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Extra credit.

We, teachers, don’t hear enough about the good things we do in a day. We count on funny videos, friends, and our students to support us. The sad truth, it doesn’t come from the top often. But that’s okay, really and truly. That is not the work of administration. Or rather, it’s like finding money in a coat pocket: it’s great when it happens, but don’t count on it.

Maybe we’re so programmed to think of reflection as a tear-down process–but reflection can also mean, “Hey, I’m looking pretty good!” And by that, I don’t mean vanity, but the reflection of who we are through the eyes and hearts of our students.

Take a minute for yourself, and keep a log of the good things that happened. It’s the cure for the criticism, warranted or not, that comes our way.

This past month:

  • Started students writing and posting regularly on a class blog.
  • Contacted and reached out to the experts in my building about students who need extra support
  • Reached out to parents to support them
  • Had student-led conferences and helped support the majority of my students get their presentations done, and enjoyed talking to parents that evening (and made many parents laugh)
  • Hosted Minecraft/Anime Club in the wake of new protocols that support students and scholarly pursuits
  • Students decorated my classroom door for the door decorating contest: they did it all. On the backsides of the index cards were compliments they gave to one another.
  • Supported colleagues with resource curation (whether they use it or not, it’s there)
  • Made counseling aware of a student whose emotional health drew concerns and will continue to follow up
  • Contacted a parent to better help support her child
  • Helped students make connections to their core classes, each day, every day
  • Helped my ELL teacher colleagues with support for a student who needs extra help: she may not get it because of rules on the books, but we’re trying
  • Shared resources with teachers nationwide and locally – strangers and friends–and continued dialogues and exchanges of ideas
  • Helped create new form for an administrative procedure
  • Figured out how to do some cool things
  • Planning my PBL with the WABS/STEM group this weekend and last
  • Took advice from admin that’s really good
  • Cleared the air with a colleague
  • Solved misunderstandings
  • Said “yes”
  • Said “no”
  • Offered to update social-emotional lessons for admin
  • Came on time, stood in the hallway, did my duty, warmly greeted students–none of that is difficult. One of the best parts of my days.
  • Hosted students from other classes in my room for small group work
  • Discovered new solutions to problems, tested out apps and software
  • Made jokes, kept a smile, and laughed.

Oh, and that was all on Tuesday.

Well, I’m joking, of course, but not by much! We all do a lot in one day, a lot of good, happy things: we know we have students in our care who deserve the best of who we are. And if no one has told you lately, I will:

You’re awesome. You’re doing important, good work. You bring the best of who you are for them.

Thank you.






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A plan of attack, with love.

Spider Pie

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, a piece came out in the New York Times that temporarily broke the internet, titled: “A Voice of Hatred in America’s Heartland.” While I discussed it on Twitter, my husband followed it on Reddit, and overall the takeaways were the same: what the (bleep) is wrong with the New York Times to publish a soft, fluff piece about a NAZI?

I saw it as a warning to those who have grown apathetic, complacent, and downright complicit in their acceptance of the banality of white supremacists, racists, and hate-crime mongers in our nation. I knew there were there. They paint swastikas on my fence. They stole my Obama sign off my lawn during the 2008 election. They work in my district, thinking it’s “cute” and funny to support the current president, which is tantamount to supporting and condoning his dog-whistle and seditious calls for violence. They are students who add hate crimes to their list of nonchalant violence and privilege.

We are in the center of the storm. Which way do we go?

Aside from the meta-discussion about the article itself, it begs the question: there are still Nazis next door. Right now. What do we do next?

We, teachers, choose to challenge hateful thinking, or we don’t.

I suggested this:

I received this amazing response. There are so much goodness and hope in here:

And I made a new friend.

That is how it’s done: make alliances. Discuss with purpose and action-minded responses. Subvert. Teach the picture book. Show the war images. Never forget history.

There are two questions, and we all better become fast historians, folks:

  1. How did Germany allow Hitler to happen?
  2. How did Germany recover?

We can’t allow Nazis and White Supremacists groups to flourish. They are our domestic terrorists. How do citizens in countries like Egypt fight ISIS? That is what we do–and the reason we’re all so wobbly now is that we never, ever really thought of ourselves as that.

Whatever “that” is.

Eve Bunting’s Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust 

When I lived in Tehran, Iran at the age of 11-12 I thought how every American kid should live somewhere else, too. Somewhere completely different. During that same time, we visited Amsterdam and I visited the Anne Frank house.

I’ve been on my field trips. Now it’s time for our children to go on theirs. Let’s lead the way.





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beat of your drum


Peter Dewitt posted an article in EdWeek, Why Does Teacher Talk Still Dominate the High School Classroom? 

This is a topic full of complicated nuance, add a dash of cognitive dissonance, and complicated traditions. But seriously:  why do we insist on talking so much?

Well: it’s easier in the short term. But like all actions that require preparation, it exacts too many long term costs.

My epiphany in the last post concerning teacher agency aligns with this: we don’t learn when someone in the room talks constantly, so why should our students?

We don’t love when someone hands us canned curriculum or tells us, “Teach it like I do.” (Good coaches show us how to dance, not step on our feet.) If teachers leave the profession in droves, all one needs to do is refer back to Daniel Pink’s Drive, or their own common sense that asks and reflects, what makes us happy and motivated? Purpose, agency, and creativity.

Teaching is learning: learning is creativity, exploring ideas, taking risks, failing, and reshaping.

If teachers are allowed encouraged to do this, both collaboratively and independently, perhaps we can move forward.

This is not to say that frameworks and scope/sequences are bad–they’re not. But sometimes the unintended consequences are so damning they must be reconsidered. We have big questions to answer, and sometimes I worry that we’re looking for answers in the wrong places. In a system that is chronological and age-based progression versus skill progression, we put emphasis on peer approval and not self-approval or reflection.

  • Instruct for about 15 minutes max. I set a timer and tell students my purpose for talk, and stop when the timer is done.
  • Use co-constructive norms in the classroom, such as Question Formulation Technique, shared notes, side by side notes, partner talk, ‘ambassador of the table’ consensus talk, poster making, etc.
  • Slow down instruction. Painful? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.
  • Link past, current, and future learning together in small leap-frog ways.

New and old teachers want fresh ideas, and no one wants canned ones. And even though Sir Kenneth Robison believes we should not deliver instruction, but become artists, in reality we must be both.

Here is where we are:

Where do we go?

We’d better get real creative real fast, folks. Perhaps administrations all over the nation can take a hard look at what they’ve been promoting in the past, and create their own paradigm shift. Change is terrifying. Give teachers the agency and locus of control they deserve. Promote and encourage master teachers to support all staff and students. Bring PD in house. Utilize and trust the resources and knowledge on staff.

And stop talking so much. Listen.















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job description

I’m just going to dub myself a poor man’s version of Cult of Pedagogy.


The question came my way today from the High School ELA site concerning what electives go well with English/Language Arts. Some of the ‘same ol’ felt tired, such as Creative Writing or Speech/Debate.

Well, let’s see.

This year I’m developing the Computer Technology Essentials curriculum for 7th and 8th-grade classes, which is also under the auspices of Career and Technology Education. Whatever it is, it’s under the Business codes in the grade book. It’s something I can do, and do well, but not my first love. /shrug Love is overrated.

Trying to reconstruct my work process is oddly difficult. “Back in the day”, I created a Traffic/Project Manager position for myself at a small marketing company. I had folders and two-hole punches and a beautiful signature/sign-off system as I planned and passed around projects, meeting deadlines. These years, I sit and create plans and mind maps, and then fill in with details.

We’re adjusting as we go, of course, with the help of four integral colleagues: two teach the course and two help me problem solve for students and staff alike. I wish everyone could have the professional collaborators I know. It makes a world of difference.

Here is one calendar sketch I created:

And it is now a hot mess.

There were approximately 9-11 units of study: Basics, Documents, Curating Content, Presentation Power, Creating Content, Critical Thinking Skills, Movies/Multimedia Production, and Global Connections.

My principal’s intent allows me to support all the content area teachers; since my knowledge is first and foremost in ELA/SS, helping those content area teachers use the technology to create powerful lessons with the tools is my first order.


I asked the teachers in the building to give me some idea of their scope/sequence at the beginning of the year.


It was too much at the beginning of the year without further support from administration (they have enough on their plates), so I found my allies and we’ve been meeting weekly and coming up with what I dubbed “TechTip Tuesdays” a few years ago, and providing just-in-time information to the staff.


Not being an ELA teacher this year I’m out of the loop for many of the current curriculum. (No one has time to meet, so there is a work-around.)


Talking with folks one to one helps me support them. For example, one teacher wanted a way to use Actively Learn better, and I made this quick tutorial:

Some teachers offer driven students the chance to post to the Reading Road Trips blog.

All of our CTE students are posting to the Digital Dogs blog.

Next steps:

  • Adjust the curriculum: where did students get genuinely confused? What lessons did they have the most questions about, and which ones engaged them the most?
  • Create a central location for staff to find those ‘just in time’ resources.
  • Have students create more of the instructional how-to media; when we go into the second semester there will be a higher level of tech acuity so perhaps we can make this adjustment.

Some resources:

Computer literacy is heavily explanatory text based thinking: currently, we’re working with our students to closely read instructions.

This ties in with mind or story mapping tools:

I made this for a colleague:

Postscript: What do I really do? Nag district into getting cool software. Canvas trainings. Scream at the poor user interface and UX design of most apps and software. Complain to my husband about my log-in and sign up fatigue. Make new passwords. Help students remember their passwords. Try to find multiple language apps. Get bored. Get excited. Look at the new shiny. Wonder where the time has gone. Worry that I’ll lose my ELA chops while I’m doing this other thing. Feel insecure. Feel confident. Feel overly confident and then slightly insecure again. Help someone. Laugh at Gerry Brooks videos. Save a ton of links and ideas. Answer 3,241 questions a day about something. Rage at my bad cables that make my Smartnotebook pink. Drink a Fresca once in a while. That’s about it.

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today was a good day

My first period: my friend’s first period. Her second period. My other friend’s third period. My fourth, fifth, and sixth periods. Almost 170 students signing up and starting blogging on the Digital Dogs’ blog. 

I KNEW they could do it!

And, I even recognized some writers in the crowd. Those who lingered a little longer, or confessed to having Tumblrs and Wattpads. I have writer-adar.

Yes, I realize their posts are not works of grand literary import. Pfft. Putting in your first HTML embed is addicting. Sharing content, and seeing your words published is this generation’s ‘Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame on television,’ but this screen is more relevant and powerful.

It’s working…

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