Oakland Tweetup Makes History

The first ever Oakland tweetup in twitter history happened this week!!!

A tweetup is an event where people who twitter gather to meet each other in person.  Hosted by the serene and scrumptious Numi Tea, we introduced, shared, laughed, colored — and even danced and yelled, thanks to MuseCubes. Don’t we look like we’re having a great time?! (Thanks for documenting, Naomi).

Naomi @nthmost
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Christian @cstiehl
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Laurel @AngelLaurel
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Kira @Kiramau
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Ren @RenDodge
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Dorothy @DorothyFun
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Jen @jenrudolf
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Chris @wildheartqueen
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Julie @juliedaley
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Gretchen @gwegner
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Affirmation

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The following post is a project to share reflections about all 28 of the core elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

What if…we lived life consistently looking for the good in our own experiences?  What if!?

As a classroom teacher, looking for the good was not part of the culture at my school.  Critique was, though. What are kids doing wrong? Point it out so that they can grow and learn!

When I was grading papers, it was so much easier to notice what kids did wrong (poor use of a semi-colon, again!) than what they did right (creative imagery!).  After marking up a paper, I had to force myself to re-read it in order to find some compliments.  How messed up is that — that I had to force myself to affirm my students?!

Now I work as an academic coach at a private school.  Although I’m technically there to support kids with learning disabilities, it’s become apparent that teachers crave support too.  Especially affirming support.

At a meeting last week, I had been pushing the school to create systems that help students be accountable for their work.  Over lunch, a teacher approached me and asked, “Gretchen, I really think that the system I use for communicating grades to parents and kids is the best possible system for what you’re talking about.  Am I deluding myself? What do you think?!”

I was so struck by how much this teacher needed feedback and acknowledgment.  The subtext I heard was: I’m trying. I care. I’m doing my best.  Do you see me?

In fact,  all year I’ve admired his system for using Google Spreadsheets to communicate grades and missing assignments to families.  I’d been thinking it but I never said it.

And yet, I know full well that we “can create much more change in another by pointing out their strengths than by criticizing their weaknesses” (from the InterPlay leader training handbook).

In the InterPlay context, affirmation refers to naming the good in ourselves and others.  But it also has to do with practicing noticing the best parts of our own experience (as opposed to fixating on other people’s experiences).

I coach a student who loves to write. Although she doesn’t care an iota about academic writing, she hungers for feedback about her creative short stories. However, she hates it when I give general compliments like “This story is great! You’re such a good writer.”  Rather, she wants specifics; she wants to know what I’m experiencing as I read her words:

Wow, the way you describe your characters in the opening sentences makes me really curious about what’s going to happen. But in the second paragraph the curiosity went away because I got a little confused about who was talking.  I had to reread several sentences to figure it out.”

Certainly, there is a place for general praise and encouragement.  In InterPlay classes, we’re trained to say “good!” or “yes!” frequently so that people feel supported.  Creating an atmosphere of affirmation, after all, is crucial to opening up people’s creativity.

But I’m also fascinated that, in the story above, my student continued to feel affirmed even when the feedback I was giving was technically “negative.” Maybe it really is true what Marshall Rosenberg says, that the most basic human desire is to contribute to others.  I like feeling curious, and my student wants that for me.  Because she cares about me, she’s motivated to fix anything in her writing that gets in the way of my curiosity.

And as the InterPlay facilitator’s handbook says, “To be headed toward our desires is always a good direction in which to go.” Yuh – huh! What would formal learning look like if both teachers and students had the freedom to move towards their desires?

More and more, I’m committed to creating a culture of affirmation.  It’s one of the reasons I love twitter so much — affirmation is such a huge part of the culture (at least in my circle of followers; follow me, and you’ll see what I mean).

Developing a habit of affirmation, though, doesn’t come naturally to me; I have to practice looking for the good. Here are some basic tips that are helping me develop the habit.

Tips for Creating a Culture of Affirmation:

  • Notice when I’m thinking an affirmation or appreciation. Say it out loud.
  • Pepper my language with affirmation blurts: “Nice!” “Yay!” “Wow!”  “Cool!”
  • Make sure, though, that all the affirmations are genuine. (Folks can smell fake a mile away).
  • When possible, be really specific about what I appreciate.
  • Speak from my own experience.
  • Name feelings rather than opinions.

What else?!  I’m sure there are tons of other tips!!  Please comment if you’ve got one.

Meditation and Social Media

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Social media is eating away at my attention and my self-control. I’m sure of it.

As I bounce between facebook, twitter, and blog stats, I’m clear that my attention is increasingly fractured.  It darts about, trolling for cool people and  interesting data. Almost like a nervous tick.

In fact, just as I was writing the last sentence, I had an attention-lurch. You see, I got stuck about what to write next.  In the ensuing pause,  I experienced a strange “twitching” sensation. I opened a new Mozilla tab and checked my twitter messages.  All before I was conscious of what I was doing. Do you experience this too?

On the one hand, Twitter has proven to be the best professional development I’ve ever experienced (after all it’s where I’m finding about all these articles that inspire blog entries).  On the other hand, I’m out of control.

Why I Care About Self Control & Attention

The topic of self control and social media is relevant to me for at least two reasons.

(1) As a newly self-employed entrepreneur, I no longer have the structure of a 9-to-5 job to control my time.  The great part of this is I actually have time to pursue my passions.  The hard part is I have so many passions, that my attention is increasingly scattered.

(2) I coach teenagers, many of whom are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.  Parents are constantly asking me to help their kids control their IM/textmessage/facebook habits.I’d love to, I tell the parents, as soon as I figure out how to control my own social media habits!

Right on cue, two relevant articles have flitted into my universe: one about attention and meditation (I’ll talk about that one today) and the other about self control and outsmarting desire (I’ll blog about that on Thursday).

Meditation and Attention

The first one came as a tweet from my dear friend Meri Walker:

Good idea to put meditation in the same sock drawer of mind as you put exercise: http://ow.ly/6DA6

Huh! As a lapsed meditator, this tweet stood out.  I clicked on the link, and read about a study about the brains of Buddhist monks engaged in different forms of meditation. Turns out that people who meditate really do have significant control over their attention compared to those who do not meditate.

However,  it matters what KIND of meditation you do. Evidently compassionate meditation (focusing on the suffering in the world) was not as successful as “one-point” meditation (focusing on one part of their experience; the breath, for example). At least in regards to helping the monks perform better on attentional tasks after they meditated.

This makes total sense! To have more control over how we place (and sustain) our attention, perhaps we ought to practice placing (and sustaining)  a single-pointed focus.  Meditation is not the only way to do this.  But it’s sure a straightforward approach.

And you can meditate almost anywhere. Inspired by the article, I practiced that evening while taking BART to my Bollywood dance class in San Francisco.  Eyes closed while the train rattled through tunnels, I tried hard to keep my attention on my breath, even though it was being pulled every few seconds by interesting sounds around me.

What Do You Think?

I don’t want to stop using social media, that’s for sure. And I don’t think my students should stop either. But I AM interested in how we can find balance.  So I’m left pondering: So reading this study leaves me pondering:

  • Will I experience better control over my beloved social media habits if I meditate regularly?
  • To what extent would my students with ADD and ADHD benefit from learning simple meditation practices?
  • What other tricks do ya’ll have for stabilizing attention amidst the social media frenzy?

I’d love to hear from you…especially about that last question!