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Making Time to Struggle

I recently traveled to Northern Ontario with family to fish for four days on Lake Wabatongushi. Aside from “unplugging” for several days, fishing with my wife and our family reminded me of how important it is for educators to put themselves in situations in which they are not the experts in the room and where they must engage in productive struggle in order to figure things out.

So let me start by saying that I am not a fisherman. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy fishing. I used to go fishing with my grandfather when I was really young. Heck, there was even a time when I remember exuberently telling my grandmother how we “went fishing with no poles” when I was six or seven. But despite that, I hadn’t really gone fishing since I was a teenager and would occasionally fish from the riverbank at my grandparents’ house.

So I knew that even agreeing to go on a fishing trip would put me in a situation where I would have to be vulnerable, ask questions, and try many times in order to figure things…
Recent posts

'Embarrassment' Review

I just finished Thomas Newkirk's Embarrassment: And the Emotional Underlife of Learning. Like anything by Newkirk, I devoured it and found that so much of it rang true with my philosophy and feelings when it comes to teaching.

Here are ten lines that stood out to me in the book (in no particular order):


"Unless we can get beyond this reluctance, we never put ourselves out there to learn--we never become the novice we need to be to learn." (15)"Schools face what might be called the paradox of offering help... you need a designation for that group, and that very designation may be so stigmatizing that students would rather forgo the help than to accept the label." (33)"We need to look beyond the posture of indifference, or just see it as a posture." (61)"We are happy, gratified to offer help--that is a big part of our professional identity. But we (or at least I) are far more reluctant to receive help." (63)"Failure or disappointment is le…

Remember to Sweep the Floor

I just finished reading Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is the Enemy. This book might easily make my top five books of the year because of Holiday’s ability to take history and make other people’s experiences helpful as we try to understand our own lives.

Holiday’s work serves as a reminder of two things for me. The first is that what we do is more important than who we are. He discusses Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers, when explaining the concept of a “Standard of Performance” (108). When we focus on what should be done and when and how, we can instill excellence. And Holiday argues that it’s this attention to exacting standards that is more impotrant than a grand vision. Like Walsh has said, if we pay attention to the small details, “the score takes care of itself.” Holiday ends this chapter with this: “Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution–and on excuting with excellence” (113). If we focus on the former, then ego gets in the wa…

Kids Wielding Critical Thinking

I first heard Cornelius Minor speak at NCTE’s convention last fall, and I was instantly impressed. He very quickly had dozens of adults moving around the room, jumping rope, making lists—learning in some of the most engaged ways.
I recently subscribed to the Heinemann Podcast and I found myself devouring the series of episodes featuring Minor. Trust me. You don’t want to miss these.The episode on “The Over-Engaged Student” is one of them. Through the story of “Prez,” a nickname given to one particular student, Minor explores ways that he is able to “turn the volume down” “but respect his enthusiasm” on the type of student that we have all encountered. You know, the one who always seems to have a comment or contribution to make, even if, at times, it might not seem relevant. And that’s when Minor says this: “One of the things that we never want to do is silence kids.” That made me stop and think about all the times that I’ve asked kids to “hold that thought” and then never returned to …

A Lasting Impact

I love graduation season. It's a time to celebrate hard work and academic achievement. For many students in both my hometown and where I work, many students who are graduating are the first in their families to graduate from high school.

As teachers, sometimes we forget that. I've been guilty of assuming before that because we're past Y2K that everyone has a high school diploma. I remember my own realization when I found out my mom's mom hadn't graduated high school. Encouraged by a doctor to drop out (I remember her vaguely mentioning something about an enlarged heart), she was told that she wouldn't live to be 18. Naturally, she carpe diem-ed. (Well, there wasn't much living it up. She married and had five kids. She also lived to her late 70s.)

So as I sat on the dais at my hometown's graduation ceremony, I reminded myself to remain calm about the air horns, the catcalls, the shouting. High school graduation might not seem like a big deal to me (everyo…

Targets and Time

I just finished Cris Tovani and Elizabeth Birr Moje's No More Telling as Teaching: Less Lecture, More Engaged Learning from Heinemann's Not This But That series edited by Ellin Oliver Keene and Nell Duke.

Needless to say, I pick up anything that's by Tovani and Moje because of Tovani's belief in the workshop model and Moje's extensive work in both disciplinary and out of school literacies.

After finishing this quick read, I've been thinking a lot about two things.

First, how we spend our time matters. I get less than 60 minutes with students each hour. Time is a hot commodity! Because of that, I am constantly looking at ways to maximize instruction. If I pass papers back this way or if I move this to this point in time, I can gain another minute. And those minutes add up! Sometimes, however, it feels like there is just never enough time. All teachers know that. In fact, I've yet to meet a teacher admit that she or he has too much time with students, especia…

Remembering Professional Ethics

I just finished Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny, a quick read that I picked up from Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on my birthday. Written by Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale, the book is terrifying in its parallels between World War II and 2017.

As a teacher, the chapter on professional ethics stood out to me the most. Snyder writes that

Professions can create forms of ethical conversation that are impossible between a lonely individual and a distant government. If members of professions think of themselves as groups with common interests, with norms and rules that oblige them at all times, then they can gain confidence and indeed a certain kind of power. (41) He argues that its members within professions--doctors, lawyers, and businessmen--that abandoned their norms and ethics and allowed such atrocities to occur under Hitler. Had they united and refused to comply, he argues that the Nazis would have had a much more difficult time carrying out their plans.

As teachers, w…