I had a lot of travels, met a lot of new people, had a lot of laughs and a few tears. So, here's what I think I might have learned this year. And, a few of my favorite pictures from throughout the year.
1. Sometimes just shutting up is better.
Also, this year, I started learning about Transactional Analysis which really helps you examine your own communication and that has also helped me avoid conflicts at work or make myself more sane by being able to evaluate the communication skills/styles of myself and those around me and adapt accordingly.
2. I hate doing homework (who doesn't?).
3. Small changes add up to big changes.
(Also know as the "Baby Steps Principle")
This year I started doing Crossfit. I am not a big fan of exercise to begin with because I generally feel like being a lazy piece of crap. However, I know that it is necessary in order that I don't turn into a "cart person" at the airport who has to be driven around. (Does anyone remember this Jerry Seinfeld standup about "cart people?") After two years of not belonging to any organized gym, but instead doing videos in a classroom after work 3-4 times per week with my friend Keith, we just couldn't do it anymore. We would turn on the video and just half-assedly punch the air (it was Body Combat, that's why we were punching the air) and the two of us were no longer enough motivation for each other- we needed other people. So, we, with our friend Emma, tried a few different Crossfit gyms, having heard from many people in North America that it was a good workout. The first one we went to, people were incredibly welcoming, walked up to us and shook our hands. This was the most overtly friendly place I'd ever been in Germany and we were slightly taken aback at first because it was just so unexpected. We tried a different place and ultimately went back to the friendly one. We've now been going since March (mostly skipping the summer) and are often surprised by the things we can now do that we couldn't even dream of doing months ago. Plus, it is nice to be a part of another community in Dusseldorf besides the ISD community. Now, I am still a total lazy blob- don't get me wrong, but I at least have the intrinsic motivation to get myself to Crossfit and then I let them take over for the extrinsic motivation. The workout is in German (this is basically my German class since I don't have time to do both) but when we don't understand something, someone will always explain it in English- though I do a lot of inferring based on observation of what is happening around me. We dread it, we bitch about it, we limp around sometimes and lower myself two-handed to the toilet (Ha!), we find muscles we didn't know existed (who knew your armpits could get sore or the pointy part of your elbow?), but we keep going. Don't worry- I didn't "drink the Kool-Aid" but I really like being part of a gym community again like I had in Fort Collins- same people, same time, and everyone encouraging each other. I am definitely a group fitness person as I need to be distracted from the actual exercising part by the fact that I'm just hanging out with a group of people that I see every day.
This same Baby Steps Principle has also really come to the forefront in my professional life. As I am getting to be more involved in professional development on a school level and on a bigger scale with the IBO, I really have started to internalize how important it is to track your growth, even small steps, in your professional journey. When I think back to who I was as a teacher in my first few years compared to now, I barely recognize that disorganized and frequently "yelling at kids because I didn't have clear expectations/routines" teacher I used to be. Don't get me wrong- sometimes my classroom is still a disaster area (I have issues with materials management as a science teacher) but I am a vastly different teacher now. That didn't just happen in one year. I think this is really important to think about- growth has to be step-wise and small because a complete overhaul all at once is completely daunting and more or less, unrealistically sustainable. I've basically had the same inquiry question in my teaching now for 6 years. I'm still trying to figure out how to help kids have more ownership of their own learning and their own progress. I wonder what my principal thinks when I turn in pretty much the same goal every year- BUT- I am figuring out more about it each year and getting smarter about being a teacher all the time.
4. Don't try to fight who you are, just go with it.
(Unless who you are is like Dexter or something)
I took a two week road trip with my dad and our friend Bret last Spring Break. We went to Dresden, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Budapest, Zagreb, and then back to Dusseldorf and drove like 2000 kilometers in 11 days. I did a lot of research on what to do and see (and eat and drink, of course) in each place before we went and that was all included in my travel table for the trip. I wish sometimes that I could be more loosey-goosey, but that just ain't happening. Don't get me wrong though- once I have the basic outline/unit plan, I am totally cool with filling the outline with whatever, but I just can't deal with not having some sort of plan. I mean, I did plan wine tastings, beer tours, and found really good restaurants for us to try the plethora of pork/potato/cabbage combinations available in Eastern Europe. That also doesn't mean that I scheduled us to be power tourists from sun up to sun down. I "schedule" things in like "sit at sidewalk cafe and hang out for a few hours drinking wine" when I take a trip to Paris, but I have to have a plan or I just kind of freak out. I'm the same way about unit plans in my class though. I started two new units on Monday when I got back to work and haven't finished the unit plans yet. Because of this, I have been having anxiety dreams about school. I just like to feel prepared. Maybe that is the life lesson here. I'm an over-preparer. Just easier to go with it than to fight it. At least my teaching partner for 6/7 grade is kind of the same (and she also makes tables for trips!) and so we are a good combo because we make time to plan so that we don't turn into crazy stressballs together.