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.

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.

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.



The radiant (as all new brides are), if somewhat chilly, Mrs. Dull, on a windy May afternoon on New Buffalo Beach.
The radiant (as all new brides are), if somewhat chilly, Mrs. Dull, on a windy May afternoon on New Buffalo Beach, lo those many years ago.

New Buffalo beach. It’s where it all started. Sunset, my birthday, after dinner at Redamak’s with my family, sitting on the end of the breakwall with our feet dangling in the blue water of Lake Michigan. A proposal.

She said “yes”.

So of course, being the hopeless romantic that I am, on our way back from our honeymoon we had to stop at the beach again for a quick stroll. May in the Midwest can be glorious. Or… not. We pulled into the parking lot and made a beeline for the water. Three minutes later, we hightailed it back to the car.

We’ve got a thing about the water. A lot of people do actually. Including a sweet, older couple who were parked at the edge of the lot as we were walking back to our car. The woman looked at my new bride, hugging herself with her arms against the cold north wind, looked at me and asked, “Did you two just get married?”

We smiled at each other, smiled sweetly back at her and said, “Yes!”

Cath and I asked the same question of each other with our eyes, silently: How did she know?

There was nothing on our car, or our clothes, that would give us away. This beautiful woman, wise with years, must have some kind of superpower, right?

Twenty-three years on, I know. She didn’t need ESP, or X-Ray Vision, or (like Padre Pio) the gift to see the state of our souls. It was written all over our faces, on the beach, in the grey Michigan afternoon. More glorious than any “Just Married” sign we could hang on our car, brighter than a White Gown, sharper than Black Tie And Tails. You can’t hide Love.

All she had to do was look.

Remnants of a misspent youth. On a planet with a red sun.

So this week we began a New Semester at my school. About 60% of my roster is made up of students who are returning to me from 1st term. For the most part, we got along pretty well last fall. They tolerated my eccentricities. I celebrated their, um, indifference, to math.

As part of my First Day activities, I used an info sheet borrowed from Megan Golding.

Doc here:  Who Am I? (Golding)

Among the questions: Who Is Your Favorite Superhero. Why?

Because you gotta keep them on their toes, right? I think I caught most of them off-guard though. The typical answer: “Batman”. Why? “Because he Batman!”

Or: “Wonder Woman. Because she sassy.”

I mean, that’s cool. I’m not a superhero snob. There’s no Big DC-versus-Marvel Thing in my house. I’m an Iron Man guy (and a Nick Fury guy), but you don’t have to be. Like who you you like, have your reasons (or not), move on. There doesn’t have to be a deeper meaning. But on the back side of the page, I asked for their goals. Short-term, Intermediate Term, Long-Term.

This is a sample of what I got:

Photo 1 Goals Photo 2 Goals Photo 3 Goals Photo 4 Goals


Via http://memegenerator.net/instance/60019948
Via http://memegenerator.net/instance/60019948

Remember, these are the guys who turn my hair grey. The kids who get talked about at the lunch table, the ones who populate our Daily Attendance Addendum under “Suspension”. They’re supposed to be the ones who don’t care about school. Who don’t care if they pass my class, or graduate, or get a job.

“Do well in math.”
“Pass my classes.”
“Graduate high school.”

You know what? They want it.

They really, really do. Whether we want to see it or not. X-Ray Vision or not. They want to succeed.

How do I know that? I asked them. I couldn’t see it written all over their faces. I don’t have that superpower.

But: They Want To Succeed.

How do we get them there?