Watch Out. I’m Doing Science.

It’s a longtime family motto: “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” Things don’t just happen. What you do influences the outcome.

A variation is out there in the health care improvement world :”Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” (Origin here).

Pow. That hit home with the group of brilliant teachers I hang with in the IDOE’s Teacher Leader Bootcamp Cohort 3. We met (virtually) this week to consider the concept of Improvement Science. Like, could we do the same thing with education? Make intentional specific changes in our practice to benefit teaching and learning?

As a group we’re on a year-long journey for improvement in our classrooms, our buildings, and our communities. (Previous session recaps here, here, and here). So we come pre-installed with a desire to be better. TLB3 gives us a vehicle to catalyze change.

Each of us has undertaken an action research project of our own choosing as part of the program. So we’re not only trying to create change, we are taking concrete steps to bring it about. But how does change happen?

There are theories. We spent Thursday evening together with our mentor teachers and our presenter from UChicagoImpact learning about Improvement Science.

Long story short, there are three steps:

  • What specifically are we trying to accomplish?
  • What change might we introduce and why?
  • How will we know that a change is actually an improvement?

So that gets operationalized as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle. In our group that involved surveying our students, gathering data, selecting an area for improvement, designing a set of concrete steps to work towards that improvement, continuing to gather data/feedback from our students, adjusting our practice. Rinse, repeat.

One example from our session was how to get your car to go faster. You can’t just tell it to go faster, or threaten to put a bad review in its file and scare it into going faster. The only way you can get the car to go faster is to get under the hood and make changes to the system.

So here we are, trying to build a faster car.

The DEI director in my district is hosting a book study this semester on Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond. Now here’s where we start synthesizing my professional learning. In discussing structural racialization, Hammond points out that in the era of No Child Left Behind efforts to close the achievement gap focused on increasing standardized test scores. So in many districts we ended up teaching our kids to be test-takers instead of taking on the systems that hindered our students’ opportunities to build their intellectual capacity and ability to do higher-order analytical work. Which of course are among the skills required to excel on standardized tests.

Put in the language of Thursday night’s session, they were focusing on the wrong outcome. On the positive, there are districts that recognize that, and are willing to “see the system” – to identify specific changes to practice that will produce a desired (positive) outcome. Plan-Do-Study-Act.

This was a super-fruitful session. Like, the next step and the landing zone for this action research project are starting to come into focus. I’m getting positive feedback from my kids on my area of focus, and the numbers bear that observation out.

“Mr. Dull knows my strengths and weaknesses”, scale of 1-5

I’ve got a longtime End Of Year motto: Keep what works and throw out the rest. The PDSA cycle suggests I’m on the right track there, with a slight twist.

Adopt/Adapt/Discard. Some things are worth keeping, with adjustments.

So much of this information matches my priors I’m not sure if I should be satisfied or terrified. Like, I’m on the right track, but there are others out there?

Maybe we should meet up and compare notes. And then go forth to make change. Our presenter gave us a gentle nudge to keep working towards being agents of change in this profession. Scary path to walk alone. But fortunately there is strength in numbers.

The Carnegie Foundation For The Advancement of Teaching proposes six principles for improvement. Number Six is “Accelerate improvements through networked communities“.

All of us working toward change together will find best practices faster than any one of us working alone. It’s not a new concept, but it is time-tested. We used to share this ancient Nightline episode with my Introduction to Engineering Design students when we first learned the design process:

“Enightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius”.

Yep. Because science is messy.

Out of Practice

Sunrise over Hessville. Photo cred: me.

Chicago had its lastest “first measurable snowfall” on record in 2021. But 2022 threatened to arrive with a blizzard. Forecasters were calling for up to 10 inches of snow on New Years Day followed by single-digit wind chills on Sunday. Turned out to be a dud with around four inches of snow, but that Sunday cold meant the road salt was pretty much ornamental. Not good for my drive in on the first day of school back from break. The Borman was a mess with ice randomly spotting the lanes and slideoffs and spinouts littering the shoulders. One car after a crash and spin ended up straddling the two left lanes, facing oncoming traffic. Seriously that was probably the most accidents I had seen on a single day in 14 years of making that commute. To the point where I made the decision to get off before my exit. After four years teaching in the ‘burbs, and then a year of remote school, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a little out of practice driving 70 miles an hour on an ice rink. That day, I’ll take my chances on the surface streets in Gary, plowed or no.

Also: we returned to remote teaching this week. The district made the call Sunday afternoon as Lake County was inundated with Covid cases.

Ooof. I had forgotten. Live remote teaching is exhausting in a totally different way than regular teaching. Little out of practice in that regard too, apparently.

I felt it snap right back into place today tho. Lessons learned under pressure tend to stick I guess.

I’m not an expert in remote teaching by any stretch but I did my share of thinking and reflecting during pandemic teaching and I feel like I earned my stripes. Thoughts here, here, here’s all of April 2020, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Compounding the decision to go virtual is: we’ve got finals coming up next week. Planned on a week of review this week, on pencil/paper. That will never do when we’re remote. So Desmos and my online connects to the rescue. The great Cathy Yenca put together a very cool shell for in-class review. I gave it a trial run the Wednesday before break, so my students at least were familiar with the format. I dumped all 40 review questions (split into two parts) into the Desmos shell, and away we go. Remote learners didn’t need to copy problems onto their own paper. I could see their work (mostly), make snapshots, compare responses and thinking, try to start discussions (with varying degrees of success). It’ll do.

Made time for the Ed Campos Jr. Three Little Birds Brain Break too.

Now as for next week, the actual Finals Week? Who knows. Although my kids, who know things, today were like “If we come back” next week. Hehehe. Like I said, they know things.

I’m ready either way as one of my colleagues took the pencil/paper district final and converted it to MathXL. If we have to give a remote final, that will be the one we use.

Like I told my kids today, remote is far from ideal for review. I wish I could see their work in their own writing, I wish they could ask a quick question as I make my rounds in the room. I wish we could crack jokes and talk hoops and complain about the temperature in the classroom. But I’m way more interested in keeping everybody safe and healthy. There were something like 875 cases a day reported in my county last week. Yikes. I’m cool with remote this week. Even being a little out of practice. It could have been the classroom equivalent of standing on the shoulder of the expressway looking at my mangled car facing speeding oncoming traffic.

Instead we stayed warm and healthy and got done what needed done. And I can live with that.


“… and may we all be home before she’s done.”

I live in a very active town. Marathon runners, fat tire bike enthusiasts, dunes trail walkers, they are everywhere, all the time. And the city supports our habit by widening sidewalks into a network of run/bike pathways. Even breaks out the lawn tractor to plow them in winter.

(As an aside for my winter runner people, I ran across a promo for a winter triathlon today. Cross-country ski, fat bike ride, and a 5k run. It’s at the resort where we spent our honeymoon and ngl, that’s a little tempting).

Nobody loves winter like Up North people love winter

There’s a guy who used to live on the path, on the main north/south route through town, who parked his car in the driveway on the daily. His license plates read BACNATR and he had a 0.0 sticker in his window.

You know the one

Epic troll.

If you’re not familiar, it’s a riff on the mileage stickers/magnets runners affix to their cars (26.2 for a marathon, 13.1 for a half, 50k for an ultra, and so forth).

My car actually has two because I’m a doof – a generic 26.2 and one specific to the charity running group I used to train with.

I’m not offended by the 0.0 though, I think it’s kind of humorous. And I could stand to be a little less judgey in general. Especially since I’m less than 100 hours away from my first 0.0 calendar year in, how long? At least since we moved back here from Vegas.

I’m walking a lot (we brought two rescue dogs into our family this year, and they need the exercise), and that counts, but I’m not sure I’m living up to the “runner” title in my Twitter bio anymore.

It’s just that this year has required me to set priorities, and carving out time for running (separate from dog walking) has been bumped way down the list. These days I mostly just support my runner friends from a distance by liking their Facebook posts about running.

Bigger picture, that might be a sign of a transition into a different season of life. No shame in that. And yeah, I know I could run with my dogs (they are big enough and they’d probably love it) or set an alarm and get up for some pre-dawn miles in the neighborhood like I used to in my marathon training days. Right now I’m super-into “doing the things that need done, the best I can”.

That’s been the 2021-22 school year so far. None of it is perfect. Not even close. We’re settling for “as good as we can make it under the circumstances”. Things that used to be super-important, kind of aren’t.

Due to staffing issues a bunch of us sold our prep period on the “A” days, and we usually end up getting called to staff cover a class on “B” days, so pretty much everything I need to do outside of actual teaching, happens after school hours. No complaints, I did it willingly, but what it does mean is the “urgent/important” stuff gets done, and the rest, well, you got 12 amps to work with you guys. Figure it out.

If I have any New Year’s Resolutions (and that’s a very large if), those are them. To stay focused on the things that are important and let the rest slide.

So we’ll make sure we’re planned for every day, and keep up with parent contact, and our PLN meetings usually happen in a 3-minute brainstorm in the hallway, or on our group text. We share stuff we make with the team to help save everybody a little time. Everything else is gravy.

So, 2022. Graduation year for our baby. It seemed like a million years away when he was born. Now it’s here. Graduation tickets will show up in the mail in a couple of months, and the grow-ups in the house will stifle tears. Tempus fugit, baby. Tempus fugit. He’s still figuring out his post-grad plans, so we’ll give some guidance there. On the positive, no pressure, no deadlines. Maybe use that as an excuse to sneak away for a long summer weekend Up North if Mrs. Dull can take a couple days. I know just the place.

I’ve got a sort-of Round Number Birthday this year, and I’ll start my 20th year of teaching. Unless we win a multi-million dollar lottery drawing, in which case we’re going to Michigan and never coming back. Other than that, the new year is an open book.

There’s a playlist, of course, because that’s what we do around here ever since stumbling across this Allyson Apsey blog post lo those many years ago.

(Prior years here: 2018 2019 2020 2021)

This year’s version dropped early. I had the makings of a really solid list probably back in June or July and I didn’t feel like waiting. Because I’m getting a little old to wait for things. So I just made the list and listened on the back porch and in the front room all year long.

Lots of input from ‘XRT and Austin City Limits and Haymarket Brewing (whoever is in charge of their playlist deserves a raise) and Rock The Bells Radio and a couple of other SiriusXM channels. Because we’re kind of eclectic like that. My students dig it (“Mr. Dull, you made this playlist? I see you!”) The people who know me will listen to this list and nod knowingly. There’s a lot of “getting older” and “being cool with who you are” and “days gone by were pretty damn cool” mixed with a little of “how you like me now?” and “good for you”.

In other words, kind of perfect for 2022.

Like just about every teacher in my circle, in this house we spent most of Christmas Break in separate rooms, trying not to breathe on each other. I’ve got a series of negative tests, got my paper trail built for going back to work on 1/3, but I don’t suspect the Covid situation is going to improve anytime soon, especially in schools. We haven’t had measurable snow yet in Chicago, which is super-unusual and really just convinces me that the January-February portion of the winter is going to be extra-wintery and miserable. The Cubs are going to suck this year. The fancy hand-trimmed boneless skinless chicken breasts at my local market (which used to seem to me like an unimaginably indulgent luxury) are now the most affordable protein you can buy there. Gas is ridiculously expensive, especially for a guy who commutes 300 miles a week. There are a million reasons for pessimism.

But I’ve got the 2022 portion of the IDOE’s Teacher Leader Bootcamp to look forward to, the money part where we keep learning and then in May meet in person to share our action research findings, and that is a powerhouse group.

We reached a relatively amicable agreement on a new contract, and there’s a substantial raise for teachers in Hammond. That’s good.

Our dogs are playful and goofy and love to go for walks and play fetch with their Kongs. And Arizona Dog will probably love to frolic in the snow.

My district’s DEI czar is starting a book club (Culturally Responsive Teaching And The Brain by Zaretta Lynn Hammond) in January, and I’ve heard from some of the people who have joined. There’s a desire to learn how to adjust our practices to the needs of our students. That’s reason enough for optimism.

And in the first couple months of the year, when optimism is a rare commodity, maybe that’s enough to get me out of bed and on the Borman and into my classroom. Because we got work to do.

Plus I love my kids to death and being a high school math teacher beats the hell out of anything else I could think to do for a living.

“Here’s to the new year. May it be a damn sight better than the old one. And may we all be home before it’s done.”

Amen, Col. Potter. Amen.

Take My Hand

Team on 3… Source

I covered a class on my prep earlier this week (evergreen tweet, amirite?). It was a freshmen Power Hour class, kind of a college/career readiness/study skills class. They mostly got down to business, but there was a liberal sprinkling of typical freshmen silliness. One guy grabbed up a girl’s phone (freshmen are so cute when they flirt) and ended up laying on the floor between two desks.

I headed over to defuse the situation and immediately offered him my hand. “Can I help you up?” He’s a football player so he knew what that gesture meant. There’s respect there, even if you are nominally on opposite teams. Poof. Phone returned. And things settled back down.

Daily reminder to self: reaching out smooths over a lot of rough spots.

Our geometry team has been generous with sharing materials and plans and quizzes this year. It’s a small thing, but a big thing. When you are making everything you use, a set of notes and practice problems is like finding a little gold nugget. My instructional coach (who is picking up a couple of sections of geometry, and filling in on her prep as well) shared out her CPCTC package with us this week. It was perfect timing. Saved me an after-school of work, for real.

Then last week Cathy Yenca (Queen Desmos Creator) shared a cool review shell tool. With semester finals coming up after break it looked like something I definitely wanted to use with my geometry classes.

You know what happened next. A pairing like chocolate and peanut butter.

Took my coach’s pencil/paper problems, used the first half for a bellringer and uploaded the second half (paired problems, so each one mapped back to something we had done for the warmup) into the Spinner review.

Magic. At least in my mind. Angel choirs sing and everything.

Reality: messy and cool. Learning occurred. We took probably 15 minutes all told to recap CPCTC, work the bellringer, and check answers. Then 20 minutes for them to work the eight exercise problem set. I had ample time to be able to move around the room, sit with students, help get them unstuck, check in. That was a powerhouse segment. I need to make more time for that every day.

Then students logged into the Desmos activity, spun to select their problem, and entered their work into their slide. It was our first go-round with the Desmos math type update to the sketch tool, and that won converts across my seven classes.

Then the big money payoff: Student presos. I had classes full of prospective actors who hammed it up, and shy kids who tried to sneak back to their seats, and kids who preferred to present from their desk. But all flavors of student got to talk math to their friends and that was a good day.

All told a really appropriate way to close out the 2021 calendar year portion of the school year. We had just quizzed and I dreaded a day of “regular” math on the next-to-last meeting before break probably as much as they did. My team bailed me out. Wouldn’t have thought of the lesson design on my own, that is for sure. That’s the ethos of the group I’m connected with, both online and IRL: make stuff and share stuff and remix to fit your needs. All the good things happen when you’ve built your team.

#Together (As my principal would say).

It happened again today. Tomorrow’s an Amnesty Day in my class, given over to students to retake quizzes and make up missing assignments. But students are also going to inquire about extra credit around this time of year, and they did. I’m not opposed to offering points, especially since I’ve seen how hard they work on make-ups to earn back points. I wanted something triangle-y and digital and independent, and I couldn’t find anything that I was excited about. I started digging back through last year’s Classroom pages and stumbled across something I borrowed from somebody (name lost to history unfortunately) that ended up being called “Best. Thing. Ever.

Long story short, kids make a two-slide presentation of something that is important to them outside of school. Lots of pictures and color. That’s it. That’s the extra credit. Whoever made it originally: thanks. Just what the doctor ordered. Then we can all head out for a couple of weeks off.

We haven’t had much of a winter around here yet. Lots of monochrome late fall days. A White Christmas is a longshot at best according to the weather folks around here. Which is fine. It’s been a rough year. It’s almost time to rest.

Morton Courtyard, late fall. Photo cred: me.

Plot Twist


Either we’re doing that “frog in a pot” thing, or the school year is starting to settle down into something resembling normalcy. I mean Pandemic-Era normalcy, not normal normalcy, but at this point we’ll take it.

It’s normal enough that my district is ready to resume walk-throughs and evaluations, which obviously looked a little different during remote teaching.

Our instructional coaches put together a series of weekly PDs early in the year focusing on the pieces of our evaluation tool, making sure everyone was on the same page and expectations were clear, which is a great starting point. Also, looking at it from a teacher POV, a great model for lesson design.

The next step is the coaches doing walk-throughs and providing feedback, a useful formative assessment. My coach stopped by to see me this week. I’ll never not be that guy who gets a little nervous when someone watches me teach. The Nuke LaLoosh dream never really goes away.

As background, this was my last block class, and the seventh time I had presented this lesson over a period of two days. So in theory, I had plenty of time to work the bugs out. But conversely, like a band in the middle of a tour, by version 7.0 I typically have to psyche myself up a little bit so it doesn’t come off like a song I’m sick of playing.

And I could feel this one landing with a thud right from jump. I couldn’t get my kids to engage with the bellringer. The first part of the presentation involved note-taking from a Quizizz lesson on triangle congruence, all five combinations, kind of dry and repetitive. Afterwards I planned an opportunity for kids to get hands-on with a Geogebra investigation I found online. Finally we would finish up with some pencil-paper practice so I could check for understanding.

We powered through the bellringer, I walked them through the notes, me making several loops through the room trying to get students on board. My coach saw what she needed to see and headed out. I was fairly sure that I kind of sucked at teaching that day but there was no time to wallow in it because we had a lesson to finish.

And then: Plot Twist!

I mostly was interested in using the applets to let my students see why angle-angle-angle and side-side-angle don’t work for triangle congruence. And it was magical. My kids ended up leading the conversation, walking just up to the edge of a classic “math fight“, but more in the style of students talking through their reasoning (SMP 3 if you’re scoring at home).

Even better, by any standard they got it. Both based on my observations of their work as we finished up the last segment of class, and by their self-reporting. In fact, probably moreso than any of my other classes. What started off looking like an epic train wreck turned into a really really great way to finish a day. Maybe I’m OK at this job after all…

As I processed the class, I found a handful of things to be really happy with.

  • Even as I felt like I was talking to the wall, I stayed cool (outwardly). Which is important. Students can smell desperation. And if I give up on a lesson, why should they care about it? Plus there were more opportunities as the 80 minutes went on for kids to engage. If I can’t hook them in the first time, change bait and cast again. One of my colleagues in Teacher Leader Bootcamp prides herself on “wait time” – we were talking through in-class strategies at the in-person session back in October, and I realized that after a year and a half of remote teaching I was a little out of practice. Patience really is a virtue.
  • I’m a long-time Desmos guy but I have close to no experience with Geogebra. I should probably start looking into it a little bit. The package that Caroline Psutka put together lit a fire under my kids, for real. Turns out she has a whole suite of them, and you can bet that I bookmarked it.
  • And it turns out that I got some positive feedback on the lesson from my coach. It was planned well, checked the boxes on the evaluation rubric, and my students’ reluctance to jump in gave me an opportunity to use a variety of teacher moves to try to engage them. We also got a chance to email back and forth about some of the tools I had used in the presentation, which is good. Two brains are better than one.

If I ever write a book it will probably be called “The More I Learn, The More I Find Out I Don’t Know“. Instant best-seller. But in all seriousness, that’s the essence of this job, right? Learn every day, every class period. Be open to new things. Let those new things influence your teaching. But don’t be afraid to pull out something old and comfortable when needed. Be flexible. Be patient. Be cool. Give students a chance to be awesome and they will come through. Every single time.

I’m grooving to a Soulful Christmas playlist on Spotify as I write this. The Temptations version of “Silent Night” kicks it off. Which reminded me of an article I saw this week. The Tempts are getting ready to drop a 60th anniversary album early next year. And they are doing anything but resting on their laurels. It’s brand-new stuff drawing on a variety of influences.

“Temptations 60” will open with what Williams calls “a surprise attack” — a dose of lean hip-hop-jazz titled “Let it Reign,” featuring New York rapper K. Sparks. It’s the second Temptations recording to feature a rap segment, following the group’s 1991 remake of “Get Ready” with MC Misa.

“Most of the time with a Tempts album, either we’re going to start off with a luscious ballad or something funky. I decided no: We’re going to open with what I call rap-jazz,” Williams said, humming the song’s opening horn melody. “It’s that old jazz I used to listen to growing up in Detroit.”

And then there’s “Time for the People,” a stormy social-justice song cowritten by Tempts tenor Ron Tyson and harking back to message music like “Ball of Confusion” and “Cloud Nine.”

Did I ever tell you I saw the David Ruffin-Eddie Kendricks Temptations back in my college days? That was a hell of a show. Then a few years ago I got a chance to stand in Studio A when I chaperoned a church choir trip to the Motown Museum.

I love that Otis Williams is still making art. And I love that some tracks on this album are going to sound like old Motown and that some are going to sound unbelievably fresh and 2022.

Sounds like a pretty good teacher role model to me.

Find Your Pace

This year more than ever seemed to be a good year to compartmentalize Thanksgiving break. There was cooking and cleaning and shopping and hosting, and oh yeah BTW football. Some of Sammy’s middle school hoops teammates and freshman football guys were playing for a state championship with a different school, so we made the drive down to provide support.

But no school stuff.

I did make some time to be able to reflect on the first three months of school. Long dog walks are awesome for that purpose. The week of remote and the week of hybrid back in September pushed us off schedule. I just feel like we are behind where we should be. The geometry team will be starting Unit 4 after break. One unit a month seems a little slow. Part of that is due to us acclimating ourselves to an A/B block schedule. We have basically 10 class meetings per month, and speaking for myself I still struggle to double-up on topics in an 80-minute class.

But maybe we are where we need to be. It’s pretty clear from working with my students that 18 months of pandemic school has taken its toll. Fortunately we have been building in support for algebra skills all along.

I’m reminded of a line delivered by a kid in the Intuitive (what they used to call “non-college-bound”) Geometry class back in my student teaching year. We used a lot of those worksheets where angles or segments are labeled with algebra expressions, and this guy says to me in class, “Mr. Dull why do you give algebra worksheets to kids you know can’t do algebra?” I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. It’s like a built-in spiral review daily, instead of trying to carve out time we don’t have for a stand-alone algebra review.

We’ve been building in time during class for quiz retakes as well. I’m sold on offering the retakes, just that so many of my students are not available after school to do so we had to make an in-class option. Again, not the way you’d draw it up on paper, but it’s what my students need from me and it’s what they are gonna get.

We are clearly not going to get all the way to the end of the course, but we’ve already trimmed the curriculum map down to power-standards, and at our last department meeting our chair gave us our marching orders on the must-haves and can-skips. If they don’t need it for Algebra II, we can set it aside. Triangle centers, transformations, and a couple of other things go away. So be it.

Parenthetically: Yeah, I get that transformations in geometry help students make more sense of inverse functions in Algebra II. Like everything else this year, none of it is perfect. And I’m teaching a bunch of Algebra II next year so at least I’ll know what their geometry teacher skipped over this year 😉

It’s not new to me. This has been my philosophy ever since I was experienced enough as a teacher to fit my pacing to my students’ needs, which happened shortly after I started teaching primarily repeat courses. I used to privately refer to my Algebra II class as “Algebra One-and-a-Half” because we just never seemed to get to the double-digit chapters. And the leadership in my building is on board as well, based on the guidance from our DC at the last math meeting. Do the best that we can, get as far as we can, make prudent judgments about what needs to be covered in the course, but as always keep our students’ needs in mind first.

Everything else comes after.

And that’s why you won’t hear me apologizing for leaving school at school this Thanksgiving.

Family, Gathering

Between work, practice, and school, my youngest is often kind of a rumor around here. Free time is a rare commodity for him. But he was home after school yesterday and I convinced him to walk the dogs with me, and maybe talk a little bit, which, parents of teen boys, IYKYK. Major deal. I didn’t take it lightly. Halfway up the block we had to walk around a pair of SUVs parked in a driveway blocking the sidewalk. An older woman unloading one of the vehicles saw us and apologized profusely, asking if it was OK to park that way or should she park in the street. (so very midwest of her).

Quickly sizing up the situation I told her “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving week and this looks like family getting together to me. It’s all good”. (because I can midwest with the best of them).

I can never tell if it’s more challenging or actually easier to be thankful when everything around you feels like a disaster (Exhibit A: 2021-22 school year) and it doesn’t really seem like there’s much to be thankful for.

But I’m definitely working on it. I’m about ready to set an alarm in my phone or search for a thankfulness app. Helps if you surround yourself (or connect online) with folks who practice thankfulness. Random daily reminders are pretty damn awesome.

Added bonus any time you can be happy for someone else in their moment too. I’m out of the sportscasting biz for good, but I love seeing folks I’ve met get a chance to do cool things. Also: You should follow Boyd on Twitter, for the hoops coverage and for his takes on life in general.

We bought a new oven last weekend, replacing one that came with the house and has been out of commission for three years. (We grill a lot, obvi). Got delivered yesterday, just in time to host Thanksgiving. We’ve been hosting remotely (Warsaw Inn FTW) since 2018 but it will be good to have people in the house and around the table again. I’m already working up my schedule of food prep targeting a 2:00 service time. That and Bears vs. Lions and it’s gonna feel exactly like old-school Thanksgiving in this house.

My mother-in-law is staying with us for a while and was instrumental in making the oven purchase happen. One of the first things she did was make a Wal-mart run and pick up all the ingredients for like three different types of cookies. Got to put that new oven through its paces, right?

Plus that seems like an ideal Thanksgiving Weekend Family Activity. Music and a little wine and stories and all the happy smells and togetherness. Might even be able to recruit in my youngest. Gonna look like a layout in Midwest Living. Or Sunset, take your pick.

It’s probably because I’m an Old now, but moments of togetherness these days are literally priceless. Our baby is graduating high school in 2022, and it’s been a year of nostalgia in my brain, holding on tight to the “lastsas they happen, and occasionally having long-ago memories triggered. Yeah, that was me getting all weepy in the toy aisle at Wal-mart one day not long ago.

So yeah, I’m thankful for having an oven that works. And for a bunch of other things. But those are still “things”. Like Dave Ramsey says, “It’s just ‘stuff’. You can always get you some more stuff”. I’m officially at that point in life where I am more thankful for the moments than the stuff. Thankful for the people. Make fun of Midwest Nice all you want. I’m thankful for good people who do good. In ways large and small.

Now time for turkey. Gather ’round the table.

It’s Thursday, right?

There was a whole meme floating around during The Shutdown about how we all just lost track of time. Like to the point where no one really even knew what day it was. Like teachers in summer, except scarier.

For me, it’s kind of an ongoing issue. I’ve spent much of the last year laboring under the delusion it was a day later than it actually was. There’s probably something in the DSM-IV about it. Or maybe it’s just a charming middle-aged quirk. But it’s always kind of jarring to be doing Wednesday night stuff, whistling past the graveyard thinking tomorrow is Friday, and… nope. With routine returning a bit this school year that’s gone away somewhat. I feel a little more centered.

Until a day last week.

I have my theories though. I sold my prep this year to teach an extra class and shrink class sizes for everyone. Plus we are perpetually short of subs and we all end up covering each others’ classes daily. I think I went a month without a plan period. Literally everything that needs to get done, gets done on my own time. There’s only 30 hours in a day, right?

I was super-proud of myself this week for getting a pencil/paper review and a Desmos quiz all set up two whole days in advance. If I buckle down tomorrow, I might get the first block after Thanksgiving planned, printed, and published to Classroom.

I know. Crazy talk. A five day weekend with my school stuff done?

I’m not a special case – from what I’ve seen online there’s some really good teachers out there who are admitting to being literally a day ahead of their students. We’re all rats on a wheel. Spend every single day planning one day ahead, and well of course Thursday morning feels a little Friday-ish.

Not sure how to fix it. Might just be one of those situations you deal with for a year. Maybe next year will be better. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty skilled at prioritizing tasks. I excel at making checklists. Just gotta get done what needs done rightnow and keep the wolves off the doorstep one more day.

But this is definitely a year that I’m starting to worry about important things slipping through the cracks.

There are things that just take the time they take. No amount of hacks or shortcuts help. So we keep plugging away, trying to claw back an hour or so here and there, getting some grading or planning or emailing done on Saturday morning with coffee and tunes so that it doesn’t have to be done at 10:00 Sunday night with a glass of wine and existential dread.

Friday does get here eventually though.

And so does Monday.

Fridays are going to be different for the foreseeable future. My youngest played his last football game last weekend. Classic old-school Region football weather too.

Knew it was coming. Just hoped it wasn’t coming for a couple more weeks. I hear Indy is lovely this time of year.

He went out in a blaze of glory. Played his best football the last month. Got named Scout Team Player of the Week leading up to the regional game.

Also: Tempus fugit. For real.

That’s probably a piece of the puzzle too. Our clock has been set to football year-round for the last four years. To the point where I came home from work the other day and wondered what my son’s car was doing in the driveway. Until I went “oh yeah”. Felt that in the pit of my stomach. (The kids are handling The End much better than the parents, I think. They all made their “70 out” farewell IG posts, commented hearts and “love you bro” on each other’s stuff, and moved on to the next thing. Meanwhile the parents are here blubbering over tiny t-shirts. It’s me. I’m “parents”).

We were talking “time” with my geometry kids today. How September was the longest month in the history of timekeeping, then we blinked and it was Thanksgiving. Everybody wants “tomorrow” to get here. Except when we don’t.

We could probably all use a reset this weekend. And next week: a giant plate of food. Or two (don’t be bashful. Ask for seconds). And hours of football on TV. And a parade.

And maybe an Advent calendar so I know what day it is.

Because time flies.

This Is Not The Time

We had family conferences at my school this week. I gave my kids a quick rundown on what to expect. Biggest thing I wanted them to know was I was only gonna tell good stories on them. I’d answer whatever question their family members had, but this wasn’t the time for me to be airing my grievances. That’s a whole different conference.

I kept my word, and my students know that not because I said it, but because of what their parents said to them when they got home.

I walk my talk.

Session Three of IDOE’s Teacher Leader Bootcamp met tonight. The topic was trust.

There are 50 teachers across the state of Indiana in Cohort 3 of Teacher Leader Bootcamp, meeting throughout the school year with the goal of driving improvement in their schools, their districts, and their communities.

And they are wounded.

They are not my stories to tell, but when the floor was open for input the hurt was there for everyone to see.

I felt that.

In our breakout sessions with our group mentor (a TLB Cohort 2 member from a year ago), we walked right up to that line where we all wanted to unload. And our mentor acknowledged that, indicating that for all of us these stories hit home. Like, maybe a little too close to home.

Several members of the group related that they had had their principals leave the building this year. Sometimes for advancement, and sometimes to change careers. No one said it out loud but I got the sense some of my colleagues wish their principals would leave.

(And if you know me and you are trying to read between the lines, I dig my new principal and I miss my principal who left. It’s possible to do both at the same time, right?)

Thing is, most of us are balancing our need for trust with the adults in our building, with our efforts to build trust with our students.

In one breakout session I related how we consolidated schools in my district this year, and although I have plenty of my (mostly remote) students from last year who I have relationships with, the majority of my kids don’t know me. I have to build my credibility from them from Day One.

I think I’m doing that. It’s the only way any learning is going to happen in my class. And it’s not a one-day or one-week thing. It’s gonna take all year.

As everything good does.

A big part of it is listening. And then acting on what I hear. On the recommendation of one of my Twitter connects, I read Chris Emdin’s book Ratchetdemic last month. One of his chapters is entitled “Elevators, Haters, and Suckas”. His belief is that you have people around you who will lift you up.

Probably not in the way you think tho. Emdin’s theory is students are giving us feedback on our teaching literally daily. If we will listen.

And if we can pack our egos away long enough to hear what they are saying, we will see that they are giving us what we need to be better teachers. For them.

Or not, and then we get the classroom we deserve.

Because you don’t work hard for someone you don’t respect. You’ve seen the Rita Pierson TED Talk, right?

A big piece of Teacher Leader Bootcamp is performing action research. I’m focusing on my students’ response to the statement “Mr. Dull knows my strengths and weaknesses.”

I’m making some changes to my practice, showing them that I have heard their concerns and then acting on that. Early on the results are positive, both in what I observe in class and in what my students are reporting to me. It’s a good start.

Because if I want my students to improve their outcomes in my class, I need to do more than tell them. I need to show them.

TLB3 members had to fight through their own feelings tonight to find the place where they could be most effective for their students. It wasn’t comfortable. Not even a little bit. But growth never is.

TLB doesn’t meet again until January 2022. But in the meantime, I’ve got some students who need to do geometry together. Hopefully they’ll see that I see them. And hear them.

First Checkpoint

Adoration at St. John Bosco parish, Hammond.

Driving in to work the other day a Lake County squad goes flying by me on the Borman. County police HQ is way south of me, and there’s a small unincorporated area east of my school but aside from that there is zero reason for them to be speeding into Hammond. Unless they are providing backup to… something large. And bad. Off in the distance I saw him exit onto Cline Ave., and then make a left onto 169th. Not good.

We’ve had way more than our share of violence and threats this year. Intellectually I know a shooting during the school day is very unlikely. But in my brain I thought:

“Oh shit. Here we go. Today is the day.”

Parenthetically: I don’t know about my colleagues. But I’ve pretty much made my peace with knowing that I could die at school, any day I walk through the door. The parish by my former school does Adoration and confession every Tuesday afternoon, and I’m building the habit of staying in a state of grace.

The police response turned out to be for a head-on collision on the roadway that shares space with the entrance ramp to the expressway right by my school. Not an uncommon roadway design in cities, but still.

I was never so happy to see what was probably a severe personal-injury accident in all my life. At least my students are all still alive.

First quarter ended today. We are all weary. Emotionally and physically. Students and kids both. We’re short subs, like every district is, so all of us cover each others’ classes on our plan. And for students, nothing like standing in the rain for an hour before getting wanded and having your bag checked just to get in the building, and then the occasional lockdown to distract you from learning. Or an emergency e-learning day called (and rightfully so) because of a threat of violence after half the kids are already in the building, because we are short bus drivers and they all run multiple routes and that means some kids get dropped off at school at like 6:20 am. All that “Maslow before Bloom” stuff is real.

Fall break could not have come at a more opportune time.

All the toggling between remote and in-person, plus a Covid quarantine for a couple of sports teams, has made the first quarter very difficult to navigate for our students. They deserve grace. And a chance to catch up. We’ve been offering quiz re-takes (up to three attempts) all year. But I also carved out a day for them to do make-up work and re-take quizzes right at the end of the grading period. Call it “Amnesty Day”. And an Extra Credit opportunity. (link here).

And it was glorious.

“I did it”. For real. It’s so beautiful to see kids excited about anything that happens in school. Especially after the first couple of months we’ve had. I’ll take it.

Trying to determine the volume of the largest cylinder that would fit in my classroom, they got up and moved around and measured things, either with the Measure app on their phones, or by counting bricks and multiplying. It was most excellent. They also made up work that needed to be fixed, grade-wise and learning-wise. We all need the rest. But just as much we needed a day that confirmed us in our hard work.

One of my favorite former colleagues (now a school counselor) was fond saying with her students back in her classroom days “you learn it, you earn it”. Seems like a pretty good class motto. Especially in this year when our students have faced challenge after challenge. So many students grabbed the opportunity these Amnesty Days and did work, re-learned and re-quizzed, and got the grade they wanted. It was crazy hectic for me. In a good way. I was doing student conferences while they were working on quizzes and make-up stuff, me showing them in the gradebook what their work could to to their grade (the “what-if?” game). And occasionally answering questions about the volume formula for a cylinder or to check their work.

Did they work this hard just to get a silly letter on a piece of paper? Possibly. I mean, “grade grubbing” is still a thing. But there’s a difference between “is there any extra credit I can do?” and “can you help me with this problem and then can I re-take that quiz?” That’s what UChicagoImpact is talking about when they say that grades measure learning in a way that no standardized test can.

So I’ve been posting my class averages on my board, partially because my math neighbors have been, and partially so my students can see that their efforts are paying off. This is what I wrote today:

We had the “race is against yourself” discussion today. That I don’t care what other classes did, I care that your arrow is pointing up. I think they bought it.

I think.

Really as long as their own personal grade went up I think they were cool with it. But that is all part of a bigger plan. I think the student conference was the best part of the day. I got to give pep talks, and let them know I saw how hard they were working, regardless of grade. That I saw their improvement. They got that part for real.

I also picked this day for my Jordans to make their Morton High debut. My youngest son is the Shoe Guy in the family. Camps on StockX for every new release. So last December he told me he was getting me a pair of Jordan 1s for Christmas. At first I resisted a bit. It’s not the kind of thing I’d spend on myself. I am brutal on shoes. I get one pair, wear them till they’re worn out, buy another.

But he’s the kind of guy who wants to share the things that are important to him with the people he loves. I was worried I’d wear out the shoes. He said “I know you’ll take care of them”. (Awesome reverse psycholgy on his dad, huh?).

And I do. Put them up with the forms inside at the end of the day and everything.

Sometimes you just have to give people a chance to do what’s right, right? And then sit back and watch the magic happen.

And that means I can sleep easy tonight. Fall Break won’t be near long enough. But it will be just long enough for me to catch my breath and go back on Tuesday.

Quite a swing of emotions this week. One down, three to go.