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.

A New Plan: Pomodori Posts

Pomodoro technique While in Atlanta for ISTE a couple of weeks ago, I spend lots of time with my friends Bill Ferriter and John Spencer. Bill and John are two of my favorite teacher bloggers. I never miss a post that either of them writes, and their writings have really helped me grow and develop as a teacher. Both of them have encouraged me greatly in my own blogging efforts. Bill helped me get this website up and working, and John has been one of the most frequent commenters and sharers of my work.

Hanging out with them (we shared a condo) was one of the high points of my ISTE experience. I learned so much through our conversations, and they constantly challenge my thinking. One of the coolest things about hanging out with them was the opportunity to watch them write. It’s cool to see Bill crafting posts through conversations, tweets, and questions making notes as he goes. It was also interesting to watch the way Bill manages his time, prioritizing writing and sharing. John, too, is a blogging master. I watched as he wrote an entire post in less than twenty minutes (with my interrupting him occasionally), and the post was brilliant. He has truly honed his craft. In fact, he’s developed himself into such a good writer that he rarely spends any time editing his posts.

I’ve been thinking about what I learned observing Bill and John at ISTE and about my own attempts at blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with and reading about personal productivity. I want to share more openly and blog more often about my teaching and learning. I’ve already started taking more notes on my learning using a Moleskine and creating drafts of things to blog about in Evernote. This is similar to the way Bill works. That should help when it comes to capturing my ideas. But I also need to write faster and let go of my writing more willingly like John does. Having considered this, I’m going to start posting more often using what I’m calling my pomodori post technique.

I’ve used Tomatoes for the past few months to help me be more productive during my planning, before school, and after school work time. I’m going to start using the Pomodoro Technique to write two posts a week. I’m going to limit the time I can spend on a past to two pomodori. I will spend the first pomodoro (25 minutes) writing each post. I’ll use the second pomodoro to edit mistakes, format the blog, polish my thoughts, add categories and tags, and add a photo to the post. At the end of the second pomodoro, I’ll schedule the post and walk away from it. I’ll tag each as a pomodori post. They will be somewhat similar to Bo Adams’ process posts, but I’m not going to name them as such in the title. I’m only going to tag them this way. I’m sure I’ll have to tweak the process as I go, but it’s a start.

So what do you think? What is the process you go through when you write a blog post? I’d love to read your thoughts on my plan.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

7 Reasons You Should Read Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard #wendellwednesday

Drawing by John Spencer
Drawing by John Spencer

Yesterday J. C. (John & Christy) Spencer released their book Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard. I was fortunate to receive a preview copy of the book, and am loving it. I’m a little over halfway through the book and cannot wait to read what will happen next. I’m planning to read it aloud to my class after we finish the books we paused during the Global Read Aloud.

In honor of John and Christy’s accomplishment and to help spread the word about the book, I’ve decided today will be a #WendellWednesday. I’m planning to tweet and share about the book in my social media spaces throughout the day. Feel free to share about Wendell with your friends, too.

Here are my 7 Reasons You Should Read Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard by J. C. Spencer.

7. Maker culture is all the rage, and Wendell is a designer, tinkerer, and maker. But does that make him a Misfit? Read the book. Find out.

6. The story celebrates creativity and imagination both through the characters and their complications and through the authors’ use of words and humor.

5. The book is fill of fun, original illustrations that pull you deeper into the characters and story, and the authors are creating a list of fun activities that connect to the book.

4. Robots, zombies, wizards, gnomes and trolls–what kind of person doesn’t like a story with those kinds of characters? Okay, so nobody likes a troll, but brain-intolerant zombies? You know you’re curious.

3. Wendell’s big brother Greg is a real pain, but Wendell is the title character. Purchase the book and you’ll be sticking it to irritating big brothers everywhere. Yeah. Take that!

2. In The Help, Aibileen Clark said, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You wouldn’t want to prove her wrong, would you? Buy the book and we’ll know she was right about you.

1. The book has wonderful lessons and reminders like “magic is all around if I’m willing to see it.” Who doesn’t need that kind of occasional reminders?

So go ahead and give Wendell a try. You can preview the first three chapters, but you’d probably rather go ahead and purchase a copy from Amazon. You know you want to.

10 Sticky Things from ISTE 2013

Gum WallI’ve sat down several times to write a reflection on my #ISTE13 experience, but so far everything has been inadequate in capturing my thoughts and feelings about my trip to San Antonio. Thanks to Amanda, Paul, Michelle, and Bob for encouraging me to get it together and share something. Amanda suggested a list of the thoughts about the experience. So, here is a list of things that have stuck with me since ISTE:

10. There’s a lot of money being made on schools. Walking through the vendor expo agitated me. I’m not against entrepreneurship or technology or tools, but something didn’t sit right with me as I saw all the stuff being peddled to educators. It made me uncomfortable. Tools are helpful, but students really need good teachers. (And teachers deserve to receive fair wages, too.) Schools should invest in good teachers before pouring funds into technology. If they don’t, they are wasting money.

9. It stinks to miss the session you most want to attend. I was early but in the wrong room, and I’m still unhappy about it. By the time I discovered my mistake and got to the right room, the session was full. The Gestapo had barred the doors and wouldn’t let me enter. Seriously. I’m not still irritated about that. Really. I’m not… #YesIAm

8. Teachers, particularly PBL teachers, are a generous bunch. I went to the PBL Birds of a Feather session and loved it. It enjoyed hearing other people’s experiences with project-based learning, and receiving some tips and ideas to further my thinking and planning. I really appreciate their willingness to share their stories and tools, too.

7. Bigger isn’t better. Yes, the conference was in San Antonio, and ISTE was definitely a Texas-sized conference (13,000+ attendees). I went to large sessions in enormous rooms surrounded by hundreds of people with gifted presenters (only when I felt I had to), but my most memorable learning happened in small groups in quiet corners through conversations. ISTE was the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. I enjoyed it, but I prefer the smaller conferences, TeachMeets, and Edcamps over the massive convention gathering.

6. Numbers cause strange things to occur. I understand our fascination with numbers, but they really mess with our heads. At ISTE, a friend asked me what I think about the idea of social media without the numbers. No Klout scores. No number of Twitter followers. No count of Facebook friends. No tally of Instagram likes. No total of blog post views. Personally, I really like the idea. After all, what do those numbers really mean? How does one accurately interpret them? And what does our fixation on those figures show about us?

At the airport on my way home, I was waiting with a friend. He’s a nice guy. He’s generous, funny, and thoughtful. He’s also a well-known educator. He’s been on Twitter for a long time and has many followers. While we waited for our flights, one of his followers identified him, approached, and asked to take a picture with him. He kindly agreed. What struck me most about the interaction was the woman never introduced herself to him. She never told him who she was, what she does, or even what her username is. She just wanted a picture with him–as if he were Bono or someone. I wonder if quantifying everything is actually making us all somewhat crazy.

5. I’d rather be friends than a PLN. Don’t get me wrong. Being a connected learner is important, and I value the network I learn with online. I’ve invested a significant amount of time into developing that network. Somehow a small number of those connections grow into true friendships–even though we may never meet in person. I’m amazed by this. At some point personal learning network no longer accurately describes these relationships, and honestly, I’d prefer a few true friends to a vast network of learning connections. Being at ISTE solidified and renewed several friendships. For this I’m thankful.

4. “Walk and talk” is my favorite learning method. Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk “sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.

3. Our faiths and philosophies of life shape who we are and how we learn and teach. We don’t always talk about those things in our interactions. To do so is risky and requires transparency–an intimacy, that isn’t always comfortable. And yet, when we know these things about each other–when we share our hearts, our stories, we can connect with and learn from one another at a deeper level. I had several risky conversations while at ISTE, and I’m a better teacher and person because of them.

2. It’s good to hangout with guys. I love my colleagues at work. They are amazing teachers and incredible people. I’m blessed to teach with them and to learn from them. I cannot imagine a better group of co-workers, and yet they are almost all women. I’m the only male homeroom teacher at my school, and I am one of only two male teachers that isn’t an administrator or coach. My male colleague teaches music in a different part of the building so we don’t see each other much. It’s a strange dynamic being the only guy. (This is my first job in an elementary school.) Connecting with guy friends outside work hasn’t happened either over the past few months. At ISTE, I spent a fair amount of time just hanging out with guys. I needed it, and am thankful for the time. One of the main reasons I went to San Antonio was to meet and hangout with John. Fortunately, I also spent some quality time with Chad, Rodney, Thomas, Jeremy, Tim, Tony, Paul, Stephen, Will, Tim, Steven, and Nick. It was good to listen, to laugh, to share with them.  Now, how do I convince them to move to Memphis?

1. You can’t beat face to face. I love reading and commenting on blog posts, engaging in Twitter chats, and talking via video conferencing. They are valuable learning experiences. It’s handy to connect asynchronously with others and to learn together even though miles apart, but it doesn’t compare to being side by side or right across the table.

What about you? What stuck with you from ISTE 2013?

Running Thoughts: Fuels, Tools, and Mentors

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I had a crazy weekend beginning immediately after school on Friday and never had the opportunity to sit down and write. Well, that’s not exactly true because I chose to watch the Memphis-Arkansas State football game during the time I did have to write on Saturday, but I digress. This post is about my running thoughts from my run on Friday morning, September 7, 2012. Writing Time Limit: 45 minutes

I ran 5.28 miles in 51 minutes. It was a better run that the other runs last week. I maintained a 9:42 pace and ran well up until the last half mile.

I’ve been reading about and experimenting with whether or not I eat something before my runs. I’ve found mixed information online, and it’s hard to tell what’s trustworthy. I’ve been told Jillian Michaels says you must eat within the first hour after you wake up. I usually head straight for the streets and don’t eat until I’ve been up for 90 minutes or longer. But I have experimented with eating a little fruit, a piece of toast, or some graham sticks. Before this run, I went high tech and consumed a packet of Chocolate Outrage Gu. Honestly, I had to choke it down. It was really strong, and I’m not sure chocolate is the best choice for my first taste of the morning (Mocha Latte, perhaps…). After the initial swallow, the Gu became much more palatable. And I did have a good run…but I’m not ready to assign causation just yet. (I have no connection to Gu.)

This leads me to my connection to learning. How important is it that students eat a good breakfast? How much does it impact their learning? When I was growing up, my parents made us breakfast every morning. My kids tend to fend for themselves making cereal, grabbing pop-tarts, or microwaving sausage biscuits for breakfast. I do try to insist they eat something, but I probably need to do a better job of monitoring what they eat. Maybe I should use my early morning time to prepare them something instead of running and writing. I need to research this more and see if I can provide some better food options for them for breakfast.

Note: I have started a group Posterous with Scott Elias as a place to curate recipes and healthy meals for busy educators. It’s called Fuel 4 School. If you would like to be a contributor, we’d love to have you. Just send me your email (a DM on Twitter will work) and I’ll add you to the group.) 

As I mentioned in a previous post, leaking water bottles aren’t much use on a run. I pitched mine in the recycle bin, and bought a new Amphipod water bottle last week. I decided on the Hydraform Thermal-Lite™ 20 oz. model, and it was great! The thermal cover keeps my hand from freezing, it’s shaped so that it is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t leak so I wasted no water. I also purchased an ArmPod SmartView™ for my iPhone. I’m not as crazy about it, but mostly because I’m used to carrying my phone in my hand and I look at it way too much. that said the ArmPod worked very well. It’s nice to have useful tools for running. (I am not connected with Amphipod in any way other than as a consumer.)

Good tools are also useful in the classroom–especially when it comes to instructional technology. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about tools (apps, resources, etc.) over the past few years. Here’s a list of few of the places I go to first, when I’m looking for digital tools for teaching:

A final thought about Friday’s run was about mentoring. I’m leading a 6th grade mentor group this year at school, and I’m also mentoring/coaching a Martin Institute resident. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors over the course of my life. These days much of the mentoring I receive as a teacher comes face-to-face with Alice or online through connections with other teachers. Because I love lists, here’s a short list of just a few of the people who have become not only friends, but mentors for me as I continue this journey of personal, professional reform:

There are others I could certainly add, but I have found these folks extremely thoughtful and generous. Also, they are willing to push me a little, and I appreciate them for it. You should read their stuff and connect with them.

Well, I’m out of time. I’d love to hear your thought son any or all of this.

Just Doodle It!

I failed miserably last year when it came to having my students write and document their learning through their journals. I started the year strong with a daily writing prompt, but it became too much. I couldn’t find the time to write back to them the way I wanted, and my 50-minute classes didn’t afford us enough time to use them as well as we might have–or so I told myself. This year I planned to use the “learning logs” only with our third trimester book clubs. Now Royan Lee has changed all that.

Yesterday Royan shared “The Thinking Book” on his blog. I subscribe to Royan’s blog, but I first learned about the post from a tweet by John Spencer. The sketchbook photos Royan posted are remarkable and I expressed  that to John and Royan. This led to additional conversation and sharing on Twitter, and now I think I’m going to steal Royan’s “Thinking Book” idea for use with my own students.

Here are a few resources Royan uses that he shared with me:

  • RSA Animate videos – I have seen several of these and they are amazing, but I never really thought about using them to inspire the students to create their own sketchbooks. The drawings really make the messages of the videos come alive. Some of the topics may be too deep for many of my 6th graders (and their teacher) to follow, but I think the animation of Dan Pink’s Drive might be accessible and a good starting place. It could also spark a good conversation on motivation.

  • Sunni Brown’s TED Talk: Doodlers, Unite! – I had no idea that doodling could be so powerful. As a teacher, I was particularly struck by Brown’s statement that doodling “engages all four learning modalities simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience.” If that’s true, I would be wrong not only for discouraging students from doodling but also for not encouraging/teaching them to do so. I’m also wondering why I’m not more of a doodler myself.

  • Giulia Forsythe’s Work on Visual Practice – Giulia, whom I just started following on Twitter, has written about how the art of SketchNoting has helped her “stay focused and be a better listener.” I highly recommend checking out her Visual Practice post (linked above). In that post she shares a video about her own experience, a great SlideShare of her presentation “Drawing Conclusions,” several sample SketchNotes, and some links where you can learn more. Here’s a great example of one of Giulia’s sketches.

  • Coincidentally, my wife is introducing the concept of Zentangle to her elementary art students. I had never heard of Zentangle before yesterday, I found it interesting that both SketchNoting and Zentangle approaches focus on creativity and improve problem-solving. Here’s an example:

Pretty cool, huh? What are your perceptions of doodling? How do you respond when students doodle in class? Would you encourage more doodling knowing it might help your students learn? How would you incorporate it into the learning? My head is spinning. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this.

Running Thoughts: Mentoring a Resident, Judging Parents, and Receiving Approval

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This morning I ran 3.5 miles in 35:00 and walked an additional .28 miles in my 5 minute cool down. I slept in an extra 30 minutes so I hit the ground running with my mind racing and my thoughts wandered. As I reflect on my thinking, three ideas stand out from my run:

  1. Working with a Martin Institute resident – This fall I’ll be working with Julia Porter, a Martin Institute resident. Julia is a recent graduate of Ole Miss and just moved to Memphis. She’s interested in teaching secondary school English. She’ll be spending some time with me and my students this first trimester, and yesterday was our first day to work together. I must confess I wasn’t very well prepared for Julia’s arrival. I had wanted to provide more structure and a nice to-do list for us to work from, but that never developed. With Debbie going back to work on July 30, I have been in full-time daddy mode up until the start of in-service. Nevertheless, Julia and I talked a bit about her student teaching experience and my teaching transformation over the past few years. I even shared with her the vision I’m developing for our 6th grade reading course. She’s really bright and I hope she’s able to learn from me as much as I expect I’ll learn from her. I gave her a copy of John Spencer‘s book A Sustainable Start. Perhaps, we can read through some of it and reflect together–if time permits. Regardless, I’m looking forward to having her in our learning space.
  2. Parenting at the bus stop – As I ran past the middle school bus stop, I noticed several parents waiting with their children for the bus to arrive. It struck me as a bit odd considering that school started five days ago, and in my mind I immediately began to question why these parents felt the need to hover. I started down that path in my head for a few minutes, assuming the worst, before I caught myself. What was I thinking? I didn’t know these parents or these kids. Why was I judging them? Assigning them motives and insecurities? Honestly, I felt pretty guilty about it. I want to be one who assumes the best about people. I want to default to thinking well about others and their motives, but I’m afraid that isn’t always the case. Ugh. I really need to work on this.
  3. Receiving approval for my idea – Yesterday afternoon Julia and I sat down with Mrs. Droke to share my idea that I am developing in response to the work I did during my Master Class with John Hunter. Without going into too many details (I’m not ready to share just yet), the meeting went really well. Mrs. Droke expressed excitement about the idea and suggested some resources to help us flesh it out further. (Woo hoo!) I’m thrilled and my mind is working overtime considering the possibilities. I am thankful that I teach at a school that seeks to embrace innovation and change and that I have administrators who support and encourage my taking risks. I spent several minutes during my run just dreaming about what could be.

My next run will be this Sunday when I will run my first 5-mile race. It’s the third race in the Memphis Runners Track Club Road Race Series. My goal is to finish in 55 minutes or less, though I’d really like to beat the 52 minute mark. We’ll see what happens. Feel free to leave a comment in response to today’s thoughts. As I always, I appreciate the feedback and conversation.

Note: I completed my run early this morning, but I didn’t get the chance to sit down tand write this post until tonight. I’m in the middle of inservice and things are very busy. 

Running Thoughts: Fitness Thinking, Teacher Sustainability, and Teaching Writing

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Note: I gave myself a 30-minute time limit for writing this.

This morning I set a “thinking agenda” for my run. Knowing I was going to run approximately 6 miles in 70 minutes with my warm up and cool down. I planned to spend the first 2 miles thinking about my fitness goals and routines, the second 2 miles reflecting on John Spencer’s chapter in Sustainable on “Success: Fireworks or Fire Works?,” and the last 2 miles brainstorming about teaching writing. One thing I learned about myself is that I’m not really a linear thinker. Even though I had an agenda, my mind still shot down rabbit holes popping back up in the other areas I wanted to think about. Perhaps, this is why I have such a hard time following sermons and lectures. My mind can be full of wormholes of cognitive hyperlinks sometimes. But I digress.

In thinking about my fitness goals and routines, I am proud to say I have completed my Bridge to 10K running plan. I’m certainly not the fastest runner, but I have now stuck to and completed two different running programs, and I’m proud I stuck with it. A few days ago, I saw a #temt post on Twitter that made me start evaluating my fitness routines. The post made note that the #temt stream was full of cardio-related posts, but seemed to lack posts about strength conditioning. I know I have neglected this part of my regimen, so I think I will speak with Dale Brady at 2PC about possibly training me or setting me up on a strength training plan. I’m also thinking that as school begins, I will try to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and commit to strength training on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I also need to commit to doing P90X’s Ab Ripper X three days a week, too, to work on my core.

In reflecting on John’s chapter on success, a couple of thoughts came to mind. John thinks it’s important for teachers to create a meaningful, realistic story about one’s teaching life. I agree. So I’m trying to think about my teaching through the various story elements and I’m thinking about who I want to be as the main character in this story and how I can be faithful to that. John also talks the most important theme in teaching being love not influence–that it’s more about love than making a difference. I’m not sure. I want to make a difference–not just to individuals, but I want to help them think well and do good. I agree that love is crucial, but I want my love to be demonstrated through the ethic of kindness. (Does that make sense?) A final thought is that I really like the metaphor of being a fire versus a firework. Where I think the metaphor might collapse, though, is variety. Fireworks vary. They have different colors and they explode in a unique ways. Likewise, I think there are a variety of approaches to teaching that can work well. I didn’t always think so, but as I experiment with different strategies and philosophies I’m learning there isn’t just one way.

My final thoughts center around teaching writing. I only have a bit of time left to write this post, but my thoughts centered around the need to focus on the process, to have students write frequently, to provide meaningful feedback from both teacher and peers, and the need to create authentic projects and audiences. Students would also benefit from clear modeling and having a choice about what they write. Side thought: I need to pull together some resources that might help give this wings.

Okay, the online egg timer and the laundry buzzer sounded so I need to get this posted. Remember this is a process post. Nevertheless, I would love to read any thoughts or comments ou have on today’s “Running Thoughts.”

Running Thoughts: A Thinking Mashup

While running this morning, I was thinking about some recent blog posts that I have read. They’ve been percolating in my mind as I think about learning, the writing process, the upcoming school year, and this blog. The first posts are Bo Adams’ “Walking Myself and My Dog to School or Braiding NPR and a Cup of Joe” and his “Process Post: Contemplating Juxtapositions.” Both are interesting posts, but what has percolated in me has more to do with Bo’s process. First, he uses an everyday activity–walking his dog, as an opportunity for thinking and learning that he then turns into a “random reflection.” I like that and think I can apply that to my own routines. Second, Bo writes what he refers to as “Process Posts.” According to Bo these posts are “a place to think and not worry about getting all the pieces to fit together or all of the conventions right. It’s like a journal. I usually use a process post as I am working out some thinking in my mind.” (1)

With all of this in mind, I have decided to start my own version of process posts that I’m calling “Running Thoughts.” These posts will simply be a collection of things I’m thinking about while I’m running. In order to capture my thinking before it melts away in the craziness that is my daily life, I plan to use Audioboo to record my thoughts as I am doing my run cool down. I tried it this morning and think it will work well. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my phone last night and it died before I could finish the audio reflection. My plan is to post the short audio reflections to my Posterous, then write a more complete reflection here on the blog. I plan to set a time limit for the writing of the posts and not to worry about polishing and perfecting it. (I will run spellcheck.) We’ll see how it goes. I generally try to run 3 times a week so maybe I can

The other post that has percolated this morning is John Spencer’s “From Goals to Commitments.” In the post John shared that while he still plans to have his students set individual goals and collective class goals, that he is going to transition from setting personal goals to making personal commitments. The difference is in making a promise about what he can and will do.  For some reason this idea resonated in me and while running this morning I identified a few commitments that I want to make. This list certainly isn’t complete yet, but the following are things I know I want to commit to:

  • Honoring the most important member of my PLN–my wife, by focusing my attention on her when we are together (no multitasking) and talking aloud about the crazy things rambling around in my head
  • Investing time in playing and teaching tennis to my own kids. They, particularly Eric and Andrew, have shown an interest recently in my favorite sport, and I want to commit to helping them learn the game and discover whether they enjoy it or not.
  • Giving my students a voice in my classroom. I like how John put it when he said he will let the students “help negotiate the norms, rituals and goals” in his classroom. I will do something similar.
  • Trying new thinking routines in my classroom and giving better evaluative responses by using the Ladder of Feedback
  • Providing examples and rubrics to help model ways in which students can demonstrate their learning well.
  • Updating my teacher website/blog weekly in order to better communicate with parents and other interested parties

We’ll see how this Running Thoughts series goes. Now I just have to remember to charge my smartphone.