The air of September

air of Sept.

There is an energy in the air of September.

Contagious, infectious and chaotic

It is breathed out by kindergarteners, nervous parents and dewy new teachers.

It is taken in by old school instructors, principals, and grumpy sleepy 13-year-olds.

We all breathe it in, body and mind responding ready or not, willing or not

The air of September is full of school.

Football sweat from high school players floats with the flop sweat form freshman and new teachers, then they the mix and mingle becoming the air of September.

The smell of new backpacks, new beginnings, and freshly waxed floors add to the scent in the air of September.

Crisp mornings that start too early and too dark,

Dry afternoons that end too early and too cool,

They season the air of September as well.

September is the New Year for me.

The calendar may think it four months away, but for every

Student, teacher and parent September is when we start over, get back at it, and celebrate the beginning of the new year.

The evidence is in the air of September.



A Teachers Look at September 250



Someone suggested to me that overwhelmed is a choice… I don’t know that I agree with that but, I do believe how I deal with overwhelmed is a choice.
I think it’s important to remember that this time of year because;
September is a month of changes that overwhelm me.
I love that.
It starts out hot, dry and tired but will finish cool, green and crisp.
The days this month move faster, as nature itself forces me to put more into each moment of daylight.
Septembers full of unrealistic hope and optimism, which by October will be tempered with fatigue.
Student energy is frenetic in September which makes me smile…for most of the month anyway.
Parents come into the school proud eager and hopeful, every year I want to share, applaud, and foster those emotions to build our community.
Septembers a chance to start over, changing and reinventing with fresh eyes.
The mistakes, missteps and missing pieces from last year are gone.
September is when I harvest the fruit of my summer labor setting into motion a whole Pinterest board of possibilities.
By the end of the month, I will be overwhelmed by all this,
The gray in my morning skies will threaten to cloud my mood,
Crisp will feel more like damp and cold.
What was once frenetic will look more like spastic
Proud will have a shadow of worry following behind it.
This year I will ride those waves confident that overwhelmed is part of every journey.

Note to Self


Dear Self,
a couple weeks ago you were asked what your most controversial educational belief was. Your answer was lame. It is a tricky question and to be fair I don’t think most of your beliefs are controversial, rather they seem well reasoned and brilliant to me. However, for future reference, you do have some rather outlandish beliefs. You believe the way we teach, the way we have always taught is a stupid model. You think that passive memorization, standardized tests, and classes where 87.6543% of the work is presented and produced in one modality is easy to duplicate for the teacher but it’s garbage for any learner.
Self, where you seem to get stuck is not in the bold ideas, it is in your hesitation to move forward without a full plan. You don’t like to complain without also seeing a better option. You worry that changing the way classrooms have been run since the dawn of early man is a pretty easy rant to ignore if you can’t offer a clear path to make that happen.
The thing that really stinks is that you were asked that question in an interview for a new job that is a real effort to clear some of that path. You had the chutzpah to apply and the moxie to do the job, but not the presence of mind to recognize that you were asked how you would choose to change education while interviewing for a job that will be trying to change education. So… something for you to work on.
BTW Congratulations on the new job.

New Job with a Catchy Title


I am always leery of anything pedagogical that comes with its own set of buzz words. After more than two decades in education, I rest on a fulcrum between experienced and cynical, the balance tilting based on when I last had a cup of coffee. So, as I step into a new role filled with buzz, hype, and expectations I am aggressively searching for the foundational value this work can offer students and teachers. I don’t doubt that is there, I simply need to be able to focus on it as we frame the job ahead.
Innovation, Creativity, Maker Spaces, Design Thinking, those are big terms with broad open definitions. No teacher is going to reject the foundation of those concepts but they could dismiss them as nothing more than buzzwords if we cannot back them up with engaging and meaningful learning, especially if those ideas are presented before coffee.
With that in mind:
I am now an Innovation TOSA, our mission is to bring innovative and creative project-based learning into real classrooms in a way that makes it possible for classroom teachers to use those concepts, ideas, and formats on their own once we leave.
Think of it as a “Try it before you apply it” approach. We roll up full of hype, enthusiasm, and buzz and leave with you surprised at how valuable what we offered was.
The foundational value is this: Teaching people to innovated and create is important and something we should be doing


Design Thinking in Elementary school


One nicer elements of 21stcentury learning is the integration of the real world into the school world.  More and more the outside is creeping in and peeking around to look at how and why we do what we do in schools.  This is annoying and intrusive, and presumptuous. It forces us to be reflective and often suggests that we rethink stuff.


Design thinking- How engineers, designers, and scientists approach challenges. They generally count 5 steps in the process:

  1. Empathies
  2. Define
  3. ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

In most of the literature out there when they combine design thinking and education they quickly jump into Project Based Learning. I am a big fan of that too, More than once I have sat with teachers and engineered a lesson to incorporate more student voice or project options.

In the elementary world, I think those 5 Design Thinking steps translate into 6 steps (because smaller legs need more steps and smaller words too.)

  • Learn the challengefinal-version-alternate-e1463477404277
  • ASK a bunch of Questions
  • UNDERSTAND the process
  • NAVIGATEall the ideas
  • CREATE a prototype,
  • HIGHLIGHT and fix the Glitches.



Thanks to a couple clever Ed. Professors and the power of Mnemonic devices, you can remember and find out more about this by thinking of it as the LAUNCH cycle.

When I watch teachers present the start of a big unit I look for these. They are a good place to start a conversation and great ground to move forward on



Thankful for the pain in my but.


There is a school of thought, which suggests that I (as a dyslexic) should be thankful for my affliction. Because learning to overcome, compensate, work through or deal with my issue has given me a unique set of skills. I don’t know any dyslexics that belong to that school.
Every ounce of resilience I gained, I also lost to insecurity and forms of public humiliation.
But I am thankful to be resilient.
I have learned that failure can be temporary, and real success is only ever a result of real effort.
But I am thankful to know those truths.
I know the weight of judgments cast; I also know the strength of a single voice.
But I am thankful to know the power of my voice.
I learned how to think outside the box because I have never fit into the box
But I am thankful for the broader view.
I understand that humor is both a shield and a sword and that swords cut both ways and shields block your vision.
But I am thankful to have learned to handle such a powerful tool.
I am thankful my children, are not dyslexic. Because the qualities I have learned due to my inability to remember a four-digit number or spell a five letter word are not unique to my dysfunction. Those are skills learned by anyone that has failed and had to try again.

That is what education should be. It’s why I teach.

The Small Victory of Graduation


Graduation ceremonies are a kind of optical illusion.  As you look at them, the image that forms is this mass of students all celebrating their academic accomplishments and their entry into some new unknown adventure.

But if you look closer that is not what is going on at all. Instead what looks like one mass celebration is, in reality, a collection of small individual victories. From the stands last weekend I saw families whose real victory was not getting through high school, but rather finally sending someone to college. Others that where the expectation was not merely college but top honors and top schools.

I know students in class, many of them spend years walking in and out of my library. I saw kids for whom graduation was a celebration of something else;

An escape route

An end to a ugly chapter

A victory in a war of attrition

An act of defiance

A chance to start over

A tribute to someone lost

The mourning of a loss.

As the kid’s file across the stage, each shaking the hands of administrators they hardly knew I saw another personal victory. Off the stage, in the aisles of kids moving from chair to line, KC was already bouncing and ready to go.

KC is a Special Education student, kind, funny and honest to a fault KC was going to walk (and bounce) to receive his Certificate of Achievement.  As proud, as any student there. He was high-fiving every hand he could reach and several he couldn’t.  The bounces were getting bigger and the high fives more vigorous.

Without a word and almost without notice the Superintendent stepped off the ceremonial line and slipped down the aisle. For the next 10 minutes or so he stood with KC, celebrating, conversing, and calming. By the time KC was walking across the stage the Sup was back in formation ready to shake his hand, one last time.

For me, all of education seemed to be caught in that small moment. A masterful educator quietly supporting an individual student while simultaneously getting the larger group to their collective goals, which have been cleverly disguised as a single common goal. The skills and subtle moves of the teacher may be moving to a less prominent place in the room, but that has only made their roll all the more powerful.

As is often the case for me, I am probably seeing more than was there. But I am content to believe in both what I saw and what I decided it represented if for no other reason than it made me feel good about the district my kids were apart of for 13 years.

the Art of Waiting 250 words

the-waiting-gameI started this a couple weeks ago.

But poetry, even bad poetry, is more difficult than counting out 250 words so there was some… waiting.

Teaching makes me think about waiting from the other side.  Not like Jonah sitting in the whale’s belly, or Buddha under a tree doing nothing.  Teaching makes me think of waiting as the purposeful time between actions.  More like the civil rights lunch counter sit-in,McCain-obit-3-master675




or standing stalwart in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square.Tianasquare

It is much harder to describe. But mastering waiting means using that time between actions to set the course for the next action.

I firmly believe that great educators are great waiters.

Never try to out wait teachers:

They are masters of the waiting arts;

  • Pregnant pauses
  • Averted glances
  • Awkward silences

Master teachers wield with patience and calm

Undeterred by defiant sweaty palm

Where mere mortals will push through or call a victim out

A teacher will hold and force the dormant thoughts to sprout.

Seconds tick by, each carefully;

  • Sweated
  • Stewed
  • And Stirred

While the educator calmly waits unperturbed and cool.

Time is never wasted, too precious is that in school.

They watch for fidgeting fingers or a curiously itching head,

Those brave enough to struggle, those that left the problem dead;

  • Ripe with contemplations
  • Seasoned with frustrations
  • Asked in expectations

The answers’ rightness or wrongness are nothing but a ruse

It’s the learning the teacher awaits and will not refuse.

Thinking Algebraically


I am always a bit awkward writing about math.  It is a field in which I have grown comfortable with my lack of understanding.

If I had put any effort into going to my high school math classes I would certainly be one of those people that now wants go back and yell at the teacher “Algebra has had no impact on my life!”  However, since I avoided those classes I don’t think the teacher would recognize me.

In our rage, we math haters might have missed the point.  Maybe it’s not that algebra had no impact on my life, maybe it’s that I have missed out on the impact algebra could have had on my life.

If I list all the things I didn’t learn that didn’t change my life, algebra doesn’t even make the top of the list alphabetically.

(Accounting, Acoustic guitar, and Alchemy take those honors.)

Now that I can look back from a safe distance, I have to concede that math is as much or more about developing complex problem solving skills as those lit. classes were, and I have plenty of need to solve complex problems.  (Lord of the Flies has had no impact on my life either.)

It is probably true that I was never going to be an astrophysicist.

But a better understanding of algebra might have gotten me to a faster understanding that two negatives, whether they are numbers, mindsets or attitudes never make a positive.

Math might even have cosmic


Vocabulary in 250 word:

Wordle-vocabulary-1p1s4xh Although neither of my parents ever got close to college vocabulary and debate, were huge in our house throughout my childhood. We knew Roberts rules of order by heart. I could present a three-point argument at age 8. My brother put the butt in rebuttal. We debated vociferously and vehemently.
My parents would not let us play sports because they thought competition was bad, but, we were scored on the strength of our arguments and extra points were given for vocabulary.
As a kid words had important value in our family, they had muscle and sway.
The more word you know the smarter people think you are. I was a horrific reader but no one noticed until late because I was well spoken.
Vocabulary has torque:
“By age three, it is believed that children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.”
A run of the numbers:
• The Typical high school grad knows between 40 and 50 thousand words and uses around 5,000.
• The typical college grad knows about 75,000 thousand words and uses around 10,000
And one more just for the old white middle-class rapper inside me.
Jay-Z uses about 4500 different words in his raps, which is dangerously close to the total number of words used by high schooler…and his lines rhyme!49pf3Ip
Vocabulary is all about exposure. Hearing, using and reading words.
I have a list of books with great Vocabulary on the website.