Being Intentional About Being Intentional

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality is on my mind a lot because I think that assessment can be more interesting, engaging, and powerful (for learners and teachers) when it’s less about measurement and accountability and more about supporting authentic learning practices. In this vein, assessment can be an interesting catalyst for reminding us to be intentional in what we do and how we do it — and in knowing why we do what we do.  Being intentional means thinking about each and every aspect of a course we teach or program we facilitate to do our best to ensure it lines up to what we’re hoping people will learn from it. The short article How To Study Your Own Teaching (And Why You Might Want To), by Janine Utell, speaks to this very idea:

I’ve developed strategies to create good discussion, to facilitate broad and deep involvement, and to synthesize the contributions of the classroom community. I feel like my classes are going best when the room is a bit rowdy, when interactions lead to debates and eurekas. But due partly to assessment work on my campus and partly to collaboration with colleagues in a different discipline around designing a study of student writing, I decided to create a project of my own to investigate the effectiveness of my practice. I wanted a more robust picture of what’s going on in my classroom and whether it’s working.

Utell wants to see her practice differently because she wants to make sure what she does is working. (And like many of my best teachers and colleagues, reflecting on her teaching practice and pedagogical commitments is likely part of her DNA and happens with less intentionality as well).

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality certainly has its role in my yoga practice as well. In early January, my yoga teacher asked a group of us to define one thing we each wanted to focus on this coming year in our practice.  It was a sort of New Year’s Resolution moment. And I knew right away:  I need to focus on squaring my hips in poses such as Warrior 3 or Pyramid.

This is not me - my hips are not this square. Nor do I practice yoga in a place like this. I live in Portland - we practice rain yoga. So thanks to rfarmer on Flickr for making this image available for use!

My hips always want to go way off to the side, and I thus don’t get the benefit of the pose when that happens. By stating this intention, and with self-assessment and my teacher’s coaching and assessment in each session, I maintain that intentionality, and I am improving. I can feel it. It’s on my mind constantly in any pose that requires me to get squared. If yoga is about anything for me, it’s about intentionality. And it’s about seeing myself differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Parenting my 4-year old is also a practice in intentionality — and learning and assessment — as well. Let me illustrate:

A few weeks ago Mac and I went to the zoo and found a friend in this fellow. Mac had been having a hard time with his own swimming attempts recently, freaking out at the thought of going under the water, so I seized the moment:

Me: Mac, why don’t you ask him why he likes to swim underwater so much.

Mac: Mr. Sea Lion, why do you like to swim underwater so much?

Mr. Sea Lion: blurb blurp bubble blurp

Mac: Mama, he says it’s fun to swim to the bottom and see all the kids down here.

Me: Wow, neat! I wonder what you can see when you swim to the bottom of the pool.

Mac: That’s silly mama. I can’t see anything. My eyes are closed!

WHAT? Mac always wore goggles in the pool – why did he close his eyes? What did he think the goggles were for? A fashion statement? To hold his hair back? I pointed out that with his goggles on he could open his eyes and see the bottom just like the sea lion, and – EPIPHANY!

Mac: Really? If I open my eyes in my goggles I can see down there?

Me: Yep – and you won’t get water in your eyes!

Mac: Cooooool! That will be really good, mama!

And the next time in the water, with his goggles on, he opened his eyes, swam to the bottom, and fetched a toy. Just like Mr. Sea Lion. Intentionality helped us out here, again. It reminded me that we often take things for granted and don’t question them for a long time until we have opportunity to see them differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

It’s good to see things differently – with our eyes open.  (If you’re in need, Mac has a pair of goggles he’ll let you borrow if you’d like – if you open your eyes under there, you might be amazed at what you’ll find.)


Hello New Day

Recently, the good folks over at University of Venus posted Deconstructing Proverbs. It’s a good read if, like me, you rely on proverbs to get your points across. I felt myself wanting to contribute to the list, so here are three (why stop at one?):

  1. You made your bed and now you have to sleep in it. Meaning: we all need to take responsibility for our actions, even when they come back to bite us. Own it – and learn from it. (Notice how when I say this proverb, I avoid the lay/lie confusion? Even for this English major, that one always stumps me!)
  2. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ve often said this to colleagues who start worrying about potential institutional changes well in advance of them needing too. A few weeks ago I said this to my 3-year old who was worrying up a storm 3 days before a swimming lesson he was going to. When I said this, suggesting that we postpone his worrying until a more relevant time, he said, “Which bridge Mama? Ross Island Bridge?” Funny, that boy. Good reminder that proverbs don’t always translate well.
  3. Hello new day. Ok, so this isn’t really a proverb, it’s a lyric from one of my favorite Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers songs. It’s a nice and happy rock & roll song. I say it every morning (sometimes out loud and sometimes in song) because I need the reminder that I get to have a fresh start every day; that yesterday’s “stuff” doesn’t necessarily have to follow me. Check it out – you’ll want to sing along:

See? Sing along:

Well I feel lucky, I feel cool

What can I say?

Every time I give away a dollar or two

I find three more on the way

Now for better or worse, the whole Universe

Is singing along with every song I play

Hello new day!

Of course when I am not feeling so happy and optimistic, I might be heard grumbling this one, which actually may not be a proverb.

Yet. . .


Ritual. adjective

\ˈri-chə-wəl, -chəl; ˈrich-wəl\

1: of or relating to rites or a ritual : ceremonial <a ritual dance>
2: according to religious law <ritual purity>
3: done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol <ritual handshakes> <ritual background checks>

Mac (the boy) and Oscar (the dog) have a simple but meaningful ritual. Every night while Mac takes his bath or shower, Oscar waits by the bathroom door. After Mac is in his pj’s, has brushed his teeth, and has gone potty one more time, Oscar flips over onto his back, and then this happens:

Ritual bedtime belly-rub.

We might not be able to sleep without it.

Back To Nature

Last month’s Spring Into Service events at Marylhurst have had me thinking a lot (more) about the health of our natural environment and how we connect to nature. Robert Michael Pyle’s reading, especially, got my wheels turning, and I decided that one concrete thing I needed to do was get my kid out into the forest again. Pronto!

Last Sunday we did just this. With his own trekking poles and Camelback, the 3.5 year old and I ventured into the woods.

My hiking partner.

Now Mac’s been hiking a lot before because it’s something that my husband and I love to do. But until last weekend, he was always in the backpack or the stroller. And about last fall, he just got too heavy to schlep around on our backs, too wiggly to sit still in the stroller for the duration, and too unpredictable in both mood and matter to deal with on the trail. (He was, after all, still a toddler.) So we’d not been in a while.

One of our first long hikes together when Mac was about 9 months old. Memorable for one of us.

But now that he’s three, potty-trained, and has learned to listen (most of the time) and not run into the bushes unaccompanied (after all, one must stay on the trail), I decided that it was time for him to get his own feet on terra firma. After a hearty breakfast of pumpkin bread, we hit the trail and started walking. We looked at flowers and listened to birds. We admired the Gorge (and the trains we could see from our high perch above it).

A hike with views of the Columbia River Gorge

We wondered where all the big rocks came from.

"Mama, there's a lot of rocks here!"

We talked about where the deer might sleep, and examined a large and suspicious patch of white fur along the path (likely from another hiker’s dog, but still…maybe it was from a rabbit, or even a polar bear?!?!?) We rested and had a snack by a waterfall before turning back to civilization, the car, and the trains / bikes / trash trucks / and legos that beckoned him.

Waterfall lunch spot.

Back to nature. That’s where we went. For 2 whole hours, and almost 2 miles, we went back to nature. It was everything I had hoped for. I was optimistic that I’d started something good with and for him: that I’d created a nature-lover, a child who would take care of the earth and its inhabitants, a child who would not suffer from nature deficit disorder. I couldn’t wait to do it again! Success! Bravo mama – nice job!

When we got home, Mac’s dad asked him about the hike and what we saw and what we did, trying to show his own approval and excitement that Mac and I actually had:

  1. Gone on a hike that lasted more than 10 minutes without Mac declaring he wanted to go home and ride his bike, and
  2. Completed a hike that did not involve me — at any point — carrying him.

And what does that kid say about his hike? Let me quote:

Dado, I got to go pee pee in the forest! Let’s go hiking again – I liked going pee pee in the forest! That was cooool!

This is his take-away, his key memory of our time together in the forest. This is why he wants to go on a hike again.

To pee!

In the forest!


My intent was to have him know what the breeze sounds like among the ferns, experience the earthy smells of rotting wood and new green leaves, hear the birdsong, and feel the thrilling cold spray of a mountain waterfall on his shoulders. My intent was to elicit an appreciation for a different kind of playground, to admire its beauty and mystery and power, and to realize important ways to take care of it. My intent was to have him get back to nature.

And yet, apparently, I somehow accomplished something like this, though not exactly this.

Back to nature, we went. Back to nature.

And where is nature?

Nature: Where a young boy can pee in the forest and be thrilled to not have to flush.

A Good Time Of The Year For This

Clear Path, by Harriet Schwartz

We often spend so much time coping with problems along our path that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a dim, or even inaccurate, view of what’s really important to us. ~Peter Senge

May the end of the year bring you back to your path, and may you find cause to celebrate each step along the way.


With gratitude to my colleague Harriet Schwartz, who took the picture above – this and several others can be purchased on her website: Harriet Schwartz Photography.

Installment #15: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

Mac has a new game, and he plays it all the time. No, I mean All. The. Time!

It’s called: Find A Parking Spot

It’s also sometimes called: Stuck In Traffic

Here is how you play this game.

First, you have to find a parking spot for all the cars:

Then, all the cars need to line up to get on the bridge:

Then, the cars need to be next to other cars that match:

Then, all the cars need to go back to the parking lot to find a place to park, all while watching out for the trash truck because it’s bigger:

Finally, all the cars have to get back together again to be in a traffic jam and/or another parking lot:

The past few weeks Mac has asked me to play this game over and over again, and each time, it’s a version of what I’ve just described. The last time he asked me to play I said, “Mac, I don’t really like that game” to which he said, “But mama, I’ll let you drive!”

I have come to believe that this game is all about turning lemons into lemonade; it’s about making challenging situations into fun and imaginative ones; it’s about organizing chaos; it’s about trying to control that which we might not be able to actually control. It’s also about learning to navigate our way through the traffic jams and to find a good spot for ourselves. We might learn something from this game. The whole of the lesson isn’t entirely clear to me yet, but we might learn something. Something.

If anything, we might learn to watch out for the trash truck; it is, in fact, a whole lot bigger than all the rest of us. And last time I checked, there was an almost 3-year old behind the wheel.


#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

#6 – Selecting the Right Learning Tools

#7 – Ask For Help

#8 – Learn In Community

#9 – Embrace Ambiguity and Find Your Way

#10 – Apply Your Learning To New Situations or Problems

#11 – We Learn When We Are Well-Rested

#12 – The Importance of Feedback

#13 – We Need Good Food As Learning Fuel

#14 – Power To Life’s Puddles