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.



  1. "Instead of whining ... I can do my best to include..." definitely less blame and more taking responsibility for me next year. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. All the best for 2017 : )

    1. Thanks Nyima. Something I need to learn more about is a system where everyone involved in the success of a student can know and execute roles to make that success happen.
      Wishing you the best too!

  2. Trying to find the balance between what we're supposed to teach and what students need is something that's confounded me for the eight years I've been a math specialist. Many of the students I see are functioning well below grade level, and for all the help I can give them to shore up foundational skills and concepts, they are still responsible for taking unit assessments and, of course, the yearly standardized tests. But if we work hard to make the grade level mathematics accessible and compelling, and combine that with meaningful routines (estimation180, for example), it's possible to hit a sweet spot and keep everyone in class engaged and learning. But it's hard work, and teachers need support, encouragement, time to collaborate, and the freedom to experiment without fear.
    Thanks for raising the topic. And may 2017 be filled with good health and great happiness for you and your family.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Joe. I love your attitude that "we work hard to make the grade level mathematics accessible and compelling, and combine that with meaningful routines (estimation180, for example), it's possible to hit a sweet spot and keep everyone in class engaged and learning."

      No doubt, it's hard work and we all need support and encouragement. It's always a work in progress. I'm thankful this resonates with you. I notice it resonates with many teachers too. It has helped me to view it as a journey and a destination we are working toward instead of something Long the lines of "there will never be an answer."