An EdWeek.org article helps me believe that we could more effectively discuss some version of our administrators’ handful of essential things along with our teachers’ handful of essential things. Furthermore, we’d benefit from ongoing discussions about how the two sets of essential things are doing in terms of coordination and practice throughout the year. I bet we can get better at keeping such first things first.
The biggest improvements in my teaching and my students’ learning are traceable back to notes I make this time of year and little experiments in instruction that I try out before the year ends. I am never more tired than I am at this point, but I am never wiser than now after a year of experience with real students in real contexts with real challenges. Here are some brief notes about the importance of such replay notes.
Although they’re an odd couple to recommend, Kurt Vonnegut and Jim Collins make surprisingly good companions for high school teachers who are trying to go the distance as effective long-term educators.
With a few days to go until spring break, I’m wrapping up another semester/quarter of teaching on a condensed block schedule. I’m once again realizing how difficult endings can be. The theme of endings got me thinking about my experiences with philosophy, spirituality, and the meaning(s) of life.
I’m up for my second dose of a vaccine on March 12th, and that date was my last day of in-person learning in the spring of 2020. Looking back, I find myself noticing things about experience, education, and culture that I wouldn’t have if not for the influences of COVID. Here are some assorted thoughts.
Just this morning, I heard an excerpt from legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s speech at UCLA in the 1971 NCAA Championship Game. Truly, the three things of his philosophy of coaching work well for good collaboration in schools and classrooms. I found this especially timely after writing about collaboration last week, using somewhat similar connections from about thirty years ago. Wooden’s emphasis on conditioning, fundamentals, and a team spirit helps essentialize our work as educators.
Just a little short of thirty years ago, I was taught several “cooperative learning” strategies via our small school’s informal yet thoughtful approach to professional development: Have experienced teachers share knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Old timers back then knew that good cooperative learning also requires good individual preparation and accountability. The same can be said for our mostly synonymous notion of collaboration these days.
When I think of opportunities I’ve had to become an administrator, I often recall a scene in the 1994 movie Star Trek: Generations where next-generation Captain Picard meets the legendary Captain Kirk of the previous generation through a mysterious, wish-fulfilling, destructive space anomaly called the Nexus. The scene and the space anomaly provide apt analogies for teachers to consider as they face temptations to move to administrative positions beyond the classroom.
I had a much different topic ready for today, but I read Dave Stuart’s timely and encouraging post on “The Teacher’s Journey.” That got me thinking about the cycles of disorientation and reorientation that are so much a part of my life and work as a teacher. In terms of struggling through such cycles, I’d say that one of most formative books for my own journey so far is Ecclesiastes. It’s an ancient wisdom book that deals with inner and outer cycles of learning, teaching, and working through life’s messy experiences. Ecclesiastes is a bit like C.S. Lewis’ characterization of Aslan: The book grows bigger as the messy cycles of life and teaching frequently grow bigger and more wearisome.
Duane, a retired science teacher who started teaching about 70 years ago, often had practical wisdom to pass along about teaching. One of his best insights was to “just get students working at the board each day.” That still applies for in-person and distance learning in the 21st century.