Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Recap

I stumbled upon my biggest revelation in 2016. It's a question that always challenged me as a classroom teacher, but I often suppressed because too many other teaching responsibilities took priority. I've come to realize that was a foolish excuse. This question will be forever present throughout the rest of my career in education:
How do we balance the things we're supposed to teach and the things students need to learn?

I'm okay knowing there will never be an exhaustive and absolute answer to this question. I think it's more valuable we continue to work toward what we think might be an answer. Working toward the answer keeps us hungry, honest, and humble. If we pretend to know the answer to this question, then we have given ourselves the false illusion that our work as educators is complete. Having worked with hundreds of educators this year in workshops and presenting to thousands of teachers at conferences, I know I'm not the only one with this burning question. I see (and feel) their heads nod when I raise this question/concern.

I don't pretend to have an answer. I encourage us all to work toward that balance. For example, as a middle school teacher, I was supposed to teach proportional relationships, but my students needed to learn number sense strategies like skip counting, multiplication, decomposing numbers, and more. I don't blame the students, their former teachers, and parents for poor number sense. It's what it is!

I could whine about it to you, my colleagues, my principal, or my family, but that doesn't change anything. If I want my students to have better number sense AND be more successful with proportional relationships, that's on me to create, nurture, and refine systems that get them further along on their learning journey. Instead of whining or assigning blame, I can do my best to include my colleagues, parents of students, and administration to play active roles in that system, ergo one goal for 2017 is to learn more about successful systems and their design principles.

What are your thoughts? Does that question plague you too?

Professionally, I'm proud and honored to have:
  • Worked with amazing math teachers in TUSD who do their best, work hard, take risks and reflect on their practice.
  • Given my Classroom Clock Ignite talk at NCTM Annual because I believe in using time constraints to maximize the effectiveness of what we do as teachers.
  • Co-presented with Kristen Bennett (OCMC), JR Ginex-Orinion (CUE), Lynda Chung (CMC South), and Chris Shore (GMD) and learned a great deal from all of them
  • Worked with teachers in these states.
  • Received appreciative emails and tweets from teachers
I continue to work on:
  • Family time > math conferences
  • Looking up at people and the world > looking down at a device
  • To-do list > email list
  • Listening to > listening for (thanks Max) 
  • Listening to > speaking
  • Learning what's important to others > what I might think is best
I loved seeing my children:
  • play together
  • laugh together
  • argue
  • problem-solve
  • tickle me
  • talk about numbers
  • describe the world around them
  • enjoy being kids

I'm grateful for:
  • vacation and family time
  • those who have challenged my thinking
  • those who inspired me to do the best work I can do that supported student learning and effective teaching
  • teachers willing to share their successes and challenges in hopes of supporting their colleagues
Whatever 2016 brought you and whatever 2017 will bring you, I challenge you and myself to:
Be hungry. Be more honest. Be more humble.


Friday, December 9, 2016


Chris Shore and I drove from Southern California to Asilomar and back last weekend so we could attend and present at CMC North. On the way back, Chris introduced me to the idea of systems and how valuable they are to the success and longevity of a program, team, organization, etc. I realized I have so much to learn about systems.

In my current role as a Digital Learning Coach, I could ask,
"What systems have I put in place with fellows (teachers I support) so they can continue the work and mindset we started together?"

If I was in the classroom, I would ask,
"If I had to be away from the classroom for a day or more, what systems have I put in place so my students can successfully function without me?"

This last question can be truly sobering. I realize my systems as a classroom teacher could have been far better. Here are a couple reasons:
1) The systems that I did have in place, relied heavily on me being present. For example, when greeting students at the door, there was no guarantee the sub would greet them. Student thinking was valued, but this didn't always happen in my absence.
2) Did I establish and regularly execute systems so my students knew how to be successful each day they walked into class? Even when I was present, did I establish a system so my students knew how to share the most positive part of themselves with their classmates?

I could sit here and kick myself on many things. I could find at least 100 things I could have done better as a classroom teacher. Moving forward:
How do I build systems with my fellows so they are successful after our time working together?
How do I build systems with teachers in professional development workshops so they leave the workshop prepared to strengthen their own systems and instruction?
I'm thinking about reading Systems Thinking for Social Change over Winter Break. Has anyone read this book? If so, what do you think? Or do you have other suggestions?