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Sweet failure.

Sometimes we try our best, but...
Sometimes we try our best, but…

This week I was reminded I make mistakes. Missteps. Goofs. Gaffs. And while I’m trying to focus on some of the successes, the good moments, my amygdala, albeit not hijacked, is certainly in a time-out mode, a ‘stand in the corner and think about what you did’ kind of place. I tell a story about my wedding and reception, where it fascinates me that we think about the errors, and not the beauty, of an event. I forgot to have someone hold the door open for me, and the hence the door closed on the end of my dress, causing for not such a grand entrance. It was a detail that was my responsibility, because all details are my responsibility. If you watch the video of the ceremony, the moment lasts a blip on screen, a cute moment, but it remains in freeze-frame in my memory. We all have our “Bill Buckner” moments. For me, sometimes hourly:

Fans will always remember the error Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series against New York Mets. Credit Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe, via Associated Press
Fans will always remember the error Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series against New York Mets. Credit Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe, via Associated Press

And, turns out, being human, this is not uncommon. There is research that supports this idea that we tend to remember negative, not positive, events/emotions. This is not a case about optimism versus pessimism either, but how mistakes affect us longer.

In an essay by Alina Tugend, “Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall,” March 23, 2012 New York Times, she discovers:

“The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,” said Professor Nass, who co-authored “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” (Penguin 2010). Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.

First -what the heck is a ‘brickbat?’ Oh, okay.

The truth is we do learn more from our mistakes than successes. It’s difficult to describe why or how something worked or flowed, but we spend a lot of time dissecting and problem solving when something doesn’t. I’m doing it now: devoting writing energy to this topic. We curse the writer’s block, but never feed the muse. We don’t know what she eats, we’re just happy when she shows up. We’re not sure why we’re great at geometry but not algebra, but we remember that D- in Algebra II forever. (Perhaps I shouldn’t use the pronoun ‘we’ so liberally here, and own that D-.)

Walk away with this: our students are extra sensitive to their missteps and mistakes. That’s why the first question out of their mouths in any private conversation is, “Am I in trouble?” And there are some things that are a one-off–a mistake that won’t be repeated because the scenario is unprecedented. Getting students accustomed to balanced feedback may be essential:

Also, perhaps the very fact that we tend to praise our children when they’re young — too much and for too many meaningless things, I would argue — means they don’t get the opportunity to build up a resilience when they do receive negative feedback.

Now students are quick to say, with any critique, a blanket response of “That’s rude.” I wonder if many of us have lost the ability to know a critique from a criticism, or advice from a put-down.

I was thinking about how we learn (abstract concepts) earlier this week: there are two stand-out moments from my undergraduate/post graduate days. First, the reluctance of my art professors to actually teach me anything about art except for the abstract ‘academic language’ about art. (Sound familiar? Teach academic language but not the academics? I think we teachers are all struggling with this at times, but a post for another day.) My biggest break-through moment was when a painting teacher physically showed me how to increase tone/light on a canvas, with my permission, directly on the piece using my brush and palette. I wish I could thank him. Instead of just passing me along, bumbling, he actually showed me what to do. The second came in my brief stint in graduate school, where a visiting professor ripped my work apart. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but in essence my work was horrible and I was bad and bad and should go away and not be bad. I quit my MFA program not long after that. It wasn’t just that one instance, it may have had something to do with a stupid boyfriend, being a pizza delivery girl, (and getting lost…a lot), deep homesickness, topped with a huge scoop of 20-something “What am I doing with my life?” merengue. But he didn’t help. At all. I haven’t made art since.

Here’s what I learned from my mistakes this week:

1. No matter how much I think about something, or consider it from all angles, and get advice from others, if it’s a difficult situation, I probably could have handled it better. And I’ll have that added information if there is a ‘next time.’

2. With humans, there will probably be a ‘next time.’

3. People construe things I say or think in ways I never intended. I am not in control of this, and never will be. It is their responsibility to either seek clarification or not. In the words of Deepak Chopra:


With new visions (visions in the forms of ideas, leadership, movements, etc.) come new ways to misstep, too, to not be in tune with the new song the orchestra’s playing. But that’s okay–truly. Think about it from students’ perspectives (and there is no other focus to consider). They are moving through multiple mazes of teachers’ personalities, quirks, peculiarities, and expectations. The clearly spoken and not-so-tangible unspoken rules. I like the idea of a ‘kudos’ folder– a place where they keep both genuine praiseworthy feedback, but perhaps also a moment where they received some criticism and made a decision about it: was it in their control to change, or not?

For every time I make a mistake, I am afforded an opportunity to play better, to gain experience that otherwise would be stifled. Mistakes fan the flames, make our brains fired up, provide the oxygen and catalyst for change. Is it painful? Yes, but these moments make for the best story. Pack a sense of humor, and check your mirrors, for objects may be closer than they are.

Now perhaps time to create something other than a mess.

TED Playlist on How to Learn From Mistakes

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Got the whole data in his hands…

This may not have much to do with the topic, but I always think a little Carl Sagan thrown in on a hopeless Saturday morning to be a good thing to get some perspective. Everything from Ben Carson wanting to use his magic time machine and give guns to Jews, (and others who think he was right, who also have no idea how anything works), to folks conflating their religious beliefs with their tax dollars. Me? Shrug. I’ve got big data to keep me warm for a few hours! Seriously – no snark, promise –this is fun for me–looking over ideas from charts and exploring what’s behind the numbers.

Visible Learning by John Hattie (2009) takes on ‘meta-analysis relating to achievement.‘ This book is a gift from our new administrator, and I am grateful for it. In a nutshell, there are over a hundred concepts that have been tried in education to promote student achievement. The word “achievement” has a mental bookmark for me, because I need to stop and look up the definition of achievement in this context.

After a few attempts around the Interwebs, I came across this:

Examples/Glossary and links to instructional methods are here.

A colleague and I were discussing at lunch that most of the reports, when investigated further, need to be considered through a critical eye–to me, the data are a tapestry. If, say for instance Home Life is not judged solely on the basis of its number, but on the complex responses of parents to children’s schooling, then it does have an impact when taken out of its data silo. The concept of parent ‘surveillance’ hit home with me especially in this day of instant progress and missing assignment reports. I’ve been guilty of this, and perhaps we need to look at our grading reporting systems so we don’t enable parents to be supervisors or spies in their children’s education, but seek to aspire as Hattie suggests. Looking at classroom size–this needs another review. If you’re at 20 to 30 there isn’t much difference, but if you get to classroom sizes of 40, yes, that has to impact learning, if those 40 are relenting to peer pressure and not tracking the instruction. Teasing out one factor from another is difficult. But maybe I’m just clinging to the Old Gods of Educational Myths.

Grant Wiggins wrote on article back in 2012 on Hattie’s work, and there are a few editorial comments/changes. It’s a good article, and I suggest reading it. 

Here is the big snake of data: (click to enlarge)




1. Self-report grades

Self reported grades with John Hattie from Cognition Education on Vimeo.

If some of the systems in place in the positive zone on the lower rungs of impact aren’t in place, does this impact the upper rungs?

John Hattie’s Summary: Know thy impact from Cognition Education on Vimeo.

Well, ultimately, his message is clear: allow for risk and listening. I would add one other factor which I am not sure he addresses, and that is student influences on one another. Perhaps he does, but it’s not clear where it is in the data belt.

Overhearing students tell another to “not to do the work,” and adding that peer pressure and ridicule their friends when they do like school is HUGE. Perhaps this is covered under another of Hattie’s data point umbrellas, but in middle school where friendship and belonging are the rings that rule them all, it’s something to be mindful of. Students work ethic is affected by their peer groups, and using that knowledge to move the momentum back to achievement (it’s cool to be smart/gain knowledge) is a value that can help all students.

What’s your take away from Hattie’s work? Is he just another educator trying to sell a program? A scholar supporting important messages? I value the focus: the intentional focus on not getting spun out by the distractions or misdirections in educational conversations. If meta-analysis provides evidence of key educational concepts that have the greatest impact, then those focused conversations may be of great value.

I believe the larger vision is to align his work with those of our PLCs, so I plan on giving this some thought. It took my group about five collective hours just to agree on what a good summary is, but I have hope. This means we’re truly thinking and evaluating, and not taking things at surface level. (My mantra: ‘retell is not a summary…retell is not a summary….retell is not a summary’). One thing I do know is we’re a pretty savvy group of educators, and we’ll figure it out. This gives us some clarity, and what to reprioritize.


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Technical difficulties.

cartoon computer

How does your district/school handle IT? How does it introduce new software, push out changes, or communicate a change of protocols or access? My district is huge, and its tech department world-class. The idea of the IT folks sitting in a cluttered, coffee-stained office is out of date, although it still makes me giggle:

My own encounters with tech support have been mostly, by my own account, completely humble and respectful. These are the women and men who get things DONE, and it’s best not to  display any emotion less than humility. I confess, however, my instructional strategies have been a bit frazzled of late, because cornerstones of my teaching have had changes in registration protocols that I was unaware of, and cause some loss of instructional time, and instructional planning time. Loss of any time is a teaching sin. (These are superlative reading sites, and I urge you to take a look for yourself: Actively Learn and NewsELA.) I know things will be fixed (they weren’t broken in the first place, but now that they are, will be right again–soon I hope).

The issue came about when three programs: NewsELA, Actively Learn, and a pilot program of Canvas (but this is a separate issue) went in control of my district. Supposedly they always were in control, but I had access via my own email accounts, etc.) I spent hours creating and setting up classes, and then those classes ‘disappeared’ the other day. Of course they didn’t really disappear, because with computers there is no ghost in the machine, only humans, doing human things. I contacted customer service/IT about Actively Learn first, and after a week’s worth of e-mails, and going up the chain of command, the mystery was solved: they didn’t have my correct e-mail (even though it’s accessible via my district), and once they registered me, took away all of my original classes, reloaded them (or whatever the technical term is–glowing button?) into my roster sets. The only issue now is my roster sets are not the same as my actual class rosters, so I’ll have to do a work-around every time I assign reading.

My doggedness is driven by the fact I LOVE these programs, especially Actively Learn. NewsELA is also fantastic for Lexile-leveled informational and timely news articles, perfect for pairing with fictional texts. Students can read at their Lexile level, and push up the level when they, or you, think they need to step just outside of that zone…you know…that zone of proximal development we hear so much about (even though it’s about 100 years old–just because something is ‘old’ doesn’t mean it’s bad).

The Canvas pilot will also be fixed too–as it stands, I and another teacher share our rosters on closed sites, meaning, if she ‘publishes’ her Cavans class the announcement and access will go to my students, too, and at this point if I confuse the little chipmunks anymore with log-ins and class codes they will surely have a much-deserved meltdown. She is so enthusiastic about Canvas, I can feel my metaphorical arms getting shaky by trying to reign her in.

We are a Microsoft-based campus, and going to Google Classroom is not an option. The choice of products and services isn’t one I have a voice in, nor do I have a voice in sharing what I’m a master in with technology: digital writing and publishing. However, I have an idea of how to present this to my colleagues during PLCs, so our little enclave will bounce ideas back and forth on how to share writing/text ideas. I am fortunate to have a new colleague in my PLC group who completely gets me when it comes to my love of engaging technology–we may be PC and Mac, but we’re still friends:



He was the one who showed me the new powers of what PDFs can do after a Google Docs fiasco. (It shall forever be known as the Great Emoji Purple Pen Hack of ’15.)

So: onward! I’d like to know who are your ‘go-to’s’ when it comes to tech support–not just at a district level, but your own local PLNs, your friend down the hall, or colleague cross town. I hope folks consider me a go-to, too. I know where the glowing button is.

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Not as wise as I think, perhaps…


This post sits in my Drafts folder, mocking irony that I lack the…what is it, the word? You know, when you have drive and motivation? Oh yeah. Ambition. This question of ambition and professional growth stalks my thoughts, and has for some time now. A convergence of colleagues who have gone onto do great things haunts my thoughts before I sleep, and a cadre of new colleagues who bring a wide range of experience and personalities have me feeling squarely middle. Not a comfortable spot for the oldest sibling, first to do, first to go, fight, trail blaze, etc. Occasionally, I feel like I should be doing more.

What seems to be the problem, ma’am?

Identifying the areas of discomfort and symptoms: when a colleague is touted as the “it” person or the “rock star,” and I’ve been asked if I know this person–yes. When I ask a mentor if I can present great lessons, she skillfully evades the question, so much so I am feeling ‘swiped right.’ (Or is it ‘swipe left?’ Not familiar with Tinder and kids these days and their fandoogled dating apps, you know.) Neither fish nor fowl these days, I have no title, no deeds, no lands. Second-guessing my professional path, I wonder did I get my National Boards too soon? Peak too early? Should I have taken that job?* Why didn’t that group choose me?! 

Don’t put that on a resume…

Perhaps coming into the teaching profession after working in other careers and capacities affects one’s perspective. We all carry the unwritten life resume, our true curricula vitae of our accomplishments and skills: do people know who turned me away that once a woman believed in me so much, not only did she send me to Hamburg to complete the construction and shipping of an important client’s trade-show materials, but I managed to communicate with kindness and diplomacy to workers who didn’t understand English, nor (to my shame) their German? Do they know about the time I stood up for myself after the birth of my first son to allegations of misusing my one month of unpaid maternity leave? (Yes, one month. Yes, he was a twelve-pound baby. Yes, I cried but stated my case.) Or how about the time when I was a busgirl at a Mongolian Grill at 13, and spilled hot tea water on myself but calmly went from the patrons back to the wait-station, ran cold water on my arm and went back to work?

No, they don’t, but they don’t need to. The thing I’m learning the hard way is the teaching profession doesn’t have a lot of options that aren’t linear: 1. Stay teaching 2. Become (or try to) an instructional coach 3. Go into administration. All of these are admirable and worthy–but are they enough?

But I can’t be the only one who has ever felt this way. There must be others who feel cramped in their current positions/roles, and take stock of the ‘what’s next?’ question with gusto. For some it must seem ordained, for others, a scrappy can-do attitude. (I’m more of the latter: roll-up-shirt-sleeves-and-create!) And perhaps it is my creativity and powers of reflection that sustain me, just as they sustain many teachers.

But shine a little light: the moment came during Open House a few weeks ago: my projector’s software was still buggy and frizzed out on me, so for some groups of parents I had to improvise, big time. And I always speak from both my mind and my heart, and shared with the parents my philosophy, that I never lose sight that their child is someone’s baby. And in that moment they knew I loved their children, which I do, and want the best for them, just as for my own sons. I do have purpose, and this is as big of an honor as I could ever ask for.

Sign up. Show up. 

We (women quite often) feel multiple pressure points: from our spouses, children, and our own creative lives. Those voices, those dang voices: Did you plan dinner? Finish grading? Plan that lesson? Write your novel? Everything feels equal and urgent. Our identities are often wrapped up in so many other roles, that when we feel untethered by one of our responsibilities shifting we lose stability, and then fill the void with that seemingly unanswerable question of “What’s next?”

Well, for me: always learning. Trying a new approach. Keeping an open mind. And yes, perhaps writing that novel. If the slots of power are filled, that’s okay, and has always been okay. The artisan still finds a space to create and think–if I am incapable of that, then perhaps a position of leadership isn’t meant for me at this time. Would I like to help train new teachers? Yes, of course. I believe I have something to offer, many things. But as I know for our students, the software avails itself to the great equalizer of opportunity: write, create, and share. Then you’re welcome to come to my table.

So, my menu for this weekend:

  • Voices from the Grave – historical fiction writing unit
  • Its counterpart, Box of Destiny – role playing unit
  • CCSS Reading Literary Text: how does understanding literary devices/terms help inform our understanding?
  • Who is here first, who comes after: how it matters and why?

Some professional resources I am exploring:

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education: I am planning going to the June conference if at all possible.

TpT: Teachers Pay Teachers: May throw some lessons on there and see if anyone else needs/wants them.

Ph.D: I want to be Dr. Love. There. I said it.

I always give myself goals, too, my own little life units. Coincidentally, John Spencer wrote something about that today. This season’s goal is to master Canvas, once my district gets the bugs out of it. Funny –right about 1986 I was ‘mastering canvases’ when getting my Fine Arts degree. Things come around.

*Postscript: No –I am one lucky teacher at the moment.