Learning to Adapt

The past two weeks or so have been quite a learning experience. I have challenged myself to blog on a daily basis, and on some days I am bursting to set out an idea that has been percolating for a bit. On other days, like today, I find that I have to collect myself and think about the story of my day before I can begin. Thus, the story of my day:

Wake up & shower. Go to a Saturday professional development session (Kagan training, Day 4), led by an excellent international Kagan trainer. Halfway through the day, break for lunch with six other staff members who are also at the training. Wrap up PD and go home with Husband, but stop to get ice cream first. Decompress and watch the movie Miracle. Contemplate why it is that we live in a place that reached -49 degrees today.

For me the thread that links it all together is only one word: adapt. The verb is a synonym for the word modify, or to make something suitable for a new use or purpose, and it also means to become adjusted to new conditions. Moving out of the sunny comfort of northern California and bracing myself for this winter is most certainly an example of adapting. I can’t go anywhere without spare car keys, hats, gloves, boots, and some kind of heavy coat. I even have an action packer in the trunk space of my car with tow ropes, road flares, jumper cables, you name it. Just in case. In California I walked out of the apartment with barely a purse, and certainly never with the thought that I needed safety gear in case of a roadside breakdown. Much as I dislike feeling pasty (oh melanin, how you’re fading) and sometimes irritable for lack of Vitamin D, I feel safe and cozy inside the house with Husband and Pup-pup. Eating ice cream in this kind of cold is even more comforting than usual. I know also that when it gets back to anywhere near zero, or when we move toward 30 above come March-ish, I will be celebrating every single degree of extra warmth and every second of extended daylight. I will never again take summertime for granted.

The Kagan training, from 8:30-3:30 on a Saturday, was also an exercise in adaptation, of re-framing how teachers look at their classrooms. I could go on and on about the principles of this, but essentially it is around building a cooperative learning environment for kids. It requires the teacher to learn a variety of structures and tools, but it is possible to plug in any content from any subject or skill into any of said structures. The result, once the students have become familiar with the structures, can be a rich, collaborative classroom that engages all kids while still holding them accountable on an individual basis. When I heard of Kagan last summer, I thought, eh. Now that I’ve been through multiple days of training, I find myself thinking about how I might incorporate some structures into my 30-minute lessons to help students process information. I’m wondering how I can encourage the teachers I work with to use Kagan structures for a variety of purposes in their own lesson plans. Another adaptation.

Last but not least, we have the movie Miracle. Definitely up there on my list of phenomenal sports movies, like one of those that makes me cry no matter how many times I’ve seen it and know exactly what’s going to happen when. Damn that Disney for playing on my emotions so expertly. For the entirety of the movie, coach Brooks prepares the 1980 USA Men’s hockey team for the inevitable face-off against the Soviet Union — the world’s most dominant hockey team at the time. He teaches them to adapt their style of play to more closely emulate the Soviets in order to attack them; that is, to give the Soviets a taste of their own medicine. Sounds simple enough, but it takes seven long months of training and practice and team-building to reach their point of victory. The new team has to adapt to each others’ personalities; they all have to adapt to their coach; the coach’s wife has to adapt to his fierce work ethic; etc. Adapt, modify, change… in order to accomplish newer and greater goals.

To adapt, in my mind, is to find new purpose for familiar things. To take what you already know and apply it in a new context, under a new set of circumstances. It means regularly being uncomfortable while learning something new, since the learning curve always dips before it rockets skyward again. I think that if Husband and I had continued to live in California, we would not have had to adapt to much other than the rising cost of living. Right now in Alaska, everything is new for me. The winter cold. Curling league. Drive-through coffee stands (which I love). New colleagues. Making new friends. While I’m still in the process of adapting and learning to do as the Romans do, I realize that this is a huge opportunity for growth. And if we are here right now, I trust there is a greater Purpose already in place that we are discovering as I write.

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