When Did Warm and Fuzzy Become a Bad Thing?

So here I am, adrenalized by the exciting environs here at ISTE 2014. 40, 000 people are engaging on the #ISTE2014 hashtag.  The banquet caterer here at the GWCC is likely experiencing challenges beyond all belief trying to feed tens of thousands of hungry educators.  As I fill my bucket with each passing moment, whether it is from a cool tweet I read, a new blog I find, a great panel I hear- I am truly a seedling in a hotbed of tropic intensity.

But with all this passionate, positive energy around me, I was struck this morning by a concept that is really troubling me.  It is blatantly obvious that the term “warm and fuzzy” has become a taboo dirty word in our world.

When did this shift happen and my goodness, why?  When I hear someone say that something is warm and fuzzy, there is a snarling distaste with which the words are spoken.

For most of my early years in education, these two words were rarely used to describe me- abrasive and tough were more likely to be used.  But I have certainly warmed up, and I am proud to be this way.  As most excellent educators know, strong relationships are at the center of anything successful in our world.  Warmth, empathy, and genuity are qualities that breed success and help us overcome struggle, failure, and conflict in all areas of our lives. In fact, isn’t our first and most powerful instinct as neophytes to seek warmth, connection, and the touch of our parents?

So I wonder if people who growl the term warm and fuzzy either lack these qualities and speak the words with disdain due to resentment or do people really believe that learning, achievement, growth, and success are diametrically opposed to warmth and fuzziness in the classroom? Do people think that we can’t have rigor and learning if there is too much warmth, too close a rapport, too much focus on the children as human beings who needs to feel love, safety, comfort, and connection?

Sitting in the room with Angela Maiers, Drew Minock, Brad Waid, Todd Nesloney and Steve Mesler today during the #YouMatter panel discussion, at a table with 4 of my new colleagues at Davis Academy who are passionate, student-centered, relationship-oriented talented educators, and reflecting on the best educators I have ever been around- I fully affirm that great learning never happens without warmth and fuzziness.  Warmth is comfort- fuziness makes us smile from the tickled feeling we experience when touched by it.

I encourage all who read this to embrace the warm fuzziness in your process and unabashedly share it with your students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members.

And the next time someone uses the term with a negatively charged tone, grab them, give them a hug, tell them they matter for something very specific and significant.  Watch them smile- then ask them if being warm and fuzzy is such a bad thing.




Parables of Zero

Once upon a time, in a vibrant city far, far away, there lived a man named Svenson.  Svenson was a skilled technologist who thrived when he was called on by his boss to work on building applications for IPads.  Nothing got Svenson out of bed in the morning quicker than a reminder from his IPhone calendar that on that particular day, he would be creating such applications.   While he was equally skilled in all other areas of technology, his motivation to work in those other areas was far less than the application building process.

One day, Svenson told his boss that he didn’t want to work on projects other than the apps, and that it would be okay for his boss to not pay him- to give him zero dollars, on the days he didn’t show up to work, but that he would show up on app building days, for which he would be paid according to the merit his work deserved- usually very high merit- top of his field even.

Across the world, professional basketball player Grant, a towering 7’2 inside presence on the court, after dominating all season in his league, where he is the biggest player, decided that he didn’t want to play in games where the other team had a player his size to contend with him.  He enjoyed the success of dominating smaller players, and didn’t really want to have to grow his game and learn to play against other big athletes.  So he arranged with his coach that he would get paid when he plays, and again, it would all be merit pay, but on games he took off, he would get zero dollars.  If he played in a game, but decided he didn’t want to finish at half-time, the team would pay him 50% of his salary for that game.

Finally, up in New York, Ashley was getting ready to star in her first Broadway play.  She was very excited because it allowed her to sing and dance jazz style, which was her preference.  But she also really enjoyed playing tennis, so she told her director that she would only do 1 or 2 shows a week. She was fine with not getting paid on those days- taking zero dollars, and getting paid only when she reported to work and performed in the play.   If she decided to leave after the first half of the play, she would only get 50% of her pay.

Of course, none of these scenarios would ever last very long, so why do we continue to allow students to “take the zero” on work/ assignments that they merely don’t want to do, don’t feel comfortable with, or would prefer doing something else instead? Why do we give them 50% on work for which they only attempt to complete half of what is required?

If we would rarely tolerate even the most gifted people in a particular field to work this way, why do we send a message to kids that it is okay by giving them the opt out of taking the zero or half credit?


My Summer LS

While my pen has been idle these past weeks, my mind, body, and soul have been quite the opposite.  We have moved to our farm ( from ¼ acre to 4 acres is quite the jump) and grown our flock (from 2 chickens & a dog, to 8 chickens, 2 goats, and a mini-donkey named Sven- a name that makes the presence of Frozen in our lives far more permanent than I would prefer). Further, I have started my new professional journey in a place that already feels so much more like home than others (DF told me I was coming home- he was right), with so many like-minded educators, in a culture that is growth-minded like no other that I have ever seen.

It has often been said that change is hard.  This one wasn’t.  Does cutting 4 foot high growth in broken pasture require a skill and resolve I am only now developing? Sure.  Does training a mini donkey require archetypal patience that raising two young children has nurtured? It sure does (the term stubborn ass is well-deserved). Do goats and chickens poop more than we could have ever imagined- still coming to grips with this one.

So while this has been my home life for the past 6 weeks, my professional life in recent weeks has been an immersion into a culture that lives Dweckian dogma.  I have already been part of an 18 person pilgrimage to Memphis for three days of learning at The Martin Institute.  At the end of this week, I will join over 50,000 professionals who will be descending on Atlanta for the ISTE 2014 conference.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I am a little intimidated by the size of this conference.  Nevertheless, I am incredibly excited about the learning I will experience, once again with a group of colleagues learning with me.

So what is the point of my blog this time around other than to seemingly provide an update?

Briefly before I get to the answer, Rachel asks me every day when I get home and change into my messy clothes:

“How do you have so much energy to go out and work after a full day at school?”

At first, I thought it was an obsessive sense of responsibility to take care of our property and the animals. But after reflecting on this question for a few days, I realized that element really only represents a small part of it.  The major reason why is that I genuinely feel so alive again-I have derived such energy from the learning, challenges, adventures, novelty, movement/physical work, and experience of being amongst such an energetic team of learners and educators, that is has invigorated me in all parts of my life. Further, the reciprocity of the invigoration that I feel from working on our farm has likewise influenced my professional experience.  I have energy, clarity, focus, and a positive hop in my gait.

So as I sit at my new desk, preparing to dive back into the middle school schedule for next year (something I actually really love to do- it is like a puzzle), I am happy to have gotten some thoughts on paper.  What has come out is exactly what I genuinely feel- We excitedly pursued a vision for our family, and it has been a terrific challenge that has already helped us grow and learn so much about ourselves and about our process.

Taking risks, embracing change, taking time to reflect, making plans for the future, learning from successes & failures, and joining a genuinely passionate community of learners in a school where my children and wife will likewise be an embraced part of a vibrant Kehila (community) represent my summer learning series experience.

Ultimately, we are all entitled to an opportunity to pursue our vision, our dreams.  We are also entitled to allow those to be dynamic and ever-changing.  Hard-working, passionate, good people should never allow someone else, or circumstances prevent them from pursuing happiness, however happiness is defined for different people.  For me, growing, learning, living, tackling challenges with my family by my side, and amongst other like-minded people- that is what makes me happy. And I reserve the right to change that definition if I feel the need to do so.

For many years, I taught the book My Antonia by Willa Cather.  As I write this morning, not sure even if this is a piece I will share, I keep thinking about that part of the book at the beginning when Jim Burden is sitting in the garden for the first time, taking in all the majestic pastorality of it:

“The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
― Willa CatherMy Antonia

At home and at school, I too, feel part of something entire.