Here’s to more marathons: real, virtual, figurative, and literal…

My Second Year of Teaching, in 20 Emojis

Just as I did last year, for “My First Year of Teaching in 19 Emojis”, I thought it would be cool to round off this year with all of the core habits, ideas, gifts, and blessings that helped me survive and thrive this year. Particularly this year, which can only be described as a ‘doozy’ for everyone involved. This year has called on the resilience and skill I built up to 2019, even more than I ever thought it would. I’ve had to rework, reinvent myself more than once to get through, as I know we all have, and I feel like I’ve come out better for it. For my fellow teachers, we managed to completely unbundle and re-design our industry in a crisis. Whether you were brand new to teaching or a veteran educator, that feat is remarkable and I’m proud to be among the ranks of you game-changers and how you have each managed local and global crises that have emerged this year.

Most of the emojis from 2019 also apply (particularly: ☕, 💤, 💗, 😭, 💅!). I hope that you find something on this list that you recognise, or that you want to take into 2021 with you. 🥰

  1. 🛏️ : Making my bed
    Somewhere at the end of my Law study expedition I made a resolution that I would start making my bed every day. Not full hospital-corners (although I’ve done plenty of those, when I helped run the Chateau Franz and Glow Worm hostels in Franz Josef), but a decent throw, tuck, and run. My streak is at least 700 days strong now, and the habit is well and truly entrenched. The best bit is, even if I’m in a rush to get out the door, it’s easy to justify doing it — just 2 minutes in the morning means coming home to a tidy room at night. And that 2 minutes becomes a mindfulness exercise, because all I have to do is focus on flipping, folding, tucking, (and then running out the door). This is probably one of the habits with the highest return-on-investment I’ve picked up in my adult life. Check this video out for why.
  2. 👀 : LASIK
    This started off as a bit of a joke, I’ll be honest. My entire family (bar Dad, who doesn’t need it) have had corrective eye surgery. In January, my sister-in-law was added to the ranks, and so at the dinner table it was posed to me. At the time, I didn’t think I’d be able to afford it, or justify it. But at the same time, I was about to look down the barrel of a $700 bill to get my eyes re-tested and a new prescription. I booked in to be assessed and get a quote, so at least I’d know if it was a possibility.
    You know what some people say about the universe conspiring to make things happen? I had the appointment on a Wednesday morning before school. When I went to ask when I could arrange the surgery (so I’d have time to get the money together), the lady at the desk said they’d had a cancellation at 3pm the next day — during a non-contact, so I’d be available without asking for leave — and would I like to take it?
    Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (ha), I said yes. And so it was that in the space of 48 hours, I had perfect vision again after having glasses for a decade. And I’d say I’ve never looked back, but I’ve looked everywhere, and I love it.
    (If you want a recommendation, Dr Nick Mantell at the Eye Institute Auckland is pure class. He is a pro, and happily describes everything that is happening to put you at ease as you’re wide awake for the whole procedure. Very quick, very painless, very excellent. Use my name and we both get perks!)
  3. 🏅 : Real and Virtual Races
    36 hours after my eye surgery, I was on the Northern Explorer train to Wellington to run the Round the Bays Half-Marathon. I didn’t know that this would be the last long-distance race I’d run for 10 months— but I’m so glad that was it. I’d spent the month before doing F45 and a fully plant-based diet to see if I could bring my usually 2:20 time down to <2h. I didn’t expect to be running it with 20/20 vision.
    Despite having a headwind in both directions (yes — Wellington) I did manage to bring my time down to just about 2h, and I got to see the entire route in high definition.
    I was registered to run the Noosa full marathon in May, to complete the Runaway Marathon Series, sponsored by Air New Zealand. It’s wild to remember how we thought in April (even after Aotearoa had gone into Level-4 lockdown) that this would still go ahead. But the Runaway marathon series no longer exists in that form, and the races that remain (mainly the ones in New Zealand — Hawke’s Bay and Queenstown international marathons) are not sponsored by Air New Zealand. Which airline has sponsorship funds in this economy…
    I ended up settling for signing up to the slew of virtual marathons that came across my inbox and media feeds. They kept me sane, kept me moving, and kept me looking to the next milestone with hope.
    Captain Obvious statement: virtual races are very different from real ones, but they serve a different function. I don’t think I would ever run a full marathon (properly, in one go) for a virtual. Most of my virtual marathons I completed in 2 parts, running a half marathon one day and another half the next. There are parts of a real marathon you just can’t replicate — the crowds, the refuel stations, the energy of running it with thousands of other humans… the real, physical finish line and that last-ditch sprint. But having a goal to work towards and a medal at the end of it is a good way to mark time and mark the training you put into it.
    The Conqueror challenges were by far my favourite, with the worst UX award going to Pacer (no integration with Garmin? What is this bullsh*t?). Event Promotions get points for pulling off a fast pivot (as they are traditionally a real-life race provider, and created virtual races due to cancellations). The medal designs are way better than any I’ve received in person (The Conqueror gets the top award for these too).
    If you want to join a Conqueror challenge (I’m currently running the Ring of Kerry and Camino del Santiago, which is a long-term life goal of mine to walk IRL) — click here to get 10% off.
  4. 🧠 : Biohacking and meditation
    I got really into experimenting with nootropics this year, taking DMAE, L-Tryptophan, L-Theanine, Melatonin, and a few other (legal) supplements to see if they could stretch the capacities of my body and brain health. I also listened to some great podcasts about biohacking from Tim Ferriss and Jim Kwik. I definitely felt the difference from taking L-Theanine and Melatonin; I’m still on the fence about DMAE and L-Tryptophan.
    I bought a Muse headband (essentially, a portable consumer-grade EEG) in July to help refine my meditation and I really noticed the difference. Use this code to get $30 off a muse. :)
    I’ve also really benefited from Headspace and Fastic (CW: please don’t download Fastic if you are recovering from an eating disorder).
  5. 🧿 : Therapy
    This almost goes without saying, tbh, but I’m going to say it anyhow: therapy is the ultimate lifehack. As a fellow in the Ako Mātātupu: Teach First NZ program, I was given access to a phenomenal therapist who worked with me in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Going into lockdown just as this trauma became a real and visceral thing was hard, and she helped me navigate it and return to a place of being emotionally available and resilient for myself, my family, my friends, and more importantly, my students. Perhaps even more profound was the fact that our therapeutic relationship was nicely bookended — there was a very clear ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ — and I could very clearly see the transformation between the two points. She helped me see that therapy isn’t intended to be a lifelong commitment of relying on someone else to help you build and access your strength — although it can be long-term — but the best kind of therapy can help you transcend different layers of being stuck and resolve them so you can move on. It can be tough, and ugly, and scary, but the right kind of therapist will make everything you put into it pay dividends. I was very lucky that this was paid for by my scholarship.
  6. 🕹 : Nintendo Switch
    I bought a Switch at the beginning of the second lockdown in Auckland, to keep me sane, and I have zero regrets. I originally just wanted to have it to play Mario Kart against my two best mates in the city (and one visiting from Sweden), but I ended up downloading Skyrim and going into full-on nostalgia mode. Not least for the awesomeness of the JoyCon controllers, the Switch has helped me re-visit the joy of games engineering and pure virtual fun. Mario Kart is hilarious. We never had games consoles growing up, so I’m new to all the hype, but I’m happy to jump on board. It was the perfect distraction after hours of remote teaching, and for small breaks from my Master’s work.
  7. 🌳 : Green Spaces
    I’ve never been so grateful for, or aware of, the fact that we have so many green and blue spaces in Auckland city — until we were suddenly confined to our homes and the 2km around them. In that catchment area, I could easily walk to a space full of green and growing things, or a large body of water.
  8. ☎️ : Phone calls
    Who would have thought the good old-fashioned phone call would make a comeback? In all the post-Zoom fatigue, I found it really comforting to just call a mate and put it on speaker and talk to them like we were in the same room. This particularly came in handy when checking in on my students during lockdowns. Even a 10–15minute conversation could help us both get on the same page, without adding to the deluge of digital communications we both have to sift through. And I’m finally using some of the free minutes I get on my plan…
  9. 😷 : Masks
    Another thing I’d never have picked. Having travelled a fair amount in east Asia, the concept of wearing masks in public to care for your community isn’t a ‘new’ idea, but it always had some element of novelty to it. I used to say I wished it was a thing in western countries, because it shows a distinct level of care over vanity. Who would have thought that in a single year this would become culturally universal? (Or at least, for some). Now, I have 5–6 fabric masks I wash and carry with me at all times. Beyond the transmission-reducing benefits, I see it as a visual signal that we’ve got each others’ backs. Plus, the mask couture that has come out of the COVID times is pretty great.
  10. 💵 : Financial Planning
    This is the second year in my entire life that I’ve been on a stable salary, and that’s pretty cool. With that stability has come the freedom to start making long-term plans and playing long-term games. I’ve been able to open up investment accounts, medium-term savings, and carefully budget in the kind of movements I want to make with my money (even if my initial salary offerings have been slim). I’ve also started on the first small steps towards owning my first home, through a KiwiBank scheme aimed at teachers through the PPTA. I’ve ventured into the foray of cryptocurrency, as well (and had my portfolio double in a year… as unusual as this year has been). I’ve loved learning more about financial planning and how to make my money work for me, and the possibilities that can come of that for my future… even if it’s just for having a slightly more secure one in uncertain times.
  11. 🍟 : Takeaways
    I’ve definitely consumed a lot more junk this year than I normally would, but I’m grateful for it all the same. Y’know, when you whisper to yourself “I’m supporting local business…” to justify getting Pad Thai from the corner takeaways on a tuesday? Whether my contribution has helped keep those businesses afloat or not (I hope it has), comfort food has been a staple for a year of unpredictability. It’s normal for our bodies to crave quick calories in times of crisis, and I’m ok with that. We do more than eat hot chip and lie… it’s fuel for the fight.
  12. 🌅 : Wake-up Light
    I bought a Philips Wake-Up Light at the beginning of the year when my post-breakup depression took hold. It’s been on my mind for a few years, ever since I lived in London in 2013–2014, but I finally did the thing and this has probably been one of the best health-related purchases I’ve made in recent years. I often have to get up at 5, 5:30am to get to school before hitting peak rush-hour, which is a struggle even in the summertime hours. I think the only thing it’s missing is Bluetooth connectivity, ideally I’d love to wake up to a short daily podcast! Still, it’s handy for sleep hygiene — because you don’t need your phone by your side when you go to sleep. You can actually get rid of your phone in your bedroom entirely (that’s a 2021 goal of mine). Having a mini sunrise by your bedside in the morning is decadent and wonderful and you deserve it, particularly if you have to wake up before your chronotype would normally allow.
  13. 📿 : Gratitude
    Always with the gratitude. I usually keep some form of gratitude diary, either in my Day One journal or through social media, but this year I’ve made a concerted effort to verbalise gratitude I have for the people in my life and how I appreciate them, who they are, and what they do. Saying “I’m really grateful for you/I’m really grateful for [x]” or “I appreciate you/I appreciate that you [x]” is such a small thing to tack onto a thank-you, but I find articulating these things clarifies all the reasons why I feel profoundly grateful for the love I receive in my life. I hope it feels good for them, too (I think it does).
  14. 🏄🏻‍♀️ : Surfing
    I’ve been surfing for about 8 years, and windsurfing/sailing/body boarding for many more years than that — but I’ve never had my own rig or board. Transport has been an issue — I rode motorbikes and Vespas for the first few years of my road-ready life, and then I had a Mazda MX-5 for another couple — but with my Floyd I finally had the freedom to cart equipment to and from water. So, for my birthday this year (when I usually make my yearly resolutions), I finally shelled out on my first hardboard — a 6'3" pelowna shortboard I call ‘Mr Miyagi’*. After a couple of individual coaching sessions I was good to go, and now I can just pop Mr Miyagi in Floyd and go on surfventures together. I love the ritual that comes with surfing — waking up early, checking the conditions on Sherpa, prepping your board, watching the coastline, suiting up, wading into the line-up, spending time in the waves even if you aren’t catching them. It’s a great workout and I always end up grinning, laughing, whooping, and feeling overwhelmingly grateful. Particularly for our shark-free waters…
    (*because wax-on, wax-off, y’know)
  15. 🎥 : Video Tutorials (making, and watching!)
    As part of my job, I ended up making a LOT more video tutorials for my students than I normally would. By the end of Term 3, I’d cut more than 50 short videos, each from 7–20 minutes long, most averaging 12 minutes. These made remote blended learning seamless and were used throughout my department, and even at other schools. And they were a lot easier to make than I thought they would be! I start my tutorial design with Google Slides, writing up the sequence of the topic and adding scaffolding as I need to. As I’m a Computer Science teacher, I often have to add screen recordings (“follow-alongs”), so I would put in a neon-coloured slide describing what I’d show them how to do and when. I’d prep all the code I needed for each tutorial in separate windows and then script the tutorial to each slide. I’d read the script off my phone, while cycling through the slide deck, and then cut out the transitions once I was done. It took about 3–6 hours to make each tutorial (from concept, to plan, to recording, to editing, to publishing) — but that’s now a resource I have for years to come. It was so easy just to make short ad-lib tutes for PD sessions and quick catch-ups if students were lost on smaller concepts. Off the back of this work, I’ve been able to acquire some better recording equipment so I can produce higher quality tutes, adjusted based on the feedback I got from students using them in-class. It’s been a really helpful (and hopeful) exercise for generating content and automating parts of my job that would otherwise be onerous and repetitive, while still offering personalised, differentiated pedagogy for my students.
  16. 🦦 : Otter Voice Transcription
    AI voice transcription saved my butt this year, and Otter is one of the best. Between remote teaching (which is FAR more writing-intensive than in-person pedagogy) and completing my Master’s — including the qualitative data gathering required — being able to complete reflections, interviews, meeting minutes, journal entries, and even first-drafts just by talking was a life-saver. For some of my students who had access to a smartphone but not a computer during lockdown, introducing them to Otter helped them write essays and complete assignments when they otherwise wouldn’t have feasibly been able to. Otter has also helped me see content synthesis as more of a multi-modal process, even if your outcome is designed to be single-platform. Being able to complete my teacher registration journal at the end of a long day just by setting Otter going in the car (or when I’m about to go to sleep, in bed) has been such a relief and energy-saving hack.
  17. 🌊 : Podcasts on Breaker
    At the beginning of last year, I made the decision that I wanted to get into podcasts on my commute to and from school. Having previously only commuted on public transport, I was used to reading a book or the paper on the journey, which (obviously) isn’t an option when you’re driving. I had no idea where to start, so I just searched up some podcast listicles, and downloaded a few on the native iOS podcast app. And I hated it. I found the UX clunky and confusing, and I never really knew what kind of podcast I was getting myself into, and it was just an extra hassle in the morning that I didn’t need — soon enough, I was back onto thrashing my Spotify playlists instead.
    Turns out, I just needed a better podcast app to really get into them. Enter Breaker, the social podcasting app. Being able to make playlists of podcasts and choose which ones to pre-download (and then automatically delete) — make notes on podcasts about key takeaways, favourite those you would listen to again or recommend to a friend — and follow others to see their listening trends is ideal. Breaker has its own level of clunk (it doesn’t have one of the biggest tech companies in the world behind it, so I’m more forgiving) but it works, and I’ve found some amazing podcasts through it to keep me entertained, informed, and inspired when I’m walking, driving, training, and bussing (or even tidying on the weekends, when I’ll usually get to the long-form podcasts I’ve been meaning to listen to). It’s also kind of satisfying to see that since I started in January, I’ve listened to nearly 800 podcast episodes. Throw me a follow if you want to share your favourite podcasts, I’m always keen to listen to more.
  18. 👩🏻‍🚒 : Disaster Risk Management
    I ended up specialising in Disaster Risk Management for my undergraduate degree, probably more than anything as a function of living in post-earthquake Christchurch and having access to all the efforts to make lessons learned from how that particular disaster was managed. Through these studies, I researched other epicentres (both figurative and literal) — New Orleans, Pripyat, Fukushima, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco — and learned from DRM experts on the practicalities and psycho-social mechanics of disaster. As morbid as this topic may sound (and it can be at once heart-wrenching and desparing to look into the darkest days of human society, whether those were at the hands of each other or mother nature) it can also be life-affirming to learn of our limitless capacity for innovation and compassion in the face of nearly impossible odds. Of everything I’ve studied (and those who know me know the list goes on), I’ve found I apply what I learned through the sociology and geography of disaster the most frequently.
    And then… COVID. It was hugely comforting to have a background understanding of what happens, when, and how, when faced with such extreme and sudden uncertainty. It was also kind of odd to remember representing the UK and New Zealand in a model summit at the UN Headquarters in 2008, as the appointed leader of the mock-WHO — where we were tasked with creating a pandemic response plan for the H1N1 virus, which looked remarkably similar to that of Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government here in New Zealand.
  19. 📔 : Journaling
    Just as my Filofax is still my right arm when it comes to organising my life, my bedside-table journal has become a staple for organising my thoughts. Doing a proper brain-dump at the end of the day helps me set free what I need to and let my brain work out the rest during dreamtime. I know this is a common one, so I’ll leave it at that — just get a cheap, crappy notebook (the crappier the better — get rid of that blank-page anxiety) and start, fam. You won’t regret it.
  20. 🎙️ : Global Conferencing
    I know the jury is out on conferences, and I’d say the loudest protestors for increased virtualisation are usually those who would be funded to get a free trip and stay in a swanky hotel for it. Virtual conferences certainly don’t have the glamour and (s)wank of in-person conferences, there’s no denying that. But I’ve found virtual conferences and webinars have given me the opportunity to hear from people I wouldn’t normally have heard from, learn with people I’d normally not have the chance to learn with, and network across timezones (even if that means being up at weird and wonderful hours). Better yet, being recorded, I’ve had the chance to go back and revisit ideas and concepts I didn’t quite get the first time. I’ve spoken at a few myself this year, including the Teach for All Global Conference and the INEE Teaching in Times of Crisis webinar series, alongside teachers and education leaders from all continents (except Antarctica, and I’m working on that…) — opportunities that may not have been available to such an early stage academic and educator as I am. I feel like the virtualisation of conferencing has democratised the process and made it far more egalitarian than in-person conferences ever could. You can take your fancy hotels and in-person applause, I’ll take the possibilities that come from better equity and accessibility.

I could wax lyrical and throw out cliche after cliche on what this year has been to all of us. And all I can really say is true to me is that I’m proud I made it through, and achieved more than I imagined I could, despite the challenges, hurdles, and obstacles (all three) thrown our way. I finished my Master’s, completed the program, and came out the other end of some unexpected trauma (both global, and personal)— tougher, stronger, more loving and wholehearted than I ever thought possible. But these were not my achievements alone. If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely you were part of this journey — and if so, I am profoundly grateful for you.

I didn’t include my family and friends on this list, simply because they’re the operating system on which this whole year has run for me. Love has carried me through. Reconnecting in the disconnect with friends, old and new, creating new routines and rituals with some of the most precious treasures of humans anyone could ever ask for. Twitter friends who have become IRL close friends and family, and others providing endless bants on the interwebs. My students, my colleagues, my fellow-fellows… humanity prevails and I’m grateful.

So, team, thank you for being on this ride with me. Here’s to 2021, and the surprising, poignant, funny, lovely, inspiring, affirming things that get us through it. With one of my all-time favourites: 💞

I build intelligent protocols that learn how great teachers teach, so we can help our learners learn better. felicityjanepowell.com

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