There's a story I often tell about my second year of teaching. I tell it to new educators, "and veteran educators, and perhaps most importantly, I tell it to myself around the start of the new" "year," both calendar and academic. After returning from winter break, the coaching staff at my cyber charter school challenged all its teachers to start making five phone calls home daily. They could range from joyous 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, cyber schools are more responsible for making themselves available. It was vital that we" "level up" to build a stronger school community. I have been playing games my whole life. I grew up with the family at least once a month with Nintendo, Xbox, and board games. 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. And "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.
To level up, the first step must 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. Running heroically at the final boss is much more satisfying, but we all know what happens when we do that ill-equipped with the practice and tools game designers care to build into each level of their games. Trying to make five phone calls every day when I had only been making a couple every Friday afternoon was just that. It was running at a dragon without armor and only a short sword. I vividly remember saying, "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 five calls per day. I had never faced that dragon, but I had leveled up. I tell myself this story every year because it reminds me that the first step is always assured, no matter how uncertain the road to achieving my goals may seem. As we enter a new year full of uncertainties, I also wish you the time and grace to "level up" with self-compassion.
Allison Keefe teaches 7th-grade English at a PA cyber charter school. Allison is also the co-host of the Cyber Sister's Podcast and a 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.