There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

There are Days Off and Then There are Off Days

Today I took a day off from my thesis. I did nothing except some inner methods this morning.

Last week I had a couple of "off" days. Writing was laborious. Focus was nowhere to be found.

The difference between a day off and an off day is choice. Choosing to take a day "away from" is a whole different ball game then having a day that "gets away."

Tomorrow night I have a thesis "date." My thesis and I are going to spend some intimate time together. Because I have chosen to do so.

Today was today. And in the spirit of Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day."

Dog Day Mornings

I posted a week or two ago about my morning awareness walks with Love (my eight and half-year-old pup), and how our morning walks are one of my inner methods while I am engaged in the thesis process. Well...

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Science of the Mind magazine. I don't know much about Science of the Mind - but the issue had two clips on the cover of articles that would be found inside: "Living Mindfully," read one, and the other stated, "Animals Teach the Power of Now." It turns out that Science of the Mind followers incorporate many of the same philosophies as Quakers do and as Buddhists do.

The article that struck me most was entitled Animal Spirits by Barry Ebert. Ebert discusses the collaboration between Patrick McDonnell (Mutts cartoonist) and Eckhart Tolle (author) on a book that honors animals - especially pets - entitled Guardians of Being. McDonnell says that one of the reasons he and Tolle chose the title they did for their book was because "animals show us how to stop thinking and just be" (Ebert, 2010, p. 19). That's one of the main reasons why I appreciate my time with Love on our morning walks. Because I stop thinking and just be where Love is. I get to see and feel and hear and sense the extraordinary in the ordinary - without doing anything but being.

As I continue on my journey throughout this thesis process, I am constantly awed by the sources that come my way just by being open. I don't even have to search them out most times, they simply show up. In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is told, "If you build it they will come." In the reality that is my life, I have found that "If I'm open, they [resources, inspiration] will come."

And so they have. And so they will.

*I posted this last night (Saturday) but, unfortunately, I posted it to my Room 503 Blog by accident. Oops!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Nature of Paradox or As the Tables Turn

Today, in an attempt to guide my students on their way to successful writing, we made sandwiches in Language Arts. Well, two students made sandwiches while the rest of the class watched.*

"Sandwiches," you ask?! "How do sandwiches and writing have any correlation whatsoever?"

I'm glad you asked.

I actually borrowed and tweaked the idea from Erin Gruwell's The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide. To help her students understand what "ingredients" make up good writing, she used sandwiches as a metaphor. It's a good metaphor.

So I had two students come up to the front of the class and join me at a table I had set up. One half of the table was covered with a pretty blue-patterned table cloth, the other was bare. The tablecloth side contained a real plate, a cloth napkin, and a real knife. These were flanked by two candles (which I allowed the students to light), condiments, two kinds of deli meats, two kinds of cheeses, lettuce and tomato. The uncovered half of the table had a paper plate and paper napkin and a package of Oscar Mayer turkey.

Each student was given two slices of bread. The student at the uncovered half of the table received white bread. The student at the covered half of the table received 12-Grain. They were then both asked to make a sandwich using the ingredients on their half of the table.

I imagine that you can imagine both sides' outcomes.

After cutting both sandwiches in half, exposing the "insides" of each, I had the students hold their sandwiches up for the rest of the class to see. "Which one looks more inviting?,"I asked. "Which one has more colors? Tell me what you know about bread...What are the characteristics of a tomato? What do you think of when you think of lettuce?"

Following this discussion, I passed out menus. And here, you need a little bit of background information:

For the past few weeks we have been studying ancient Greece in Social Studies and concurrently we have been reading Greek mythology in Language Arts. We have also read some of Aesop's Fables and, last week, my students wrote their own fables.

The menus I passed out were for a fictitious Language Arts restaurant called Aesop's Tables (est. 2009, with my first class of sixth graders). At Aesop's Tables patrons can begin with "Starters." Highly recommended is a slice of bread, also known as the introduction. On a sandwich, the bread is the first thing your mouth tastes, so you want it to be good. The same is true of the opening paragraph in your writing.

After "Starters" we move onto the "Fixings" - everything in between: the meat, the body of the piece (characters and events); the cheese, which enriches the writing (themes and images), tomatoes, the specific and juicy details (adjectives, adjectives!), and the lettuce - which gives the piece a crisp, clean writing style (grammar, punctuation - structure). The Piece de Resistance: "Desert," of course! The second piece of bread: the conclusion.

I then explained to my students that we were going to use their newly written fables as a foundation to begin our writing. Most all of my students have been taught how to write paragraphs before, however, not many of them really learned how. Like everything, writing is a process. And herein lies the paradox.

I am a teacher. However I am a student. That is very clear. I teach sixth grade at a charter school in Tempe, Arizona. I am also a graduate student at Naropa University, located in Boulder, Colorado. But while I am teaching, I am also learning - from my students, from myself - I am always making new discoveries, always seeing things I didn't see before, or understanding things from a new and different perspective. This happens daily. Some days are more, "Wow! I could've had a V-8!" than others. Today was a "Wow! I could've had a V-8!" day.

Last night I completed the second draft of my thesis proposal. Today, I offered my students a beginning lesson in writing, but I really think the person who could benefit from that lesson most - at least right now - is me! I'm all fired up about re-looking at and re-thinking the writing of my thesis project. And that's a good thing. But I am going to wait one more day to look at it again. Just like today gave me a new perspective, I believe having another day away from what I finished last night, might be more beneficial. Distance and space often allow one to look more closely and see more clearly. But that is a paradox for another day.

*I brought doughnut holes for all of the students, by the way. If you are an elementary or middle school teacher, you know that you cannot bring food into a classroom unless you feed the masses. If you don't, they start rioting (if you do not teach middle school or elementary school - I am not kidding!).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Propose...To Not Write More This Evening

I just completed a second draft of my thesis proposal.

I have no idea if it's "good" or not, but I have deemed it "good enough" for now. I did a lot of work revamping my second chapter, the "Literature Review," which I had done incorrectly the first time. I think the chapter could use some more tweaking: a bit more organization and probably a bit more support to give it better structure. But on the whole, I think it's in good shape.

I had my first "phone meeting" with my thesis advisor, Mary, this evening and feel happy to have established a "live" conection. She was very supportive and gave me some good suggestions. One of which, was to visualize me in my thesis presentation. I'm definitely taking that suggestion.

At the Expo for the P.F. Chang's Marathon/Half-Marathon I participated in two weeks ago, I got a fortune cookie. I taped my fortune to the outside of my datebook which stands up in a basket on my desk at home and reads: "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal." So I will be keeping the visual of me presenting my thesis at the forefront of my mind.

I'd like to write on, but I am going to write off the rest of the evening. For tonight, my work is done.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Incorporating New Practices

I received a book by Julia Cameron from my friend, Joan, the other day. The book is called The Sound of Paper. I have Cameron's book The Artist's Way, but haven't read it for some time. In the beginning of The Sound of Paper, Cameron has a section entitled, "In Your Backpack." She emphasizes three essentials for working with the book. One of them is "Morning Pages."

"Morning Pages" are a tool Cameron has touted throughout her career. I never really took heed to them, but upon reading the reasons why this time around, I decided to give them a shot. The author writes:

Morning Pages prioritize our day. They render us present to the moment. They introduce us to an unsuspected inner strength and agility. They draw to our attention those areas of our life that need our focus. Both our weaknesses and our strengths will be greatly revealed. Problems will be exposed, and solutions suggested (Cameron, 2004, p. 2).

Cameron encourages writing three long-hand pages upon awakening. I have now utilized this practice for the past four days. I am finding that I appreciate the simple discipline of it. I also think it is helping me empty out some of what's rattling around in my brain prior to my sitting practice. Not that my brain isn't still active during shamatha, but it seems to be a little less busy.

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg explains that writing itself can be a kind of meditation practice, if utilized in that way. Currently, it feels reflective and contemplative, but not quite meditative to me. But I get what she means.

Michael, my meditation instructor, also offered up another practice. In Sakyong Mipham's Turning the Mind Into an Ally he offers eight-step instructions for Contemplative Meditation practice. It can be found in the back of the book on p. 227, Appendix C. I practiced this last night and had a good sitting practice with my breath, focusing on an intention, allowing images come up to support that intention, and then letting them go and returning to breath. It seems a good tool to use prior to sitting down with my thesis project.

Today, I listened to my body. I am worn out. I stayed home from work. I napped a lot. Practiced my inner methods. Caught up on reading I had assigned my students, but I myself hadn't gotten to, did a bit of prep, and dabbled with my thesis. Then I napped some more. And some more. A much needed day of rest.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reading Lines and Other Connections

Anyone up for an improvisational let's-make-connections lesson plan?

Objectives: To support a friend; To give students an opportunity to practice letter writing; To encourage reflection of a daily ritual

Amount of time needed: Three quarters of a class period = 45 minutes.


Step 1: Discuss communication modes in present day America, with the main two being email and text messages: Sound bytes. Offer an example.

Step 2: Ask how many students have written a hand-written letter in their life time? How many in the past month? Have they received a letter in the mail? What's the difference between receiving a hand-written letter and an email? How does it feel?

Step 3: Explain that January is National Letter Writing Month. Discuss how to open a letter (salutation). Discuss the differences between a personal letter and a business correspondence.

Step 4: Bring up O.T.O. (Other Than Ourselves, our classroom philosophy). Explain that, as a class, the students\ have the opportunity to help someone out.

Step 5: Explain that a fellow classmate in your grad school program has just changed her thesis idea. Explain that she is going to explore reading aloud to students in the classroom. Ask the students in your class if they would help your friend by writing her a letter about their experiences being read aloud to (because you read aloud to your students for almost a half-hour every day in homeroom). Ask your students to share their experiences so that maybe they can serve as data for your friend (and think to yourself, "or at least put a smile on her face").

Step 6: Give students stationary with hand prints on it and explain that they are offering "helping hands" to your friend.

Step 7: Realize that you have a connection to your fellow classmate in grad school, and now your students do as well - even though they have never met. Continue to realize that your students now have the opportunity to take what they have gotten from their read aloud time, and offer their experiences up to another. Realize, as well, that your thesis topic of ritual has a connection to your friend's new topic. Realize that as your students are writing these letters, they are engaged in self-reflection. Note that that is one of the sub-topics in your own study.

Step 8: Make a MAJOR NOTE about the connections you just drew and that everything you did with your students in that class period today, and what you wrote above, is all connected.

Step 9: Think about James Cameron's Golden Globe's speech:

Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other, and us to the Earth.

Step 10: Notice that you were able to offer a lesson on writing, an opportunity for service, time and space for reflection, and that you just got yourself some fodder for your own thesis as well as created an offering for a friend.

Allow lesson plan to linger.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Student Feedback Tells Me There is a Connection

I received an email from one of my students in response to a posting I had written on this blog. This particular student had asked if she could read my blog (she saw it one day at school), and I had given her the URL. I wasn't aware that she was continuing to read it. Here is what she wrote:

Wow Ms.Pitman, I really loved what you put about the universe giving you the message to speak to the highest within people. that was really encouraging for me, It made me think about how i can be really disrespectful to my friends and family, because I'm realizing that they are people too, with feelings and convictions, once I realize that, it is easier to follow the golden rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. i dont know if this was really the message you were trying to communicate to your blog readers but i sure got something out of it, Thanks!

There's also another thing, Ive been thinking alot lately about my future, what will i be, will I marry?. I also think about humankind's destiny and truth. i ask myself questions like, what is really true? (And a more recent one) is the right choice always the best? So I'm thinking that we should organize a club sorta thing for the sixth grade, which is kind of like humane letters, we discuss issues of past and future, we give our intake, we discuss books, but a very deep level. anyone can join. I would looooove to do this( being the nerd I am). Anyway, maybe you should think about it.

Here's the thing: this student is - quite obviously - a deep thinker. She is insightful, creative, and thinks in ways that are seemingly beyond her sixth grade years (by the way - she did, indeed, give me her permission to post her email here, sans her name). But for a student to be able to express herself to me in the way she does (and there have been other incidences where we have had conversations ranging from religion to personal family matters) - that tells me that she and I, as teacher and student and as person to person, have established a connection.

My sense is that this student feels safe enough to trust me with her very personal thoughts and feelings, and that tells me that our classroom atmosphere, created by the students and myself, is providing a forum for those connections to happen.

To follow up, I talked with the above student today, and we are going to see what we can do to put together a discussion group that meets, perhaps, just one time per month. But I love the idea that she is enthused about starting something like this. Some of the dicsussions we have in Language Arts [my homeroom class] would go well past the hour allotted if they could. I have no doubt that some of my other students would be interested in a group where they could exchange ideas on a myriad of subjects.

With this connection, my sense is that deeper learning is indeed happening. A sense of wonder is being nurtured and depth of inquiry is being explored.

On Friday, after school, I was talking to a Parent/Board member out in the courtyard. I saw a male student from the other sixth grade class waiting to talk to me. When I was done with the parent, I turned and asked the student what I could do for him.

This particular student is taller than me (I'm 5'5") and is a bit gangly. As I stood with him in the courtyard last Friday afternoon, he stood with his hands in his pockets, shifting from one foot to the other, unable to look me in the eye. He said, "Well, I just wanted to say that I really like your methods." (I had no idea what he was referring to exactly - what I teach? How I teach? - but I didn't want to ask him because he seemed pretty uncomfortable as it was).

He went on: "And my family likes your methods. There's five of us in our house and we all agree: we like your methods." (Methods? I thought. What does he really mean by that? And he keeps using that word!) "Even my brother likes your methods," he continued. "We were talking about them last night, and...we were wondering if...maybe...maybe you would be willing to have a conversation with us about your...your methods."

I said, " ______, thank you so much for letting me know that. I would be happy to have a conversation sometime with you and your family." I squeezed his shoulder. He then patted mine, and said, "Well, good. Good. And have a good weekend."

I am still not sure what this student meant by "methods," but I was tickled that he would tell me, and I believe he was quite brave to let me know. I also figured, something is happening here: some kind of connection.

Both of the above interactions are - to me - worth noting because this means that some kind of emotional, as well as intellectual, connection is being made between (at least a few of) the students and myself. And, I would like to think it has a great deal to do with the rituals we practice in the classroom.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Marge, Where are You? And Where IS my Inner Brat?!

My creativity mentor, Jill Badonsky (check her out at, and you can check out her blog based on her way cool book, The Awe-manac, over to the left, below "Blog List"), wrote a book entitled The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard): 10 Guides to Creative Inspiration for Artists, Poets, Lovers, and Other Mortals Wanting to Live a Dazzling Existence. In her book she updated the nine muses from ancient Greece, to aid us 21st Century mortals in breaking through insecurities, procrastination, and other things that block our creative powers and abilities.

One of the muses she created was Marge (based on the Frances McDormand character in the movie Fargo), muse of Okay-Now-Let's-Get-Started. Jill gives four very good reasons for when it would be best to "summon" Marge, one being when "You are overwhelmed with the task before you - you feel immobilized, frozen, inert, and not quite sure where to start, so you reconsider starting at all" (Badonsky, p. 218).

Well, here's the deal: I am in the midst of re-working my thesis Literature Review, and I've started, but now I'm "inert." I am not reconsidering starting over, but I am considering stopping, and I really need to push through and carry on for a bit more this evening, so that I complete what I need to for this week's deadline. I thought, that if perhaps, I took a break and reached into my bag of tricks for some inspiration, I might be able to get myself back on track.

Here's the thing: I know that I don't have to do some bang-up stellar job this evening. I merely have to put fingers to keyboard and get something out. In the Marge chapter, Jill quotes Woody Allen: "Eighty percent of success is showing up." And I can do that...if I just get out of my own darn way.

The thing is, that inert feeling is really my whiny, rebel baby saying, "But I don't wanna!" In which case, Jill has offered up Bea Silly, the muse of Play, Laughter, and Dance. And do you know what Bea Silly would have me do? She'd have me do a little two-step, Cha-Cha-Cha, a 190 degree twirl ('cause it's always good to twirl to your own set of degrees), channel my inner brat and say, "So what, I'm doing it anyway!"

It's hard to remember all my tools when I am stuck in the muck. But just taking a break and going back to the basics is like getting a little nudge, a little nectar and ambrosia power boost. So I'm off to "show up" for my thesis. If I don't post tomorrow, you'll know I twirled right off my axis!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Can Outer Work Affect Inner Mind?

My desk/office space is in my second bedroom. Ever since the middle of Winter break, that room (and my desk) have been filled with clutter: student projects and assignments (due to working on student evaluations), my own school projects and assignments, and various bills, paperwork, books - you name it, it was probably in my second bedroom!

I have felt overwhelmed having to swim through stacks of "stuff" to get to my desk. My dog has probably felt the same, as "her bed" has been cluttered with piles, and she has had to wade through the stacks to even get to it.

After weeks of feeling helpless about my state of messiness and clutter, I finally got off my duff and did something about it. Basically, it looks like I just rearranged my piles and put them in the dining area (I am still sans a dining room table and chairs, six months after moving into this place). But, really, I did throw a ton of stuff out, organized what was left, and even found proper places to put things away.

All the things I moved into the dining room area are things I need to bring back to work, anyway, so my plan is to move a bit of the mountain at a time, to school with me every day this coming week. Five manageable hills sounds more do-able than one massive mountain.

I have a pile now of all my thesis books, papers, etc. next to my desk, and I believe this week I'll go purchase a file cabinet to organize these things so that they will be easily accessible as I need them over the next few months.

I already feel better being able to see the floor of my second bedroom, the bed made and tidy - sans papers - and my desk completely clutter-free. I am, therefore, assuming that my mind is already much more open to focusing on all that I need to be putting my energy towards.

I attended a writer's conference in San Francisco about four years ago, and I remember listening to two different writers dialoguing about the ways they work best, including how they arrange and like their writing space. One of the women said that she needs her desk to be absolutely free of anything other than her computer, while the other said that she works best amongst an array of books, papers, and assorted what-elses. She barely had elbow room and said she couldn't write otherwise.

While I was pleased to hear that I wasn't alone (being the pile horse I am), I relished the idea of being a Spartan writer, like the first woman. However, I think I function best as a bit in between the two. I can't have a complete tabula rasa of a work space, but I certainly have learned that clutter muddles me up, and so I can no longer work - or at least I can't work well - with an array of...of everything in my space.

Lee Worley once said, "Make space your friend." I don't know that she had an office space in mind, but I'd like to think that my mind will be a better friend to me (and I to it) with more space in my office.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some Forward Movement and A couple of Steps Back

Today I had lunch with eleven of my students from last year. I had invited them earlier in the week, telling them I wanted to talk to them about what I am doing for my thesis...and that I'd supply lunch (food is definitely the way to 7th grade boys' - and one girl -hearts).

Over pizza, I explained to the students what I was doing and that I would really like to get at least six volunteers to meet with me and discuss their experiences and also respond to a questionaire about their experiences in my classroom last year. I think I got about eight students who are willing to work with me. Next week I will give them permission slips for themselves and their parents to sign.

It was really nice to hang out with my old students. I don't get too much of a chance to connect with them this year and it was nice to sit in our classroom and "stroll down memory lane." We laughed a lot and I feel good that I have laid out that groundwork for this particular part of my thesis exploration.

On a completely different note, I have skipped my morning meditation the past two days as I have either overslept or had to leave the house super early. It was evident this morning that I had missed my meditation. I had a first-thing snap at two of my students. Not that they didn't deserve a bit of a "reminder" about their behavior, but I got pretty irritated, pretty quickly. It may not have been due to missing my meditation - it simply could have been that I was over-tired, or that I wasn't being mindful of what was going on in my head and body at that moment, a combination of the two, or something else. However, it is worth looking at that I missed two days in a row of meditation and that my eating has been off.

Healthy, mindful eating and meditation are both important components of my inner methods as I continue working on my thesis. I need to recommit myself to both. I know they will only help me in this endeavor.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mi Perspective, Su Perspective? I Wonder...

I have been noticing over the past few days (well, really, I have noticed here and there over the entire school year, but notably over the past few days), that my homeroom class and the other sixth grade class I teach (Language Arts and Drama) are very different in their demeanor, as a group.

Somehow, my homeroom seems more cohesive. They seems more flexible and more willing to take risks. I noticed this particularly when we had an impromptu improv session during social studies the other day, when both classes happened to be together for a film, and the projector wasn't working properly. My students seemed excited - it was actually their idea- and jumped in and had a blast. The other class seemed to hold back, but for a few (mind you, so did a few in my homeroom), and didn't seem quite as engaged, even as audience members (my homeroom students were).

There is a rhythm with my homeroom students that I don't seem to encounter with the other class. I wonder if Meghan, the other sixth grade teacher has the reverse experience. I wonder if I feel a sense of "ownership" with my homeroom - a more familial connection - and so I experience those students differently than the other class. I imagine, in a way, it's like a parent with their own child(ren): their kids are the best kids. I wonder if a complete outsider came in and observed me with both classes and Meghan with both classes what they would see.

I wonder mostly, if the rituals we do in my homeroom affect the atmosphere. Though I practice certain rituals with the other class, my homeroom has "more" - and they are designed to create community (i.e. the bow, how we take attendance, ROTA). But even in our language arts tea discussions (which happen in both classes), my homeroom students seems much more engaged.

I have to note I have language arts with homeroom 2nd period, and I have language arts with the other class, in the afternoon, 4th period. That may account for why there's a difference right there. But somehow, I don't think that's all.

At any rate, I was noticing. And wondering.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Mindfulness Bell

Today I am grateful for the mindfulness bell we use in our classroom. Before we begin each subject, the peer leader of the week comes up to my desk and rings the mindfulness bell.

I like how each peer leader waits (now) until the whole class settles down and notices what is about to happen. Sometimes they don't. I try to just focus my attention on that student (or students) who are still moving around, or have their attention elsewhere, until they look at me and realize they need to stop what they are doing and get quiet.

For just a few moments the class sits. Often I use that moment to refocus myself. I breathe. I remember that I am here to be of service. I remember to be present. Other times, the moments go by and before I know it, the reverberation of the bell has faded away and I realize I wasn't even conscious of what I was thinking, except that I certainly wasn't present. And, that's the moment too: a reminder that I can become present right now.

I don't know that every student in my classroom appreciates the bell, but I know that some definitely do, and that is enough. If not for them, I'm glad it's there for remember to be there for them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Medi-WHAT'S THAT YOU SAY?!-tation

This morning as I sat for my customary meditation time, I had one of those experiences where my mind wandered off...many times. Not that that's so unusal, but noticing my thoughts today was...Well, not so much the noticing part, but noticing how I was thinking.

My thoughts today were sort of interestingly different. First I was thinking about an aquaintance of mine who just had a baby a month and a half ago. The baby's father relapsed (he had - supposedly - been sober for awhile) just before the baby was born. Anyway, the gist is, I was thinking about this friend of mine has been up and down a similar road before, and here she was again...

And I caught myself and labeled it "thinking," and went back to my breath.

Then I thought about how I use thoughts like the one above as a distraction from self. If shamatha is about becoming better aquainted with self, then I am spending time trying to deflect from myself by focusing on "other."

But then I labeled that thought thinking and returned to my breath. Mindful of the inhale and following it all the way out through the exhale.

Then, I started thinking about my students, and a note I received from The Universe (I get these daily in my email, here it is...);

*Whenever conferring with another, Nicky, either face to face or across the miles, whether a human being, departed spirit, or sentient tree, always speak to the highest within them.

Makes such a difference.

The Universe

And I started thinking about how sometimes I don't "speak to the highest within them," and then...

I labeled that "thinking" and came back to my breath.

And on and on it went.

Then I had the thought that when I think those kind of thoughts I justify them as "okay" or "better thoughts to have" because I am thinking about my students, and how I can be of best use. And then I thought, but I am not being of "best use" because my practice is to empty my let thoughts roll in and roll out, not to massage them and engage with them.

And then I labeled THAT "thinking" and then my alarm went off to end my meditation session.

Today I felt fuzzy and grumpy. And I couldn't tell if it was because of my practice this morning, if my mind and body were still worn out from the 1/2 marathon on Sunday, if it was the rainy, gray weather, a combination of all of them, or "just one of those days." Whatever it was, it was. But I am aware of it. I'm noticing it. Sometimes I have to let that be enough.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Student Poem

I received the following just prior to Winter Break:

Oh, geez, what can I say? Ms. Pitman you rock.
I now know the definition of "objective" and "mock."
Reading those books was really fun,
And now I'm so sad that we are done.
I will remember the things we learned in class 503,
And I will always keep them close to me.
Learning Hamlet was a really hard thing to do,
But somehow some way, we all pulled through.
I love the peace and serenity you created in our class,
And of course, adding a bit of sass.
We couldn't have done anything without you,
Like knowing an onomatopoeia is like saying "moo."
Over break I'll try not to forget,
The things you have taught me since we met.

So I am thinking that this poem is feedback of sorts (and this student is not in my homeroom - I have her for Drama and Language Arts). It indicates that repetition is important. That she is "getting" a sense of "peace and serenity" from our ritual of ringing the mindfulness bell at the beginning of Language Arts class and/or from our breath work and self-check in at the beginning of Drama.

Is this measurable evidence? Does it bear any scientific merit? Is emotional feedback an appropriate way to gage how well ritual plays a role in deeper learning and connection?

Morning Walk

For sometime now, I have been calling my morning walks with my dog, Love, my "awareness walks." I do my best to keep my focus on her and notice what she notices, and how she notices, and what she does.

Yesterday morning (and, admittedly some other mornings) I woke up later than I needed to and did a "rush job" walking her. Didn't spend a lick being aware - except to be aware of the little time I had to get to where I was going (a half-marathon). This morning, I had time. But it had started to rain.

First, I thought that Love and I would just walk around our apartment complex (grass lawns and sidewalk paths) because I didn't want to be out in the rain. But then I thought I had better make sure she has a good walk now, as later it may be raining harder. I also had to be honest with myself: I was simply not in the mood to walk. I wanted to put it off. I didn't feel like being present and aware. I wanted to crawl back in bed.

But that little voice, that little reasonable Karma voice jumped in and said, "Nicky, this is what you committed to doing. Stick with your commitments. Stay the course. You will be happier if you do." So, off we went.

Walking through the alley way, I listened to Love's little nails clicking against the pavement. She seemed to pay no attention to the rain drops as they lightly fell on her head and back. If we had a backyard and I opened the door to let her out, Love would choose to stay inside. She does not like the rain...Unless she is being taken for a walk. Then the rain doesn't seem to bother her at all. Interesting.

Love has a tendency to want to walk across the street from our complex, and the second we hit the sidewalk (my unit sits about 1/2 a block back from the street), she strains to cross the street. Today, that was okay, but somedays there are cars coming and I have to really work to hold her back. I always wonder why Love prefers the other side. When we walk back towards the house, she is fine with being on "our side." Hmmm...

As we continued to walk, I watched Love stop and sniff at some things: really taking her time to check them out, while with others, they simply got a "quickie." Often she will stop in the same places as usual and spend time with them. Other times she will ignore those places all together and I wonder if there is a rhyme or reason to this.

As our walk progressed, so did the rain. And I began to enjoy it. Early morning, with my dog, fresh rain, cleaning out the old, bringing in the new. I like that for 20 minutes, I was able to get out of my own way and let Love have hers. I am grateful that I could focus on Love, our neighborhood, the weather. Where as in meditation when I drift off/spin out/ "think", I bring myself back to my breath, during our morning walks, I bring my attention back to Love. For just that time, I don't "worry" about what I have to do next or what just happened beforehand.

It's a good practice for me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Buddha Energy + Shiny Object Syndrome and "Every Little Thing is Gonna be All Right"

Feeling the neurosis side of Buddha energy...that paralysis that comes from overwhelm. All the while I have that Karma neurosis in, starting one thing and then dropping it for another...dropping it for the something that looks or seems "more important" or "better."

Right now books are very much part of my "shiny object" obsession. I recently purchased a book called Brain Rules (by John Medina), after attending a workshop at the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association conference). One of the things Medina discusses is that multi-tasking is a myth. Though we can walk and talk at the same time, to truly give our attention - our awareness - to more than one thing truly isn't possible (he cites the study of talking on a cell phone while driving as an example of us humans not truly being able to multi-task).

One of the pieces I was actually looking at in Brain Rules was a chapter that included the idea of repetition as a means of learning. Just prior to his chapter on repetition, however, Medina points out research that suggests that emotional experiences stay with us memory-wise longer than simply intellectual ones. That it is the gist - the bigger picture - rather than the details that we store in our long-term memory.

Medina cites John Bransford who edited How People Learn, and says, "[Experts'] knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead, their knowledge is organized around core concepts or 'big ideas' that guide their thinking about their domains" (Medina, 2008, p. 85).

So that got me thinking about the emotional aspect of ritual - the connecting aspect, especially as it relates to community creation and interconnectedness. Something I'd like to explore (as well as how repetition of the ritual plays a role in term sof deeper connection, deeper learning: prajna).

But of course, then, I want to explore five million other things at the same time. Shocked?

The thing is: as much as I feel the paralysis of overwhelm, and as much as I know that I easily distract because I want to explore so many things, what I really know is that this is part of my process. The paralysis will lift, I will become more able to hone in and focus on what I need to, when I need to, and like Bob Marley once sang, "every little thing will be all right."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thoughts on Saturday...oh, and what happened to Friday?

Missed posting yesterday and have little to post today. Preparing for half-marathon walk tomorrow and need a day (especially since I was up early this A.M. in order to get downtown to the Expo to get my race number and t-shirt).

Though I need to focus on my thesis, I also need some down time.

Last night was a terrific springboard to this final semester. I spent the evening with Debbie at her house, swapping books, articles, thoughts and yummy food. We both agreed how fortunate we are to have one another so close by, to be able to share time and experiences (i.e. Shambhala training, book signings, and meals).

Last night Debbie introduced me to one of her inner methods - drawing exercises from a mandala book/CD. We worked with black paper and white pencils, going from light to dark. Though I actually took a little nap break (I was exhausted from my week), I relished the exercise. It was relaxing and meditative (photo of my drawing above). Best part: being invited to share in Debbie's practice with her. Her excitement was so lovely and joyous, and it gave me an opportunity to experience what is working for her.

At the end of the evening, we were going over the Thesis syllabus: Holy S***! I told her, "I have to go. I have to go home and work on my thesis!!" I left feeling exhilarated and anxious.
Tomorrow evening: the (Thesis) games (really) begin!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Season Tickets

Though not truly a ritual (nor a habit or routine), my colleague, Lori, and I have season tickets to the Southwest Shakespeare Company.

Every month and a half or so we get the opportunity to meet up around five or five-thirty in the evening, have dinner together, and then go see a play - something that always seems like "there's no time to fit that in." Having season tickets makes us fit it in. And that's a good thing.

It's a change-up...something different. Lori and I don't spend time outside of school together otherwise, and this year we spend little time in the office together as I haven't got a planning period. So having dinner and talking "shop" as well as taling about things more personal is a really lovely way to connect. It also gives us a chance to engage in something other than work and school. It's something out of our daily routines and something we both enjoy.

Though the production of Julius Caesar we saw this evening pretty much bit the big one (we left at intermission - we were also both tired and intermission wasn't until 9:00 PM), it was still great to just get out of the daily routine.

I don't want to go so far as to deem going to a dinner and a show a ritual. But it is something Lori and I do special together. We do it according to when we have tickets. And it's always dinner (typically somewhere different each time) and then the theatre.

At any rate, I hadn't written yet today, and I'm too tired to explore anything else in depth, and not everyday am I going to be able to write about something profound and/or insightful. So this is it.

That's the ticket!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ritual, Routine, Habit

We often do things out of habit (see definition below).

We "get into the routine of things" and become so accustomed to our routines we often do them as if we were simply programmed to do so - like a coffee maker set to begin brewing before the morning wake up alarm.

But do these habits and routines have meaning? Do they help us connect to something or someone in the world? An idea? Does my habit of folding up my toilet paper into squares have some kind of meaning beyond the fact that I like my toilet paper in a neat square? Or that it gives my hands something to do while I'm taking a pee? I don't even realize I'm folding it half of the time. Does my routine drive to work have a particular meaning? Do brushing my teeth and showering (unless I am mindfully doing so - which, let's face it: I am not truly that mindful every morning) connect me to my teeth? My shower? To the water I use?

If I look at these in a mandala sort of way - yes: everything I do is connected. But in a mindful way? In a way in which I am ultimately aware? In ways that bring meaning to my life?

I don't think so.

However, ritual (which can become routine), is different. "Rituals are simple. They might be words. They might be actions. They point to something meaningful and significant"(Williams, p. 122). The mainstream definition(s) offered by don't really explain ritual to it's fullest...they scratch the surface, making it sound much more similar to "routine" or even "habit."

Rituals can aid in creating a firm sense of group identity. Humans have used rituals to create social bonds and even to nourish interpersonal relationships ( © 2009.

Here's an interesting observation. Yesterday, at the end of school before bowing out, I asked my students to express one thing that they were grateful for (I do this with them once a week to once every two weeks). Five of my students said that being in our classroom with their friends was what they were grateful for.

This morning, I was 20 minutes late to class (so was my co, Meghan, as we were in a meeting with our Headmaster and two parents). When I realized how late were were - five minutes into class - I was fortunate enough that when I stuck my head out of our Headmaster's office, one of my parents happened to be standing there and I asked if she could help Meghan and I by checking on our students and letting them know we'd be there as soon as possible.

When I arrived in my classroom, Jill was sitting up on one of the desks, two students were up in front of the room in the middle of a "Freeze" scene (an improv game - we have drama first period), and the rest of the class was actively engaged as audience members. I stood inside at the door just watching.

I let the students continue on for fifteen more minutes. First, because they were so engaged, and secondly, because I was awed by how much more skilled they have become at the game over the past few months. They were thoughtful, quick on their feet, and hilarious! When I finally did stop them, I told them how pleased I was to see them in right action and joked that they didn't even need me around at all.

They proceeded to tell me that Clare (this week's peer leader) led them in our opening bow, they'd taken attendance (which we do by me calling off the first person's name on the roll sheet, and then they call off the next and so on - so in that way, everyone is aware of who is here and who is not, and everyone is accountable for everyone else), and Clare had rung the mindfulness bell to kick off Drama. and Jamie (another student) had led physical and vocal warm-ups. Jill (the parent) just nodded and smiled at me. And then I said to my class, "You really don't need me!" And I felt quite proud and thrilled.

I emailed Jill this afternoon to thank her for her help. When she emailed me back she noted, I was so impressed at how [the students] stayed on task even though you weren't there-it shows the maturity of your students (email, 1/13/10)!

My students wanted to practice our daily rituals. Regardless if I was there or not, they have something that connects them - something that bonds them together. Our rituals have some kind of meaning for them. Even if it is just "routine" for some of them, it's what we do. It's what makes us members of Room 503. The rituals offer a sense of belonging. And so maybe there is a responsibility factor in carrying them out that goes with that.

Whew! Okay. I'm going to leave this for now and come back to it and see what I glean from it then.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All I Nose... that I've got a really bad cold, and if it weren't for the fact that sub-plans take way too long to write - and that I had too much new stuff to introduce today - I would have taken the day off from work.

Because not walking the dog is not an option, and sleeping in today was a necessity, I opted to for go my personal journal writing and morning reading and meditation. I am irked that I missed my meditation because my track record has been so good and I know that it really is a touchstone for my day. But something had to give.

Got a Facebook tip from Missy: The Soul of Education (Rachel Kessler) has a section on initiation. Funny that I'd found something else in the Kessler book that I had looked at and for some reason neglected to see the chapter on initiation. Thank God other people's awareness is up when mine's not.

Letting everything else go for the day now. I feel like crap. As Scarlett O'Hara said, "Tomorrow is another day."

And so it is...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Contemplating: Habit & Ritual

Joan commented on my Saturday post:
Nicky, what's the difference between a personal ritual and a habit? or is there one? could seeing a habit (good or bad) as a ritual of one's choosing help in creating/maintaining healthy ones and ridding oneself of unhealthy ones? I wonder!

These are great questions. I hadn't thought about this before - the differences and/or similarities between habit and ritual - and I'm grateful Joan brought it up (thanks, Joan). I haven't had much time to really sit down and think about it but my students are off working independently on some Social Studies questions, so I took a moment to look up what The Free Dictionary defined as habit:

a. A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.
b. An established disposition of the mind or character.
2. Customary manner or practice: a person of ascetic habits.
3. An addiction, especially to a narcotic drug.

Just noting the first definition, I would have to say the difference between habit and ritual is awareness and meaning. A habit may not necessarily have either - i.e. nail biting. I have so much more to contemplate with this and want to take more time to explore all of Joan's questions but I had a moment and wanted to get just a quick jot down.

Back to School

Just a quickie...

Thesis Seminar II begins today. I just got online to check what we have in store this week. This is a short week. Mostly getting reaquainted and organized. I downloaded the syllabus and will print that and Genet's introduction out at work.

Genet's introduction was wonderful: warm and full of excitement...tempered by the reality of it all and what we really need to do to stay on top of everything. I am feeling a bit of anxiety. My stomach is turning around and around like a bunch of ensos got thrown into a washing machine: five colored circles churning around cacophonously (is that a word/) in my belly.

Anyway...good reminders from Genet with regards to how we are going to feel/think/behave throughout the process and how our "job" is to find some balance with them...

Throughout this process, you will find the middle way between these extremes:
• being too self-reliant versus too dependent;
• being arrogant versus being helpless;
• being excessively compulsive versus unduly lazy.

Hmmm...she must've gone through this before! ; )

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Question of Imposed or Chosen Rituals...

...just came to mind as I was up walking my poor dog at freakin' 6:15 AM - she has some kind of stomach bug. I was completely annoyed with her because she woke me up three times to go out in the middle of the night! I went to bed late and planned to be up by 7:00 to get to a friends by 8:00 to walk 11 freakin' miles as a training walk for next week's half marathon. I am tired! But when I realized this fourth time my pup wasn't feeling well...I felt pretty bad.

Nonetheless, it is in the moments I don't think I can possibly think about anything when thoughts come to me. And while I was walking Love, I started thinking about the narrative evaluations we just had to write over the winter break on our students.

While this is an "imposed" ritual - it is part of my job, one of the things that is part of what we do at Tempe Prep at this time of year, every year - it is also a vehicle for connection. It is a formal way of writing down what I observe about each of my students, and therefore, as I dwell, ruminate, and try to find ways to best describe what I "see" and have experienced, I am making a deeper connection with myself and the student. I am contemplating and then communicating in a very thoughtful way what I believe to be true about each student I teach.

This narrative then is read by the student's parent(s) and often by the student. For the most part, I don't get much feedback from parents. However, once in awhile I do. When the narrative points out a student's difficulties, sometimes I hear back from an irrate parent who feels that their child was treated unfairly, or from a parent who is extremely concerned about what to do. If the evaluation is mostly positive, it is rare I hear back at all, though sometimes I get a "thank you" - and don't get me wrong: sometimes I get a "thank you" on a not-so-hot evaluation (it just depends on the parent). But the thanks or the worry or the anger aren't the point. The point is that a connection has been made. And hopefully, the parent(s) and their student will have a conversation about the evaluation and another connection will be made in that way too.

An email from a parent to my co-teacher and I:


My husband and I just had an opportunity to read your thoughtful and perceptive comments about [Student].

Boy, do you guys have her pegged.

[Student] has always done well in school...but never before has she LOVED school like she does now. Even Math! I can not begin to tell you how blessed we feel that: #1. She got into TPA, and #2. That she has you both as her teachers.

Nicky, if she could overcome her fear of failing, or looking silly, (which does, I agree, come from a fierce streak of perfectionism), I know she would be a much happier kid. Opinionated...refusing to look at things from another's perspective...if we could nip that in the bud, her family would not be exhausted from arguing with her about every little thing!:-) Of course, she won't hear it from us.

We thank you for all that you both do to motivate and encourage her. You are the best!

I wouldn't choose to write a narrative on my break. But I get whay it's important to write them. I appreciate the ritual of it.

Then I started thinking, I choose the rituals I perform prior to going to work every day: journaling, meditating, taking what I've deemed an "awareness walk" with my dog. I also choose the rituals that go on in my classroom - our opening/closing bow, tea parties that culminate books we've read in Language Arts, vocal and physical warm-ups in Drama....etc. However, while I choose them, these rituals are imposed on my students. My students don't get a choice in most of the rituals they are asked to participate in. Yet they seem to learn from them and make connections with themselves, their peers, me, our classroom work, and to the greater world at large.

So what can I glean from this question? I hadn't thought about it before this morning. I imagine I will be exploring this one a bit more. Just wanted to make sure I got this down before I go on that crazy walk and then come home and crawl back into bed.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Beginnings...

...are awfully (as in awful) wonderful (to me). They invoke feelings of terror and dread, often presenting themselves in the form or paralysis and/or procrastination (see prior entry). They also elicit feelings of joyful anticipation, giddy excitement often supported by inner-super hero powers (meaning, I picture myself wearing my own personal Wonder Woman get-up and wielding a don't-mess-with-me rope) knowing I can handle anything that comes my way: "World, watch out - here I come!"

I have put off writing an entry for two days, and I can not put it off any longer. I have committed myself to completing this M.A. program, and the only way to do that is to write my thesis. One of the things that I know will serve me best in this process is writing...journaling - my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences. While my original thought was to do it on paper - particularly because it so tactile, so authentic, I realized that I needed to formally commit to this practice and hold myself accountable. I figured if I "published" this, knowing one or two or even three people may read it as I navigate my way through this journey, it will keep me accountable to posting daily. I also had a great "aha" about writing in blog form: I can cut and paste what I wrote, if I want to use it in my thesis (good idea, no?!).

Interestingly, as I am beginning the thesis process, a new year has begun for all of us, and that also means a new semester at school for both myself and my students. Monday (January 4) was our first day back and while I spent most of the week pulling magic out of my butt (I didn't have much time to prep over break because I was working on long, narrative student evaluations for the last five days of my vacation), the atmosphere of my classroom and the things that were happening in there were...well, magical!

One of the coolest things for me, happened in the first few moments of our very first day back. Every morning at the beginning of the day and each afternoon before we leave school, my students and I bow to one another. We have done this since day one of the school year. We do it as a mindfulness practice, reminding ourselves to respect ourselves, one another, our classroom space, and the work we do in it. On Monday, there was a buzz of excitement in the air, and my students all seemed happy to be back at school and with one another. When the time came to take our opening bow, the room feel completely silent as everyone prepared to place their hands on their upper thighs. We bowed, and when we came back up almost every single person in the room - including me - was smiling. We were together again. We were a community.

During our Drama class, first period (and third, with my other section of 6th graders), we "kissed" 2009 goodbye. I explained to the class what it meant to "kiss something goodbye," and quoted the words from A Chorus Line: "Kiss today goodbye, and point me toward tomorrow." I gave each student a Hershey's Kiss, and encouraged each of them to make a quasi-lay-up with it - throwing it into a wastebasket as they said the words, "I kiss goodbye to _______" whatever it was they wanted to leave behind from last year (for those that couldn't think of anything, I asked that they simply say,"Goodbye to 2009"). One of my students journaled, "It was really nice to yell off what we wanted to say goodbye to and get it off our chest."

In Language Arts, I passed out the January Monthly (I give the students hand-outs at the beginning of every month that explains the origins of the month, its gemstone, its flower, how many days it has, and the holidays and special observance days of the month. Sometimes we incorporate what's on the "Monthly," sometimes we don't). January was named after the Roman god, Janus, god of doorways and new beginnings. Janus is most often depicted with two faces: one looking into the past, the other towards the future.

As a segue into the new semester, I had the students work in pairs to create two Janus-like pictures. Each student was given a piece of drawing paper and asked to fold it in half width-wise. Next the students were instructed to pencil-sketch a profile of a face looking towards the past, starting from the fold in the paper. They then had to exchange their paper with another student, without showing them what they had drawn (so they handed the paper to another student with the blank side up). Upon receiving the blank-sided paper, the students were then asked to pencil-sketch a profile looking towards the future. Two more exchanges were made so that each student could add to their picture(s) with color and detail. Then each student brought their original picture home and was asked to complete both sides as homework. They were encouraged to add more color, detail, and to even add items that would make the picture 3-dimensional.

One student wrote about the experience with the Janus pictures from this perspective: "I had a great time doing this because the picture represented a person's expression when they looked into the past: sad, wistful, or angry, and when they looked into the future: happy, excited, or elated. This picture reminded me of what we talked about on New Year's Eve. My parents had invited our friend (their friend as well) to talk to everyone at our party about what we should look forward to and back on this new year. He said we should look back on the sins or mistakes we made in the past year and ask God to help us not make the same mistakes over again this year. Our friend also told us that even though we think that we can conceal our sins from others, God knows and He wants us to confess our sins to Him so that we can start a new beginning."

I allotted some extra time at the end of our first day back to toast the New Year. I brought in sparkling grape juice and party blowers. Each student was given a cup of juice and blower, and asked to get quiet for a moment and think about an aspiration they would like to make for themselves in this new semester. We then raised our glasses in a toast, yelled out our aspirations at the same time, and drank our juice and blew our horns. From another student journal: "I really enjoyed the first day (kissing 2009 goodbye and saying hello to 2010) because I made a goal to get awesome grades. It helps when I'm doing homework and I'm tired and I wanna go to bed to think of my goal for 2010."

We completed our day, with a bow, and our daily chant: tapping the palms of our hands on our desks twice, and saying: "And so it is," meaning: we have done all we can do today. What's done is done. Tomorrow we will start anew. As the students leave the classroom I call off to them, "Go make the world a better place." On Monday, it felt like we already had.

This last week I also had my students "wrap up 2009" by symbolically wrapping up their journals from last semester in wrapping paper. I will put them away and return them to the students at the end of the school year. I remember when I did that last year what fun it was for my kids to re-read their reflections from the first semester and note their own growth throughout the second.

Like my own feelings about beginnings (as mentioned above), Janus is, and of himself, a paradox: the past and the future all in one. Because we are beginning our unit on ancient Greece next Monday, I gave the students a list of Greek root words to keep in their binder for reference and I gave them their first vocabulary word of the semester: paradox. Besides looking up the word in the dictionary, and then writing the definition down in their own words (as we always do), I also asked them to research paradoxes and to bring in three examples. The students really seemed to enjoy this and we spent some time working through what the differences are between paradoxes and oxymorons and play on words.

At any rate, the word paradox seemed appropriate for me. A good reminder of how there are so many sides to everything. That life isn't black and white. I'm not. My students aren't. And neither is my thesis or the process of writing it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Is Procrastination a Ritual?

I am not sure. I am waiting to find out.

Ritual, defined:

a. A ceremonial act or a series of such acts.
b. The performance of such acts.
a. A detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: My household chores have become a morning ritual.
b. A state or condition characterized by the presence of established procedure or routine: "Prison was a ritualreenacted daily, year in, year out. Prisoners came and went; generations came and went; and yet the ritual endured" (William H. Hallahan).
1. Associated with or performed according to a rite or ritual: a priest's ritual garments; a ritual sacrifice.
2. Being part of an established routine: a ritual glass of milk before bed.