What “level up” really means: Games, Teaching, and Self-awareness

There’s a story I often tell about my second year of teaching. I tell it to new educators, veteran educators, and perhaps most importantly, I tell it to myself around the start of new “years” both calendar and academic.


After returning from winter break, the coaching staff at my cyber charter school challenged all of its teachers to start making 5 phone calls home per day. They could range from positive celebrations to reminders about missing assignments, to more serious check-ins about a student's progress, but we were challenged to make 5 of them.


It felt impossible; I barely had enough time in the day to complete my existing professional responsibilities. As our coaching staff reminded us, however, cyber schools have an increased responsibility to make ourselves available. It was important that we "level up" in order to build a stronger school community.


I have been playing games my whole life. I grew up with Nintendo, Xbox, and board games with the family at least once a month. To this day, I play a range of games in my free time, so I am no stranger to leveling up. I think it's one of the most poorly understood phrases to come out of game culture. “Level up” is often used as a generic affirmation to strive rather than what it truly is… an invitation to ground ourselves in self-awareness.


In order to level up, the first step has to be acknowledging the level at which you are currently playing the game. Too often, I am tempted to rush to level 5 rather than steadfastly marching to level 2. It is so much more satisfying to run heroically at the final boss, but we all know what happens when we do that ill-equipped with the practice and tools that game designers take so much care to build into each level of their games.


Trying to make 5 phone calls every day when I had previously only been making a couple every Friday afternoon was just that. It was running at a dragon without any armor and only a short sword. I remember very vividly saying to myself, "I don't think I can do that… but what CAN I do?" What I could do was make one call every other day. That became two calls when I had to leave a message on a family's voicemail. That became a call slot every day quite quickly because I had to follow up on all the messages I left.


I never reached my 5 calls per day. I never faced that dragon, but I had absolutely leveled up.


I tell myself this story every year because it reminds me that no matter how uncertain the road to achieving my goals may seem, the first step is always assured.

As we enter a new year, full of many uncertainties, I am wishing you too the time and grace to "level up" with self-compassion.


Meet Allison

Allison Keefe teaches 7th grade English at a PA cyber charter school. She is also the co-host of the Cyber Sister's Podcast and founding member of #GamifyEd. She was selected as a Keystone Technology innovator in 2019 for her work with literacy and gamification in virtual learning. You can find her on Twitter @AllisonKTeaches and The Cyber Sister's Podcast whenever you listen to your podcasts.



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