Category: Reflection

Developing a Process to Improve

a process to improve

Last week I shared some goals and projects I’m in the process of working on for 2017. The problem with goals is that often when I look at what I need to do (losing 25 pounds), it looks impossible. I feel defeated before I even begin. My friend Bill Ferriter asks, “Is Goal Setting Pointless?” My gut response is “probably.”

In his post, Bill references a post by James Clear entitled “Forget About Setting Goals.” Clear suggests that instead of focusing on goals, we should commit to a process or a system, which will allow us to live in the moment and help us develop at the same time. As I consider the times I’ve grown or improved in my life, I must admit, Clear is on to something.

Pomodoros as the Process

I’ve written before about using the Pomodoro technique to accomplish some writing goals. I’ve decided to embrace that plan again to help me write and share more this year. I’m struggling to carve out the time to write each day.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing. I’ve kept up with my Day One journal, where I collect a verse of the day, three things for which I am thankful, and my daily photo. However, I haven’t carved out the time to pause and write reflectively about my work or my personal life.

A New Plan

The Pomodoro technique should help. I want to commit 25 minutes each day to reflective writing. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I’ll reflect on my teaching. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, I’m going to write about my life. On Sundays, I’ll spend the time fleshing out some ideas a little further and working on the post I’ll share.

I’m still trying to figure out the best time and place for me to write. The school day is full of busyness and interruptions, so I’ll probably need to carve out time at home and just before I go to bed.

Needing a Nag

This past weekend I learned about Nagbot from a post on Lifehacker. Nagbot will send mean text messages to nag you about whatever you have committed to do. I’ve set up at Nagbot to harass me into writing a short reflection each day.

I also have added a writing task to my daily to-do list on Toodledo so that I will have an extra reminder.

What about you? What systems and processes do you use to help you develop and improve? What tools do you use to get things done?


2017 Goals & Projects Update

As of last night, I have accomplished the following toward my goals:

  • Weight – My weight is down a couple of pounds from the beginning of the year, and my BMI is now at 26.5.
  • Writing – My writing has been inconsistent. My Day One project is going great, but my reflective writing has struggled.
  • Daily Photo – I’m 16/16 on my 365 photo project at this point, but my kids are beginning to refer to me as “the paparazzi.”
  • Reading – Currently, I have read four books this year. My favorite read so far in 2017 is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
  • Spanish – I am on a 15-day streak of practicing my Spanish on Duolingo, and I’m 37% fluent. (There’s no way I’m that fluent.)

Goals and Projects for 2017

goals and projects for 2017I know. Everyone writes about goals and projects at the start of a new year, right? Considering I’m posting this on January 9th, I’m a little late getting on the “let’s talk about resolutions” bandwagon. The funny thing is I wasn’t planning to write anything or set any goals for the year. Last year was brutal, and by the middle of December, all I wanted was to hide and hibernate until sometime next spring. However, after the break from work and with a push from a few friends, I’m excited about the potential of 2017. With that in mind, I’ve embraced a few goals and projects for 2017, and experience tells me I’m more likely to succeed if I make my efforts public.

Two Goals

With encouragement from my friend A.J. Juliani, I’ve decided to return to this space. I have missed writing and spending more time reflecting and sharing openly. I’m a better teacher when I take my reflection to the next level and share it with others. I’m able to clarify what’s happening and how I think and feel about it.

For now, my plan will be to post each Monday. I’m writing daily in my leather-bound journal and my DayOne app, and I thought I’d polish something and post on Fridays or Saturdays. Instead, I’ve decided it’s better for me to have the weekend to clean up something to share. We’ll see how things go. However, sharing here isn’t the only thing I’m working on at the start of 2017.

In addition to writing more and sharing publicly, I’m working on tracking what I eat and drink. According to several different BMI calculators, my current BMI is around 27.2, so I need to drop a few pounds. I’m tracking my consumption on MyFitnessPal, and I’m using my Fitbit to motivate me to exercise more. I’ll occasionally post here for added accountability.

A Few Additional Projects

In addition to these goals, I’ve got a few other projects on which I’m working. First, I’m again attempting to capture a photo a day on Instagram. Perhaps this year I’ll make it past March. Second, I’ve set a goal of reading a book a week this year, and I’ll be logging my reading progress on Goodreads. (I’m halfway through my first book: Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life.) My third project is my “3 things I am thankful for today” records which I keep in my Day One app.

Thanks to this blog post from Bill Ferriter, my fourth project is writing more comments on blog posts. Right now I’m trying to write one good comment a day. I know that isn’t much, but it’s more than I have done in a while. I’m hoping it’ll help me reconnect with some of my fellow educators with whom I’ve connected through the years.

My last project for 2017 is working to learn Spanish through Duolingo. I’m only spending a few minutes a day on it, but I’m trying to be consistent.

I realize that I’m tackling way too much at one time and that I won’t keep up with all of this all year-long. Some of this will most likely fall by the wayside. Of these things, losing some weight to improve my BMI is primary. Unfortunately, it’s the least fun of all these goals and projects. Writing and sharing here is the second most important goal. The rest are ongoing projects that I hope to work on throughout the year.

What about you? Did you make any goals or resolutions for 2017? On what projects are working now?

Embracing Wonder

More WonderFor the past few years, my students and I have begun the year with a See, Think, Wonder thinking routine exploring the classroom, making inferences about what we find there, and wondering about our learning in the year ahead. It’s a good first day activity to get students moving around, asking questions, and thinking visibly. The boys have always enjoyed it, and I’ve always left at the end of the first day feeling energized for the next. Nevertheless, I’m planning to abandon the lesson this year.

Two weeks ago I attended the Clark County Connected Conference in Jeffersonville, Indiana. As I reflected on the day, I realized I attended several great sessions, but Dean Shareski’s keynote “Whatever Happened to Joy?” resonated with me in a particularly powerful way. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. If you have time, you should watch it.

Near the end of his keynote, Dean shared several ways we can cultivate joy. I could certainly embrace more joy, so I’ve been revisiting my notes and experimenting with his methods. One way he suggested is simply to wonder. So, in the days leading up to a new school year I’m trying to cultivate my sense of wonder. I’m reading and researching. I’m taking the time to look at things closely, and as I sit here dreaming about a new year and looking at new class lists, I’m beginning to wonder about each boy. I wonder what he’s like, and I wonder what he likes. I wonder what he wonders–not about 6th grade reading, our classroom, or me. But, what does he wonder about life? About what is he curious? What puzzles him about the world? What inspires him and holds his interest? What does he most want to learn?

I’m not sure what the first day of school will look like. I have no brilliant lesson plan, and I haven’t figured out what we’ll do. But I want to start–on the very first day–uncovering and  embracing their wonder, and hopefully, together we can cultivate our sense of awe.

Dean shared the video below in his keynote, and I think I’ve watched it at least 15 times over the past two weeks. “We have a responsibility to awe.” Indeed.

Awe by Shots of Awe

Project-based Learning: Questions and Need-to-Knows

project-based learningA couple of months ago I had an email conversation with Mary Ann Stoll, an education and technology coordinator in Arizona. Mary Ann provides professional development for teachers on how to incorporate project-based learning. She had read through my “Diving into PBL” series and was interested in my reflections on using need-to-know lists to drive projects and in what scaffolding I used to help students with questioning. She wanted to know what I did differently the second year to improve our learning and research. Specifically, Mary Ann asked:

  • How do you guide the uninitiated student group to even start asking need-to-know questions? 
  • And then, how do you nudge them along until they’ve explored their knowledge, skill, and information gaps sufficiently?

Here’s a portion of my response to Mary Ann:

I always start from the first day using thinking routines to help my students learn to ask questions and show their thinking/understanding. Before we narrow our topic we use Question Starts to come up with list of questions we have about the larger concept. Our concept was human rights in the second year, and I started by simply introducing the Declaration of Human Rights, and discussing what we thought they meant. Then, the students generated open-ended questions they had about the individual rights. We use Question Sorts with those questions to eventually narrow our topic. Then, we drafted our driving question together. (I really had to steer them in this. In their previous PBL/design thinking challenges the question was not student-created.)

Once we had our driving question, we used Think-Puzzle-Explore to start developing our “Need to Knows.” The students worked in small groups to generate their T-P-Es, then we shared them to the larger group and wrote the best ones on our IdeaPaint wall. I transferred those to a Google Spreadsheet and shared it with the class giving certain students editing rights to help me track our learning on the spreadsheet. (This was a good idea, but I didn’t execute it well.) Those students could add new questions to the list, mark questions as answered, provide links to related articles, etc.

We used a Diigo group to curate our research, and I assigned students rotating roles (stolen from this Bill Ferriter handout) for what they had to do as we began reading and learning about our driving question. They had to bookmark, annotate (using a modified ladder of feedback), and share what they were reading and learning with the rest of the class in Diigo. Then, they had to perform their rotating roles to help us evaluate our research, clean it up, and make sure we were considering multiple perspectives. (I’m attaching a couple of images that hopefully will help this make sense.) We used SweetSearch as our starting place, and then I worked to find other resources to help them as we went.

Finally, I had students keep an individual Peel the Fruit Map that they updated every day so that I could track individual student’s understanding. We spent way more time on research the second year, and I felt my students had a much deeper understanding of the topic. That said, due to time restrictions, I finally just had to call an end to our research and move on to the how-do-we-share-what-we’ve-learned-and-do-something-about-this-issue phase.

The thinking routines and the social bookmarking roles really helped me provide the scaffolding my students and I needed. I had several teachers visit my classroom to watch how it worked, and I was really pleased with how the students responded. It was a HUGE improvement over year one.

Mary Ann found my response helpful but was still having difficulty visualizing the Peel the Fruit. She asked:

  • Do you happen to have a diagram of such a map?  Is it a general concept map or concentric circles?

I responded by sharing a few more ideas:

Understanding MapHere’s a PDF of a blank Understanding Map/Peel the Fruit and a better picture of a class one…During the last few minutes of class, I would stop the students and ask them to pull out their individual maps and add something to it—a question, an insight, a new discovery, etc. I’d collect them or walk around and glance over them to see where kids might be and who I might need to focus my attention towards. I also encouraged students to use post-its to add “their best thinking” to the class Understanding Map posted on the wall.

The map is set up to be a concept map, but we definitely felt the questions overlapped. I liked it because if a specific question wasn’t being addressed, I knew to push our thinking in that direction. For example, one class had a tough time considering other perspectives, so we took a day and did the Circle of Viewpoints and Step Inside routines.

Again, I mainly used the map to help me track our collective progress as well as see individual student’s progress. I found it a good accountability tool, too. (If someone’s map wasn’t filling up, I’d wonder how they were using their time.)

That’s what I did with my students, but I’d like to know what other teachers using project-based learning do. How do you teach students to ask good questions and develop their “need-to-knows”? How do you formatively assess individual and class understanding throughout the process? How do you monitor student research and know when it’s time to move on? If you have any ideas or experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

A Statement of Educational Philosophy

Philosophy of Education

Recently, I took some time to revisit my educational philosophy. I’ve written my philosophy a few times over the course of my career, and I find it interesting to note what has varied with each iteration. My beliefs have changed drastically over the course of my career, but my love for students and my passion for learning have remained steady. This “statement” is by no means perfect and continues to be a work in progress. Nevertheless, here is my recent thinking. 

Everyone should be a lifelong learner. The essence of life is learning. As I examine what I believe about education, I realize how much my educational philosophy has changed over the past 15 years. The constant in my career has been my need to reflect on my thinking, evaluate my own learning, and adjust my beliefs and my actions accordingly.

I used to think a teacher’s primary job was to know his content thoroughly and to present the material well, but now I think a teacher’s main role is to get to know his students, to uncover their understanding, and to help them demonstrate their learning well. Early in my career, I spent untold hours studying the content I needed to cover and preparing the presentations I would use in my teaching. These days, I devote the majority of my time to conferencing with my students individually and in small groups and to having them share their thinking visibly. While I appreciate teaching as an important part of the process, I believe learning should be the primary focus in classrooms and schools.

Learning is more than the process of gaining knowledge and skills. It requires constructing meaning and transferring understandings to new contexts; it includes meta-cognition and reflection. I believe learning should be active and passive, social and secluded. Activity, collaboration, and interaction should enhance and deepen understanding, but there must be time to process, read, write, and think quietly, too. I believe the most engaging and memorable learning arises from student-driven inquiry, where students ask questions, research ideas, evaluate answers, connect information, and share their learning. Project-based and problem-based learning develops the critical skills today’s students need to become deep thinkers and take ownership of their own learning.

My leadership stems from a passion to serve those around me and to help them become the best they can be. To serve them I listen carefully to hear their needs and concerns, I work with opposing people and polarizing ideas to find creative solutions and build consensus, and I strive to lead honestly and transparently building a common vision and a culture of care.

I know schools and classrooms must be places where all learners feel secure, valued, and able to take risks. Effective leadership focuses on the strengths of each individual to build relationships and develop leadership at every position within the learning community. As leaders empower teachers to take risks, teachers inspire students to grow into the creative entrepreneurs our society needs through the challenging, meaningful, purposeful, and engaging learning they experience.

My current philosophy of education consists of these ideas. Yet, as a landscape is changed by a river rolling through it, my philosophy will continue to be shaped and molded by future experiences, new discoveries, and further interactions with my community of learners. As a mentor once said, “We do not know where our train is going, but Someone knows.” I do not know what insight and changes the future holds for me, but the Teacher does—and that is enough for me.

I accomplished my goal…and it was awful.

resilienceI’ve confessed before how much I suck at running. It’s true. I’m really not being modest. I’m slow. It hurts. It’s discouraging. And yet, last month I ran a marathon. Okay, that sounds better than it actually was. It’s true I did complete the 26.2-mile distance, and people have been incredibly kind to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am to have finished it. And yet, I’m not happy with my accomplishment at all.

My race day was awful. In the weeks leading up to the race, my stomach didn’t play nicely. I tapered my runs. I took my supplements. I watched my diet and my hydration. I did everything I knew to do in anticipation of my race on December 6th, but I still found myself in my doctor’s office on the afternoon of December 5th watching as he shook his head and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I did.

The first 15 miles of the race went well. I ran right along with my pacer. I cheered my fellow runners on. I thanked volunteers and hugged friends who’d come out to support our cause. I felt great. My energy level was good, and my spirits were high. I doing it. Mile 16 changed everything. At the end of 15, I stopped to go to the bathroom. My pacer ran ahead, but I wasn’t worried thought I could catch up with her. I never did.

Mile 16 was awful. My stomach started cramping, and my legs, feet, and lower back began to hurt. I had to stop for the bathroom again at the next water station. Honestly, if a friend hadn’t been there to encourage me to go on, I probably would have quit. I certainly felt like giving up. Miles 17-21 consisted of a little running, some walking, regular Porta-Potty stopping, and lots of grumbling. I expected to see my family at mile 19, but falling off pace meant missing their cheering faces, too. I trudged on.

I don’t remember much of the last five miles. I know I ran more than I walked, and I know every single step hurt. A lot. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stop at the toilets during the last few miles. There was nothing left in my system. I crossed the finish line in 5:42:48. I wasn’t happy or proud, but I was finished. I’d been looking forward to the race for months. I’d trained my body. I’d raised money for a great cause. I wanted to feel good about it all, but I didn’t. I just felt awful. Yes, I’d finished the marathon; I’d technically accomplished my goal. But, the experience didn’t met my expectations, and I’m a little sad and discouraged as a result.

Where does this leave me as a runner? I’m not sure yet, but I’m finding it tough to lace up my Brooks. What do you do when you’ve accomplished a goal, and it’s left you feeling bleh?

Why I Run

Why I runA few years ago, my friend Todd told me that he and another friend had started training for their first half marathon. They had just finished a Couch to 5K program and were looking for a new challenge. As I listened to my friend, I realized I was jealous. My friend was getting in shape and I wasn’t. He was taking care of himself and I wasn’t. In fact, I was headed in the opposite direction, and I needed to do something about it. School was almost out for summer so I bought some Nike running shoes at the nearest outlet store, downloaded a #C25K app for my iPhone, and hit my neighborhood streets. By the time summer ended, I was ready for a 5K race and feeling better about my physical health.

I started running for health reasons. I needed to lower my cholesterol; I wanted to lose some weight. I hoped it might help me live long enough to escort my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. My motives were primarily selfish, but they got me out the front door to the street each morning. They helped me accomplish a few goals and brought others within reach.

So I was running right along somewhat proud of my accomplishments when I realized something: I’m a terrible runner. I’m not being humble. I’m really not. I wish I were just being hard on myself, but I’m not. I suck at running. I’m awful at it. I’m slow–painfully slow, and it doesn’t bring me lots of joy the way it does many of my runner friends. Instead, I see running as really hard work and on most days I’d rather crawl back under the covers when my alarm sounds at 4:30 AM.

Races are usually discouraging. More people pass me than I am able to pass, and my personal records are beyond my reach these days. I cannot remember the last time I beat my best time at any distance.

I’ve also become injury prone. I suffer from bad knees and take supplements to relieve the joint pain. Last year, when I complained to my doctor about some neck and upper back pain, he noticed my shoulders are somewhat asymmetrical. X-rays confirmed a mild case of scoliosis so now my recovery from long runs often includes taking a muscle relaxer, and I hate the way it makes me feel.

Running is hard. I suck at it. It hurts, and I find it completely discouraging. So, why do I run? Why put myself through it? I run because I suck at it. I suck, but I keep trying to get better.

I’m competent at most of what I choose to do in life. I’m pretty confident in all my roles. For example, I’m a pretty good teacher. I know how to develop my students’ thinking. I know how to design learning experiences and how to manage a learning environment. I also know my subject well. I love reading and writing, and I know what it takes to be a good reader and writer. I’m able to develop strong relationships with my students and my colleagues. And I’m able to leverage these things to continually improve my practice. Being in a classroom is “in my wheelhouse.”

However, I know the same isn’t true for all my students. For many of them, being in a classroom is hard work. School is discouraging. When their alarms go off each morning, they want to crawl back under the covers and not get up for school. They may find my class to be painful or uncomfortable. They may think they “suck” at reading and writing. They may have learning difficulties to overcome each day, and they may get tired of learning always being so hard.

So I run. I run to empathize. I run to better understand. I run because quitting isn’t always an option. Running is hard, but I’m a better teacher having ran.

Cleaning Up Collateral Damage

collateral damageMy day started early. The alarm chimed at 4:45 AM, and I rolled out of bed fumbling for my running shorts and shoes as I headed toward the bathroom. On the way I grabbed my phone hoping to check a few emails and do some multi-tasking for school while I prepped for my early morning jog.

Ugh. I saw the name in my inbox and knew this wasn’t how I wanted to start my day. Emails sent from parents in the middle of the night are never a good thing.

I considered waiting to open it. I started to close the Mail app, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during my run. The unknown contents of the message would haunt my entire workout. With a deep breath I opened the message.

Mr. Cummings,

*Todd came home very upset today about a conversation regarding his makeup work. Todd has missed 4 days of school due to illness last week. He had fever and felt terrible. He was very weak all weekend and could barely keep his head up during dinner tonight! The full school day exhausted him. There was evidently a test  scheduled in your class today, and Todd stated that you expected him to take the test because “you knew what the homework was, Todd; it was online.” I’m not sure how you feel when you are sick with fever, but Todd couldn’t even lift his head to drink enough let alone think about schoolwork.  He certainly wasn’t checking homework on the computer nor was he reading.

He went on to say that you conceded by allowing him to read tonight and take the test tomorrow. He knows he has quite a bit of work to make up, and we are making sure he gets caught up while continuing to do his daily work. He is still not 100%.

This week his PE time is already taken up with other academic commitments so he has no extra time at school. Thank you in advance for  your understanding and allowing him adequate time to get caught up. I can tell you now that he cannot take the test tomorrow as he went straight to sleep after dinner.

Sincerely,

Todd’s mom

Yikes! I’d totally blown it. Todd was a great kid and a wonderful student. He always gave his best and did quality work. I had known he’d been out sick, but I hadn’t realized how sick he was. Truthfully, I wasn’t even upset that Todd wasn’t ready to take the quiz. He just caught me at the completely wrong moment. When he walked up to speak with me about his situation, I was already frustrated by another matter. I was having a lousy day. Todd innocently walked into my frustration with horrible timing, and he’d received the brunt of my exasperation. I’d made a sick kid feel worse.

Looking back, I recognized immediately my first reaction to Todd was wrong. That’s why I quickly reconsidered and offered to let him take the quiz the next day. I think I intended for the modifying of my expectations to be an olive branch offering to Todd for my inappropriate response. Todd didn’t need an amendment; he deserved an apology. He deserved a teacher humble enough to own his mistakes. He deserved a better me.

I wrote Todd’s mom the following message:

I will apologize to Todd today. He bore the brunt of some other frustration and that wasn’t fair. Todd is a good student, and he is conscientious about his work. I really didn’t mean to speak harshly to him or make him feel bad. I was irritated over another matter (not related to Todd), and he walked into it unfortunately.

Todd can make up the reading and take the quiz sometime next week (the book is very short). I really wasn’t upset or frustrated with him. He just caught me at the wrong moment on a bad day, but that’s really no excuse. I’ll speak with him today and try to make things right. Again, I’m sorry; please accept my apology. My reaction wasn’t intentional, but it was an over reaction and wrong. Thank you for letting me know I upset him so that I can fix my mistake. He’s a great kid, and I enjoy having him in class.

Thanks-

Philip Cummings

Later that morning, I met Todd at the top of the stairs entering our class hallway. I apologized for my behavior explaining that I was wrong to treat him that way and that I really wasn’t frustrated with him. I thanked him for being such a dedicated hard-worker and told him that he had more than enough “deposits in the Mr. Cummings bank” to make a few withdrawals when needed. Todd smiled, accepted my apology, and appeared to understand. His parents were gracious enough to accept my apology, too. I appreciate such grace.

As a teacher (and as a parent), sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge my mistakes—to admit when I’m wrong, when I’m petty—to admit I’m fallen and broken. I want to be the best teacher I can be. My students deserve the best, and on some days, my best may just be an apology.

 *Todd is not the student’s real name.

To Be a Better Teacher, a Better Person

a better personI live an extremely privileged life. I know I do. My life hasn’t always been easy, but it certainly has been privileged because of things I’ve had little or no control over. I’m male. I’m white. I’m heterosexual and married. I’m upper-middle class, and the majority of my education has been in private schools. My current employer is an independent, Christian school for boys. As I mentioned, I’m privileged.

The news out of St. Louis last weekend that an unarmed, young black man was shot multiple times and killed by a Ferguson police officer has angered and frightened me, and it has made me extremely sad. I haven’t followed the unfolding story as closely as I should have because what I have seen and read has been gut-wrenching. It’s been easier to focus on the first week of school–to think and talk about something else. Honestly, I just don’t want to accept the world is the way it is. I want all to be joy and peace and love.

And yet. . . we I need to think about it. I need to SEE, HEAR, TASTE, and SMELL the realities of racial prejudice. I need to FEEL the injustices so many face (and that my life of privilege protects me from). I must KNOW the fight of those less privileged. I must UNDERSTAND the friction they regularly face. I must EMPATHIZE with the fears and frustrations they bear. I must find a way to fathom all of this, so that I can FOSTER CHANGE.

There are several people who help me do this. They not only make me think; they help me see the world through a different lens. A lens I need to look through regularly. Their words and stories are immensely valuable to me, and I want to amplify their important voices. You should give them a read:

Jose Vilson – When Can We Talk About Race? and Adults, Please Get Out of the Way

Rafranz Davis – Conversations with My Son Regarding the Mike Brown Murder and The Dehumanizing of Black Boys at School

Chris Lehman – What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying?

John Spencer – If This Is the Goal of Education . . . 

There are others I probably should mention, but these folks, in particular, challenge me and make me consider the world differently. They shift my understanding. They make me a better teacher–a better person. And my students deserve a better me.

The Story of Learning, Part 2

story of learningAs mentioned in my last post, I’ve struggled as I consider the question “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” I’m a sucker for a good story. It’s why I love good books, great movies, and skilled teaching. All involve good storytelling, and I can get lost in a good story for hours and hours if time permits. I want our story of learning in my classroom to be a great story. It has to be a great story. My students deserve nothing less. But…I’m not sure I know exactly what that story should be yet. After all, I haven’t met most of my students yet. How can I possibly know what our story should be?

It’s important to develop my students’ voice. It’s important they have choice about their learning and have ownership of it. Their thinking matters. I know what skills, concepts, and dispositions they need to develop, but this isn’t really my story of learning. It’s theirs. As I’ve thought more about this question (while running 14 miles this past weekend), I’ve decided my students and I need to plot the story of our learning together.

Good stories don’t happen by chance. They have important elements that come together to create a powerful story. We need to consider those same elements as we plot the story of our learning. Here is a quick list of some questions I plan to work through with my classes as we develop the story of our learning together. We’ll start contemplating and discussing these together during the first few days of school.

Setting: Most of our story will take place in Room 218 at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis, Tennessee. Nevertheless, I want my students to consider the type of environment we want our classroom to be. What will be the tone and ethos of our room? What should we do to make the most of our space? What pledges do we need to make to each other to create the environment we want?

Character: What types of learners do we need to be? What attitudes and behaviors should we adopt to create a great learning story? How should we treat each other? What do you see as your strengths as a learner, as a reader? Where do you want to improve?

Conflict/Rising Action: What are the problems we want to solve? What questions should we explore? How will we handle disagreements among us? What are the internal and external conflicts that might get in the way of our learning? How should we address them? What will we do when we struggle or when things are hard?

Climax: What would be the greatest thing you could do this year individually? What do we want to accomplish as a group? What aspects of learning and school matter to us the most?

Falling Action/Resolution: What would need to happen in order for you to say you had a successful year in this class? When you look back at 6th grade, what do you think you’ll remember?

Theme: What is the main goal we want to achieve this year? What are the “throughlines” that tie all our learning together? What are the big questions about conflict (our grade level theme) we need to consider?

I’m out of time to write. Does any of this make sense? What other questions should my students and I consider as we “plot” our year together?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.