The need for monotony

Over the last few months, I’ve been increasingly aware of my need for monotonous tech-free activities like watering the grass, pulling weeds or cleaning the pool. So much of life is run at full speed. It’s loud. It’s fast. It changes at seemingly warp-speed. We are in a constant state of hyper alert.

Cleaning the pool

In contrast, I spent much of my summer doing monotonous activities and could literally feel my body relax and reset in a way that I hadn’t noticed previously. There was something distinctly different about the way I viewed the world, the way I breathed and the way I thought about my body. Instead of being hyper-critical about all things, I stopped. I lived more in grace.

And yes, I know that I was in the blessed time of the year called a teacher’s summer break, but it was different. I wasn’t glued to the computer or phone screen. I wasn’t looking for constant entertainment. I was truly focusing on being present in the moment…. and those moments consisted of a lot of weed-pulling, grass-watering and pool-cleaning moments.

Fast forward to this past week of school and my students complaining about monotonous tasks. They are bored. They don’t know what to do. They want immediate gratification. And it hit me. We don’t know how to handle monotony. Life has changed so much that we don’t know what to do when we are asked to repeat the same activity or motion time and time again without expecting different results or being entertained. Even when we repeat the same game level, we handle it differently, so our brains are still on full alert!

This weekend while I watered the grass and pulled the weeds, I chose to not put in the earbuds and listen to the audible book. I chose not to listen to the latest songs on my play list. I chose to just work and listen to the natural sounds of my environment. And once again, I felt my body relax and reset. The monotony of watering the grass and pulling the weeds allowed my brain to rest and I processed the week.

And now, I’m looking forward to the week with a new since of purpose. I really want to offer monotony to my students! They won’t know what to do! No music? No technology? Nothing.. just a monotonous task? But dang, when was the last time 15-18 year old students were tasked with resetting their minds? When was the last time teenagers were asked to focus on repetition. That’s why they love calligraphy and weaving and melty beads! WOW!! My mind is kind of blown! They desperately need for their hands to be engaged in an activity that is slow and purposeful. Their bodies are craving the opportunity to reset.

So that’s what we are going to do later this week. I’m pumped about it. I’m sure they will love it as much I enjoyed boring tasks as a teenager too. 🙂 I’ll let you know how it goes.

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It’s not just about HAVING an innovator’s mindset, you have to USE it!

I’m reading George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

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I love everything about this book! What I am finding interesting is that even though I have always had an innovator’s mindset and have embraced all that being an innovator entails in both my personal life and as a teacher;  I have not always empowered my student’s to embrace the innovator’s mindset.

As I am reading this book, I am pondering many of the norms in my classroom and in my school and asking myself lots of questions. For example:

  • Why do we have to do ______ a certain way?
  • Why do we come from a place of negativity when it comes to rules and expectations?
  • Why do we expect kids to fail/get in trouble/do things wrong?
  • When are we giving students choices?
  • When are students leading learning?
  • When are we modeling the innovator’s mindset?

All of my questions come back to Couros’ examination of student compliance vs student empowerment. It shames me to think about the fact that even in an artistic environment where students are asked to innovate and create everyday, I have always required compliance! OUCH.

But guess what? I am required to comply everyday as well. I have always hated the posted rules, class room procedures and expectations requirement for “good” classroom management. For years I bucked the system and didn’t post things.. but in order to be an “effective” teacher it was necessary to  post these guidelines.

So I did.

And guess what, students that didn’t comply didn’t care which rule they broke. Students that didn’t behave responsibly didn’t check my posted expectations and procedures to see how they deviated from the posted signs. The only thing that my signage did was to show adults that walked through my class that I had “good classroom management.”

So today I yanked my signs off the wall! These signs take up valuable wall space and I’d rather post positive messages and show off student work! What gave me the courage to take down the warning signs? Well, Couros made me do it!

I want my classroom to be a place of empowerment. I want students to be willing to risk it all and try new things in my space. I want to push students to expand their mindset and become an innovator. And I can’t do that from a place of compliance.

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No, I’m not going to have a free for all in my classroom! I am way to organized and driven for that nonsense! But I need to move past the statements that demand compliance.

Instead, here is one of my new posters…

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So yes, in a way I am still demanding compliance.. but the mindset is different. Instead of requiring that students all put the pencils away the same way or put their name on their papers in the same two inch space on their papers, I am demanding that students imagine. I am demanding that students dream, collaborate and inspire others with their work and their choices.

I can’t wait to see how the shift in mindset frees my students and my own personal creativity. I’m sure it will be wild ride, but I know that it will be worth it.