Friday, June 24, 2016

I Saw You Walking: Podcasts and Ponderings

I saw you walking.

I hear this phrase nearly every school day that is preceded by a relatively nice weather. I love walking, I love taking my girls on walks, and I love being outside in spite of being allergic to all things growing and green... and dust.

There are many reasons I love walking that stem from my childhood. My grandfather was a man who went for a walk every day.  Being raised in a family of 12 in a small town in Texas, if he wanted to go anywhere - he had to walk. When I ventured with him on these walks as a young child, he told me stories, made up challenges about counting the cracks in the sidewalks, and even stopped to pick up worms who had lost their way on the hot pavement because the earth needs worms to grow. As I grew older silly games transformed into more serious conversations about books, politics, and how people should be treated. While my grandfather passed several years ago, the lessons he taught me and the memories formed on these walks are precious to me. It is on these walks that I learned to appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson and tales crafted by Hans Christian Anderson; it is on these walks that I learned to value people and was challenged to consider ways I could impact others, and it is on these walks that I developed a thirst for learning.

Sitting still is not an activity I particularly enjoy or one that I can do for an extended stretch of time without growing anxious. My aversion to idleness is strong. Even while I'm sitting typing this post, my legs are shaking, as though I were prepping to run a formal race. I try to remember the anxiety sitting causes me when lesson planning because students sit for such prolonged periods, and their growing bodies need to release that extra energy to focus. Luckily, living in the Chicago suburbs, weather conditions are less than ideal for a majority of the school year, which works in our favor. Students and teachers alike are far more focused and eager to learn when the weather is blisteringly cold or ominously cloudy.

During the summer, however, the heat and the sunshine allow nature to flourish and entice all to go out and explore. I am outside every day; my entire day's activities revolve around rain forecasts and pollen counts. What I love about summer months and what I mourn the loss of in the fall when school and coaching obligations consume me, is this sustained time to think. Being outside, mostly unplugging from the world, and being peacefully active is rejuvenating; it is life-bringing. My most creative ideas come during this time, and my ability to process new thoughts/experiences increases significantly. The imagination can flourish when given a chance to grow.

On many of these walks, I listen to a podcast or two. Currently, I cannot get enough of the Freakonomics Podcast or NPR's The Hidden Brain. When I'm not listening to Stephen Dubner break down one of life's most important questions like "Why are there so many Mattress Firm Stores?"(Note: If you live in or grew up in Hoffman Estates or Schaumburg, have you seen the corner of Golf and Roselle lately? This is a real issue). I am trying to use my walking time to spend with people. Inspired by the short TED Talk "Got a Meeting? Take a Walk," I cherish this time that allows me to connect, reflect, and engage with others - mostly former students / speech team captains. Already this summer, I've had a few fantastic walks with some great students whose lives I cannot wait to continue to watch flourish in their own ways.

Removing ourselves from our element - our school classrooms and our desks - can challenge us to think outside the literal four-walled, cinderblock created box that seems to both control and consume our time. Not only does exercise increase the blood flow to our brains, but it also challenges us to allow our minds to wander, along with our physical bodies.

Go for a walk! Listen to a podcast, bring a friend, or simply appreciate some silence in such a busy world. Time is precious, but the peace and the clarity that abounds when walking are also valuable. It's summer, after all. Recharge, rejuvenate and most importantly enjoy.

Podcast Playlist: If you're looking for something to listen to these are my top 5 Podcasts currently.

5. CTD Backpack Parent Podcast

My friend Andy is a former elementary teacher turned university enrichment program designer for K-12 students has created a Podcast that addresses issues in education and learning with parents as the target audience. His episodes are short, contain expert interviews, and are thought-provoking from a parenting standpoint. I'm completely biased, but I enjoy the questions he asks his guests and cannot wait to hear more from this person who has continually inspired me professionally and personally.

4. What Do I Need To Think About when Starting A Classroom Podcast? (Teachercast)

One of my goals this summer is to allow myself to wonder. I want to explore my curiosities a little more and try failing big at a few new educational pursuits. One of those pursuits is podcasting. What is it? Why is it so popular? How can it be used with students? These are all questions I want to answer. The Teachercast Podcast is one I listen to fairly regularly because they explore ed tech topics and do a thorough job of wondering themselves. This podcast on podcasting has challenged me to give it a try. What's the worst that could happen?

3. The Longest Long Shot (Freakonomics)

What a great inspiring story about the Leicester City Football Club! Not only did I learn about professional soccer in England, but this underdog story challenged me to reflect on team building from a coach's perspective. As part of my quest to continually improve my students' experiences on the speech team, this episode of The Freakonomics Podcast sparked a great conversation with my husband, who also serves as one of my assistants, about team chemistry, motivation, and camaraderie.

2. How Google's Laszlo Bock Is Making Work Better (The Hidden Brain)

I love all things Google. I often joke with my students that I am going to run away and start working for Google, to which students sincerely respond with a "Really?"This episode of The Hidden Brain talks about why working in the Google work space is so inviting and how it improves company output as it encourages professional growth in its employees. Again, the themes of this podcast stem back to teamwork and leadership, which are always topics to which I am seeking more information to share with my students and coaching staff.

1. How To Be More Productive (Freakonomics)

Stephen Dubner interviews Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better, to discuss productivity in a busy world. After spending time researching Google and teamwork within the company, Duhigg discovered that collaboration, mentoring, and fostering relationships can lead to increased productivity among teammates. Again, using Google as a model for collaboration, leadership, and teamwork is a topic that I find incredibly engaging. Both of Duhigg's books are page turners as well! As a bonus, this podcast also addresses Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule and other Gladwellian ideas. I made my coaching staff listen to this podcast, my dad, and pretty much anyone I've talked to this summer has received this recommendation. Productivity and this podcast are fantastic.
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