Tag Archives: thinking

The Quandary of the Invisible

I’ve wrestled with this before…and yet, solutions are as invisible as the issue itself.  How do we value and acknowledge what we can’t see?

On a windy day, we can see air.  It moves flags and leaves and kites and pennants.  We see it because we recognize that the movement means the wind is blowing, air is moving.


But when the air is still, we don’t notice the wind and the air becomes invisible, something we no longer notice or pay attention to.  Work can be like that too.  And so can learning.

We notice when someone is standing in the front of the classroom delivering instruction–that looks like work. We notice when someone leads a workshop, guiding teachers forward with their learning. But there’s so much work that is invisible to others.

We can see learning when students complete assignments, answer questions, lead discussions…  But when that notebook is blank, when the assignment doesn’t get turned in, when the student fidgets with the shoelace instead of answering a question or contributing a comment, an absence of learning is often inferred.

In those moments when I get to talk to a student individually, having a casual conversation about a topic we’ve been learning about, I can sometimes recognize what was previously invisible to me. There’s more to learning than completing an assignment or answering a question. Just like there is more to work than punching the time clock or attending a meeting.

Behind every workshop, every lesson, every assignment or project are hours of invisible work. There is the planning and the thinking behind the planning. And behind that there is often reading and research, collaboration–sometimes in the form of a conversation over coffee or lunch, the gathering and production of materials…and more.  And behind that, there are the phone calls, emails, and meetings that initiate the workshop planning.  So much of the work we do is invisible to others and it’s easy to dismiss what we can’t see.

The trunk of a tree doesn’t sway in the breeze…but that doesn’t mean that the air is not there.


So how do we acknowledge, measure, and value what we can’t see?

This and That: Consider the Microclimates

I live in a place filled with contrasts.  There is the breezy casual of the beach to the west and less than a thirty minute drive away you can be hiking into dry, hot hillsides, exploring vineyards or admiring the abundance of avocado groves.  Our weather reporters call them microclimates…and we tend to be adapted to the microclimate where we spend most of our time.  But what I love most about this place that I call home is that it is not either/or, it is this and that.

Just this weekend I spent time in two of these contrasting spaces…equally beautiful, equally interesting, but entirely different from each other.  I loved exploring the old oak forest as I walked in the dappled sunshine…and looking up in surprise as I watched a mule deer leap across the path I was walking.  It was hot early as I hiked uphill and I could see evidence of wildfires past and the dry brush that continues to be a threat for future fires.

coast live oak

And the beach is always a source of inspiration.  The holiday weekend prompted us to get up early and walk the beach before the crowds arrived.  It was sunny and warm and the water was unusually clear.  We noticed sand sharks and stingrays swimming a few yards from us as the waves crashed.  The water was warm by our standards…up to 70 degrees, perfect for barefoot walking.

beach castles

I’m so happy that I don’t have to chose to love and visit only one part of my place.  I’m feeling like there is such a push to simplify our choices, to turn every decision and discussion to the binary choice.  Right or wrong, left or right, boxers or briefs, apples or oranges.  In my experience, those binaries just don’t represent the rich complexities of everyday life.  Just this morning a friend sent an article about “balanced literacy” where the author lamented the kind of “conventionally rigorous” instruction he had received as a young English learner.  The article implied that “balanced literacy” was essentially an absence of teaching compared to the experience with the effort-full teaching he had received in his childhood.

I’m reminded of the reading wars in the not too distant past.  The phonics versus whole language debate that implied an either/or approach to teaching.  These arguments miss the subtleties and complexities of teaching and learning.  This “all teacher” or “all student” approach ignores the body of student-centered teaching that effective teachers practice every day.  It dismisses the diversity of the needs and interests of students as irrelevant and assumes that if the teacher simply transmits enough information, students will learn what they need to learn.

Let’s start a new conversation.  One that is about learners: teacher learners and student learners. Let’s bring their microclimates into the conversation.

Blog Birthday: A Reflection

Today marks one year since I began this blog.  I began with a 30 day blogging challenge for myself–creating an urgency to blog every day for 30 days in a row.  And in retrospect, that was a smart move to help me establish a habit of writing every day, day in and day out, even when I wasn’t feeling like I had anything to say.  In the last 365 days, I posted a blog post 293 of them…that’s a little over 80% of the days in the year!

This morning I had plans to read all 293 posts and then create some kind of reflection based on that reading.  And while I think it’s a good idea to go back and read all my posts, I only managed to get through the first 30 days before my life called and I was off to the beach and running those errands that just don’t get accomplished during the work week.

(Making time to photograph and play pushes me to create more balance in my professional and personal life…a good thing, I think!)

I’ve noticed lots of bull kelp on the beach in the last week.  There is something beautiful and fascinating about these large floats…definitely evokes the wabi sabi for me!

bull kelp

So instead of reflecting on the year’s worth of posts, I decided to highlight five from those first 30 days that continue to speak to me…and I know that I returned to their themes throughout the year–and may continue to return to them.

1.  Dandelions: A Photo Essay – I noticed that I had a number of posts about my fascination with the ordinary, and what I learned about myself and my students by paying attention to small details.  This particular post continues to be one of my favorites.

2.  Fireflies – This is another post about something little–that many people take for granted.  I loved learning that fireflies are the most ordinary of insects, and the most extraordinary!  We southern Californians miss so much by not having these lights in our everyday lives!

3.  Spaces for Learning – Hmmm…I just discovered I have two posts from last July with the same title!  I like this one that talks about “third spaces” for learning, outside the spaces claimed by hierarchies and organizations.  These are the spaces we claim for ourselves as learners.  I’m not done thinking about this idea… and it keeps emerging over and over again in my life…as a teacher, as a learner, and as a human.  (The other post was about Genius Hour, which is related…)

4.  A Small Orange Bead – This post is really about the power of connections and connectedness as a learner.  Opportunities to learn in a community create deep pathways and provide support that matters to learners.

5.  Boys and Bears – There is a physicality to learning that we sometimes forget as adults.  My observations of boys at the polar bear exhibit pushed me to think about how physical interactions have the power to pique curiosity and deepen learning experiences.

A year of blogging has taught me so much about myself as a writer, as a learner, as a photographer, and as an explorer in the world.  It has heightened my senses as I lean closer to my surroundings to understand them and myself through my writing and photography.  When I chose the blog title, Thinking Through My Lens, I wanted to play on the word lens to represent more than a camera’s eye…I also wanted it to represent my own biases, questions, and goals.

I look forward to another year of Thinking Through My Lens…and hope you will continue to bump your thinking against mine, sharing your insights and discoveries so that we can learn more about our world and ourselves, together.


To Meme or Not to Meme

I learned about memes a few years ago…and kind of take them for granted now as commonplace, especially in places like Facebook and other social media platforms.  And I never use them…or at least I don’t think I do!

But this week, the “make” for CLMOOC is a meme.  In fact, the same person that I learned about memes from is part of the team that is inviting memes this week.  So I started out the week actively resisting participating in meme-making…why would I want to take someone else’s image, put some words on it and publish it as commentary on teaching or summer or some aspect of popular culture?

It was Anna who drew me back in with her post today:

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 6.02.15 PM

A comment on that thread from Scott sent me off to the PBS Idea Channel, adding to my understanding of memes.

And questions from both Terry and Scott, “What about photography?”  “Images without text?” got me thinking and wondering…  I headed over to Peter and Kim’s invitation and then clicked on James Gleick’s article, What Defines a Meme? and came across this passage in the text:

Images. In Isaac Newton’s lifetime, no more than a few thousand people had any idea what he looked like, even though he was one of England’s most famous men. Yet now millions of people have quite a clear idea—based on replicas of copies of rather poorly painted portraits. Even more pervasive and indelible are the smile of Mona Lisa, The Scream of Edvard Munch and the silhouettes of various fictional extraterrestrials. These are memes, living a life of their own, independent of any physical reality. “This may not be what George Washington looked like then,” a tour guide was overheard saying of the Gilbert Stuart portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “but this is what he looks like now.” Exactly.

And I admit, I haven’t yet read the entire article…because this got me thinking about a photo I took not too long ago at my nephew’s wedding.  I included the photo in a post back then…and will include it again here.  Is this a version of a meme?  Does it require text?  Does it only resonate with a certain audience of art lovers?

american gothic selfie

What do you think?  What caption might you include?

Appreciating Difference

I love my macro lens!  What I like best about it is that it makes me slow down, breathe deeply, and pay attention to the smallest of details…things that I didn’t even realize I couldn’t see.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time at our local botanic gardens, offering a wide variety of plants in different ecosystems from deserts to rain forests to native plants of our area.  They also had a section of the gardens that was all fruit trees…a variety of citrus, figs, persimmons, guava, and more.

When I saw this delicate guava blossom, I had to stop and take out my macro.  I just knew that it would take a close look to really see and appreciate the beauty of this ethereal bloom.

guava blossom

And once I got started, I couldn’t stop myself.  Each variety offered its own unique beauty. Here’s one variety of fig.

fig blossom green

This is a different variety of fig…and perhaps at a different stage of development.

fig blossom red

I was surprised by the center of this lime blossom.  I knew it was a white flower, but I hadn’t noticed the center before taking this photo.

lime blossom

And this lemonade lemon tree had the prettiest pink blossoms getting ready to open.

lemon blossoms

I’m not sure which fruit tree this blossom came from, but I love its crazy red fringe!

fruit blossom

As I looked closely at these fruit blossoms I found myself thinking about how much diversity there is among them.  Even varieties that are closely related are different from one another. Which got me thinking about my students…and students in general.  As teachers (and parents too), we need to slow down, look and listen closely, and pay attention to the diversity among our students.  Even when students are all the same age, they have vastly different personalities, learning strengths, and interests.  I often have the privilege of teaching siblings…sometimes even twins and triplets…and what I know is, despite having the same parents and living in the same environment, each child in the family is different from the other(s), highlighting the complexities of DNA, personality, behavior, and more.

And in spite of these differences, we all have so much in common:  the need to be loved and valued, to be nurtured and supported, to have others assume the best and help us learn from the inevitable mistakes we will make.

That macro lens offers insight as I look closely at the world of plants, noticing features and details I might have missed without it.  I don’t have a macro lens to use with my students, instead I have to use the lens of mindfulness to keep myself attuned to the individuality of my students and take the time to notice and learn from them and about them.  I don’t just teach a group of children, I teach a classroom full of diverse individuals and to teach them well it’s important for me to know that and take their differences into account.  And for me, that’s the beauty of the classroom, it’s a room full of teaching and learning opportunities as we all bring who we are into the mix.  Our differences are the best part of our learning community as we help each other slow down and see the world in new and different ways.

The Dilemma of Labels

I’m still thinking about weeds.  Probably because we read Weeds Find a Way in class today.  Our students were so surprised when they realized the puff balls they love to blow from dandelions are really seeds!


We talked about the places weed grow…and I urged them to be on the lookout for weeds in unexpected places and to report back to us what they noticed.

The more I think about weeds, the more I realize that weeds are just plants that have managed to make pests of themselves.  One of my students pointed out that weeds are plants that we don’t try to grow–they plant themselves.  There’s a list of weeds in the back of Cindy’s book, most that I have never heard of (obviously I’m not well-versed in weeds beyond dandelions).

But then again, is labeling a plant a weed just a matter of opinion?  Is a weed a plant you don’t want?  I can remember as a kid my mom calling geraniums weeds.  They grew along the side of our garage and my mom was always trying to pull them out.  And now I see people trying to grow geraniums, buying them from the nursery, cultivating them for their beautiful colors and vibrance.

Yesterday I noticed this ivy coming through the fence to my backyard.

gate with ivy

Sometimes I think ivy is pretty…but it can be insidious once it takes hold and is very hard to get rid of.  We had some ivy wrap itself around the trunk of a tree in our yard…and nearly kill the tree!  And it took a lot of work to free that tree from the ivy, and the tree is just beginning to come back to health.

So just when does a plant become a weed?  Is ivy a weed when it chokes a tree, but a plant when you cultivate its growth? And does the label matter? What about students?  When we label them…gifted, learning disabled, autistic, dyslexic…does it change the ways we view and treat them?  Do they become metaphoric weeds in our classrooms when they become a nuisance?  When they take too much work?  When they choke someone else’s growth?

Can we change our perceptions by changing the labels?  Or by removing the labels?  Would we like weeds better if we learned their names and noticed their unique qualities?

Hmmm…weeds and labels.  I need to do some more thinking about this!

Going Beyond Either/Or (Threes)

Black or white, the fork in the road, Republican or Democrat, male or female, smart or dumb, phonics or whole language, cats or dogs, tea or coffee, win or lose, right or wrong…  the list goes on, always focused on choosing one of two choices.

Why are we so drawn to these dichotomies?  And do they actually serve us in any positive way?

I often feel that these forced either/or choices close down conversations and limit the options and possibilities that would exist if we broadened the conversation to include more gray area, pathways between the two opposites typically posed.

What would happen to our country if our political system worked to solve pressing issues without regard to political party?  And what would happen in our schools if instead of classifying students as high or low achieving, we paid more attention to students’ strengths and interests and piqued their natural curiosity?  What if there were more options for success?

So when I saw the weekly photo challenge at the Daily Post today, I looked for a photo that not only met the challenge of threes, but also worked as a metaphor for me about moving away from these all-too-common dichotomies.  (In a footnote to this, after reading the threes prompt more closely, I see that I re-interpreted it before noticing the invitation to tell a three picture story.  I may be trying that in the next couple of days!)

I took this photo today from a bridge over a freeway leading to downtown San Diego.  I like the way you can see three distinct paths curving toward the city in the distance.  It’s interesting to me because I know that the freeway has southbound and northbound lanes…but at this juncture, there is a third route.  I love the idea of including additional options, of getting a more complete picture, of considering a bigger understanding of the story.


I’m not suggesting that three is the answer…we do enough with the ideas of high, medium, and low…but three does suggest getting beyond either/or thinking, making it at least a starting place for expanding the conversation.

What image would you chose to represent going beyond standard dichotomies?  How do you get yourself to go beyond the binary?

Window Views

I’ve heard that saying that eyes are the windows to the soul…a way to look beyond the surface of a person into their thoughts and emotions, which got me thinking about windows.

From the outside, you can look through a window to see what is inside.  But sometimes, when the light is right, what you see when you look through the window from the outside is a reflection of the sky and trees…like this.


It’s almost more of a mirror than a window.  You don’t see through it, you see the world reflected back at you.

And other times when you look through a window you can see through one window and then back out another window…and catch a glimpse of what is on the other side.


It’s almost like looking beyond the present…into the future or maybe into the past.

But what about the shape of windows?  How does that impact our view?  These windows are long and thin, reducing the amount of light that enters and restricting the view.  Was that an intentional goal of the windows in this applied physics and math building?  Or is there some physics and math at work that impacts just how these windows work?


Looking through my photos also makes me realize just how much of my life is seen through the frame of a car window.  How does this window affect my view?  (This one is from the passenger seat…not the driver’s!)  I was fascinated by the VW bus, the rusty roof, the retro license plate…


And we also look out through windows.  Sometimes the view is pretty open, allowing a wide angle of view.


And other times there are barriers, restricting our vision and limiting what can be seen.


So are our eyes really like windows?  Do they sometimes reflect, sometimes allow the viewer to see beyond, sometimes carefully frame or give a view influenced by your seat?  What affects the way we see out?  When are the curtains drawn wide open and when are the blinds restricting the view?

How do your windows influence your view of the world?

The Power of Confusion

I love questions!  Not the one right answer kind of questions, but the kind that tickle your brain and keep you thinking in search of possibilities.  The kind that operate right at the edge of confusion.

I love questions in my classroom and in my own learning.  Some of my favorite questions are, “How do you know that?”  “Why do you think that?” “What do you think?” and “What do you notice?”  Sometimes a question as simple as, “What do you think?” can open up rich avenues of conversation.

I think the key to good questions is being interested in the answers.  If you ask but really don’t want to know the answer, then you might as well not ask.  Taking the time to listen is key to the value of questions.

As I was facilitating student-parent-teacher conferences today, I heard some parents who use questions in powerful ways with their children.  I loved the mom who explained how she responds to her son’s questions about spelling with, “How do you think it’s spelled?” and then engages in a conversation about what the child understands about the spelling of the word. The parents who ask genuine questions and listen for their child’s response create opportunities for learning.

Figuring out how to ask questions that you are curious about…those right at the point of your own confusion…can be a catalyst for your own learning.  I love when students ask the question that suddenly gives me insight and clarity into my own teaching and learning.  And I know when I can actually verbalize what is confusing me, and ask the question, that I will make progress in my learning.

Sometimes questions can involve some heavy lifting…figuring out what is confusing, which questions to ask, and how to respond to the questions of others.  I love this image I found on a utility box in Oakland, CA–be sure to bend and lift those questions with your legs, not your back!


Reflections: a Photoessay

I’m fascinated with reflection. Both the mental version and the physical version. Reflections appear in many surfaces…mirrors, metals, through shade and shadows…and in my favorite medium, water.

I love the idea of the way water captures the way reflection works with learning. Reflecting is a way of reinforcing and internalizing your learning. Taking time to think about why the learning matters and making connections to other experiences enriches learning.

Reflection is not the literal mirror image of seeing exactly what you experienced. Instead, reflection is the processing of experience. Like with peering into water, everything around you impacts the learning. The wind, the current, the life within the water…even the angle you take when you take a look.

I also love to play with reflection in my photographs. Sometimes I intentionally look for ways to capture reflection, but more often than not, I notice the reflection after taking the photo.

Here are a few of my favorites…

I love to capture birds on the beach.


And the surprise of the cliffs reflected when I was trying to capture these birds.


This fisherman has such a feeling of timelessness and captures the quiet and solitary beauty of individual focus.


And I’m not limited to the beach. I love the ways the redwoods are captured in this stream. (I also love the colors of the fall leaves floating in the water!)


And even at the zoo there are opportunities for reflection!


These photos remind me that taking time for reflection matters. There is beauty and meaning in looking back to look forward. I’m reminded to pay attention to the angles, to consider the environment, and to be aware of the life within…in my photography and in my life.

How do you make time for reflection? Do you create opportunities for your students to reflect?