Spark a little mid-break motivation



image via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Motivation would be so dope. And, apparently, motivation can be derived by increasing your dopamine levels.

Smack in the middle of winter break, we’ve just finished the highlight of it for most of us: Christmas. That highlight comes at a cost sometimes. The buildup starts before Halloween, and for some it’s positive and merry-making, but for some it’s depressing and anxiety-producing for a variety of reasons.

For myself, it’s a mix. I am blessed beyond measure regarding my loved ones, but I am genetically predisposed to worry and overthink everything. With the main festivities out of the way and no expectation to go back to work for a week, I’ve allowed myself to wallow on the sofa a bit the past couple of days. One could say I deserve it, being a teacher and publications adviser who works crazy hours during the school year and never really stops thinking about deadlines and details. But on the other hand, wallowing begets wallowing. I see others online, too, who just need a lift.

So to the internet I went, in search of ways to raise dopamine levels, and I found this article from Endless Entertainment on the first shot. Glenn Santos writes of 10 Ways to Increase Dopamine to Boost Productivity. Just what I was looking for.

  1. Discover new things, Santos tells us. Well, I can vouch for that. Just searching for and finding the article gave me motivation to share this info. What does he mean by discovering new things, though? Santos suggests taking to the internet and exploring via Amazon or Pinterest, a couple of my personal favorites. He does warn against the addictive nature of those sites. But I’ve discovered such things as rock painting, bullet journaling, lettering, Zentangle and new authors and books, all of which I’ve at least tried, if not fallen in love with.
  2. List your small tasks. The logic here is that completing something, indeed, the act of marking the item off the list as complete, gives you that dopamine pump. So why list one item: “clean the kitchen”, which you may not be able to mark off for a couple hours, when you could list: empty dishwasher, load dishwasher, clean out fridge, wipe down counters & cabinets, sweep floor, mop floor … each swipe of the pencil (or check in a box) gives you a separate dopamine trigger. So if you really want to get the biggest advantage of this trick, do what I’ve always advised: the first thing on your list should always be: “make a list”. Done? Check.
  3. Listen to music. No brainer. What pumps you up? At what volume? Do it for you. It’s medicinal.
  4. Increase your tyrosine, a protein found in common foods.
    Green Tea
    Almond milk mocha latte with your scrambled eggs, avacado and banana breakfast? Or, heck, just a piece of chocolate about 3 p.m. That’s how I roll.
  5. Reduce your lipopolysaccharides. Your what? Well, if you’re increasing the good stuff, it makes sense to reduce the bad stuff. And don’t kid yourself. You know what the bad stuff is: fatty and sugary foods. They are toxins.
    One way to combat those, according to Santos, is a probiotic diet. He suggests yogurt, which I am familiar with, and kefir and kimchi, which I am not.
    I will, however, put in a shameless plug for Herbalife, and a supplement I can personally attest to: Florafiber. A caplet or two a day gives you fiber, calcium and lactobacillus acidophilus. Message me for details if you are interested.
  6. Exercise often. I hated typing that one. I have an ongoing battle with myself and my personal trainer son about exercise. Intellectually, I know that exercise does good things for me. I know that it not only releases dopamine, but serotonin as well. But, man, I find it hard to convince myself to exercise. This is something I need to work on.
  7. Establish a streak. Santos suggests keeping track of something so you can see progress. Under “new things” I mentioned bullet journaling, something I started last January (Look at me! Did something consistently for a whole year!). I love bullet journaling. It’s a planner, a journal, a sketchbook. It’s any combination in any way you want it to be. Yes, there are original guidelines on which the system is based, but the beauty is that the system is endlessly customizable. Some of the popular features most folks put in their bujos are trackers, graphic elements intended to track behaviors. Bujoers track water intake, exercise, weight loss, moods, housekeeping chores, making their beds and brushing their teeth. They track savings, paying off debt, social media analytics, days without soda or overspending. What would you like to track? Just tracking that I updated my bujo, that I had my Herbalife shakes and tabs, and those evenings I didn’t spend with TV helped me improve in those areas. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet helped me increase my blog posts or water intake. Always room for improvement. Check Pinterest, YouTube or Facebook for bullet journaling practitioners and get some ideas.
  8. Take dopamine enhancing supplements.
    Curcumin is found in turmeric, a spice used in curry dishes. But there are dozens of recipes on Pinterest using turmeric. I’ve tried it as a hot drink with cinnamon and honey in almond milk (meh.) and I actually loved it sprinkled on sweet potatoes, then roasted.
    Ginko Biloba is available over the counter.
    L-theanine is apparently available in great quantities in green tea.
  9. Make stuff. Love this one. Anyone with an artsy hobby can probably attest. If you’re doing something you love and you get in the zone, time flies by. Is it drawing? Painting? Photography? Crochet? Rebuilding motors? How about just coloring? Coloring has been found to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure in some people. It’s a soothing, repetitive task that produces a colorfully pleasing result.
  10. Meditate. Look into the proper way to meditate or just take an afternoon for ceiling time, as I put it. Uninterrupted time to just stare at the ceiling and let your mind wander, work things out, feel some feelings and work through why you’re feeling that way can be helpful. In addition, you can set goals and plan tasks to get there or visualize positive situations. I sometimes make up scenes for fiction I’m working on, work out plot details or flesh out character traits.

So is it meditating or is it wallowing? What is it I’ve been doing the past couple of days? The fact that I’m being productive means that it doesn’t matter what I call it.

What can you do to increase your dopamine levels? What can you do for you so that you can be more productive?

Whichever you choose, do it. You deserve to be happy and productive.


Wellness day for my spirit


I’ve taken a day off. I can do that, apparently. I was a good girl and didn’t take a sick day last semester, which has earned me a “wellness day.” I’ve decided to use it for wellness. I just decided this.

My day began with coffee and the laptop. I still can’t sleep late, so I was up by 6 a.m. and no one else was posting to Facebook yet, so I trekked on over to WordPress and took a look at my neglected Reader. Among other bloggers, I read John Pavlovitz’s blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said. In this post, he recognizes a descending darkness, a division and anger so many of us are experiencing, bitterness and hatred that are becoming commonplace. He encourages us to not sit back and be silent, but to be bold with truth, be bold with love, to love loud.

I can extrapolate and apply his thinking to my own little world. It’s this time of year, I often get frustrated. Springtime is popping up; the weather has been wonderful here in southwest Oklahoma compared to Februarys of the past. The crocus are blooming. I’ve been to a couple baseball games, and we’re winding the school year down to the final quarter. These things should make me happy, but they never fail to make me feel inadequate.

As I sat at the ballpark in a hoodie earlier in the week, I watched the pitcher strikeout another opponent, but my mind was wondering if we’ll have enough staffers to cover all the spring sports adequately, if my sports section even fully realize spring sports are moments from being in full swing because they are still trying to complete writing and design work for winter sports. This leads me to the fact that we are still short several spreads for the last deadline with another deadline around the corner, and no way I can see of getting another 50 pages finished in that timeframe. After I beat myself up about not being able to manage those tasks well enough, I shift over to newspaper and realize late night and the March issue deadline is just days away with not enough work completed as well. *beats self up some more.

When I woke at 5:30 a.m. on this day I took off so I could spend it any way I wanted, my mind immediately shifted into gear and started pointing fingers at all my other shortcomings as a teacher and adviser. Putting it in text makes me feel worse, so I won’t do that. I’m betting we all do this, so I feel nods of agreement even if I don’t go into detail.

However, Pavlovitz’s post has me wanting to squash the darkness, the negativity, even what I’ve self-generated, and love loud. I will fake positivity until the positivity is real.

What do you do when you need to lift yourself and others out of the negativity?

Free speech, free speech, free speech …


I feel like I’m in permanent PMS. But rather than this state of exaggerated frustration being brought on by hormones, it’s brought on by others practicing their right to free speech – no matter how mean, uneducated or bigoted.

I teach First Amendment, and I feel I understand it enough to do so, but with all the different opinions and misinformation floating about, it’s easy to forget that we ALL have this right, even the people many of us wish didn’t have the right:

The people who are cheering the Planned Parenthood shooting because babies lives will be saved – though three adult lives were taken and others were injured – have the right to do that, disgusting as it may be.

Wyatt Tilton, a former Newcastle police officer can, indeed, make a joke about Adacia Chambers doing Oklahoma State fans a favor. Of course, he is referencing her driving into their homecoming parade and killing people, so they didn’t have to experience the Bedlam loss. But he’s a real loser for doing so. I have a First Amendment right to call him a loser.

People who believe every Facebook meme they see and use them to judge and insult others have a right to do that, even though most of the time, those memes represent half-truths or even non-truths.

All I ask is this:

  1. Be nice to each other. Recognize that everyone has the right to free speech, and if you don’t want to hear what someone else is “speeching” about, unfollow them, leave the room, put in your earbuds. If your disagreement is REALLY strong, do some research and formulate a rebuttal that is free of insults and grammar and spelling errors (you want to be credible, right?). Then post that thing in your own space. Continue to recognize, though, that they had the right to say what they said.
  2. Educate yourself. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Understand how to tell the  difference between biased and unbiased sources, and how to identify those that are not remotely credible. Know who “they” is. I don’t know how many times I hear, “They said …” Well, who the heck is “they”? Know who and what you are talking about.
    When you hear that Trump wants Muslims to wear ID badges or that young, male, muscled Syrian refugees are arriving on U.S. beaches, go check it out, because both seem improbable. Try or
    Turns out Trump answered some reporters’ questions in a rather ambiguous way and his responses were taken out of context and plunked into a more specific context in the article. Yes, he’s in favor of a database, but he never said anything about or agreed to anything about ID badges.
    And those muscled refugees? That pic was taken in Australia in 2013. Syrian refugees would not come to the U.S. by sea. Took me less than 10 minutes to find this information.
    But still, what if some refugees DO have muscles? If a man is in pretty good shape, but his home is bombed or his life and the life of his family is threatened and he finds himself suddenly in refugee status, do those muscles melt away? Does he look like he’s starving the next day? Week? Even month or longer? You could just as easily suddenly find yourself in a bad way here and you can’t make your muscles go away so you’re a credible homeless person.
  3. Have some empathy. Understand that no one has control over what family they are born into or what nation they are born in. We fear what we do not understand (see No. 2). Most Christians do not understand Islam; and most Muslims do not understand Christianity, but both are quick to condemn the other, and quite often based on extremist behavior. Muslims judge the Christian west based on what they see on American TV. Think about that for a minute. What would YOU think of us?
    We do the same. Christians judge Muslims on what they see ISIS doing. ISIS is a small (but horribly violent) segment of Islam, not the general population of Muslims. Philip Yancy wrote a post that I found interesting, and it helped me understand some of the differences, even among Muslim countries.

    It’s not so different between various cultures that thrive here in the U.S. The average individual doesn’t really understand that someone else’s experience in the same country, in the same city, in the same school, can be vastly different from their own. Open your eyes and try to understand others. Not everyone has electronic devices, a nice car, plenty of clothing for all the seasons, or shoes that fit, the opportunity to go to the doctor when needed. Not everyone has a home with furniture, with heat and water, with food in the cabinets. Not everyone has a mom and a dad in the same house. Some live with one or the other. Some live with a grandparent or two. Some live with other relatives or even foster parents. There are those who live with two moms or two dads or with friends because they have no one else. There are lonely kids out there who don’t live anywhere. Not everyone’s experience is the same, but each experience is valid and real. Accept other people’s reality. Help if they need help, but don’t condemn someone for not having the same experience as you, whether because of an economic, racial, religious or other artificial divide.

Freedom of speech is powerful, but it is wielded much too carelessly, especially here in the digital age.

I wish I could give everyone who posts or speaks thoughtlessly that long, uncomfortable teacher/mom stare that makes you (quickly) reflect on what you’ve done, what was right or wrong about it, how it will affect others, how you can make it up to someone you’ve hurt and how you’ll consider all of that before you post/speak next time. Honest.

But that’s not the way it is, and the problem is much too vast. All I can ask is that you, who are reading this, join me in trying to use the power of the freedom of speech responsibly and set a good example for others to follow.

Be nice.

Educate yourself.

Have some empathy.

Suicide Awareness: Sharing some stories

Seems several books I’ve read lately, a movie I stumbled upon last weekend and an article shared with me by a student yesterday all have to do with suicide. I just looked it up, and Suicide Awareness month was September, but should we really lose focus the rest of the year? No. I work with teenagers, and this morning it just feels like there is a reason it’s all come at me in this short span of time.

I won’t spend a lot of time saying what needs to be said more often: suicide is too final. Those contemplating suicide are likely experiencing a narrowed focus, where options appear more limited than they are. This is why folks say to talk to someone. The someones – the right someones – can help you widen the perspective, help you see things from a different point of view and realize that there is more to this life than you are presently capable of seeing. You might have to go through a few someones to find the right someones, but life is worth doing that.

I’ve reviewed a couple books I’ve read recently that skillfully point these truths out: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga, and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Last weekend’s movie was About Alex, a movie that didn’t get great reviews, but I found it to have that ring of truth about friends and the ups and downs they go through. These guys and girls met at college and come back together for a few days to try to help their friend Alex, who is going through some stuff, so their shenanigans are college level and beyond.

Having been a teenager once upon a time and having had a teenager share this article with me yesterday about surviving suicide, as she mentioned having had a friend go through something similar, I know for a fact that it’s something many teens face in one way or another, and it just doesn’t do to sweep it all under the rug. Teens, anyone, need to feel the emotions, experience what they can through other people’s stories, be they real or fictional (who are quite often based on actual), in order to come as close as possible to experiencing without the actuality of experiencing, because suicide is just too final.

Connecting with students through books

In the last year and a half I’ve probably read 25 novels in addition to seven or eight teaching or other non-fiction books. Hey, for someone who puts in as many hours teaching, planning and reading about teaching and planning as I do, that’s pretty good. Earlier in my career, I treated reading fiction like dessert. You know, “No dessert until you’ve cleaned your plate!” In teaching, there’s almost no way to “clean your plate.” There’s always another stack of papers to grade or give feedback on; there’s always another lesson to plan or tweak. As a yearbook and newspaper adviser, there’s always a late night or work Saturday to prepare for, a glitch in the production system to work out, a computer that won’t load InDesign correctly or a camera with an error code. There is always Something.  Thus, I rarely read a book for the fun of it.

However, since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer, the kind whose name appears on the cover of novels. I decided that reading the kind of writing I wanted to do was simply homework. Last year I began to read at bedtime, and as I got further into the book, it would take more and more of my time. When I finished it, I’d have another – and another. I overheard students talking about certain books, and I’d be able to say, “Oh, that’s a good book. Hey have you read ——-?” I remember hanging out with a couple of my news staffers talking about books for over an hour after school one day. We daydreamed about my sponsoring a book club. But, really, none of us had the time. We all felt that connection, though.

Even in my other classes where I didn’t know the kids as well, I’d be able to walk by a desk, flip a cover up, and say, “Mmmm, good book.” They’d look up at me in surprise. Sometimes I’d recommend another similar book. I had yearbook staffers loan me books – like “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I had kids in class who enjoyed reading while I was teaching. Of course, this is a no-no, and I’d have to tell them to put it away, but after class I’d ask them about their book and we’d chat a bit. I’d see them in the hall the next year and ask if they’d read any good books and we’d have a quick book chat. What a way to connect, huh?

My news staff did a feature double truck on reading last year, and they let me do a guest book review. I wrote it over Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” Great book. The editor reviewed “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” She wrote it so well that I was curious enough to read it over the summer.

This year, a couple weeks before schools started, I was given a new class to teach: Reading for Fun. For the most part, I have kids who read at all different levels, enjoying several different genres. I ask them to keep a reading log in Google Docs and note their progress a couple times a week. Then, at the end of the book, they can write a review, analyze a character, sketch a scene, create a vocabulary list. There is a huge list to choose from that I gathered from sites provided by my PLN. A couple of the kids came up with ideas of their own. One designed a book cover in PhotoShop for a piece of fan fiction he read. Another wrote a script for one of the scenes in her book. She and a couple other students are considering finding an audio recording app so they can record them reading it, then save it as a file.

I love reading and lots of students do too. It’s one way I connect. When that doesn’t work, there is always chocolate or that last stick of gum.

Active vs. passive learning

One of the changes I am trying to incorporate in my narrative-feedback-instead-of grades classes (NFIG) this year is allowing the students to seek knowledge instead of having me serve it up via lecture/slides/notes the way I have in the past. Frankly, I believe that I try to be a good lecturer, using that method as little as possible and keeping it varied, interesting and informative.

Nevertheless, I’m still being the sage on the stage, no matter how entertaining. And, frankly, it’s often exhausting. Even if I’m entertaining, the kids are still on the passive end of the learning. And after reading ROLE Reversal, I saw that that needed to change.

Flipping the learning

Taking an idea from Mark Barnes’s book, I used a lesson for my Intro to Journalism students, one in which we learn about news elements, and I flipped it. I explained briefly what news elements were – elements that make news, news. Not all stories qualify as news. We read newspapers and talked about the stories and what drew us to them. Throwing those words on the board headed us in the right direction. But the set of “news elements” is what we needed to round up and define. I told the classes that depending on which text you read or what slide presentation or PDF document you find online from a journalism class or teacher, this set of news elements will vary. Some say there are seven, some say eight, some say 10. Their task, then, instead of watching my slide presentation and taking notes or taking notes from my very good textbook, Inside Reporting, by Tim Harrower, was to find the news elements themselves. I grouped them into threes and fours and had them use whatever means they wished: phones, computers, those cool textbooks. As a group, they were to discover what the common list of news elements was, and define the terms they had decided upon. I gave each group a sheet of blank 11X17 and access to colored pencils and markers so that they could posterize their list and definitions.

Near the end of the hour, I started with one group, putting their terms on the board and having others from the group define it for the class. I moved to the next group and did the same. In some cases, they had a common term. In some cases, they had a different word, but we decided it was the same as one on the board. For example, first group said “immediacy” and second group said “timeliness”. Same thing. Sometimes another group would come up with a term that the first groups hadn’t. An occasional term was a similar topic but not an element of news, so we discussed how that didn’t fit like the others did, though it was relevant in a different way.

After all the terms were on the board, including the duplicates by another name, we decided as a class which ones would make up our list.

Creating artifacts for portfolios

Unfortunately, we ran out of time and will have to continue this next week. I plan to have students create their finalized list of terms in some form to help them remember. They can create their own slide presentation in Google slides or PowerPoint; they can create a digital poster in Smore or another app, digital flashcards or some other creation. The creation will help in retaining the information, as well as be a resource for later. They can save the artifact in their Google portfolio folder for referencing later on, and it serves for meeting both a vocabulary standard and a technology standard. When they begin reflecting on standards to assess their learning for the quarter, they can reference this to back up what they learned and the request for the grade they believe is reflective of their learning.

Reflecting on what needs improvement

Now, a few things did not go as well as I’d wished. While about half or more of the groups were so anxious to get to the searching that they had a hard time listening for all the instructions (that darn sage on the stage wouldn’t stop talking), and they did just what I had hoped, a couple groups did struggle. I noticed one group not talking to each other. They seemed to be researching independently, as if they were going to compare notes after a brief time, so I let them be for a bit. Another group was crowded around one of the journalism lab’s iMacs, and appeared to be quite focused – and they were, just not on the right thing. When I checked in on them, one said, “we found our story.” Indeed, they’d found an interesting news story, one I’d have filed under “oddity” if I were filing under news elements. But that wasn’t the assignment. The main spokesman hadn’t understood the assignment, but hadn’t sought to clarify. The others didn’t think he was looking for the right thing, but were largely hesitant to bring up that point. I think one girl had said as much, but no one paid attention, so they continued reading the odd story. I restated the assignment, and I discussed how, as a group, each has a responsibility to make sure the work is on track and that each is being held accountable.

Heading back to the independent studies group, I saw that they were still studying independently. One had a laptop and was jotting down the elements she was discovering. But the others were not sure what they were supposed to be doing so were using their phones for a variety of things, some related to the assignment, some not. They were, however, not collaborating at all. So I talked about collaboration, how they needed to talk to each other, compare what they were finding, make decisions together and share tasks. They really struggled with this and the awkwardness was palpable.

I need to figure out how to teach collaboration. I need to differentiate a bit between my two sections because one works well with collaboration, and one does not. I shouldn’t let them off the hook of talking to people; I just need to figure out how to help them ease into it in a way that doesn’t make them too uncomfortable.

Have you considered flipping your teaching so that students are responsible for gathering their info? How would that look in your classroom? And if you have students who are hesitant to work with others, how do you handle it? Comment, and let’s get a conversation started.

Red light, green light

Traffic Light by Grendelkhan via Flicker  CC BY-SA 2.0

Traffic Light by Grendelkhan via Flicker CC BY-SA 2.0

Last week I posted about my plan to use narrative feedback in my classroom instead of grades. I also confessed that even though I’d planned and planned – and had the lengthy blog post with details to prove it – I was afraid to approach my principal about actually putting it into action.

Looking back, I see the slow, methodical process of all that reading and diving into Twitter chats, and even emailing those I felt had it down, to figure out what parts of everyone’s strategies would work best for me and mine as a kind of a slow, yellow light sort of a deal, minus the slapping the steering wheel in frustration.

Or was there a metaphorical slapping of the steering wheel? I had my ideas. I liked my ideas. I envisioned my ideas mostly working. But I slapped that steering wheel out of frustration at hitting a red light.

Funny thing is, it was me red-lighting myself. I lacked the confidence to ask my principal if I could try this new-fangled way of getting kids to want to learn for learning’s sake. They are so accustomed to racking up points or keeping that GPA in the spectrum that won’t lose them their phone for a month. Any time I’ve had a “what if we didn’t do grades?” conversation with a co-worker, it’s been met with skepticism. But I have had to remind myself that they haven’t read and joined conversations on the subject like I have. I had no faith that my principal was in the loop on the subject, either. For years, even before this principal, we were under a mandate of a particular number of grades per week. We were training students to rack up points. Thus, we were frustrated – but not surprised – when students would ask, “How many points is this worth?” or “Is this for a grade?”

There had to be a better way.

And there is.

After red-lighting myself for a week, I decided it was time to look both ways and prepare to go forward. I told him that students do better when they are empowered, when they have some control and choice about what they are doing. He agreed. I told him I planned to involve them in adjusting the standards, putting them into more familiar language so that they could use them in reflection about their own work. He nodded. I went on about providing narrative feedback, allowing students to continue improving work, learning as they go, improving skills as they go. He was still positive. Then I put it more clearly. I felt it was possible to put this narrative feedback into the online gradebook instead of grades. I inwardly winced, waiting for the hesitation and backpedaling. It didn’t happen. He told me this was the direction he had been wanting to go, but that HE expected opposition from many teachers who were used to doing things the other way. Wow.

He provided his version of the example I’d been using: It doesn’t seem fair that while Junior is learning something new, he makes a 60 the first time, works more at it, scoring an 80 next, but at test time, he’s got it – scores 100. Shouldn’t he get 100, instead of an average of the entire time he was learning it? Eureka! Yes! The light was about to change to green.

I told him students and I would conference together; they would provide evidence for the grade they thought they deserved, looking at the standards as guides, and he was OK with that. I didn’t even get to the part about the eportfolios.

He was somewhat concerned about pushback from parents. I assured him that I would make contact and receive responses from all parents.

His next concern was eligibility. In order to be eligible for sports or other extracurricular activities, students have to keep grades up. With no grades, there’d be no way to tell if a student should, perhaps, be pulled from participation. And, while I’m optimistic about this plan increasing student involvement, I don’t think it will necessarily save everyone. There may still be students resistant to doing anything. He was OK with my agreeing to simply watch for these, conference with any students who really are not working at a level they should be and eventually contacting parents and those in charge of the ineligibility list, if necessary.

With those items settled, he and I are both looking forward to seeing how this works out, so that next year other teachers may be ready to try something similar.

I’ve got a green light, and now it’s time to get my details in order. I have a week and a half before I meet my students and blow their minds.