Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Not nothing

Wasn't going to write, then I did. Didn't have much to write about, until I did. Could write about playing laser tag for the second time in two years, teaming up with teacher colleagues, going toe-to-toe with our students as part of a school fundraiser. Sweaty, silly fun, in 10-minute intervals.

Or I could write about the weather. Always a topic that's reliable in its mundanity, or is it mundane in its reliability? Well, it did snow. "Is this what May's like around here?" a teacher, in passing, asked with a smirk. She's finishing her first year, which is definitely not her first year, though she's new (not so new now) to our school.

Or my writing could dwell on hackneyed, derivative movie sequels that wring just a little bit more from desiccated franchises. Ocean's 8, Creed II: entertainingly predictable, predictably entertaining. Or there's the book I'm reading, Golden State, that likewise rings familiar bells (noir! dystopia!), and yet I'm still not quite sure what the tune is as I keep turning pages.

In the end, what did I write? Snapshot sentences of this week tonight.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Unexpected connections

A few minutes after 7:00 this morning., local time, as I stepped off the transit bus near school, the driver asked me a question as he sometimes does. "Which of your students are most successful?" he asked. I paused, then said, "I'm not sure how to answer that." I paused again. "Going to need to think on it." We fist bumped, which has become a quirk of my a.m. commuting routine, and went our separate ways, him behind the wheel and me on foot.

About three hours later, a student who will be graduating Saturday dropped by in the middle of a class. She carried a smile and a small box. The box was in my hands and she was gone before I could say much more than hi and her name. Inside the box were a mug with the initial of my first  name, a few sachets of tea, a Starbucks card, and a thoughtful note she had written. The student -- a 12th-grader days from graduating -- had delivered similar gifts to all of her middle-school teachers.

Maybe I'll share this story with the bus driver tomorrow because I'd sure like to think this student's generous kindness will play an integral role in her success, now and long into her future.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Not an ode to my socks

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day, and a student gifted me a pair of socks. These socks, specifically:

The present made me smile, or rather the sentiment behind it. The socks themselves are problematic: They're stuck in a world of cliched tropes: male teacher in tie at either black-or white-board in front of cluster of raised hands, female teacher who points at a globe, looking extra matronly, though decked out in a superhero cape (you can see her boot and skirt running up my shin). Look more closely near the left instep. There, you can spot part of what says 'Book Report.' Continuing across the top of my left foot, you'll see a pencil that forms the I in 'Inspire.' I'm skeptical book reports in the forms that I've known them are reliable sources of inspiration.

My take-away? While one ought not look a gift horse in the mouth. one would do well to beware the pitfalls of too-easy imagery. If you were to redesign these socks, what might you include instead?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Bottled message

A week ago, I wrote about Factfulness. Today, I'll write about a TED talk called "The Happiness Advantage" that recently drifted my way among Twitter's flotsam.

Both Hans Rosling (author of the former) and Shawn Achor (speaker of the latter) manage to preserve optimism, without seeming naive. To paraphrase the former: The world can be better than I think and still have problems that demand attention.

Here's what I'm wondering now: How am I looking at the world? How could I be looking better? What data could help me see better, beyond say misleading averages, implicit biases, or cognitive distortions?

My wondering feels both large-scale -- as a citizen of said world; and small-scale -- as a teacher looking at classroom microcosms of students. While I don't know yet where my wondering is going, I'm putting this particular message in a digital bottle in the hopes it washes up on a shore where you are wondering and willing to share further thoughts.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Factfulness finding

Just finished reading Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling et al, and here are three bits I'm carrying away:
  1. "Though we absolutely need numbers to understand the world, we should be highly skeptical about conclusions derived purely from number crunching." (191)
  2. "Sometimes when you are called to action, sometimes the most useful action you can take is to improve the data." (232)
  3. "A long-jumper is not allowed to measure her own jumps. A problem-solving organization should not be allowed to decide what data to publish either. The people trying to solve a problem on the ground, who will always want more funds, should not also be the people measuring progress. That can lead to really misleading numbers." (236)
Each of these resonates with schools and my work within a particular one. I see them as potential guideposts in making decisions towards improving the quality of data we gather with students about their learning, what we all do in response to this information, and what oversight governs this process. (Spoiler alert: Conventional grades feel insufficient.)

The notion of 'factfulness,' I came to realize, involves spiraling through cycles of gleaning more useful information and asking better questions in service of incremental progress. If you're curious to spend more time down this rabbit hole, visit Gapminder.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


The news from Notre Dame sent me flipping back through the pages of a journal I kept almost three decades ago -- during what today might be called a gap year that I spent around Europe, partly in school and partly not. In that journal, I found this innocuous mention, written 9,866 days ago:

If I knew then what I know now, I suspect I would've braved the throngs and gone in.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Stanza snapshot of a professional experience I hope never to repeat

Writing a letter of interest for a job description I helped author,
though not yet posted, may qualify as institutional bother.
Still, expressing my enthusiasm for this role hypothetical
to continue work I find I'm already doing feels antithetical.