Personal Legend Project: Broxton Bird

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Broxton Bird Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Earth Sciences, IUPUI

Many people dream of traveling to remote mountains of Tibet or Peru.  Broxton Bird is living this dream, except his version involves bringing back dozens of meter-long cylinders of sediment from lake beds.  These cylinders contain about 2,000 years of climate records. Broxton’s work is teaching us about the world’s climate throughout history, which can identify trends and help us to see where we might be headed.

Broxton’s enthusiasm for his work is immediately evident and he’s great at explaining it in a way that doesn’t require a degree in geology or climatology to understand.

Broxton is the second member of the Bird family to be featured in this series.  His wife Malkah was photographed earlier this month teaching her kindergarten class.  It’s certainly no coincidence that spouses often both are pursuing a Personal Legend.  I believe having a partner who is of the same mindset can drive you further than you could go on your own.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

While I am interested in all aspects of the Earth, I am particularly fascinated by its climate. My work is focused around understanding how it has changed through time, how these changes have impacted people in the past, and what this can tell us about future climate changes and their likely impacts on society.

One of the aspects I love about this work is how multi-faceted it is. Over the course of a typical year, my research involves fieldwork in remote and beautiful locations (like Tibet and the South American Andes), laboratory analyses to produce climate-related data, interaction with students and scientists, and communication of results to the scientific community and general public. The combination of these aspects fulfills my personal interests in travel, exploration and discovery, while at the same time contributing to my larger goal of raising our collective understanding of Earth systems and awareness about our dependence on them.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

I knew immediately after taking my first geology class at Hamilton College that I wanted to be a geologist. Integrating classroom and field investigations with a group of people that felt as passionate about nature as I did was an amazing experience. In graduate school, the thrill of exploration and discovery only cemented my initial decision and I made the choice to follow a career in science.

Perhaps the galvanizing moment was when I produced my first full data set during my masters of climate change in southern California for my Masters research. It was thrilling to have looked back in time and learned things about the climate that had not previously been known and then share this information with the world. I knew at that point that I wanted to make this my career.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

Geology by its nature requires a tremendous amount of imagination. The systems geologists investigate most often operate on spatial and time scales that we as human rarely intersect with directly. This is especially so with climate, which by definition is the 30 year average of weather and occurs on continental scales. I often find myself deeply engrossed when thinking about these systems and how they interact across the globe. The nature of our lab and fieldwork also requires tremendous attention, and it is often that one will look up from an experiment or sample collection session with several hours having passed and you not having stopped to eat or drink. 

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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

Difficulty in school growing up as one with dyslexia was certainly an obstacle. I didn’t think of myself as an academic or scientist and certainly didn’t see myself becoming a researcher and professor.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

Finding what I was passionate about in college and working hard to do well, however, made me realize that I could accomplish more than I thought I was capable of.

6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

Find what you are passionate about and follow that to the end. Take chances, because unless you try, you will never know what is possible. Keep your sense of wonder and don’t let failure get the better of you because you will fail more than you succeed. But in the end, most things worth doing are difficult. As my PhD advisor would say, “If it were easy, it would already be done.”

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

 

Personal Legend Project: Malkah Bird, Indianapolis Cooperative Kindergarten Teacher

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

PERSONAL LEGEND PROJECT

Malkah Bird, Cooperative kindergarten teacher

Entering this project, I knew that Malkah would have to be a part of it.  Malkah Bird teaches in a Cooperative Kindergarten in Indianapolis. Her progressive approach to education earns her much respect and adoration around the city.  She subscribes to an emergent curriculum philosophy and it produces some pretty amazing results. It seems like everyone I meet who is involved in elementary education in Indy knows her.

One especially exciting aspect of Malkah’s cooperative kindergarten class is the outdoor classroom. Once a week, Malkah and her students head into the woods for forest kindergarten; a half day spent outdoors rain, snow, or shine.  Even in the winter, kids are excited to go outside, bundling up and having hot chocolate or warm bread they just baked to help stave off the cold.

The day I followed Malkah, I did my best to keep up with the kids as they scampered through the woods in search of clues on a scavenger hunt.  It was fun and more challenging than I expected!  Click here to learn more about Meridian Hills Coop. (Full disclosure: our kids attend MH. It’s an AMAZING SCHOOL.)

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I have been a teacher for almost 13 years. I love so many things about teaching, but have recently realized that the aspect that brings me the most joy is having the opportunity to make connections and build relationships with young children and their families. I am incredibly fortunate to get to teach at a school that values child-directed play, wonder, curiosity, creativity, and the natural world above all else. I get to spend my days alongside children as they discover what inspires them, where their passions lie and all of the ways that they want to be in the world and interact with their friends and communities.

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

I have always loved spending time with and playing alongside young children. This year, though, for the first time, we are using the outdoors and the forest as an extension of our classroom and as a centerpiece of our curriculum. Our Forest Kindergarten time has been transformative for me as a teacher and a learner. Personally, I have always loved being outside in nature, but it has been so eye opening to realize that this can be a powerful aspect of a school and a dynamic and inspiring facet of my teaching.  

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

The school days fly by for me. When the kids are deep into their play, we lose all track of time. Everyday we have at least one uninterrupted hour of free play, often more. Some days this happens indoors and many days it happens in the forest.  During this free play time, the kids are deeply engaged and the ‘magic’ that is the childhood imagination takes over.  I could observe this for endless stretches of time.  I love watching as problems are created, discussed, solved, unsolved, and resolved right up until the next problem arises and the cycle begins again.

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

Although I have no doubt that this approach to school and learning is right, these days, it is not necessarily the mainstream belief about early childhood education. It is not always easy to turn away from what is popular to do what feels right. Even when it feels really, really right.  

I do think that the winds are shifting and parents, educators and researchers are starting to embrace play as a critical aspect of any early childhood program, but we still have a long road ahead as we learn to trust our kids as our guides to how and what they need to be learning during these earliest years.

As much as I love what I am doing and see profound benefits for my students, I am always aware of the many, many kids who, for a variety of reasons, do not get to have these rich, nature-filled childhood experiences. I would love to find ways to take what we are doing and bring it to a much, much larger population.

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

I have taught in so many different schools and settings to a wide variety of kids. At every step of the way, I have been able to find joy by connecting with my kids, their families and the school communities. There is no end game here. For me teaching is a journey, an introspective process of observing, growing and learning alongside my students. The real prize for me is in being a present and active participant in that process.

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

A personal legend doesn’t have to be a grand sweeping thing. There is so much joy and meaning in small moments and connections.

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

Malkah Bird, Forest kindergarten, Indianapolis cooperative kindergarten

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(This post was originally published in April 2016 & was updated in May 2018.) 


Are you following your Personal Legend? Please share your journey in the comments below!

For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.

Personal Legend Project: Kevin Morse

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Kevin Morse, Chemistry Teacher, Westfield High School

A couple weeks before the idea for this project came up, I was talking with some friends from high school about the work we were doing.  Kevin said how much he loved the entire process of teaching, from reading every new chemistry book he could get a hold of to the breakthrough moment when he can help a student understand a new concept.

It’s great to see someone I’ve known for 20 years combine skills they’ve always shown, such as leadership and an enthusiasm for sharing knowledge, into their Personal Legend.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

I believe my calling is to teach science.  At different times I thought it was more broad: be a teacher, work at a high school, work with young people, etc.  The longer I have taught, the more I have realized that my passion lies in the subject, the students, and the process of teaching.  I can get excited about teaching other things or working with young people in other ways, but I am most driven and fulfilled when sharing science content knowledge with high schoolers.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

I first considered being a teacher when I was in middle school.  The jazz band director at my middle school was a young science teacher who led the jazz band after school.  When spending time with him at school and at shows/competitions away from school, it seemed like he truly loved being with middle and high school kids.  He was happy and it seemed to keep him young.  That spoke to me. 

As I had other great teachers in high school and college, there was a common theme.  The great teachers didn’t necessarily always have the biggest smile or the happiest demeanor, but they seemed fulfilled by their job.  They wanted to be doing what they were doing, and that’s why they did it well. 

The combination of working with young people, finding fulfillment, and studying topics that I enjoyed pushed me to teaching.  Experiences in college confirmed that it was a good path for me.  There were moments during student teaching and my first years of teaching that helped me to feel that I was doing the right thing and pushed me to improve.  Somewhere around year 6-8 of teaching, I felt that I had truly started to become who I was supposed to be.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

I feel most “in the zone” when I am planning and reflecting on lessons, especially when working with my colleagues.  I can spend hours designing a lab, writing a test, or developing a new way to teach a lesson without noticing the world around me.  Each time I present a lesson, I want it to be the best, not just good enough or better than before.  Striving towards perfection excites and motivates me.  

It seems weird to admit that I feel most “in the zone” when I am not with my students.  That isn’t the way a great teacher is normally portrayed.  I LOVE the time with the students, but for me what I do away from my students is what allows me to be my best with my students.

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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

I have been lucky that there haven’t been significant obstacles that have slowed me down.  Just like with all jobs, there are day-to-day tasks (grading, copies, etc.) that don’t thrill me.  There are politics (at both the local and national levels) that can bring stress and discouragement.  Instead of keeping a list of complaints on these and the other things that make teaching tough, I do my best to be encouraged that I get to work with great kids at a great school each day.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

Be willing and able to learn from others.  I improved greatly as a teacher when I started collaborating with others.  The combined experience and passion of multiple people has taken my teaching to another level.  Taking that lesson to all parts of my life has made me a better person.

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

When you feel like you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, fully commit and hold on for the ride.  My teaching career was not been what I imagined it would be when I first thought of being a teacher 25 years ago as a middle school student.  Teaching has taken me across the country and back.  I have taught students, learned from other teachers, learned from students, and taught other teachers.  From the outside, my experiences may not look extraordinary, but all of the little things that I have done have increased my passion and made me the teacher I am today.

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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.