What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?

I’m six weeks into my ninth year of teaching. Part of me misses the sense of it all being fresh and new. One of the things I like about teaching, though, is that there’s always a sense of newness and possibility at the beginning of a new year, even if it’s not quite as strong as it was on day one of my teaching career. A few reflections on what has and hasn’t changed since the first day I stood in front of a classroom.

I give more timely and useful feedback

I’ve now seen thousands of pieces of student writing and other work, so it’s gotten easier to see patterns and to point out ways for students to improve. Because the prep is a little less overwhelming now, I’ve also been able to shift some of that time to feedback on student drafts. That energy is wisely invested because it almost always means the students’ final drafts are better quality.

I love being in other teachers’ classrooms

I’m convinced that one of the best ways to earn about teaching is to watch others teach. Teaching is a craft and watching skilled craftspeople offers the opportunity to observe the moves they are making, sometimes unconsciously as they work. As a beginning teacher, I would often go and sit in the classrooms of the teachers that I admired as I struggled to figure out how to make work in my classroom run more smoothly and be more engaging. One of the reasons I so enjoy being a department chair now is that part of my position involves observing others teach and offering feedback.

I have (to make) more time for things outside of school

In the last 18 months I’ve gotten married and adopted a puppy, so some of that shift in time has come just as a result of not coming home to an empty house. But I’ve also gotten better at using my planning periods more effectively, since I know that I have other responsibilities (and possibilities for enjoyment!) at home. What this means is that in addition to creating more space for others in my life, I’ve also created more space for things that I enjoy, like reading.

Getting up in the morning hasn’t gotten easier

I am not a morning person. It doesn’t matter how early I get to sleep; I always struggle before about 9am. Unfortunately, that’s a full three hours after I have to be up for school. I wish schools were more willing to fight the cultural forces (athletic schedules and parent work schedules seem to be the biggest ones for us) that result in early morning starts. I believe it would be better for kids, and certainly better for me, if we started later. In the meantime, I’ll drink tea in the morning and nap in the afternoon.

I’m on the lookout for the next thing

At a recent leadership retreat, we were asked to explore an accomplishment in our career that had been a moment of pride for us and to consider what had led us to that point. For me, the creation of our school’s first blended learning course was that accomplishment. I taught the course for four years, but haven’t taught it for the last two and miss the challenge that it brought. That’s not to say that I’m without challenge or things that I find exciting, but I do feel that I’m on the lookout for new opportunities, either at my present school or beyond. I like being involved in big ideas and, perhaps even more so, working to make them realities. One of the things for which I’m very grateful at my present school is that we are so supportive of risk-taking. There are certainly some interesting opportunities coming down the pike as we begin the implementation of our most recent Strategic Plan.

New Year, New Goals

I was able to squeeze in 50 books and 50 hikes in 2014, although it definitely came down to the wire. For 2015, my goal is to read 50 books, watch 50 movies that I haven’t seen before (my husband’s excited about helping me reach that goal), and walk 25 miles per week. Hikes are fun and relaxing, but harder to squeeze them in these days, which I think might lead to me giving up on that goal if I tried to do it for 2015.

The Kids Are All Right

Independent School magazine has published an article I recently wrote based on Dr. danah boyd’s book, It’s Complicated. It’s an important read for parents, educators, and others who care about kids.

“While much of the rhetoric around teens’ use of social media is cloaked in language of fear, boyd argues that fearmongering is unnecessary and, indeed, counterproductive. The kids are all right, she argues, but they need – and, in many cases, want – the listening ear and guidance of concerned adults when navigating digital spaces.”

Read the article here.

NCAIS 2014 Presentation

Today I’m presenting at the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) Annual Educators Conference. The session is from 3-4pm in Carolina C room.  Here’s the session description and slide deck.

Primary sources allow students the opportunity to “do” history and can be rich wells of inspiration for writing in Language Arts. Primary source analysis allows students construct meaning and more carefully examine the world around them. This session will offer participants the opportunity to participate in a primary source analysis activity and discuss several examples of activities from History and Language Arts classes, including activities using digital analysis tools. Finally, we’ll explore a host of resources for locating useful primary sources for the classroom, so teachers can easily and successfully locate primary sources for their classes.

Two Recipes I’ve Tweaked

This past Friday was fall break. While I did plenty of grading and planning, I also got in a bit of baking. Here are two of my recent favorites that I made over the weekend. Both of the recipes I tweaked, one intentionally and one unintentionally :)

flourless choc

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
(Adapted from Epicurious)

4 ounces fine-quality dark (72%) chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 9 count muffin pan with cupcake liners. If using a 12 count muffin tin, pour a little water in the three remaining holes.

Chop chocolate into pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into melted chocolate. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour mixture into muffin pan and bake at 375°F for 15 min or until center of cupcake is set. Dust with cocoa or garnish with a raspberry.

The original recipe called for a stick of butter, which, truth be told, I completely forgot. They were super rich and tasty, even without the butter. If you like a more dense, buttery flavor, you could try adjusting the amount of butter to suit your taste.

baked oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal
(Adapted from Epicurious)

2 cups rolled (not instant or quick cooking) oats
1/4 walnut or pecan pieces, toasted or untoasted and chopped
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped fruit (peaches, apples, pineapple) or berries

Heat oven to 375 and butter and 8 inch square baking dish

In a bowl, mix together oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon.

Add butter, vanilla, fruit, milk, maple syrup, and egg, and mix well.

Pour into baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees or until top is brown and center is set.

Drizzle maple syrup on top.

The original recipe called for bananas, but I’m not a big banana fan. I used peaches I had frozen this summer for the fruit. It also called for you to mix dry and wet ingredients separately and layer them in the dish. But it worked just fine dumping everything in together, saving labor and a mixing bowl. You can also mix the ingredients up the night before, refrigerate overnight, and then bake the next morning.

Saying “Yes, And…” to Martin Luther King, Jr.

As part of our social and emotional health curriculum, we were recently doing an activity in which students considered about 25 different core values, such as honesty, perservance, and empathy, and brainstormed examples of people or characters who exemplified these values. Students then considered which of these core values were most important to them personally.

Through several rotations of eighth grade students, the examples they came up with were remarkably similar- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks were mentioned repeatedly. On one hand, it’s great that these names were on the tips of students’ tongues. On the other hand, I groaned internally a bit each time the names came up because it fet like students were just parroting familiar answers.

I was reminded of the lesson when listening to the NPR-produced American Chronicles Civil Rights collection of interviews a few days later. The story of Georgia Gilmore was one of those featured. Mrs. Gilmore was the owner of back door restaraunt whose food helped fuel the Civil Rights movement of which Dr. King and others were the more public faces. She was also an organizer and fundraiser for the movement who lost her job after testifying in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

As I was listening, I thought that’s the kind of example I want students to be aware of. Not that I want to say “Ugh, no” when students offer the example of Dr. King or Rosa Parks, but I want to say “Yes, Dr. King was a great example…. and so was Georgia Gilmore…. “Yes, Rosa Parks was a great example, and so was Claudette Colvin…”

This is the great work of teaching history and character education- offering students stories to help envision the ways they might participate in their communities. If we only talk about Dr. King and Rosa Parks, we might suggest to students it’s only the big contributions that are praise-worthy. I hope that I teach students who go on to do great, memorable things, but I also want students to know that the less grand contributions are also important.


*I think Zac Chase was the first person to introduce me to “Yes, and….,” a technique from improv theater.

Being Present and Getting It Done

As a teacher, I consistently feel a tension between being present and getting things done. Articles with titles such as The Multitasker’s Guide to Being More Present suggests that I am not alone in feeling this tension.

By nature, I’m inclined to make lists and check things off of them. In fact, one of the things that I find reassuring about teaching is that it’s typically pretty easy to divide my work into discreet tasks to be done (lessons to plan, student work to give feedback on, parent contacts to make, schedules to adjust).

The difficulty of this “get it done” mentality is that if I’m not careful, it can suck the life out of the reasons I enjoy working in a school (and the reasons I turned down a big lawyer job to do so)- connecting with students and thinking about the big picture questions that present themselves every day. If I’m too deep into my to-do list, these things can feel more like distractions rather than being the work/motivation that informs the checklist(y) work.

The two mentalities don’t have to be completely discreet, however. Spending time giving informal feedback to students can cut the time I need to spend giving formal feedback at the completion of an assignment, when the feedback to students is less useful, in any case. Time spent working to insure that a new initiative is designed in the best and clearest way it can be saves implementation hassles later. Focusing my attention and being present while I’m observing a colleague can help me gain insights into my own teaching that may make me more effective or efficient.