Goals

When I was in high school, my buds and I had goals. We wanted to steal enough material from the chem lab to build a still, like Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H.

MASH Still
Makerspace, Korean-War-style. Via mash4077tv.com.

Pretty unrealistic, I know. In those pre-Google days, I’m not sure we even knew exactly what parts we would actually need. But we thought we had a decent shot at emulating Jeff Spicoli and ordering a pizza into class.

That never happened, either. Despite our inability to pull off the wackiness of Hollywood high school kids, senior year was pretty awesome, from a social standpoint at least. I had no idea what I really wanted to do after high school.

Spicoli Van Halen Birthday.jpg
Have I mentioned that we all really wanted to be like Spicoli? (Source).

I was good at math and science, and finally settled in on pre-dentistry. That lasted, like, a semester. Teaching was not even on my radar screen. Safe to say I took an L on my career goals as stated at age 17.

goals-objectives
Image via Project Smart

But in the grown-up world, it’s important to keep in mind goals need to be specific, measurable, and achievable. Day-to-day, year-to-year improvement at teaching is all of those things.


indiana-fall
To everything there is a season. Photo cred: me.

It’s early August. The school year is here. Or soon will be. Happy New Year, BTW.

It’s my 15th year of teaching, my second at my current school. I’ve done this enough times that the basics of the first week are pretty much scripted. And I’m new enough at my school to know I should still be asking plenty of questions.

On the positive, my courses are already set up in Canvas, and since I was a travelling teacher last year (and probably again, at least to start this year), I don’t have a whole lot of “classroom stuff” to set up. I can put about 96% of my efforts into curriculum planning & lesson design.

And thanks to a blogging challenge from my online PLN, a chance to sit down and plan intentionally for the year. To set some goals.

The two major initiatives in my building this year are a move to a 1:1 environment, and de-tracking our math classes. Big changes. Huge. Like, you can’t just roll up to the door on Day One and wing it.

Herman ! I sure could use your help.

  • For 1:1 I’m gonna lean on my PLN. I see Desmos Activities being a much bigger part of my classroom when I don’t have to wrestle a computer cart across the building to use this awesome tool. MyMathlab is the other piece of the puzzle for outside of class, self-paced, self-grading practice.
  • For de-tracking I look to my lean on my department team. They’ve taught Track 2 and Track 3 (where I was last year). They have intimate knowledge of how the two classes might mix, and how we can anticipate our students’ needs. Got a big planning meeting set for next week, but I imagine I’ll be in touch with the ladies on my team on a regular basis throughout the year. I’ve taught mixed-ability classes at a previous school and I’ve got some practices in mind that have seemed to benefit all students. Time to brush up on flexible seating and on-call groups, especially for formative assessment & quick feedback purposes.

For day-to-day lesson design, I’m still wrestling with two pieces. I need to make a call on bellringers & homework.

  • For the last two  years, following the lead of one of my online teacher connects, I’ve used a rotating series of tasks for bellringers. I know that giving my students an opportunity to begin each class with an opportunity to think deeply and critically, with a low barrier for entry, is beneficial. They don’t always see things the same as I do, tho. Several students, used to “sit & get”, wanted to spend less time on estimating or justifying, and more time on practice and note-taking. In a 50-minute class, they may have a point. Part of that is classroom management, and transitioning from task to task. That’s on me. If I dump the MTBoS-inspired bellringers, I am going to use a 3-2-1 or summary exit ticket. One way or another, I’m determined to have brain cells rubbing together in my class.
  • My big leap this year may be homework. We’re talking like Lance Armstrong/Deadman’s Hole-level leap here. It’s a little scary. But more and more I’m wondering if homework is doing what I need it to do for my students. Alice Keeler and Matt Miller have written a book (Ditch That Homework) that outlines the case. I’ve got it on order. For me, the big issue is: Can I give students the opportunity for practice, and the quality feedback they need, and notes, and everything else, in a 50 minute class? I bet the time we use “going over” yesterday’s homework can be re-purposed. And I’m already on board with “You Do – Y’All Do – We Do“.

My mental conflict is: how to balance discovery with practice. Part of that is me accepting alternate ways of students showing their learning. Ain’t but one way to find out. And the case for making the move is pretty solid:

Oh God. Number 4. I hate the fake “let me copy your homework” dance. Infographic via Alice Keeler.

 

From an Xs and Os standpoint, a couple of student support goals that I did haphazardly last year: Videos. Worked-out answer key. Posted to Canvas. Every. Damn. Day. If homework is going to go away, these are two critical pieces for my students, especially those that need additional help. I’m just going to have to carve out the time to make this happen.


 

So that’s it. Goals for the 2017-2018 school year. Last year I was getting my feet wet in a new building. My most trusted advisor, knowing my preference for out-of-the-box tactics and knowing the culture in my new building reminded me to “keep your head down” in year one. I’ve gone to school on myself and my students. In Year Two, it’s time to Rise Up.

Dreams

It Won't Be Easy -Summer
Worry Dreams and Day Drinking. Teachers in Summer… (Photo via Tom Rademacher’s “It Won’t Be Easy“)

A couple of the smart people I follow online are in Italy this week, writing/posting about their experiences. And they are stirring up memories for me of chaperoning my youngest son’s church choir trip to Rome last Christmas.

The Umbrian Valley is breathtakingly gorgeous. Views like that stay seared in your brain.

Meanwhile the great Rod Dreher is traveling with his son, who happens to be the same age as my youngest. Italy. So beautiful.

Simple pleasures on the table of a hotel balcony. Via Rod Dreher‘s blog at The American Conservative.

But Dreher tells of meeting an international student who is studying in Siena:

After lunch, we met a foreign student studying at the university here. We told him what a privilege it must be to live in Italy. Yes, he said, it’s a beautiful place, but not the kind of place he would stay once he finishes his degree. Why not? I asked. Because everyday life here is hard. The bureaucracy will grind you down. It takes forever to get things done. Italians find it hard to embrace innovation, and don’t ever want to change, even when change is necessary.

“But that’s attractive to some of us Americans,” I said. “We live in a country where it seems like everything is constantly changing. That stability looks comforting to us.”

“Maybe so,” he said. “I’ve never been to America. I’m telling you, though, that Italy looks different when you live here. As a tourist, you only see the most beautiful parts.”

I’m basically a dark person. I look for that stuff – the Not-Beautiful parts. Rome has roughly the same population as Chicago. Most of the same problems too. I saw the homeless people living in the walkway from the parking garage to the Vatican. The panhandlers on the streets of the city. The multi-faceted security system at the front door of our pensione, which fronted a neighborhood side street. And the tent cities off the side of the highway leading from our neighborhood to the airport.

Right now, hidden from view behind the wine and the pizza and the mountains and the beauty and the people, there are bank bailouts and super-high unemployment and below-replacement-level birth rate.

(Here too, BTW).

But you hold on to the beautiful memories, and keep in mind the troubles, even when it’s time to go back to work. They are the stuff dreams are made of. Like Pete’s dad said, having dreams is what makes life tolerable.

And for teachers, summer is one long Dream World. You have no idea how hard I’ve been sleeping in on weekends these days. But in the immortal words of Midnight Oil, your Dreamworld is just about to end.


 

It’s time to play America’s favorite game show, “Who Said It?”

The line is: “July 4th is my least favorite holiday.”

  • A) Roe Conn
  • B) Mrs. Dull
  • C) King George III
  • D) All Of The Above

The answer, of course, is “D”. But most recently Mrs. Dull uttered those words. Because when the municipal fireworks show Grand Finale has dissipated and the cookout is over and the fire on the beach is put out, it means summer is over. (But but but but… there’s still 5 weeks left, right? Yeah, but from a parent standpoint that’s just 5 weeks of budgets getting busted while mom and dad get clothes and shoes and Clorox wipes and notebooks and pencils ready for back to school).

And for teachers, well, so much for Netflix and naps…. there’s work to do.

I bumped into one of my fellow math teachers after Mass today. I played it cool when we talked summer and planning and textbooks and curriculum maps, but in truth I can already feel the low-grade anxiety setting in.

My to-do list from back in April/May? Yep. Still there, waiting for me to finish catching my breath and doing dad things in the first half of summer break. We got that big bike ride in, yeah, and are tearing a wide swath through the local library, and I almost convinced him to try to learn Kashmir on his violin, but it’s not like I have bright shiny new unit plans all set to go. I really only need to tweak last year’s plans in Canvas, but…

Time to start thinking about August.

There should be a plan tho, shouldn’t there? Yeah. I think I’m more likely to get stuff done if I plan it on paper, on purpose. Maybe make an actual schedule, like a daily planner, day by day, hour by hour. Plan intentionally.

One of my college buddies (and Saturday night radio show co-host) was my model here. Jack made a weekly grid on graph paper, using a pencil, a ruler,  and some highlighters. He blocked out the time for his classes, studying, meals, sleep, social/entertainment time, tacked it up on the corkboard above his dorm-room desk… and stuck to it.

He’s a better man than I am.

The 21st Century version:

That’s cool and all, but definitely for printing out. Can we get Googlely with it? I think so. (Courtesy Richard Byrne).

So that’s my plan. Make a calendar, share it with my youngest. Block out time for reading, for biking, for his summer violin practice, meals, play time, sleep. Share it with him so he has editing rights. Then, let’s get some summer stuff done so when August 10 rolls around we don’t look at each other and say “awww, man, where’d our summer go?”

As my running friends like to say when wrapping up marathon training and beginning a taper, “The hay is in the barn. Now all that’s left to do is run your race.” Because the dreams are so much more pleasant when you’ve taken care of business.