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As the girls grow…

As the crow flies

My three Colorado amigas, the ladies I’ve known since middle school astound me. If I could present a tableau of the three of them, and show my middle school students, all genders, what the possibilities are for them outside of the testing and the tardy slips, beyond the perceived limitations, oh what a powerful message that would be. So much discussion about ‘career and college ready,’ and the decline of cultural literacy, and here three of my dearest friends who’ve created lives based on things that will never be on a standardized test.

One of my greatest frustrations is trying to figure out how to show children that though the path may not have all the lights on, we educators will show you how to brighten the path.

Pay attention, please.


Lisa has always had grit and determination. I realize the word ‘grit’ is borderline abusive for children of poverty, but in this instance, she exemplifies all the best of that word. She put herself through college. She made sure she could support herself. She has fought for women’s health rights. And now she is a liaison between disenfranchised neighborhoods and city planners to make sure needs are met, communicated, and sustainable. She is the real deal. She understands access to facilities, and how in pockets of even large urban areas, communities are often shut out and marginalized. She gives them space and voice. Lisa truly levels the playing field. Literally.

And yes, Lisa, I hope that bridge over the railroad tracks gets built immediately. Now I’m going to look at that terrible intersection by our school. You made me want to demand better lights and traffic control.

How can I get teachers to stop saying girls are bossy, outspoken, etc. and reframe those traits as what they are? Leadership, strength, determination, and forces for change?



Kristin is pure joy and happiness, even if the face of the most challenging of circumstances. She is currently a kindergarten teacher, and if my boys were tiny again, I would move mountains to have her be their teacher. She embodies sunshine. Wicked smart, funny, and amazingly physically strong. She bikes over mountains. MOUNTAINS! For years, she has also planned gardens and landscaping projects. I wish I had thought to take a picture of her sketchbook and her resources about southwestern plants. She knows the names of trees and flowers. She sees what is painful to the silent, animals, plants, and sometimes people, and also gives them the nurturing they need.

And yes, Kristin, I wish I could fly you out here to cast your spells on my trashy backyard.

How can I tell people to stop looking at professions like teaching, landscaping, and gardening like it’s a hobby? To take the student who loves being on the GreenTeam or at our new Mill Creek garden to turn that into a valuable and sustainable future for themselves? Hey, people of planet earth, we need this rock we’re spinning on!



Tammy is a film festival producer, shaker, maker, creator, planner, presenter, and supporter of film, the arts, women in film, and great storytelling facilitation. She’s thoughtful, methodical, and intuitive.

And yes, Tammy, I wish I could go to every one of the film festivals you share. You understand my love of stories.

How do I tell students that story they’re writing, that movie they’re making, that podcast they’re trying might just speak to someone else who needs to hear they’re not alone? And, guess what…it might actually help you make a living creating?


I’ll keep this post handy for next year. I may start the Royal Queens Club again with this additional information to help students, girls in particular if they need, to see that they are in control of their paths, but it need not be terrifying. I can’t wait to see what we all do for the second half.


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Sticks, stones, and comment feeds


This blog acts as a digital sketchbook, a virtual cocktail napkin, as a means of my sorting of thoughts. I am truly interested in what you think, too, so please comment.

The question is: do we label ourselves and others too much?

I know a single mother whose son just graduated high school. Our sons went to School of Rock together, and she took some great photographs during my son’s time there. These young people are amazing musicians. She has survived cancer, is stunningly beautiful, smart, edgy, and talented. She has pink hair. She has perfect skin. She thinks for herself. This I’ve gathered from her social media posts, as I’ve never had the pleasure to meet in ‘in real life,’ or as gamers say, IRL. Her posts are engaging and interesting. I wonder, though, if I would still think so if I disagreed with them? And when politicians/voters label Sanders’ supporters with ‘BernieBro’ or “Sandanistas*’, how does she fit in? She’s almost fifty years old, and certainly not a ‘bro.’ But her voice doesn’t seem to ‘count.’ So whose does?

John Spencer had me thinking the other day (as he’s been known to do) when he commented on a post of mine about ‘toxic masculinity.’ At first, I justified my use of this term, because labels are convenient. The shorthand facilitates speed, but perhaps it does not produce contemplation. He stated:

“But there’s another risk, which is what happens when a negative term is applied to a group. Members of that group either view the critique as extreme and they tune it out or they actively fight against it. I’m not arguing for tone policing or man-splaining or anything like that. People can certainly feel free to use it. It’s just for me, “toxic masculinity” seems to have the same ickiness factor that “white trash” or “feminazi” or “radical Muslim” all have.”

I wonder if ‘white privilege’ fits in here, too. Not sure. What I do know is in this digital age we’ve become so accustomed to trying to be clever with the next quippy saying or catchphrase we don’t consider things in depth. Our human brains still respond emotionally. Which leads me to consider how we, and our students, are processing emotions without context. This processing is unrelenting and aggressive.

GeekFeminism Wiki: 


This chart is intended to be funny, but it amasses just as many tropes as any media. Is the way to fight stereotypes, sexism, racism, and hate with more? How do we reject the labels ascribed to us, and concurrently help students understand in their media worlds what ‘not taking something personally’ really means?

Social media emotions are contagious.

The findings suggest that emotional contagion can occur in an online social network, even without face-to-face interaction between two people. “We show that simply failing to ‘overhear’ a friend’s emotional expression via Facebook is enough to buffer one from its effects,” the authors wrote.

The Facebook users weren’t simply mimicking the emotions of their friends by writing fewer positive or negative posts; these users frequently displayed the opposite emotion of the one omitted in their feed.

What’s more, nonverbal behavior, or body language, doesn’t appear to be necessary for emotions to spread, the study showed. Text alone was enough to have an effect.

So students have been steaming in a big bowl of angry alphabet soup: words without physicality or nuance, and if a child sees themselves in a comment, or two, or two thousand, that pushes and prods, during this critical time of discovering identity how damaging must this be? Adolescents are known to push boundaries and experiment: a few weeks before school two of my quietest, seemingly nicest girls wrote some negative poetry. They literally wrote a narrative for another student. This may not have been a social media post, just good old-fashioned, old-school bullying,


My question remains: how do I inform students about what happens to their brains and emotions when they see negative things about themselves, their beliefs, their values, and their identities? I would think the direct approach would be best: anytime someone posts a fight ‘invitation’ on Facebook or other social media, they are willingly giving up their freedoms. They are behaving like indentured servants to some greater idea that neither loves nor cares for them, the idea of control. Or how about the sexual predator who stalks someone who is in a fog of romantic notions, seeking attention and affection? The archetype of the wolf is nothing new, it’s as old as the dawn; only the speed of digital information has changed. Go back to the shorthand/label: because of the speed we don’t process adequately. Cry wolf, and everyone shrugs. Same with “bully”: no one cares. Swipe right, swipe left, just swipe. Label and dismiss.

Trying to keep you safe…

*No politician is without her or his label or derogatory term. And voters get labeled and characterized, too. If voters don’t want Hillary, the default is they’re sexist. If they do, they’re shrill hawks. At least for one, he is characterized by his actions, which are clear and forthright: xenophobic, racist, and dangerous. No question. Ah, see how that labeling thing works? You all know who I’m talking about.

But what gets lost in the labels are the policies, the plans, the ideas: what if news media used integrity and didn’t report on important issues like it was the Kardashians or a sports game? I think the words “winner” and “loser” have been used more in this campaign than I can remember. Or maybe that’s just me thinking about it differently. If students see things only in terms of win or loss, no wonder they have no field, no stable ground to steady their feet.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to present students with this question, and information: how do they detach unnecessary and incorrect labels/identities others attach? How can they use cognitive skills to be aware when a comment has hurt them? Remember they’re not running for office and haven’t developed the thick hides seasoned politicians have. (Well, some anyway.) As for myself, I’m trying to remember that my narrative is my own. I cannot control how or what others see. There aren’t just facts and opinions, but truths. The beliefs you can’t prove with numbers or data. And they’re not meant to be litigated or debated. For using labels such as ‘toxic masculinity’ I’ll use those labels to reflect and try to make sense out of the unreasonable. If it makes me stop and think, then it hasn’t been wasted time.


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Hope my boys forgive me for using their photo in this post. This is from Mothers' Day last year.
Hope my boys forgive me for using their photo in this post. This is from Mothers’ Day last year.


Time’s up.

A colleague recently posted this article by “Someone’s Mum,” Teaching: a ‘family unfriendly profession.’ I am not sure if she was posting it as evidence as to why she may not be planning parenthood for herself, or if that’s why she may consider leaving the profession if or when she starts a family. It doesn’t matter. These choices are hers and hers alone. But boy oh boy did it resonate.

Colleagues who are young mothers of infants, toddlers, and elementary school aged children post about time spent away from sick toddlers, or working late into the evening getting ‘caught up.’ (I know the dad-teachers are feeling it, too, but their posts tend not to state being home sick with a baby, or how guilty they feel when they go to work and not stay home. In fact, I don’t see a lot of guilt being flung around dad-work posts at all. Hmmm. Interesting. I’ll check my confirmation bias and do some further research.)

Colleagues who are more in my demographic, of high school or college-aged children, tend to post a wistful longing for more time. And I guarantee I am not projecting on this sentiment. It’s real and raw.

The ‘time conversation’ isn’t cute or funny anymore. There is this undercurrent of veteran teachers and administrators whom, I sense, give off the vibe of “yes yes dear, it’s hard, I know…” in that patronizing way. It’s a dog whistle. Time management and leadership must take into account time, and guard by teachers’ time. It has very real financial costs (if that gets your attention) versus the invisible costs of depression, anxiety, and resentment, all leading to burning out.

I have seen my planning time taken away, my contact time increase, my pension reduced, and my school’s budget cut. But I keep giving. We all keep giving, in the face of our time, our resources, our rights, even our sanity being taken away. I have been treated for stress and anxiety and witnessed colleagues suffer similarly.

For every district planner, or curriculum concept, or new adoption committee, every test maker or assessment giver, there demand criteria of time management, too. Most educators do not have a background in project management or traffic management. I do, and I know. For each person’s role in the implementation and execution of current and new ideas/innovation, it requires multiplied time. It’s very easy to disconnect from the actual work that’s involved. And work is time. This disconnection may be one significant shift in my attitude during my ten years: I am very diligent about how I spend my time and am guarded and wary of how others want me to use it. It’s a pure cost/benefits analysis. 

Teachers do not have many opportunities for upward salary growth. Paying for test scores is not the answer. It never has been, and never will be. Paying someone for arbitrary factors that are out of their control is wrong: benefits that come from things within their control is feasible and equitable. The only answer is to allow administrators to recognize when something is important and fundamental. Fortunately, our administration team this year understands and respects the staff thoroughly. Its vision and knowledge of what it takes to get stuff down make all the difference in leadership styles, and for that I’m grateful. But this should be standard practice to hire, and keep, highly qualified teachers.

It’s important to recognize when folks get it right: when district leadership listens, demonstrates with agility and responds. Perhaps a starting place for the dialogue about how teachers spend their time should include protocols/norms:

“It” is whatever curriculum, change, adaptation, adoption, workflow, time constraints, etc.

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it someone’s personal agenda/vision?
    • Does this agenda align with the district, state, and Federal mandates/goals?
    • Does this agenda/vision build a sustainable infrastructure?
  • Is it change for change’s sake?
  • How much time will it take? (then multiply it by 3)
  • How does it meet learners’ needs of the climate and culture of that particular school? (This may be especially applicable to large districts.)
  • Does it meet the current life goal needs of the teachers, be it personal or professional?
    • What stage of life are they in? Is there a family issue to be considered–birth, death, divorce, marriage, travel/exploration, professional goals (such as the PSWP class I take almost every summer out of my own time/money)
    • Are they involved with other professional development, such as National Boards or other organizations that support their pedagogy and practice? Are they given a forum (voice) for sharing this knowledge in a collegial way?

Folks ask me if my mind ever quits, and no, not really. But that’s a good thing. If I am creating and supporting, I’m in the zone. I’m happy. Contrast to last year when I was fighting for my professional life. I have other things to think about than my job, however; we teachers just need more damn time. That’s it. Perhaps a formula for those of us who work in high-impact schools, our workshop days need to happen with more frequency and less outside demands. Teachers speak of differentiating professional development all the time, but that change can’t happen fast enough for me. I want to advocate for my colleagues with small children: I want them never to give it a second thought if they need to stay home with a sick child, or for that matter, not give it a second thought if they need to stay home and play with a well one. Also: if we want to put in a few hours, get caught up, create something new, etc., we should do that guilt and judgment free. It’s okay to be happy in a job and as a mother parent. And it’s okay if you are not a parent and have outside interests besides teaching. We only get one time around this wheel, and it goes by fast.

Believe me.

Postscript: Here is how I spent some of my time yesterday.

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Stop and eat a Pop-tart. (revised)

My brother-in-law said it best this morning on Facebook: “Sometimes I hate us. This is one of those times.” The ‘us’ he referred to is us humans. I get you, bro, I really do. Yesterday I had a belly-full of contentious social media postings: the general screaming from my conservative friends and National Enquirer-esque mode of salacious, taunting headlines such as  “THINGS DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW” just became so tired and trite. Were these otherwise kind, intelligent people seriously believing the garbage? And this is not a one-sided observation: any comments about how politicians on both sides play the cards they are dealt when they get a winning hand became lost in the din. Rationality drowned out by roars. My personal fatigue with trying to have an interesting conversation about things political felt combative and harassing. Folks were getting a little too aggro, if you know what I mean.

My burning question is–what role do,  or should teachers and educators play in terms of debate and opinion? How much value do our personal biases possess in a classroom or meeting? In my utopia, not much, but admittedly, I am flawed. There are some beliefs I cannot reconcile: teaching creationism as science, not as a religious belief, teaching the 6,000-year-old earth idea, flat earth, or discussing religious or political views with students.

This morning was chatting with a friend who lives on the east coast and heard some worrisome tales. Her granddaughter came home with quotes from the teacher saying she was going to vote for Trump because he ‘cares about jobs.’ Also, this teacher asked the kids who had been spanked, and ‘she could tell because those were the good ones.’ Now let me flip this: the teacher said Obama cares about jobs, and kids should never be spanked. (It wasn’t Obama, but I’ve heard some kids speak their parents’ political views about him, too.) In a country as polarized as ours, the students are now divided. And those that fall away from the teacher’s point of view now feel this unease, this sense of ‘the teacher doesn’t like me.’ And they’re right. Often if we don’t feel liked or respected, we go into a defensive stance, and if our family’s values don’t align with the teachers, we end up not liking that person who made us feel bad. And as Rita Pierson says so wisely, “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”

This fourth-grade granddaughter also gets 3.5 hours of homework a night, too. I see the love of learning going straight down the tubes.

Now, what should parents do when their child is told something that doesn’t align with their values? There is nothing wrong with seeking to understand from the teacher, and the principal, with the mindset that this is information gathering and clarification, not a witch-hunt. All of us have said something that out of context can be taken the wrong way in our classrooms. That’s the human piece, and where we truly put our critical thinking skills to the test. Instead of assumptions, seeking context and clarity helps us all. Questioning. Seeking. If we don’t know that we offended someone, we never get the opportunity to mend the rift.

The takeaway is to keep religious and political views out of the classroom. Wait–that’s not quite right. How about make sure the conversation is always three-sided. Use the critical questions skills to challenge ideas, defend ideas, and construct new ones, teachers and students alike. But –with caution –be clear of intent. We are not trying to make students feel that we don’t like them if their views and conclusions are not ours. That’s when we need to check our biases and privilege. (The privilege comes from years of life experience, education, and safe places to come to our own points of view. Students haven’t had this luxury yet.)  Consider age-appropriate discussions. Teach facts, opinions, and truth. Encourage creative, critical thinking with questioning skills and reflection

Caveat: once all modes of diplomacy and peace offerings have been…err..offered, and there still exists tension, I’m not sure what to do with that. Go all “Taylor Swift At The Grammys” speech I suppose.

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It’s working.

What I think of when I see the new hall pass vest...
What I think of when I see the new hall pass vest…

If you live in my part of the country you are experiencing a glorious day today. It’s Labor Day, 69 degrees F, 57% humidity, 5MPH wind. It’s beautiful. Clear blue skies, a hint, a soucent of apple-crispness and promises of an effervescent fall to follow. Ah, lovely…

It’s mellowed me out when I think of my first week back to school, not that I needed much mellowing in truth: it was a wonderful week. We have new admin, new support staff, and new rules that make a lot of sense for students and teachers. The only ones that threw me off were when students can get into the building, which of course I made sure to send out an (incorrect) all-staff email and was summarily and kindly corrected. (It was concerning when students can get into the building, which is a good change –I always just made a pass for the student ahead of time, but this way there will be more flexibility.) The other change that threw me off was the whole-school hall passes: we have a safety vest for ALL THINGS PASSING, and I kid you not, in the first fifteen minutes of class a kid was called to the office and another had a nose bleed. The nose bleed won, and got blood on the vest. (Biohazards are part of the job.)

hall passI am hoping our new principal allows us to manage two passes: the vest for bathrooms, water fountains, and lockers, and one pass for nurse/office. We’ll see. Her philosophy includes ‘no stupid rules,’ and I’m sure she will support us supporting our students.

And I have to say, I am noticing the shifts, and not just with new admin, but with teaching practices in the elementary grades. When asked to ‘turn and talk,’ students in my class did so with ease and honesty. They really did TURN AND TALK – ! — so perhaps some of these pedagogical practices are taking root. There are so many good ideas out there, so much I want to share and discuss, it’s exciting. And once again I am reminded of the nature of the middle school child: when discussing dress code, got in a lively and engaging debate with one 7th grade girl about our culture of shaming, etc. while other students (mostly boys) looked around wondering what the heck was going on. The disparity in development, awareness, and social cues are vast, but that’s what makes middle school kids awesome. But think about it–what if some teacher said, “Hey, I have a great idea! What if we let kids talk about their ideas!” and other teachers said “What, are you crazy?! Kids can’t be trusted to talk.” Nothing would progress.

And there are a few metaphorical grubs and vermin under the rock. As excited as I am to try and share new ideas, and refine some solid ones (I feel very pioneering when I think of my Burning Questions unit, for example, and other original units I created). I was told in a meeting when I asked about starting a “genius hour” that “We can’t do that” by a colleague. Not sure why, or what her reasoning is, just a “no.” But hey, some folks are the proverbial “not the boss of me,” my students are, so I’m going to try it anyway. Cult of Pedagogy just reminded me of this, and so I’m going to think about its implementation when the year gets chugging along. 

But how to go about this? Well, I guess I’m using my 20% time to figure it out! One thing, it’s not a ‘free for all’ time:

JG: Is there a “wrong” way to do 20 percent time?

AJ: The worst thing you can do is assign this project and then sit back and say, Alright, it’s on you guys, 20 percent time, learn what you want! I’m here if you need me! That’s the worst way you can do it. It doesn’t work out. The teacher has to be more active in this learning experience than anything else. Because students need coaching. They need to be connected to the right resources, to the right people. They need help on their projects. There are going to be pitfalls and failures, and they need someone there to kind of say that’s okay, that’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure how to structure this at first, or when. This LiveBinder is a great place to start, as this bread-crumb starter of an Edutopia article. I am really liking the idea of “pitching” a project as my starting place for them.

My students are chomping at the bit, happy, and engaged–I don’t want to mess this up. I don’t want negativity to undermine them. I can’t help the watchdog in me. I am hoping I can get some support from other staff members, but if not that’s okay. I’ve got the Internet and my PLN, and my students have me. It’ll all work out.

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