#ThankATeacher

Friday marked the end of Teacher Appreciation Week 2015. While my current gig allows me to interact with teachers on a regular basis, I can’t kid myself into thinking it’s the same embedded connection I had when working daily in schools and districts.

Instead, I took to twitter and took advantage of the ability to thank the teachers in my life beyond any geographic bounds. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I started the day by listing and cuing up messages of thanks for teachers whom I admire, and who have shaped the person, educator, and learner I’ve become and am becoming. Monday, my thanks were focused on those who served formally as teachers in my years as a student. From my mom to past professors, I contemplated and shared my gratitude for the time they have taken to help me learn.

Tuesday was a day of thanks for those educators I’ve gotten to work alongside throughout my career. Across three states and more than a decade, I got to give a shout out to the people who’ve helped shape my practice as a professional.

Wednesday, I turned my attention to thanking those teachers I met virtually through their blogging or tweeting before I got the chance to learn from them in person. I’ve still yet to be in the same room as some of them, like Stephanie Sandifer.

I realize it seems as though I’m being self-congratulatory here, writing about how great I am for using 140 characters to thank those who’ve left immeasurable impact on my life. That’s not the intent.

I bring it up because of the joy it brought me each morning to pause and think about those educators who have and continue to help me see the joy in learning. This was a collateral benefit, and I found myself looking forward to reminding myself of the list of people I value and appreciate. I was reminded of the community of which I find myself a part.

I also bring it up because it struck me in the first few ours of these tweets how they were adding to the paper cuts on the skin of the negative narrative that feels as though its suffocating teaching. Each was a quick shout of, “Here’s why we matter and how the good we do echoes through the years.” 

Each retweet or reply from a connection on twitter amplified that feeling. I relished each favorite or retweet from a friend on twitter whom I knew for sure had no connection to the teacher I was thanking. Each was a sort of nod of thanks to the public good that teacher had put forth.

I’ll be continuing to use #ThankATeacher throughout the year. There’s a psychic good in each tweet, and I’m happy to make whatever paper cuts I can to remind folks of how much education works.

Running through February’s Frost – 200 miles down

Snow? Check. Sleet? Check. One hell of a run? Check. #potd

February ended with 100.354 miles in the books. In keeping with my New Year’s goal of 100 miles/month, I embraced the chilly cold of D.C. as it wrestled its way out of winter’s clutches. I can say there was some serious bundling going on – one run featured two pairs of gloves, so that’s a thing.

Also in keeping with my goal, I ran using the Charity Miles app benefiting the Alzheimers Association. While January’s miles were in recognition of what running can do and the work of Back on My Feet, February was about running to stave off a disease that terrifies me.

I’m not sure if it’s because words and ideas mean so much to me, or if it’s the thought of having to watch as a loved one loses the pieces of the world they’d never had to think about holding tightly to at all. Either way, the 100 miles meant I was able to run $25 in donations to support the work of the Alzheimers Association, and I’m happy to do it.

I’m posting my mile log from the month below, including a new column of notes. While I read about a decade ago about the benefits of keeping a running journal, it’s not until this year of running that I’m feeling compelled to document not just the miles, but the basic thoughts around runs.


 

An Accounting of February’s Miles

2/1/2015 8.02 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/2/2015
2/3/2015 REST Book Reading
2/4/2015 10.066 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/5/2015 REST Improv Rehearsal
2/6/2015 REST
2/7/2015 10.049 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/8/2015
2/9/2015 10.018 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/10/2015
2/11/2015
2/12/2015
2/13/2015
2/14/2015 10.139 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. This new distance means not only going farther, but going new places as well. Today was the first venture from my apartment through part of Rock Creek Park. Not for long, just a couple of miles, but for a bit, I was in nature.
2/15/2015 0.387 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. It wasn’t the cold, but the wind that stopped me.
2/16/2015 10 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. A route including Rock Creek again that included a blend of trails and paved. The semi-frozen creek, the other runners huffing along. It was a good run. It was also a learning experience. Today and Saturday, as I started on the trail hills, they weren’t the frustrations I had expected. They were tough, and the steeper inclines included some walking, but they were not impossible. They didn’t keep me back or break me. More seemed possible.
2/17/2015 10.4 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. Ran the Mall loop at sunset. It was cold, not windy, completely beautiful.
2/18/2015
2/19/2015
2/20/2015
2/21/2015 10.611 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. Snowing at the start, sleeting by the finish. Hard won run.
2/22/2015
2/23/2015
2/24/2015
2/25/2015
2/26/2015
2/27/2015 10.142 Alzheimer’s Association Portland, OR Ran 4 miles of this with Scott Nine after an engaging, insightful iPDX15.
2/28/2015 10.522 Alzheimer’s Association Portland, OR Fewer than 24 hours between runs is not advised. Ran to the Portland Waterfront, and along the river. Beautiful start to the morning. Tired legs, and delicious run.
February Total: 100.354

Four lessons from my first 100-mile month

Post-race face. #potd

Today marks the start of month #2 of my resolution to run 100 miles per month for 2015. How’d I do in month #1? The final total was 109.199 miles according to the Charity Miles app. I wasn’t trying to overshoot 100 by quite so much until Friday evening when I signed up for the High Cloud Snapple Half Marathon.

January 1, the thought of running a 13.1-mile trail race with a starting temp of 24º wouldn’t have been the excitement-inducing prospect I found it to be when I woke up Saturday morning. The race was great, and my experience was indicative of some of the other lessons I’ve learned this month:

  • I’m still a runner. The inconsistency of my running over the last year or so had me thinking of myself as someone who had run about a dozen marathons and other races. This had a sharp distinction from the more active claim, “I’m a runner.” It was mid-way through Week 2 that I noticed the furniture in my head re-arranged. “That’s me again,” I thought, and kept huffing through the freezing cold.
  • Two other resets have been key. Before I knew “Drynuary” was a thing, I decided to take the time between the start of 2015 and my March 2 birthday as two months of refraining from alcohol and choosing a solely plant-based diet. Both are things I’ve done for about a month a year for the past 5 years or so, but this is the first time I’ve decided to put the two in concurrent service of a specific running goal. As a result, my nights are full of much better sleep. I hit the mattress, and I’m out. Waking up is much easier as well. When I’m back in the apartment after anything from 5-8 miles, my selection of snacks is much healthier than what I was eating before, even though, that was still a vegetarian diet. For me, vegan has meant cutting processed foods as much as possible as well.
  • I can neglect Netflix with no emotional consequences. A new city, a demanding job, winter – these all created a perfect storm of couch-sitting and binge watching in my first 5 months in D.C. While I didn’t make it my conscious objective to make it through all of Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu’s catalog, a ticktock of my time pre-January would have provided evidence to the contrary. While I’ll still catch episodes of Parks and Rec, Arrow, and Flash; they will usually be one-off viewings before I start in on cooking dinner or head to bed.
  • I’m cooking again. I have to. Turns out not buying processed food, deciding to eat plant-based, and running a ton mean my body tends to ask for actual food. My slow cooker has been getting a ton of use. I’ve picked up Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook along with diving in to the plant-based Pinterest community. I’ve learned kale chips can be delicious. Not long after, I learned a person should not eat two entire cookie sheets of kale chips in quick succession.

All of January’s miles benefited Back on My Feet. At $0.25/mile, that’s just shy of $27.30 for the month. It seems small, but I hope it helps. With tomorrow’s run, I’ll be posting on February’s charity and why I’ll be running for them.


An Accounting of January’s Miles

Date Distance Charity Location Notes
1/1/2015 4.238 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/2/2015 4.248 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/3/2015 4.642 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/4/2015 YOGA REST REST
1/5/2015 4.453 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/6/2015 4.3 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/7/2015 4.713 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/8/2015 REST
1/9/2015 REST
1/10/2015 5.372 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/11/2015 5.479 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/12/2015 5.506 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/13/2015 5.719 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/14/2015 REST
1/15/2015 REST
1/16/2015 5.868 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/17/2015 5.905 Back on My Feet washington, dc
1/18/2015 REST
1/19/2015 6.073 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/20/2015 6.041
1/21/2015 REST
1/22/2015 REST
1/23/2015 7.522 Back on My Feet Philadelphia, PA Great run w/ @jspry
1/24/2015 EduCon
1/25/2015 EduCon
1/26/2015 REST
1/27/2015 8.019 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/28/2015 8.001 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/29/2015  REST
1/30/2015  REST
1/31/2015 13.1
January Total: 109.199

 

I really never knew who Raffi was

Evidently, Raffi sings about a baby whale. Additionally, load of folks know about the whale, and the song, and, well, Raffi.

Until today, I didn’t really get who Raffi was. The closest I’d come to knowing was having a vague recollection of some stand-up comic along the way referencing Raffi in a joke.

Raffi, for the acolytes out there, has released a new album – Love Bug. From the short snippet I heard while listening to Raffi’s interview on Jesse Thorn’s Bullseye podcast, it’s the type of song that fills like a warm hug. I can’t say I listen to too many songs like that. I can say it was lovely.

The entire interview was lovely. Every. Single. Word. Thorn pushed at the edges here and there to seek some sort of cynicism in Raffi’s responses. There was none to be found. It was one of the most refreshing pieces of tape I’ve heard – ever. It reminded me of any interview I’ve ever seen, heard or read with Mr. Rogers. (Start here.)

Similar to Mr. Rogers’s Fred Rogers Company, Raffi has a non-profit called, The Centre for Child Honouring.

Knowing these two folks have dedicated their lives to thinking deeply and caringly about the health, welfare, joy and development of kids makes my day somehow peaceful.

I won’t say more, because I really and truly want to convince you to make 30 minutes in the next few days listening to this interview.

Let’s Start Setting SMIRT Goals

Two pieces of otherwise unrelated writing came across my screen this evening that have me thinking about goals.

The first is a post over at the No-Meat Athlete blog titled, “Why Everything They Told You about Goals is Wrong.” It’s a short piece that is summed up best in this passage:

If your goal is compelling (huge! ridiculous!) enough, then when those inevitable obstacles come up, you’ll plow right over them. Or around them. Or through them. And when all of those approaches don’t work, you won’t be able to sleep until you find one that does.

The second was an email from today’s listserve winner, Dan Shipton, who writes:

I had resigned to not write anything, but was gently reminded how I got this far in life by a couple word magnets strung together on the side of a fridge at my office. Those words struck a chord with me today and I want to share them with you: “build to win big”

I like these two lines of thought because of what I don’t usually get to see at schools. As a teacher, I was always hungry for something larger when I got to chime in on the drafting of the annual improvement plan. Without fail, though, we were asked to make our goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).

I could wrap my mind around SMRT, but A always struck me as mired in fear of failure. If it’s a goal you know you can achieve, you should already be doing it.

Instead, I want SMIRT goals where the I (depending on your level of comfort) stands for impossible or improbable.

Something like:

  • “Every student in this school will love reading by the end of the year.”
  • “All of the students in this algebra class will be able to explain the quadratic formula to elementary school students, and the younger kids will understand.”
  • “Our science class will develop a cure for the common cold.”
  • “No one will be sent home from school as a negative consequence for their behavior.”
  • “Every student will have enough to eat as they move through the school day.”
  • “Teachers at this school will have 100% job satisfaction.”
  • “All parents will feel proud enough of this school that they will recommend it to their friends.”

This is just a smattering. Sure, you might fail, but so might the kids fail at any of the seemingly impossible things we ask them to do in the course of growing up and mustering through schools. That doesn’t stop us from asking. The least we can do is set goals at a similar scale.

The Week in Photos (and Running) – Week 2

As part of the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions, I’m back on the picture-a-day train. Each Saturday Sunday, I’ll be posting the pictures from the preceding week. This week’s are notably thin, as it’s only been three days.

Roasted to awesome. #potd

A pre-snow sky. #potd

These fellas are dedicated to their chess game. #potd

Yesterday's chilly #potd

Perspective makes a difference. #potd

Seems a strange thing to take a stand on. #potd

Welcome to the neighborhood. #potd @busboysandpoets


 

Also, an update on the running goal. As of this morning’s run, I’m at 37.445 miles for the month. I’ve also realized that I’ll need at least two days off from running per week to be able to keep the plates in my life spinning. Starting yesterday, I’ve added a mile to the running route. That takes me to approx. 5 per run. At five days of running, that’s 25/wk and 100/month. In other words, on target. Here’s the week in running:

Day Date Distance Charity Location
Sunday 1/4/2015 YOGA REST REST
Monday 1/5/2015 4.453 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Tuesday 1/6/2015 4.3 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Wednesday 1/7/2015 4.713 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
Thursday 1/8/2015 REST
Friday 1/9/2015 REST
Saturday 1/10/2015 5.372 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.

Maybe Don’t be so Ableist in the Classroom?

When I was a classroom teacher, I had many problems. I was aware of some of them, I was unaware of many. One of those many about which I feel the worst as I reflect on it was the use of ableist language when talking to students. Moreover, I wish I’d brought it up the same way I brought up issues of racism, homophobia, and the other -isms or -phobias that are much more prevalent when it comes to contemporary progressive education.

I would use terms like crazyinsane, or lame with no thought to what such language might mean to a student who had or was close to a person with a disability.

As I hope the title on this post suggests, I’m not writing to demand an immediate cease and desist of ableist language. Not using such words because you don’t want to be yelled at for using them is different than reconsidering your speaking habits because you want to connect to those with whom you’re speaking rather than alienate them. That’s what shifted is shifting my language. Here’s how I put it when I join a new team and we are doing our, “Things you should know about me,” bit during introductions:

You should know that it stings me when I hear people use words like crazy or lame. It takes me into my head because I can’t help being sensitive to how we talk about visible and invisible disabilities. I’m not telling you how you need to talk, but I want you to know that I hear that language in a way that makes me uncomfortable and that I think it’s indicative of a larger lack of conversation around how we talk and think about mental health and physical disabilities.

I don’t say whether or not I have a disability, because it really shouldn’t matter. If someone asks, I’ll tell them I try to be an ally (imperfectly). Each time I’ve had the chance to bring this up with people, at least for the moment of the conversation, it has been well received. Some folks pull me aside and admit to using ableist language. Some have asked if I’d point it out to them when it happens so they can shift their practice. I try to help, and ask that they do the same.

That’s the thing. While my awareness, intent, and reflections have shifted, sometimes I don’t think before I speak the way I want to and I’ll use a word I’ve tried to eliminate from my vocabulary. In those moments, I’ll look around, waiting for someone to react in the same way I’d expect them to react to language and thinking that have rightfully become taboo and indicative of ignorant thinking. They don’t.

That’s the thing, they haven’t said anything, but I can never know if someone living with mental illness has just heard me off-handedly say crazy and processed it to mean there’s a part of their life they can’t share because I’m uncaring.

I get this wrong. A lot. There are those who have been thinking about ableism longer and more deeply than I have, but it’s one of the quietest conversations in education and in our society at large. Some places, it’s altogether silent. So, what do you say?

Your Learning Style Revealed

I’m just going to put this right here. That way, the next time someone talks to me about their learning style or talking to their students about learning styles or explains why they weren’t good at math because it didn’t involve kickball, “Because, really, I’m a kinesthetic learner,” all I’ll have to do is send them to this link.

I’ll paste this for those who are click-resistant:

Is there any evidence to support the learning styles concept?
Yes there is a little, but experts on the topic like Harold Pashler and Doug Rohrer point out that most of this evidence is weak. Convincing evidence for learning styles would show that people of one preferred learning style learned better when taught material in their favored way, whereas a different group with a different preference learned the same material better when taught in their favored fashion. Yet surprisingly few studies of this format have produced supporting evidence for learning styles; far more evidence (such as this study) runs counter to the myth. What often happens is that both groups perform better when taught by one particular style. This makes sense because although each of us is unique, usually the most effective way for us to learn is based not on our individual preferences but on the nature of the material we’re being taught – just try learning French grammar pictorially, or learning geometry purely verbally.

And lest there’s a whole baby con bathwater thing, I’ll want this here so we don’t confuse style and intelligence.

Maybe I’ll get little cards printed up.

Strength through Tragedy is a Lousy Way to Find Strength

I got picked on more than a little bit growing up. For all sorts of reasons, this kid who didn’t look quite right, had no idea how to play any sport on the P.E. docket, loved singing in the madrigal choir, and had a penchant for turtleneck shirt + cardigan combos throughout middle school was often a blaring, easy target for those who fit a more standard mold.

While there were classes that offered refuge, there were also spots within school where it was open season, even with a teacher nearby. Other kids would slip, fling, and hurl insults within earshot of teachers they knew wouldn’t speak up or offer consequences for what they’d heard.

I’ve thought about those moments quite a bit as an adult. They don’t haunt me, exactly, but they’re always there in cedar chest of my memories, preserved and ready to be pulled out should I ever need to admire where I’ve been.

As an adult, I’ve come to the conclusion that those teachers who let these moments play out weren’t callous and uncaring, as I thought they were at the time. Instead, I think it’s something worse. I think they thought I was learning a lesson. Character was under construction, and they didn’t need to step in.

Asinine.

As much as I love the person I’ve become and the life I’ve been able to explore so far, I wonder what it would have been like to go through school with adults who decided life was going to find legitimate ways to help me grow stronger through difficulty. Perhaps the character lessons in those classes and hallways cafeterias could have been directed at helping those who were insulting understand that the world didn’t need more jerks. Maybe the lesson could have been the value of being kind within a society.

Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, Virgie Townsend expounds on this idea in ways more thoughtful than I can touch. Discussing scars of abuse I would have found much more devastating than the bullying I endured, Townsend writes:

By perpetuating the belief that pain is edifying, we place the onus on survivors to heal themselves — and we deemphasize the value of prevention and support services. Suffering is not what fortifies the soul or clears our vision. What makes people stronger is working with others to overcome trauma. Giving and receiving help gives suffering meaning, not the suffering alone.

Some educators I’ve met build classrooms or even schools around the exact opposite ideas Townsend writes against. When I see these in action, when I find myself in conversation with those who argue in favor practices, the reasoning always goes something along the lines of, “Well, I’m getting them ready for the real world.”

It seems to me that this approach only works to perpetuate that big, cruel world – not protect against it.

I’m Counting on Someone Else to Take Care of That

For the last 11 years or so, my life, the people, and the conversations that have comprised that life have been largely focused on education. Few are the folks I call friends who cannot hang in a conversation about education, school, learning, and the like.

I decided a little over a decade ago that this field, this ecosystem, would be the thing on which I focused my attention, my days and nights. I’ve had the opportunity to approach the conversation from various vantage points throughout the last few years. From a classroom, to a school, to a district, to a national perspective.

Talking with family over the recent holidays, someone asked how I could resist working in other fields outside of education. “Why not work on affordable housing or civic infrastructure,” they’d asked. The crux of it was a question as to how I could ignore these other problems and focus solely on improving one system.

It’s a good question, and I’d be lying if I claimed to not have wrestled with it pretty regularly.

Here’s the answer I keep coming back to, “This is the thing I’m trying to work on, and I am best at working on that if I have faith other smart, dedicated, curious people are working on the other problems I care about.”

This isn’t a claim of being especially talented at the work I show up to do each day. I do my best, and hope it’s good enough.

It’s really more a statement of faith that there are folks who have shown up to do work to solve the other problems I care about as well – climate change, institutional poverty, civic infrastructure, voter rights. The list goes on.

Sometimes, there’s a feeling that not making something my life’s work is the same thing as not making something a thing I care about in my life. The answer for this is the informal focus I try to throw on the stuff that’s not my day-to-day. I’m working on being a Jack of all trades and master of one.

And whether it’s well-placed or not, I’ve gotta believe that other people show up to their jobs each day with the same feeling and approach. Believing otherwise would be to invite a feeling that it’s all too much. I can’t be all the changes I wish to see in the world. Instead, I have to try to be one of those changes and hope everyone else read that quote as a charge to do something else.