I’m taking a year off social media

digital detox.jpeg

When’s the last time you were really uncomfortable? When’s the last time you sacrificed something so BIG you had no choice but to trust God to order your steps? I’m about to find out.

This journey began in September when my pastor, Rev. Watley of Reid Temple AME – North, challenged the congregation to unplug from technology and reconnect with Christ. He stood on the pulpit and announced that we would unplug from social media for a week. During this time we would have to spend daily time with God, use a website such as Time Tracker to track how we spend time online, among other things. I was excited for a challenge. “A week?” I thought to myself. “I can do that” and so I did.

I’m on social media every single day posting commentary, sharing volunteer work and encouraging folks to give back, scrolling and finding the latest news article and catching up with family and friends. It has become such a major part of my life that I had to be deliberate in my attempt to cut it out completely. Later that evening, I deleted the apps from my phone one-by-one. “A week?” I thought to myself again. “I know that I can do that and it’ll be over next Sunday.” Then I proceeded to dust my shoulders off. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was comfortable with my weeklong social media fast. I still had control. My life wasn’t really disrupted and so I continued to exercise safe faith – when a person says they have faith, but is not really stretching him or herself to a point of discomfort where he/she has no choice but to listen and believe in God.

I walked in church with pep in my step the next Sunday morning. You would have thought I had on a brand new pair of Christian Louboutins as I strutted in to the chorus of Kanye West’s “Can’t tell me nothing.” I felt accomplished about making it through the weeklong fast. How many of us give ourselves a pat on the back for doing things that we know we can already do? Clearly, I’m guilty.

Before beginning the sermon, Pastor Watley asked us how we felt about the fast. I turned to my neighbor and shared with such excitement. Then he said, “Well, I want you to know that I’ve decided to extend the fast for another week.” I squealed. Literally. Other people gasped and we all looked around the room. Then Pastor Watley said, “If you had a negative reaction to this, then you have a problem.” I burst with laughter. It was at that moment that I began to see that I had been living a safe faith life in my comfort zone.

In the weeks to come, Pastor Watley added more to the fast. We fasted from social media and tv the second week and social media, tv and the internet (except for work use) the third and fourth weeks. Instead of feeling more difficult, the fast felt easier as time went on. I became more motivated as I noticed a change happening with my state of mind and lifestyle. After fasting for a month, I had experienced a few light bulb moments:

1) We have more time than we realize: We live in an era where busyness is glorified. We fill our schedules with things we think we should be doing and end up getting burned out and exhausted doing what actually could be “good” things while simultaneously neglecting ourselves. Also, normally my weekends felt too short. During my fast, I actually felt relaxed during my weekends and didn’t dread going to bed on Sunday night knowing that I have work in the morning. The fast revealed just how much time idle time I spend on social media and how much more time I had for things that I had put off for months, years even. I got a lot more accomplished during the week because I wasn’t coming home to be a tired zombie on the couch watching hours of television. I thought I had no time, when in reality I had more time than I could’ve imagined — so much time that even my two-day weekend felt enough.

2) We have to choose peace: Given the times (racism and prejudice is no longer being swept under the rug, police brutality, mass incarceration and our criminal injustice system are all being challenged, economic inequality is at the highest its been in nearly a century, folks are losing battles with mental health, the youth – especially those living in poor and under-resourced communities—are living in a state of distress) it can be very easy to allow all of this and more to overcome and overwhelm us. I felt that weight day in and day out. However, during my fast I didn’t feel the obligation that I had put on myself to share my opinion about everything going on locally, nationally and internationally. Most of this was because I didn’t see a constant barrage of news and opinions on my timeline every day. This forced me to find other outlets to stay informed and also read and view things with a different perspective than I might of had when I combined it with everything else that I read on my timeline. In my peaceful state, I was able to view situations with new eyes while also giving myself the time and space to be innovative in coming up with alternative ways to combat old problems.

3) We have to be laser focused: Social media and the internet has changed the way we learn and process information. As humans, we must study subjects in depth to become smarter. This is exactly the opposite of how many of us acquire information in the age of social media. The internet is so busy and it causes our minds jump from topic to topic, click story to story, read opinion after opinion and as a result it’s difficult for our minds to naturally acquire knowledge and form theories or new innovative thoughts in a meaningful way. I noticed my productivity increased when I was able to focus on one thing at a time without all the distractions. I had more control over what I was putting in my mind and as a result it grew stronger. Additionally, I didn’t find myself worrying about what the next person was doing. I was able to focus on my own personal growth and development. There’s no room to compare when you’re only looking at yourself.

4) When we eliminate distractions, we free ourselves: Overtime, I noticed that I was beginning to progress in areas that I always said were a priority, but through my actions weren’t. How many of us set the same goals year after year and never accomplish them? These are the goals that are keys to our happiness, but they end up slipping through the cracks because we don’t make large enough sacrifices to make them happen. How good would we feel to begin to move the needle on the neglected areas of our lives? A few of these goals for me are focusing on some financial goals that I’ve thrown to the wayside for too long, growing in my relationship with God, committing to a weekly gym routine and having more face-to-face time with those I care about most. Social media allows us to be able to keep in surface level contact with folks. When people don’t have daily access to what you’re doing, they’re forced to inquire when they see you in person or talk to you on the phone.

After completing the fast, I realized a month off was too short. I went right back to old habits of posting and scrolling. In December, I hit a rough point that forced me to make a drastic change. I was so frustrated with a few toxic decisions I made and couldn’t even look myself in the face. My mind was weak and it caused me to make poor decisions and go through the same internal tests and trials over and over again. Some of us keep experiencing the same hardships because we’re selfish and stubborn. We refuse to change. So in that vein, my yearlong fast was born.

I’ve been living my life for the past thirty years in the safe faith zone – my comfort zone. I’m giving up social media* for a year to focus on me, myself and I:  #DarlasDigitalDetox.  I look forward to this inward journey and experiencing the highs and lows of change. For me, I had to give up social media.  It could be something else that you may have to let go. I ask you to do what I did: Reflect on your life and where you are – if you’re not happy with certain areas of your life that you’re dealing with privately, change them. Finally, be committed to true faith in order to be in a spiritual and emotional state that brings you joy, happiness and a life of purpose.

If you ever wanted to chat with me hit me up: Darla.Bunting@gmail.com and be sure that we get face-to-face time. I’m over keeping in contact with folks just through pictures and status updates. 😀

*Social media fast:  No Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and Twitter.

My thoughts on the high school student assaulted at Spring Valley

My quick thoughts on the assault at Spring Valley High School.  If you haven’t watched the video, check it out here:

1) Humans are emotional beings. As we become older, we hopefully learn how to regulate our emotions and think critically about the long and short-term effects of our decisions. This process is called emotional intelligence.

2) It may bruise our ego when a child doesn’t comply. We may even think about doing somethings in the moment that we would never do in our right minds. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we make a split decision in a heated moment that’s rooted in ego and fear of losing “power” that we will regret.

3) Kids are learning and growing. We expect children to behave irrationally at times. They haven’t gained the wisdom and life experience to effectively regulate their emotions and egos. Teenagers especially are testy because of the struggle between childhood and adulthood, the search to find oneself, and juggling this all through wanting to be perceived a certain way in front of one’s peers. It takes time, growth and life experience that allows one to mature to use discernment. On the other hand, there is absolutely no excuse for us, as adults, who know better and can better manage our emotions because of the life experience and wisdom that we’ve hopefully acquired over time to physically or verbally abuse a child.

4) Some kids are left to be innocent children who are growing and learning. Others have their innocence stripped away from them because a number of reasons that are rooted in our complicated history and our natural instinct to be driven by fear and not by hope, faith, compassion and love. For some reason there are those of us who consciously and unconsciously accept the verbal and physical abuse of some kids and not others. Ask yourself, are you looking at this situation through the lens of love or through a lens of fear and an inability to view some children as having innocence?

5) Working in schools is a tough job. To all the teachers and administrators who understand that our children are learning and growing, and that we must always work to regulate our emotions to the best of our ability because that’s what we must model for kids, I salute you. Officer Ben Fields, I would hope you own up to your abuse of power and sincerely apologize for allowing your emotions and power trip to get the best of you and sincerely ask for forgiveness. This type of behavior cannot be tolerated and forgiveness is just the start in mending broken trust and frail relationships.

What Inspires you to create?

ImageI was humbled when Melissa Kimble of My Creative Connection–an amazing blog that highlights women of color and their professional and personal stories of success– asked if she could write a piece on me.  The opportunity could not of come at a better time as I was in a period of self-reflection and transition as I spread my wings to leave my classroom nest and into the wild job hunt jungle. I touched upon issues such as work-life balance, priority-setting and getting back to the basics of community building. 

Check out an excerpt from my interview below:

What inspires you to create?

What many people do not realize is that doing good work is dirty.  We need people who are willing to get down and dirty to be the change we all wish to see.  Too many people attend the fundraising events and/or see the picture recap and believe that it is all fun.  Or people see teachers smiling with their students at recess and believe that teaching and working in schools is all fun.  No!  The day-to-day, often mundane work we do is what actually produces those results.  So what inspires me is when I get to see that hard work pay off.  When I see pictures of a teacher and her class, I think of how that teacher has built those relationships through day-to-day classroom interactions because I have been there.  When I am with the First Book-DC board reviewing book grant applications and we get to grant out the thousands of dollars we’ve raised or when I’m leading a Power Session with Capital Cause, those are moments that inspire me to get down and dirty again.  To get in the weeds again and keep working because no matter how tedious the task, no matter how frustrating it can be to send all those emails, planning those lessons, or lead another conference call, at the end of the day it pays off.  And knowing that you’re working towards making a lasting difference is what makes it all worth it. 

Curious to read more?  Hop on over to My Creative Connection for the rest of the story.

The Fab Empire’s Fab List + Lessons in Leadership

ImageThis morning, via Twitter (the ultimate source of news sharing), I found out I made The
Fab Empire’s The Fab List–a list that “honors innovators and leaders from field such as technology, fashion, communications, medicine, ministry, politics and more.”  I was shocked and surprised.  You see I do what I love.  Volunteering and enlisting others in service, advocating for better educational opportunities and ensuring the low-income students who make it to college, make it through college are all my passions.  To be honored doing exactly what I love and what comes extremely natural to me is the ultimate compliment, and a key sign that I’m working in my purpose.

Before I share you the link to check out the list that includes stellar changemakers and movers and shakers in DC, I want to leave you with a quote from The Radical Leap by Steve Farber, a book I’m reading for graduate school.  In the book, Steve meets a man named Edg who reignites his fire for leadership, and challenges him to think about leadership as an extreme sport.  In one of their conversations, Edg shares this with Steve:

The ability to lead doesn’t come from a snappy vocabulary, the books you’ve displayed on your shelves, your place on the organizational chart, or that fashionable title on your business card.  Leadership is always substantive and rarely fashionable.  It is intensely personal and intrinsically scary and it requires us to live the ideas we espouse–in irrefutable ways–every day of our lives, up to and beyond the point of fear.

Edg is right.  Authentic leadership comes from within.  It is a part of how we live our daily lives.  Some people never tap into their authentic leadership source because they are afraid to really go after their dreams.  Today, I encourage you to think about your passions and live them!  You will often surprise yourself–and like in my case, catch the eyes of others, too.

You can check out The Fab List here.


The Impact of Low Expectations in K-12 Education

Reading Leonard Pitts Jr.’s recent post in the Miami Herald, Don’t lower the bar on education standards, reminded me of Darryl’s Robinson’s piece, I went to some of D.C.’s better schools. I was still unprepared for college, published in the Washington Post earlier this year.  Leonard and Darryl are both two different people.  They are from two different generations; their age difference is a couple decades.  But they both share a common narrative that many students who attend low-performing schools experience once in college:  The realization that you did not receive an adequate k-12 education.  It has nothing to do with how intelligent you are or what your mind is capable of learning, but it has all to do with where you were born and the school you attended.

Leonard began his piece by describing the time in college when he realized his SAT score was not as great as as he thought:

As I recall, I scored 960 on my SAT. This was good enough for second best in my class and many congratulations and backslaps from teachers and administrators. Based on that, I thought I’d done pretty well.

So I’m in college, right? Freshman year, and I get to talking with my roommate, this white guy named Reed, about our SAT scores. Reed’s kind of sheepish, finally confessing that he scored “only” about 1200.

That’s when I realized I had not done pretty well. I had done pretty well for a student of John C. Fremont High, in the poverty, crime and grime of South Los Angeles. I had done pretty well for a black kid.

At Leonard’s high school, his SAT score was good.  Maybe Leonard could have scored higher, but one thing Leonard knows for sure is that it stung when he listened to his roommate that day and became aware that his great score was not so great after all.

Then there’s Darryl.  Darryl wrote a piece about how he struggled at Georgetown University because he was not prepared for college rigor.  Here’s what he had to say:

But after arriving on campus before the school year, with a full scholarship, I quickly felt unprepared and outmatched — and it’s taken an entire year of playing catch-up in the classroom to feel like I belong. I know that ultimately I’m responsible for my education, but I can’t help blaming the schools and teachers I had in my early years for my struggles today.

Even though I attended some of the District’s better schools — including my high school, the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, at the Parkside campus near Kenilworth — the gap between what I can do and what my college classmates are capable of is enormous. This goes beyond knowing calculus or world history, subjects that I didn’t learn in high school but that my peers here mastered long ago. My former teachers simply did not push me to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.

Darryl pushed the education reform dialogue to confront the watered down curriculum offered in a vast majority of low-income public schools.  It makes everyone confront the educational offerings we allow in one community and the ones we give another, and how this ultimately inadequately prepares our college-hopefuls to feel successful in college.

Then there’s me.  My freshman year in college, I had to take remedial math because I was not prepared for college-level mathematics.  Not many people know this, but I failed that course my freshman year.  It was devastating for me.  I never cried so much in my life.  I did not even know how to tell my parents.  I was ashamed.  It was the first time I felt like a failure.  I graduated top 10 in high school, served as vice president of the honor society and was class president all four years of high school, and here I was receiving my first F in a remedial math course.  It made me question my academic abilities, but it also made me realize that the education I received was not good enough.

Leonard’s, Darryl’s or my story is not unique.  There are many students like us who attend public schools every day.  The first time we realize that we did not receive a rigorous, college-ready education is when we enter college.  Leonard’s piece focuses on Virginia and Florida’s decisions to create race-based achievement goals for students.  And Darryl’s focuses on ensuring students can think read, write and think analytically to best prepare them for college.  Like Leonard, I too, wonder just what effect lowering the bar will have on the education students attending schools like we did will receive.  Like Darryl, I advocate for a rich curriculum because I know from experience that my students will need in college.

Leonard, Darryl and students like myself are capable and ultimately end up being successful in life.  In college, we challenge ourselves to persist despite our shortcomings and end up achieving academically.  So ask yourself, if we are able to catch-up while in college, then why isn’t more being done to ensure that we are better prepared?  Some say students in low-income schools cannot achieve at the same levels of their high-income peers or some are too far behind to ever catch-up.  Leonard, Darryl, myself and countless others prove them otherwise in college and in life.  We graduate and make our families and communities proud.

I know that we can give children a rich and engaging k-12 curriculum that ensures that the stories of Leonard, Darryl and myself won’t continue to be the experiences of students who attend schools that primarily serve students from low-income backgrounds who enroll in college.   Let’s not lower standards, but ask ourselves the following question:   How do we create schools that produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers that naturally yield high test scores and our world’s best and brightest leaders?  If these same students can do it in college, surely our schools can do a better job of bringing them up to par in k-12.

Read Leonard’s piece here and Darryl’s here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Neighborhood Pressure: The Neighborhood’s Impact on a Child’s Decision-Making

ImageRecently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a group of fifth graders.  Over time, we’ve developed quite a relationship where they feel comfortable opening up to me about things happening in their lives.  Often, we adults do not ask children what situations they face.  Maybe it’s because we tend to be in denial or maybe we don’t want to tackle those problems head on or maybe we just get so busy that we don’t ask children these real life questions.  Nevertheless, children are being pressured into deviant behavior whether we want to admit it or prioritize discussing it with them.

As the children I spoke to opened up, they told informed me that their peers were encouraging them to participate in illegal activities, and that sometimes they were equally as guilty for pressuring one of their friends or siblings to do the wrong thing.  For them, it is part of what they do in childhood.  You go to the store on the corner before or after school and stuff packs of gum and Now &  Laters and Hot Cheetos in your pockets.  When questioned by store staff, you blatantly lie so that now it just feels comfortable to be dishonest.  “Sometimes you do tell the truth,” said one child.  He then recalled a time he was accused of theft.  “The store cashier told me to be honest or else he would call the cops.  So I told him, ‘Yes, I did steal, but it’s because I’m poor and I cannot afford it.'”

As I listened intently to these real life accounts, it brought me back to my childhood.  I never had to shoplift for clothes at Old Navy in the local mini-mall in my county, but I absolutely remember people in my peer group doing it.  In an attempt to keep up with the changing trends and their parents lack of income, they risked getting arrested for a “best dressed” reputation.  I also remember instances where people would steal from the 711 and get into verbal spats with the employees.  More importantly, I remember where some of my peers ended up, and as my fifth graders share their lives with me, I wonder just how can I combat the neighborhood’s influence on their decision-making?

In schools across America, we teach character building through scenarios that happen on the school grounds such as playing fair on the playground, learning how to share materials during centers, or not pushing in line.  But I’m afraid we miss the perfect opportunity to bring up decisions our children face outside of school walls.

How are we preparing them to face their older brother or cousin who pressures them to smoke weed?  What about drinking a parent’s alcoholic beverage that was left unopened in the refrigerator?  These are also example of negative choices that the children I’m getting to know brought up.  Our children are constantly asked or pressured to make poor life choices on their block.  These choices can serve as gateways into even more negative behavior that could happen later in life.

Furthermore, in middle school I was involved in S.N.A.A.P (Students Notifying Adolescents About Prevention), and in elementary, middle and high school I participated in Youth to Youth.  Both of these programs helped me to combat the neighborhood and media’s influence on my decision-making.

Today, while chatting with the fifth graders, I was able to spew facts I learned about cigarette smoke and underage drinking at a young age.  They had no idea smoking cigarettes fills lungs with tar or that alcohol is a poison that can make them extremely sick, and that when adult gives them alcohol, it’s a crime.  Kids should receive all this information early on–in age appropriate doses–but definitely not sugar-coated.  On the streets, it’s not sugar-coated, and they certainly are not skipped over peer pressure because of their age.  It’s time we have this conversations or else deal with the consequences of having their peers or media lead them down the wrong path.

My questions to you:

  1. How do we get this information back into schools?
  2. Is this even being taught in health class at the late elementary level?
  3. What role do schools play in helping children make the right decisions, not just in school, but in life?
  4. How can schools address the type of pressure our kids face when they leave the grounds?  What has your school done to bring up these types of issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Myth of the Super Teacher & Learning from Failure

Recently, I had a chance to view a presentation by Roxanna Elden, an amazing high school writing teacher.  In this video, she describes the myth of the super teacher.  This video helped me begin to reflect on my four years as a teacher.  I must admit, like Ms. Elden, I wanted to be a super teacher.  I came in with the expectation that if I simply had great objective-driven lesson plans and a detailed classroom culture and investment plan, that everything would magically fall into place and my students would all leave my class as geniuses.  It was not until I took that pressure off that I began to hit my own teaching stride and rhythm.

Check out Roxanna’s video, followed by my reflection below:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/43565010″>The Myth of the Super Teacher</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user9302257″>EdWriters</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The reality is there are great teachers.  Teachers who are amazing at their craft, but this takes years to develop, especially if you choose to teach at a high-need school with little curricular resources and materials, tailored professional development and on-going support.  Nevertheless, when the challenges and hardships that come with teaching are not shared, this creates an unrealistic expectation in the minds of first year teachers.   This unrealistic super teacher myth puts stress and pressure on teachers who truly do want to make a difference, try to do everything right, but cannot account for when things do not go as planned.  And, as any first-year teacher knows many, many things do not go as planned.

To any teacher just beginning your teaching journey, I do not want to sugarcoat my teaching experience as one that was always joyful because it was learning how to overcome the challenges that helped me become a good teacher.  My colleagues and I spent late nights and weekends at school.   In fact, my 2012 New Year’s Resolution was to not go into school on the weekend; and I succeeded, even though I continued to stay late during the week.  In the video, Roxanna forgets to mention that those teachers who do stay up late planning and only get a few hours of sleep do so because they lack resources or the proper training and support to get it right the first time around.  Every school schedule is different.  Some schools allow teachers much planning time throughout the day so little has to be done after school.  Some schools do not give teachers much planning time throughout the day, or use this time for meetings.  To outsiders, my late nights were a choice, to my coworkers we knew that time was not on our side when it came to meeting the demands of being a teacher serving in a high-need school–especially a turnaround school–requires a ton of resources, that teachers have to supply and/or create.

However, in some ways, teachers are super for being able to juggle so much at once–even if they sometimes fail.  Although, I was a teacher, to my students I was better known as known as an alluring actress of the famed characters in the novels that I read, counselor, disciplinarian, role model, and trusted confidant who was a phone call away no matter what the time.  I was also aiming to be an objective-driven guru, differentiation master, data manager, parent home visit scheduler, and push my life to the side and live for my students even on days that I wanted to cry because my lesson did not go as planned kind of teacher.

With little time to plan or even sit down during the day, even Arne Duncan’s Chief of Staff was surprised as she shadowed me this year during my morning block.  She was amazed at just how many little fires a teacher has to put out during a lesson, and she jumped right in to assist.  She was referring to one student who had been fighting a severe toothache and had not been the dentist, another who was struggling with his father’s incarceration and kept asking to speak to the school social worker, and countless other one-to-one interactions with my kids that happened throughout the two hour and forty-five minute block.

So yes, becoming an effective teacher does not happen overnight.  The myth of Roxanna’s “super teacher” who comes in the classroom with little experience, no support and little sleep and flips his/her classroom upside down in his/her first and crushes the achievement gap is not a realistic expectation to set when training teachers.  Yet, the super teacher who juggles multiple hats, learns how to persevere through challenges, learns one’s craft overtime and is part of an amazing school culture committed to student achievement is realistic.  See what many people do not realize is that being a teacher is more than just writing objectives on a board, and delivering lesson plans and aligning tests to standards.  It is about growth, being able to bounce back from disappointment and constantly motivating your students as you are going through the learning process as well.

To all the first year teachers out there, do not stress yourself out if your lesson goes haywire when one student threw a tantrum because he/she was hungry.  Do not get your panties in a bunch if what you thought was an amazing lesson because you spent all night creating it is thrown out the window because your students just did not master it.  Like Ms. Elden said, you can be a super teacher, it may not be every day.  The best teachers know that the most successful people are those who have risen after failing, reflected and tried again.