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.)


With Intention

As some of you who read this blog know, I practice yoga (and have written about my practice here and here). I emphasize the word practice because it’s ongoing, and I don’t think in yoga you’re actually supposed to get to “perfect” (a concept most yogis I know disregard vehemently, for all sorts of good reasons).

Thanks to Tony George on Flickr for making this image available.

Today, in my yoga class, the instructor talked about setting our intentions for the class — what did we intend to do, to focus on, in the next 90 minutes? And I was thinking about how the word “intentions ” is such a better way to think about “things I want to achieve” instead of the word goals. It implies process, it implies practice, and it does not imply this ubiquitous concept of perfection.

I have goals that I want to achieve in yoga — for example, someday I really would like to be strong and flexible enough to do a back bend — but for each class I like the idea of thinking of my intention for that time, on that day, given everything else that’s happening (sore knee, a bit tired, etc.).

A goal implies an end point — something fixed that we are aiming for. It also implies that it’s possibly external to us. An intention, on the other hand, is all about us — what we intend to do to move toward something. If you state your intention, it’s YOUR intention — YOU have to do something. It requires action on your part. If you state a goal, you may be relying on external forces to help you achieve it.

So how does this apply to adult learners in higher education? Well, I propose that we start thinking more about intentions; doing so will serve us as learners better in the long run because we will be in charge, and we will have to act.

Example Goals: I want to learn about X. OR – I want to be a better writer. OR – I want a new job as a Muckity Muck.

Example Intentions: I intend, in this class, to learn what I can about X. OR – I intend, in this term, to  improve my academic writing skills. OR – I intend to interview a person who is a Muckity Muck so I can learn about what it will take to be a Muckity Muck.

I am not proposing that we do away with goals entirely — identifying an end point can be helpful to measure our progress and to feel like we’ve accomplished something once we get there. I am proposing, however, that we also consider intentions — what can I do now to help me move along the continuum toward that goal? To help with my practice of being a learner?

I encourage you to think about what your intentions are for this coming class / week / term / assignment. The goal may be to get an A or to learn about Project Management or for goodness sake to graduate — but what do you intend to learn? What actions will you take? What will you do?


yogastretchIn my last post titled This Is So Not About Yoga, I forgot to add Lesson #5, which I was shockingly reminded of today in my yoga class:

5) ACCEPT IT: Some days I am not as flexible, strong, balanced, or energetic as I am on other days.  On Sunday I felt like could have held boat pose for hours; today I wobbled and teetered and couldn’t get my legs or back straight.  And so it goes; the next time I try it, it will probably be better. I have to accept it, and try again soon (not later, but soon). When moving toward it, moving with it, and practicing it — whatever “it” is for us — we will also have days where we have to accept where we are with it and within our learning process, and try it again. Soon.

This Is So Not About Yoga

I have been learning and practicing yoga for the past four years, which is significant for three reasons:

  1. I always swore that I wouldn’t like yoga — too slow, not enough hard-core exercise, and what’s up with those strappy little outfits? Etc.
  2. More importantly, I also always swore that I couldn’t do it. Touching my toes has been one of the hardest things for me to do next to eating eggplant that is served to me when I am at someone else’s house for dinner and need to be polite. I was sure I would fail.
  3. I also used to try to stay away from exercise that required equipment or cost. For goodness sake, I thought: why would I pay money to go to a stuffy gym and wait in line behind a bunch of testosteroned people to get on a torture machine when I could go for a walk around the neighborhood with my dog and actually enjoy myself?


But four years ago I decided I would try yoga (at the time, a desperate move to build an exercise regime into my daily schedule — it was, for me, all about convenience), and after 6 weeks of  doing yoga 3 times a week and taking Advil 3 times a day, I came to appreciate it. And here’s why I am telling you (my students) this:

  • I had my assumptions about myself and about yoga challenged, and I am better for it today.
  • I have learned a bit about learning by learning — by practicing — yoga.


1) MOVE TOWARD IT: I may not be able to hold a pose, but I can move toward a pose, and often moving toward a pose every time actually gets me closer to the actual pose, and in at least three cases now (crane, tree, and dancer) I have gotten to the pose and can do it pretty well, to my complete astonishment. Relevance to learning? Here goes:  You don’t need to learn something right away or all at once, and if you’re trying to, you probably won’t have learned it well. Instead, move in that direction. Move toward it.

2) MOVE WITH IT: Poses don’t necessarily need to be perfect. When I was learning how to do tree and struggling with my balance, my teacher reminded me that trees sway in the wind, and so it was perfectly ok for me to sway while I was learning how to hold still. The lesson? To move with things instead of against them. Once I allowed myself to sway, I relaxed, and in no time I was stronger and able to hold without swaying (though some days I still like to sway, and I also like to close my eyes to challenge myself even more).

3) PRACTICE IT: Yoga is about practice, not about something elusive called “mastery.”  Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois said this: “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% knowledge.” I think this applies to a lot of things we are trying to learn.

4) GET RID OF “NOT- IT”: Twist. It gets rid of stress. ‘Nuff said. Here’s my favorite: Supine spinal twist. 3 minutes on my mat with this twist is all I need — not even Calgon can take me away like this twist can.

Finally, every time I practice yoga I am reminded that it’s good for us to get our assumptions challenged — it’s actually healthy! We usually become better people for it because we realize what can happen when we open our minds to new experiences and ideas. For example, many of you have told me that you can’t do / don’t like / are scared of math. You tell me you break out in a cold sweat whenever you hear the word and you avoid this requirement like the plague. Well, yeah, and try it. John Newbury wrote about his experiences learning math in his blog, and I think you might find the same kind of “ah-ha” as well if you’re open to it.

Finally part two:  While I am still quite possibly the most inflexible person I know from a muscular standpoint, I do like Betsy Cañas Garmon’s perspective on practicing yoga: I do yoga so that I can stay flexible enough to kick my own arse if necessary. Surely as learners there are times that it’s necessary for us to be able to do just this.