At last count, I had nine (9) different ways to brew a cup of coffee. Each one has something to commend it. I love the sheer beauty of the all glass, but wood trimmed Chemex and the smoothness of the brew, which usually brings out the sweetness of something from Counter Culture Coffee, like maybe their Apollo blend. I’m grateful for the efficiency to quality ratio of my Aeropress, which makes a lovely single cup, and when coupled with my Porlex hand grinder, is close to gourmet quality. I’ve brought the Aeropress/Porlex combo to school in the last week and have begun to make my third and fourth cups here with them. They’re also great when camping, where everything depends on your ability to boil some water and rehydrate what tastes good and isn’t gorp. There are the odd days where I make a cup with my office Nespresso, which I love because it’s the lowest floor to good coffee entry–load the pod, lock it in, hit the button and wait 45 seconds. Presto, I’m drinking George Clooney’s preferred tres Euro coffee product. And of course, I wouldn’t be an American coffee drinker without a drip brewer at home. I don’t set the auto brew timer in the morning because I like to know that the first cup is freshmade and hasn’t been sitting in the thermal carafe for the last hour while I played snooze roulette with my alarm clock. Somewhere under the kitchen sink, I’ve got a french press, a Turkish pot, a moka pot and a cold brew rig for the warm weather months. The cold brew rig is a reminder that it’s vacation or it’s about to be vacation because I have the time, energy and patience to grind an entire bag of coffee, load the rig, fill it with water and the filters and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days, then wait patiently for the 30 minutes it takes to drain and strain the cold brew concentrate.
Look, y’all. I’m not just out here bragging about all the ways I can make you a coffee if you come by M3 to talk shop, although I am absolutely glad to do so. I’m here telling you that if you love something deeply like coffee or children, then learning to love it in many different ways is worth your while. Working with children has an ebb and flow and a sometimes discernable internal logic to it. Within that, you owe it to yourself professionally and personally to find the teaching and learning equivalents of 9 different ways to brew coffee as you work with the children you teach. Now, I’m not entirely sure what that looks like, but I think it involves switching it up in your classes from time to time so that you’re giving yourself a chance to see your kiddos (in all their complexity and nuance) in new ways, just like your Hario pourover lets something shine that might otherwise be boring in a drip brew. I think it also looks like acknowledging that the weeks right before a big break aren’t necessarily the best for trying to do the things you might have done at the beginning of the year with the same level of focus and intensity, just as you should have the good sense to know that you don’t want that strong cup of Turkish coffee after the steak dinner when you plan to head home and try to get a good night’s sleep. Finally, I think it involves knowing when to give yourself some grace, especially when you drop the ball, teach a dud of a lesson or can’t figure out how to get through to a child on a day when you’re just plain woe out. While I don’t suggest attempting to pour children down the sink and starting over, I do think there’s always the chance to teach another lesson on another day and more beans to grind and brew differently next time.
I’m not sure if there is a ‘season’ for Professional Development since we teachers seem to do it constantly. Whether it’s reading articles we’ve found or have been shared, or we go to the weekly Wednesday PD, or our bi-yearly whole school PDs, reading books, listening to podcasts, or skimming Teacher pay Teacher and Pinterest, we are all constantly learning all the time. Teachers are always looking for knowledge on how to help those in their care find the JOY in learning.
I have just recently returned from a beautiful week at the NAEYC conference with 8 colleagues. Four of the 8 were presenting, which, if you have never attended one of these conferences is a REALLY BIG DEAL!! This conference is held every November somewhere around the country. This year’s conference was in Washington DC, had over 6,000 attendees and over 500 sessions.
As we arrived at the conference center the buzz and chatter were just under a loud roar. You could feel the excitement for people to share and listen to what makes their teaching special or disastrous.
I listened to presenters talk about how to use storybooks to increase a child’s inferential learning by reading the same book intentionally several different times over serval weeks.
I listened to the magic of how to transform a playground into a place of wonder, creation, and safety for children that desperately need it and can usually only find it at school since play at home no longer consists of that freedom of escape from reality. One of my favorite takeaways from outside play was the mantra “don’t let the catpoop win!”
One that I was surprisingly challenged by was the session on ‘The Power of Play.’ I always considered my teaching style and room layout to be very conducive to play while trying to incorporate academic connections. I came away realizing that I control way more than I thought and there is less ‘play’ in my room than I realized. The more I control, the more choice is diminished, and the less opportunity a child has to develop their self-identity and their executive functioning skills.
Some questions that we were to ask ourselves… do you control the number of children in an area? the use of materials? where materials are used? how they are used? etc. You see, the power of play has been proven to build a child’s self-identity. Choice is the sculpture of self-identity. Play also develops executive functioning. Executive Functioning skills allow individuals to prioritize tasks and correctly sequence needed behaviors to complete them efficiently. When a child plays without control from an adult these skills are activated. We all know these skills are crucial to be a successful adult. Play also activates the limbic system which is the light switch of learning. As we face the tension that we hold as educators between child-led learning through play and structured learning led by us there is one quote the presenter left us with that gives hope to the most structured and tight of daily school schedules….
“When you don’t have time, at least honor the child’s heart…listen to what matters to them and incorporate that into their learning.” I am confident we can all do that.
I could go on and on about the sessions I went to. I was lucky enough to hit 9 sessions plus hitting the exhibit hall with every new toy, book, furniture, and curriculum you could imagine, plus some giveaways. (I found out Judy Menist is the luckiest person I know. She scored lots of swag plus $100!)
I was thankful that 2 of the sessions that I attended we all can be privy too! Sandra and Maggie led a difficult discussion on how we can engage families more in knowing what is happening with their child and yet not being tied down to documenting every move a child makes at the moment they make them. There was lots of sharing of what works, what makes it worse, and different platforms to try. The takeaway theme seemed to be TRUST. No matter what platform you use, how often you use it, and how information is disseminated it all comes down to leaning in with parents trusting teachers, teachers trusting parents, and both trusting the school system. If that can be fostered there seems to be a lot less frustration on all sides in dealing with communication.
There were also Lea and Taylor leading a discussion on Debunking the Myth of Traditional Calendar time to a packed room. Using the well-known truth that time is an abstract concept in which young children(under the age of six) can not grasp the same way we do as adults, Lea and Taylor challenged teachers to look at the traditional method of how we do calendar and turn it into a meaningful way in which children can relate to time. The method they shared allows the child to build the concept of time by using memories instead of abstract numbers or measurements. As they presented, you could see the curiosity and excitement as teachers began to see a rich and wonderful way of taking an activity as old as time itself and making it a wonderful deeply connecting piece of a child’s learning.
As we all headed home several things became very apparent; first, I am so blessed and grateful to have gotten to know my colleagues better than I would have ever had a chance to if I did not go, second, there is nothing like being around thousands of educators to rekindle one’s fire for teaching, and last, never underestimate just having fun for funs sake with people you work with. It should always be the season for that!
As you’ve likely heard, we apparently had the largest number of students/faculty traveling EVER that last few days before Thanksgiving break. I was one such lucky human, and I got to hang out with Susan Pace, Cullen Brown, and Monica Colletti in Anaheim, California. We went to some great sessions, ate some amazing Thai food, learned a bit about birding from the expert himself, and everyone was incredibly understanding when I messed up on the AirBNB booking and we had no place to stay for our last night. This I believe: conferences by myself are cool. Conferences with colleagues are the best.
But this blog is not just about my fun trip. Here’s a few words and pics from our national and international travelers:
Blake Ware (Italy with Global Studies): One of the themes that kept emerging in my mind were similarities I found between some of the political tensions that were felt at times in ancient Rome, and how we continue to wrestle with similar questions today. It was a fascinating lesson in ancient civilizations and human behavior!
Hollie Marjanovic, (“Learning and The Brain”): I went because the focus was on “The Distracted Brain.” There were 2 major topics: Brains and devices and Pandemic Related Issues with the Brain and Learning. This was the BEST conference I’ve ever attended! On the positive, I loved the speaker who said to us that maybe what our kids need to face our future (fraught with issues related to global warming) are the lessons learned from this pandemic. The fact is that 80-85% of our society (that includes students) experienced Post Traumatic Growth and not Post Traumatic Stress. Going back to Post Traumatic Growth…..we have to help our students process it. Ask them questions about before and after the pandemic. Have them write about or share their experiences from the pandemic. How has life changed? Remember when x? I loved a model of having the counselor and English teachers doing some writing and reflection together. We can’t just move forward with our curriculum as if nothing happened in the past few years. We have to help them see how they have grown and that they do, indeed, have resilience.
The other piece I learned and feel strongly about as a parent and teacher is that we need to ban phones during the school day. The average student after age 12 is spending 9 hours per day on their phone. They are losing basic skills at unprecedented rates. Don’t think of it as “9 hours per day on the phone, but rather what else they could be doing with those 9 hours.” Every study shows that social media consumption for more than 2 hours per day leads to anxiety. There is now a term…”acquired ADHD”…that doctors are seeing around ages 14-16. Their prescription is asking parents to take away phones and social media for 2-3 weeks and see if there is improvement. I was really impressed by a teacher I met from Rochester, NY who said that their teacher union voted to ban phones at school. It wasn’t an administrative decision initially. They, as teachers, were seeing the effects of phone use at lunch and the addiction and distraction. They wanted to make the change. She said that the kids are happier and their test scores have improved. It’s a bold move, but after seeing the evidence, a discussion– at the very least– is merited.
Emily Philpott (Ireland and the United Kingdom with students for a Global Studies trip): I love traveling internationally…experiencing new places, trying new foods, and meeting new people. There is a sense of adventure and excitement when you are going to a new place fo the first time or going to a favorite destination to make new memories. However, travel isn’t always easy and things don’t always go as planned. Due to a flight delay at the start of our journey, we had an unplanned night in Philadelphia and some extra hours in the airport. Our students handled the situation with positivity and resilience (and some humor), and my fellow chaperones pivoted to create new plans and remained energetic in the face of two very long travel days. I was reminded how much I enjoy traveling with the best students and colleagues, even when things are challenging.
*I am sharing 3 pictures: (1) students modeling their new “I love Philadelphia” t-shirts purchased from the airport gift shop; (2)students passing the time with puzzles, riddles, and soduko (3) chaperones just arrived in our Dublin hotel, tired but still smiling after 2 days of traveling.
Lea Crongeyer: We presented at the National Association for Educators of Young Children Conference in Washington D.C.. The experience was incredible! I loved being with others from around the country and around the world that teach young children. We talked about the differences in schools where we teach and why that impacts how you teach. Also, presenting for the first time on a subject we are passionate about was thrilling and very well received!
Margaret Clark (Italy — Sorrento/Pompeii, Florence, and Rome)
I am one of the teachers in charge of planning and executing this trip. Specifically, I am the only teacher on the trip who speaks Italian, so I was in charge of all dinner bookings + leading the group through the city of Rome and the various sites and museums we visited.
I’ve said this before, but I went on this trip as a student (Spring Break 2004). It changed my life. I spent the next year trying to teach myself Italian, to the extent that my Latin teacher (Patsy Ricks) told me about an opportunity to live in Italy and attend an American school there focused on classics and ancient history. I was basically a goner. It means so much to me to share this trip, which has been so important to me personally, with students.
One moment that completely took me by surprise happened on our last full day in Italy. We were in Rome, in the Roman Forum. It was about 4:15, and we had been on our feet since about 8:30. We started in the Campo de Fiori, stopped into the Pantheon (my favorite building in Rome), saw the only remaining arch from the Baths of Agrippa (built by my favorite Roman, Marcus Agrippa), toured the Capitoline Museums (one of my favorite collections), drunk from my favorite water fountain in Rome (yes, I have one — it’s amazing), visited the Colosseum (which everyone needs to do once, but honestly, I could take or leave at this point). In the Forum, we got to visit a temple that had only recently been opened up after restoration! We were at the end of our day and stopped by the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. I guided the students through the famous/infamous inscription over the arch. After all that, the students were still engaged and eager to work through the Latin together! And then, just like that, my work was basically done. It was my first time being in charge of the Rome portion of the trip, and it was exhausting! Rome is one of my absolute favorite places, but at the same time (and because of how much it means to me), it was a really daunting task to guide 21 high school students through its tangled mess of cobble-stone streets without losing anyone to the equally imminent threats of Italian traffic patterns or dumbstruck awe at the Roman ruins or peaceful and picturesque piazzas in the middle of a vibrant, bustling modern city. I teared up and almost started crying (and I’m not a crier). It was the relief of my major tour-guiding responsibilities being lifted, the emotions of having such a real and genuine connection with students over something that I love doing, and also the awareness that the trip would soon be over and it would be back to real life for all of us. The trip was exhausting in ways that I still can’t really communicate, but it was also so exhilarating. Almost 20 years later, I still haven’t recovered from my reality being cracked wide open by the same trip I am now able to share with my students.
Sandra Flores (NAYCE National Convention Centre Washington DC)
One of the most valuable things was gathering with early childhood educators from around the globe to connect, collaborate, engage and learn together to land a great group of colleges related to us and participate, secondly getting to know each other, my teachers/ friends from St.A.
Susan Pace (Anaheim, CA for the NCTE Conference)
Being in California with colleagues on the eve of Thanksgiving break was an incredible privilege. In addition to being able to join expert birder Cullen Brown on an early morning bird hunt, the conference schedule was jam-packed with teachers sharing tips, tricks, and mindset shifts. A bonus for this lifelong bibliophile was the number of free books I picked up and lugged across the country as my travels took me first to North Carolina to catch up with my family before returning home. The little library I carried with me from my fourth-grade classroom now has an update with middle-grade novels to share with my readers, AND the sessions I attended have invigorated my teaching and learning in the seventh-grade English room.
Junko Bramlett (Romantic Trip to Italy???)
I went to Italy over Thanksgiving break with David, and some of you commented to me that it was so wonderful to go to Italy with him and it would be so romantic. Sure we had some relaxing moments…….We got up super early one morning to have breakfast alone before students woke up. We had some cheese, cured meats, fresh pastries, bread, and juice. We had a private server for a moment to fix us two cups of espresso and a cup of cappuccino! But was the trip really romantic? After all, it was the international field trip. You have to forget about Italian wine or a visit to a winery as typical tourists. Was it worth giving up my whole Thanksgiving break to take care of 21 teenagers in Italy? I am not one of the cool teachers who taught Latin to prepare most of them for this trip like Thomas Riesenberger (Mr. R) and Dr. Margaret Clark, or Dr. Bramlett who can magically make Math class fun for the students who have a difficulty in finding joy in Math class.
Well the trip started off just like the spring break college trip I went with Colin Dunnigan and Scott Johnson several years ago. That time I had to take care of a sweet student who kept throwing up on the bus with severe cramps from her period. After the trip, Colin shared with me that he could not have survived the trip without me. Two men could not deal with a female problem alone. As I noticed before the Italy trip that it would contain several days of 4 to 6 hours bus rides, I put some Walmart plastic bags in my backpack and also saved some sick bags from an airplane on the way to Italy just in case. Yes we had to use them right away. When we heard a student yelling from the back of the bus one morning that his friend was feeling sick, I immediately passed the sick bag and the plastic bag to save him. It was another field trip with students as we do here with Kindergarten. The only big difference was that we were in Italy. Same thing on bathroom issues. As I do for kindergarten students, I had to keep reminding high school students to go to the bathroom before getting on the bus. Despite my attempts to avoid an issue, one day actually one student demanded the driver to stop the bus for her to pee on the side of the road because she was going to explode if she did not. Well so we ended up stopping at an OK gas station to eat lunch instead of the nice fancy gas station with decent lunch.
And the morning of our trip’s highlight visit to the Capitoline museum, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum…. 10 minutes before the departure time, two different students texted David that they did not feel well and possibly had a fever. Of course, David had to dig up two Covid-19 tests from our bag to rush to take them to their rooms. As you know that the test would take at least 15 minutes from then. With the delayed departure and one student going back and forth from the visiting sites to our hotel, David had to shove down beautiful and delicious German pastries just bought and Mr. R ended up losing his visit to the Colosseum, and the whole group lost the lunch from David’s most favorite lunch spot, Jewish Ghetto offering tasty meals with reasonable prices. We had students with tree nut allergy, nut allergy, gluten allergy, religiously restricted diet. It was so tough for Margret Clark to find restaurants who accommodate our demands.
Was it really worth going to Italy with kids? Did I still enjoy it? Yes! Just be able to view the same buildings constructed 2000 years ago still standing and functioning in some way, to walk on the very same pavements and crossing steps that ancient people used, and to drink the safe and clean water provided by still steadily functioning water fountains off the road. We sure have lots of knowledge and techniques we could learn from ancient Roman friends to run clean and safe water.
One of the most exciting moments from this trip for me was when Josh, who just got transferred to our school this year, discovered the exact floor spot of the Santa Croce Church where Glileo Galiley was buried by translating the Latin writing on his burial marker. Josh was really starting to blend into our school Latin buddies. This is the best kind of gift the language teacher could receive from his hard work teaching young students who are craving to learn more and more.
Yes as for bonus experiences, I actually got to see the real David by Michelangelo and see our Pope Francis in my bare eyes even though his head was pea size. He kissed three babies that morning. I will go back to Italy more prepared for knowledge and language so that I can have deeper appreciation and excitement.
I know my title is teaching and learning. And I know that every teacher worth their salt cares deeply about EVERY SINGLE SECOND they are allocated for class time. We have so much to cover! NEVER enough time! The kids seem like they need longer to get it, too. And so much time is spent in unexpected “let’s just hurry up and grow up” kinds of things. So many admonitions needing to be called out for the second-fifth-millionth time, needing to be said that I never anticipated. “Don’t throw that marker at the board to hear the cool click noise.” “No, Johnny, you can’t get in your friend’s personal space.” “Can we talk after class about that instead?” I have probably never sat in an honest-open company of any faculty member ever: from my earliest memory of my dad fuming about lost class time with his masters electrical engineer students to my most recent department chairs meeting, in which the plague of class disruptions was not a main theme of conversation.
I want to be clear. You are not wrong. We do this work because we think it matters. And things that matter need time. And intentional, well structured, well planned time. Not the kind that is randomly disrupted here or there. Advocating for that time is a key role of any conscientious faculty member.
But I also want to take a minute to share a dirty secret. And that is that I think that much of what sets our school apart from other school communities is what happens outside of class time. I want to say that although I think a whole lot about curriculum and instruction and content and learning, I also think that the things that stick with us are often tied to those moments of anxiety-inducing disruptions. And I think THOSE things are also learning, that learning is in the remembering of lines in a play and the improvisation when you forget, the communication of teammates on the soccer field, the tuning of your instrument alongside those of your peers, the moment at the museum or the zoo or the exhibit where you are touched and learn something anew, that time on the bus when you notice some friends treating someone unkindly and you figure out what to do next. Or, as our Science Lecture Hall word-mural reminds us: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” (John Dewey).
It naturally follows that to reduce “learning that matters” to just the content in our academic classes is absurd. To assume that nothing of importance happens in those “things that disrupt” is equally absurd. Think of all that is contained in:
The sporting events.
The field trips!
The international trips!
The community engagement and service!
The cultural celebrations!
The yearly assortment of five billion other school events!
I also have this belief, which you can take or leave. I think the things that we roll our eyes at, the disruptions that make us most angry . . . they can give us some pretty not-so-subtle cues about what we prioritize and what we de-legitimate. Notice I didn’t put pep rally in my list of things I love above. This is gonna show my bias. As a student, I hated pep rallies. I felt like they were for the popular kids, not for the band-drama-honors class nerds. I wanted to shrink into my bleacher and the noise was seriously over-stimulating for me. I’m still scared of them at our beloved SA’s. I hug the wall with fellow faculty members. I appreciate how they give our cheer and dance teams a chance to perform, to be fair. But truth be told, when I see that yet another Friday schedule in October is going to be disrupted for yet another pep rally, I have to check myself and the wave of annoyance I feel rising up. Because for many students, this is the highlight of their week.
One last note. If you, like me, find yourself bristling at every moment stolen from you with your students in your classroom, I recommend you consider the following:
Is it possible that other adults in our community could also pour good things into your students?
Will students actually remember the lesson you were going to teach, like the content of it (e.g. fractals or the intricacies of that particular political party) a year from now?
What value does routine have? What value does switching up a routine have?
Growing up I remember a reminder from my church to “make room for Jesus in the busy flurry of the holiday season.” Perhaps in this spirit we can also make room for the possibility that some of the disruptions that most frustrate us (Julie Rust- pep rallies!) might actually hold a core kernel of value for our community and the growth of our students. I think we can all agree class time does indeed matter. And most of the time, perhaps all of the time, so does the other stuff.
Let’s all keep fighting for time for students to experience things that matter.
This particular three week sprint is a strange, strange time. It is cheery. It is stressful. There is expectation of holiday spirit and all the fun to which it is tied. There is anticipation of cumulative evaluation in the form of finals, projects, report card grades and comments. When you think about it, evaluation and feedback in the form of grades is largely a student problem this time of year, one that plagues all of us from age 5-22 or so. Then, you enter the adult workforce and “grades,” “feedback,” and “formal mechanisms of evaluation” dissolve away like snowflakes on my Mississippi windshield. Very tangibly real for a moment; nonexistent the next. I mean, teachers do have admin observations. But for most of us, those are affirming pats on the back; you are doing well, carry on.
Student course evaluations, however, are an entirely different beast. For anyone that is a teacher of students who are counted “old enough” to have valid perceptions to share, the mere phrase can drive up your blood pressure. I’m looking at you, middle school, upper school, and college faculty. As anyone who loves a higher ed tenure track prof in their life knows; those student evaluations hold a whole buncha weight. They, their numbers and words, determine whether you will be granted that oh-so-scary trip up the ladder of tenure. In my own 8 year professorial stint, I learned quickly that the best way to open that dreaded envelope of student evaluations was the same way it is best to take bad news: in the presence of friends, chocolate, and (sometimes) alcohol.
Here at St. Andrew’s we (I think wisely) believe that middle and upper school student surveys are most helpful when utilized solely as a formative feedback mechanism that can give you a sense of what is going well and what isn’t. But although the stakes may not be super high, I think we can all agree that teaching is deeply personal, whether or not we pretend we have good professional/personal boundaries. So that sharp, chiding comment in the “what can the instructor do to improve the course” open feedback box can really sting. Whether or not it is being used for tenure.
That’s why I was interested in talking with Austin Killebrew, who I learned through Lucy had asked her students to do a mid-term anonymous survey. She wasn’t forced to by some arbitrary administrator’s expectation or link to an institutionally created form. She was driven to get feedback because this was her first semester at SA, because she hadn’t taught this particular class before, because she is just that kind of a teacher.
As Austin began her first year teaching at St. Andrew’s, she worried she would fall prey to “a tunnel vision of what I learned in geometry” rather than really utilizing the fullness of the CPM curriculum she was working with for honors geometry. Regular geometry also presented her with conundrums, such as when she walked them through an entire unit of proofs but when she collected tests on what they learned was shocked by the low scores: “Why are they not getting this?!” Austin sees assessments like these as forms of data rather than fuel for frustration at kids. She believes in examining her own practice as a teacher first since, after all, that is almost the only thing she can control. Nevertheless, she found herself emotionally drained by the scores: “I sat down and cried because it was so low; what did I do wrong?” Her sense of bewilderment while grading that singular assessment sparked the idea of the mid-term form: “I need to do an evaluation to hear from them.”
Austin is no newbie. Her previous teaching gig was at a charter school where “I’ve always been the teacher the troubled students came to me and were like ‘hey I just kicked out of my class can I hang out with you?’” The school had its challenges, but it had a strong culture of feedback. “I love student feedback because I am here for THEM. I happen to teach math, but I am here for THEM.” She set up the form carefully: “I need you to do a quick course eval for me; this is something I’m doing myself. . . to get your feedback on how this class is going for you because ultimately this is your geometry experience and I want to make sure it is what you want it to be.” She also reminded them to take it seriously, always a wise move when dealing with a ninth grade crowd.
Most students took her up on her invitation to take it seriously in an anonymous format. Some of the responses made her smile, but in a good way: “When I come to geometry it feels like a break . . . I’m genuinely happy to get to come to this class . . . Feels like an escape . . . “ and “Ms. K is TOP G”! There were, of course, outliers in every graph. Whereas 29 students in geometry felt they learned something in class every day, 3 strongly disagreed. Whereas 26 students felt comfortable going to her for help, 3 strongly disagreed. While it’s hard not to fixate on the assumed identity of those 3 outliers, this is a numbers game. The data was affirming. Highly affirming.
Still there was stuff to learn. She noticed a high number of students reported anxiety about tests and felt that there was too much homework in the class. She also noticed more students than she wanted to (although still the vast minority) reported not being comfortable coming to her for help. When she saw these patterns she knew the next step of full-on bravery in the process: being transparent about the data with students and talking through changes she could make with them. Austin made a slideshow of the findings for honors and regular geometry to make visible the patterns with them. Depending on the block, they either had a thoughtful good discussion or a pretty quick and silent one. For the silent blocks, she plans on starting a “suggestion box” of sorts for the more reticent students to share ideas for both anxiety overload and comfort in seeking help.
Not all of us are as brave as Austin. I know there are moments when NOT knowing what others were thinking about my class felt far safer than opening up the floodgates. But Austin is convinced that it is a useful practice for every class, every level, every faculty member, no matter the years of experience. Why? Austin explains:
“Get student feedback because every class, every grade level is different, different personalities, as students come through culture changes all the time. Even if you’ve taught for years and years not every group of students will react the same. What is working and what is not? The feedback is GOOD- the earlier I do it- the better I can catch it and make them feel more prepared for the rest of high school.“
Maybe it’s a google form. Maybe it’s an exit ticket. Maybe it’s at the end of each week. Maybe it’s at the end of every quarter. But if we could all inch toward asking the people who know best about our work in the classroom every day more often, and if we could all open the doors of our hearts an inch wider to hear the feedback charitably, I think we’d all be the better for it.
For the record, though, I still recommend reading student evaluations surrounded by friends who understand with alcohol and chocolate close by. Just in case.
I don’t want to overstate it. But I DARE you to find someone who has a negative word to say about Chris Hartfield. Like triple dog dare you. The guy has been our tech-savior for the past 13 years and counting. He undoubtedly gets the brunt of our most stressful moments. And yet somehow he absorbs all of our anxiety-energy and gives us back a peaceful vibe and a mended iPad, all at once. See? Magic.
So when Zander Paul Rust comes home chattering about 3D printing and the long waitlist, and when Lucy Rust says “mom- hey mom- check out these cool octopus thing” while you walk together on your daily “it’s 7:30 and we just got to school and need to fill up water bottles and mom needs coffee” walk, you might have a sneaking suspicion that Chris has something to do with it. You might be right.
I got a chance to sit down with him to hear about the mostly-middle-school-craze that is currently 3D printing. But truth be told, I also just wanted a chance to interview the legend that is Chris. Consider it my holiday gift to you. You’re welcome.
His first words were that he prefers being behind the scenes and isn’t good at “this kind of stuff.” But I’m not so sure. Chris has a way of skipping all the noise and chatter and getting to the substance.
Chris first knew he was into tech back when he was 8-9 years old: “My mom took me over to some guy’s house that was selling computers and he showed me how to do some things on that . . . it kinda took off from there.” He was initially hired at SA’s just to repair computers, but he was so overarchingly good at troubleshooting a range of issues that his job evenutally evolved to the mix of things he is to all of us today. So what’s a day in the life like now? Chris explains:
“I show up and make sure everything is actually functioning in the network. I then get the 3D printers going and ready for the next job. After that I fix the computers when they are broken and deal with the kids as they have problems. Every day is different; you never know what’s going to happen! I just like fixing stuff. It feels good to solve problems.I just like fixing problems. That’s pretty much all I do.”
Problems make my skin crawl. Like the unexpected, uncontrollable gives me the heeby jeebies. I never liked physical puzzles. I like sure things. Chris is an enigma to me, and kinda what I want to be when I grow up. But I digress . . .
So what IS the scoop on the strange things that have been populating our north campus library and the lines of middle school students that have been forming? We’ve had 3D printers at both campuses for ages as I understood it, but, like most schools I know of who purchased this equipment when it was super expensive and super-trendy, we hadn’t found a valuable way to really integrate it into the curriculum or get kids or teachers pumped up about using them. Enter Chris Hartfield. He explains:
Probably a year ago we got a couple of 3D printers we started using at Lower School. Some stuff happened so we never got into actually using them and they sat up here for over a year. This year I decided I want to see them do something so I got them all set up and running printing random stuff out and asking kids if they wanted to print stuff and then word kind of spread that the middle schoolers could print. . . . Just middle schoolers were getting excited about it because they were seeing stuff they wanted to print. I was letting them email me and then it started getting too many kids emailing me so I had to make a website, a little form for them to use. There’s a form and a website tied to it that I created google slides for to track their job.
He attributes much of the 3D printing contagion to his location in a high traffic area, “not tucked away in a lab area.” I have a feeling though it also has to do with the approachable soul behind the tech desk. So what are kids actually getting out of this?
Students utilize Tinkercad to create their objects and after they upload their creations to the form, Chris takes it from there, although he’s “trying to get them ready so a few kids are ready to do their own [to] set it up themselves instead of me.” This is more than just fun and games, “It’s a CAD program, so they’re having to use math, design stuff, being creative with it, and now making them take their own supports off and having them do it themselves.” Chris went on to share more benefits: “I thought this could be a starting point for future careers.
3d Printing is actually starting to branch out into all types of industries and they all function in the same way as these little printers. They build houses, cars, medical supplies, and a multitude of other items all with the 3d printer tech.”
Starting to think about integrating this into your own work with students? Go play with the 3D printing that is all the rage among the fifth and sixth graders. Chris has already put a link to it in your SA BookMarks on your school-issued device.
The art, theater, and science departments already are implementing or planning on some collaborations. With BioChem, Chris helped design element puzzle pieces, and he also 3D printed pencil bins that especially fit the desks in the room. He even worked with a friend who makes 3D models to provide Daniel Roers a 3D Andy for a recent global studies trip.
All of these creations don’t just cost time; they cost money. What’s on his current wishlist for Santa this year?
“I’d like to get a few extra printers to help speed up the print so we aren’t waiting a week at a time for one print . . We’re already possibly looking at a higher quality 3D printer- that prints different materials (e.g. rubber tires), materials that are flexible. . . I would [also] like to get funding for filament!”
If Santa’s generosity correlates with the good we put out into the world, I have a feeling Chris will be receiving a sleigh-full of filament. As unsung heroes go, he’s solid gold. We are lucky to have him in our village.
As you may know, I am a R.E.A.L believer! This discussion format, geared to middle and upper school students, takes what we try to do with Harkness and gets the teacher out of the way so kids can R.E.A.L.ly talk to each other.
Don’t get me wrong! I love the Harkness table! I love the give and take of a great Harkness discussion! However, too often (in my experience) the same 2-5 students work the room and crowd out other voices. Additionally, I don’t like how the kids look to me when they’re speaking – I mean, I know I’m grading them and all, but it’s much more interesting when they talk to each other and I’m in the background.
With R.E.A.L, students come to class with questions and quotes so they have something to say, jumping in when conversation flaggs and voicing their opinions and queries…and they’re NOT looking at me for validation! Their level of intentional preparedness allows them the freedom to speak from a place of knowledge, not just to earn a grade.
I also R.E.A.L.ly appreciate the built-in moments when students are given quiet time within the discussion. In my class, this happens about every 10 – 15 minutes. We break the discussion for 5 minutes so students can reflect on the conversation that just happened, writing what they heard and what they think. This offers another avenue for the quiet students to voice their opinion, even if it’s just to me.
Now, to be fair, I’m only doing R.E.A.L “light.” I’m not implementing all of the R.E.A.L.ly great tools of the program, but my students see the difference:
“Overall, I think this was a pretty well rounded discussion involving everyone in class. Discussions in this class are unique from any other class we’ve had in that it is not heavily monitored.”
“I think this discussion went well. Everybody talked and shared their ideas. I could probably work on giving questions during the discussion though.”
“This discussion was much better than the discussion of last time. This is partly because I read the correct document, but also partly because I feel as though the discussion flowed smoother. I feel as though everyone participated. It was slay.”
Toss me an email if you’d like to chat about this program or how to get trained. It’s the R.E.A.L deal!
When Hollie Marjanovic suggested the theme of “Tis the Season” for our November-December blog blast last October, I could not stop thinking about all of the things I could complain about with that opener . . .
Tis the Season . .. for dress down days in which I fail my kids because they have no holiday themed clothing or accessories and we are running around the house yelling “WHO HAS SANTA SOCKS” at 6:45 on a Monday morning (not that I am speaking from experience from my morning, 12/5/22).
Tis the Season . . . for way too much sugar (but I mean is that really negative?)
Tis the Season . . . for awkward family moments in which my husband hangs out with his brother and turns into someone I don’t recognize!
Tis the Season . . . for us never remembering to move that weird Elf tradition thing which wasn’t a thing when I was a kid and it actually pretty creepy if you think about it so why do we do it and let’s face it, Alianna just has more fun if she is the one moving it so let’s elect her to do it! (Sorry English teachers everywhere for the run-on; it just felt appropriate.)
Tis the Season . . . for me always and forever being behind in shopping. Arghh. Gross. Yuck. Shopping.
Bah humbug, am I right?
But then Jessica Farris sent me some amazing student artifacts to help us with this holiday-themed set of blogs. And my entire outlook changed, as it always does through the perception and expression of some kiddos. (Kim Sewell wrote about this phenomenon in October by the way.) Thanks, young minds and hearts. You make us all better.
And so, by way of introduction to our cool set of blogs this November-December, I present to you, a holiday story inspired by all of you, the beloved SA community, and these pieces of art work. I dare you not to be in the holiday spirit after you get a load of this:
Randy the Red Nosed Reindeer: A Story of Us
(Sebatian Roman; 4th grade year)
Once upon a time there was a very skeptical reindeer named Randy the Red Nosed Reindeer. He saw the world with gray-tinted glasses. Every time someone said a word or did a deed, he imagined the worst. When his students failed to turn in homework, he imagined them paying Fortnite and saying into their headpieces: “THAT class?! WHAT A WASTE! We’d never do THAT homework!” Whenever his colleague failed to show up for a meeting he had called, he told himself a story about how much they disrespected him and his time. Whenever an administrator sent an email, he’d delete it before reading, whispering under his breath “I’m sure it’s nothing but loads of nonsense.” Each time a parent asked to set up a meeting, he’d roll his eyes and text his best friend in the department: “Time to hear all about how darling can do NO wrong!” Each time he imagined the worst (which was all the time), his red nose grew a bit bigger.
( Christopher Skelton, Anne Maybree Hendricks, Abigail Shannon; Unknown)
One day, a few of Randy’s friends showed up at his classroom during planning period.
“Sometimes the way you are so negative brings us down,” the sad looking Charlie Brown guy said.
“We want you to be happy and enjoy your life, so we come bearing tidings of great joy!” Angelica sang.
“Quack,” quacked the duck looking thing.
“Here’s a magical bone of holiday spirit that will cheer you up woof woof!” Fido barked.
Randy was skeptical, because that was who he is, but he loved those four guys so he murmured, “what the heck,” and stretched out his hands to accept the bone. The moment he touched it, the bone began glowing warm to the touch and his nose began visibly shrinking. He became unexpectedly invaded with warm thoughts. It all felt so unfamiliar he trembled a bit.
(Jett Ngo; 3rd grade year)
Suddenly, a sleigh swooped through the sky and landed right in the student plaza in front of his classroom.
“Santa?” Randy said expectantly.
But there was no one in the sleigh. No one at all. He tiptoed warily to look closely. No presents either. Of course he knew it was all a myth. The reindeer part especially. (Everyone knows that reindeer are great at teaching math, not pulling sleighs.) Still, something drew him to the front of the sleigh. Without thinking, he began to pull the harness over his head. And without any effort or deliberation or intent at all, he began leaping into the air, then floating, then soaring. It was joy. Pure joy. The sky turned from blue to orange to dark. He had never felt quite so fulfilled. Just as he had so mindlessly began flying, he found himself instinctively landing the sleigh on a roof. Still no Santa. Still no presents. Nevertheless, he pushed himself down the chimney and into a warm house.
(Lissa McCrary; 3rd grade year)
There, a wise cat was curled up in front of the fire.
“Oh it’s you,” she purred.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Randy confessed, feeling his now-compact red nose. “I’ve never felt quite so warm inside before.”
“That’s what happens when you realize you are doing what you were meant to do with the people you were meant to do it.”
“But Santa wasn’t even in the sleigh,” Randy explained, “And I’ve always been scared of heights!”
“Flying Santa’s sleigh wasn’t what I was talking about,” the cat meowed. “And you know it.”
She swished her tail and Randy suddenly found himself back at school, drooling into a few ungraded papers on his desk.
(Eva Houde, Charlie Buyan, Tanner Purnell)
As he wiped his weary eyes, he looked up to see three of his favorite rapscallion students hovering around his desk. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel a familiar wave of annoyance. Instead, he felt that warmth, still present and strong.
“Hey hey, Mr. Randy,” they said in chorus. “Check it out- we just figured out another way to solve the problem and we put the strategy into a rhyming phrase so others can remember it!”
It wasn’t a perfect class period. It wasn’t a perfect week. It wasn’t a perfect job. And Lord knows, he wasn’t surrounded by perfect people. But in that moment, Randy knew what the cat meant. He was doing what he was meant to do with the people he was meant to do it.
From that moment forward he stopped waiting for Santa to appear with a sleigh of perfect gifts. He told himself a greater range of stories about the moments and people that filled his life. And, when the moment struck and it felt right, he pulled the harness over head and worked to affect the positive change that he could in his little community.
At the Lower School, our little saints are letting their creative juices flow. Specifically, three 3rd grade girls wanting to create some fun and adventure for their friends and classmates.
In October, Annie May Harkins, Emma Papadimitriou, and Alianna Rust wrote a sweet little letter pitching the idea of planning and putting together a scavenger hunt for the 3rd grade. These three brave girls met with Lower School Head of School, Shea Egger and myself to hear out their idea, and help make their idea come to life.
What started out as an idea for a halloween themed scavenger hunt evolved into Turkey Trouble! The girls decided to plan their scavenger hunt around the book Turkey Trouble by Wendi J. Silvano.
The gist of the story is that Turkey is trying to find the perfect disguise to stay hidden from the farmer so that he doesn’t become Thanksgiving dinner. He tries on a series of costumes and is successful in staying out of the oven when he dresses as a pizza delivery guy and delivers pizza to the farmer and his family on Thanksgiving day.
The girls and I set out to create a costume for each school day of the week leading up to Thanksgiving break and then complete the scavenger hunt that would lead the 3rd grade classes to help Turkey find a disguise that would not only keep Turkey safe through Thanksgiving, but also keep him safe through Christmas.
Alianna, Annie May, Emma, spent some afternoons working to make Turkey’s costumes, and brainstorming ideas for the scavenger hunt. The girls disguised Turkey as bowling pin, a mermaid, and even Elvis!
On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving break, the hunt was on! (The original scavenger hunt was postponed because of the flu. Yuck!)
Students came to school to find mission envelopes that started each class on their quest. Each clue sent them to a new place that moved them closer to locating the pieces of Turkey’s newest disguise to stay hidden through Christmas.
Take a look at the 3rd graders and the fun they had as they worked to collect the pieces to Turkey’s Christmas disguise…
The girls stated they had fun and believed their friends, classmates, and even their teachers had fun, but their favorite part… was the time they spent after school making Turkey’s costumes!
Tis the season… for creativity, glitter, excitement and fun!
In this final episode of Season 5, podcasts hosts Toby Lowe, Kim Sewell, Michelle Cooper, Buck Cooper, and Rachel Scott come together to talk across all six episodes on the subject of reframing accountability. They share behind-the-scenes secrets about their episodes, discuss how all of this talk impacted their own relationships with students and colleagues, and surface the best definition of accountability we could come up with by synthesizing the six conversations that preceded this one. Listen to the whole conversation, or skip around to what interests you in the show notes below:
2:30-16:15: Our hosts for the season share behind-the-scenes back stories about the process and experience of leading episodes about accountability; plus Kim shares an amazing post-script about how her four year olds became her accountability partners this semester.
16:17-17:14: One of our major takeaways from the season, that could indeed be a starting point for cultures of accountability, courtesy of Francis Croft: “We all need to get on the team of let’s assume everyone is doing their best.”
17:38-18:53: What a conversation in a middle school division meeting about grading made Toby ponder in relation to structures-control-accountability.
18:54-20:22: Buck explores accountability as holding in tension everyone’s humanity with the fact that there are things we have to do (e.g. produce grades and do recess duty).
20:23-23:57: Hosts explore the trust/transparency tension combo that came up in the honor council and administrator episodes, and they articulate the truth that trust is doubly hard with the turnover that is naturally part of schools (admin and faculty, but also students that change grades and teachers every single year!)
24:09-27:20: Stakeholder groups in our school that we wish we had invited or heard more from in this season and why.
27:22-28:58: After six episodes, what we can say about accountability for sure: it is best when steeped in relationships and incorporates a circular or bottom-up (rather than solely top-down) feedback loop.
28:58-31:32: The question that still persists: what do we do about justice and consequences?
31:50-32:59: Hosts share what they are going to take away from this system in terms of next steps: change what you can change, lean into grace, open up communication.
33:18-36:30: Final words from Toby, the initiator of this season’s topic: “What’s next is always work; but it’s a good thing that the work is so delightful. You should always be pushing yourself, your peers, and your bosses for more accountability.”
No season on accountability could possibly be complete without a conversation on what the word means for administrators. If admin are often at the top of the organizational hierarchy, who holds them accountable? What does all of our talk about reframing accountability mean in relation to the work of leading the school? And while we are at it, who actually are admin versus staff versus faculty? Hollie Marjanovic sits down with Head of School Kevin Lewis and Cathy Davis, who currently serves as our math lab coordinator but has successfully juggled multiple faculty and admin roles since she began at SA in 1989. In our conversation, we dive into St. Andrew’s past to get some answers about how we have become who we are today.
1:32-5:35: Cathy Davis’ favorite role in her time at St. Andrew’s and what it teaches us about the interplay between administrative work and the work of teaching.
5:41-6:58 : What Kevin meant by “accountability” when he set it as a theme for us all this year: the strong supports we all provide each other as we work in concert.
7:08-8:28 : The question Hollie posed that totally stumped Kevin: WHO is actually considered “administration”? Kevin’s conclusion: “Does it matter as long as we are able to support each other as we work together to accomplish our mission and the goals of our school?”
9:16-11:18: What was the structure of administration like when Cathy Davis first began in 1989?
11:20-16:33: What schools were like before the unceasing onslaught of digital communication.
16:35-18:10: To whom are administrators held accountable? Kevin shares the official structural answer (the board) and then his more pragmatic take: “I’m accountable to all of you [faculty, parents, students, general public].”
17:36-20:39: What that mysterious SLT (Senior Leadership Team) is about and why it exists.
20:44-25:37: We examine whether more circular or bottom-up methods of evaluation and feedback could be powerful mechanisms for administrators to improve their performance.
25:38- 27:32: How does our admin model and ratio of faculty-admin-staff compare to other independent schools?
27:35-29:43 : Cathy recalls a pivotal turning point in our school’s history, and why meeting locations matter.
29:44- 31:45: What has changed in our school’s environment to shift structural, admin, faculty, and student needs?
31:48-34:11: Hollie, Kevin, and Cathy talk about board meeting minutes and the vital intersection of transparency and trust.
Are we sick of the word “accountability” yet? Once you get into this fresh conversation facilitated by Buck Cooper and joined by Meriwether Truckner, Margaret Mains, and Blake Ware, you won’t be. They explore a gamut of tensions raised by the notion of faculty accountability, but they keep circling back to the most central of tenants: the need for a foundation of clear expectations. After making show notes from the conversation I left with a strong sense that this episode needs to be required listening for anyone who teaches, anyone who is in admin, and anyone who believes that “no one is out to be the weak link”; it’s simply we have a shortage of time and an overage of tasks. Hopefully that covers all of us, and hopefully this is just the beginning of the dialogue. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but here’s a breakdown to help you find what you are most interested in hearing:
2:45-3:32: What does accountability mean within the St. Andrew’s community?
3:46-4:53: Where, according to Blake Ware, it gets “hairy”: the “reek that comes with wanting to hold others accountable and not maintain the same standards themselves” when we all have different workflows and responsibilities.
4:56-8:05 :Why we can’t hold teachers accountable unless there is first a clear articulation of expectations for all the things (recess duty, dealing with parents, number of grades, communication on MySA, and on and on).
8:06-11:20: Why the variety of roles teachers play in the life of the school community makes holding teachers accountable complex; and why a good rationale for the “why” behind an expectation is really key, particularly in relation to stressful times in the rhythm of the school year.
11:23-13:22: Why we tend to hold teachers accountable for the wrong things (e.g. did she enter grades in a gradebook) when often the most important aspects of teaching are more difficult to “measure,” such as how you handled a day educating 81 students in-the-moment.
13:40-16:38: Trust as autonomy in curricular choices, and why sometimes trust could work in tandem with more structure for faculty at a school like ours; Margaret Mains terrifying-inspiring (?) sink-or-swim-first-year-teaching story: “Teach them how to write; see you in May!”
16:39-18:00: When hidden expectations and judgements lurk behind “we trust you; do what you want!” . . . is there a middle ground?
18:01- 19:02: Expectations must be paired with a solid rationale lest they be perceived as a hoop to jump through.
19:03-23:12: SA’s approach to onboarding new faculty: you were hired for a reason, independent school culture, and our attempts to provide more just-in-time information.
23:14-26:12: The tightrope walk between perceived faculty trust v. accountability and where this needs to be recalibrated
27:43-29:43: Blake’s starting point: trust that adults are the adults of the school, and complications of equity that can result when different aspects of the job are held as higher priorities to some than others.
29:40- 31:04: How the middle school committee structure that started this year helped define these needed expectations in a tangible way and even out labor in the community.
This week we get into what is arguably the most fierce-love-laced aspect of this accountability puzzle . . . the role of parents.
I’m not going to lie: before I became a parent and was a barely-in-my-twenties fresh-faced English teacher,parents terrified me. They could be incredibly supportive, generous, the best of partners. They could also swoop in when I least expected and scream at me while I was scooping spaghetti onto plates for a school fundraiser because their perfect child had received an A- in my class. It felt as though becoming a parent upped the intensity of the good and the bad: the emotion, the love, the help and generosity. At the time, though, I thought the love and protective instincts had the potential to blind parents to the truth of their children . . .potentially evoking irrationality. Now I know better. We both had pieces of the puzzle of supporting their kid, and obviously a parent’s piece was a billion times bigger than mine, as their one-hour-a-day English teacher.
Fast forward 18 years and I’ve got three littles and I am constantly plagued with guilt about how I fall short, I fall short, I fall short. I fall short in helping instill their own accountability when I swoop in to fill my 8 year old’s water bottle in the morning. I fall short in my own parent accountability in our school community when I avoid clicking those “SAPA volunteer links” at the start of the year.
So whether you are a parent-faculty member, a faculty member who isn’t a parent, or a parent-parent, this episode is dedicated to you in all of the ways you excel and all of the ways you fall short. We need all the voices we can get in this conversation, so we will hear from Michelle Portera (first grade teacher and momma), Jim Foley (history department chair), Honey May (kindergarten teacher and momma), Rachel Scott (tech integration and mom), and Frances Croft (SAPA master, mom, SA alum, and many other things). What does accountability mean for parents of school-aged children?
1:23-3:34: Practical tips from Dr. Foley about what teachers need parents to know about how best to support their children in their schoolwork at home.
3:35-5:30: How teachers can have tough, honest conversations with parents by emphasizing the “why” behind their recommendations.
5:34-6:59: Why the accountability that parents help instill in children today will pay dividends in their future lives in college and beyond.
7:00-9:19 : What lunch clips have to do with fostering accountability (remember that book and then poster that was popular in the 90’s: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”)
8:48-9:30: Accountability as a two way street.
10:04-11:01: Three layers for youth developing their own sense of responsibility: from self accountability to parent accountability to teacher accountability.
12:00-15:00: Straight-up wisdom from Frances Croft: why framing our children’s student roles as “their job,” thus separating it from our job as parents, is essential.
15:18-18:30: Why kids learn so much more when we refrain from micromanaging and let them productively fail.
18:30-20:22 :Why parenting is not one-size-fits-all enterprise.
20:22 -26:49: Why part of our role as parents might be to serve as our children’s advocates to help hold school’s accountable to serve our diverse learners, and the phenomenon of youth that hold it together at school but fall apart at home.
26:50-29:52: Why both parent and faculty perspectives can enrich each other, and why grace and open-mindedness is key; let’s all get on team “we are doing our best.”
30:06-37:03: Why Frances believes volunteering as a parent in the school community is worth it; the history of SAPA as “the triangle club”, connecting “child-home-school”; and how the question of “where do you plug in?” has a lot to do with fostering belonging.
We are back and we just couldn’t get enough of last week’s theme of student accountability! So in this second round, we fix our gaze on the history and heart behind Honor Council, a beautiful manifestation of our commitment to that age-old honor code (“I will neither lie, nor cheat, nor steal”) and a concrete way that we empower students to hold students accountable. We were joined by advisor (and past student member of Honor Council), Marty Kelly, along with senior honor council member, Anthony Jones. It’s short and sweet, so you can easily listen to the whole thing, but if you just have a few minutes, see the notes below to skip to what you want to hear:
1:35-2:24: What accountability has to do with honor . . . even when nobody is watching.
3:07-4:28: The history of the Honor Council, and why honor is at its core.
4:41-5:12; 13:37-15:10: How Honor Council has evolved, and why it has to continue to adapt with the time.
5:578:54: Nuts and bolts of how the Honor Council functions.
9:48-10:56: The pros and cons of being held accountable by your own peers.
11:33- 13:11: The role of empathy when you are going on the preponderance of evidence; walking the line between being “grace filled and affirming the values of the community.”
15:35-19:24: What kind of infractions get you on honor council, why the most common type of case has increased since covid, and “calling in” versus “calling out.”
19:47-20:44: Why keeping an open mind is crucial for Honor Council matters.
20:59:21:48: Why advising Honor Council is the hardest part of Mrs. Kelly’s job.
Are you aware we are in the midst of a hamster shortage? The news media may not want you to know, but according to several area pet stores, it’s one more part of the economy experiencing supply chain issues. I know, because during the first week of school, my class made it clear that they want to have a class pet like our neighbors, Mrs. Menist’s class (ya feelin’ my side eye, Judy?) The outspoken leader of this movement is the daughter of art teacher Jane Cleek, so if you know this cutie, you know the pressure is ON. Pet stores in Madison and Jackson turned up empty, so one weekend I searched them out in Oxford. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable clerk at the pet store (who had one in stock!) informed me that hamsters do not handle change well. If I were to bring this hamster back home with me, it would likely develop a disease and not be with us very long. When a shipment arrives, a good pet store will quarantine the hamsters for several days and give them extra care to ensure they can handle the stresses of a new home. He also informed me of the hamster supply chain problem, and that as soon as stores can get the furry friends, they are usually spoken for by the customer who is next on their call list (who knew?) I was back to square one. Back in the classroom, my own “hamster wheel” started to turn a bit faster, and my students hopped on, too. We are rolling along, sometimes at a dizzying pace, and I haven’t yet had the capacity to launch part 2 of the great hamster search. I’m giving myself until Christmas Break. My class has been patiently waiting, but they are faithful to routinely circle back.
If we are, in fact, on the metaphoric hamster wheel, that makes us the hamsters. We are cute and some of us bite. Every day we hop on our wheel, for our own benefit and the benefit of the children we serve. Goodness knows, teaching can feel like a race against time. The wheel on which we run is exhilarating and life-affirming at best, exhausting and depleting at worst, and sometimes even monotonous. We find comfort in the structure and predictability of the wheel, but, after a while, we may find our thoughts wondering if there is more out there. Enter, the wheel alternative–the ball! If you are placed in the ball, lucky you! But watch out, the ball can quickly transport you to unexpected, fearsome places. Sometimes you’ll bump into things and have to back up and try a new direction to get the heck back to safety. Sometimes you may discover a new favorite place with an amazing view that you would not have known about otherwise. Some of us hamsters need to be alone, while others function best as part of a pair or group. One thing we can mostly agree on–we don’t enjoy change! We prefer change in small doses, and when we are asked to change, we require lots of extra time and support. If everything changes at once, you might find us huddled in the corner under our bedding.
So what about the shortage as it relates to teachers across the country? Is it something we can chalk up to Covid and hope it gets better? Is the problem truly that education is built on a system in which, generally, teachers don’t feel well managed and taken care of? Is it more complicated than that? There are metaphorical “pet shops” managed by those who are more focused on quantity and appearance than inner well-being. This kind of environment makes it difficult to identify the cues indicating it’s time to hop off the wheel and take a nap. I am grateful for managers and admin with a more holistic approach who ask for and respond to feedback as it relates to overall quality and well-being. It makes a huge difference in career longevity and quality of life. No school is perfect, but as a seasoned hamster, there is no doubt this is a place I can run the wheel instead of the wheel running me. There is no final destination when you’re running around, much like there is no perfection at any point in this vocation called teaching. We hamsters have learned to thrive in the tension between what is ideal and what is. The important part is the forward movement.
It’s likely I won’t have much time to shop for a class pet, because being a mother and a wife is an additional wheel on which I run when I’m not here at school. I hope Santa isn’t short on hamsters, because he might be my only hope!
Last month in what was my best/worst move ever, I poured out my soul in this very WordPress blog site. I told a sordid story about a PD-Day-gone-wrong (and also right) that simultaneously elicited many head nods from fellow admin (“yup- that’s happened to me”) and many shocks of horror from faculty friends (“WHAT?! Admin have FEELINGS?!”). I jest about the shock that admin have feelings part. I think it was more a surprise that admin so internalized anything as silly as the success of a PD day. Plus, anyone who has known me for two seconds to any degree of familiarity knows I have feelings. So many feelings. Like take it down a notch, Julie.
Seriously, though. There was an outpouring of love, advice, affirmation, etc. from all sorts of directions. Some came from people I expected; like, I knew we were buds. Other sources felt more like an unexpected encounter with a sprinkler system on an afternoon July walk in Mississippi. Surprising . . . but oh-so refreshing. I want everyone to know I am okay. I am not on the edge of my rope. I am grateful in so many ways for the job I am currently in. None of us feel these ways 24/7, but I feel grateful that I feel these ways the majority of my waking-working hours.
So in this October theme of Hamster Wheel, I am writing the day after 10/11/22 (our October PD Day). I feel compelled to remark on yesterday’s very differently-constructed set of events, in part thanks to the horrors evoked from Workshop Week. I feel compelled to say that the number of positive remarks we’ve had about the day have reminded me of the age-old adage that I’ve never quite been able to internalize, the one my mom will text me from time to time, the thing my husband said to me when I mentioned five years ago it was time to have a fourth kid, the thing my eldest child reminds me when I beg her to pass me another handful of candy corn and honey roasted peanuts:
Less is more.
Sidenote: I know all of these people that love me are right, and yet I feel the strong urge to debate that very cliche I just typed. Sometimes more candy corn is more. Sometimes more opportunities are more. Sometimes more work results in more for the stakeholders you are working for. So if I’m being honest I am not entirely cured of this mythology. I am in a sort of denial stage, dotted with moments of acceptance.
Anywho, this PD Day we committed to less: less structured hours spent together in activities and meetings. We did this because of feedback from so many of you about how all you need is TIME. We did this because the timing of these days is just somehow never good. There is always a looming report card deadline or meet the teacher day. But then, we also committed to more. More choice in the form of PLC’s that you joined. More choice in whether you wanted to grab some coffee and breakfast while working on grading or join a group at the fair. We committed to designing a greater diversity of groups of folks meeting for different purposes. I got to learn about the daily rhythm for an instructional assistant! (link here) Coaches spent time together exploring how and why athletes have changed, for better and for worse. The day wasn’t perfect. There were moments that were clunky. The acoustics in the gym are terrible. I know I felt rushed from thing to thing. But still. The general consensus was far less vitriol and far more gratitude. I’ll take it.
So the moral of the story is that somehow if we get off the old hamster wheel, somewhere in the middle of the less and the more, we can find the Goldilocks “just right.” Of course, that’s a super problematic story in like 15 different ways. But that’s for another blog.
Overheard from English teacher—“Correct this assignment because no capitalization has been used, I won’t grade until this has been done!”
Overheard from Math teacher –“Come see me after school because we need to review this homework before your test.”
Overheard from another Math teacher – “Come see me during your study hall twice per week because we need to work on homework and do further sample problems for more practice.“
Overheard from two Science teachers – “See me before or after school for extra help and practice; there will be a reassessment if you complete these activities.”
Overheard from Spanish teacher–“See me at break so that we can discuss this last activity and review it together.”
Overheard from History teacher–“You haven’t finished this, come back to see me and let’s make sure it gets done!”
Overheard from a math teacher – “I’ll come sit in your study hall today, and if anyone has questions, I’ll be there to help answer.”
Overheard from many teachers – “Let’s clean out your backpack; let’s put some dividers into this binder; let’s look at your planner.”
Copied on emails from EVERY US Faculty member – “You are very capable. Please see me for additional help; please go to Writing Lab; please go to Math lab; please go see Mrs. M….”
This daily communication with so many of our students is vital to their success. I know it isn’t fun, it’s not the reason we get into teaching, it means less time spent creating lessons, and feels like a never ending hamster wheel ride. However, THANK YOU! It does pay off! Eventually they begin to do the things and you are helping them approach and not avoid. Bravo, my people!
Sometimes the stars align. Sometimes, the very same week you decide on a theme of “Hamster Wheel” for the October blog blast, you receive an invite from you daughter’s (the pet crazy one, ok they are all pet crazy) third grade teacher to sign up for a slot on a google doc to watch the hamster for the weekend. It was then that I knew it . . . this blog theme was fate. It was destined. It had to be.
I, by the way, have a tenuous relationship with hamsters. My first main memory from hamster- nurturing was that I named my pet hamster “Emily” because she was my best friend in kindergarten but then weeks after I got the hamster the human version of Emily stopped inviting me to play with her because she became one of the popular kids. Ouch. Also, are there really popular cliques in kindergarten? My second main memory: My mom picked her up and she bit her finger so hard that blood immediately spurted out. My mom taught me a new bad word that day. I was both fascinated and disgusted. By both the blood and the language. I also still to this day, 35 years later, have a poem hanging on my childhood bedroom door that my dad wrote for me that features Emily:
Julie likes yellow, Julie likes red,
Julie looks pretty, with bows on her head,
We all love Julie, oh yes we do,
So on your birthday, Happy bday to you!
(And to Emily too.)
I would have included a picture of the poem but it is so yellow and faded that it is nearly illegible. That is how old I am.
Anyway, those are my three hamster party stories.
So the theme is hamster wheel which pretty self-explanatorily evokes feelings of being busy, wondering if it is all, in the end, hopeless. I mean, a hamster wheel involves a cage, aerobic activity with no end in sight, and is a pretty solitary endeavor. Pretty depressing theme, huh?
That’s what I thought before I pet-sat a hamster with my kid for a weekend and became a hamster expert.
Guess what. When a hamster is scared, in a new environment, threatened, exhausted, overwhelmed, etc., it does not take to the hamster wheel. I have NO idea why, but Marshmallow the adorable hamster of Carla Kelly didn’t feel totally secure for the first 12-24 hours with us.
I feel like it’s important to pause here to mention that Millie the dog did not even come CLOSE to try to eat Marshmallow the hamster. The entire weekend. Not even ONCE. However, she did have a distributing tendency to come near us and sit/beg the every time we got the hamster out, the way she does every morning when Alianna eats her warmed up croissant and shares approximately 50% of the pieces with her (“one for you, one for me” style). So I did kinda worry for Marshy, as we came to affectionately call her. Millie also learned how to walk on two legs this weekend b/c she discovered she could get eye level with Marshy (whose cage was on the bar) when she did so.
To be fair, they DID have a blast together when Marshy was flying across the floor in her ball-thing. Those are new. Or new since the 35 years ago I had a hamster. I didn’t get a picture because I was belly laughing so hard each time he got in it, but here’s the idea:
Anyway, and here’s my big hamster behavior psychology revelation: Marshy ONLY got on the hamster wheel when she got comfortable with us, which was mostly Monday morning at around 5:30 AM when I got up to do yoga. I wish this picture was a video. I promise he was super-sprinty. Like impressively so. He’s such a good boy. The goodest.
Also, he didn’t keep going at a consistent pace like I expected. There was no slow and steady wins the race. There were spurts of ridiculous speed and then spurts of complete calm.
The wheel was super squeaky by the way. Like super, super squeaky. Like everyone in the house knew when Marshy was on that thing.
So here are things I know related to hamsters and hamster wheels that I think can inform how you process every blog this month:
If you are so busy and needed that you feel like you are on a hamster wheel, it means you are also part of a thriving, loving, safe community. Because if you weren’t you wouldn’t have the purpose or the psychological safety to starting running on that thing in the first place.
Aerobic exercise is vital for survival.
Taking breaks from that exercise is also vital for survival. And the breaks don’t have to be hours. Taking short rests while on the wheel and then going at it again .. . totally meaningful.
Everyone can hear the whine of the squeaky wheel as we run. And it is annoying. Super annoying. Just an FYI.
Sometimes when we run on a thing we THINK is a hamster wheel it’s ACTUALLY that clear ball thing that moves us to new places. Surprise! We did make progress!
We need a safe den/tube/fort of soft things on the bottom of the cage as well. For all of those times we don’t feel hamster-wheel-ready.
Sometimes the big, scary, Millie sized fury-monsters peering up at us through the cage actually think we are friends. They have no idea how intimidating they are.
So all of you who feel like you are on a hamster wheel, I’m sorry. And you’re welcome. And you’re lucky.
When Julie announced there was an overwhelming connection for the next blog topic ‘hamster wheel’ among my colleagues, I immediately felt anxious. Just the term ‘hamster wheel’ had me imagining moving as fast as I can, but not really getting anywhere. Kind of like the nightmare where you are being chased and you freeze because you can’t move your feet and you crumple into a ball until the monster overtakes you (or maybe that’s just me.) I could not think of a more exhausting image to think about and then write about.
I’ve thought about this image from the viewpoint of a mom (cook meals, wash dishes, do laundry, grocery shop, clean house, repeat) and from the viewpoint of a teacher (get new class, set routines and expectations, meet parents, teach curriculum, assess, go on field trips, have class parties, get seasonal breaks, have May Day, out for summer, repeat). As a mom and a teacher, I put new demands on myself and others are put on me. As we know, time is finite—no more no less—but that doesn’t stop us from adding more work, more goals, more life into that time. I was going down a real cynical, cyclical path thinking about this topic. Hamster wheels suck… I could not find a positive side to this wheel!
Then I thought about children…my own, the ones that are in my care, the ones I encounter out in the world. The older I get, the more I realize children have the best outlook and most of the answers in life. Up until the age of 5 or 6, children love singing the same songs (wheels on the bus, twinkle twinkle), eating the same food (goldfish and fruit snacks), wearing the same clothes(even when they get too small) and sleeping with the same luvy (yes, the one you have to go back to get when they have left it somewhere, because there is NO substitution, even for one night). Children thrive on consistency and routine. They thrive on the hamster wheel. To them it’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s the process, not the product. Sometimes they are barely moving the wheel, sometimes they are at a steady pace, and sometime they are going ninety miles an hour, but they are going at their own pace and enjoying the wheel. It’s secure and safe. We usually do our best work in those conditions. From now on I will try to look at the inevitable hamster wheel in life through the eyes of a four-year-old, smile, eat my goldfish, and remember that it’s about the journey. 😉
Asked to think about the connection between teachers’ work and hamster wheels, my mind went to tangential things–wheels and circles and cycles and songs about all of these. Thus, for this month I give you my attempt to maximize the blog post as medium with my top 5 songs about circular wheel type things and those songs’ helpful ways for thinking about my own teaching practice. Do note that this list is going to skew old, mainly because I mostly listen to old music and because (yes, I’ll say it) I’m old.
5. Journey’s Wheel in the Sky: This is clearly a song about teaching in November/December/January, when the shine has worn off of the year, when plans are being wrecked by lots of sick children, sick teachers, extracurricular travel obligations and early planned family vacations, but as all teachers know, time marches on. (The wheel in the sky keeps on turning; I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.) It’s that time of year when teachers are tired and many of us get to work before the sun comes up or is just coming up and never leave until it’s been down for a good long while (I’ve been trying to make it home; got to make it before too long. I can’t take this very much longer. I’m stranded in the sleet and rain.) Clearly, Steve Perry had a teacher in his life or taught at some point.
4. Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game: This is earnestly one of the most beautiful songs about children, wonder, growing up and the passage of time. I’d put this one alongside another of Joni’s songs, Both Sides Now, as songs that say something meaningful about how growing up changes the ways in which we see the world around us.
3. Billy Preston’s Will it Go Round in Circles There’s one verse here that speaks to me as a teacher–”I’ve got a dance, I ain’t got no steps, y’all. I’m gonna let the music move me around.” I don’t think the work of teaching is fundamentally improvisational, but I do think the ability to let the music move you around instead of being stuck on the steps of teaching children is an invaluable skill to have. And by that I mean that you have to be responsive in the moment–another apt metaphor is that you need to know the shape of the container that you want to fill with learning opportunities–the guard rails—the contours.
2. Harry Chapin’s All My Life’s a Circle This is such a lovely song, and this particular version has the added bonus of being from an episode of Solid Gold, which was an early 80s Saturday night family TV viewing staple in my home. I love a lot of things about teaching, but I especially love knowing and being able to anticipate the rhythm of an 8th grade academic year–starting with the awkward few weeks where we teachers and students don’t really know each other and are figuring things out, moving to the period of boundary pushing that really persists from late first quarter until graduation—the slide into the holidays where everyone is a little tired and a little anxious about the season—staring down the long barrel of the January to spring break run, which is also maybe the best period of teaching and learning of the year and then the final 4th quarter sprint where the weather gets beautiful, the behavior gets a little nuts and everyone’s getting impatient for the end of the year where we all realize that we’ve loved each other this year and will miss one another in the years to come. Then, you spend a summer resting, reading and maybe making some extra cash, rinse and repeat.
1. John Lennon’s Watching the Wheels There are a lot of thoughts that people have when you take yourself seriously as a teacher. I think for a lot of people it’s a liminal profession–the thing you’ll do until you find something else to do like law school or medical school or herding yaks. And I can tell you the moment that I decided that teaching children was the thing I wanted to do–about 12 years after I graduated college, when I had taught middle school for five years and undergraduates for more than that. It was such a relief to tell myself that teaching children would be enough for a career for me. This song, though it speaks to John Lennon’s move from the Beatles and pursuing big fame, also speaks to being fully committed to this work of teaching, and thinking of it as a profession worthy of pursuing on its own merits. (People say I’m crazy, doing what I’m doing. Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin.)
I realize this post is mostly really old songs, probably a generation or two before even my time (and I’m now regarded as veteran faculty in the middle school, at least.) I also realize my own increasingly strong opinion that the period from say 1965-1985 (give or take a couple of years either side) may be one of the best periods of popular music in the history of popularity or music. And it all (as it always does) connects somehow to teaching children.