Thursday, February 9, 2017

Genius Hour

Happy  Thursday! This has felt like the longest week ever, thanks to the administration of our annual Mock STAAR test, followed immediately by our annual data day. Add in a couple of apartment issues, and I'm more than ready for the weekend. But with all of that being said, I had a ton of fun writing this post, and I'm excited to be able to share it with you guys.

I'll just jump right in. At the very beginning of the school year, when every teacher at Bellaire High School was gathered in our Multi Purpose Room, our principal stood up and started talking about something called Genius Hour. He talked to us about how, in his 24th (!!!) year in education, he wanted to spice things up a bit. He wanted to focus on becoming a learner again. And he talked about how he dove back into the world of Twitter - discovering and sharing and joining Twitter chats and and developing his professional learning network, and it energized him. He began thinking about how he could use this Genius Hour idea on our campus. He tried it with his admin team towards the end of the first semester, and he was blown away by what was presented back to him.

So in August, our fearless leader then invited every member of his staff to participate in this Genius Hour. He asked all of us to choose something that we want to learn about. It can be related to school, or not. There are just four rules --

1. Find something you are passionate about
2. Get really good at it
3. Figure out a way to measure it
4. Share it with us (and then the world)

My first thought upon having this presented to me was, "Yes! I am finally going to learn how to play the piano!" My second was, "Well, I'm coaching tennis next semester, so perhaps I should learn the rules of the game." (This coaching gig didn't end up happening, and I think it was probably for the best of the players on the tennis team.) My third thought? "Realistically, I don't have the schedule, at least in the fall, to keep up with regular piano lessons. And I can't get really good at something if it's not happening on a consistent basis." So finally, I settled on Spanish as my genius hour. I redownloaded DuoLingo on my phone and set out to commit ten minutes a day to a language I've been dabbling in since about the second grade. And about two months into this, I realized something about myself. I am very much a classroom kinda gal. This self-paced thing was so not for me. Sure, I was learning some random vocabulary words I didn't know before, but I wasn't getting really good at it, and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to measure and share it. I wasn't invested in the learning. I felt as though I had already done this over the summer with my trip to Argentina. So, I quit the Spanish thing. And deleted everything I had typed up on my IPDP.

Not sure what I wanted to learn, I revisited criterion number one of this genius hour thing. Find something you are passionate about. And while there are quite a few things I would put under the passionate umbrella, running definitely fit the bill. And I had already embarked on this very focused training plan journey, thanks to a coach at school as I have mentioned in past blog posts, so this seemed like the perfect solution. I typed it up, sent it in, and ran on.

Fast forward a few months - I stuck to that training plan. I'm very Type A, so routine, to-do lists, and schedules are how I operate. And having this set running routine was (and is!) really good for me and my Type A personality. And I had some good runs, I had some great runs, and I had some not-so-great runs. And I did not run a half marathon with this time I had been training for. I wrote about how bummed I was about that here, so I won't throw myself another pity party in this blog post. But I will talk about what I've learned.

I haven't hit my big goal quite yet, but I'm learning to trust the process. I'm learning about humility, and I'm learning a lot about myself and my mental toughness. Just the other evening I was fast asleep on my couch after a long day of analyzing STAAR data and grading expository essays essays when I heard my phone ding. I glanced at it and saw that I had a message from one of my good friends, whom I hadn't seen in awhile, asking if I wanted to walk at Memorial Park. Knowing that speed work was what was supposed to happen that night, I said yes to the walk. I told myself that my legs were still tired from last week's runs, and besides, I was so tired, and I wasn't really feeling 100%. Flu season and teenagers is a winning combination. But I digress. After our walk, I made my way back to my car while admiring all of the dedicated Memorial Park runners. I thought, "I'm here, so maybe I should just do this. Maybe I won't do my speed workout, but I'll get in a solid six-mile run and that will be good enough." Which, by the way, reporting back that I opted for an easy run over speed work because "I just wasn't feeling it" would have gone over really well (sarcasm). After a pretty easy warm-up mile, I decided to give that first 800 a go. And when that went well, I went for the second. And then the third. And before I knew it, I had finished the workout. And I felt pretty great about it. 
It wasn't a matter of my legs being tired. And if I felt well enough to walk around the park with a friend, "not feeling well" wasn't a valid excuse, either. It was a matter of owning up to the fact that I just didn't want to do that speed workout, but that I found it within myself to get it done. Mental toughness.

I'm learning about grit - sidenote: everyone should read this book!!! - I'm learning about perseverance, and I'm learning how to be relentless. And I am seeing growth, despite the fact that I can't yet check off a sub-1:45 half marathon. I don't think I had ever run a sub-7:00 mile, let alone two in a row. I'm learning that I'm capable of a lot more than I think I am. I've learned the importance of accountability, and how helpful it is to be able to talk through the struggles with others who are experiencing something similar. I've learned the value of someone investing his time in me. I've learned how to handle failure - better than I have before, at least - and I've seen time and time again the value of hard work and a never quit attitude.

Mr. McDonough, I think I see what you're getting at here, and I thank you for this experience. I have learned, and I have no doubt that many others have learned, that all of these values and lessons are 100% applicable to the work we do in the classroom. I'm not that far removed from being a student, but it's amazing the things I've forgotten. Learning is certainly not a walk in the park. There are hills and valleys (quite literally, though maybe not found in Houston), and this journey is taking a little bit longer than I thought it would. And I think I would be hardpressed to find a student who doesn't face these exact same challenges that I'm facing. I don't think there's one student out there who doesn't need someone to invest in him or her. Running isn't easy for me, and reading isn't easy for so many of my students. I don't know that there will ever be a day that Thursday tempo runs don't push me to my limit. And some of my students will forever find writing to be a challenge. But that doesn't mean that we can't learn. And that we can't embrace and enjoy that challenge.

For me to be able to go on this learning journey along with them is such a real and raw experience. And I hope I never stop learning, but I also hope I never stop realizing that I'm learning. Whether this Genius Hour was presented to me or not, I would have kept running. But I'm getting a lot more out of it than I ever could have dreamed.

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