Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Book Club

Let's pretend no one signs up for this community book club idea that has been wonderfully consuming my summer. (Quick note: this is NOT a reality since 53 have signed up in just the first week of releasing its details, but let's just pretend.) I've learned an incredible amount already which will directly impact my students. It's certainly impacted me.

Lesson 1: Human connection is critical.

I was working on this project on my own for quite awhile. (Again, another fib. Emily Bazelon had to write the book, Superintendent Furton had to give the go-ahead and help with some ideas, and I used some friends to think through the concept more thoroughly.) Mostly, though, the work was my own: I set up the website, I emailed Ms. Bazelon, I created the format. But, as I was working on this project and hoped for it to reach a bigger audience, I knew that I was limited. 

My education came at the hands of Jill--a friend and parent of three students. After taking an hour with me to think about the details of the project and speaking to me from a parent perspective, she brought up the idea of a small committee. "More hands make light work," she said. So, I called a small group together and the idea has soared because of them. They had the idea of advertisement, personal stories filmed and embedded in the website, outreach ideas to parents and the community-at-large which never would have crossed my mind. (Not all of these ideas have been put into place, but they will.) They gave specific feedback to the website and to the sign-up form. Their work has been beyond valuable--and that was after just one hour of meeting. 

So, there's the lesson for my students: working with others will improve the quality of your own work. This committee has already improved the project. The same MUST be the case for my students. By THINKING together, ideas progress. The work gets better.

Lesson 2: Technology makes life easier.

I've never created a website with embedded video before. I've never created a Google Form before. I've never used a spreadsheet to gather data like this before. Already, in just a month or two of work on this project, I've learned an incredible amount about the technology that is at my fingertips--for free.

Students need these skills. The skills of forming websites, sharing them, creating spreadsheets filled with data is going to be part of their life. Honestly, if it's become a part of mine, it will be part of theirs. 

Lesson 3: Revision is necessary. 

Throughout this process, I've re-written the sign-up form about four times--maybe more. I've composed emails to administrators in my school district as well as my colleagues. Those emails went through many drafts. I've created presentation slides for the board of education and for local organizations. Soon, I'll be writing to all of the parents. Each one of these pieces, in my opinion, requires a slightly different tone. Some tweaks here and there change the writing based on my audience.  

Revisions have been necessary on all kinds of levels: sometimes the sentences aren't clear, sometimes my audience wants me to be less wordy (perhaps like right now--during this blog), and sometimes the information changes (a date here and there, a venue). To get the information right, revisions need to be made.

Often, students see revision as just something their teacher makes them do, just another step in a process they've been doing ten years before they get to me. But, there is HUGE value. I need to work harder to make sure that my students see it, understand it, and do it.

Most importantly--the best lesson I've learned so far to pass along to my students--it matters. Because I care for the book club's success so much, I'm willing to meet with people, to work with new technology, to revise and revise and revise. THAT is what I have to give to my students--meaningful assignments. Once we have that, the work becomes important and feels less and less like work.

(Side note: I did my BODY+MIND REGIMEN, mentioned in last week's blog, six out of seven days this week. Feeling pretty good about that.) 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A New Exercise Regimen: THE MIND+BODY WORKOUT

Most of my life, I've been the chubby one, the husky one, the Fat Albert. Sure, I've had a year or two of losing some major weight, but for whatever reason (mostly, lack of willpower), it hasn't stayed off. Being big takes its toll. I hate buying clothes--passionately. It actually makes me spiral into significant--though quick, thank God--spurts of depression.

But, in the last year, I've started to see my world differently. I now have a new reason to lose weight: my mind. Like I mentioned in my last blog post--Like MJ, I'm in the (Teacher) Zone--my brain is firing at a rapid speed right now. I'm thinking about my future differently. I see ways that I can teach my students with more power. I see ways that I can be more active in the educational field. I see myself writing stories for my children. There's a lot going on in my mind's eye.

But, my body must follow.

I realize that all of my educational visions cannot be fully realized with a tired body, with a body that peters out too soon.

So, if I start seeing that the physical and the intellectual work together, then I might just be able to buy in a bit more. I'm off to a good start--I've exercised six of the last seven days. Of course, it feels great--in all areas. My knees feel better when I exercise; my mood takes a turn up which must make my family happy; my head clears of garbage to make more room for the storm of positive educational ideas.

They work together--the mind and body.

So, I've come up with my workout regimen for the fall.

THE MIND+BODY WORKOUT is 30 minutes of exercise, 30 minutes of writing, and 30 minutes of reading five times/week.

But, I need you. In whatever way we connect--Facebook, email, Twitter or face-to-face--I'm asking that you hold me accountable. Ask me what I'm reading. Ask me how my writing projects are going. Ask me what new exercise I'm doing.

Basically, ask me if I'm healthy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Like MJ, I'm in the (Teacher) Zone

When I was around twelve or thirteen, I remember having that great Michael Jordan poster, his arms stretched out wide with just the word "W-I-N-G-S" spread across it. I wasn't a Jordan lover, but I certainly wasn't a hater. I guess I was--an admirer. I like watching athletes at their peak.

I recall Jordan describing, after one of his many games where it seemed he couldn't miss, the hoop like an ocean. He could just throw the ball toward the rim and--SPLOOSH!--right in without touching anything buy nylon.


I don't want to call this summer my absolute zone, my peak; I would never do that. I intend to improve my entire career. But, I'm feeling more in the zone than ever before. And it is an awesome feeling.

If Jordan described the hoop as an ocean, I describe my brain as a lightning storm, just electricity firing about how to make my students' work more meaningful.

I'll take a little bit of credit later, but most of the credit really goes out to others. I stopped thinking I was such a great teacher and I let others show me how to be better. It is because of my connection with others that I am in the (teacher) zone.

From the books I've read:

  • Emily Bazelon's Sticks and Stones has moved me to action; I'm hoping to get a community book club going involving students, teachers, business people, anyone. "It takes a village" is an old, but appropriate saying. If we're going to have a real discussion about bullying, it needs the whole community. 
  • Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing have both pushed me to look at myself as a writer. Better than that, they've given me material to push my students to believe in themselves as writers.
  • Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate has me energized to get back with students. As I read his book, the lightning storm inside my head was fierce. He gave me immediate ways to improve my teaching.

From the conferences/professional development I've attended:

  • MACUL 2013 was last March, but the electricity from it is still in my brain. It got me to act on bringing great technology into my classroom. I'm implementing those strategies.
  • Twitter Chats allow me to connect with people around the world. These folks have their digital door open, offering up their greatest techniques for all to have. 
  • The Lake Michigan Writing Project changed my identity from teacher to teacher/writer. I am a writer. From the people I met and the time I was given just to work, new ideas entered the lightning storm and they're turning the sand into glass as we speak. The Lake Michigan Writing Project made me work and produce. 
  • NERDVANA--a group of 7-12 English staff in my district--gets together to discuss whatever professional text we're reading at the time. It's wonderful connection within the school and it improves all of our teaching.

From the people I've talked to (This is where I don't know how I'll ever stop. The people I mention, and many more who I don't, have made the lightning bolts flash brighter from their encouragement.):
  • It starts with my family. My wife, as I've been working more hours than ever on my craft, has only been encouraging. After deciding the parameters (no working meal times or children's bedtime), she's encouraged the lightning storm. My daughters are fun. Lots of fun. That's been essential in the down time.
  • New friends from the Writing Project--Lindsey, Erica, Ben, Chris, Greg, Rachel, and all--have given me the pushes to believe in myself. They've encouraged the storm. They've asked necessary questions about my writing and then they've encouraged me to continue when I questioned myself.
  • Old friends from life--JB, Garth, Rim, Eric, Joe, and their families--have been essential to me being in the zone. They have given me encouragement and laughter. They have given me fun.
  • I'm also grateful to authors/speakers who didn't have to take time with me, but did. Without this kind of help and encouragement, the lightning storm would have dimmed. Because of them, it has intensified. Emily Bazelon, Kevin Honeycutt, Penny Kittle, and Dave Burgess have all been wonderful at various points over the summer.
Finally, I do take some credit--from the reflections I've forced myself to have:

  • Writing this blog forces me to pull my thoughts together. Because of it, I have proposed ideas, thanked necessary people, offered concerns and fixes on education.
  • In getting ready to lead some workshops, I've been able to question myself: am I really qualified to be leading a group of educators? Each time, after more work and practice and reflection, I've come out on the other side of that question with the same answer: YES! I can be a leader.

I also remember that shrug Jordan gave (I think it was against the Trailblazers in one of his six championships) to the announcers when the man just couldn't miss. He was having straight-up fun. And so am I. In my spare time, I want to get on Twitter. I want to read and write. I want to plan for my students. I want to get another presentation ready.

An athlete knows he's in the zone because he never wants it to stop.

Neither do I.