Tagged: pomodori post

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.)

An Idea: ELA Quads

Rectangle ABCD
by Illustrative Mathematics licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

One of the changes we’ve made in 6th grade this year is to combine our English and reading instruction into one English Language Arts (ELA) class. We still have two teachers and two classrooms. Marjorie focuses on writing instruction through Writers’ Workshop while I focus on reading through Readers’ Workshop, but instead of having separate classes and separate schedules. Two homerooms are scheduled to have us during a two-hour English Language Arts block. This is a step towards developing the humanities class we are planning to shift to in the future. I’m excited about the shift to (ELA) because it allows Marjorie and I to collaborate more closely integrating our teaching and it allows us greater flexibility and more control over individual student schedules.

With thirty-eight boys scheduled for a two-hour block of ELA at one time, we’ve been imagining ways to play with how our classes will flow and how boys will shift between the two workshops. We considered a block schedule grouping the boys and having them spend both hours with one teacher on alternating days, but we decided for now we prefer the boys both to read and write daily. We also prefer to divide up having our boys travel by homerooms.

In wrestling with these constraints, Marjorie and I designed a plan. Each boys will be assigned to an ELA quad. Within the quad each boy will have a reading partner and a writing partner, but their partners will differ depending on the workshop. The quads will travel together to the different classrooms and work together for small group lessons for the entire first trimester. The quad consists of boys A, B, C, and D. A and B are reading partners, and C and D are reading partners. A and D are writing partners, and B and C are writing partners.  The whole quad also doubles as a small group. At the end of the trimester we will “turnover the fruit basket” and place the boys in new quads with new partners. Because we are still getting to know the students and their personal learning needs, our first quads will be of mixed ability levels. However, we may adjust how we group the students as the year goes along.

I’m excited about the idea and the flexibility it affords us while providing some structure for the students. Our plan is to name each quad after an NFL team during the fall trimester, after an NBA team during the winter term, and after an MLB team during the spring third. (We want to avoid having groups of bluebirds and red birds.)

What do you think of the idea? What else do we need to consider? I’d love to receive your feedback about the ELA quad idea and ways we can make it better.


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.

Prioritizing Thinking

See/Think/WonderPerhaps the most important thing my students need to know about me and our class as we begin the school year is the value we will place on thinking. Our class content focuses on reading, but the primary learning goal is to become more thoughtful–to be better thinkers. So on the first day, we start by prioritizing thinking. I don’t want our focus to be on procedures, rules, or even our classroom community. Those things are important, but the main core of everything we do is with the goal of becoming better, more thoughtful thinkers.

With that in mind one of the first activities we did is a See-Think-Wonder about 6th grade reading and our classroom. I gave my students a few Post-It notes and asked them to spend a few minutes exploring the classroom and writing down the things they saw. We talked about the need to gather evidence and pay attention to details. (These are skills we will use to help us become better readers, too.) The whole room was open to the students. I encouraged to explore every facet of the classroom including the closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and drawers. I challenged them “to research” the room thoroughly. After a few minutes, I called them back to their seats to complete their lists and share what they found.

Once we talked  about their “I See” lists, I asked them to begin interpreting, drawing conclusions, and making inferences about the things they noticed (Again, these are skills we will use to grow as readers, too.) They developed a set of “I think” statements. I gave them a few minutes to come up with as fluent of a list as they could; then, I dared them to come up with a few more. Their conclusions fascinated me. As they shared their thinking, I reinforced how important it is to base our conclusions and inferences on evidence by asking, “What makes you say that?” so that had to support their reasoning.

Finally, I challenged the students to take their thinking to a deeper level. We discussed that best way to push our thinking is to ask good questions. We talked about the value of questioning and concluded that “good questions” inspire us to think deeper–to explore our ideas further. (Yep, a skill we will use to further develop as readers.) “Good answers” can be helpful sometimes, but they tend to curb thinking more than deepen it. I asked the students to consider their “I think” statements and take them to a deeper level by developing “I wonder” statements about their original conclusions.  Again, we shared our thinking with our partners and with the class. Then, we prominently posted our thinking where it can be seen by everyone in class and any visitors we may have.

Again, the goal was to help the students understand (from the very first activity) their thinking is highly valued. Here are a few random pictures I captured of different students’ thinking about the class, our space, or me:

I see. . .

See 1 See 2 See 3

I think. . .

Think 3 Think 2 Think 1

I wonder. . .

Wonder 3 Wonder 2 Wonder 1

I’ve written previous posts about this first-day activity in past years. You can read those posts here and here.



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.

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.

The Story of Learning, Part 1

The Story of LearningBeginning the school year is incredibly hectic for me and my wife. We are both teachers working in different schools in different systems. We also have four children—in four different schools. Each with its own unique start of school schedule, traditions, and expectations. In addition to this, I’m shifting to a Readers’ Workshop approach to my classes this year, and I’m once again training for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. It’s Friday morning. I’m tired and feeling overwhelmed. My students arrive next Wednesday, and I’m not ready—not even close.

At one of our first-day meetings, my instructional leader asked us to stop and reflect for a moment. She asked, “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” The start of a new school year is an opportunity for a new start. This is my fourth new start teaching sixth grade reading, but Susan reminded me my students only get one sixth grade year. They only get to be a sixth grader one time.

As I sat there trying to reflect on the learning in my room, my mind was blank. What will the story of learning be in my classroom this year? I had no idea. All I could think about was the lists I need to complete, the schedules I need to coordinate, the books I still need to read, the forms I need to make, the files I need to organize, the shelves I need to rearrange, the lessons I need to create, and the planning I need to start. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t picture the story of learning. I wanted to see it, but I couldn’t.

I want to stop all of this craziness. I want to spend some time dreaming and wishing—imagining what our year of learning in sixth grade reading will be like. I really do. I cannot think of anything I’d rather ponder, but I’m overwhelmed by the start of school. There’s too much to do. My checklists runneth over.

I’m not dismissing Susan’s suggestion. I’m holding on to it. I woke up with it early this morning hoping I could  steal a few minutes to sit and reflect—to zoom in on what I truly want for my students. And yet, my lists keep calling to me. Here in the quiet of this morning, I’m still being pulled toward a more visible form of productivity. So for now, I’m just going to keep carrying the question in my heart and mind: What will the story of learning be in your classroom this year?


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.

Prepping for Back-to-School

back-to-schoolMy back-to-school in-service starts Wednesday. I’m looking forward to the new school year and everything a new beginning signifies. Over the past few days, I’ve reflected on how my approach to the start of school has changed through the years. A video shared by Hugh McDonald on Twitter and the discussion that followed sparked my thoughts. While this teacher has made some choices I wouldn’t make, I appreciate the passion and excitement he’s bringing to his work. He want san inviting space for his students and I can appreciate that. However, I was somewhat surprised by the comments of several on YouTube who equated his decorating with his teaching. Those are NOT the same thing. I’ve sat in rooms with four bare walls and learned from some extraordinary teachers. I’ve also sat in some beautiful rooms where the teaching was awful and the learning absent. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for an inviting space, but I see no correlation between one’s ability to decorate and his ability to teach.

Here’s the video Hugh shared:

I’m reminded of myself as I prepped in my first few years teaching. As a rookie teacher, I would start working in my room weeks before the students arrived. I’d spend hours (if not days) arranging desks, decorating walls, writing names in textbooks, creating lists of rules and procedures, and ensuring I outlined and explained it all in a typed, class syllabus handed out the first day. This wasn’t necessarily a bad use of my time and energy. After all as a single guy with few responsibilities outside my job, I had the time, and I had plenty of nervous energy about each upcoming year, too. But I’m not sure it was the best use of my time either.

After fifteen years, I don’t spend too much time decorating and arranging the space before the students arrive. I do break my room into two primary sections. I arrange one part as a reading/living room area and the other part as an instructional side complete with desks in pods to ease conversation and small group work. The only things I put on the walls are the posters required by my school (standards and language of thinking) and the visible thinking anchor charts we use most often. The only real decorating I do is outside my door where I creatively (and tediously) display the names of my homeroom students. We post and share student thinking (usually on Post-It® notes or written on the IdeaPaint™ wall) on the rest of the board and wall space in my room.

During in-service, I try to spend most of my “room work” time planning and reflecting on the learning that I should happen in my class. I don’t spend time considering rules and procedures. The students and I work together develop these in the first weeks as we get to know each other. One of my goals is to have a student-centered, inquiry-driven classroom, where each student knows his voice and choice matters. Obviously, there are a few non-negotiable procedures we must follow (like what to do during emergencies), but when I can include the students in making decisions, I do.

As a husband and parent, I have demands on my time I didn’t have when I began teaching. My vacation time from school is valuable time with my family, and it’s important I be present with my wife and children investing in my relationships with them. Summer is time when I can truly focus on them. Therefore, I don’t spend much time at school in the weeks before in-service. I understand why some teachers do, but I don’t. Sure, I still read professional texts and work on my professional goals during the break. Summer is a great time to reflect on my work, but you will no longer find me spending the last few weeks in my classroom burning the candle at both ends and trying to get my classroom perfectly decorated and my syllabus appropriately typed.

What about you? How do you spend the weeks leading up to the start of school? How has your prep for the start of school changed through the years?


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.

Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Book ReviewAs part of my professional development goal for 2014-2015, I read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. My goal was to consider the novel as a text for my sixth grade students to read during their study of World War I. The book is told from the viewpoint of Joey, the war horse, and focuses primarily on Joey’s relationship with a boy named Albert and on Joey’s experiences serving on both sides in France during the war.

The novel’s primary theme is the universal suffering that occurs through evils war.  The book is short (only 165 pages), and the plot is easy enough to follow. I think it will be a good text for us to use early in the year while I’m still trying to get to know the students and their reading skills. While the book has some sad parts, I don’t think it is too much so, and I feel those parts of the story help develop the primary theme. I also think the story will tie easily into my school’s character education program and give us ample opportunities to discuss several of “the virtues of manhood.”

Overall, I think the novel is worth reading and is useful for our newly developing approach. I’d like to find some additional reading to tie in with it, and I’d love to watch the movie after we’ve finished to compare it to the novel. I haven’t taught much literature connected to World War I so I’m looking for more resources and ideas I can find.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.


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.

 

Yep, About Five Seconds

The Twitter BirdI like Twitter. It’s an interesting medium for connecting with people, particularly other teachers. Through my interactions on Twitter, I’ve developed some great professional connections. I’ve made important friendships there, too. In fact, some of my closest friendships started on Twitter. My current job teaching at PDS, which I love, came primarily through the connections and relationships that started on Twitter so obviously, I think it’s an important place to be, and I urge every teacher I know to start using twitter and making connections there. It’s been one of the most important tools for my professional growth and development.

But. . . Twitter is a weird medium. By limiting posts to 140 characters, Twitter makes having deep conversations difficult. So while I find Twitter chats interesting and sometimes insightful, I don’t find them deeply challenging. Of course, I’d rather sit down with a great cup of coffee and talk, anyway.

Another thing that makes Twitter weird is the follower/following mechanism. For some reason, those numbers matter to some people. If I’m honest, there are times when they matter to me, too. Then, when I really think about it, I realize that’s kind of silly. I’m there to make connections and to learn. I’m not building a brand, and I’m not interested in making a name of becoming famous. I want to be the best teacher possible for my students, and yet I still have to decide who I will and will not follow.

Recently, Doug Peterson wrote an interesting post about the process he uses in determining whether he follows someone on Twitter. Doug’s is an interesting checklist as he  mentions that one only has about five seconds to make a good impression online. I’d say five seconds is just about right. My process isn’t as well thought out as Doug’s, but I have done some thinking about what goes through my mind when it comes to following folks on Twitter:

  1. I don’t follow every person, or even every educator, that follows me. There are people who do and I think that’s great, but that doesn’t work for me. I like using my “home” stream, and I prefer that it be filled with tweets from people I somewhat know and recognize. I do follow people back, but usually it’s because they’ve engaged in dialogue with me over some idea a few times. If you want to connect with me, I’m open to the idea, but don’t expect me to follow you just because you chose to follow me.
  2. If we meet in person, I’ll usually follow you. Of course, if you don’t share periodically or what you share is of little interest to me, I’ll probably unfollow you at some point. It is what it is.
  3. If you are following me only because you want to sell me something, we might as well end this now. I’m not interested.
  4. If you act like a jerk, I’m not going to keep following you. Life is just too short.

I’m sure I have a few other guidelines, but my Pomodoro timer just sounded so I’m going to stop now. What about you? How do you decide whom you will follow online?


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.

Book Review: Circa Now

Book Review“What if you could photoshop the fantastical into existence?”

Every now and then I read a book that resonates deep inside me and I cannot stop thinking about the characters and the story long after I’ve put the book back on the shelf. I’ve read a lot of books, but there have only been a handful of novels that I cannot truly put away–books that I must revisit time and again. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are two books that through the years have beckoned me to read them over and over. They are powerful stories, and I have made deep connections to them. Amber Turner’s Circa Now is another one.

The book is beautifully written. Turner has an amazing way with words. Her well-crafted prose pulled me into the story quickly, but the main character, twelve-year-old Circa Monroe, held me there. Two chapters into the story Circa’s world falls apart when her father dies unexpectedly, and as a reader I was transported back to when I, too, was twelve and my mother died. Circa’s story isn’t all sad, though (and neither was mine). As Circa and her mother try to put their lives back together, a mysterious boy arrives at their door who seems to be magically connected to the Monroe family.

I won’t spoil the story because you need to read this book. If you are a middle school teacher, you should add it to your must-read list. The book gives insight into students who’ve suffered the loss of a parent, but it is also just a great story with a touch of magic and filled with hope. I’m planning to use it as a read aloud this year with my sixth graders, and I’m planning to host an author visit with Mrs. Turner, too.

Teachers, one cool resource Turner created to go along with the book is a collection of “Shopt” Story Starters. These photoshopped pictures are wonderful creative writing prompts and tie in perfectly with the book. My own children had a big time writing their own “shopt stories” at the book launch last month.

I’m out of writing time, but do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Circa Now. You’ll be glad you did. I rated Circa Now a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Full Disclosure: Amber McRee Turner is a dear friend. Our friendship dates back 30-plus years to junior high school, and I’m proud to call her my pal. Nevertheless, her work stands on its own. She’s a true talent and you ought to check out her work regardless of her connection to me. However, I did receive an ARC of Circa Now from Amber to read and share with my 6th grade students. (I also bought a copy when the book released because I’m going to need extra copies.)


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.

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.