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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sideline chatter

"Hey, Coach," the player said from a few feet away, on the field. "I know I'm supposed to be on this side of my guy, but I'm so close to the sideline already. Doesn't it make more sense to be on the other side?"

"You've got it," I said. "Let the sideline help your defense."

The player allowed himself a small smile, adjusting his position, and said, "Yeah, it's just like we learned in football."

At the time this afternoon, even though we were in the middle of an Ultimate Frisbee practice, my English teacher brain still clicked on: That's transference, it reminded me, something for which we can help create conditions, yet which relies even more on engaged, aware, purposeful learners, eager to own their progress.