The Book Group We’ve Been Waiting For

#wellrED logo

You and anyone you care to invite are invited to join the new book group on GoodReads – #wellrED.

Jose Vilson and I have started the group, and our first book study will start March 19 when we dive into Lisa Delpit’s inaugural work Other People’s Children. The book is scheduled to last 5 weeks, with a second book starting not long after that.

I anticipate online discussion forums, hangouts, and twitter chats will be on the schedule as we move forward.

More than all that, though, is my excitement over the conversations we’ll be having. For me, it’s been a jarring experience heading to Colorado after being on the East Coast for 5 years. Here, there is little-to-no practical conversation about race, class, privilege, and all of the other difficult conversations that should come up when we consider what it means for people of all backgrounds to come together for a joint educational enterprise.

I’ll let Jose explain his hopes for the group, and I’d like to think this is a continuation of his EduCon conversation with Audrey Watters – “The Privileged Voices in Education.”

I don’t expect the conversations to be easy. I expect some folks will be uncomfortable. That’s how growth and change usually work. I also expect that it’s an important conversation we’re not having enough of in our schools, in our district’s, and in our country.

Join us.

Things I Know 31 of 365: Silliness is golden

I love to laugh.

– Uncle Albert, Mary Poppins

You know what made Captain Kirk great?

Not the countless rescues of the planet(s) cum galaxies cum universe((s)?).

Not his rainbow of romantic conquests.


James Tiberius Kirk was great because he could have fun. The guy heeded Mary Poppins’s advice, and took a spoonful of sugar on each mission.

Almost every episode ended with Jim, Bones and Spock on the bridge ribbing each other as though they’d forgotten thwarting death once again.

Lately, it strikes me the fun is neglected more often than not when we talk about teaching.

I’m not talking learning.

I’m talking teaching.

It’s fun.


My best days in the classroom are those in which I do one hundred silly things before lunch. If I’ve taken my work seriously, but not myself, I’ve done alright.

I don’t get the feeling programs like KIPP put too much stock in silly.

That might be the real danger.

If we’re truly facing some of the most complex challenges of the modern or any era, building classrooms of Borg is not the answer.

Success should include an element of silly.

Saturday, Diana, Ros and I led a session at EduCon on interdisciplinarity. The ideas were flying, and nearly 50 educators from all over the country joined us.

We spoke of supports and obstacles. We shared resources and we networked. We deliberated on the existence of common ground between scripted and project-based curricula. Many pieces of the conversation challenged my thinking.

The most tweeted moment from the session?

A joke I made.

No profession should ever be this starved for funny.

Yes, times are hard. Yes, the policy debate looks like it was designed on the island of Dr. Moreau. Yes, budgets are drying up faster than Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career.

And, we’ll get all of that sorted out.

First and always, let’s have a little levity.

It will save us.

When Mike Myers faced off with James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Myers commented on the most important lessons he’d learned while growing up poor.

His parents taught him the value of free fun and of silly.

I’ll buy that.

When I hear about the incredibly high burnout rates of new teachers, I cannot help but think their professors taught them how to teach, but not how to have fun doing it.

And, it’s too much work not to have fun doing it.

I love teaching because teaching the whole child requires me to be my whole self. Every day, I access my passion for learning and asking questions – all the while looking for the funny.

Seriousness of mission and purpose need not mean seriousness in execution.

Things I Know 30 of 365: Feedback can be tricky

Do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few.

– Pythagoras

For a pretty large chunk of the day, yesterday, I was in my office – lights off, bottle of lavender essence open, Balmorhea playing on iTunes.

I was working to complete an implementation plan for the inquiry project assigned as part of my grad program.

By the end of it all, my desk was covered in printed resources and my web browser was creaking under the weight of all my open tabs.

I submitted my 6 hours of work ahead of schedule, hopeful it rose to the challenge presented by the assignment.

For the plan, I’d suggested some ideas the practicality of which I was unsure. As I juggled them in my head, I was fairly certain I’d culled the best of the ideas. Still, I was uncertain.

This afternoon, I logged in to the course to find my assignment had been graded. I’d earned 45 out of 45 points. Relieved, I turned my attention to the comments field to see how the ideas had played out with my facilitator:

The plan summary clearly articulates a focused problem statement: the specific goals, which are measurable; the specific solutions you have chosen for t his project; the preparatory steps; and the expected outcomes for the inquiry project. The weekly plans are clear, creative, and appropriate with evidence of insight and thoughtful planning.

While I’m pleased with my score, it doesn’t doesn’t really do much for me as feedback.

Neither do the comments.

Two circumlocutious sentences with words that certainly sound as though they should mean something, but no.

Today, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion on how schools can foster student innovation. While, I can carry on a conversation with a tree stump, I’ve never moderated anything. For 90 minutes, amid some interesting audio issues, I attempted to probe the minds of five deeply thoughtful educators. I was, in a word, nervous.

While the audience clapped when they were supposed to and several strangers told me “good job” when everything had concluded, I was uncertain of the job I’d done.

Later, sitting in the office snarfing a bag of popchips and downing lukewarm coffee, I checked in to twitter.

From Chris, I saw “@MrChase is an amazing moderator,” with a picture of the panel in progress.

Michael replied with, “So true…You are rocking, Zac.”

And from Ben, “You did an amazing job. Period. You=my hero.”

I realize they are tweets. Even re-typing them here, I feel a bit silly.

Still, those three lines contained more feedback than any of the acrobatic language from my facilitator.

I know these three. Through the relationships we’ve cultivated, I’ve come to understand their expectations and what it means to earn their approval. While I see the hyperbole in what they’ve said, I also know they do not offer up public praise lightly.

I understood their expectations, and they offered up their opinions using clear language.

I know I completed neither the implementation plan nor the panel moderation perfectly.

The feedback I received on both was positive. In fact, the implementation plan score implies I did nothing wrong.

Still, I’ll never message my facilitator seeking advice for improvement. The relationship is too distant, the language too obtuse.

Should I ever need to moderate again, though, I’ll seek the advice of these three, knowing they will evaluate me with a notion to help me be a better version of myself.

Things I Know 28 of 365: Sometimes it’s best to sit and listen

Listen my children and you shall hear.

– Henry Woodsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride”

Five people from varied fields sat in leather chairs I’ve been told have some pretty intense historical value.

Representing tech, ethics, agriculture, design and the arts, these five spoke for two hours on the ipetus and importance of innovation.

They’ve traveled the world, worked in amazing locales and used focused their lives on understanding, solving and anticipating problems unique to their fields.

The ideas they’ve played with exist largely outside the ideas floating in the air of a traditional English classroom.

No one polled the audience, no one asked for show of hands or had to prepare a slide deck or vacate the stage after 20 minutes.

It was intelligent people who do useful work talking to one another, sharing ideas. And, we got to watch.

Nothing was expected of me other than listening and considering.

Nothing was ignited and TED wasn’t in the house.

And this, this has value. It has the value of listening to Beethoven or reading Wilde or visiting a Picasso.

Sometimes, participation means listening. Sometimes, learning is a silent act.

Tomorrow, there will be sessions and presentations and conversations and we will talk and listen and ask and answer.

Tonight, thoughtful people spoke and our job was to listen and ponder.

EduConText Session 1: Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

When: Session One: Saturday 10:00am–11:30am, Where: Room 301, Who: Meenoo Rami, Abby Baker, Ted Domers, Chuck Poole & Trey Smith, Affiliation: Franklin Learning Center and Philadelphia Writing Project

Conversational Focus/Audience: All School Levels

Student voice informing practice has become that subconscious and integral piece of my own practice. From sensing the stress brought about by their other classes and moving deadlines to refining assignments on the fly when what I was certain would work has turned to a smoldering pile of crap.

This session piques my curiosity in a couple ways.

The description implies a choice in whether or not students take their work public. Most frequently taking student work public is about compulsory publishing. I’m interested in a pedagogical discussion of how we can help our students decide what is worthy of publishing with the same vim we throw into telling them what isn’t worthy of publishing.

I’m also curious about the feedback processes others are establishing with publishing of student work. I’d like to hear how they’re keeping work from languishing in online ghost towns.

In considering the elements outside the control of the Rami, Baker, Domers, Poole and Smith, I’ve one major hope from my fellow conversationalists – teach in subjects other than English.

One of the professional conversations around published student work that’s proven most valuable to me this year was with a math teacher at SLA. Our views on the purpose behind publishing differed. Those differences led to some interesting reflection on my part. I hope more than English teachers show up to add their approaches to the conversation.

To prep my thinking for the conversation, here are the questions I’ll be considering about my own practice:

  • What determines which student work is published in my classes?
  • How authentic is the publishing experience?
  • What happens to published student work?
  • How am I modeling the creation of publishable/ed work?

My questions for the conversation:

  • How do I establish feedback processes that move toward the continued refinement of student work?
  • When publishing student work, how can I work in concert with teachers in other disciplines who might be operating with different goals?
  • How do we determine what student work should be published (because of content or quality)?
  • What approaches are others taking for the curation of published spaces?
  • Where are others drumming up audiences for published student work?
  • How do students and other teachers interpret the value of readership within the school environment compared with outside that environment?

It looks as though the presenters are constructing a conversation that will lead participants to thoughtful consideration of their own pedagogical beliefs around student voice and publishing. It also looks as though we’re moving past making the argument for the importance of student publishing and transitioning to understanding the best ways to approach the practice.

What are you thinking?

What is EduConText?