.

The blogger wrote something that made me think of how change could truly happen.  She wrote that the planning of testing was threefold:  1) What was the goal of learning?  2) What will students show to demonstrate this new knowledge; and 3) How will students be transformed by this knowledge?  Indeed!  The word is transformed.

As a mother, I was transformed by the birth of my three children.  As a pre-service teacher, I was transformed by the call to action my instructors embedded in their classes.  As a teacher, I was changed into the business of creating test-takers.  Twitter has transformed me into a thinker again.

We need our students, our children, to be thinkers.  We must constantly ask ourselves:  How will the stuff we teach transform our students?  Is it enough to just teach gravity and change misconceptions and relate our lessons to NASA?  I, for one, will embrace the tools I am learning about for my classroom, knowing that the end-all-be-all is that State test (we don’t even know what it looks like yet); however, the questions and the thinking these are the very instructional things that transform us as learners.

It is big business to be in public schools today.  It is big business to give the students just enough to make them productive workers.  It is big business to sell caps and gowns for high school graduations and senior portraits.  It is big business to get students in AP classes.  It is big business to adopt curriculum every 5 years.  Education is big business.  However, I’d like to think of myself in the business of transforming and I’m not so sure which paradigm shift I will land in.  I have that tendency to go off-the-grid.  It’s going to take collaboration and a lot of reflecting, along with passion, perseverance, and enthusiasm.  The business of change is, well, big business (more of the same with a different shirt color), but the business of transforming…that is MAGICAL.


It’s far more powerful to “swim” with your students. -Dave Burgess, Teach Like A Pirate

Summer is definitely about immersion.  This summer I’m getting uncomfortable, taking chances, diving into the deep waters.  I have plans to relax (what’s that?) and learn new things for my classroom.  I’m going to ponder, reflect, plants some seeds (literally and figuratively), so that in the cold winter (prior to those new State tests), I will have stored food to keep me going with passion and enthusiasm.  In the meantime, I will practice immersion in my pool and in the beautiful Florida weather and restful (hopefully) pace of summertime.

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