When I grow up

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood: idealism, experimentation and wonder. In this new world, not only must we behave more like children, we also must teach the next generation to retain those attributes that will allow them to be world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Joi Ito


When I grow up I’ll invent make a big mess day, where you don’t have to clean up your project till you are all done and making a mess is expected.

When I grow up I’ll let curiosity be my trusty guide. I’ll remember how it feels to have your own burning questions and not even want an answer; just want a way to discover.

When I grow up I’ll remember how not to worry about making mistakes and how I did everything I loved without self-judgment. I’ll remember how I could be a ballerina, an artist and a scientist all in the same day.

When I grow up, I’ll remember how to be kooky and silly. I’ll remember after being silly it is a piece of cake to settle down.

When I grow up, I’ll remember the black journal I saved my money to buy and how excited I was to fill it with my learning when I got to “real” school.

When I grow up I am going to remember to never take myself or my job too seriously. I’ll remember how it is possible to move on when something does not work out my way.

When I grow up I’ll remember the things I love to do are the things I need to do, everyday. I’ll remember those things are the things that make life delicious, delectable and possible.

When I grow up I’ll remember how my enthusiasm and curiosity sometimes made me loud, rambunctious and full of energy. I’ll remember how enthusiasm looks and feels and embrace it on the spot with open arms.

When I grow up I’ll remember to daydream, imagine and create. I’ll remember how big my dreams were and are. I’ll remember how vivid my imagination was and is. I’ll remember how easy it was to create.

When I grow up, I’ll remember.
What will you remember when you grow up?


Because #poetry


Shared on Flickr by Kariann Blank

“A poet is a verb that blossoms light in gardens of dawn, or sometimes midnight.”

Before you say but “I am not an English teacher” or “I am an administrator” consider: are you looking for ways to infuse creativity and divergent thinking into to your class or staff? And before you say: “sure but I just can’t imagine it!” check out these examples of poetry “out-of-bounds.” Have you talked about or thought about creativity and playfulness as vital to igniting and sustaining learning? Poetry invites both! Wouldn’t poetry be a great way to invite students (and teachers) to make sense of content and themselves? What if poetry was seen as a way to make sense of the world…not just in English class but in all classes and for adults as well!

Before you say “well I just don’t have time!” No worries! Start small and consider trying a #sixwordstory to summarize part of a lesson or staff meeting.  And if that sounds overwhelming start with “just one word” and then create a collective found poem (see description below). Sounds fun right?!

Some reasons you might consider poetry:

1. Invites fun and playfulness.
Students often see “school learning” as a series of rules to be followed exactly. Poetry invites playfulness and fun into the process. Learning is fun and playful, playing with words is a great way to show case this.

2. Showcases and normalizes divergent thinking.
When students see learning as an answer on a worksheet they become uncomfortable and intolerant of divergent thinking. Writing a poem showcases that there be many legitimate ways to understand and explain a topic. It also models to students that there is more than one way of knowing and explaining.

3. Opportunity to make meaning and make it public.
Learning is all about making meaning for ourselves and sharing this meaning with others. What better way than through a poem or performance!

4. Invites and encourages creativity as a viable way to operate in school.
When we only do creative acts in certain subjects it signals creativity as only useful for certain topics, but don’t we want students to think creativity is important for all subjects?

5. Develops a sense of identity.
When all answers are identical it is challenging to develop a sense of ownership and personal connection. Poetry allows for personal flair and perspective to shine through.

Poetry Resources and Examples Round Up

1. Poetry in the classroom pinterest board 

2. Just One Word
Not feeling the poetry thing? Ok how about “just one word”? At the end of a unit, day, class, meeting or movie clip, ask students to think of one word that captures their thoughts. After they all have their word have students say their word aloud in rapid succession to create a “found poem.”  It is always interesting to hear the similarities and patterns that emerge. Want to dial this activity up a notch? Collect the words and use as the raw materials to create a #sixwordstory.

3. Biopoem
Unsure about using poetry in your classroom? Get started with a formulaic type poem. I have used biopoems at the start of semester to get to know my students and then used it over the course of the semester for the different organisms we study in Biology. You could use it to explore a character in history or a type of equation in math.

A biopoem is a poem that describes a person/character/animal/etc  in 11 lines. There is a specific formula to use when writing a bio poem. Bipoem form to use here and outlined below:

First name…
Four adjectives that describe the person/character/organism…
Relative of…
Lover of (three different things that the person loves)…
Who feels (three different feelings and when or where they are felt)…
Who gives (three different things the person gives)…
Who fears (three different fears the person has)…
Who would like to see (three different things the person would like to see)…
Who lives (a brief description of where the person lives)
Last name…

4. #sixwordstory
Students choose (or are provided with) an object, picture, event, sentence…then are invited to write a story using only six words. These stories can be shared verbally or posted into a doc, a slide show, on a sticky or tweeted out. An example from my Biology class is provided below (students wrote on stickies and I posted to our Facebook group). Six words do not intimidate anyone!


6 word story
Template to use here
Some great examples are here and hereMore examples (as more is always more!).

5. Blackout Poem
A couple of weeks ago @davidtedu wrote this awesome post in which he highlighted blackout poems. His post was the catalyst and inspiration for my poetry craze of late (thanks David!).

Students could create one individually or in groups and could use a newspaper, magazine or old paper back. I thought this would be a great way to “churn up” a professional article with teachers and the blackout poem they created would summarize what the article meant to them. Black out poems are great for students who hesitate to write as this format allows them to express themselves without making the commitment to writing themselves.
Blackout poems are poems, sentences, phrases created from words of an existing novel (article, newspaper, chapter). Have students underline, first in pencil, words they might like to use in the poem. Now have students use pen circle the words they want to use in the poem. Finally have them black out everything else.

More ideas in presentation below:

7. Found poem
A found poem can be created in a multitude of ways but basically it is a hobbled together set of phrases or sentences. A collection of #sixwordstories could be a found poem. Students could select one phrase or sentence from a text your read aloud to them. Have students each read their catch phrase aloud..ta da instant found poem. Want something more formal? Open up a google doc and have students each add their phrase their. Add images and turn into a presentation (use Animoto and add music). Students love to hear other student’s poems and I am always amazed at how much information gets kicked up!

Found poem template here.

8. Slam poetry
For a larger project or presentation how about a slam poetry event? Students could write poems from the perspective of a character or react to a controversial topic in science (for example Should GMO Crops Be Banned? or Should Designer Babies Be Legal?).

Slam poetry form to use.

Watch these inspiring performances as examples:


Infidelity and intentional vagueness

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

                                                                                                                Antoine de Saint-Exupery


I have to confess I have never been faithful. Ever. Over 25 years and I never adopted one planning, teaching schema or framework with 100% fidelity. Moreover I have never taught a course or unit again, in the same order, in the same way. Lastly, I am vague with instructions. Intentionally.

It didn’t start this way. As I began teaching, I saw senior teachers with course binders which they would open and say: “here is today’s lesson.”  I thought: when I have binders like that I will be a great teacher! I also saw examples of elaborately detailed unit plans (many prepared by teachers I never met in person). I thought: when I get going, I am going to make units plans like those and then I will be the teacher I need to be! Lastly, I made sure I knew how to give clear and detailed instructions. I knew exactly when to say “Get your microscopes out!” to avoid confusion. I knew how to organize the bodies of 30 teenage bodies with military precision.

The closer I got to each of these goals, the more uncertain I became they would get me where I wanted to go with my teaching practice. For a long while, I felt guilty about all of this! I thought I was somehow deficient as a teacher in my unwillingness to give in to one planning model or teaching philosophy, in being “unable” to follow the same plan twice and in choosing to give ambiguous instructions.

Making Something My Own is the Making Sense Part

UBD? POGIL? Inquiry? PBL? UDL? So many frameworks and so little time. I wish I could say I had a form to end all others, I wish I could say I had THE recipe. Over time, I realized it wasn’t the form I did or did not use or the framework, I did or did not use.
What mattered was the schema I built, in my brain. And please don’t get me wrong, I thinking planning frameworks and teaching paradigms are both valuable and useful. Planning frameworks (such as UBD) and paradigms have informed me. The act of following someone else’s instructions to the letter on how to design a unit or course did inform and me; it was in the time and effort of churning through to make sense of it in my own brain in conjunction with observations and reflections. The work, the thoughts, the mental lifting which happened within the neurons helped to guide my teaching practice. Over time I have become comfortable with my “always hybrid” approach and the continuous development of my practice.

Planning is Important but Adapting the Plan is More Important

I used to think plans were a script to create in advance to ensure my lessons would be perfect. Now I know plans are not as important as what they become and what they allow for. The act of planning was not to create a script to follow, like actors do on a stage, but to create conditions in which students could write their own lines. The plan is important and valuable but how the plan is liberated and given a life of its own is more meaningful than the plan itself. Lastly, I came to understand that plans would look different each and every time they came to life. I came to understand that responding and adapting to students at a particular time was about teaching students instead of a teaching a course.

Vague Instructions Leave Something to the Imagination: Ambiguity is Good

I used to think good instructions were those when students did exactly what my words said. Now I know good instructions are those enabling students to figure out what they need to do to address their learning.  When I got good at giving detailed instructions, students became really good at following the details but this did not necessarily impact what was going on in their brains. Just because I could get students to do what I instructed them to do did not mean learning was going on.
When I was filling in all the details, students were unused to ambiguity and reading between the lines for themselves. My so called “good instructions” made students rely on me more and propagated the “let’s play school” mindset. Instructions are not about getting kids to do what I say (compliance), instructions are about inviting, invoking and awakening.  I would much rather a student sit an activity out and then later decide for themselves to take part. I realized I wanted structures and strategies to help students move to the deep end of their learning (and did not want strategies that relied on highly prescriptive instructions) rather than strategies and structures that kept them in the shallow end where it was easy for me to “watch them.”


How about you? What are you faithful to? How do your plans come to life? How do you see and use instructions?

work or WORK?

work can be organized neatly into binders or filing cabinets. work can be photocopied, attached to emails, and posted to websites with one click.
WORK is fluid and lives off the page. WORK shifts shape and morphs with the moment, in the moment.

work is compliance, completion and just enough. work is black and white, yes or no and containable to a page or a line.
WORK has no beginning or end, makes time disappear and lacks a fixed destination. WORK is messy, challenging and exhilarating all at the same time.

work feels heavy and flat. work is tedious and long, and sits just at the surface.
WORK wakes you up, lights you up and unbalances as it re-balances. WORK comes from deep within and extends out.

work sits in piles on the desk, forgotten once out of sight and recycled. work pushes you out. work says everything.
WORK lingers with you like the fragrance of a favorite perfume. WORK pulls you in, creating space for you to find your way. WORK waits for you to speak.

work is a checklist held externally from you and for you. work is tiny fragments, unidentifiable as to the material they belong. work keeps you infinitely busy.
WORK feels unencumbered, unknown, and unfettered. WORK feeds you forward. WORK paints the bigger picture. WORK says: take your time, I will wait.

work maintains stasis and feeds back to status quo.
WORK unsettles. WORK lifts up and creates a path beyond the farthest horizon.

work is a clone, each piece looking identical to the last. work is made up of puzzle pieces already assembled.
WORK is as unique as DNA and snowflakes. WORK is unpainted and yet unknown.

WORK can simultaneously break and mend your heart.
work will steal your heart and soul.

work can lead to WORK. WORK will never lead to work.
WORK will contain pieces of work. work cannot encompass WORK.


which do you do? which do you want to do?
which do you want for our children?

work or WORK?

Do you see me?

Do you see me?

I am the student who sits worrying you will ask me a question. I can’t hear anything when my worrying is so loud.

Do you see me?

I am the student who goes to bed with a knife under my pillow for when dad comes home from the bar. I am thinking about my mom and tonight.

Do you see me?

I am the student whose mom moved out yesterday. I made her a card. She still left.

Do you see me?

I am the student who got kicked out of the house. Last night at 11:00 PM. I am wondering where I can stay tonight.

Do you see me?

I am the student who didn’t eat breakfast. My dad was too tired to grocery shop.

Do you see me?

I am the student who shuts down when you start talking to me. I might be wrong if I say something.

Do you see me?

I am the student who needs to know you like me. Before I engage.

Do you see me?

I am the student who used to love school. Mrs  ________ told me I was bad at Math.

Do you see me?

I am the student whose head is full of ideas. When I start to talk, I get lost. I hope you hear me. No one hears me.

Do you see me?

I am the student who asked you for help to solve the problem. You ignored me. I asked again and you said you were too busy. I never ask unless I really need help.

Do you see me?

I am the student who wants to change the world. Really. My mom just died of cancer. I will find a cure.


Who do you see when you see me?


Will you see me…for me?

Blogging to learn


Shared on Flickr by lucy loomis

Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. 
                                                                                                                                                             Joan Didion

One of the most amazing happenings of my adult life is discovering I love to blog. I hated (yes hated) writing as it was presented to me as a student and young adult. I saw writing as something I had to do for someone else; I never had the opportunity to understand it as a process I might do for myself. Weirder still, after blogging here for almost 3 years, I now get “a mental craving” to blog, similar to the feeling I might get when I need to go for a run or brisk walk. Blogging soothes and settles my brain when burdened and blurry; it cuts a path and shines a light. More than other mental activity, blogging has been a reliable compass for navigating my explorations “out here.”

If I were to sum blogging up, I would describe the process as the perfect dance between navigating my learning and learning how to express myself. One aspect seems to strengthen the other: blogging enhances my ability to navigate my learning and as I navigate my learning, the more clarity and focus I have when I blog. But how to blog to learn and how to learn to blog? I am no expert and in fact I find blogging to be the hardest (in the very best way) mental activity I do. But I offer some hints that have helped me navigate my way…

Ideas for blogging to learn

1. Process Post – When you are full on confused or overwhelmed by a topic, when a question continues to circle round and round in your brain. Forge through and process it out. Lay the ideas down and re-order them, as you might when laying a rock wall, until they sit in a way that gels to provide clarity for you.

2. Round Up – Getting started on a topic? Investigating a new area of interest? A round-up or collection is a great way to dive in and find some preliminary resources on a topic. A round-up outlines the tracks of your travels and shares what you have read, watched, tried, heard, etc.

3. Dear Somebody – Write a post to someone or something. For example: Dear New Teacher Me; Dear Student, Dear Stressed Me; Dear PLN. Writing a post to someone can be fun and provides an easy style to guide your writing and explore a topic.

4. Stream of consciousness – Sit down and just write just as you think. This may be in reaction to a conversation, a Ted Talk you watched, or to a post that moved you. Let your thoughts come without judgment or reservation. The post might lack grammar or logic, but mentally it will feel fantabulous!

5. Lists – Although some peeps are anti-list and lists can feel contrived, at the end of the day everyone loves a good list! Lists are an easy way to organize your writing and ideas. I myself both love and hate lists. I hate writing them, but they organize me in a way I love!

Ideas for learning to blog

1. Give blogging time – I try to blog once per week. Weekends work best for me as I have enough time to sit down and write a post start to finish. But this habit developed over time. When I first started blogging it occurred randomly and sporadically. It took time to become a habit and it took time to find a routine that worked best for me.

2. Keep it simple – My biggest struggle when I blog is I tend to over complicate and then lose my way. What was I trying to say again? Simple clarity is deceptively difficult to achieve. For me my title is what gives me the greatest clarity. A title clears the murky thoughts and then I try to write as tightly as possible to that central idea.

3. Read other blogs – What grabs you? Whose style do you love? What format is most inviting? What topics resonate? What sticks with you a week or month later?

4. Notice ideas and topics that fully grab your interest – What topics really catch your attention? What conversations linger in your brain? What puzzles you? What amazes you? It took time for me to notice these and I had to let go of my preconceived notions of what I thought “I should be interested in.” I had to develop my own taste and learn to trust myself.

5. Keep track of ideas, quotes, and central questions – When I get an idea for a post I try to keep track of them, either in a journal or in a unpublished post. Don’t despair if topic ideas go unexplored for months. Out of the blue a post, tweet or conversation might reactivate the dormant topic and bring it to life.

6. Don’t believe any list of “must do” blogging tips – Write your own!

Change your words to change your mind

Some days you need to hear encouraging words to get you back on track or re-frame a challenging moment. As classroom teachers we spend most days as a solitary adult and some of the most important conversations we might have are with ourselves. Our self-talk on challenging days can be our worst enemy:

“If only I had said…”
“I should have done …”
“I am a crappy teacher, because… ”
“I am so frustrated with….”
“That student is being so rude to ME.”
“I totally messed up!!”

Or our self-talk can be a tool we rely on like a trusty teaching strategy or structure. For me purposeful self-talk has stopped me from making a mountain out of a mole hill (most times), prevented engagement in non-productive conflict and reminded me to be empathetic instead of judgmental.

What words do you use to navigate life’s inevitable hurdles?
Do you have favorite sayings or catch phrases you use again and again?

Some of mine are:

1. You are enough

It’s Sunday night, you’ve just had a great weekend with family and friends. You consider your mental list of things you hoped to accomplish for school Monday morning. You begin to feel disappointed with yourself: you should have done _____ .  AS a result tomorrow is going to be awful! You begin to lose perspective and react with plans to get up super early. In those moments remind yourself…you are enough.
Your enthusiasm, your love of the job, your empathy, and the hard work you have already invested are enough.

 2. Your mistakes are the stepping-stones for your learning journey

You are asked to present to the staff. You hate presenting in front of people but decide to take the opportunity and challenge yourself. The presentation day comes and you are ready. In fact you are over ready. The presentation goes great but you make one small mistake, unnoticed by all. You mentally “beat yourself up” over it and begin to re-frame the presentation as a failure.
Those mistakes, no matter how big or small, are the paving stones of your learning leading you forward.
Step on them boldly and proudly: you are a learner!

3. This too will pass

The bad day, the bad mood, the bad moment, even the bad week or month. It will pass, it will, look ahead and beyond.
Look out to the farthest horizon…it will pass.

4. Everyone has their bag of rocks

You are having the worst day, the worst luck, and the worst of everything. Remember to consider what are the challenges facing your students and your colleagues? Each has their own unique bag of rocks they carry. Instead of counting your rocks, consider which can you help them lose, which can you carry for them, and which can you pulverize into fine sand?
We each have our bag of rocks.

5. This is not about you

You are at the photocopier. A colleague comes along and starts in at you for not replacing the toner, fixing the jam or some other problem you did not cause.
Just know in that moment this is not about you. Look beyond you and into them.
This is not about you.

6. This does measure your efficacy 

The messy desk, the unwashed glassware (a science teacher’s nemesis), or the piece of equipment you did not put away… yet…again.
These do not measure your ability as a teacher, your connection with students. Don’t use them as such. Go back to #1.

7. You catch more bees with honey

When you start to get down on your students and begin to have a series of blaming thoughts: my students are lazy, my students don’t care etc. Remember you will always catch more bees with honey. Getting angry or frustrated with your students won’t fix the problem.
Inviting them in with a new positive frame might.
Bees like honey.

8.  You are bigger than this

In those moments when your ego comes out ready to fight, when you see your anger or frustration rising.
See the feeling and let it move through you.
You are bigger than this. You are.

9. This day is over. A new one begins tomorrow

As each day closes out, find “bubble bath” time to reflect on what went well and the challenge. Close the chapter on the day and look forward to starting the next day fresh.
The next day is new and ready for you to start again and anew.

10. Next time…

When you did paper mâché with the kids and the glue went everywhere; when a water fight broke out with the new spray bottles (and yes this did happen, next time I won’t say: Don’t use those spray bottles to spray each other!”); when you photocopy the test but leave out the last page; when the perfectly crafted explanation made no sense.
Think next time.
Next time...
you will know how to deal with this, next time you will be ready, next time you will change the tricky part of the activity.