Getting Gruntled

Gruntle Definition
OK, so there’s a little more to it than that.

If it’s possible to be disgruntled, you should be able to get yourself “gruntled” again, right? (Turns out, originally, no, but….)

I was at an event this week when one of my students’ moms leaned across the table and asked me, “So, are you ready for the school year to be over?”

Kind of an odd question, considering it was mid-February. Although, ’tis the season. My backyard neighbor (a junior at my school) pointed out Thursday we have about 14 weeks of school left. So there’s definitely counting going on. I answered the question in the spirit in which it was intended, but in the back of my mind I was thinking:

Actually, yes. Yes I am.

It was pretty much the day before yesterday, sitting on the back porch in shirtsleeves on a January Saturday afternoon, when we were wondering if winter was gonna skip us altogether.

Not so fast my friend

The first two weeks back from Christmas break went off without a hitch. After that tho? Since mid-January: MLK Day -> early release due to Ice Storm -> Ice Day -> two days of school -> Snow Day – Three Days of Polar Vortex -> then 7 whole days of school in a row before another Ice Storm Day. I mean, that’s winter in the Region. Should be used to it by now. But still.

I’ll be pretty honest. The last three weeks of weather, combined with some other things, have kind of broke me. I feel a little bit like a hockey referee after a brawl near the end of a period. I just want to send both teams to their locker rooms and tack the additional time onto the next period.

Clearly it’s time to Find Your Happy Place. Saturday we scooted up to St. Joseph, Michigan for a late Valentine’s Day celebration. We ended up at Schu’s (with the other 30 humans within a 50 mile radius who weren’t at Silver Beach Pizza) where we had a fantastic Valentine’s weekend dinner.

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At one point I kinda caught myself staring out the window at the shelf ice and the twinkling of the North Pier Lighthouse beacon and realized I was sitting there smiling like a fool. The company, the atmosphere, the Round Barn Kolsch, all of it: perfect.

Tuesday morning seemed very far away.


It Will Hurt the Whole Time
It feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it? (Source)

Not every year can be duckies and bunnies and unicorns and rainbows. Some are definitely better than others. This might be one of those years I just suck it up and put on my teacher face and give myself a pep talk every morning and keep showing up. Even if it kills me a little bit every single day.

As my freshman son wisely pointed out Saturday night, “three months from now we’ll be sitting in this same spot at the same time of night watching a sunset.” I needed to hear that. The Mid-Winter Blues have taken hold. It’s a passing thing, I’m sure. Unless it’s not.

But really, teaching is what I do. Especially if these are the options.

Time to find my happy place. Even if it’s a beach in winter. Maybe especially if it’s a beach in winter. I mean, if “gruntled” and “disgruntled” can mean the same thing except by matter of degree, then by all means, get me by the water. That’s not any weirder. Especially if it keeps my head in the game for three more months.

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Hehehe. “Keep Off”.  Such rebels. A mild winter day, 2017. Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI. Photo cred: me.

Adventures in E-Learning: Polar Vortex Edition

We’ve had plenty of false alarms (Mrs. Dull refers to them as “fake news™”) regarding winter weather this year. But the meteorologists nailed an onslaught of Hoth-level cold right on the button. Polar Vortex arrived, just as predicted.

For real. Like, it’s so cold we postponed basketball tournament games. In Indiana.

Coupled with an overnight/early morning snow on Monday it meant we faced the prospect of 4 days off of school this week. Been there. It wasn’t super-fun. Did I tell you about the year my old district expanded the school day by an hour a day for a month to avoid extra make-up days, and my current district had to create a Saturday make-up day (which happened to be my son’s 18th birthday)?

i survived
We did get a cool travel mug out of the deal tho, which is nice.

We’ve exhausted all our built-in snow makeups. Adding days at the end of the year is a no-go due to the start date for summer school.

That can only mean one thing:

E-Learning Days. Right here, right now, ahead of schedule.

My district is a bit of a late adopter of this trend, but in keeping with our approach to many things, we take our time, research, go to school on other districts’ experiences, then roll out a new initiative.

The plan was to pilot eDays this year with a scheduled trial on Election Day, then make up our snow days on the scheduled makeup days as eDays, then roll them out live next school year.

We make plans, God laughs. You know how that goes. So facing a no-win on adding more make-up days, we jumped right in this week.

Our administrators gave us a heads-up early in the week so no one would be caught scrambling to make eDay plans. Not to worry tho: a quick survey revealed that teachers felt well-prepared to roll out plans for two days this week.

we ready
High school teachers on the ball, y’all.

I split the difference on my two assignments, giving the in-class practice set that I had planned to assign on Monday for Day One, then taking inspiration from the world around me, making a Polar Vortex-themed Desmos activity for Day Two. Set them up in Canvas, scheduled reminder announcements thru Canvas for 7:30 am both days, double-checked my posts, and went to bed.

Dawn broke (pretty much literally; it was -20F and we kept hearing these weird cracking sounds coming from outside the house) with me ready to go.

But according to a source familiar with the sleep patterns of high-school-aged boys on a snow day, I should not have expected my students to jump right out of bed and start working.

waiting for responses
10:55 am. They’ll get around to expanding and condensing logs eventually.

Which is fine. The best feedback I got from students on our pilot eDay back in November was “I love that I could do my work in whatever order I wanted, at whatever time of day I wanted. I wasn’t locked into a schedule”. They’ll get there. I’m confident.

So meanwhile I’ve got my coffee and I’ve got sun streaming thru my frontroom window and I’ve got twitter open on a tab and a summertime playlist running on Spotify.

I’m passing the time making an answer key for my assignment and enjoying videos of folks conducting science experiments.

I’m good.  I’ve been preparing for this day for over a year. But I’ll be pretty honest – I’ll be happy to be back in my classroom and see my kids face to face on Friday.

E-Learning Days are kind of tiring.

One-Man Book Club: The Grace Of Enough

Spring came early. At least for a day, on this weekend before Back-To-School. In January, man.

We hiked, we let the sun shine on our face, we grilled lunch, we sat out on the back porch and ate chips and salsa and shared a drink and toasted the day.

And talked. Kind of Spring Cleaning meets New Years Resolutions.

We’ve been making plans to de-clutter ever since I don’t know when. I do know when, actually. When I got a little lazy about keeping house, and when pretty much every electric appliance in our house died in rapid succession. It’s become a source of frustration within our family. Time to do something about it.

With actions not words. Mrs. Dull’s love language is “show me“.

So I’ve been developing a plan to start getting things squared away. A realistic, manageable, long-term plan. Two hours every weekend. Tackle one room at a time. Make use of Fr. Bruno’s One-Year Rule. In our Vegas days, when virtually everyone kept like a whole ‘nother house worth of stuff in a storage facility, he said in a homily one Sunday morning:

“If you haven’t used it in a year, you need to ask yourself if you really need it.”

But as Mrs. Dull pointed out, sentimentality has its place. It’s OK to hold on to some things just because.

It’s a plan we can agree on.

I told her, “By the end of the year, you’ll have your house back.”

That earned me a smile.


st. basil (2)
St. Basil’s feast day is January 2. So, if you were thinking about turning over a new leaf, his advice is quite timely.

So: How much is “enough”? And what would our lives be like if we chose the things around us intentionally? What if we were really radical in deciding what was important to us? What if we took care of the world around us and loved the people around us authentically?

They are all worthwhile questions. Questions that Catholic blogger Haley Stewart and her husband have pondered. She tells the story of their journey in The Grace Of Enough.

Grace of Enough
Yeah, it’s already a little dog-eared, if that tells you anything. Haley Stewart is also a pretty good follow on Spotify, BTW.

I could relate. I bet you can too. Not to the part where they sell their house, get rid of 80% of their stuff, and move to a nonprofit, sustainable agriculture farm in Texas for a year. Only thing I know about cows is they taste great with sauteed onions, a side of potatoes, and a cold beer.

But the part where she finds that more stuff doesn’t change her life, where her husband finds that working more hours at a job he’s not in love with and has some serious moral misgivings about does not actually make them better off.

That part resonates with me.

The book is divided into three parts: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. As you might have guessed, none of it is exactly new. And maybe that’s the idea – it’s ancient. Also: none of it is easy. But many of us are finding out that taking the cheap, easy way out is leaving us empty in all the ways that matter.

 

nothing new

The chapter on rebuilding broken communities (with the emphasis on community) will stick with me for a while. Despite my people-facing occupations, I’m a bit of an introvert. I’ve never been great at small talk, and the neighborhood we live in has just enough turnover that there is always someone new to meet. I’m pretty stellar at a wave or a chin nod to a neighbor as they drive by or walk their dog, which is a start. I could be better at community-building. Way better.

I’m definitely an action item guy, and helpfully, Haley Stewart has included a list of tips at the end of each chapter. That could also benefit from my “one-room-at-a-time, two-hours-a-weekend” approach.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.


 

How does that relate to school? The day I left Gavit I packed up 13 years worth of stuff in an afternoon. Some of it had traveled 1800 miles to get here. About 95% of it is still sitting in boxes in my basement.

boxes of stuff

Through the course of last summer we received a shipment of new furniture for our renovated school. We all have less storage space now. A small desk with a couple of integrated shelves. A wardrobe with two file-sized drawers. That’s it. I think the intent is for us to travel light. For my first year at my new school I was on a cart, traveling from room to room. I had a small desk in my fellow PLTW teacher’s room and a couple of boxes of stuff and that was it. I moved into a new space last year and moved again this year. I’ve taught in 16 classrooms in 16 years. In three of those years I made mid-year room changes. Honestly, I’m willing to pare down my teacher stuff considerably.

So a bunch of paper things could live on Google Drive, yeah, but Don Wettrick is in my head right now too. As his dad advised him long ago, “Teach 20 years, fine, just don’t teach one year 20 times”. What am I holding on to that I could let go of? What activities, what handouts, could go? A bunch of stuff in those boxes was awesome when I used it in like 2010, but does it still work now?

It’s part of the ethos of the math department: we want to be on the forefront, the department that leads the way in our school. The first to fully build out Canvas, the best, most user-friendly Canvas pages, the department that plans its curriculum and works that plan, and constantly re-assesses to see that we are doing the best at teaching and learning for our students and our community.

Case in point: Our department chair is planning a day-long in-service this spring semester for our Algebra II PLC to dive into the class and re-build it for a 1:1, de-tracked environment. We may think it’s pretty good as is. But, could it be better? Keep what works and toss the rest, and fill the empty spaces with practices that support our students.

But the three sections of Haley Stewart’s book might make an interesting thought experiment for teachers: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. Like, I’d attend that session at a conference this summer.

Could that look like sharing a love of learning, leading with curiosity, centering our classrooms on our students, developing activities and lessons that encourage taking time to unpack concepts?

Just like in my day-to-day life, The Grace Of Enough has left me with questions to ponder in my teacher life as well. “Pursuing Less And Living More”. Yeah.

 

Christmas. Break.

Christmas Gift
“That’s it? We have one candy cane hanging on our tree?”

It’s that kind of Christmas around here. That without a doubt is our Charlie Brown-iest tree ever. (yeah, you know the one).

We’re not anti-Christmas by any stretch, it’s just that this year the decorating has been…  minimal. And it’s OK. The family seems to be kind of in the mood for a low-key Christmas. Me, I’ve been taking comfort in some little things. My parish has been hosting candlelight vespers on Thursdays during Advent. The peace of the low light and the Real Presence and the incense and the Latin hymns has been a source of joy for me.

We wrapped up final exams yesterday, so today is a half-day Teacher Work Day. It broke with a half-hearted attempt at a White Christmas:

Then on the way in I caught my favorite “melancholy Christmas” tune on WXRT. It set the tone for the day. In a good way.

One of my colleagues stopped off at the bakery on the way in and picked up a huge box of donuts for the department. He’s on Santa’s “Nice List” for sure.

Sad Tree
Even if you’re trying to eat clean these days, that’s a tough offer to turn down. I said “thanks”.

Then it was finishing grading some final projects for my freshmen Algebra Lab class. And a minute to be thankful for my kids and their talents that they share with me every day.

Entered exam scores and final grades, double checked to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Nope, all good. A lot like Ralphie Parker on Christmas, many of my kids got exactly what they wanted, grade-wise. Others, no, but close. “Maybe next year”, as The Old Man would say. So with grades in the books and some time left, I tried to get a bunch of stuff done for after break before I left for break. Made my list, prioritized my tasks, went right down the line, checked them off. I was on a time schedule (wrestling practice, car repair appointment), and when the clock struck, it was time to go.

Two biggest savers of sanity and time on that list, BTW:

  1. I worked a couple of days ahead for the first few days after break. Canvas is updated with new due dates, Desmos activities are set up with class codes and links in Canvas, printed materials are hot off the presses and sorted, ready to go on 1/7/18. And I left a “quick-start-up” note for my desk for my future self, just in case I forget anything in the rush to start a new semester.
  2. I printed two copies of my quarter grades and stuck them in a file in my desk. Come the end of the school year when I need a hard copy of my gradebook to turn in, it’s already done and waiting there for me.

Sometimes “self-care” takes the form of good planning.


MathGirl
So long, YL107. See you next year. #dadjoke

I actually was nowhere near done with my list when it was time to leave. In fact I was half tempted to go back in today after my appointments and keep working, but Kim Strobel is kind of in my head. I’ve seen her speak before, and my district brought her in to present on “The Science Of Happiness” to all our staff and faculty yesterday after finals. It was a bit of a gamble, I thought. The Type-A teachers I know want to get busy grading and closing out the semester on the last day with students, not sitting in an auditorium for two hours of rah-rah.

But to be honest, it was a home run. Time (and money) well spent. She had our teachers, especially the elementary teachers, eating out of her hand. Her message is pretty simple. And timely:

It seems I’ve applied the Minimum Effective Dosage. OK then. Yeah, I’ll buy in. Maybe there’s a ton more to do. There always will be. So: Go home. Be a dad. Take pleasure in the simple moments. Do the things for (and with) your people. Enjoy break. Rest up. Celebrate Christmas.

Ready, break.

 

 

Cards Are On The Table

Put Up Or Shut Up
Source

I long ago bought into “teaching different”. And letting my kids get a glimpse of “the real me”. I know in my bones it’s the best way to do this job.

But how do I measure that? Letter grades? ISTEP scores? I’m not sure I meet standard if that is the benchmark.

But every now and then I get a little reminder that I’m on the right track. Last time in this space I wrote a little bit about building culture. That kids will be willing to do some pretty incredible things once the proper supports are in place, supports from me and from their classmates.

Today that got put to the test. I could tell yesterday morning that my vocal cords were getting a little frayed.

Okay, maybe a lot frayed. Woke up this morning to a full-on situation:

Culture of collaboration, huh? Let’s see what you got. I missed three days last week for my oldest son’s Army graduation, and we’ve got four school days until Thanksgiving break. I’m planning on a review Monday and quiz Tuesday, so I really don’t have a day to give away. And I love all our district subs, but I pondered the risk/reward last night at bedtime. And 65% of me is better than 100% of anyone else who walks into my class for one day.

If that sounds arrogant, so be it.

So I packed in some DayQuil, a couple of oranges, my water bottle, and an 80-pack of Halls, loaded the neighborhood kids into my son’s car and battled an early-season snowstorm to get to school in the morning.

I greeted my kids with this slide:

Spongebob Meme

Their reaction was priceless.

“We got you today.” My kids, you guys. <insert heart emoji>

So that’s one day. But it told me everything I needed to know about this group of kids and where we are together so far in the school year.

I’ve got a little playlist I run during passing time in late December, to fit the mood of the season. Today seemed like a good day to break it out. Some of my classes even harmonized along with Mariah.

I don’t have much of a poker face. The WSOP is not for me. But to paraphrase what an #eVillageNWI bud tweeted at me recently, “do we have the best job in the world or what?”

Yeah. Yeah we do.

 

Everything Crumbles

Homer and Entropy
From Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr.

“No matter how perfect the thing, from the moment it’s created it begins to be destroyed.”

It reminds me of a line my sainted mother was famous for repeating: “From the moment we are born, we begin to die”.

Or maybe the admonition of the ages: memento mori.

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But that second definition speaks to me as a teacher: “gradual decline into disorder”.

Maybe it’s the time of the year, but in my building there’s definitely a lot of folks on edge. The weekly online threats of school violence probably have something to do with it. It also doesn’t help that due to ongoing construction we still have 1000 cars trying to get into the parking lot thru the one remaining entrance every morning, but still: I know I definitely feel less like I’ve got things locked down this year compared to years past.

A presenter (maybe an administrator of some type? Not sure…) once told the staff at one of my schools “what gets monitored gets done”. I don’t really remember if she was speaking of staff or students, but it applies to all of us for sure. Why do you think we all slow down when we see a cop parked on the side of the road?

Our teacher evaluation tool is set up with this concept in mind. Two-thirds of the points come from evidence of ongoing planning, consistent parent contact, and collaboration with colleagues, they type of things we are expected to do all year. Only a tiny sliver is made up of actual classroom teaching. As one of my math teacher colleagues likes to say: “even the worst teacher can pull it together and look reasonably competent for two days out of the year.” There is an incentive to do the foundational work that goes into effective teaching. “What gets monitored gets done.”


Part of the low-level anxiety I’m feeling is due to parenting a freshman in my building. I have a throw-away line I use for some of my kids: “obsessive Skyward checkers” – that student that is in the online gradebook daily, making sure everything turned in is posted, and checking on the hour over the weekend to see if a quiz grade is entered in yet.

Yeah, I am now officially That Dad. If Skyward charged me an access fee I’d be broke. But I’ve got a first-year student trying to find his way at a very competitive school, who maybe is not the most organized 14-year-old on the planet. It’s pretty much my job to help him stay on top of things. Skyward and Canvas are the go-tos.

I’m not sure my extreme oversight is working. It would probably help if I was more consistent with it. He survived the first nine weeks by the hair of his chinny chin chin. I’ve extracted a promise that we won’t do that again. Plus, the spectre of athletic ineligibility is a powerful motivator.

I mean, he’s still got to learn the words to the school song, right?

I’m pulling out all the stops as I try to reteach him algebra while he does his geometry work. If it works for my students, it’ll probably work for my son. That’s my theory anyway. And that’s what Desmos is for.

 

It’s just one of those things – we’re going to have to sit together every night to keep his geometry experience from spinning into chaos. Nobody likes to feel that they are being micromanaged, but sometimes that’s part of teaching or coaching – checking in and benchmarking every single day. It’s easy to get complacent. He buckled down on a geometry daily quiz retake and the flipped notes tonight. He really didn’t want to do the notes, but he did them anyway. Probably because I was sitting next to him and encouraged him.

But that fleeting success was pretty rare. I’m not a drill sergeant. I can’t make anyone do anything. Never have been able to. My kids, or anyone else’s. And I’m sure that’s where part of the current stress is coming from. I know for a fact I’ve got some classroom things I’ve got to tighten up. Kids do their thing. We try to get them to do our thing. With varying levels of success. But if we don’t try, they won’t try.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least a gradual decline into disorder.

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Source

One-Man Book Club: One Beautiful Dream

Sea Sassi Balance Macro Colors Stone Stones
Source

There’s a lot of brain cells being rubbed together in my world right now around the idea of Work-Life Balance. I can’t open up social media without seeing the term “self-care”.

There’s even a whole “40-hour teacher workweek” program out there (for a fee). Believe me, as a guy who just finished grading a stack of 90 Algebra II quizzes and is running the wash machine at 11 pm while setting the coffeemaker for the morning, I get it. It only took me like a week to finish grading that stack. My Monday, Thursday, and Friday are very overscheduled.

I don’t feel real good about myself when I stand in front of my kids and have to say, “Yeah, you know that quiz I gave you last week? Still not graded. I had football, and did Pack-a-Thon Saturday, and it was my birthday this weekend, and, and, and, and….”

I’ve said for years that when I’m elected POTUS, there will be a whole 12 hours inserted into every week in between Sunday night and Monday morning.

If only I had more time…

Here’s the thing tho. There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money. The house is never clean enough. Meanwhile, there’s perfection (so-called) all around. Social media doesn’t help. I don’t even need to get Instagram shamed. Honestly, even the real-life teachers in my building are all better than me.

All this sounds like a recipe to be perpetually miserable.


I’m that guy that has a lot of unformed ideas floating around in my head. Things I know I should be doing, but I need someone to show me the way. Then I get it.

Enter One Beautiful Dream.

One Beautiful Dream
Yeah, I read Catholic Mommy Bloggers. Sue me. Image via Goodreads.

The book is the latest from Jennifer Fulwiler and it details how one woman, her husband, her six kids, and a support cast of thousands made a dream come true.

I’ve been reading Jennifer’s blog for years. She’s brilliant and funny. Her first book is a must-read conversion story.

But wait. I thought you just said she has six kids. When did she have time to write a book? Much less two?

It turns out that life is messy, your house and mine aren’t gonna show up in Sunset magazine or on an HGTV show anytime soon. And God laughs at your plans. So maybe, just do your thing.

The Fulwilers gave up a glamorous power-couple ATX life to move to a house in the suburbs and raise a family. The family got bigger, the house stayed the same size, and Jennifer received an offer from a literary agent to rep her for a book. Hilarity ensues as she attempts to pound out thousands of words a day during her childrens’ nap time while the neighborhood middle-school-girl clique targets her house for Ding-Dong-Ditch and her judgemental hired babysitter recoils in shock at the kids jumping on the couch.

Fortunately her best friend and fellow faithful-Catholic-mom, along with her Texas-tough mother-in-law help her (somehow) survive some of her most challenging moments.

She and her husband plan for how to replace their aging vehicles and keep a roof over the heads of their ever-expanding family, while he pursues a less-pressure-filled career to be active in his role as husband and father.

Hyper-focused, Jen powers down the tracks trying to complete a re-write of her manuscript under deadline pressure when a life-altering health condition forces her hand.

Let it go

Watching the dream… the thing she had wanted since she was nine years old… evaporate in an instant. It was intense for me as a reader. I felt like I was watching Ray Kinsella try to convince Moonlight Graham to come to Iowa.


Maybe you read this and say, “Wow, that’s easy for Joe to say. It wasn’t his dream he was giving up”. Except…

A Yale-educated lawyer who once could have written his own ticket, he already had made the decision about his career and its proper place in his life, and in his family’s life:

There goes the dream

That sounds a lot like the convos I see on my TL regarding teachers with Pinterest-perfect classrooms or who spend 18 hours in a weekend planning a unit. What’s the cost? This year’s #eVillageNWI Day Two keynoter Kim Strobel likes to talk about the “Minimum Effective Dose” – boiling water at 265º isn’t any better than heating it at 212ºF. We all want to give our best, and do our best for our kids. That’s normal. I don’t trust anyone who’s in the teaching game for a paycheck. But: Maybe it’s worth pondering when enough is “enough”. Mrs. Dull is in a sales/recruiting job that routinely has her working 12-hours days. So it’s not just teachers who are looking for balance. It’s literally everybody.


What if?

Turns out Jen Fulwiler offers a decent template: Let it go. Lots of outside the box thinking. Unorthodox problem solving. Faith.

What does that look like for me?

What if “good enough” was good enough? What if once a week I met with some guys at my parish at 6:00 am to have coffee and talk and figure out how to fully live our vocation as husbands, fathers, grandfathers? What if it was OK to carpool with some guys from the neighborhood and get to school at 7:10 instead of 7:00? What if I could leave to carpool back at 3:30? (Unpopular Opinion Alert: Yeah, I know, no good teacher leaves at 3:30. Most days I take stuff home. Turn me in to the EduTwitter police). But it’s forced me to make some hard decisions about how I spend my time.

After conversations with her closest friends and family about her role in this season of life, Fulwiler ruminates over the tension between duty and passion:

“Now I wondered: What if all desires to create – both with children and with work -are, in fact, all pointed in the same direction? What if both are different but complementary ways of getting in touch with the same ultimate Source of creativity? What if following your God-given passion is not just okay to do during the baby years, but actually something that has the potential to enhance your whole family’s life?”

That sounds like balance, rightly ordered, to me.

I’m still working on it. I work at a pretty hard-driving school, with parents who expect a Four-Star education for their children, and a department filled with outstanding, relentless teachers. My life for the foreseeable future will be filled with take-home work and weekends and summers built around my job.

Feeding a family is important. But we’ve also got a solid commitment in this house to not miss the things that build a family. So that at the end, I can look up and look back at a life that truly was one beautiful dream.

Matching Their Pace

 

We anticipated having to make pacing changes when we detracked Algebra 2 this year. Planned for it as a team all throughout last year, in fact.

But knowing it’s coming, and adjusting pace to match my students is two different things. My track 2 friends are grating at having to slow down and re-teach more often than they are used to. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to hit the throttle and open up the engines already, coming from a track 3 background.

Everyone on my team is veteran though. We’re staying on our toes, ready to call an audible in class based on our students’ needs.

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This week we wrapped up our foundations module with a day of solving word problems with algebra. I use the flipped class model, and as we reviewed notes at the start of class,  my students let me know right from the jump they did not feel real confident in their abilities: “How did you do that? Like, I don’t even know where to start!”

So we took a minute. Walked through an example from the notes, decoding the text, marking important information. But what my students really wanted to know was, how do you write an equation from all that mess?

My online PLN pretty much lives in my head these days. Now it’s time to lean on my people, in class, on the fly. I brought a little Jon Corippo (and his nachos analogy) with me as we talked making dinner. The Protein – Veggie – Starch framework that we all follow when plating up dinner. Could we look for a model that fits the information in the word problem?

confused will smith GIF

So lets break it down. I showed how we went from concrete to abstract with a verbal model template and an algebraic model over the top.

Then I offered a choice – we could do some pencil/paper math (I had a short practice set ready to go), or we could try… something different. I had tipped them to three-act math in the video notes for the section. What if we did that for real, in class, right now?

Let’s roll. Let’s do Social Math.

So on to the Taco Cart.

Taco Cart Snip

I knew we were on to something when they called out pythagorean theorem unprompted to calculate Ben’s walking distance. And then started doing the math. We compared methods as students determined walking time (some were very formal, writing out d = rt, showing work, doing dimensional analysis (!) and canceling units. Others were a little more back-of-the-envelope, insisting they could just divide (Why?).

We had math fights and we had people working together and we had people laying math on top of their common sense and we had a big reveal.

‘Cuz, you know, students cheer while watching a video in class, like, every day, right?

And: we had students leaving my classroom that day feeling like they were pretty good at math.

So that was cool.


In my first five years of teaching, I’d have never done that. I wouldn’t have known enough to change gears completely. I didn’t have the tools, or the experience. We’d have done more stand & deliver examples (Including me asking them afterwards “Does that make sense?”, and them nodding back at me, lying), more review pages, more me talking.

I’m glad somewhere along the line I learned a better way. The experience to recognize my students need and to recognize the right tool at the right time, its just priceless. They did all the work to figure out if Ben or Dan would get tacos first. I just sat back and watched the magic happen. OK, I asked a question or two along the way, but you know what I’m saying.

We talked recognizing patterns today during the notes review. I told them once you crack the code, algebra is pretty much all angel choirs singing and duckies and bunnies and rainbows and unicorns.

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OK, maybe not really.

But It’s pretty damn sweet when you get to watch students realize they can do things they didn’t think they could do.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

One-Man Book Club: The EduProtocol Field Guide

I hang around online with a group of runners who call themselves the Sub-30 Club. It’s a group started by University of Florida professor and Runner’s World writer Ted Spiker. Every now and then he’ll throw out a new challenge to himself and invite group members to join in. A couple of years ago it was the 100-day Burpee Challenge. Insanity.

I completed it, by the way.

Sub 30 Burpee props

So the other day, looking to make a breakthrough in his training, Ted was curious about a set number of burpees for time. Like, say, 25. And the race was on.

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My baseline. For comparison, one of my local Sub-30 runner friends knocked his out in like 70 seconds, and he’s trying to get under a minute.

Ugh. I’m not good. How did that happen? I mean, I know how that happened, but, damn.

Numbers Never Lie.

It’s good to get a check on yourself from time to time. But then, what do you do with that? I know where I want to go. How do I get there?

Let’s make a plan.


 

Sixteen years. You’d think I’d have this “Start of the School Year” thing nailed by now. But every year I want to get better.

Just like going sub-3:00 for 25 burpees, “Wanting to get better” and “the concrete steps to getting better” are two different things.

That’s where EduProtocols come in.

I first heard the term when Jon Corippo guested with Matt Miller on the 2017 Ditch That Textbook Virtual summit. He was talking “The Fast and the Curious” and “Iron Chef” and definitely got my attention.

I got the gist of it. It sounded like a routine, or a habit of quality lesson design. Eventually, after hearing Corippo again and reading a variety of stuff and checking out some slide decks inspired by his work, I got the implementation piece: “EduProtocols” is how Corippo and Marlena Hebern refer to the idea of a “shell” activity that is student-centered and can hold any content.

It sounds right up my alley. So I stuck the book in my Amazon cart, waited for payday to hit, and pushed “buy”. (Full disclosure: I don’t have any affiliate links. When I link a book on here it goes to Goodreads. I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t make a cent. Just sharing my thoughts on stuff I read. So click away.)

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.

The authors are up-front right from the jump: It’s not a “read cover-to-cover” kind of book. Unless you want it to be. Then you do you. Otherwise, take what you need now, come back for more later. Good strategy. But I had like two weeks till the start of school when the book hit my mailbox and I definitely wanted to wedge some of my plans into the EduProtocol shell.

The book starts with about a dozen “Smart Start” protocols that are designed as ways to start the year (or a new semester). Some are familiar such as the Frayer framework, or a paper airplane design challenge. All are designed to create a culture in your class, and offer tweaks for younger grades. As far as I’m concerned, it’s “The First Days Of School” for the 21st century.

(The interview embedded above is part of the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and goes away after August 10. Sorry.)

The following chapters outline EduProtocols that have a familiar design such as the Great American Race or Cyber Sandwich. My math people who are familiar with the Three-Act Task will find a chapter contributed by John Stevens, co-author of The Classroom Chef. The common thread in all of them is the 4 Cs and the use of technology in service of learning. Many of the ideas themselves are not new (go google “Iron Chef” and “jigsaw”) but in particular for teachers in a 1:1 classroom who are trying to get more student-centered, these protocols will bring about that “lightbulb” moment when pondering your lesson designs.

4Cs Throwdown
Hey, adults can have that “ah-hah” moment too. Corippo and Hebern drop the 4 Cs on a group of principals in the book. Hilarity ensues.

As an added guide, each section includes a list of Academic Goals and Teacher Big Ideas to help match up activities with learning outcomes. And Marlena Hebern has helpfully loaded some templates onto her website. It’s a gold mine. Your kids can be Iron Chef-ing or Cyber Sandwich-ing tomorrow.

I know for me, it always helps to have a planning partner, a sherpa who has been up the mountain to help me find my pathway to accomplish the goals I have for a class or a year.

Over the summer, one of my go-to members of my PLN tweeted at me that the book was definitely worth the money. She wasn’t lying. These EduProtocols will be part of my lesson design toolbox for a long time.


Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

Better Than Me

My summer reads have been a nice mix of “Teacher Reads” and “Free Reads”:

 

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The latest is Frantic 7 which tells the story of American air support of the Warsaw Rising in 1944. Hundreds of B-17s loaded with supplies took off from Britain, dropped thousands of crates over the city and Kampinos Forest, landed in the Soviet Union to refuel, then returned.

Despite a muscular escort of P51 Mustangs, several of the bombers suffered severe damage.

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I read quite a bit of this stuff, and the grace under pressure and heroism of these times never fails to stun me. Those guys are heroes, in the strictest sense of the word. I’m not. And never will be. I’d have been like, “damn, guess we’re all gonna die” and making an Act of Contrition, and here’s a guy dangling over a hole in a plane 1000 meters in the air and rigging up a repair so the crew could land safely. Woah.

Yeah, all men are created equal. And then…

Ordinary guys doing extraordinary things. But we hold these men and women up as examples for a reason: that maybe we’ll be able to follow in their path when it’s Go Time. In the aftermath of one of the school shootings last year, my wife confided to me that she worries every time the news of a tragedy hits her phone because she thinks I would be that teacher that bars the door while his students escape.

I’m glad she thinks so. I hope I would. But let’s be honest. Self-preservation is a powerful force. It takes a special kind of person. They don’t call it “uncommon valor” for nothing.


Dan Army Selfie.PNG

My oldest son is at Army basic training as we speak. He’s your standard-issue 22-year-old. Jokingly, we said if he comes home having learned how to make his bed and put his dishes away, we’ll be thrilled. I was curious if there is an Army equivalent of “ship shape” (Navy) or “squared away” (Marines). I did a little googling around and found out that “squared away” is pretty universal. What caught me by surprise is how many slang terms exist for “substandard soldier”.

At the swearing-in, the officer addressed the recruits, congratulating them on making it as far as Chicago MEPS. She told them only 1 person in 20 who enters a recruiting office ever takes the oath. She congratulated them on their mental, emotional, physical, and moral fitness for the job. One in twenty. Five percent! So these recruits are already the cream of the crop, and still, some of them are gonna suck at being a soldier.


 

My online PLN gathers together once a summer for Twitter Math Camp. All the people I’ve been following, and borrowing from, for the last like 10 years, all in one place. One of the most tweeted-about events of #TMC18 was the keynote address from Julie Reulbach:

While the presentation was live, my TL was filled with tweets stating “I am a great teacher because…”

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Watching from a distance (#tmcjealousycamp), reading the words of many of my math teacher role models,  I couldn’t pull the trigger on that tweet. At all.

Writing about why I’m a great teacher? Can’t do it. ‘Cuz I’m not. Just check my latest eval.

It turns out that some of us are better than others. That’s just reality of life as human beings. We rank everything. Everybody turns in the uniform for the last time, plays their last recital, passes the torch.

So, what do we do with that?

  • Resent everybody else?
  • Pull back into a shell?
  • Or, maybe, aspire to get just a little bit better.

The first two are pretty miserable options. I’ll take Door Number 3: Seek out people who can help me get better. That’s kind of what Teacher Twitter is for, right? And the South Shore and eVillageNWI conferences. And virtual summits like the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and Hive Summit and the Global Math Department. And my state twitter chats (#INeLearn and #NVEdChat). And the veteran teachers and brilliant new teachers in my department who share and ask questions every day.

From the Reulbach keynote (paraphrased): “Just being here makes you a leader. Compare it to the folks who are not here, not sharing, not learning.”


My youngest started football practice today. I pulled into the lot at 7:15 to find about a million cars there. True, that’s construction guys, and athletes and coaches from every fall sport on the first day of practice across the state today, and administrators and office staff who work year-round, and more than a few teachers I bet. But still. Way more cars than I’ve seen there in the last eight weeks or so.

And it hit me. That buzz that signals the start of a new school year. A unique-to-us combination of excitement  (“We are gonna do so much cool stuff this year!”) and rampant panic (“OMG there is so much left to do before the year starts you guys!”).

I don’t know what kind of football player my son is gonna be. He was always too big for the Pop Warner age/weight matrix and his middle school didn’t offer football so he’s starting from scratch. But he put in his time on the practice field and in the weight room over the summer, and he’s kept his enthusiasm. He’s learning every day, paying attention to his coaches and older, more experienced teammates. He’s probably got a pretty good idea who’s better than him, and he’s sticking his hat in there every day anyway.

Sounds like a pretty good role model to me.