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Hot piles of data.


Addendum: I wrote a follow-up four days later: Adding It Up

Well, today we had a data discussion. And it wasn’t pretty. I got a little excited when I saw that the SBA ‘Brief Writes’ had gone up, but that was mostly for 7th grade. And though I shared so much with the 7th-grade team, I tried to sell the 8th-grade team on having students do them, but with no luck, except for one colleague who worked with me the last three weeks before the test. In essence, and in the most passive way possible, an idea came from a coworker for “no excuses” and wanted to see all the data with teachers’ name tied to it. I don’t mind if people see my numbers. Want my data? My age? My shoe size? Sure. But numbers never tell the whole story. Not 0% in one subject, or 8% in another.

But how do you talk about data in a constructive, honest, and collaborative way without it becoming personal and toxic? I am genuinely curious. It can’t be mean-spirited and snotty, nor can it be sugar-coated when the numbers are there. All I know is I asked everyone who would listen to please consider using the rubrics for the Brief Writes so students would know what exactly would be expected of them, whether they got a narrative, explanatory or argumentative prompt. The students performed better on the longer performance task writes, so that’s comforting. And my Honors kids did well. And some of my Essentials kids met proficient, which is quite a feat.But I want all students to do well. This idea that a teacher is ‘bad’ based on one data point, proficiency, is dangerous, and it seems the loudest teachers perpetuate this. But that’s usually how most things work.

Now what? So why am I feeling so awful after a few comments at a meeting? Why does it bother me so? Because those comments move nothing forward. Nothing.

One thing that I pray will change the conversation from the blame-throwers to constructive is the movement toward showing students’ growth and not just proficiency. How wonderful would it be to have a student who is new to the country and language go from a second-grade level to sixth grade or more, and that would be the number celebrated? I’ll be one who is paddling that river, keeping it flowing, even though I’m not directly responsible for the ELA scores this year. But like an old fire horse, I still hear the siren: once an ELA teacher, always one. And I hope to be one again.


Because I’m good at figuring out what students need, and amazing at it when I have great collaborators, which I do this year. As Mr. Rogers said, “look for the helpers.”

This idea that a teacher is ‘bad’ based on one data point, proficiency, is dangerous, and it seems the loudest teachers perpetuate this. But that’s usually how most things work.

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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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Little help?

barbie teachers

Are people under the notion that we teachers come out of the box, ready to manage classrooms, filled with books, joy, and learning? If you’re a parent you know this isn’t possible. Parenthood is often amateurish and messy. Things go awry. Same for teachers, whether we’re parents or not. The unexpected is expected. And the profound question of how do we support one another, both veteran and rookie alike, in the best manner possible?

This upcoming year I have the very good fortune to be working with beloved colleagues and newer ones. I am very excited — this past year I was on a great PLC, and this year proves to be just as wonderful. I am happiest when I can go to my ‘studio,’ create, and share, and see what other ideas folks cook up. But more importantly, just having friends, real friends at work, is something that the summer weeks don’t necessarily provide. Don’t misunderstand me, I love and need this break.

Let me put it this way:

But unless we get together with friends for coffee, we don’t want to talk about work, but we kind of do, too. When the school year is here it feels too late. Just how do we balance and prepare, and seek those collegial friendships before the school year starts, and more importantly, when we’re in the thick of it?

Digital Help

Don’t believe for one second that even veteran teachers aren’t constantly looking at their craft and reading and re-reading articles and advice. We need reflection and enhancement every year, month, week, and sometimes the day, from class to class.

Cult of Pedagogy


Letter to a first year teacher

Pernille Ripp’s Six Lessons New Teachers Remind Me to Do Every Year

Notice and Note and other teacher support sites on social media

Notice and Note inspired post



Advice from Veteran Teachers – TeacherVision

Ten Tips for New Teachers

Analog Help

Okay, not really analog. Just trying to be funny. This is real flesh and blood help. All the digital articles and PLNs (professional learning networks) in the world can’t help you in real time. You need a human, a comrade and colleague, but most of all a friend, right there —and here’s the magic secret: that friend needs you, too. If they’re a colleague worth his or her salt, they know how to share ideas and vulnerabilities. There is no room for bully teachers, especially in this day and age of the expectations and demands of teaching. (If you have ever been labeled a bully, please take a long hard look at that –if you think it’s unjustified find out way. If you think it’s correct, seek help.)

I am forever and always grateful to Kim Washam-Herd for being my mentor my first year of teaching. She encouraged me, listened, advised, and even said I was a pretty crier. Because, yes, I cried a lot the first few years. And times afterwards, too. Working in a high poverty school takes a toll on everyone, and it is critical we bond together.


We’re fortunate in our district to have a mentor program, although from some shared anecdotes it’s been spotty. Including Kim, I’ve worked with some amazing people. Some are still at the ‘Creek, and some have moved on. But most of us are still friends. If you have a shared history with folks prepare for some fallout, too–not everyone wants to be reminded of a place or time.

And may I offer this blog, too. I’ve been writing it since 2007, and it’s been my safe place to ponder, curate and reflect. But far, far more importantly: Start your own blog. Even if no one else reads it but you. Have your own place to curate articles, ideas, student work, etc. Make sure you protect students’ privacy, however, but other than that, no one is on your journey but you, or sees things from your perspective, and we need all the voices we can get. But again, that’s digital. And has its limits. I’ve had over 900 views this month alone, but not much back and forth communication.

There is only one way to do that:

So — an invitation. And please reciprocate. Let me come in your room and take pictures of the anchor charts you created, watch you teach, get to know your students, too, and please come in my room anytime. Let me know what kind of coffee you like. I’ll try to have a stash of chocolate I know you need. We do come out of the box with brains, heart, and experiences. Friendship is not extra, costs nothing, and is the best time spent. I’m right down the hall.

PS And the only creed I adhere to is I am teaching someone’s baby. Never forget that.

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Gentle giants.

Trying to be the big person isn’t easy.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

Confession: sometimes my mind, and actions, hits all three sides. Perhaps, though, there is form and function in all points: we need the ideas, we need to analyze events, and we strive to understand one another. Gossip and venting for its own sake are counterproductive, but is it a necessary evil?

Jason Deehan recently posted in Edutopia, “Should Venting About Students be Banned?” and his conclusion is yes. He dug further to consider consequences, and found this:

First, I found an article on Psychology Today. The article acknowledged that venting had healthy properties. For instance, venting is helpful in releasing pent-up negative emotions. However, the positives are counterbalanced by a number of significant concerns:

  • Venting gives the venter the false sense of achieving something – it feels like problem-solving, but really isn’t

  • When you vent often, you get better and better at it and that will only lead to more anger in the future when encountering similar situations

The “false sense of achieving something” struck a nerve. I’m writing about this for intentionality: to keep that sense in my mind so I can grow and improve: is my conversation/exchange going to produce a positive change?  Thinking before one speaks — not a novel idea, but an important one. If I can say, at the end of a reflection or introspection, I am trying to stand on top of things that drag down and don’t lift up, then I can live with my conscience. My teaching philosophy is and has been, our students are someone’s baby. We have the greatest responsibility in the world to those children. If our venting doesn’t shift to action and support, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time. And that is bordering on unforgivable.

What is far too common is the frustration I have felt when particular students come up again and again in conversation and then nothing changes – there is never a discussion of fixes or solutions. Venting needs to be coupled with problem-solving strategies to ensure that whatever situation is generating the vexation is successfully addressed. We need to move forward and get off the ceaseless treadmill of merely complaining.

This may be the singular reason why I haven’t eaten in the staff lounge for years. It only takes a few colleagues to vent not only about students, but policies, instruction and educational culture  to chase me out. When I walk in the staff lounge it’s a scene from Mean Girls. One of my colleagues started a “no venting” jar like a swear jar in the staff lounge a few years ago, but alas, it didn’t change behaviors. But that’s only 20 minutes out of the day: no one can adjudicate adult behaviors. The good news is most adults act like adults, so helping model manners and belonging isn’t difficult.

Back to the focus on students: this is when teams and PLCs should perhaps consider a genuine and difficult conversation around this topic of venting about students. Often the PLCs I’ve participated in allow a 3-minute vent session, and then it’s stopped. We get onto more productive work. Perhaps a small shift would bring big changes: identify issues and work to problem solve together. I’m thinking of the student who mocked the other one before the presentations: I would greatly value hearing from trusted colleagues on how they pre-teach audience behaviors, etc. These sorts of issues are real, and with supportive exchanges can be beneficial. A cure, as it were, to the venting disease.

The challenge is to promote constructive dialogue about students in order to advocate for them. I reviewed this post with my husband, and he thought the article held truth, too. This isn’t meant to shame anyone except myself, and take myself to task, these are only my own thoughts and reflection on this issue. Perhaps this is how good teachers don’t burn out: I wonder if venting without solutions makes one cranky.

And last confession: I like that time during lunch. A few students who enjoy the quiet, removed from the chaos of the lunchroom sometimes join me, and it’s quite pleasant indeed. Everyone needs a place to vent safely, and finding those compadres and spaces are important to our mental health, too.

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Little Red Hen gets her feathers ruffled.

chickenI’m not sure I really want the answer to this question, but: How do you balance sharing your creativity with maintaining some personal intellectual property/boundaries? This is not limited to teachers, either. All of us share, or don’t. The more spongy we are, the more we share without thought to our own resiliency or resentment levels.

This internal dilemma came up over the weekend. Let me be clear: No one in this scenario is wrong, or rude. Except for maybe me. These are my own reactions to a commonplace scenario that I put myself in, no one else. If you can relate or have another perspective, one I didn’t cover in this reflection, please – comment away.

With excitement and enthusiasm, I have created many mini-units, lessons, tested and tasted dozens of ways and means to get students engaged, and keep their motivation fresh. If other teachers are interested in these lessons, and ask, I share. Sometimes I share without asking.

But I found myself feeling a little resentful over the weekend: colleagues were requesting lessons, and wanting to know what resources were out there, and seemed annoyed with me for stating that many of the resources were mine in the making, and clarifying what was district provided. Now, this is also a case for misreading e-mails.I grew to hate e-mail over the weekend. Its limited razor-wire curt and cut communication did not help me say what I needed to say with good, old-fashioned face-to-face discussion. Resentment is the plaque that builds over the enamel of the soul, and doesn’t make itself a nuisance until the gums start to bleed. Resentment is the stalagmite on the cave ceiling (or is it the cave floor?) slowly building to meet the stalagmite in the middle of the hole. Resentment is sent in a millisecond through the electronic universe, clashing with hurt feelings and sore “send” fingers. This kind person asking about resources did not realize the resentment land-mine field she stepped in with me.

As I was sitting there wondering “what the heck was wrong with me,” I read one of my favorite bloggers, Teacher Tom. This post discussed his preschoolers’ reaction to the Little Red Hen, and a surprising one for him. The preschoolers thougtht the LRH should have shared her food, no matter how much she worked, poked, and prodded the other friends to do their fair share. I told my teenage son about this reacion this morning and his response: “The Little Red Hen is a jerk.”

I am the Little Red Hen.

But then I reflected – perhaps I am the bread.

No one likes the LRH because she is a scold and a nag. When I think I’m clearly stating boundaries (in order to floss the resentment away), perhaps I am just coming off as a jerk. There is definitely something of a “pay your dues” mentality amongst teachers, with the mantra, “If you don’t suffer and sweat as I did, you are not worthy of my esteemed creativity and genuis.”

I have taken hours and spent thousands on my professional development. I have spent hours reading books for my age group of students, and thousands on books for my classroom library. I have e-mailed, distributed, shared, and bound and binder-ed comprehension curriculum documents. And it got a little irksom when my perception distorted that others just wanted more of me, more than I was willing to give.

But bread is meant to be broken with friends; it tastes like sawdust when kept to oneself. Perhaps this is why the LRH is a jerk. “What do I really want?” is always the question: I want to be acknoledged that I bake good bread, that it takes time and effort, but I also want to enjoy it with friends. That’s what makes it nourishing.

 To read about how preschoolers understand more about fairness than I do, please read: