Running Thoughts: Knowing What You Don’t Know

 This morning I ran 3.69 miles in 36:14. It was third attempt to restart my running after completing the St. Jude Half Marathon on December 1, 2012. My middle son Sam ran with me this morning and it was 27 degrees with light snow flurries when we headed out the door at 5:15.

Saturday morning I participated in John Spencer’s #rechat on Twitter. The topic for discussion was the use of data in schools. The discussion was interesting and thoughtful, but what reverberated in me was the question about the students’ role in knowing, analyzing, and reflecting on their own data. Paula White and Tom King, two educators that I highly respect really pushed my thinking in this regard.

It began with my response to a comment made by John:

As the conversation progressed Tom chimed in retweeting and responding to one of my tweets:

Then, after Tom had pushed me further, Paula asked:

So, I have been thinking about this all weekend. As learners do we know what we don’t know? Can we? If so, how? As a professional educator committed to growing and changing as a teacher, I am well aware that there are many thing I don’t know. I’m still fumbling my way through (or toward) a more constructivist classroom. I’m trying to shift toward a more authentic, Project-Based (capitals intentional) approach to learning. I know I’m not there yet, I’m still reading, researching, conversing, trying, and failing at it. Sometimes I know what I need to learn, and sometimes I’m just lost with no idea what to do next. So, I lean on the great teachers around me. I head next door to talk things over with Alice. I read, re-read, and read again the stories and posts of people like Shelley Wright and John Spencer (among others) trying to glean from their experiences. So, do we know what we don’t know? Can we? I guess…it depends. (How’s that for an answer?) But the question has left me believing even more strongly in the value of a good teacher–someone who knows how to ask the right questions.

To bring this idea about learning back to the metaphor of running, I want to talk about one of my newer goals. I want to run faster. I know I’m not fast enough for a person of my size and age. The trouble is I really don’t know how to run faster. I’m still a novice runner. Sure, I know I need to improve my form. I need to work on my stride and engage in more plyometrics. I need to strengthen my core, and I should lose some weight. In this way I know some things I needs to learn (do), but as for how to go about these things, well, I’m really not sure. What should I do first? What’s the best way to do them? I need a coach, an expert, to help me. Do I know what I don’t know? Well, yes and no. But in the end, I think I’ll benefit most having a good teacher or coach.

So what do you think? Do you know what you don’t know?

Running Thoughts: An interview with my fifth grader…

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This afternoon I was fortunate to have my 5th grade son Sam join me for a 3 mile run. According to my RunKeeper app, we completed the run in 28:13! Thank you, Sam, for the push. As we did our cool down, I decided to add a twist to my usual “Captured Running Thoughts” recording and interview Sam.

I asked Sam about running and about his day at school today. Then, I decided to ask him, more specifically, to tell you about what he’s doing in math. Our school is a 1:1 laptop school, and Sam is in an “adaptive” math class. It combines a “flipped” strategy with whole class, small group, one-on-one, and blended learning practices to help students master content and provide them enrichment opportunities. He loves it.

Another thing I asked Sam to share was his experience using VocabSushi for English. I’ve never used this tool, but I knew Sam’s teacher was incorporating it in 5th grade this year. As a language arts teacher, I know vocabulary instruction is both necessary and somewhat dreadful, but Sam has eagerly embraced learning vocabulary with VocabSushi. He feels like he’s learning more, and he actually enjoys doing it. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone in his class. But as a parent, I love hearing from my boy, who used to constantly complain that school is boring, that he is enjoying and excited about what he’s learning.

If you haven’t done so yet, give the Audioboo a listen. We’d love to hear from you. What questions or comments do you have? What should I ask him about during our next run?

Running Thoughts: Failure, Grit, and Where to Begin

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This morning I ran 5.05 miles in 48:33 (according to my RunKeeper app). I’m still pretty sore from Sunday’s long run, and my plantar fasciitis continues to act up–but I forgot my night split last night.

As I ran this morning I continued to think about Thomas Hoerr’s presentation yesterday at #TAIS12 on “What If the Secret of Success Is Failure?” I recognize how trendy it is to discuss failure and grit right now in education circles, and I get it. Grit is one of the most important characteristics of a successful person. If it’s important, what are we doing in schools to help our students develop grit? I think it’s a valuable conversation, and I appreciate Hoerr pointing us to some great resources for further investigation. His presentation synthesized Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and Angela Duckworth’s TEDx talk
“True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?” with a little Carol Dweck thrown in for good measure.

I find this information all quite compelling, yet I’m left wondering what the implications are for my students and our classroom. I teach a significant number of students that Hoerr identifies as “high flyers”–students who are highly motivated and been primarily successful academically. For many, the success comes easily. So what should I do? How do I ensure that the develop the perseverance and grit needed to succeed in the world beyond our school? Do I even possess these skills? I’m not sure. My track record with all this running is spotty at best.

Is this even something I should tackle if my school has yet to make it a serious priority? We do have a life skill standard that states a student should “persist when presented with a challenging task.” However, I’m not sure how frequently or how well we have communicated with parents and students how important having to struggle is to developing this skill. Perhaps that’s where I should begin with the boys. Maybe as we move to the second semester, we need to spend just a few days talking about these ideas, viewing Duckworth’s talk, and exploring the value of failure. Hmm.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

Running Thoughts: Staging a Comeback

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I ran 8 miles in 1:20 this morning–quite an accomplishment considering how little I have run over the past month. October was tough month, and I’m not certain why. My home life was great. School life was great. I really could not explain why I felt so blah. Perhaps it was just the changing of the season, but I spent a significant portion of the month battling the blues. I didn’t want to run. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I missed both 10-mile races of the Road Race Series and my training ground to a halt. Twice I awoke early before school and dressed to run, but the plantar fasciitis in my right foot convinced me simply to go back to bed. I may have stayed there, too, were it not for Debbie. Last Sunday morning, she forced me out of the house and even mounted a bicycle to ride along with me as I ran. Have I mentioned how well I married?

In less that 27 days, I will run my first half-marathon. I have miles of training to accomplish before then, but I’m going to do it. Accomplishing the 8 mile long run this morning helps. Finishing it at a 10 minute per mile pace is extra encouraging. I’ll be sleeping in a plantar fasciitis splint for the next few weeks, stretching and strengthening as much as possible, and probably wearing a brace and/or orthotics. I’m staging a comeback I am, and I plan to succeed at it.

What does this have to do with teaching and learning? I’m not sure, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Allotted Writing Time: 25 minutes 

Running Thoughts: The Next Race and One Teacher’s Legacy

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I ran 3.14 miles in 29:15 this morning. I operated on only 4 hours of sleep due to some insomnia last night, but I’m pleased with the pace. Ideally, I’d like to run the 3.11 in under 28 minutes.

The following two thoughts monopolized my run this morning:

  1. I shouldn’t look too far ahead as I train. This occurred to me last night as Eric and I perused the draw for the tennis tournament he’s playing in this weekend. If Eric wins his first match, he’ll have to face the #2 seed. Eric immediately started talking about that match before he considered that he’d have to win another match first. This will be Eric’s first real tournament so I thought it was important to tell him to prepare for one match at a time. He shouldn’t worry about #2 until after he plays his first match. I should do likewise when I think about my running and races. While I have the goal of running half marathons in November and December, I still have another 10K and a 10M race to finish first. I don’t want to look too far ahead. I’m sure there also an application to the classroom. While I like dreaming big, perhaps I need to slow down and consider the individual skills and scaffolding needed to get there first.
  2. As a teacher, I want to leave a powerful legacy. Yesterday I attended “Miss Brenda’s” funeral. Miss Brenda committed her life to loving and educating small children. She started an early childhood program at my alma mater. Later, she moved to junior kindergarten pouring herself into preparing her 4 year olds to have successful academic careers. Miss Brenda was a gifted teacher full of energy and creativity. She was also a long-time family friend. As I listened to her nephews and former students talk about Brenda, it was extraordinary to hear a common thread in the “Miss Brenda” stories. She was an amazing encourager complete with a captivating smile, and she exuded a tremendous excitement about every child. “Miss Brenda” actively celebrated any child in her presence. She raved about his talents, intelligence, accomplishments, and his potential. “Miss Brenda” saw him not just as he was, but as all he could be.  Many a student longed to become all she envisioned in him. As I heard these stories and considered her legacy, I wondered how I’ll be remembered by my students. What stories will they tell about me? What mark will I leave? Thank you, “Miss Brenda.” Thank you.

As I finished my run, a song played on my running mix that fits perfectly with this thought. So give a listen to Beyonce’s “I Was Here.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Running Thoughts: Together

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Yesterday I ran my first-ever 10K race as part of the Memphis Runners’ Track Club Road Race Series. I’m pretty proud of the run. My official time was 1:00:04–not too shabby. (If you follow the link, I’m in the 40-44 age group. The paces are wrong because they are based on a 5-mile race. I’m not sure why.) My pace was just under 9:45/mile.

It was a beautiful morning. The weather was cooler, and the scenery at Shelby Farms made for a lovely setting. I ran with my friend Beth Nuthak again, and I was grateful to have a running partner. Beth had completed a long run on Saturday so she warned me she might run a little slower for the 10K. I told her I wanted to stick together, and we decided we’d try to keep under a 10 minute per mile pace.

The first mile was tough. The trampling herd at the beginning of the race makes it tough to set a good pace. We had to weave in and out of traffic on the narrow trail of the course, and we took turns leading the way as we zigged and zagged through the initial maze. By the second mile, we secured a little breathing room. I loved looking ahead at the spiral of runners ahead of us, and the lake was beautiful with a haunting mist floating atop the reflection of the rising sun. I had never run through Shelby Farms in the early morning, but I think I may make it a regular event.

After mile 3, Beth mentioned that she needed to stop, walk a little, and get a drink. She encouraged me to run ahead, but I was pretty certain I wanted to stick together. Therefore, I stopped too. As we ran, there were times when Beth seemed to propel me forward. At other times, I think I drove our pace. We worked together to make sure we stayed under our target pace. After mile 5, Beth wanted another break and though she encouraged me to go on, I really felt I was better off staying with her. I needed the push she provided.

The 6th mile included two big hills. We encouraged each other to the top of the first one. As we reached the ast half mile of the race, Beth mentioned that she was ready to push for the finish. Unfortunately, the last .4 miles were really tough. I had little left in the tank. I told Beth to go ahead that I would be just behind her, but I was fading fast. I took the last hill rather slowly keeping Beth in sight just ahead. I was not my fastest 10K, but I am with the result considering how last week started.

A current innovative trend in schools is using technology for personalized and adaptive learning. It certainly makes learning more individual, and I have no problem with either of these approaches. To grossly over simplify, personalized learning is tailoring to meet an individual’s needs and goals, and adaptive learning is attempting to achieve personalization by using interactive technology to modify instruction. I appreciate the potential of both approaches, and my goal here isn’t to push against their occasional use. However, I would push against the idea of using these approaches extensively to the point of overlooking cooperative and collaborative learning.

There is tremendous value in working together. Collaboration taps into a different type of accountability and motivation. Social learning connects us with other learners and with content in new ways. We learn to mediate relationships and communicate our ideas, understandings, and goals. We gain perspective, negotiate, and team to find the best possible solutions. We create learning within a community. While personalization helps one better himself, collaboration betters us all.

I like running alone, but I love running when I run with a partner.

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.

Running Thoughts: Grit

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This morning I ran 5.05 miles in 52:41. It wasn’t my best time for 5 miles, but it was a much-needed improvement over Monday’s awful run. I was frustrated after Monday’s run. I was ready to give up. (I give special thanks to Scott Elias and Phyllis Moore for the encouragement they sent my way via Twitter.)

I could make lots of excuses for why Monday’s run was sub par. In fact, I think I will. It was hot, humid, and later in the day than I typically run. I had injured a toe, and I had taken too many days off. Regardless of all these factors, it was terrible run. I was miserable, and two-thirds of the way through my run I quit. I couldn’t finish. I was ticked. My runner’s ego (Is that a thing?) bruised. I had been training for months and after Monday it felt as though it had all been a waste. I had set a myself a distance goal, then failed to reach it. I wanted to quit, to pitch my Brooks in the garbage.

Why do I bother waking at 4:45 AM, again? What’s the point?

Today was different, though. I forced myself out of bed this morning and hit the streets again. The road was dark, quiet, lonely; my body was tired. I set my running app for a 5 mile distance run then headed into the darkness. It wasn’t pretty. At the 2-mile mark I tired, but I continued making good time. At the 3-mile mark my pace slowed, but I keep going. As I finished the fourth mile, I grit my teeth and told myself “I will finish this.” Stride by stride, I did.

Talk of “embracing failure” is all the rage in my learning spaces these days. I get it. We want students to understand things won’t always be easy. We desire for them to be comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. We hope to build their resilience–their grit. None of this is bad. Perhaps, it’s even good. I know I’ve waved the flag for this cause myself. But let’s be careful not to glamorize failure. Failure hurts. It shakes the core. Failure sucks.

Sure. We must challenge ourselves as teachers, and we should push our students, too. Perhaps, we should occasionally be less helpful and more often set the bar beyond their reach. I”m certain we should discuss handling setbacks and encourage their stick-to-it-iveness. But let’s be careful how we talk of failure. Failure, especially on a grand scale, isn’t pretty. It’s not cool or glamorous. It is crushing. It hurts.

So yes, let’s teach our kids to be resilient. Let them know success requires grit and determination, achievement involves overcoming struggles and mistakes. But let’s not overly romanticize failure. I’ll skip the embrace, as well.

Writing Time Limit: 45 minutes.

Running Thoughts are “process” posts of the thoughts I have while running. Often, they relate to my job as a school teacher. Running thoughts are just that–running, a thinking aloud about ideas I have. They are not fully formulated or even polished an are very much in the developing phase. By all means please consider them, challenge them, or help me clarify them. Just don’t hold me too them. The oxygen is needed in my muscles and likely is lacking from my brain. As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Running Thoughts: Summer Running Loss, Equipment Failure, and Off Course

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Writing Time Limit: 30 minutes

After a few days off to get some rest and nurse an injury I ran 4.5 miles today in 54:30. Actually, I ran 4 miles then walked another half mile. It was slow. I was miserable. Five days off was too many. Combine that with the late start and the morning’s heat. It was a tough run.

Here are a few of the things that ran through my head this morning as I ran:

  • Summer Running Loss – 5 days off! Only 5 days and I seem to have lost a step in my running. I couldn’t finish the miles I had planned to run. We’ve been back in school for a few weeks now, but many of my friends return tomorrow. I’ve seen so many posts and read several articles about the problem of summer learning loss, and I guess there is something to it. However, I’m not sure that most of our efforts to combat it are worthwhile. Read these books and we’ll give you a test on it in the fall. Fill out these math worksheets. Complete “this much” summer work. Blah. Blah. Blah. I’m not sure we are accomplishing anything with these types of assignments other than making schoolwork a chore that encroaches on summertime. There must be a better way. There must be.
  • You Need the Right Equipment – I was hoping to run a 10K this morning since that is the distance I will have to run in the road race series this Sunday. I started out running with a bottle of water so that I could hydrate along the way. Unfortunately, the lid of the bottle was defective and by the end of the second mile two-thirds of my water had splashed out. Does this connect to teaching and learning? I don’t know. What is the must-have equipment needed for a quality teaching and learning environment today? A desk? Comfortable seating? A writing instrument? A computer? What do you think? How many teachers and students don’t have the equipment they need to effectively learn in today’s connected culture? What should be done about that?
  • Having a Course Mapped Out – I took off running without a planned course this morning. I wanted to run 6.21 miles, but I only made it 4.5. Was this because I didn’t have a course mapped out? Sometimes I know exactly where I’m going to run. Other times I like to figure it out along the way. I think there are benefits to both approaches. I try to plan my class using “backwards design” through the Teaching for Understanding (Understanding by Design) framework. And yet, I think I must leave room in my planning for the lessons to go where the students need to take it. A friend of mine used to reference the “Teachable Moments” but I’m also wondering if it’s not more than that. What if the student determined the outcomes? Could that even work? Am I assuming too much to think I know just what they need to understand? And then, what if they don’t make it the full 6.2 miles that I have mapped out?

I had a few other things on my mind this morning, but I’ve run out of time. I’d sincerely appreciate your comments about any of these ideas. What do you think?

For all my teacher friends starting school tomorrow, have a blessed year. Love those kids with everything you have within you.

Running Thoughts: Thinking Ahead and Routine Rest

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Writing Time Limit: 30 minutes

Today I’m providing a two for one deal because I never finished Sunday’s “Running Thoughts” post. Sunday’s run was the second 5-miler of the MRTC Road Race Series. My official time was 48:53–21 seconds slower than the first race.  This morning I ran at a much slower pace running 4.52 mile sin 47:44.

My big takeaway from Sunday’s run was the need for rest. I was exhausted. I had burned the candle at both ends for a couple of weeks, and my body rebelled. By the time I returned home from the race, I was sick and battling a stomach bug. Apart from heading to church to facilitate Sunday school, I spent the rest of the day in bed.

As I ran this morning, my thoughts centered around planning ahead for my 6th grade reading class. We are beginning I Am David (originally North to Freedom) by Anne Holm. The book will take us a few weeks to complete, but once finished I’d like the students to complete a project to demonstrate their understanding and lay groundwork for the project-based approach we will take in the second trimester. the specifics of the project are still fuzzy, but I’d like to incorporate some creativity, some arts, and soem thinking routines. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

The other thought that captured my attention this morning is my need for more routine rest. On school days I wake up at 4:45. There are many week nights that I don’t go to sleep until after midnight. (I typically accomplish a brief nap while putting Evelyn to bed.) My routine isn’t healthy, and I need to change it. I need more sleep. I need better disciplined in that area. While running, I considered a few ways to do this like turning all electronics off by 10 PM and getting the kids to bed earlier so I have more time to decompress from the day. I have no idea if these things will work, and I’m reluctant to not use my iPad after 10 PM since I do some much reading digitally. What works for you? Do you get enough sleep? How do you ensure you are getting the rest you need in order to perform at your best and accomplish all that needs to be done? I’d love to hear your recommendations.