Running Thoughts: Fuels, Tools, and Mentors

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I had a crazy weekend beginning immediately after school on Friday and never had the opportunity to sit down and write. Well, that’s not exactly true because I chose to watch the Memphis-Arkansas State football game during the time I did have to write on Saturday, but I digress. This post is about my running thoughts from my run on Friday morning, September 7, 2012. Writing Time Limit: 45 minutes

I ran 5.28 miles in 51 minutes. It was a better run that the other runs last week. I maintained a 9:42 pace and ran well up until the last half mile.

I’ve been reading about and experimenting with whether or not I eat something before my runs. I’ve found mixed information online, and it’s hard to tell what’s trustworthy. I’ve been told Jillian Michaels says you must eat within the first hour after you wake up. I usually head straight for the streets and don’t eat until I’ve been up for 90 minutes or longer. But I have experimented with eating a little fruit, a piece of toast, or some graham sticks. Before this run, I went high tech and consumed a packet of Chocolate Outrage Gu. Honestly, I had to choke it down. It was really strong, and I’m not sure chocolate is the best choice for my first taste of the morning (Mocha Latte, perhaps…). After the initial swallow, the Gu became much more palatable. And I did have a good run…but I’m not ready to assign causation just yet. (I have no connection to Gu.)

This leads me to my connection to learning. How important is it that students eat a good breakfast? How much does it impact their learning? When I was growing up, my parents made us breakfast every morning. My kids tend to fend for themselves making cereal, grabbing pop-tarts, or microwaving sausage biscuits for breakfast. I do try to insist they eat something, but I probably need to do a better job of monitoring what they eat. Maybe I should use my early morning time to prepare them something instead of running and writing. I need to research this more and see if I can provide some better food options for them for breakfast.

Note: I have started a group Posterous with Scott Elias as a place to curate recipes and healthy meals for busy educators. It’s called Fuel 4 School. If you would like to be a contributor, we’d love to have you. Just send me your email (a DM on Twitter will work) and I’ll add you to the group.) 

As I mentioned in a previous post, leaking water bottles aren’t much use on a run. I pitched mine in the recycle bin, and bought a new Amphipod water bottle last week. I decided on the Hydraform Thermal-Lite™ 20 oz. model, and it was great! The thermal cover keeps my hand from freezing, it’s shaped so that it is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t leak so I wasted no water. I also purchased an ArmPod SmartView™ for my iPhone. I’m not as crazy about it, but mostly because I’m used to carrying my phone in my hand and I look at it way too much. that said the ArmPod worked very well. It’s nice to have useful tools for running. (I am not connected with Amphipod in any way other than as a consumer.)

Good tools are also useful in the classroom–especially when it comes to instructional technology. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about tools (apps, resources, etc.) over the past few years. Here’s a list of few of the places I go to first, when I’m looking for digital tools for teaching:

A final thought about Friday’s run was about mentoring. I’m leading a 6th grade mentor group this year at school, and I’m also mentoring/coaching a Martin Institute resident. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors over the course of my life. These days much of the mentoring I receive as a teacher comes face-to-face with Alice or online through connections with other teachers. Because I love lists, here’s a short list of just a few of the people who have become not only friends, but mentors for me as I continue this journey of personal, professional reform:

There are others I could certainly add, but I have found these folks extremely thoughtful and generous. Also, they are willing to push me a little, and I appreciate them for it. You should read their stuff and connect with them.

Well, I’m out of time. I’d love to hear your thought son any or all of this.

Find Your Yoda

One of the great blessings of my first year at PDS was finding a mentor in Alice Parker. Alice has a background in gifted education and teaches small group reading next door. For the first part of the year, Alice and I divide my classes so that each of us could work with the students in small reading groups, and we work closely together through the process. Watching Alice interact with the students, I knew immediately that I had much to learn from her. She is a master teacher with many of the characteristics I want to develop and incorporate into my teaching and learning. She is also willing to listen and offer help. In many ways, Alice became Yoda to my Luke Skywalker as we met regularly to talk about the thinking and learning happening in classroom.

While many schools assign new teachers a mentor, the best mentors are usually those we discover for ourselves. After all, the school’s vision for the teacher isn’t as strong as the one he has for himself, and one is much more likely to form a strong connection when he develops it himself. Remember the force was strong in Luke, and he sought Yoda out on his own. So, how do you find your Yoda? I’m sure there are many ways, but when seeking out your Yoda you might want to keep the following things in mind:

  1. A Yoda has uncommon skills. One of my goals for the year was to incorporate Visible Thinking into my instruction. Alice had already been to Project Zero twice. She understood the thinking routines and had already deftly infused visible thinking into her classes. The way Alice interacted with the students inspired me, too. She has a positive outlook that is contagious, and her classroom was warm, friendly, and inviting. She also has a deep knowledge about her subject matter.  If I ever had a question about reading, Alice either had an answer or knew where the answer could be found. When you seek out your Yoda, be sure you look for someone who is a true master at our craft.
  2. A Yoda thinks in object-subject-verb word order. A great teacher thinks similarly. Alice always considers her students first. She considers them as individuals and as a class by assessing where they are and addressing what they need. Then, she tackles the subject matter–the text or reading and how she will help the students develop a deep understanding of the content. Finally, Alice emphasizes the verb. The learning in her classroom is all about action–the doing. Students aren’t allowed to be passive onlookers. Alice designs activities and experiences that encourage her students to think, act and share, and she’s right there in the middle of all of it.
  3. A Yoda foresees greater problems. Just like Yoda foresaw the recklessness in Anakin, a Yoda teacher is able to see the big picture and spot the dangers that lie ahead. Many times in conversations with Alice as I would lay out my grand plans for what I wanted to accomplish, she would pause and say, “Have you considered…?” or ” You may need to think about this.” Alice never told me what to do. She listened. She asked good questions. She helped me discover areas that I hadn’t fully considered, and she helped me avoid some major snafus. I still failed occasionally, but many times I was more successful because Alice had helped me consider all the possibilities.
  4. A Yoda walks with a cane. As wise and talented as they are, Yoda teachers realize they have areas of weakness. They are humble. They know they still have things to learn. Whereas Alice’s skills lie in engaging students, designing lessons, communicating expectations, using visible thinking, and assessing understanding, she walks with a cane when it comes to integrating technology. Yet, she’s willing to learn, and I appreciate her seeking me out for help as she seeks to grow in this area.
  5.  A Yoda has a great sense of humor. Just like Yoda is a practical joker, Yoda teachers recognize the need for fun. One of the things I appreciate most about Alice is her sense of humor. We work hard, but we laugh often and have lots of fun. When looking for a mentor, make sure you find someone who seeks balance and can appreciate the lighter side of things.

What do you think? What characteristics do you think are important in a mentor? Are there Yoda-like characteristics that I didn’t consider? Feel free to share them in the comments.