The Red Robe

I go to a great yoga class every other Saturday that one of my favorite teachers, Channing Grivas, offers called Yoga Playground. Last weekend we focused on backbends. All kinds of them. A year ago I would only have been able to do a couple of the poses, but this year, there were only a couple that I couldn’t do. At the end of class as we laid in our sweaty savasana, she told us a story about when she was a little girl:

She was obsessed with Queen Elizabeth. Channing told us about a memory where she watched the Queen with her red robe trailing behind her (possibly a cartoon). She told us that when she asked her father about the robe, he told her that robe represents all the people behind her who support her and help her do her job as Queen. Because Channing told us this in a backbending class, she talked bout how we often neglect what is behind us because we do not see it, but it is back there holding us up, supporting us even when we don’t know or understand all the work it is doing.

We just had our fall parent-teacher conferences the week before Channing told us this story. Each year our Parent Teacher Community Organization (PTCO) makes dinner for the teachers: soups, salads, pies, yummy treats. They even arrange a string quartet and an acoustic guitarist to come  liven up the room. They do a really lovely job and we feel really well taken care on what has the potential to be a stressful evening. It is an opportunity to feel the community network in action in the most visceral of ways, through food and camaraderie.

As teachers we often forget that parents are on our side. They really want what we want for their children, to do well. On the two nights of conferences each year, I feel their support behind me. I feel the robe which lays heavy on my shoulders. I feel the desire for their children to reach their potential.

But on this night, I  also feel the support behind me. I feel parents who care about my experience of supporting their children. I feel them creating a space of comfort for all of us, under the robe – walking together.

Start- Stop- Share

Last weekend I went to the Google Summit in Boulder. Yes- I was dog tired from a full week of teaching. Yes- I wanted to spend time with my family. And yes- Sauturday I spent the morning filling my cup so I could be fully attentive.

And for all these efforts, I learned a couple of things that I want to share.

At Mark Garrison’s keynote he encouraged all of us to START something new, to STOP to reflect about it, and to SHARE our experience with it. This spoke to me, especially in this age of high stakes accountability. What are we doing in our classrooms and our lives, for that matter, to be accountable to ourselves.

I have so many data points that I report out to administration, to parents, and to students. What are my own data points I report out to myself? 

This framework to start, stop, and share is a call to action. A call to support ourselves and in the process one another. 

The Rumble

My friend took me out to lunch a couple of weeks ago after a huge staff development we planned and executed together. During lunch she told me that she thought my sparkle, my excitement, had left me. Boom. There it was. In my face. She told me that she felt that I was reciting something that I didn’t feel excited about, something that I knew I should do, but didn’t necessarily have my heart behind.

Clearly, this was cause for pause, to take some time out to reflect on what she had to say.

In the time since, what I have gathered, my understanding of this moment is that she believes I can do better. I can motivate and bring people into the conversation. She believes I have the power within me to inspire people.

I am reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong right now. She talks about this moment called the rumble. My understanding of the rumble is that when something is about to shift within a person, they feel it rumbling inside. It’s kind of like the rumble strip on the freeway that’s designed to wake people up when they fall asleep while driving. People must work to name the rumble. They must feel the rumble with a sense of curiosity.

Here is my rumble: I feel the people I work with are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities day in and day out. Because of my new position, I feel now more than ever before that teachers genuinely want to improve their practice. But it is the day-to-day slog of trying to get done everything that is wearing teachers down. Despite this, they seek to improve, they seek to get better.

My new job, as I see it, is part inspire teachers, part support teachers, and part help teachers create a sustainable vision.

Talking to a colleague today it sort of seems like education, as a whole, in our country right now has no real sustainable vision.

  • As we distance from a pure accountability stance, (I live in Colorado where parents opt their students out of testing left and right) what’s the next move?
  • What role do teachers play to develop this vision?
  • We want students to reach their fullest potential, how do we do this?
  • What does this look like?
  • How do we stop the machine long enough to look our students in the eye to see how to move forward?

Reading by Choice

I am trying out an experiment this school year. It goes like this: last summer when my AP scores came out, I realized that the students who did not pass (and all of my students who didn’t pass earned a 2 on their exam) were my students who don’t read. I thought all summer about how to get my students read: read for a purpose, read for fun, read for choice, read complex texts…you name it.

I get caught up in the whole complex text thing. I want them reading complex texts, yes. But I also want them reading, period. I want them to understand that reading is something that can help them learn about the world, that it is a way to connect, it is a way to create new learning about experiences we may never have on our own. I want my students to read. Period.

The sad truth is that at the beginning of the year when my students did the reading inventory from The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, only one-third of my AP Lang students called themselves readers, and only HALF have read any books in the last year, either in or out of class.

So this year I am setting out to change this trend. My students have set a goal to read four books this school year on their own (not many, I know, but it’s doable). I give them 20 minutes each class period to read a book of their choice (we have 99 minute class periods), and I am using their outside reading to teach grammar, punctuation, and analysis skills.

My students are talking about their reading. They are exchanging books. They are giving each other advice about what to read and pushing one another to step outside of their usual genres. It’s really inspiring to watch.

Today we are doing our book recommendations for our first quarter, and my favorite recommendation?

This book is a nonreader read. I liked it.