EduQuote of the Week: August 29 – September 6, 2016

The supreme art of the teacher is to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

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Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

August 24, 2016

Don’t ignore. Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

No matter what subject we teach, we think it parts, not wholes. Take US History for example: when history teachers begin the year, they know where they have to end up. They know they have to get to the election of President Obama (in truth, many US History teachers will be happy if they hit the chapters on the Reagan presidency by the end of the year, but that’s neither here nor there). They know where they are going and they begin to plan how to get there. They plan units, they plan chunks, they plan blocks, they plan lessons.

Nesting DollsWe hope our students do things the same way. We preach at them to do so. Start the lab. Put on your goggles, then look for the chemicals. Learn the vocabulary in Mandarin before you attempt speaking the language. Understand the equation and then apply it. Begin the research paper with, you know, the research, then start to write. Look at homework assignment-by-assignment, not at the totality of what needs to be done on any given night.

Assess the big picture. Paint the small strokes and make it coalesce.

Why don’t we apply this same thinking to the challenges facing our schools?

All too often, especially at the beginnings or ends of school years, we look at what we perceive as being wrong with our schools and become paralyzed. We see problem linked to problem, issue feeding issue, hazard upon hazard and our reactions do not always help. Our reactions break down into two categories, neither of which is particularly constructive.

We either throw up our hands, stymied by the enormity of the trouble, by its complexities, fearful that pulling any thread on the quilt will rend the thing asunder or we leap to solutions that will tackle the entirety of the trouble, consequences, ramifications and collateral impact be damned.

The systems that exists in our schools are comprised of human beings each full of talents and commitments and agendas and weaknesses and strengths. Rarely do any of us set out to create complexity and tie Gordian Knots around our institutions. But it happens. It seems to always happen.

Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is with the precision of hand grenades. Blow the problem up and start anew. Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is to trust people to do good work and let the problem work itself out.

I understand both reactions. I’ve had them. I’ve lived them. I’ve turned away from the beast. I’ve challenged it head on. Not the best plans.

We can solve the issues we face if we do one thing at a time, address one problem at a time and, wherever possible, keep the pieces separate and the issues distinct. We actually can, with discipline and planning, take on each part and create a chain reaction that will solve the whole.

Don’t ignore.

Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

We don’t expect our teachers to teach everything at once. We don’t expect our students to learn everything at once. We cannot solve each issue our schools face all at once.

But if we don’t start with the first step, we’ll never solve anything.

And if we try to jump to the last step, we’ll likely solve even less.

EduQuote of the Week: August 22 – 28, 2016

The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.

Todd Whittaker

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Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

August 17, 2016

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

Playlist.PNGI worked in high schools for over 20 years and I loved the fall. I loved returning to the rituals I’d left behind in May and I sank comfortably back into them I loved gearing up for back to school, cleaning the classroom, writing lesson plans, preparing for the year.

I remember being in various classrooms or sundry offices decorating the walls and moving desks and furniture around, trying to visually symbolize the beginning of something new and fresh. I would come to school with a CD player or I would take one from the library. Please, don’t tell on me. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on procuring devices from the library without signing for them.

The music to which I would listen was, years and years back, whatever album had most struck me in the prior summer. Later, when I could burn CDs, I would make a Back-to-School Playlist. Still later, I would program what I wanted on my iPhone, grab some speakers (again, from the library), set them to 11 and get to work. And, though I doubt that any of the new teachers with whom I worked when I was an assistant principal remember, I carried over that musical tradition to training programs and I would play my favorite back to school tracks in transition times during our meetings.

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

In Teach & Serve Volume I last year, I wrote about #OneSong, stealing the idea from my good friend and esteemed educator Sean Gaillard. The playlist is more than one song… it’s a concept album for an entire school year.

How do songs make my playlist? They land there for one of two reasons.

First, I like how they make me feel. In the fall as the year begins, I am searching for energy, excitement and enthusiasm. You won’t find too many ballads on the playlist, but you may find some instrumentals.

Second, the lyrics resonate with me, move me, inspire me and send me a message.

I listen to the playlist all year, adding to it, deleting from, adapting it like any good teacher should do.

Here’s this year’s edition (at this point):

  • My Old School – Steely Dan
    • I like the idea of getting back to where we’ve been and though the actual point of the song may not wholly positive, I resonate with the phrase “my old school.”
  • Carry On – Crosby, Stills and Nash
    • Soaring harmonies, a surprisingly upbeat pace and a great message. Carry on, teachers! Carry! On!
  • Classical Gas – Mason Williams
    • Is there a better, more uplifting pop guitar piece?
  • Someday We’ll Know – New Radicals
    • Teaching is such a hopeful profession. Someday we’ll know if we made a difference (spoiler alert: you make a difference!)
  • To Sir, with Love – Lulu
    • A classic, must have for every teacher.
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – Chicago
    • At the beginning of the year, does anybody care?
  • Everyday Is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow
    • Good anthem to think of the long view of the school year
  • Masterblaster – Stevie Wonder
    • Sometimes, you just want to have fun as the year begins.
  • Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
    • This is an obvious choice, yes? The chorus is a rousing mantra when we let ourselves take things too seriously
  • It Keeps You Running – The Doobie Brothers
    • It sure does.
  • Teacher, Teacher – 38 Special
    • Another classic that actually asks the right question: “Can you teach me?”
  • Paradise – Coldplay
    • We’re shooting for something like this, right?

The list will grow and contract and change with my moods during the 2016-2017 campaign and that’s good. We shouldn’t be too static in our approach to our work. We should rock it!

What are you listening to this fall?

EduQuote of the Week: August 15 – 21, 2016

Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.

Confucius

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Teach & Serve No. 41 – Thresholds

Teach & Serve 

No. 41 * May 25, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


Today is the last edition of Teach & Serve for the year.

Tune in next fall for Volume II

Thresholds

We may, like many of our students who are about to leave our schools or our colleagues who are moving on to other work, want to stand on this side of the door, we may want to hold here, just for a while longer.

As the end of the year draws closer, and the promise of summer is all but upon us, we revel in the prospect of sunny months, of halcyon days, of down time. Sometimes we revel in that promise more than our students do. We plan the time off or, rather, we enjoy the notion that we don’t have to plan – we don’t have to plan time, we don’t have to plan new classes, we don’t have to plan at all. We see the door before us, opening on to the summer, and we’re eager to rush through it. We’re ready to cross the threshold.

No more lessons, no more books (or iPads or tablets), no more students’ dirty looks.

Bring summer on!

Something nags, though. There is something that holds us in place. In these late spring moments, we stand at the door with a little reluctance to push through. We have one foot in next year, but we also have one still in this one.  We are aware of the students with whom we’ve journeyed these many months, of the colleagues with whom we’ve worked. We’ve shared the moments of the year together – moments that have been good, moments that have been bad, all the moments in between.

We’ve been part of the lives of hundreds of other people. And all of that is about to change for the group of people we’ve lived with, day-in-and-day-out, this group of people who occupied the minutes and hours of this year will never be assembled again. Not after the door opens, not after we pour out into the summer.

It’s all about to change. Once we cross that threshold, it changes forever.

So, we may, like many of our students who are about to leave our schools or our colleagues who are moving on to other work, want to stand on this side of the door, we may want to hold here, just for a while longer.

But, we cannot stand in threshold. That’s not the job.

The work of today – today on one of the last days of the school year – is what it has been throughout the school year: moving forward. The work has been to ready the way, to direct the traffic. From the moment the year began, from the moment the faculty meetings opened in the fall, we’ve been pointed in this direction, pointed to the threshold, to the door.

Door HandleWe stand by the door, not at it, not in front. We stand with one hand on the handle, ready to open the latch.

We do not stand in the threshold.

The work of the educator is constantly in motion and focused forward. The work of the educator links from one lesson to the next, one unit to the next, one demonstration, one equation, one experiment to the next. We link one year to the next. We are future focused people, though, in the moments of the school year, we don’t always realize it.

It is not always easy to push open the door. There are students who we would like to bar from passing through because we believe they are not ready. There are colleagues we want to hold on to who are going to go. We know some of what is on the other side of the door. We know what can happen when the threshold is crossed.

We also know that it must be crossed. And it will be. We hope the students are ready. We hope they are ready to move on to the next level, to the next step, to the next school. We hope we’ve done the job well.

We’ve led our students to the threshold. It’s time to watch them walk through it. It’s time to let them go. It’s time to close the door on this year and to rest, relax and recharge.

And we need not worry too much. When we reach the end of the summer, we will stand at another threshold: the threshold to a new year.

That is one of the blessings of the work we do.

EduQuote of the Week: May 23 – August, 2016

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Even if we never talk again after tonight, please remember that I am forever changed by who you are and what you meant to me

 

 

EduQuote of the Week will return next fall.

Happy last weeks of school!

Teach & Serve No. 40 – You Changed My Life

Teach & Serve 

No. 40 * May 18, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


You Changed My Life

Working in schools isn’t like painting a wall. Teachers don’t get to blue tape the edges of their students and fill in the gaps until they are fully colored and vibrant.

 
Mid-May in schools is rife with many emotions. Teachers and administrators are ready to bid the year farewell and to get to summer vacation. Mid-May brings with it the promise that an opportunity for rest and recharging is not far away. Certainly there are some obstacles yet to clear what with exams or grading final projects, cleaning out of classrooms and turning in of reports, packing up material and checking out of buildings. Though the end is nigh, there are still things to do.

Our students have things to do, too and they normally don’t accomplish one of the most critical tasks of the end of the school year. With varying degrees of seriousness and success, they approach their final projects and tests. They clean out their lockers. They sign their yearbooks and they say their goodbyes. But they typically leave out something very important.

Many summers down the road, water passed under bridges, calendar pages turned, former students realize they forgot something back in the spring months of their school days. At some point in the journey of their lives they recognize what happened and some seek out former instructors to tell them something profound: “you changed my life.”

It’s not entirely fair to expect students living in these mid-May moments to understand what has occurred in their lives. Some do. Some know the debts of gratitude they owe. Some are able to articulate this to their teachers. But the vast majority have not the breadth of knowledge, the introspection or the reflective capacity to get it. They haven’t lived enough life and that’s okay. As educators, we know that our students are not finished products. They have more to learn.

And so do we because, in the mid-May morass, we are just as likely to forget to acknowledge to ourselves that we have, in fact, changed lives.

paintingWorking in schools isn’t like painting a wall. Teachers don’t get to blue tape the edges of their students and fill in the gaps until they are fully colored and vibrant. Teachers don’t get to see the results of the hours of preparation and the early mornings and the late nights. Teachers don’t know the seeds they are planting as they are dropping them in fertile ground. Teachers don’t know the affect they have until long after they have had it.

At this moment, I know full well that many of your students are not paying attention to you in class, are pushing every button you have, are just as ready to be away from you as you are from them. I know that many of us are just as ready for summer as our charges are. I know that there is much to accomplish and much to do. I know this. But I know something else, too. In mid-May teachers need this critical perspective and I would like to provide it.

Please allow me to remind all the teachers and coaches and administrators and educational professionals: you have changed lives these last nine months. Please allow me to say something about this profound work:

Thank you.

You have changed lives.

Treasure giving that gift, even if those who receive it are not always able to acknowledge that they have.

Teach & Serve No. 39 – I Love Trouble

Teach & Serve 

No. 39 * May 11, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


I Love Trouble

Schools should embrace the right kind of trouble, not shy away from it.

troubleWorking in schools, we sometimes find ourselves in trouble, as it were. We find ourselves at odds with others. We find ourselves at loggerheads. We find ourselves emotionally keyed up and in stare downs across the faculty room. Often, we don’t know how we got into these situations. They seem to just happen.

I remember far too many of these sorts of moments from my time in schools. I remember staring down a colleague who was sure I mismanaged the timing of a field trip to such an extent that it impacted his afterschool activities with students. He was probably right. I remember standing in my principal’s office moments after he had appeared in my classroom to berate me in front of my kids. He was absolutely wrong. I remember all manner of conflict running the gamut from right to wrong stopping at all points in between.

This kind of trouble ought to be avoided. It’s bad for business.

However, not all trouble should be avoided and, for good or for ill, there are people with whom we work with whom we ought to be in trouble. Always be in trouble with the right people for the right reasons.

Really.

Once, in a conversation with fellow administrators about a teacher’s desire for assigned courses she would instruct the following year, I was told by someone a step up on the organizational chart: “it’s not your call.” At the time, I was serving as Assistant Principal for Faculty and Curriculum. By any stretch of the imagination, having input on what teachers (who, for better or worse, fell under my charge) would teach was a subject on which I held valid opinions, a subject with which I was intimately familiar. While the final decision rested with those above me – it was, in fact, their call – the idea that I was in conflict with this particular person over this particular decision didn’t upset me. That this person was heavy-handed and attempting to put me in my place with his language may have, but the fact that we disagreed did not.

This was the right fight to have, the right trouble to be in. This administrator was the right person to fight, the right person to be in trouble with.

I found myself in trouble with this person over-and-over again. Bracketing the ego I know I have and the argumentative nature that can be a part of me; bracketing the petty fights I may have instigated and the silly conflicts we may have had, the trouble I got into with this person was the right kind of trouble and this person was absolutely the right person to have trouble with. I suspect few tears were shed by this person when, years later, I left the school for different work in education. Frankly, this person should have shed tears and should have recognized our troubles as good ones.

The troubles we had centered on the different ways we thought students should be treated. They centered on we believed administration should partner with teachers. They centered on how parents be engaged. The troubles we had centered on issues of mission. They centered on fundamental questions of how we should proceed as a school.

The bottom line is that trouble in a school can be a change agent. Schools should embrace the right kind of trouble, not shy away from it. Schools should be happy for trouble over equally good ideologies, trouble around valid pedagogical methods, trouble about different ways to proceed when the ways to proceed seem similarly good.

Schools should love this kind of trouble.

Teach & Serve No. 38 – May the Fourth and Other Teachings from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Teach & Serve 

No. 38 * May 4, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


May the Fourth and Other Teachings from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Even in the privacy of our own homes, if we’re out there on the computer or on our phones, we are On.We are On continuously. Perpetually. All the time.

long time agoIt’s May the 4th and, as a Star Wars fan (I cannot truly say “life-long Star Wars fan” as the movie came out when I was seven), I decided to use this edition of Teach & Serve to mention some of the lessons Star Wars taught me and the ways it inspired me as a teacher. I have often apologized to The Cinnamon Girl, my wonderful wife, because I don’t know if she realized, when we married, that I am in a perpetual state of story, that tales of heroines and heroes move me and that I cannot and do not want to shake heroic myth.

I took every class in my English major that related to heroes and myth. I found a way to work Star Wars into conversation, into essays, into my academic work. I was an undergrad in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though it is hard to imagine now, back then Star Wars wasn’t particularly hip. Neither was I. That’s easier to imagine.

In my early years teaching, I was assigned British Literature classes. Brit Lit was not my specialty or focus in college and I knew I needed to find a way in for myself, a way to love the subject matter so I could convey some passion to my students. The way in? Star Wars and the Hero’s journey. Long before teachers world-wide began talking about Harry Potter as the paradigm, Luke Skywalker was Gilgamesh, was Beowulf, was Odysseus, was King Arthur. The Force was with me.

star wars lessonsWhen the initial preview for The Phantom Menace was released, my school had just spent a bundle installing Smart Boards in every classroom. As a teacher, I was just mastering the technology. As a Star Wars geek, however, I knew what to do with it: stream that preview on the giant smart board time and time again. And invite friends. I really have no idea how many times I and other like-minded nerds watched that thing. More than a handful to be sure…

I wrote about what Star Wars means to me on the day The Force Awakens was released. I’ve never written, though, about the lessons Star Wars taught me. So, in no particular order and off the top of my head, here are Ten Lessons from Star Wars I brought into the classroom.

  • “There’s always another fish” – Qui Gon Jinn was a wise Jedi, indeed and his metaphor is spot on. Just when you think you’ve caught the biggest catch, there’s another one coming. Just when you feel you’ve lost the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have, another shows up.
  • “So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view” – Teaching English afforded me and my students many things… what it rarely afforded (outside of grammar rules) was absolutes. Obi Wan was right.
  • You can be princess and warrior – Princess Leia was royalty and beautiful along with being tough and savvy. Not a bad role model for young women and I told them so when I taught them.
  • “Already know you that which you need” – Yoda knew what good teachers now – the process is not about information transfer, it’s about awakening what is already
  • We need mentors who don’t coddle us – Obi Wan and Yoda didn’t coddle Luke. Qui Gon Jinn didn’t coddle Obi Wan. They all loved their charges, let them know that and also held them accountable, just like good teachers do.
  • If you want to succeed, you have to believe – Remember when Luke didn’t believe he could use the Force to lift the X-Wing? That was why he failed.
  • Choose peace – Jedi do not use the Force for attack, but to center themselves, to connect to those around them and to learn.
  • Don’t get cocky – Thanks Han. Enough said.
  • Beware of “always,” “never” and other absolutes – “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” so we shouldn’t. Ever.
  • Know what you stand for and stand for it – Yoda sums up a mission statement as only Yoda can: “Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.”

On today, of all days, what else is there to say?

May the Fourth be with you.

May the Fourth