October: Just Enough Constant Change

October, 2019.

People ask me how my “new job” (not actually a new job) is and I usually tell them that I live my life based on what’s on Google calendar. As a coach (in the morning, at least), I have 7 different teachers who I try to observe and debrief with on a weekly(ish) cycle. Plus meetings with other adults and coaches and student support and a random smattering of Professional Development (PD) days and it’s just enough constant change to keep me on my toes. There’s also quite a few documents (which are largely self-imposed) to keep track of and Google calendar helps keep it all in one place (to be fair, so does Google Drive, but Drive is crazy making. Again, self-imposed).

In a similar way, I am basically unable to do any writing for the Knowles (Teacher Initiative) Writing Retreat unless it’s in my calendar (and even then, my success rate is low). At the end of our writing retreat, I said I was going to block off some times to write…and I didn’t. Then, our first hangout came. And (because I hadn’t written anything yet), I said I was going to block off some time to write (…and then didn’t). At our last hangout, I finally set a calendar reminder for 2 hours of writing every other weekend (I also about half an hour of writing immediately prior to the hangout).


I saw the calendar reminder go off this morning and went to bed. I went for a run (because I can only ever get my running act together on Sundays). I push back the writing for an hour. And then another hour to eat. I have to do some reading about instructional coherency for school. So I push the writing back for another hour (s)…And then I need to eat again.

And now it’s 10pm. I still have a few (many) things to knock out for school tomorrow (thank goodness for Gmail’s “Send Later” feature). But I want to put in some of the time I have set aside, especially because I’ve already missed so many days.

(This entry finalized, with minimal editing, 3 months later. Go figure)

Hello (again) World


I mostly lurk in the #MathematicsTwitterBlogOSphere. One of the takeaways from a conference that I lurked at from afar was Carl Oliver’s idea that we need to #PushSend. So many of us (and I see this at my school) have perfectionist tendencies and need to have the perfect blog created before we publish it. When we should really just #PushSend and send it out into the world.

I am writing again with support from the Knowles Teacher Initiative. I spent 2 days this summer (which now seems ages ago) with a group of once-beginning mathematics and science teachers thinking about what writing about teaching means. This, combined with my typical dragging-of-feet for an inquiry story that I had to write, brought me to the realization that the best way to get over dragging my feet is to write a horrible, horrible draft, then revise it several times.

So that’s what I’m doing. Now that school is up and running, I’m making myself sit down once a month and draft/revise a quick blogpost about what I’m thinking about. One of the questions I find myself returning to is “What do teachers know that they wish other people knew?” And I think quite a few posts will focus on that. 

Other possible things that may appear here:

  • Thoughts on teacher education
  • Teaching and identity
  • Supporting emerging multilingual students (Rochelle Gutiérrez’s amazing term for English Language Learners)
  • Socioemotional learning
  • What does student support look like?
  • What is coding?

Articles so far:

August: Terrified of Summer School: Have I lost my ability to teach 9th and 10th graders?

September: Relative Freedom, Heavy Support: direction versus facilitation.

October: Just Enough Constant Change: Living and dying by Google Calendar.

November: I Teach Independent PE?: The classes I get assigned to teach.

December: Loving Portfolios, Tolerating Logistics: The (very basic) logistics of performance-based assessment from outside of the classroom.

The One With Writing Practice


Project pages continue on, even though we’ve been away on a field trip. Planning Partner and I have been working on writing scaffolds for a few years and it kind of feels like we’re getting somewhere (though I wish I’d made it clearer to students that they can either choose the more scaffolded version on one side or the less scaffolded version on the other. Womp)

Photo: Student writing drafts2017-07-10 14.30.07-2What do you observe? What do you wonder?

(Swear I did not bribe them to put “quietness” as their answer. Though in retrospect)

(Also, apologies to the 1 or 2 of you who might possibly subscribed to get immediate blog posts. I’m about to go back and fill in some gaps. There’s apparently a way to get a digest instead of individual posts, so…)

Day 79: The One With the Essay Draft


2015-12-17 06.53.20

Each round of portfolios brings new ideas and new growth. I feel like I pushed students to do more brainstorming with scaffolds (though there’s a TON of growth I want to do in that area next round). I feel like the support I was able to offer fell off as the week went on. This student had some decent ideas. I definitely didn’t push them as much as I wanted to on formatting or translating those ideas into English (which is a common theme that I saw during this round).

(My favorite quote was this essay is “Last years soso speak  in English this year is Amazing.” I can absolutely hear this kiddo saying this and it’s pretty spot on)

Scary Sprites (and Something Else)

Another teacher at our school is organizing an awesome writer’s workshop for teachers at our school over the summer. Here’s what I’ve written so far:

Sam’s[1] first day at school is my first day at school and it’s hard to say who is more confused. I ask my advisory[2] to fill out a “Get To Know Me” sheet. 18 sets of blank eyes stare back at me, including Sam.

We ride the bus back from Target. I talk with Sam and another advisee (probably in Spanish) about speaking Mam[3]. Sam speaks it, the other advisee, Grace (also from Guatemala), does not. I don’t fully understand what this means.

I make my advisory, The (one time) Crazy Ghosts, tell me their favorite song in hopes of making an advisory playlist (This doesn’t happen). Sam’s favorite song (at the time) is “Scary Sprites and (something else)” by Skrillex. In what will be the first of many “I Am Old” moments, I recognize the name Skrillex but am unsure whether it is a person or a band. I make a mental note to Google it later. (Update: Skrillex is a man)

Many times, Sam wanders into my classroom a few minutes before first period and helps to take down chairs. When you’re new, being early to first period is probably better than being alone.

At some point, Sam stops coming to school. I call home, but am only able to reach Mom a few times and with limited results. I see his name on a Wellness[4] referral. I leave a folder for him during Portfolios, which remains empty.

We switch the order of our classes at the semester. Sam’s first period (my class) becomes his last period and vice versa. At some point (March? April?), after many months away, Sam randomly wanders back into my class. Cristina, who was in Sam’s class (originally first period, now last period), but switched back to first period, recognizes him. “What are you doing here, maje[5]?” (I’m pretty sure she says it all in Spanish, despite being one of the better English speakers in the class) I send Sam to English class, not thinking to check in with him. I ask him how he’s doing at the end of the day. He says “fine”. I don’t see him again for a month.

3 of my advisees, including Sam, get SARBed[6].

We plan an SST[7] for Sam. I call Mom. No one picks up. We hold the SST anyway.

I’m in the office during prep (probably forgot to take attendance again) and I see Sam and his mom. I crouch by his chair and ask how he’s doing. He says he’s moved. I write down Sam’s address and phone number (I later find out that I accidentally wrote Sam’s number under another advisee’s name. Oops). Sam asks someone in the office, in English, if his mom can go home. They don’t hear him so he asks again in Spanish.

A few days before the school year starts, I see Sam’s name on my advisory list, but not my class list. He gets transferred to another advisory where there is another Mam speaker. I go to give his Portfolio to his new advisor, except that there’s nothing to give.

Sam comes back on the first day of school. He looks happy. I grab him outside class and write down his actual phone number.

Sam walks into my classroom, most likely stalling on his way to actual class. Another student jokes with him about something inappropriately adolescent. They leave to go to actual class.

Another teacher and I talk with Sam about being 18 and whether he’ll be back in school next year. We push for him to come back.

I hear another teacher pull Sam aside for ridiculousness in the halls (my words, not theirs). I wonder if this is a phase that he was supposed to go through last year. I hope he grows out of it quick.

The other team calls a flock of students, including Sam, to the stage during the end of year assembly. The other students walk up. I don’t see Sam. I worry that he’s stopped coming to school again. The other team reads Sam’s achievements and calls his name again. Heads turn. Sam walks down the aisle quickly. I think I see a sheepish grin on his face. I chide myself for doubting him.

[1] Not their real name. Obvio.

[2] The 18 students that I am responsible for supporting socioemotionally. Like a homeroom.

[3] A Guatemalan indigenous language.

[4] Students can be referred to the school Wellness center for a wide rage of health-related issue. All public high schools in our district have them.

[5] Vaguely Salvadorean for “dude”.

[6] Students who are truant are referred to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). This is an intervention along the spectrum of truancy intervention.

[7] Student Success Team (meeting). The student, teachers and other people who care about the student talk about how best to support the student.

Day 161: The One With the Zombie Apocalypse

Content is over. Portfolios are here.

Because our kiddos are all English Language Learners, our summative assessments look a little different. Content ends two weeks early and the kiddos spend the majority of their day with their advisor, writing and reflecting on what they’ve learned during the semester.

Photo 1: Target Notes and Post-itsTarget notes with post-itsTo help the kiddos organize their thinking, we have them complete a graphic organized called a target note (because it’s shaped like a target). They fill out their thesis, make 3 claims and support those claims with evidence and analysis. (Some of our awesome teachers revamped them this year so that the format is easier to follow and has the kiddos talk more about what they’ve learned and the projects they’ve done).

One kiddo had another teacher proofread their target notes after school. The teacher had some great ideas and rather than having the kiddo write them into the target notes, had them write their revisions on post-its.

I find that some kiddos are resistant to revising their writing since it means “more work”. The post-it note reduces some of that “work” and also helps them see the changes they’ve made. (I suspect most kiddos aren’t used to doing multiple drafts or the idea of reading something to make it better).

Photo 2: The Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie Apocalypse Target NotesOur amazing biology teachers did a unit on eco-systems which prominently features the zombie apocalypse. During portfolios, we ask our students to provide evidence and analysis as part of their essays about what they learned. One of the kiddos did a decent job providing evidence from what they learned…and then justified it using their ability to survive the zombie apocalypse. I tried to figure out if this was a content issue or a language issue, but when I mentioned it to the student, they groaned and rolled their eyes, so…

Days 82 and 83: Out With the Old…

Day 82: Instead of giving semester finals, our school has a 2-week portfolio process. Teachers spend all day with their advisees, working on reflective essays on a variety of topics like what they felt successful about, what they felt they struggled with, etc. The process is often described as intense and at the end of it, I’d agree. I’m just beginning to wrap my head around what it all meant.

Elvis' essays on what he struggles with in school

In their essays, quite a few students said they struggled with math. Thursday’s picture is from Elvis, one of my students who was absent for most of the portfolio process, but worked on essays from home. His essays (sentences written first in Spanish, then translated to English) talk about how he felt math was difficult and how he sometimes felt angry because he didn’t always understand what was happening in math class and because his classmates didn’t always help him (we rely pretty heavily on groupwork given that students enter with a wide variety of math backgrounds). There are a million excuses and variables that play into why Elvis thinks math is difficult. His English is still developing and classes are taught entirely in English (though there is lots of native language support. Perhaps too much). He is sometimes absent (though not truant). His class is at the end of the day and struggles with staying focused. Many of the other students are also struggling with the math and often resort to distractions rather than asking for help, which affects the entire class.

Elvis is a good kid. He was one of the few kids who said goodbye to one of our students whose last day of school was Friday and he won a round of musical chairs for our advisory. Next semester, I’ll continue to think about how to help Elvis and other students like him gain more access to material in class. This means thinking about how to break problems down to the most basic level while still building in challenges for students who have been doing this math for years. It means really figuring out what my students know (we’re going into simplifying and solving expressions and I’m sure that some of my students aren’t quite comfortable with division and that most of them aren’t comfortable with exponents). It means pulling in Elvis at lunch and after school – I’ve gotten him to come in a couple times, but never really consistently and probably not focused on the things he needs to learn. We’ll see.

Day 83: After a few last portfolio presentations and a gradewide assembly, the last day of school ends at 1:05. Teachers finish last minute grading until the grading system closes at 3 and then everyone frantically cleans their rooms so that they can both be ready for the next semester and get home at a decent hour (the custodian kicked me out. You can guess which end of that scale I ended up on). In addition to getting rid of a mountain of paper and resetting my room after portfolios, I also re-taped manager roles on my tables (because I finally learned how to use the laminator, which is a whole other post in itself).


Each group has 4 roles: the resource manager, the group manager, the communications manager and the task manager. Theoretically, each manager is in charge of a specific part of the task that the group is working on so that everyone has something to do and some way to participate. In reality, I often use them more as a way to call on a member from each table, though I’m hoping to use them in a more authentic way next semester.

Five Paragraph Essay

These days, I’m fascinated with David Coleman, and not just because he shares a name with a dear friend from Peace Corps. Ed policy wonks can read more here (hat tip to journalist Dana Goldstein, whose writing I just can’t get enough of). The short story is that he helped write the Common Core and was recently named to head up the College Board.

The quote that most sticks with me is one he retracted (it was that good, I guess): “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Very little of the writing I learned in high school (5 paragraphs, although/because thesis to some extent, concession paragraph, and a concluding paragraph that I still don’t know how to write) comes into play today (to be fair, I work in nonprofit operations). I’ve learned (through ever-patient college newspaper editors and a line-editing boss) to trim my writing down to drive the main point home. No narrative at all, really. Quick, effective writing and supplementary formatting/bolding.

That being said, quite a bit of the work we do externally involves narrative. Our blogs, our emails, our speeches all involve telling stories about what we do and the people we do it with/for. People don’t relate to numbers, they relate to other people. This is especially true (I think) when teaching students – if you don’t engage them, they might not care enough to learn. The takeaway for me is that you need to master both the facts and how to tell them. What’s that saying about silver bullets?

Speaking of narrative, check out “The Experiment” about schools in New Orleans (decidedly pro-charter, but most of the schools in New Orleans are charters these days, apparently).

Things I Did Today:

  • Return phone calls (no one there)
  • Draft emails (short, sweet, to the point)
  • Draft memo on our current evaluation process
  • Do massive revision of financial procedures (almost done)



Intention of the Week: Write More

A friend (who should have a blog, but doesn’t) starts off the week with an intention of the week. Mine (which I, um, didn’t do yesterday) is to write more. Write in this blog. Write things down at work. Write more in general. So far, not doing well. (But it guilt tripped me in to writing this, so…)

Things I did today (oops yesterday):

  • Did more reconciling of books
  • Talked about professional development with another organization in our space
  • Helped deal with timesheets
  • Got distracted when I found out Maurice Sendak passed 😦 (rough week for Brooklyn)

Love this article on the Beastie Boy’s Adam Yauch, for everything that your average fan (myself included) doesn’t see about the band (Brooklyn, growth, children).

And this article on Blue Engine CEO/Founder Nick Ehrmann and the successes and challenges that Blue Engine has gone through in its first few years.

Am now realizing that it’s Wednesday and I am announcing this intention halfway through the week.