#Nerdlution15 – More Happy (Less Injury)

Please come with me into a special rocket ship I had built (I know the engineer, old friend) back to the time when we all could actually get all of our goals accomplished and still have time to relax on the beach.

by Joe Schneid, used under Creative Commons

Yea. No. That’s not real and never will be.

Which is why my friends Franki Sibberson, Colby Sharp, Kristi Mraz and I—and tons of you—are in the midst of another #NERDLUTION!

To be clear. I think many of you have already started your nerdultions and have been posting about it.  I, on the other hand, am still waiting for that rocket ship delivery.  

So here is my day to catch up.


For the uninitiated, a “nerdlution” is a resolution that we nerdy educators make to better ourselves, or our community, or each other. Or to just simply do something fun. Or strange. Or really anything at all that you want to commit to.

Here is a post from last year where I explain the birth of the movement and give more specific rules on forming your own nerdlution (hint: there are none).

(And when I say there are none, I mean none. Example: Franki ate apples last year.)

(Well, sort of).

Last year my nerdlution was to do 100 push-ups per day. That lasted for longer than I thought. I felt great. And only led to 3 months of physical therapy for my rotator cuff.  Hahaaaaabutreally.

On to #Nerdlution15!

by Kristi Mraz

This year I am equally workout focused, but in a more controlled and less shoulder failure way.

My goal is to workout at least 3 times per week (but bonus points if I do more) using a new app that I really love, “Strong,” which basically is a 2.0 way to record weight lifted per rep/set.

I see a trainer… sometimes a lot, sometimes a little… and really want to get better at working out on my own so when I see him I don’t embarrass myself.

What I love about the app, aside from it keeping me focused on completing exercises, is that it totals everything at the end of each workout session.  Meaning, even if the amount I lifted each rep was pitiful, at the end I can lie to myself because it says I lifted, for example—true story—SIXTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS.

FullSizeRender 6
Proof. Clearly.

Which I thiiink makes me the strongest man in the world.

No? No? That’s not how it really works?

So my #Nerdlution15 is to keep a steady gym routine using my app.

You Can Too

Just pick something to commit to. Then tweet and blog about it using the hashtag #Nerdlution15.

Or don’t tweet or blog and just do it.

Or invite your whole class to pick something. Anything. And join in.

Reading a great poem everyday, giving a compliment, running, cooking, spending more time with your kids.

If it will make you happy, do it.


Happy #nerdlution15!


11/11 #FILWCloseReading Twitter Chat


A few twitter friends organized a chat about our new book, Falling in Love With Close Reading, taking place tonight from 6-7pmET.  The chat is about the book, but if you have not read it (or have just started) you are still welcome to join in.

Fran McVeigh, Allison Jackson, and Laura Komos made this google drive document with questions and links for tonight’s chat.

by Tkgd2007 used under Creative Commons lic

If you are new to twitter chats you can check out my how-to post: So You Think You Want to TweetChat: From Lurker to Chatter 101 for tips.

Be sure to include the hashtag #FILWCloseReading in all of your tweets to join in.

See you tonight!


UPDATE: Archive from tonight’s chat!


Falling in Love With Close Reading cover

Should We Teach “Other People’s Kids” Differently?

This post is the second of two in response to CNN’s “Inside Man,” my first was posted yesterday. I decided to make this one separate because while the reflection was sparked from a few scenes in that program it goes beyond that one hour and that one particular school.

In this Inside Man episode, Morgan Spurlock visited a school in Finland where he took a stab at teaching a class, then as a comparison visited a charter school in New York City and retaught the same lesson.  Watching footage of the New York City school, I was struck again by the sharp economic lines that are drawn between so many schools in our country and how in many those lines are strongly correlated with race.

by Seaweed Lady {cory} used under Creative Commons Lic.
by Seaweed Lady {cory} used under Creative Commons Lic.

Part of this post is to ask the same big question educators continue to grapple with, one that I am fairly certain we cannot solve in the education sector alone: why do we have a class system in our public schools?

The other part of this post is to raise an itchy question, one that won’t sit well with everyone that reads this, but one that I think we must face and  can address within the education community: why, at times, do we feel it’s okay to teach “other people’s kids” differently than our “own”?

Why do we have a class system in our public schools?

The Inside Man episode (to much the relief of many twitter viewers) brought up briefly the issue of child poverty in the United States, rightly pointing out that the US is has one of the largest child poverty rates of any developed country.

2012 UNICEF - Innocenti Research Center Report
2012 UNICEF – Innocenti Research Center Report

I would add that the US not only has an extremely high child poverty rate, but the gap between the official poverty line and what the average family living in poverty makes is the largest of the studied countries. (Note that Finland, which the show set as the answer to “America’s Education Failure,” has been near the top in both of these diagrams. A point the episode made as well.)

UNICEF - Innocenti Research Center Report
UNICEF – Innocenti Research Center Report

I, like I am sure you, see this play out in schools across the country in a startling way, where in many instances it is not that one school is deeply diverse in terms of income (some are, though they tend to be few), instead it is that schools become segregated within districts. Affluent students here, poor students there.  Race, then too often, follows that trend.

The New York Times did a series of stellar pieces in May of 2012 on the ethnic divide in New York City schools, the first called “To Be Black at Stuyvesant High School” and the second “Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?” which resonates the loudest because it is largely told through the perspectives of students attending majority-white or majority-black schools.  And this corresponding infographic is worth the click, as it points out starkly that New York City schools are some of the most segregated in the large cities, though notice that segregation is not only a reality in New York.

Think of your own school. Now the one down the road. Now the one on the other side of town.

This is not new news. Jonathan Kozol wrote about the income divide and the racial divide in schools back in 1991 with Savage Inequalities. Yet, here we still are. Yet, every child’s life is of equal worth.

I also am not sure that this is an issue that the education sector alone can solve. I balk at the notion from some in the education reform movement that if schools were just “better” poverty would go away (see more on this in my post Education’s Own 47%). I do, though, think it’s one we need to continue to look at squarely in the eye and say out loud to anyone that will listen. It is not okay that in one district I can work with a school that has more technology, books, and supplies than it can possibly use and many of the children are white and largely middle and upper income. Then several miles away, in the same district, is a school with failing infrastructure, novice (though well intentioned) teachers, and many of the children are black and hispanic and largely lower-middle income or living below the poverty line. And I am not just talking about New York.

We need solutions, and we need everyone present at the table to make them. I would love to learn more for anyone who has pieces of solutions.

Why is it okay to teach “Other People’s Kids” differently?

Now the other part of this post.

I want to start off by saying that while I am aiming to raise issue with the practices that were portrayed on camera, I do not intend this to be complaining about just one school. I have seen practices, popular books, curricular materials, and even entire school cultures are designed in similar ways. I raise this one example to bring up many. Also, I do not take away from the well-meaning nature of the staff there or anywhere. You can see on the faces of the educators that this school was a place they were proud of, and I do believe they were doing the best they currently knew how to do without any intended malice.

One issue: the amount of time low-income schools spend testing.

This particular school prided itself on giving tests and collecting data all of the time. Truly, all-the-time. One scene showed an educator sliding Scantrons into a grading device and describing how it was important that they developed tests that really revealed what students knew and could do. While I do believe that gathering on-going data on students is useful, I also know that educators can learn to gather data in ways that do not leave students filling in bubbles continuously. Frankly, the better we get at studying students, reading their strengths and needs, the less we need to make dittos for them to fill out.

This then brought to mind the amount of “test prep” I see schools engaging in across the country and how in many instances I observe the most in schools with the lowest SES. On average, I’d estimate that those high income schools I mentioned earlier typically spend anywhere from only 2 weeks before a standardized test up to, at most, 20 minutes per week, on test preparation. Educators there worry about their jobs like everyone else, worry about their scores showing “growth,” yet their students often perform so well on those assessments that the level of panic is lower than average.

Alternatively, those low income schools? Entire units lasting one month or more, plus “Saturday Academy” several weeks out of the year, plus after school test-prep time, and often multiple periods per week spent drilling. I get that largely these schools are running scared to show higher scores and doing all they can. But I also ask, is this okay? Should our lower income, many times minority, students spend less time in authentic reading, writing, math, art, music, gym, play than their more affluent counterparts? Does that sit well with you?

The other issue: the belief in how students learn to “do school.”

I was also startled by, as were several twitter viewers, how this school relied so heavily on hand snapping, clapping, cold-calling, and other methods of “training” for teacher-student interactions (and actually how much Morgan, the outsider, loved it!). Here is a clip (forgive CNN’s advertising lead in).

While I admire that Doug Lemov spent years studying new and experienced teachers’ management and he uncovered many truly helpful and clear techniques for his book Teach Like a Champion, which this particular school was built around, I was also struck by the stale nature with which these techniques were delivered and the what to me appears to be the joylessness with which many of those students, in tucked in uniforms, clap-snapped their responses. I know, as the show pointed out, that many students excel in that school — and I am sure in others like it.

Again, they are good people trying their hardest. This is not necessarily a knock on silly dances, gestures, or management techniques, either.  Tim, a 5th grade teacher at a school in Taiwan has a classroom chart of “claps” that they learn and make up together as the year goes on. It’s a hoot, it’s community building (I was partial to the “Paula Abdul”).

What this is a question of is, to be totally frank and probably not politically correct, would that scene fly in a majority white, upper middle class school? If not, how would those children be talked to, taught to act in the classroom, learn to “do school”?

It reminds me of a sit down with administrators at a small, largely low-income, school a few years ago. It had been my first day visiting the school. While the classrooms were light and bursting with a friendly atmosphere, in the hallways the otherwise lovely staff turned into drill sergeants, barking orders at students and at times even going beyond the point of disrespect. I sat in the office with the leadership team at the end of the day, during another passing period, and listened to the caustic yelling once again.  I said, “You have so much going for you here, but I just need to say this, the hallway behavior by the teachers I find offensive. Why are they talking to the students like that?”

The first response was not what I expected, “Well, that’s what the other school we share this building with does and they must be doing something right, their scores are so high.”

I pressed on, “But, who cares about scores? Would you want your children spoken to like that?”

We talked a bit more, they were clearly not happy with me and my observation. Yet, two weeks later, the hallway drill sergeant personas had largely gone away. And have never come back.

I am a realist, pragmatic, have taught my own students, and now teach next to teachers in schools all over. I get that some students can be challenging, that we reach for solutions when we feel we aren’t doing things well enough by them. I also, however, think we need to step back often and reflect:

  • am I giving these children the same dignity and respect that I ask in return?
  • am I teaching them the way I want to be taught?
  • am I teaching them compliance or independence?
  • am I teaching these students differently than I would others?
      • Why?
        • Does this feel right to me?
          • What can I change?

I, personally, aim to have the positive answer with each of these questions. But I also know I have not always. I certainly know more today than I did years ago, how to be instructionally effective while also giving respect to learners. Yet I know these are questions I much continually ask, because I do not always fit the image I want of myself.

by Contadini used under Creative Commons lic

We can always outgrow out best thinking and challenge our own assumptions. Our students need us to.

Thank you for all you do, and give, for your students and to those well beyond your doors.

Why @CNN’s ‘#InsideMan on Education’ Worries Me: Part 1

Let me start with the things I appreciate about the recent episode of CNN’s Inside Man:

  • I appreciate they made education a topic of conversation to the general public
  • I also generally appreciate Morgan Spurlock’s work, he attempts to challenge perception of issues even when they feel uncomfortable
  • I appreciate any school, anywhere, trying to do the best they can in the best ways they know how (and hope they grow when presented with other, even more effective means)
graphic from CNN’s Facebook page
  • I think the biggest thing I appreciate, though, is that CNN–whether planned or by coincidence–took on an outsiders view of education throughout the entire episode. I don’t love that specifically. What I do find valuable, however, is that it helped me see our profession through fresh eyes. “Oh, this is what they think of us,” I thought at many times. Or, “YIKES! THIS is what they think of us?!” at others.

Here is the first of two big worries that have stuck with me since this show, I will write about the second tomorrow because it feels too large to share a post with anything else.

FINLAND VS. US: Round #275

The episode begins with the tired premiss that the US is lagging behind other countries in performance. A point that has largely been proven false. I wrote about this in my SMARTBlog on Education guest post, Fairytales of Data. And sent this one, out of a shower of tweets about it, while watching the episode live:

The fact is that the rise of “Finland” (with no offense to Finland, you are doing many things right) was based on one international test, the PISA 2009, that the Stanford study found the have faulty results. Furthermore, there is this point:

Which I wrote more extensively about in my post on this blog, Education’s Own 47%.

What worries me is not just that CNN didn’t do their homework. What worries me is that there is public perception that our education system is failing in a way it isn’t. Our larger failure is poverty and the lack of access. I worry that if we don’t tell the true facts the solutions will continue to be clouded by other, less pressing, concerns.

You DO win points for trying, however.

The premise of every episode of Inside Man is that Spurlock fully enters the world he is studying. This I admire, many politicians, pundits, policy makers, and journalists tell us what we need to do to “fix” education (see point one), but few actually step into classrooms.  While I think his final analysis was a bit nearsighted (after one lesson on one day at a school in New York he said students “got it” and their required written responses were the proof), the fact that he rolled up his sleeves and gave it a whirl is just what we need more education reform leaders to do.

For understanding of recent educational history and citing of facts: F

For effort: B+

Archive from tonight’s #DonGraves chat

What a moving conversation tonight for the #DonGraves chat. Thanks to Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk for this project.  It was fun hosting with Donalyn Miller and Penny and seeing so many of you come out to talk about Don’s legacy, his vision, and to share inspiration.

The archive is below, I plan to look back between that, the book and DVD for new insights.

Listening matters, conversation matters, and it’s great to have both with all of you and this vibrant education community we are within!

Chat Archives

Storify version of the archive

Google Docs version of archive (thanks Sarah Mulhern Gross for your help with this!)


#DonGraves trending on twitter…

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 9.31.50 PM

Stop lying: Writing is so hard.

I was writing with my friend and current co-author Kate Roberts at her home on Sunday.  At one point late into the day, at an official “wait, when did it become 6:30?” moment, we started talking about how hard writing is.  How it’s fun, exciting, but also exhausting. We are well into revising mode yet the little line-by-line work and the big nope-that-lesson-didn’t-go-well work both take so much time and energy.

As we were talking… yes mostly to avoid writing for moment… we quickly switched our conversation to thinking about how students write in school and wondered out loud if we as teachers of writing are bringing lessons from our adult writing lives into our rooms.

Revision is horrible until it’s beautiful until it’s exhausting.

I told Kate about a conversation I had about a month ago, I can’t remember exactly where, but a few teachers brought up the point that students seem to hate to revise.  I began with my usual stump speech and practical tips and then stopped for a minute.

I had a flash of myself, in front of my laptop, at 1:38AM, on a work night/day, revising and quietly cursing in my head, “why aren’t the thinks I’m thinking getting thunk on the page any faster?!?”  I then flashed to a heated debate with Kate over a section (of a now very old draft version we have long since improved upon) that at the time neither one of us was totally emotionally prepared to give in to the other on. I then flashed to a moment of turning on the television and refusing, absolutely refusing, to even turn my computer on because I was just so drained from a day of work I couldn’t even face the screen.

I remember looking up at those teachers and saying, “You know what, if I really think about it, of course your students hate to revise.  Writing is a terrible, emotional, time consuming–sure, at times wonderful–thing.”

i am writing

Revision is as revision does.

Kate and I started reflecting on what it means to commit to revising in our adult lives and how it does or does not look in classrooms.

  • Revision involves thinking of audience and a clear purpose. Carl Anderson has written about this, I have even done some of his lessons on this with students.  Heck, the standards even say we should care about this. But I don’t bring this up enough with students.  Yet, every single word I write and all of the hundreds upon hundreds of nit-picky rewrites I do are all with some reader in mind. “Will this make sense? Are they going to understand my point? A list of three questions stylistically reads more fluidly than just two right?”
  • Revision involves heart-ache and letting go. I am convinced you haven’t really revised anything until you’ve taken something you absolutely love that you wrote and deleted it.  I do so much teaching of what students should add to their drafts that I do not think I do enough teaching into what they should look for to cut.
  • Revision requires other eyes. Hallelujah that I am lucky enough to have great editors in my life.  I have learned so much working with each of them. My friend and editor Tobey is always terrific at seeing just what isn’t working as well as it could and suggesting cuts, changes, and needed explanations. What makes her a special talent is that she doesn’t write the book with us, she never says, “in this part I would write this.”  Instead she is much more of a writing teacher than editor, she gives big ideas, raises larger issues and then lets go.  I always aim to support teachers in leaving students with big strategies — I wonder, though, if I work enough on having honest (not harsh just honest) feedback about issues in writing that need addressing.
  • Revision takes time. In our conversation Kate pointed out something that has stuck with me, that I can’t figure out a solution for just yet, but that has really stuck.  The simple fact that it can sometimes take hours just to revise one small section of one page.  Yet, in classrooms, even in ones that give students time to revise every day for a week, the sum total of in-school revision work is perhaps two and half hours, maybe pushing three. I see the need to keep types of writing going and lots of opportunities to publish.  I think there is value in that.  I also know that when revision feels painful to students any day spent on it can feel like an eternity.  But I still wonder, are we – can we – provide the time needed for students to even feel the power of revision.  To get through their own stages of grief to acceptance?

My thoughts are racing with reflections.  “Duh”s and “Hmm”s and “What if”s.  I guess the biggest idea I will be carrying with me is if I am humanizing writing instruction enough for students. Do I expect them to do miracles that most adults find hard to do? Do I share my own struggles enough?   I’d love to hear some of your own lessons from your writing life and what they mean for your teaching of writing.

Happy anxious feelings of dread… er… writing.



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Burkins and Yaris Guest Post: Common Core Instruction, Like All Good Instruction, Is Not About Fish Tossing

Educators and writers Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris are the double duo of “Burkins and Yaris” – a popular blog and twitter handle. They have largely made it their mission to dig into deeply reading the Common Core State Standards (and many of its tangential documents) and then share their thoughtful, sometimes quirky, often spot-on analyses.

I was delighted to be invited to guest post with them. So, I wrote about throwing fish. The Common Core and throwing fish. Oh, and teaching and learning.

Part One is here, and Part Two is here.

Thanks to Jan and Kim!

A Must Read from Scott Rocco

Scott Rocco is co-moderator of what is fast becoming one of my favorite chats (even despite the fact that it is at the bitter early morning hour of 7:30AM Saturday… though does repeat on West Coast time at 7:30 PST.  So, technically there are no excuses for an East Coaster like me).

What I find so appealing about #satchat is not just that it is a group of [mostly] educational administrators using their weekend morning hours to talk more education, but that it has become a place for extremely positive and uplifting problem solving.  This past Saturday, for example the topic was:

A morning spent considering ways of recognizing teachers and students?  Lead by administrators?  It’s better than coffee… a point I think I make every #satchat I am able to join. It truly is a jolt of energy at the end of the week, just read the #satchat archives for examples.  (If you are new to Twitter Chats my how-to tips are here.)


Scott also has a very active blog “Evolving Educators” in which he shares his efforts to support the learning of his staff, peers, as well as his personal ever-evolving instructional practices.  I find his blog just as positive and supportive as the chat he co-leads, woven with a belief in every child and every adult.

  • This post on his district’s efforts to embrace tools for being more connected (including tools I only just learned of through this post.)
  • This one, his advice to other ed leaders: don’t forget what it was like to be in the classroom.
  • Or this, that as I think of all the districts taking on technology initiative feels like perfect timing for thoughtful values to keep in mind.

I’d encourage anyone to join #satchat… yes, even at 7:30AM (I promise you’ll forget what time it is a few minutes in)… and subscribe to Scott Rocco’s Evolving Educators.

Happy evolving!

Welcome to the Eleventh Month of School: September

My friend Kristi Mraz has a great way of talking about the start of the year, she says “we have to think of September not as the start of this year, but as the eleventh month of the school year before.”   In other words: our kids know stuff when they come to us.  Yet, there is a way we can fall into a simple trap, one born of deep love for our students and our routines, where we “break things down” into über-clear points to make sure they absolutely get it:

“This! This is a reading log. I will now show you precisely how to fill it out.”

“This! This is writing an essay.  It is a waaaaay different kind of writing.  Here is how informational writing is different.”

“Good group work sounds liiiiiiiiike….  it looks liiiiiike…”

Of course these are obtuse generalizations, but not so far from reality. Frankly, this happens with us as adults as well.  How many PD sessions or meetings do you walk into (or have you lead) where you feel the person presenting – though with earnestness and care for you – is talking beneath what you already know?  I sheepishly raise my hand because I know I’ve been that presenter sometimes.  Look, a common language is important to establish and I want to make sure we are all really clear with one another… but I do know that not starting from what you know — or at least acknowledging what you know and keeping the rehash short — can lift or crush enthusiasm. More over, it’s starting from the womb, not starting from the know.

Help Students Do Last Year’s Best Work Now

Everything that happens in our classrooms starts with us. Or using the words my wife sometimes has to remind me of when it’s 7:30 and the kids should have already been in bed but one is screaming and the other has gone about throwing their toys all over the floor and I haven’t even eaten yet and… …you are the adult.  You can only control you and your actions. 

Here are some tips for actions you can take to support students in remembering they already have a lot of “best work” inside of them.  I and other readers would also love to hear more of your tips, please post in the comments.

What Are They Already Doing–What Did They Forgot They Can Do?  

(This would make for a great PLC meeting I think:)

    1. Make a list, just a quick jotting, of all the major stuff your students learned last year related to your particular content area – the things you know they learned or can assume they learned (or do this cross grades and then you can actually ask last year’s teacher).
    2. Gather a few students’ notebooks or jottings or other artifacts from this year. Compare the list of “last year stuff” to the current student work (yes, even if this is only Day 5 for them, today).
    3. Grab that list and proudly check off everything you see some evidence of. Circle everything you don’t.
    4. Start with the CHECKS, NOT the circles! Build upon the strengths you see first – even if they don’t appear to fit in this unit, even if you much rather do the circles.  Strength builds strength.

Open up portfolios with students.

I don’t know about you, but I usually let handed-up-from-the-grade-before-me portfolios just sit and collect dust. For shame, I know. But several schools I work with do this very easy, and very smart, trick.  Now that you are a bit into the school year, hand back last year’s notebook (or final pieces or science lab reports or whatever) RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of students working:

“Could everyone pause just a minute? I don’t know about you, but I am very hard on myself sometimes.  Like, if I feel really overwhelmed, like there is too much to do and I’m losing track of things, I can feel really badly, like I’m just letting myself and others down.  But do you know what gets me out of that, what picks me up?  I remind myself of all the great things I have done. I stop to admire myself for a minute. It sounds funny, but it helps a lot.  

So, I’d like to surprise you, I want to hand back your [insert whatever that thing is here] from last year and I’d like you to compare what you are doing right now to what you did then.  Remind yourself of any terrific stuff you may have forgotten you are able to do. We’re going to pause in our work to do this a bit, then you will tell a partner all the great stuff you did last year, and then we’ll get back to work and I want to walk around and find out what you are adding into your work today.”

Invite other eyes to help you see.  

When I am in role as a Staff Developer with the Reading and Writing Project, I am in schools and classrooms nearly every single day – teaching in front of, alongside, or coaching teams of teachers. I had the pleasure of visiting a school I absolutely love and have worked many years in with two of my colleagues this week, Janet Steinberg and Audra Robb.   It was, and always is, so eye opening to share a place you know so well with others.  Laura Kotch, a former NYC superintendent often says, “When company is coming, you see things differently in your house.”  Big ah-has hit me through our conversations–things I think I knew, somewhere in my head, but were so crystalized for me as we spoke together:

    • I know: We have to teach the kids, not the curriculum. What I realized: this means our room environment should echo that.  Yes, charting – for example (shout out to chartchums) – can and should reflect current studies. But I realized that often I am making charts mostly just FOR THE CURRICULUM, but not always making additional charts FOR THE STUDENTS.  For instance, you are leading a unit on “reading fantasy with energy and insight;” then super, include charts about that genre and strategies to help students analyze the text carefully.  However, your room may not only need fantasy charts up.  What if you have a bunch of students who are also trying to not just “cite” evidence, but use evidence to have new interpretations?  Boom. New Chart. Some students working on fluency (which, as Tim Rasinski points out over and over, every grade needs fluency support)? Then, have some charts with tips about phrases, inflection, and rereading.

Remind YOURSELF of Your Gifts, Too.

The other big ah-ha was exactly what this post is about – that we need to continually invite students to use what they know… we need to invite, support, praise, insist, and value those things.  Janet, for example, had beautiful questions she would ask kids she was talking with.  And the key was her tone, it wasn’t the “I’m doing a walkthrough – TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE LEARNING!” tone, it was the fellow-learner, talking together about things we all find challenging and things we are proud of.  I’ve riffed on her questions in this little graphic, which I think sums up my new goal for my work.

Try this with me, thinking about your professional or even personal life:

I’m thinking about how I think I’m a good cook and preparing dinner makes me happy… I am just now remember that I can bake a mean fish and need to do that again soon.  I am thinking about how when teaching reading, I’ve learned and studied a lot about leading great interactive read alouds… I am realizing that I do pretty well supporting kids conversations during book clubs, but need to bring more of that into read aloud conversations.

I would love to hear more tips about how you are helping students (and you) draw on more of “last year,” even early in the school year. That now – whenever now is for you – is the next link in the chain of a child’s entire life, we help them see that chain.

Time, Time, Time

use license from freeimages.co.uk

The sentiment of many a graduation speech and pop song — it’s cliché because it’s true: Time is all we’ve got.

(If you’ve suddenly started hearing Tom Waits, Pink Floyd clocks, or Cyndi Lauper in your head, I understand. Or, I’m sorry I just did that to you.)

In education, as in life, it feels as if there is never enough time to accomplish all that we hope to do. There are only so many days, so many hours.  This limited time can be aggressively disheartening (like my recent self-loathing about not keeping up with my gym routine) or, if we choose to see it this way, can be energizing and rewarding.

Put Heart-Time on Your Side

The main message, which I believe I first heard from Carmen Fariña the former Deputy Chancellor of New York City Schools, is that we show what we value by how much time we give to things.

I, apparently, value reality TV an awful lot. I’m pausing on that one a second.

I also seem to value writing a great deal and connecting in social media – I spend hours and hours in front of screens. Here is the thing, though, what my heart says I value the most is my family.

Which brings me to my point. It is critical that we look for disconnects between what we value and how much time we spend on it: in our classrooms, schools, and in life. For example, if I reflect, I  see a disconnect between my heart-value for “family time” and my actual-hours-value.

The first step to taking action is recognizing the problem. Seeing this (it’s more than a bit embarrassing, actually), I can make efforts to change it — to align things back with my heart-values. For instance, in recent weeks I’ve made it a point to work later at night, to have more impromptu dance parties with my children, and read together more. It’s still not to the point I want it to be, but I am more aware.  I am trying to align what I give time to, to what I value.

Same goes for our schools. We say we value student independence; but often we are surprised when we look up at the clock and nearly an entire period has flown by and we’ve been talking the whole time.  Or we say we value learning together with colleagues, but a faculty meeting is spent looking up at a screen and listening to one person – instead of learning from one another.  Or we say we value student voices and then are happy to see our walls full of student writing, charting, and art projects. Looking for the heart-value vs. actual-hours-value is not always scary, it’s sometimes reaffirming.  It is important however.

Reflecting on HeartTime in Our Schools

I’m curious what your “heart-time” vs. “actual-hours-time” disconnects are.  And more importantly, what you will do (or are doing) to address them.

Here are some heart vs. actual-hours areas I value and want to think more about as the school year begins, I’d love to hear of others you would add to this list and where you stand:

  • Time for students to practice. Listening to instruction is necessary, but the hands-on time is most important. You learn to do things by doing them.
  • Time for adults to practice: own reading, own writing, our teaching together. Yes, talking “shop,” but also practicing our own literate, mathematical, scientific, historical, artistic lives together. This is making me realize that I need some hands-on math time, for instance, not just being stuck in my “literacy” mind.
  • Time to make mistakes, to value errors, to problem solve.
  • Time for students to talk.
  • Last night’s #engchat twitter discussion (archive here) has me thinking a lot about time for building community – not just at the start of the year, but throughout. Not letting data, scores, objective, get in the way of connecting.

We cannot make more hours in the day. But we can choose to give more time to some things and less to others. Is that easy? Heck no! (I’m finalizing this blog right now as a matter of fact, but the kids are eating next to me… so that kind of counts. Right?) But awareness is that first step.

Now if you excuse me, I have to shut this computer off and go turn on the radio.  A dance party is waiting.