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These are to re-read, read, and organize: the binders need to be gutted and reorganized. Oh, sticky tabs and Sharpies: how I love thee.

I always have this summer break lag–it takes me a bit to realize it actually is break time, and not only relax, but reflect. And just not think at all.

Last summer I had everything planned out, and offered my time and expertise to go over the CCSS and come up with a menu of critical ones I knew our PLC should take a look at and consider for the common/formative/assessments. Well, that didn’t work, and that’s okay: the team decided to focus on one skill through the lens of one or two standards. Am I going to stop coming up with ideas? Did I learn my lesson? Nah. I can’t help myself. I love designing good curriculum.

Next year I’ve been tapped to construct Computer Essentials for 7th grade, and will be teaching only one class of 8th ELA. (Just can’t quit you, Humanities….). To say our students need the computer skills is an understatement. (I’ll post my ideas on that later.) In the meantime, this post serves as a pledge to myself to read: I have the trifecta of my summer: a hammock, sometimes blue sky, and time. My focus is to create a curriculum map that is more reflective of what ELA students are truly expected to know. The horizontal, silo-approach doesn’t work. I’m actually envisioning a circle map, updated, and global: a way to teach units that are connective and authentic, with a heavy dash of choice and design. Give me a week or two, and I’ll have something figured out.


Oh, and I need to add some new videos to the list:

What is one thing you taught more than one year, and feel it is a “must?”

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“Fear less, build more.”

This post is dedicated to my crazy teacher friends who try everything they can to help our students, even at the expense of their colleagues’ goodwill. Based on a recent email thread, we’re all trying so hard, but we’re trying too hard alone.

That has to change.

Do you have departmental/content issues? Does the history department turn up their noses at the math teachers or is the elective crew treated like a tertiary annoyance? Supporting our colleagues is more than bringing in a few shoeboxes and glue sticks. It requires deep, drilled-down communication and understanding, and allows for every department to support and connect with one another. Of course, an administration is an integral part of an overall vision: communicating to staff may require multiple messages, reminders, little check-ins of how the vision is progressing once the vision has been shared. It doesn’t mean lockstep. It doesn’t mean one size fits all. It doesn’t mean one ring to rule them all, either. Throw that garbage in the fires of Mordor and carry on, Samwise.

It does mean that departments are talking to one another, and know an overall vision of the school Like other PBL projects before, the Zombie unit was the 8th grade ELA department’s attempt, and we learned a lot. We have some refinement to do, and it was clear based on all of us whose students had more time to dig in, whose students had someone helping with hands-on skills, and whose had lipstick “infection” marks on their faces and played tag (cough).

When everything is important, everything becomes jammed up: think of a school day more like well-run traffic and flow engineering, or flocking science: when kids can move with a flexible, responsive schedule, or when a big PBL project is being conducted, perhaps that is the day when there is a shift in time; better yet, they can go to each class and work and consider through that lens.

(Students are trying to avoid predators, after all–aka going to class.)

It’s going to require some brave teachers and administration to put aside egos and come to solutions that are best for students. We have the skill sets and the drive to do something like what Emily Pilloton does with her girls. We need to include all, however. I am wondering if we have the will. 

Can we build this together?

Girls’ Garage’s slogan, “Fear Less, Build More” is an appropriate anthem for our times.



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Preparations for departure…


We have one more week of school.

Laptops are being returned on Monday. (Thank goodness. I’m tired of battling the distraction.)

The students have been irritable, anxious; some who began with some growing to do, some maturity to gain, have regressed. Some have grown. That’s middle school: they have a few short weeks between now and the looming monster that is high school. (I doubt many of them have my option of hiding under a cabinet, listening to Dark Side of the Moon for hours. In the dark. With bucket headphones. And a bad haircut.)

My two sons experienced at least one fantastic real-life voyage in their lives, away from the tedium and mediocrity–one went to France for his senior trip, and one to Costa Rica (with his dad). But most kids don’t have access to trips outside of their own apartment courtyards. Many are riddled with anxiety they can’t name for fear of being disloyal to their hardworking parents and the guilt for feeling envious of how the media portrays summer. If I can tell them one thing before they go: it’s a lie. We make our own magic.

Some folks encourage boredom for kids, with advice to privileged parents to “let” their kids be bored. And though I see where this advice is coming from and would be cynical of me to think it comes from a place solely of privilege, in a way it does. Many of my students have plenty of chances to be ‘bored’ simply because the expectations in summer include watching siblings, cleaning. They do not include safe rolling parks to gaze up and imagine cloud shapes, nor long hikes in local national parks with sturdy REI hiking boots and toxicity-free mosquito repellent.

Boredom is not the same as drudgery. Boredom leads to flow. Creative constraints lead to production (a paradox, but yes, giving oneself boundaries encourages creativity, not dampens). Drudgery leads to despair and anxiety. So how do we sell students, no matter their status or privilege, think and grow their brains, breaking out of drudgery chains?

Idea List:

  1. Get a notebook. Use the composition notebook I gave you. Clean up your notes, and annotate what you thought about.
  2. Make a list of 50 things you want to do this summer.
  3. Have a dance party.
  4.  Think of a problem or conflict you have, and brainstorm ways to solve it using math, science, writing, drawing, etc.
  5. Keep five blog/websites handy:
  6. Give yourself a ‘creative constraint’ such as no phone or another electronic device for one hour, and
  7. Learn origami. Learn how to tie a Windsor knot. How to serve proper British tea.
  8. What do words like ‘colonialism, social justice, imperialism, etc.’ mean?
  9. Come up with a new exercise routine.
  10. Learn about another religion, country’s history, or why a news story may have impact
  11. Find three old black and white ‘film noir’ films to watch — what do you notice? Does the absence of technology affect the plot? How? Ask a lot of what if questions.
  12. Start a book club with one or two friends, or join Goodreads.
  13. Learn about Japanese bookmaking.
  14. Make your own Illustrated Interview about yourself, or one of the members of your family

 Even if you don’t have access to a computer over the summer, you can and should sketch this out on paper first.
What else? Any other ideas you can share would be most welcome!
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I wish I could tell you about my students.

The one who brings home books to her brothers from my classroom library.

The one who desperately tries to ignore the loud ones.

The one who understood completely when I said how many students let others dictate their love of learning.

And the one who did the memoir project, both the written and the podcast version, and asked me not to share.

To me, it was This American Life, Invisibilia, and StoryCorp level amazing. Perhaps, even more amazing because she didn’t have producers, writers, engineers, or Ira Glass prompting her on. Just me, telling her (and everyone) “just tell your story.”

It is enough.

More than enough.


I’ve used my goodwill on all-staff emails. There is no time, nor is it on the agenda, to share in a PLC. I know, and I can tell her thank you. I won’t think about the smell of blackberries or the lack of smell of sunflowers again.


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Know better: Do better.

There are three concepts to juggle, and with any dexterity and caffeine, allow me to attempt this hat-trick:

We are not doing a great job, and we need to do better. 

  1. We’re not showing students what rigor and high expectations really mean, and moreover, what it means to them.
  2. We’re not working as leadership teams.
  3. We’re running through the standards in concrete lock-steps and not understanding nuances and complexity. (See #1, and then refer to #2).

This year, as best as I can say, seemed like being lost in the woods and someone stepped on my compass. The good news is next year I’m leading and designing curriculum, and I know it’ll be great: sharing ideas and asking others, collaborating, and teaming on what our students need is my jam. I can’t get over, though, the haunting dread that we are not really doing what we need to for our students. Our current practices lack for consistent connections, and it is unacceptable. We have master teachers in our building, trained at the highest levels of PBL, science, math, social sciences, humanities, and language arts. The elective teachers are experienced and hold our students to the highest standards, too. But what is happening? My theory is we’re still working in too much isolation and silos. Our PLCs improve every year, even through administration shifts, but our cross-content and staff heterogony are lacking. We’re too homogenous. We must do better at being allowed the time to share knowledge and information.

Article #1: Make It Meaningful (not lock-step)

Revolutionizing Inquiry in Urban English Classrooms: Pursuing Voice and Justice through Youth Participatory Action Research

If I bring up my ‘burning questions’ unit with new leadership/staff, and or if they bring up something that they’ve tried, where is the reciprocal curiosity? Where is the time to say, “How did you do that? What resources do you have? Will you share that with me?” Right now we do this by the seat of our pants.

Agency represents the power that derives from the pursuit of those questions that matter most to students. It is what fuels action, a central component of YPAR that allows young people to attend to and explore firsthand the nuances of issues that have a direct bearing on their lives. It is contextually bound, always in negotiation, and mediated by the histories, social interactions, and cultures that young people’s identities are entangled within. We argue that agency cannot be framed as a competency then, but as a capacity to imagine and act upon the world. Central to this is the opening of spaces for students in their plurality, spaces where they can examine their relationships with each other, with texts, and with the world.”

I would love a resource guide of the staffs’ individual areas of expertise. My work with the National Writing Project precludes my inclination and bias toward their research, and I make no apologies for it.

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Article #2: Scientific American (high standards/rigor)

Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of “Smart Fools”?

It is not enough to teach knowledge but constantly strive for the highest levels the taxonomy, creativity.

As the writer Claudia Wallis says, teaching ethics in decision making combined with knowledge is the goal:

“Basically, ethical reasoning involves eight steps: seeing that there’s a problem to deal with (say, you see your roommate cheat on an assignment); identifying it as an ethical problem; seeing it as a large enough problem to be worth your attention (it’s not like he’s just one mile over the speed limit); seeing it as personally relevant; thinking about what ethical rules apply; thinking about how to apply them; thinking what are the consequences of acting ethically—because people who act ethically usually don’t get rewarded; and, finally, acting. What I’ve argued is ethical reasoning is really hard. Most people don’t make it through all eight steps.”

Think about that for a moment: doing the right thing means there may be no reward. No tchotchke, no token: just the idea that doing the right thing is doing the right thing. A beloved colleague said to me the other day how frustrated she feels when she sees students throw away our offering of an excellent, free (to them) public education. Do they have the ethical right to do so? What if it was framed that way–would it flip their thinking about their lives and connections?

“If ethical reasoning is inherently hard, is there really less of it and less wisdom now than in the past?
We have a guy [representative-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana] who allegedly assaulted a reporter and just got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—and that’s after a 30-point average increase in IQ. We had violence in campaign rallies. Not only do we not encourage creativity, common sense and wisdom, I think a lot of us don’t even value them anymore. They’re so distant from what’s being taught in schools. Even in a lot of religious institutions we’ve seen a lot of ethical and legal problems arise. So if you’re not learning these skills in school or through religion or your parents, where are you going to learn them? We get people who view the world as being about people like themselves. We get this kind of tribalism.”

Article #3: No one else: You. Me. We.

7 Qualities That Promote Teacher Leadership in Schools

  1. New types of assessment are gaining ground. Several states are piloting performance-based assessments to replace standardized testing.
  2. Exemplars in the business community are now promoting flat organizational structures, where employees work in smaller teams and have more voice and power over how they work.
  3. Teachers are more networked than ever before, providing a unique opportunity to share and spread good teaching practice.*

*#3 makes me a little blue: I am more connected to my PLN in many ways than I am to my PLC. With my PLN, we can share ideas, no one counts or keeps score on how often I share, no one gets frustrated, and we simply share and collaborate. I want to be more connected with teachers in my building and this needs to be facilitated, without excuses.

If my friend and I go to a National Consortium for Teaching About Asia graphic novel seminar on a Saturday, how do we invite interested staff members to share in what we bring back? For staff members who send out an all-staff email about information from University of Washington opportunities to their upcoming roller derby match, how does a culture of a school encourage this knowledge and communication? I would love to know how other staffs communicate with one another: I understand the flat organizational structure, but I would rather see a web-shaped structure: interconnected and sensitive to the students’ needs: a roundtable, rather. We are a long way away from Finland’s shift to move to broader-based, connected learning? (No, they are not getting rid of topics.) How can we create more broad-based understanding and connections OPPORTUNITIES for students, that not only is of value but constructive?

“Classes are not taught in silos, but rather teachers collaborate on interdisciplinary approaches so students can see connections between things they learn.”

My wish is as the current admin returns to teams (hallelujah!) my enthusiasm doesn’t get the better of me.

This is a lot to process: teachers are feeling exhausted, that they must be all things to all students, and to themselves and their families. But I would caution all of us when we’re encouraged to say “no,” and to scoff or scorn, to look past that, and try to say yes, yes to each other at least. Yes to the idea people, the organized people, the curators, and collaborators. Do what we ask students to do:

  • Show curiosity in others’ ideas and knowledge
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Be open minded

And go to the roller derby match.