Things I Know 365 of 365: Everything has(n’t) changed

flood waters 168/365
I had a car when this year started.

I had a car and a job and lived in the same state as my dog.

None of those things is true today.

For as much as the where and the what of my life have shifted, the who remains remarkably the same. I’ve spent the last few hours reading the first few dozen posts of the year, and of this series.

In many respects, they were some of the easiest posts to write. They came from the top of the pile of ideas and didn’t require me developing the now-constant habit of asking, “How could I write about that?” as I interacted with the world. They also speak to some of the core pieces of who I am and what I know. I am still a kitchen dancer who believes in the power of silly and understands the scaling power of boredom.

I still have questions for Michelle Rhee and like to listen in. I sit in wonder as I think about Sam and the Diatreme.

I won’t list them all. They’re here for your perusal and mine.

Here, just here, in this space and series I wrote and published around 150,000 words this year. Add to that my writing for classes, and this was my most prolific year linguistically.

As much as I’m looking forward to it, I’m nervous about tomorrow. Will I still write? Will I want to? Will I feel purpose?

The answer to each of these, I hope, is yes. Still, the worry is perched in my brain.

In a year that brought more change to my life than most any I can think of, writing here was a constant. At each day’s close, it was what I did. The rules changed and shifted according to my needs, but I was always committed. In the throes of change, this was something I did.

I’ll miss it.

Reading through the posts, I am sad to leave them here. They are the thoughts I found most worth sharing, and now they will sleep as an archive. I’ll miss the conversations. They’ll stay here for my children to find some day when they go looking to know better who I was, and that makes me happy.

In my first post, I mentioned Robert Fulghum. From boyhood, I’ve admired the dances he choreographs with words. Many of his are words I wish I wrote. While I’m still waiting for his reply to my letter so many years ago, I’d like to think I’ve done something here of which he’d approve. I’ve gone on a journey, an adventure of the every day, and left a map for myself should I ever want to return.

Knowing that makes it all worthwhile.

That’s what I know – for now.


Things I Know 188 of 365: Their relationship changed in a second (The Lost Post)

Illiteracy is rampant. People are out of communication.

– Karen Black

On a plane for Atlanta.

The row ahead of me includes, from aisle to window, dad, mom, 3-4 year old.

While signs suggest this isn’t junior’s first flight, he’s also not quite ready to take over for the captain.

He cannot help moving. He is driven by the energy of a pre-schooler multiplied by the idea of actually flying – up there – in the planes. They look so sky when they sore over his house.

I sit at a safe observation distance in the aisle seat with a sleeping elderly couple providing suitable insulation between  my flight and this kid’s frenetic energy.

I’ve other work to complete, but can’t tear my eyes and ears off of the scene.

This little guy cannot stop investigating. He’s got questions, and his compact size allows him to wiggle to vantage points I’ve never enjoyed in flight.

I am loving the story he’s writing of the flight.

The flight attendants, all big hair and drink rations, are having none of it.

“Ma’am? Ma’am! He’s got to sit. He’s got to sit down. The captain’s got the fasten seatbelt sign on. Ma’am?”

The line is delivered with a smile reminiscent of the one the evil queen must have flashed when meeting her stepdaughter while courting Snow White’s dad.

Not above attempting help, the flight attendant tries to buy compliance from the little guy, “Do you like chocolate milk? I think I’ve got some chocolate milk in back.”

Motion stops in the seat, and the flight attendant turns toward the tail of the plane. To no one in particular, she flashes a face of “OH. MY. LORD.”

After the milk is delivered, our rows enjoy a period of relative calm.

“Uh-oh, mommy,” I hear.

Mom’s head looks toward the window seat and then turns to dad, “His armrest is broken. We should tell them.”

Dad, stereotypically non-communicative, nods his head and heads back to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, mom and kid work their way to the restroom. He’s gotta go. Plus, peeing on a plane sounds like an adventure.

While they’re away, flight attendants begin collecting trash. One meets another just behind my row.

“He broke the armrest,” she says.

A heavy, all-knowing sigh.

They continue on their way.

From that point, until we exit the plane, a quiet battle takes place between the flight attendants and the family seated in front of me. It’s as thought mom, dad, and kid have shown themselves to be incompetent as passengers. Several times, they are questioned as to the upright and locked status of their seat backs as we prepare for landing.

The kid has broken their plane and they will take it out on this family in the only way they know how – by flight attending them to death.

As I watch the situation turn from cute to funny to sad, I wonder at the seconds of miscommunication that shift how these two groups understand one another. An event took place for which neither was responsible, but both were party to, and it defined how they came to know one another.

It took only seconds.

Things I Know 364 of 365: This is my 14th post of the day

Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

– Pres. Woodrow Wilson, “Fourteen Point Speech,” Point 1

This is the fourteenth post I’ve written today. It is the penultimate post of the series. Tomorrow’s post will be all, “Here’s what I’ve learned by looking at what I think I know.” Today was clearing out the closet of ideas I’ve been stowing in the corners of my computer and my brain this year. And I’ll happily admit feeling some strange, nerdy camaraderie with Wilson’s 14 Points as I wrote.

I’m a little surprised I’m still up writing, that I didn’t head to bed half a dozen posts ago and decide to finish the rest of the bunch tomorrow.

It became clear to me around today’s 4th post that I would be writing all 14 today. I needed to wake up tomorrow knowing the 365th day of this endeavor meant I needed only to write the 365th post. I needed the last post to have its own day, the way it all began.

For anyone following along this year, or simply by looking at the title of the series, it would seem as though I would only need to write one post each day anyway.

That would be true, had life not gotten in the way. The changes and moves of this year (stuff I’ll write about tomorrow) meant some days (quite a few, in the end) didn’t include blogging as a priority.

That is fine with me. I sad a hundred days ago or so, that I’d come to the realization that the rules of this enterprise were my own and that breaking those rules wasn’t cheating, but adapting.

So, as the Postal Service’s “Sleeping In,” plays on iTunes, that’s what I plan to do tomorrow, knowing today I handled the heavy lifting of holding myself accountable for meeting a goal I set for myself almost a year ago.

Today was a goal in itself – Find 14 ideas worth sharing and keep the writing cogent. I hope I’ve succeeded. I think I have.

Things I Know 363 of 365: ‘And over there, let’s build a lyceum’

I’ve just added another book to the to-read pile. Gary just suggested Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall. It came with this recommendation:

El Sistema is SO heavy on a million different levels. There are a bazillion lessons to take from it, not the least of which is that the compromises we make reflexively in the name of pragmatism, incrementalism or budget shortfalls are not only wrong, but unnecessary.

When Gingrich talks about learning the dignity of work, the first thing educators should ask is, “does their schoolwork have dignity?” Then we should look at efforts like El Sistema where a work ethic is developed while doing something complex, meaningful, beautiful and spiritually uplifting.

Don’t be thrown off by the prominence of Dudamel in the title. This book is about education, culture, children and transformation.

My interest is effectively piqued.

It’s also got me thinking of a course I’d like to see in every school in the country. For a working title, let’s call it Synthesis. The goal would be to give student the space and resources to develop deep understandings of the connections between the ideas they’re encountering in whatever other courses in which they’re enrolled.

It comes from frequent frustration last semester of not having a space to converse with other students on how the ideas from my different courses were melting together in my brain. I could write about it online and in papers for my professors’ eyes only, but I wanted discussion and, well, synthesis.

Each week of the course would require students to prepare a brief on their learning across courses in the previous week. The question guiding the brief: How did your classes intersect this week? From there, discussions would ensue with students introducing the nascent connections in their minds and asking for help from their peers in the massaging and upkeep of those connections.

Throughout the course, larger creations would also be asked for, wherein students pulled an over-arching idea that made up a decent amount of the connective tissue of his learning and presented the idea as he understood it to the rest of the class. Think of it as Aristotle’s Lyceum, but for credit.

Imagine the power in asking students to find and tease out connections between algebra, United States history, and biology. Imagine what listening to these discussions could do to inform teachers’ practice.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to imagine the structure and planning that would need to go into constructing such a shift of mind around thinking of learning as a continuous and connected act.

Things I Know 362 of 365: Education bought a round of bad evaluations for the house

Nice! Compulsory feedback #fail

– Gary Stager

To register next semester, I (along with all other Harvard ED School students) were required to complete our Fall term course evaluations. One would imagine signing off on the student loan promissory note was enough to get the job done, but it turns out telling others how they did their job is one of those fine-print requirements.

I’m of a mixed mind about the process.

To not see the erosion of validity in mandatory course evaluations, I’d have to be blind.

Then again, my answers were truthful and honest, but I’d likely never have completed the evaluations if left to my own post-semester devices.

Realizing this puzzle, I’ve been trying to think of possible alternatives.

Evaluations for two of my classes were particularly frustrating because I’d been keeping a mental list all semester of comments and compliments about what worked and what didn’t. I’d been waiting for the chance to offer feedback. When the chance came, though, I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say. I remembered bits and pieces, but completing course work and getting assignments down on the page throughout the semester had taken precedence over keeping a running evaluative journal.

For another course, I wanted more than text boxes could provide. I wanted the chance to sit with the professor and say, “I know you’re brilliant. I know you understand more about this field than I can probably ever hope to understand. I’ve got a little game of my own when it comes to teaching. Maybe we could help each other out?”

I dig wordsmithing, but I just couldn’t find a way to put that sentiment judiciously in a course evaluation.

My thinking on course evaluations at any level runs parallel to my thinking on single-scoop standardized testing. The bulk of the work has been done, and the feedback is supposed to paint a picture of the learning and teaching as a whole. It just doesn’t work. Evaluations need not be mandated if they are meaningful to those on either end.

If students benefit from frequent and multi-faceted feedback, it stands to reason the same could be said of teachers.

It could be as simple as, “What would you keep, and what would you change from today’s lesson?” or “What are two things you would have done to make today’s class better?”

Not only would such thinking model a willingness for improvement, but taking the feedback seriously would likely improve the level of instruction in the class as well.

Few things are as lonely as those few moments after a class of students has walked out the door and a teacher is left in the vacuum between the lesson that has just concluded and the next lesson to be planned.

Things I Know 361 of 365: I’m going to have a resolution

i wish it wasn’t so hip not to have a resolution.

Ze Frank

I’m going to have a resolution this year. Usually, I wait until my birthday in March to set goals or guidelines for that year of my life.

Even then, I avoid calling them resolutions.

This year feels like a good year to resolve. According to the online etymology dictionary, resolution has its roots in the Latin resolutionem meaning “process of reducing things into simpler forms.” I could use a bit of that.

I’ll be saving up the actual drafting of the resolution or resolutions for right before midnight as formal imaginary New Year’s Eve regulations require.

For now, I’m happy to be in the brainstorming stage. I’m enjoying having the question tumble around my head – What will I do next year to reduce things to simpler forms?

Things I Know 360 of 365: They’ll always be my students

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A former student and I have been messaging back and forth. He posted a status update on his wall that had that air of moving beyond the public moodiness of a teenager to being a public plea for a little help correcting course in the post-high school world.

I started simply, “If you need help, I’m here.”

We’ve been writing since then. He’s been putting down on digital paper what’s happening in his life and what he’d like to have happening. I’ve been offering up possibilities for course adjustment and asking questions.

If he told me to mind my own business or back off, I would. It’s his life, and I get that.

Only it’s not just his. I’ve got time, work, and care invested in him the same way I’m invested in all of my students. I chose to spend time in their lives because they were worth it. It was an investment of me.

Perhaps, in an unconnected world where living hundreds of miles away from my former students meant actually being separated from them, I would find it easier to withhold assistance or cut off the caring. Or, I’d simply find myself idly wondering what happened in the chapters of their lives following the one in which I featured.

Either way, this is not the world in which I live. I am connected to my students. My approach may be different than generations of teachers before me, but that is because the tools and environments of those teachers were also different. My students populate my information feeds each day, creating threads that may be no more than gossamer, but bind us together nonetheless.

One of the reasons my mom decided against a major in education was the danger she’d want to bring every student home.

That’s not my issue. I don’t want that. I don’t want to lose myself in my students. The principle and ethic that guides me, and always will, is that I will never turn my back on any students who are in danger of losing sight of themselves.