Cambridge Week 3: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton

A “bridge” letter from my present day self to my future dr. self 🙂

June 25, 2018 or as they write in England 25.6.18

Dear Dr. Teston,

This is your third week in Cambridge. You have been writing postcards to everyone except me. I have been waiting patiently to hear form you. I notice that you have been observing, listening, writing, reading (and more reading), questioning, talking, thinking. Sometimes the articles you read sound like a different language, the language of PhD.

While you are studying teaching about teaching and learning about teaching, you are also analyzing coaching. I have noticed from your pictures that you keep running into bridges as you journey through England. Bridges in Cambridge, London, Oxford…there is a metaphor here that needs exploration.

What role do you play in bridging the gap between theory and practice? Who will listen? You often feel that you are trying to break down walls. You are stuck between two worlds…so why not just build a bridge? Not everyone will want to travel on your bridge. Not everyone will agree. Many will stay on one side or the other. But what if your bridge helps others. As Martina McBride sings… “build it anyway”.

Bridge from Student to Teacher: You are so blessed to have this time to watch new teachers joining the profession. You are surrounded by palettes and canvases already painting a picture of their future teaching. As an adjunct, you get to help form their definitions of literacy. As an educator, you could become their future employer.

Bridge from Pre-Service Coaching in Cambridge to Pre-Service Coaching at Home: So your brain is racing. How can you keep the momentum for coaching moving forward? They have been receiving coaching during the summer…why stop? Can you build a bridge between this experience and their next field experience? What would this look like? What model could be created? Would they want the support? Are current coaches willing to support them? Work on this…

Bridge from Pre-Service Coaching to Inservice Coaching: I know you already want to go to their graduation! You want to watch them enter into their first jobs! Since they have had such a positive coaching experience, can the bridge you build in field experience translate to coaching new teachers? Why do we always take a mentoring stance with new teachers? Follow their journey…maybe longitudinally???

Bridge from Teacher to Peer Coach – You know, while you are thinking so hard over there, why don’t you add a new component to your coaching institute? Not everyone has to leave the classroom to coach, you know. Why don’t you create a Peer Coaching Institute within the Summer Cadre. Full time coaches and teachers who want to peer coach from the classroom could learn side by side—they could even support the new teachers!

Bridge from Mrs. Teston to Dr. Teston – Get to work. Put on your hard hat. You have a lot of learning to do and ideas to implement and bridges to build.

With Love,

Mellissa

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Cambridge Week 2: “Common sense is what tells us the Earth is flat.” – Albert Einstein

I have become a flat earther. I can’t believe it actually happened. For years I resisted. I have protested. I have finally succumbed to the pressure.

Since June 7, my Fitbit has registered over 224,000 steps. In order to travel across Cambridge you either walk, walk to a bus, walk away from a bus, walk away from bikers , walk to eat, walk to shop, walk…walk…walk.

If you know me, I am a lover of shoes. Heels to be honest. Stilettos to be precisely accurate. I love all things tall, sexy, and elegant. There is no way on this green, round, blue marble can I navigate Cambridge in my usual stock of height enhancing footwear. Cobblestone is a beautiful footprint of the history of this town, but a dangerous threat to the 120 mm sculpted heel.

No one believed it could be done- this conversion of a heel obsessed city girl to a legging wearing, flat earther. As I packed for this trip, I promised I would not bring one pair of heels. I actually went into my closet and explained to my most loyal pairs, with great guilt, they would not be allowed on the trip. As I loaded the suitcase with layers of clothes, I would add shoes, weigh the bag, remove shoes, weigh the bag…until finally I decided to bring an extra bag for the shoes.

Sigh…

I admit now, that the decision to part ways with my wedges, platforms, pumps, peep toes and stilettos was excruciating. But 224,000 steps later (110 miles but who is counting) my tootsies are grateful.

So who made the cut? Converse, Asics, Tory Burch, sandals, duck boots and ballerina flats in blue, black and nude. My shoe family at home is waiting patiently for my return. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw ” Hi! I am not here right now. But my shoes are. Leave them a message!”

I will be a flat earther until July 7. At that time, I will board the Chunnel with my hubby and head to Paris, where I may or may not stop into Christopher Louboutin’s and add a new VIP member to the team (my first pair). At that moment, my flat earther membership will be revoked and I will magically grow from  a vertically challenged 5’3 1/2 to a statuesque 5’7 – that is if I remember how to walk in them!

Proof of my temporary flat earth membership:

PS…the world is round. Just in case I needed to say it.

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Cambridge Week 2: Nance Drew to the Rescue

Cambridge Day 4-12 “Smart Phones, Stupid People”

The Mission: Nancy Drew here! The phone saga is over. A 30 second error of leaving the phone on the bus, has cost me days of misery. Ok, misery is a slight exaggeration. I have lodging, food, friends and money – but the inconvenience of not being mobile in a new city is quite debilitating. While I do have some time to explore Cambridge and surrounding towns, my first purpose is to work in schools Monday through Friday collecting evidence towards my PhD in literacy. The mobile device is a critical tool for navigating bus times, school locations, and communicating with the other members in the program. Not to mention, the impractical rose gold phone Michael Kors case which conveniently held all of my IDs, credit and debit cards – also disappeared with the missing phone. Nancy Drew: Communication and Budget Impaired – two catalysts for solving the mystery. When a girl loses her rose gold MK case filled with missed possible shopping opportunities, she springs into action!

The Recovery: The moment the bus drove away in the rain as I was left handling three overstuffed pieces of luggage, I begged a bus rider stranger to let me use her cell to call National Express, the bus company I chartered. She handed me the phone and when I looked at the number, I realized I was “England phone digit impaired”. The number was something like +00 8394838 03039 94984 … again another exaggeration, but I couldn’t find the + sign on the phone pad to even start the process. She dialed for me, I expressed my panic – but clearly, I was alone in my sense of urgency. Days 2-11 were a combination of investigating, hunting, stalking, Facebook friending, calling, Tweeting, iPhone finding, pinging – all directed at the bus driver of my coach (bus). He finally answered one of our SOS calls on my “lost” phone and my son obtained his name. I now learned through the process of inquiry that National Express is just the brand name and the actual bus company was named Whippet (as written in tiny font letters on the door that holds the luggage cargo). Let me polish my magnifying glass.

My investigation shifted focus and I learned the entire staff by the names of David, Peter and Steven and I was known as “The Girl Quite Determined to Get Her Phone Back!”.  Through some persuasion and probably a lot of just wanting me to stop calling from the house phone, they gave me the bus driver’s schedule and I met him at the Parkside stop and introduced myself. 24 hours later and a 36 pound cab ride, I ventured to the pit of the bus depot in the business district where I was united with my deactivated “Rosie the Lost Mobile”, Michael Kors and all of my cancelled credit cards. Mission accomplished.

The Lessons:

  • Phones are smart, people are stupid. The irony of losing a phone but needing a phone to prove your identify, just unlocking passwords became an ironic joke, “need your number so we can contact you”, blah blah blah…caused me several meltdowns!
  • No matter how cute the phone case, do NOT put all of your eggs in one basket. Put your cards in a DIFFERENT location. (my husband told me this over and over…)
  • Overnight shipping does not mean you get a new phone overnight – you get it 5 days later. ( Overnight Shipping – “You keep a using that a word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya)
  • Customs will block your new phone from entering the country – save your insurance claim, email them with the proof and wait for them to call you— on the phone, that is in the box they have yet to send you.
  • Stalking is not beneath you. Stalk the bus driver on Facebook, at the bus stop, wherever you can.
  • Most importantly: Never, ever, ever, give up!

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Cambridge Day 4 “A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” Welsh Proverb

Tea in an orchard of fruit trees…well I actually opted for wine and carrot cake, but still pleasantly dreamy. A crew of over 15 ladies trekked from Cambrigde to Grandchester, 6 miles round trip. Our Fitbits were singing, but our thighs were burning!

We traveled past cows roaming, meadows spawning, swimmers (freezing, but anything under 75 degrees outside is labeled by my husband as “Below M”  – below the Mellissa line of tolerance), sunbathers bronzing, and ducks wading. As we arrived at the orchard, we were surrounded by a canopy of trees providing just enough shade to chill the air and sun dappling to warm us. Little did we know that we were surrounded by the shadows of greatness which have visited before us. According to the website history page, I was surprised to read the following:

“In taking tea at the Orchard, you are joining an impressive group of luminaries including Rupert Brooke (poet), Virginia Woolf (author), Maynard Keynes (economist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Alan Turing (inventor of the computer), Ernest Rutherford (split the atom), Crick and Watson (discovered DNA), Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist,  cosmologist and author) and HRH Prince Charles (future King of  England).”

The history of this town amazes and inspires me. Every pub has a story of brilliant minds coming together to discuss life changing theories. Libraries and churches hold the secrets of wise ones before my time. I often wonder to myself, “What am I doing here? What will I do with all that I am learning? Who will listen to what I have to say?”

Tonight, I miss home. I miss my doggies. I miss my hubby. I miss my children. I am missing my daughter’s recital!!! ( I miss my phone, still).

But I believe I am on this journey to seek answers to questions. I am but one heart who has beat on this orchard’s sacred grounds. What can one heart do? What can one seed planted become?

Perhaps the answer is in a book. Perhaps the answer is in a spot of tea. Perhaps the answer is at the bottom of a chalice of beer. Perhaps the answer is in one more bottle of prosecco. Perhaps the answers lie within me.

http://www.theorchardteagarden.co.uk/

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Cambridge Day 3 “Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.”

Mix. Mingle. Flamingo. Flamingle

Keywords: flamingo, flock, flamingle, human, wishing tree

I am in England and on the 3rd day of the trip, I am at my first educator’s conference in the UK.  Imagine entering a college, surrounded by a flock of teachers and greeted by a jubilant woman with flaming red hair, dressed in a custom skirt with painted flamingoes, preening a boa of hot pink feathers around her neck as she gracefully flaps her arms and ambles like a bird, welcoming this colony of educators and inviting us to FLAMINGLE with each other.

Meet Head Teacher Rae Snape. Of course, I giggle at the fact that I am in England and our teacher is Snape! A head teacher in England is the equivalent of a principal in the US. Snape has chosen a theme to emphasize the gathering of educators in this moment. I keep trying to picture my principals at home squawking and walking like a bird- but knowing our principals, they will do anything to support teachers and learning.

What made this experience different from professional development at home were a few key factors:

  • Head teachers were presenters at this conference for teachers. Sometimes our educational leadership training unites leaders with other leaders, but rarely do I see principal as lead teacher at content conferences.
  • The content of the conference was literally about being human. The mantra repeated was clearly, we are humans first and teachers second. Our students are humans first and students second.
  • The presenters reinforced the premise that humans are a challenge driven species. We like to tackle problems to be solved. In order for learners to thrive, the environments we create must provide a balance of High Challenge and Low Risk. When we create environments of High Challenge/High Risk, we will not yield results. Children cannot learn in constant fear of testing, retention and consequence.

Lunch tied the themes together. Brown bags were provided for teachers. We did not eat take out, or take away, as they say in the UK. The sandwiches were not spectacular feasts. Options included egg salad, vegetarian, meat, and cucumbers with crème cheese. But wait…here is when talk meets action. Teachers walked across the lawn to a large tent, filled with moroccan rugs. We kicked off our shoes as acoustic guitar players performed as we sunned, ate, laughed and enjoyed our bare feet in the grass. We were then invited to create tags of wishes to attach to a wishing tree, where they would be released to drift on the wind at the end of the conference.

No rushing to fast food joints. No piling in cars to make it back to training in time. Just a bunch of teachers, being human, flocking together in bare feet and flamingling!

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Cambridge Day 2: “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” – JK Rowling

Strolling around Cambridge on Day 2, I wandered into the children’s section of Heffers (our Barnes and Noble equivalent). The three story bookshop has served Cambridge since 1876. In the Harry Potter section, I see a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I loved holding a copy of the first book, original title, that transformed my entire household into readers. The book literally was a binding agent for the parents and kids in my home. We had never left the house at midnight to buy multiple copies of any other book release. We sat in corners around the house and at the beach, reading and comparing notes. This shared book experience is one of the fondest memories I hold of a time when my family was one unit, one purpose, one goal.

While the Harry Potter series is truly “magical” in its ability to transform and transport readers into a new world, I am just as enthralled with the story behind the author. JK Rowling was a teacher, single mother, filed an order of restraint against her former husband, battled depression ( which inspired Dementors), contemplated suicide and had 12 rejections from publishers on her first manuscript. The concept of reinventing oneself is critical to resilience. This life is difficult, dark, lonely and bilaterally brilliant, sparkling and mystical. The path we choose of light or dark takes nerve, courage, and a few spells to ward off the dark arts.

It took a cauldron full of nerve to begin to reinvent myself. Choosing a new path for my children and family required ingredients of courage I could only wish to purchase from a skilled potions master or herbology teacher. It’s not that easy. If my children could tell my story to the world I would hope they always remember a muggle who believed in magic, used each obstacle as a challenge to master, protected her home against Dementors, and followed the wisdom of a silver haired wizard to model that our choices show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

They would say,  “Our mother is a Ravenclaw! ”

Intelligence. Wit. Wisdom. Creativity. Originality. Individuality. Acceptance.

They might say, “Our mother is crazy!”

I know one person who sends me a message every night. My husband says, “You deserve it all!)

All I can say is… “Accio Passport!”

 

Cambridge Day 1 Part 2: “Time flows away like water in the river.” Confucius

What is punting? The way you answer that question is to share what punting is not.  It is not a gondola. It is not something you do in Venice. It is not a rowboat.

The official answer can be found at the link below:

https://www.puntcambridge.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-punting-part-i/

What is punting on Day 1 of Cambridge? After you find your way to your new home in the rain, you rush to change your clothes with five minutes to spare. You head (with a group of 20 undergrads and grad students) to a wine shop and load your purses with prosecco, cider, beer and wine. You hop onto a punt at Scudamores which is surrounded by touts. Touts appear to be young college men (our USF girls were most happy) who “tout” the tourists for business. There are rules on touting, which is a lost art in the UK.

Once you have your alcohol and friends, you gently load the punts and prepare for a glorious trip down the River Cam. Slowly, time freezes and you enter a world of history and majesty, and despite your exhaustion, the bubbles in your glass pop, fizz and whisper, “You are in England, on an ancient river, floating by trees and colleges, watching ducks bathe and waddle. You are in England, far away from traffic and stress. You are in England, experiencing a part of college you didn’t experience at age 22. You are in England at age 49.”

Time passes for us all. It flows away like water in a river. This year I reached the age  of my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer. I have made a conscious choice to harness the time I have now for experiences that will help me grow personally and professionally. Floating down the River Cam, I know I cannot stop the passage of time, but I can embrace this season of my life and slow down just enough to hop on a punt, sip some bubbles and let the tick-tock of time and stress of life sink to the bottom of the river.

 

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Cambridge Day 1: Part 1 “Getting lost is not a waste of time. To travel is to evolve.” Pierre Bernard

Today I traveled across the pond. The journey began with an 8 hour flight on British Airways, a 4 hour bus ride on National Express, a lost cell phone, lost credit cards, lost driver’s license, and a lost American in England.

How did I get here…not physically, I just described that…but metaphorically? The journey began recently by starting my PhD in Literacy Studies at the University of South Florida. My professor shared a powerpoint of a quaint town called Cambridgeshire and I fell in love with the cobblestones, English roses, stone buildings, ancient doors. I had never considered engaging in something so intimate, so personal, so selfish- learning, wondering, and wandering.

Prior to that epic powerpoint, my journey began with 26 years as an educator, staff developer, coach and administrator. I am surrounded by complaints of education, burned out staffs, frustrated coaches, exhausted professionals. This trip is about rejuvenation and revelation. What else can I do in this career to continue to inspire teachers? I have visited many schools, many classrooms and I see amazing feats of learning and teaching. What would happen if I visited an entirely different culture to see how they handle this enormous task of teaching humans?

Prior to the 26 years as an educator, my journey to Cambridge began with a piece of chalk, a wooden bedroom closet door and a little brother who was forced to be my pupil as we played school. Hours locked in my room, my brother engaged in lessons and math problems because his big sister wouldn’t allow him to play with his Millennium Falcon until his math times tables were complete. After all, how can you build a spaceship and fly it around the galaxy fighting against dark forces if you don’t know math, right?

Fast forward to July 7, 2018, an exhausted and weary traveler dragged three suitcases around those cobblestones that looked so inviting in the pictures, across the picturesque village of stone buildings filled with history, and towards a destination unknown, like for real because HER PHONE STAYED ON THE BUS AND NOW HAD NO GPS TO GUIDE HER! As the rain began to fall, she whispered to herself with each step, “Don’t lose it. Don’t cry. You will be ok. You are where you are suppose to be.” Somehow, she landed on the front steps of the Warkworth House, where her university sisters helped her carry the load of overweight luggage, minus a cell phone and credit cards, up the narrow staircase to her new home for the month ahead.

Where will this journey lead has yet to be discovered. Getting lost was extremely frustrating and downright scary! Losing myself into this experience is exactly what this Lit Geek Girl needs to start a new chapter of her story.