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Showing posts from March, 2017

Making Time for Inquiry

I recently finished Leading for Literacy, WestEd's newest book about Reading Apprenticeship. This book builds on the work in Reading for Understanding, a text that I would argue should be in every teacher's professional library, no matter the content area. If you want to think critically about disciplinary-specific ways of reading and thinking, it's really the book for you.

Leading builds on all the great work that RA teachers are doing and shines much light on continuing and supporting RA implementation for the long haul. With vignettes from across North America, readers get snapshots of others' classrooms, leveraging other teachers' voices in our constant quest to become better reading teachers.

It wasn't until my participation in the Eastern Michigan Writing Project's Summer Institute that I really learned about teacher research or inquiry. In high school, I always thought that teachers just taught. I had this idea that everything that my teachers did rem…

Re-Evaluating What You Do

I recently finished Greg McKeown's Essentialism, a book I had bought two years ago when a few friends and I were on a panel at NCTE together. We had all agreed to buy this book to direct our presentation, but I never had--scratch that--madethe time to read it. I can begin this blog post about taking ownership by actually taking ownership. Not reading that was on me. I didn't make enough tough choices in order to make time to read it. So, Essentialism. In a nut shell, it "is not about how to get more things done; it's about how to get the right things done" (5). Essentialists rank; they discern. They take the time to question and think about opportunities that are presented to them, and they think through the trade-off that will occur if they do one particular thing instead of waiting for another or just saying no altogether. This is tough work for teachers, in particular.

Many of us are go-to people. We want to "do what's right for kids" all the tim…

Taking the Time to Ask Why

Recently a counselor shared an article entitled "Reengaging At-Risk Girls" by Nona C. Jones. She placed it in my mailbox, noting that she "thought of me" when reading it. I finally had the time to sit down, read it, and reflect today. What a powerful article.

In it, Jones writes this: "What shows up as defiance is nothing more than defensiveness, defensiveness learned from a girl having to defend her dignity. What shows up as apathy is nothing more than hopelessness, hopelessness learned from a girl who has never been given a reason to hope. What shows up as anger is nothing more than explosive hurt, hurt that a girl has contained for so long it has nowhere to go but out and at the nearest person.”

This serves as a good reminder that the students we interact with every day are more than just surface-level reactions, behaviors, and emotions. It's when we take the time to question, to ask why, to build meaningful relationships that we can really find out who …

The Mountain Top

I've been thinking a lot about a poem shared with me by my own high school mentor. I haven't read the original book that it comes from, but I shared this same poem with another student as we debated experience and perspective the other day.

Poem from ‘Mount Analogue’ One cannot stay on the summit forever – One has to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this. What is above knows what is below – But what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees – One descends and sees no longer But one has seen! There is an art of conducting one’s self in The lower regions by the memory of What one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, One does at least still know.
So, is it better to have climbed the mountain or to never climb? Is it better to take risks and adventures--to take a chance to see from the summit or precipice--or to remain below?
This is also a reminder that our experiences change us forever. We can never "go back" once we have ex…

We Must Look to the Best

I recently finished reading Todd Whittaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. While I’m always skeptical of the promise of “best practices” or any type of guarantee, I quickly realized that the things that Whittaker discusses in this book really are the things that the colleagues I consider to be the best really do.

And Whittaker makes the argument that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the worst to improve our practice. Part of the problem lies in the fact that “many ineffective teachers also think they are doing a good job,” and that building the ability to self-reflect is really hard work. But we can only deeply self reflect and improve our practice when we have exemplars to emulate.

Although there were 17 practices that he shares, I’m really thinking about these: -“When a student misbehaves, the great teacher has one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again. The least effective teacher often has a different goal: revenge.” (25)
-“Great teacher…

Was That a Dream?

I woke this morning earlier than usual. At 3:00 AM I stumbled to the bathroom, paying little attention on my journey. We have a small nightlight in the living room. It’s just bright enough to illuminate my path to the other end of the hour. And we’ve lived here long enough that I could probably navigate with my eyes closed.

I didn’t want to wake my wife, so I napped on the couch until it was time to wake for work. As I sat on the couch in a half-awake state, I thought I could make out a smell that I knew should not be in our house.

A few months ago, Stacy had woken me during the middle of the night to point out a skunk running in our yard. Its white stripe shining bright under the moonlight, I quickly turned back over and went to sleep.

But at 3:30 AM now, I felt a feeling of dread in my stomach. Did it get into the house? Did it get under the house? How much damage did it do? I knew I should have dealt with this earlier.

I walked around the house, smelling from room to room. It seeme…

“Isn’t that your job?”

A student stopped by to ask about Creative Writing.

“What’s it like?"

“Well, you get a lot of choice."

“So we can write about whatever we want?"

“Well, I want you to think about genre, audience, and purpose with every piece."

“Ok. So what will we do?"

“We will write. A lot."

“Why’s that kid’s name on the board?"

“He’s leading the prompt for tomorrow."

“He is leading the prompt? Isn’t that your job?"

“Is it? In here, students will have some choice in the direction we head. And we all find inspiration from different sources. I want everyone to share that."

“But you’re the teacher…"

“And in here, we are all writers."

Bus Rides

Today I spent about seven hours on buses with students. The first trip involved 49 students on a trip to Central Michigan University, and the second was to chaperone a spirit bus for a basketball game. The ride to CMU was lively. Students were awake, engaged in conversation up and down the aisles. For some students, like the one I sat next to on the bus, this was his very first college visit--ever. For others, this was a return trip. They were hoping to finalize a decision about their next few years. After a tour around campus and lunch in a dining hall, we piled back on the bus. And before long, a tranquil silence took over. Students drifted off to sleep or just experienced a calm contentment with the day. Some questions were answered, and some new ones were developed. A powerful trip ended in quiet reflection. I write this surrounded by students on the return trip from a basketball game where our team just won. It's been a long time since our team has made it this far. It's …

Is That Chocolate or Poop?

If you looked at me at some point after 7:00 AM today, you would notice many splotches of brown all over my pants. Thankfully I don’t have to do the smell or taste test to see if it’s chocolate or poop—it’s chocolate sauce from a student’s frozen coffee beverage from this morning.

I pride myself on having an open and inviting classroom environment. I get to school early to work, and I welcome any students into my room after I arrive. It’s mostly a quiet space, and they can use a computer, print a document, or work with a partner on a project. School was a safe place for me growing up, so I think it’s my obligation to give that back to students today.

Around 7:00 AM, I announced to the students in my classroom that they had to get to first hour. I needed to visit a colleague, and it’s not good practice to leave students in your classroom unattended. So as I made my way to the door, another student arrived. Carrying two frozen drinks, she set them down on a desk. Little did we expect, o…