Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

The fear of failure.

So often we (not to mention parents) want to try and insulate kids from failure.  But this article finds that mistakes prime kids for better learning.

Shock. Shock. Shock.  Right?

How can you learn if you don't make mistakes?

I found this passage particularly interesting -

Most of us can remember a moment like this from our school years: the teacher poses a question – maybe it’s math, maybe history. You raise your hand, you give your answer with full assurance. And then? You’re shot down. You got it wrong.

We remember moments like this because they brim with some of our least favorite emotions: shame, humiliation, self-recrimination, and that gutting sense that you want to melt into the floor. Ah yes, I remember it well.

As it turns out, though, such moments are ripe with learning opportunity. Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it.

I love this.  I can recall several times where I thought for sure I was right . . . but in the end I was wrong or I was doing something incorrect.

Once I got over my hurt feelings and sense of guilt (for failing and letting others down and doing it wrong), I was able to recover and succeed.

The author goes in depth how American teachers tend to focus less on mistakes and focus on what students do right instead.

This isn't always bad.  In fact, I've had a lot of success in teaching writing by focusing on the strengths of my writers instead of focusing on all that they do wrong.  The thinking is that they will eventually do more of what they are good at and less of what they struggle with.

But - then again - I teach our real high flyers, so this approach might not work best for all students.  And - now that I think about it - this approach my work best early on in the semester.  But later - as students' skills grow - they need more detailed criticism and feedback to truly grow.

The author notes that Asian teachers, though, take a different approach.  In math especially, instead of being shown one way to solve a problem - as tends to happen in American class rooms - Asian teachers allow students to find numerous ways to try and solve the problem.  Along the way students struggle and receive feedback.  Little praise is given.  Students are being taught that hard work and struggle are part of learning, instead of compliance and conformity, which one of my favorite people in education, Ken Robinson, has ripped American education for.

I think what is was work here is the growth mindset.

And it makes a great deal of sense to me.


If you listen to anything, listen to this amazing podcast from the incredible John O'Leary on how to lead an inspiring life.  And, really, what other kind of life is there to lead?

We are listening to this as part of our "podcast club" (a few leadership/personal development junkies from the district).

One of my former students, Brian Loe, who is Dean of Students at Challenger, texted me (and he has for years now) about interesting books and podcasts to listen to over the summer while he farms for his father-in-law.

I suggested several episodes from the incredible enterleadership podcast series.

A few weeks ago, Brian and I were texting our thoughts about the various episodes when Brian suggested starting "podcast club" where we choose one podcast to listen to.  We'd have a week to listen to it and then get together to discuss what we thought of it, how we'd use it in class, and how it might impact students.

Then we invited a few others who we thought were also leadership and personal development junkies like us.  Next Monday will mark our third meeting.

This week's episode - featuring John O'Leary - was suggested by Josh Watne.

I couldn't have picked a better episode if I wanted.

Give it a listen and join us seven o'clock at the Evergreen if you want to discuss it!  We'd love to have you.


I cannot tell you how sad this makes me.

Why would you value home life so little that you wouldn't go out of your way to help.

This horrific story works as a great juxtaposition to the O'Leary podcast, for O'Leary talks about the team of doctors, nurses, janitors, athletes, and community members who went out of their way to help a little kid who was burned over 95% of his body.

Yet, these teens can't even call 911 or throw something to this drowning man?

I hope they are tried for murder.


From questioning my faith in humanity to restoring it:  This officer shows up for a tea party for a little girl who he helped deliver on the side of the road.



My colleague, Lisa, and I received a grant at the end of the school year last year for flexible seating.

I can't wait to get started.  Luckily for me, KoKo is going to help me rearrange my room.

Here is an interesting article on one teacher's quest for flexible seating . . . or as she puts it, turning her class into a "learning lounge."

Which classroom would your rather spend your day in? OR what classroom would you rather have your child spend their time in?





I'm stealing this stand up desk idea from Kayla Delzer.  I just have to enlist KoKo to help me with it.  This will free up so much room in my room as well as provide me with extra storage space, which, if you have seen may room, you know I need all the storage space I can get!


A must read for all teachers and parents: Steps for Cultivating a Love of Reading in Young Children.


Not good.  Not good.  Not good.

On either side.

I saw this on Facebook and didn't have time to check it out until now.

Apparently, this woman is angry at some Somalian girls who parked too close to her car at a Wal-Mart in Fargo.

When the lady asked the girls to move - according to the lady - they were very disrespectful to her.

Not good.

This, apparently, sent the lady off on a racist tired where she said that "We're gonna kill all of ya . . ."

Not good.

We live in a world where things like this can go viral in a second.  And it has.  I believe one of the Somalian girls posted it on Facebook . . . and you can imagine how things took off from there.

The woman, of course, apologized and said it wasn't the Christian thing to do AT ALL.

Of course, it isn't.

I just wonder about this.  I'm a Christian.  I get angry just like anyone else.  But what does it take to go from being a Christian when everyone is watching on Facebook to screaming that "We're going to kill all of ya" when you are angry?

Not good.

We were discussing this at work this morning and one of my colleagues said that if the white lady would have been smart, she would have reversed the tables on the girls and as soon as the white lady saw the kids were parked so close, she should have begun filming them.

Then she would have clear evidence to show their disrespect toward her that incited the racist remarks.


Finally, this is an excerpt from Frank McCourt's memoir, 'Tis. It focuses on his move to America and his struggle as a high school English teacher.

This part is when - after some years in the field - McCourt realizes the folly of teaching just the curriculum instead of teaching students.  It is at this moment that, or so I believe, McCourt really becomes a teacher.

From 'Tis: A Memoir -

I followed the teacher’s guides. I launched the prefabricated questions at my classes. I hit them with surprise quizzes and tests and destroyed them with the ponderous detailed examinations concocted by college professors who assemble high school text books.

Everyday I’d teach with my guts in a knot, lurking behind my desk at the front of the room playing the teacher game with the chalk, the eraser, the red pen, the teacher guides, the power of the quiz, the test, the exam. I’ll call your father, I’ll call your mother. ,I’ll report you to the governor, I’ll damage your average so badly kid you’ll be lucky to get into a community college in Mississippi. Weapons of menace and control.

A senior, Jonathan, bangs his forehead on his desk and wales, Why? Why? Why do we have to suffer with this shit? We’ve been in school since kindergarten, thirteen years, and why do we have to know what color shoes Mrs. Dalloway was wearing at her goddam party and what are we supposed to make of Shakespeare troubling deaf heaven with his bootless cries and what the hell is a bootless cry anyway and when did heaven turn deaf?

Around the room rumbles of rebellion and I’m paralyzed. They’re saying Yeah, yeah to Jonathan, who halts his head banging to ask, Mr. McCourt, did you have this stuff in high school? and there’s another chorus of yeah yeah and I don’t know what to say. Should I tell them the truth, that I never set foot in a high school till I began teaching in one or should I feed them a lie about a rigorous secondary school education with the Christian Brothers in Limerick?

I’m saved, or doomed, by another student who calls out, Mr. McCourt, my cousin went to McKee on Staten Island and she said you told them you never went to high school and they said you were an okay teacher anyway because you told stories and talked and never bothered them with these tests.

Smiles around the room. Teacher unmasked. Teacher never even went to high school and look what he’s doing to us, driving us crazy with tests and quizzes. I’m branded forever with the label, teacher who never went to high school.

So, Mr. McCourt, I thought you had to get a license to teach in the city.

You do.

Don’t you have to get a college degree?

You do.

Don’t you have to graduate high school?

You mean graduate from high school, from high school, from from from.

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Don’t you have to graduate from high school to get into college?

I suppose you do.

Tyro lawyer grills teacher, carries the day, and word spreads to my other classes. Wow, Mr. McCourt, you never went to high school and you’re teaching at Stuyvesant? Cool, man.

And into the trash basket I drop my teaching guides, my quizzes, tests, examinations, my teacher-knows-all mask.

I’m naked and starting over and I hardly know where to begin.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Today's Reads, Views, and Listens

Yes.  Someone has been watching WAY too much Ancient Aliens.

A senator asks NASA officials if there once was ancient civilization on Mars.

Of course, if I had access to NASA officials and other people with a lot of knowledge, I'd ask a lot of odd questions too.  You never know!


Just take the first step.

This reminds me of something I read in college - The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.


We all know innovation is vital.  We live in an age of STEM or even STEAM in our schools.

Here is an interesting read on four ways school leaders can support innovation -

1.  Research and development.  The rest of the work world does it, why not education?

How can you find more time, more money, more resources to give to teachers as an R&D budget? Can you give a teacher a one-course release for a year or half a year to do some extra research and experimentation in a department? Can you pay teachers for their time over the summer to work together?

2.  Helping teams learn from Experiments.  I've said it for a long time now, teachers learn best when they're taught by other teachers.  Yet, how often do we ever get that chance?  Allow us to learn from each other and the experiments we all take on a daily basis in our classrooms.

The idea here is to let teachers get into each other’s classrooms to see innovation happening. The deeper level of exposure to teachers engaged in new practices helps others figure out how to make sense of them throughout the school year.

3.  Creating opportunities for sharing across learning communities.  I think at LHS we have a great chance to do this with our "Common Prep" meetings - that is we have the chance to share and learn from each other in ways other schools don't.  Add on top of that the fact that we have built in department meetings during school, and LHS does a great job with this.  We have a built in mechanism to form "EdCamps" -

There are schools where administrators are experimenting with models of teacher-led professional development like EdCamps. EdCamps are conferences or professional development days that have learning sessions, but they aren’t planned in advance. Rather, participants make suggestions for what they most want to discuss and learn more about, and then teachers get a chance to share with one another. It’s a forum that privileges teacher-to-teacher learning and sharing.

4.  Guided innovation with Shared Vision and Shared Instructional Language.  Our work with Nicole Vagle touches on this - but maybe not so much in terms of innovation.  But we definitely have a shared vision - align curriculum to our standards and align our learning targets with our assessment so that we can eventually move to standard based grading.

The fourth entry point is about guidelines and guardrails. One risk of encouraging experimentation is that it can go in a million different directions. This is one of the central risks of innovation in America schools, that it’s happening all the time, but it never comes together. We have a culture in schools of radical teacher autonomy where every teacher closes the door behind them and does whatever they want, and in too many cases that means that innovation happens in classrooms, but not in departments, not in grade-level teams, and not in whole schools. Great teachers retire, and their insights and wisdom retire with them.


Apparently, it's never been harder to fill a job in America.

I can see the reality behind this writer's opinion.  I mean our largest local business, Digi Key, has trouble finding qualified people so much so that they have been busing in workers from other towns for a few years now.

Finding qualified workers is one of the most demanding things in business today.


Well, that has no simple answer.

I find it hard to believe that there ever has been a time in American history where businesses had to sigh, shrug, and bemoan, "Damn it.  There are just too many qualified people for this job.  It is just so hard to hire just one wonderful worker."

As I've talked to several small business owners and others who work with millennials today, they note several negative aspects of millennials that make it difficult to find good workers - one, young workers have no loyalty.  Two, young workers don't have a concept of what it means to be reliable.  Three, young workers aren't satisfied with work that isn't engaging and personally relevant to them.

Gone are the days of the workforce my father was a part of where he devoted decades to driving truck several days a week (and sometimes even a few weeks at a time on particularly long road trips), but work had nothing to do with his home life.  His home life was about his family and his hobby farm.  The two were completely separate.

Millennials - for a variety of reasons - demand work that is personally meaningful to them.

I'm not saying this is right.  I'm just saying that's how it is.

And companies that can offer that are, by far, the most successful.

Look at some of the most successful businesses today: Google, Zappos, Ramsey Solutions, Starbucks . . . They all realize that it's not about work / life separation; it's about work / life integration.

The answer is simple to the work problem: pay them more.

But I'm not sure that is the key to getting millennials to come aboard your company.

Again, my father's generation was all about putting money in the bank and working 40 years to save and get a nice retirement package.

This was true for several reasons: they knew poverty and want far more than any generation since World War II has known, so having a steady job and paycheck was the most important thing of all.  They were loyal to their employers, many working at one job for their entire lives.  They were masters of delayed gratification - thus they had no problem working 40 years for a sweet retirement package.

This current generation, though, is nothing like that.  In fact, I will probably be the last person in my immediate family to work at just one job for my entire carer (God willing).  Young people today have worked constantly since they were young and know there are dozens of jobs available for them.  So what is the big deal if one job doesn't work out.  They'll find three more next week.  And they are fine with that.  They have little loyalty.  Many confess to not wanting to put in 15 years at a company to have their job cut or their benefits slashed the way their parents did.  I can't blame them for that.  Plus, this generation puts their personal lives first.  Then work.  I don't know if this is Gen X's fault for how we raised the millennials - always enabling them and giving them helmets on their bikes so they don't get hurt and calling their coaches/teachers to complain when the playing time or grade they wanted didn't match up with the playing time or grade they actually earned and removing as many monkey bars from playgrounds as possible so they never have to worry about getting hurt and learning how to deal with it.

When this generation has been coddled so much - by us - why would they ever want to move out of our house and work harder than we have ever asked them to, regardless of how much it costs.

So parents, re-examine how you raise your kids.


A Florida school district is banning homework - and replacing it with . . . reading for 20 minutes.

If I were to tweak this one way - and maybe this is something I'll put into practice in the future in my classes - it would be to make students exempt from homework IF they have a sit down meal with their family (and, of course, take video or pictures for proof).

Then, I'd eventually ask them to talk about what they have learned in school, what their parents did when they were in school, what virtues are most important to their family, what pressures their parents faced when they were young, what work was like for their parents, what skills do they think are the most vital for succeeding in the world today, what life was like for their grandparents . . .

That would be amazing.  And more worthwhile than any homework assignment.


Here is an interesting get-to-know-you activity for the first few days of school.

If you are like - and like the author of the blog post - you loathe get-to-know-you activities. And I am using loathe kindly here.

Maybe I was scarred by my training as an RA, where we had to do the dumbest ass activities to break the ice.  It was terrible for an introvert like me.

But the older I get, the more I realize a vast majority of people hate ice-breaker activities too!

What I have done to make this as painless as possible is to not have any ice breakers on the first day.  I do, though, assign students to list 111 things about them due the following week.  That allows me to get to know them.

Then I play a bingo game using clues from their lists so students get to know one another over the first few weeks.

This activity, though, is quite intriguing to me.  Students will create a museum like display of various artifacts about them to show off to their classmates, the same way a museum would curate a display on the Cold War or the Dark Ages.   I think it might work best in a more literature based English classroom than either of my College Comp I or II classes.

Curation is the process of collecting a bunch of high-quality materials all related to a similar theme, topic, or idea. The curator of a museum might curate a collection of artifacts from ancient Greece, a librarian might curate a group of the latest and best young adult novels for a start of the school year display in the library, and so on. And using the free, online tool elink, I'm going to have my students curate a collection of photos, links, videos, songs, and whatever else they can think of, that will teach me and their classmates all about them!


Good old Rita Pierson.  Her TED Talk is a classic.  This should be mandatory viewing for all teachers.  


Perhaps this is the real reason why companies are finding it so hard to find qualified and reliable workers.

Maybe schools are teaching kids that if they follow directions, play it safe by completing all the assignments instead of solving real problems or using creativity in any way shape or form, they will get A's which will allow them to graduate with a 4.0 GPA (or higher even).  And that will guarantee them success.

This is an interesting section of the article -

Educator Ashley Lamb-Sinclair experimented with not giving grades for the first six weeks of the school year at the high-achieving high school where she works. She was amazed at the intrinsic motivation students had to persist on a task until they improved when the pressure of a grade wasn’t present. She writes that she had incredible communications with parents about their children’s learning during those six weeks and that the gradeless period went smoothly. That is, until she had to start grading again. As soon as a 100-point scale was present parents and students forgot all the value they had seen in the learning process and focused only on points.


This article works well with the one above on how it's harder than ever for businesses to find good employees.

If I were a young person today, that would be great news.

Since so few "good" workers are available, it is easier than ever before to be remarkable.  The bar is that low.

Here is a list of 20 things the most valued employees do every day.

Numbers 10 and 17 are my favorites.


Why does Finland leave the rest of the world behind when it comes to education?

Three key factors that we don't have in the US -

A flexible special education that ensures inclusion and equity in education

Comprehensive schools in Finland

Coming together for quality education


Finally, I found out that George Couros is going to be our back to school speaker this year.  This is going to be such an amazing chance for our teachers.  George killed it at TIES the last few times I have been there (he wasn't featured last year, though . . . but he was a featured key note presenter in 2015, and he absolutely brought the house down).

Here is a TEDx Talk from a few years ago.

The first time I ever attended TIES, in 2013, I signed up to attend a break out session held by George.  I had some down time prior to the session, so I grabbed some lunch and began watching the TEDx video embedded above.

As I watched, I tweeted that I was looking forward to seeing one of my heroes in just little over an hour.

Surprisingly, George tweeted back at me saying he was currently sitting outside of the break out session.  He told me to stop by if I wanted to chat.  

So I did.

That's the power of connecting and sharing ideas.  And that's what Couros is all about.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Fair

Summer is now officially over.

Well, not really.

But once the fair passes, it seems that summer is all but done.

The stores already have the Back-to-School supplies stands out.

The NFL preseason games kick off in little over three weeks.

Before we know it the fall sports will be having captain's practice.  A few weeks after that, full practices will start.  Then inservice.  Then Labor Day . . .

I'm not complaining, though.  I've been itching to get back to work for a few weeks now.

But the one moment from the summer that seems to mark the real transition for us is the fair.

Cash and Kenzie had a blast while Kris and I were worn out.

I rode on more rides, though, than I have in quite some time.

First we all went on the ferris wheel.  This didn't start things off on the right foot as I have a fear of heights that only gets worse with age.  On top of that, as soon as we got on, they stopped us at the very top to add more people on.

From where we were sitting I spied the dreaded Super Shot.

Side story - I rode this once four years ago with Kenzie.  The first time wasn't so bad.  Well, the ride to the top was agonizingly slow.  And the sudden drop two stories down was over in a second.  But the fact that Kenzie wanted to go on it a second time - immediately after the first - was just too much. I did concede, later, though to go on it with her.  And it was even worse than the first time.  I haven't been on it since last year when I went on it with Kris.  And that was the worst of all.  The ride to the top takes a full 60 seconds (I timed them this year) while the drop only takes a few seconds.  But that slow ride to the top is the worst.

I gulped as I watched the group of fair goers ascend to the top of the Super Shot from where we were on the ferris wheel.  Then there was that sickening moment where you were just suspended at the top before you plummet down . . .

I couldn't do it.  Cash really wanted to go on it, but there was no way I could do it.  My palms were getting even sweatier as I looked at it from atop the ferris wheel.

Luckily, Kris took pity on me and agreed to go on it with Cash if I went on the other rides, which I gladly did.

Kenzie and I did the Himalaya.  Then we did the Sizzler.  Then Cash and Kenzie and I did the Sizzler a second time.  Then we did Tilt-a-Whirl. Then Cash and I did the Himalaya.

I was beat.

But it was all worth it.  I'd have even done the Air Maxx instead of the Super Shot.

Everyone set to tackle the fair!!

The fools!  Kris even got Kenzie to join them on this one.

They're about to lift off.  I was so thankful to have my feet on the ground.

Cash was loving it.

Kris waiting for that inevitable sickening click and then the drop.

So glad I wasn't up there.  Cash loved it.  

Just about to drop.

The after effects.  Kris's pose says it all!  Cash had this sheer look of terror once the ride stopped at the bottom.  He looked like he was going to cry or throw up.  Then a smile spread across his face and his eyes had a gleeful sparkle in them.  "Let's go again!" he said and scampered around to try it again.  

Kenzie waiting in line to go on the Himalaya all by herself!

"Uncle" Barb would be proud.  Kenzie was all about making sure the safety devices and gear were working properly and that was she was safely strapped in.

Oh ye of little faith.  She wasn't about to trust the carny to get her strapped in safely.

Despite the warm day, Cash was a trooper.  Here is Kris' back pack loaded up with our water, sunglasses, and far too many stuffed animals we had to pay for (whatever happened to winning them the old fashioned away instead of having to buy them from the Carnies?  Some even said, "Three dollars gets you a prize from the bucket, five gets you on from the wall, and twenty gets you a chance at one on top . . . but really they meant sixty dollars after all their quick talk!)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

What I love about summer is all the reading and time to get caught up on professional development.  I try to keep up during the school year, but I end up getting buried in papers that I don't get back to my students in nearly enough time.

So my email is clogged with hundreds of links I send myself during the school year that I will (like now) get around to reading during the summer.  There are also a few new interesting things I've come across sprinkled in here too.

First off, I had to include this for my sister-in-law, Karla, who will be taking a vacation soon: Bull shark bites BOTH legs of a swimmer.

Now great white sharks get all the headlines, but bull sharks are actually nastier, for bull sharks can swim up rivers and they are far more aggressive than great whites.


Now this is really interesting: The 8 Negative People You Should Avoid.

I'm a diehard optimist.

I don't know why.  Maybe it's because I lost both of my parents when they were still relatively young.  Maybe it's because I've played or coach sports all my life, but I love sudden change.

Change, or so I read recently, is a chance to do something amazing.

So when the world seemed to be crashing down because our wonderfully amazing principal, Shane Zutz, is leaving, I see it as a great opportunity for someone new to step in and try their hand at being wonderfully amazing.

The article above is near and dear to my heart, for their is nothing that brings me down more than negative people . . . And I used to be one!

Do you recognize any of these

The Naysayer - this person will tell you exactly why your idea won't work or why it will never work.

The Know-it-all - this person leaves you feeling like you know nothing.  Instead of building you up, they tear you down.

The Drama queen - the worst.  This person thrives on drama.  Therefore, they must stir it up when it doesn't exist at all.

The Taker - this person is only interested in what you can do for them.  I can tell these people apart by having a conversation with them.  Whenever we are talking, I can see they can't wait to turn it back to themselves and their problems.

The Impossible to please - These people are never satisfied with anything you may do for them.  And they are incredible sparse with praise.

The Manipulator -  Next to the drama queen, this person is the worst.  They have no intention of trying to help you.  They just want to manipulate you for their own gain and they are never happy unless you do what they want.

The Judge - above all, this person wants to look good.  That often means the look good by tearing others down.

The Self critic - This person believes all the lies they have been told and pays too much attention to all the doubts and what could go wrong.


Here is a great read from NCTE: Appreciating the Treasures of Teaching.

This article talks about a teacher who discovered a letter a student had written her talking about how much she appreciated the teacher.

Moments - or treasures - like these are all too rare.

Enjoy them.  Treasure them.  Keep them.

That's one reason I will - from time to time - frame the letters students write me at the end of the year.

Another thing I've done ever since I began teaching was keep a "Nice Things From Students" folder.

Whenever I get a card, nice email, note, or letter, I read it and then put it in my file for safe keeping.

I tell myself, when I have a truly terrible day, I'll open that folder up and look through it.

Luckily, I've never had to look through it yet.

I'm blessed.


The Amazon is amazing.  And terrifying.

Mostly, terrifying.

There is a book by Ruzo too.  Just ordered it to add to my College Comp 2 library.


Speaking of a classroom library, here is a great read from NCTE by Harvey Daniels on the importance of building one in your classroom.

I couldn't imagine not having one.

This is awesome.  If you're a baseball fan, I think you'll love this.  The world is a great place . . . regardless of what we see on the news.  Or maybe in spite of what we see on the news.


Disrupt Yourself - 7 Steps to Achieve Mastery and Success

Here is a run down quickly -

1.  Take the right risks - this is so vital.  Too often we take risks that just don't pay off or if we fail, their cost is too dear.

How this looks in my room - In CC 2, I took a risk years ago by asking Mr. Zutz if I could have students free read a book from the media center.

I envisioned just walking around the media center and grabbing a book for each student, handing it to them, saying they had a week to read it, and then write a paper based on it.  I mean that is how college works, right?

Mr. Zutz had no problem with it.

So I began to put my plan into action.  In other words, I took a risk.

Only I decided to tweak it some.  I had attended the Red River Valley Writing Workshop previously, and I thought of a great assignment a colleague, Judith Sheridan, had shared with us called "The Sticky-Note book report."  I wanted that to be the dominant assignment rather than a final research paper.

Then I decided instead of randomly assigning students books, I'd survey them first (asking for 3 things they want to read about and 3 things they don't want to read about), and then suggest a book for them to read either from my own classroom library or from our media center.

I cannot tell you how well this risk has paid off, for I have students who later text me how much they now love reading.  They just had never been given a chance to delve into a text with relatively low states (they just have to pack the book with 50 Post-It notes highlighting their thinking as they read the book and then give a 10 minute book talk on it at the end) and about something they are interested in.

2.  Play to your unique strengths - This is one of my favorite points from Seth Godin's classic, The Dip.  Godin argues the "wrongest" thing we teach in schools is to be well-rounded.  His argument is simple: by wasting time becoming "average" at something you suck at, you should, instead, play to your specific strengths.

I'm all in on this.

How this looks in my room - one of my strengths is building culture through the use of cell phones and social media.  So early on I ask students to write 111 things about them.  From that list I find out small details about them.  These details may seen innocuous but they actually are vital.  This allows me to get to know my students. So if I see a student is passionate about Captain America, I will share with them a Tweet about how Captain America serves as a metaphor for our country or even why Iron Man is superior to Captain!

This is my strength, so I play to it.

One of my weaknesses?  Math and grade calculation.  I spend zero time getting better at this because no matter how good I get at it, I'll still be below average.  Instead, I pour my time and energy into using technology and interacting with students.

3.  Embrace constant constraints - This is actually a key component of Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist.  Constraints offer us structure.  That structure can help define our tasks and inspire us.

How this looks in my room - I use this in College Comp with the braided essay.  The essay has to contain a personal history essay, a how to essay, and a best moment narrative essay.  The essay must also be braided together with each essay being broken up into chunks and embedded into the overall essay.  Each essay must also be written in its own unique font and spacing.  BUT beyond those constraints, students are free to write about whatever they want.

4.  Fight entitlement at every turn- This cost me dearly my senior year in high school.  In football, which was my true love and passion in high school, I had a great junior year.  But I coasted because I felt I was entitled to start and to be a captain and to lord over the underclassmen.  I had a very average senior season too.  And it was all because I was entitled.

How this looks in my room - Several years ago, I was telling Mr. Zutz over our once-a-summer lunch meeting about something awesome that happened the previous year in College Comp 2.  It was at this moment that Mr. Zutz smirked and said, "Okay.  I know your kids in College Comp and College Comp 2, but what can you do with some of our most challenging students, hot shot?"

It was at this moment that he said he was tweaking some of our remedial class.  In his words, Mr. Zutz said he was taking some of the school's high flyers (H and Mr. Froiland too) and giving them freshmen classes with learners who really struggled with English, science, and math.

I could have scoffed at this. I mean I'm just one class away from teaching all college in the high school classes.  I could have fought for a composition class or something that I was better at.

But I embraced teaching the class.  I just told Mr. Zutz that I didn't know how well I could follow our Collections curriculum.  Nor did I just want to do a class full of remedial reading strategies.

Mr. Zutz was fine with that.  He said, "I really don't care what you do.  The fact that they have you will make them better."

I said, "I want to make this super engaging and have them start to love English again."

Mr. Zutz said, "Perfect."

5.  Step back to grow - This means to be adaptive and always curious.  Sometimes, as teachers, we get too tied up teaching and can't really see beyond what they have always done.  Luckily, I have never had a problem stepping back and looking at what I've always done, trying to adapt it.

How this looks in my room - I often contact my colleagues at NCTC, UND, or BSU to see what they are doing in their classes.  I'm always looking for something to steal and use.  In fact, last spring Mr. Zutz gave me a professional day to travel to BSU to spend a day with their professors sitting in on their Composition classes to see what they are doing.

I was very curious about how to teach revision, so I modeled my peer revision process after a colleague out at NCTC.  It has evolved and regressed and evolved and went back to what I used to do and been tweaked since then.  But I would never have gone back to what I had been doing had I not been curious about how to alter things in first place.

6.  Give failure its due - one of my favorite things about Mr. Zutz was whenever I wanted to try something new, he always said, "Kurt, go for it.  Just make sure that if you fail, you fail in front of the kids."

"Why?" I asked.

Then he smiled and revealed why he was such an amazing leader: "Because I want the students to see how you recover from your failure."


How this looks in my room - I've taken to writing drafts with my class and in front of them.  I will assign a topic, say "describe your favorite time of year."  So I will take a blank Google Drive document, give editing privileges to the class, put the document up on the SMARTBoard and start writing my essay.  I talk out loud while I do it, making sure I highlight the things I fail at or get wrong.

I'll literally say, "I know this first sentences sucks, but I'll come back to it and make it better in the second draft" and "I know there are typos all over the place, but I don't care.  This is a rough draft.  I'll fix that later."

7.  Be discovery driven - always seek to learn new things and explore new ideas.

How this looks in my room - I'm never afraid to try something new.  I'm always also trying to talk to students about how I'm a diehard life long learner.  I show them the readings I've done over the summer and hold up the pages I wrote for each year's "Teaching Tips."

If I'm not writing and reading, I'm not discovering.

And that, my dear friends, is the exact reason why I'm writing now.


Posts and images like this drive me nuts!

Lies, lies, lies.

Worse, these are incredibly arrogant.

It's not like youth ministers, priests, doctors, nurses, day care providers, bus drivers, employers . . . have ever lost sleep over other people's children.

Give me a break!

How dare Nicholas Ferroni think he / teachers are the only ones to care deeply about other people's children.

Shame on you!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

On seeing students

Last night we went to see Despicable Me 3 in town.  I didn't realize it until I Googled the time for the early show that Spiderman: Homecoming was also in town.

I didn't really think much of this until we pulled into the Falls Cinema parking lot at 6:50 for the 7:00 show.  As we got out and started toward the doors, we saw a line of people about fifteen years outside the door still waiting to get in.

I hadn't seen a line like that since I was about Kenzie's age and Lance and I went with his mother and aunt to see Return of the Jedi and the line was almost out to highway 59.

As we waited, I saw two former students of mine, Steven and Caleb.  Since we waited in line close to 20 minutes (they paused the previews to accommodate the back up), I began visiting with Steven and Caleb who were just in front of us.

Steven, who took College Comp II from me first semester, asked if I knew that Christopher Nolan had a new movie coming out.

I told him that I'd seen the previews for Nolan's new film, Dunkirk.  I also said that I doubted if it would have the plot twists of three of his most iconic films: Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar.

I asked Caleb (who only had College Comp I from me) if he had seen Inception, which is notorious in my College Comp II class for the analysis we write on it and the debates that rage every time: does the top really fall over or not?

Of course, Caleb, like most people who see Inception just once, thought that the top just fell over and that was it.

However, Steven and I quickly began asking him questions and we suddenly saw his eyes widen as the new aspects of the film's complexity and deeper meaning began to take hold in his mind.

Then Steven chuckled and said something I will never forget, "I guess that's the mark of an effective teacher when you are still talking about something that happened in class during the summer."

Thank you, Steven.  That made my day!

But he should have said, "That's the mark of an effective class" instead of just teacher because the discussions would go no where if I didn't have the response from the students.  Nor would I even have the same ideas and theories that I do since I stole from past students, namely Alyce and Alex, who took over class and had a full 85 minute discussion on their theory for Inception!

One of my favorite questions is "Would you want to be a learner in your classroom?"

My answer is simple, "I am."

Friday, July 07, 2017

Hello, Old Friend

For an English nerd like me, books are old friends.  This book was the staple for Dr. Morgan's Composition and Rhetoric class I took as a graduate assistant way back in 2001/02.

I tossed it in the large box of summer reading books I brought home after packing my classroom away.  I think I've brought it home every summer since 2001/02.  

From time to time, I'll page through it and re-read one of the essays in it.  It's fun to revisit my notes in the margins (made when I had a whopping total of 3.5 years experience) and compare it to my perspective 16 years later.

The first chapter is essay is by Richard Fulkerson.  It is entitled "Four Philosophies of Composition."

I'm so thankful for reading this when I was in graduate school, for I don't think I'd have time now to read something like this.  It's just so full of theory, and I pretty much live in the world of practicality.

What I love about this essay, though, is that it showed me who I was as a Composition teacher.

Fulkerson examines the dominant ways we teach composition.  As it turns out, there are four camps:  formalists, expressionists, the mimetic approach, and, finally, the rhetorical approach.

Formalists - as the name suggests - focuses on the form student writing takes.  These teachers tend to hold on to one specific form for essays - perhaps, the five paragraph theme or even the thesis/support format.  Grammar is also a large part of "correct" formal papers: "Some teachers, for example, judge a paper a failure if it contains one commas splice or five spelling errors. Those are judgements based purely on form.  Indeed, the most common type of formalist value theory is a grammatical one: good writing is 'correct' writing at the sentence level."

Sound familiar?  This is the dominant composition philosophy of our textbooks.  Dr. Nancy Michaels, whom I loved dearly at BSU, and Dr. Diane Drake, whom I loved dearly at NCTC, were clearly formalists and had an impact on my writing.

Expressionists - This was popularized by some of my favorite teachers of writing - Donald Murray, Ken Macrorie, Peter Elbow, and Tom Romano.  Fulkerson notes "Expressionists cover a wide range, from totally accepting and non-directive teachers, some of whom insist that one neither can nor should evaluate writing, to much more direction experiential teachers who design classroom activities to maximize student self-discover."  He goes on to add, "Another keynote for expressivists is the desire to have writing contain an interesting, credible, honest, and personal voice."

Sound familiar?  This is me through and through.  It's not that I dislike formalists or their ideas.  I do think form is important, but for me, it pales in comparison to the importance of self-discovery and voice.  Other professors I've had, such as Dr. Christensen, Dr. Bonner, Susan Hauser, and Dr. Morgan were all about voice and discovery.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that when I reflect on their classes, I feel like these professors who not only had the biggest impact on my writing, but they actually showed me how to write.

Mimetic - This philosophy isn't clearly tied to a format or to voice or self discover.  The mimetic philosophy focuses on the importance of the belief that good writing is good thinking. Fulkerson notes, "The major problem with student writing is that it is not solidly thought out.  Hence, we should either teach students how to think or help them learn enough about various topics to have something worth saying, or we should do both."  If you love examining propaganda, this philosophy is for you.

While I'm all in with the expressionist, I like the Mimetic philosophy and beliefs too.  It is important to help students think clearly and to express themselves not just clearly but cleverly and interestingly too.

Rhetorical -  This approach focuses on the all important audience.  Who cares if you have a great voice or a clear thesis or have great thinking if you don't impact your audience?  Fulkerson states, "Good writing is writing adapted to achieve the desired effect on the desired audience."

This too makes a great deal of sense to me.  But - as an expressivist - I feel that if you take care of the voice and you illustrate your self-discovery, the audience will get it.

So where do you fall in the four different approaches?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

One of my favorite new series is called United Shades of America on CNN.

The comedian Kamau Bell travels the country visiting places with opposing view points to learn from them and to grow.  It reminds me of the old series, 30 Days.



In the latest episode Bell travels to "redneck" or "hillbilly" central: the Appalachian wilderness in Kentucky.  But he finds that people are still people with the same fears and worries and hopes.


I saw this via Facebook this week.  Apparently, there is a young boy with an IQ hire than Einstein's.  Now this may seem like a big deal.  And had I not just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, I might have thought so.

But - as Gladwell illustrates in his book - a high IQ is no guarantee of success.  At all.

A high IQ is an advantage.  No doubt about it.

But it does not guarantee success.

Gladwell illustrates this by focusing on the smartest man, Christopher Langan, in the world today.  He has a far higher IQ than Einstein.  Yet he has not changed the world.  Yet.  Or maybe even at all.

After all, he has spent the majority of his life working as a bouncer.

Yes.  You read that.  The smartest man in the world (that we know of anyway) does not have a college degree.  Nor has he published anything.

Gladwell notes how Langan is supremely gifted intellectually.  Unfortunately, he came from a miserable home life.  A mom who had different children from several different men.  His father figure was abusive and tyrannical before he ultimately left.

Langan first had to leave college because his mother didn't know how to renew his financial aid.  Then at his second college, his brother wrecked his vehicle, so he was left without a ride.  While meeting with the dean, Langan wasn't able to convince the dean to allow him to take afternoon and evening classes . . . even if he was willing to walk all the way to campus since he didn't have a vehicle anymore.

Gladwell contrasts that with J. Robert Oppenheimer.  He was the unlikely choice to lead the US in developing the atomic bomb.  In other words, Oppenheimer was the head of The Manhattan Project.  There was one problem though: while in college Oppenheimer tried to poison one of his professors!

Yet, Oppenheimer wasn't kicked out of college.  He was lightly reprimanded and then would go on to change the course of the 21st century!

Yet, Langan couldn't stay in college for innocuous reasons!


IQ had nothing to do with it.

People skills - or the ability to persuade others to agree with you - were the key factor.

Oppenheimer is gifted with it . . . mostly because of how he was raised by his Jewish family.  Langan was not gifted with people skills . . . mostly because of how he was raised by a single mother and abusive father figure.

This reminds me of Patrick Lencioni's wonderful book - The Ideal Team Player.  Lencioni observes that you must be hungry, humble, and smart to succeed.

Hunger is a desire to learn and grow.  Langan is gifted with this in spades.

Humble is the ability to put aside your own wants and needs to work in groups.  Langan is very weak in this, but it can be learned.

Smart - is not just intelligence.  Smart is people smarts - how to work with others.  Langan clearly lacks this as he couldn't convince his dean to shift his classes to the evening to let him walk to school, yet Oppenheimer was able to convince his dean to not throw him out of college (or, you know, have him arrested) for trying to poison his advisor!!!!!

So it's great that this young man has such a high IQ, but it is no guarantee of success at all.


Focus on the basics?

Great.  But what are the basics.  Exactly?  How have they changed over time?

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are vital.  Yes.  But what else do kids need to thrive in the world today?

This reminds me of an old debate.

One of my colleagues once sent me this, a link to an old 8th grade exit exam, knowing how much it would piss me off.  You see - supposedly - 8th graders in Kansas had to pass this in order to move on.  So the tag line is that when you heard about Great, Great Grandma having just an 8th grade education, she really was quite smart.

Now, I'm not saying your great, great grandma is not smart.  I'm just saying that test illustrates nothing.

The basics in 1865 are not relevant today.

And there is no way to have your great, great grandma take an 8th grade test today.

In fact, if you think your 8th grader has it too easy, just try sitting down with them and help them with their close reading homework or their math homework.

The basics should change in order to reflect the job market and the time in which the students are expected to work.


I so wish I could use this with my College Comp class.  

Punctuation and usage are SO important.


Haircuts and shaving.  You're nuts not to come in!!!

Or, at least, that is what I think they meant by their sign.


Politics aside.  This saddens me.


I'm not talking about the homeowners association that would try to suggest that a homeowner remove their flag.  That is sad.

But what I'm talking about that is sad is that this was shared on Facebook and had several hundred comments without anyone asking if this was even true!!

Even if you don't want to believe Snopes.  Think about this: Where is the evidence?  Could the picture be taken out of context?  Does a Homeowners Association have the right to dictate what flags you can fly?  Would they object to an American flag?  Why?  Where is the evidence?

It's not there because it doesn't exist.

But we live in a world today where it's more important to click 'share' rather than to do research and find the truth . . . or at least a grain of truth.

And I've fallen for this before too.

A few years ago, a former students shared a Facebook post about how teachers in Finland were paid like lawyers and were among the most respected people in the country.

The problem?

It wasn't true.

Had I bothered to question - instead of blindly sharing something I just agree with and not caring whether it was true or not - I would have found out that it is completely false.

Again, anyone anywhere can make up their own meme and post it on Facebook.  It doesn't make it true.  Even if you believe it OR want to believe it . . . it doesn't make it factual.


This teacher, one of my favorite teacher bloggers, is interested in teachers' daily schedules and how we all juggle our lives.  She shares her daily routine here.

That got me thinking about how much I could learn from my colleagues.  How does H handle teaching science at the level he does yet find a way to work out every single morning before school?  How does Kelly run the library yet juggle all of the the committees she is on?  I'd also love to see all that she does to help teachers and students behind the scenes.  How does Bryce juggle Western Civ I and II and being a head coach in the fall and an assistant in the winer?

Just for fun - here is my schedule for today

4:30-5:15 : wake up and head to Sanford to work out.

5:30-6:15 : work out (either cardio low or cycling).

6:30-8:00 : return home, shower, wake the kiddos up, make breakfast, get the kids ready for their day, feed the dog and puppy as well as our cat.

8:25-12:30: teach Science Fiction, MN Authors, and Creative Writing at the ALC.

12:30-1:00: grab lunch

1:00-3:00: time with the kids - this usually means running to the pool but it also means shopping, building forts, watching movies, naps, and playing in parks.

3:00-4:30: clean the house, read some, blog some, shop for groceries

5:00-6:00: make supper and have supper

6:30-8:00: maybe return to the pool, go to t-ball, read, blog, go to a park, watch some TV.

8:30-9:30: baths for the kids, wind down time.

10:00: time for bed, which for me means reading or watching Youtube until I'm tired.



Speaking of Youtube in the evenings, this is one series, A Football Life, that I've become addicted to lately.

This episode focuses on the amazing Bill Belichick.  No wonder the Pats are five time world champs (and could easily be - if not for the NY Giants - a whopping seven time world champ!)

And if you really want, here is the second part of the series.