Archive for the ‘Behavior’ Category

Goals, Met & Unmet

For the last few years I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Not that I need to be challenged to read, as I usually enjoy it, but after a multi-year spell of not doing much reading other than for graduate school & dissertation work, it was fun to do in order to get back on the bike and I guess I’ve just kept doing it out of habit.

Back in January I set a goal of reading 30 books in 2018. Seemed a bit of a lofty number, but after handily blowing past my 2016 and 2017 goals of 12 and 15 books (respectively), I thought it appropriate to set the bar a bit higher. Additionally, I decided to set a modest goal of running 300 miles in 2018. I’d done it before, but in the ensuing years my running had really fallen off as I focused my fitness regimen more on weightlifting. I figured this would be the impetus I needed to get back into it and better balance my approach to physical fitness.

So How’d I Do?

So let’s start with the good news: the reading challenge went well, aided undoubtedly by the hours I spend commuting and my Audible subscription and multiple library memberships. As of now, I have completed 53 books in 2018, and I am on track to finish at least one more in the next day or so. I always say I’m going to do a post about my favorite books of the year and I never do; I plan to change that this year and hopefully get a New Year’s Day post up about that.

The running challenge was not quite as successful, but at the risk of soft-peddling it, I will say that I gained some valuable insight from my failure to reach that goal. As of today I have 195 miles under my belt in 2018 and with a week left, I will definitely top 200 – still well short of my original goal. I realized something, though, sometime in the early fall: from the start of the year, I had aimed to run 3.1 miles (5K) twice per week, but for some reason, I just wasn’t able to fit that into my week along with after work commitments and my lifting schedule. As a result, I only ran once per week for most of the first eight months of the year.

Once school started in September, I reassessed my goals for running – why do I run at all? For me, it’s not about training to go longer distances, but really just as cardio for healthier living and to support my weightlifting. I used 3.1 miles as a convenient way to think about how much I wanted to run, but since mileage wasn’t really a specific training goal, did it really matter if I ran 3.1 miles every time I ran?

I got the bright idea that instead of focusing on mileage, I was going to focus on time – after all, I was not trying to increase mileage for marathon training, I just wanted to burn some more calories. I started limiting my runs to 30 minutes, and however far I ran, that’s how far I ran. To my great surprise, I found myself much more committed to maintaining that twice weekly running schedule alongside my lifting, and my monthly mileage jumped as a result! January-June I was doing 12-15 miles/month. July I totally fell off (the less said about that, the better), I had a slight increase in August (taking advantage of treadmills in the air-conditioned gym on our cruise ship), and from September on I have been closer to 24-25 miles per month.

Call it purely psychological, call it wimping out from running the full 5K twice per week, I don’t care. I may have fallen short of the goal this year, but I learned something valuable about myself and how I best work toward this particular goal. If I keep this pace up, I will have no problem hitting 300 miles in 2019, but more importantly, I’m seeing the health and aesthetic benefits I was really looking for all along (looking leaner, lower resting heart rate). It’s not necessarily the number of miles I ran in a single session that mattered, but the overall volume of work done, and if I had to ‘chunk’ it to smaller individual doses to do more overall, then so be it.

I hate sounding like a cliche or a bumper sticker, but my failure to hit this particular goal by doing things the way I used to do them really did result in me learning more about myself, my purpose, and what works for me, and subsequently, how to better achieve the results I wanted. In this instance, I really was able to ‘fail forward’.

Do Break the Chain

The summer I wrote my dissertation, I posted here about a productivity strategy called Don’t Break the Chain.  Click the link for the backstory, but the gist of it is that it’s easier to maintain a habit if you keep at it – even for a little bit – every day, and monitor your progress visually (e.g., Xing off days on a calendar).

The good news is that it worked for me to help me get the last two chapters of that dissertation drafted and finalized over the months of July and August.  The bad news is that is also works in reverse – I’ve now maintained a chain of 143 days uninterrupted by blogging.  This is not a trend I’m proud of; in fact, it’s the longest break between blog posts I’ve had since I started blogging in the summer of 2007.

It’s been bothering me that I haven’t found the capacity to sit with my thoughts and write, especially since I’ve spoken time and time again about how therapeutic and valuable I find writing, I guess just not enough to actually force me to sit down and do it.

Enter Christina Torresblog post in my RSS reader earlier today.  Who knows how and why circumstances come together the way they do, but she wrote just what I needed to read at the time I needed to read it.  Rather than try to sit down, gather my thoughts, and put together a coherent, “like-and-fave-worthy” statement of profound educational import, I’m taking the advice I gave students for however many years (and the message I took from Christina’s post) – just write.  And I’m not doing it sat in my office, or in my living room, or some other “writer-friendly” space – I’m banging this out standing in my kitchen, dripping wet after a run, just to get the words on the page.

It’s my hope that by breaking the chain of bloglessness (?), I can kickstart whatever reflective and creative juices have powered my writing for as many years as they have.  It’s something I’ve done here before – a quickie post, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, just to get myself back on the horse.  It’s worked in the past; let’s see if it takes this time.

Thanks, Christina.  Just goes to show you never know the impact your thoughts and ideas – whether they’re blogged, tweeted, podcasted, or simply shared face-to-face between colleagues and friends – can have on another person, and it’s yet another reason why I’m not ready to give up on Twitter for one aspect – albeit an important one – of my professional learning, despite the increasingly unmanageable signal to noise ratio.

Resolving to Set Goals for 2018

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I don’t buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  I find January a completely arbitrary time to change behaviors; after all, if you feel strongly enough about a habit or behavior to want to change it, why wait til January 1?

BUT, despite my obnoxious killjoy contrarian leanings, I’m not entirely immune to popular sentiment and I can acknowledge that a calendar year is a perfectly serviceable frame of reference for goal-setting (certainly no more or less arbitrary than school years, no?).  While you won’t find me resolving to exercise regularly (I already lift weights 3-5x/week and run 2x/week, without fail, barring illness or injury) or read more (I read 67 books in 2017; more on these in an upcoming post), I did decide to set some concrete goals in those areas for the coming year.

At Runkeeper‘s insistence, I set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018.  I set similar goals in 2012 (as I recuperated from hip surgery) and 2013 (read about that here).  I readily acknowledge that 300 miles in a year is really not a huge milestone (it averages out to a little under 6 miles a week for 52 weeks), but as I mentioned above, my fitness priority is on weightlifting.  With only so many evenings in a week, if I’m lifting 3-5x/week, that leaves only so much time for running.

Goodreads issued its 8th annual Reading Challenge today, and, like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I had to take the bait.  I upped the ante a bit for 2018, my third year participating in the challenge.  I committed to reading 30 books this year, twice my 2017 commitment but still well within my reach.

So if I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, why did I commit to these two goals on New Year’s Day?  Because it’s not about New Year’s.  It’s about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable (oh, you know the rest) in order to stimulate growth or progress.  I enjoy both reading and running and would likely engage in both activities with or without a specific goal, but it’s also an added bit of extrinsic motivation for when the intrinsic motivation is lacking a bit.

Along these lines, one of the 30 books I will read this year will be done along with my friends and colleagues at work.  A small group of high school assistant principals and instructional supervisors are reading The New American High School, the last book written by Ted Sizer and published posthumously.  Starting next week, we’ll be meeting weekly to discuss, and if it’s half as valuable as the last professional book club in which I participated, it’ll be time very well spent.

Lighting Fires is Easy…

…but keeping them burning?  That’s a whole ‘nother matter.

My friend & colleague Jessica Cincotta blogged last week about the professional reading groups in which she and I have participated this year.  Read her post for the details, but the “quick n’ dirty” is that Jessica and I actually participated in two groups over the course of the school year – a year-long, monthly group with our other friend & colleague Yvette Panasowich, and a six-week book study over the course of April and May that was just the two of us.  Below are some of my thoughts on why this worked (read: was sustainable throughout the whole year in spite of the many potential “time sucks” and other obligations conspiring against us) when so many other well-meaning initiatives fizzle out.

We initiated these groups.  This idea was borne out of an activity during another (unrelated) PD session we were in together, and while I wish there was a more eloquent way of saying it, once the idea was out there, we kind of just took the ball and ran with it.  We chose reading material that interested us; nobody told us that we were to participate in professional reading groups this year, and nobody assigned us particular readings.  It was all self-generated, which leads nicely into the next point.

We owned the schedule and held each other accountable.  It would have been very easy to give lip service to the idea in the original PD meeting, then have it float away with all the other good ideas anyone’s ever had but never got around to implementing the minute we walked out the door.  Before we left, however, we figured out a schedule (the group we did with Yvette met the last Wednesday of the month at 2:30pm; the book study I did with Jessica met weekly on Fridays, also at 2:30pm) and put it on our all-important Outlook calendars.  We didn’t have time, we made time.

As the weeks and months progressed, we would email each other periodically to confirm that we were all still on for the upcoming get-togethers.  While life did intrude from time to time that either required delays or re-schedules, I don’t think we’ve missed or skipped any of our monthly reading group meetings this year (maybe one out of ten, if that?) and only one of the book study meetings (that was due to a true emergency, and we caught up the following week).  It probably didn’t hurt that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company as well, but even so, the discussions easily could have devolved into socializing sessions if not for one thing:

We found value in the task.  As Jessica details in her post, we found value in discussing the articles and book chapters, not only for our own professional learning and reflecting on our own practice, but also in our role as teacher evaluators.  Like Jessica, I also found myself referencing things we read in my discussions with my teacher and administrator colleagues more and more frequently.  The best professional learning experiences have direct implications and impact on one’s practice, and I feel that the experiences I had with Yvette and Jessica this year definitely impacted my practice for the better.

Next up is a summer reading group of four administrators, in which we’ll be reading a different book, and then the plan for 2017-2018 is to continue with the monthly reading groups (primarily articles from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine) while doing one book study in the fall and one in the spring.

I read a ton, and most of the books I read are about education. While I enjoy the act of solitary reading, it’s also nice to be able to bounce my thoughts about what I’ve read off someone else.  In the case of the makeup of our reading group, I think we struck a nice balance between similarities (all administrators in the same district so we have a similar contextual basis for discussion; all have secondary ed experience and/or focus in our current positions) and differences (1 building administrator, 2 instructional supervisors; 2 women, 1 man; a high school assistant principal, a 7-12 math/science supervisor, and a K-12 technology/arts supervisor; teaching backgrounds too varied to list).  Having a variety of viewpoints made the discussions valuable and thought-provoking beyond the written content.

This has been one of the more valuable professional learning experiences of my career (mirroring, in many ways, what first attracted me to the burgeoning education community on Twitter ten years ago), and it’s a practice I hope to continue – to one extent or another – throughout my career.

Sound, Fury, & Navel Gazing

Ever since I discovered blogging back in 2006ish or so – and even more so since I started this one in 2007 – I’ve been a vocal proponent for the power of blogging as a reflective tool.  Why, then, am I having such difficulty putting metaphorical pen to paper?

The month since my last post has been busier than usual, and only in the last week or so have things eased up a bit, both personally and professionally.  I try to keep myself to the blogging schedule I set for myself back in December 2008, and I’ve been fairly successful.  While I have a growing list of “to blog about” topics in my Evernote, the motivation to do so has been scarce when it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open after dinner most nights.  The few times I have sat myself down in front of the screen with the intention to write, I’ve more often than not ended up staring at a blank white screen until I simply decided not to stare at it any longer.


If blogging for the last 8+ years has taught me anything, it’s that writer’s block is usually temporary, and that sometimes all I need to knock the cobwebs off is to push out a quickie post like this one, almost as a statement of purpose or resolve or something – even as a pseudo-cognitive-behavioral approach to getting back into the writing groove.  I don’t know why it works, just that it usually does.  So here’s hoping this is sufficient to get me going again.

If you have any tips or tricks for overcoming blogging ennui, please share!