learning alongside

Today we’re writing about what we’ve learned over the course of the semester about writing and teaching. The prompt is aimed CO301D classmates, but I have to say that one of the things that keeps me in teaching is being a learner alongside my students. I’ve had hard days and joyful days and everything in between over the past 30 years, but in my daily work with students, I’ve never been bored–challenged, discouraged, inspired, yes, but bored never.

When I began teaching, this was unexpected. That’s probably because I was so nervous about being the authority figure, THE knower, in the room, that it didn’t occur to me that I could and should also model learning for my students. Those days, the connection between knowing and learning was tentative at best, and the worst thing I thought I could do was appear tentative in front of a group of 14-year-olds. (P.S.: Since I also looked 14, that was actually a good call a lot of the time.)

But the act of teaching necessarily begs learning, whether we acknowledge it or not. And learning requires vulnerability. And vulnerability is a two-sided coin that is characterized by bliss and folly. (Cf the New Belgium Folly Pack and their motto, by of Joseph Campbell, to “follow your bliss.”)

Welp, I’m pretty sure I just said that the maintaining a generative professional mindset that allows you to learn alongside your students also requires beer.  Happy hour awaits, my friends. Cheers.



No, this is not a dance move, so you won’t have to endure a picture of me attempting one.

DAPPS is an acronym describing mini-goals that you can set–either in the college setting and/or in your life outside of that setting–that will help you make progress toward a larger one. There’s been a lot of research done on this very question that has led to the DAPPS strategy. To draw on that dance metaphor, a DAPPS goal would be the dance move that’s part of a larger routine. Again, I’m not dancing here, so you can relax.

Here’s what the acronym stands for along with my DAPPS goal today.

  • D = Dated — By the end of the day on November 15…
  • A = Achievable — By the end of the day on November 15, I will…
  • P = Positive — By the end of the day on November 15, I will (aka, I can do this!)
  • P = Personal — By the end of the day on November 15, I will create handouts and complete a slideshow for the NWP conference tomorrow…
  • S = Specific — By the end of the day on November 15, I will create and copy 3 handouts and complete 1 slideshow for the NWP conference tomorrow.

That’s it! It’s actually a lot, but I’m confident I can do it. Here goes….

livin’ in limbo

desktop waitingThis is a decal at the bottom of the staircase on the basement floor of the Eddy Building. (In the house that Jack built. Oh, wait.) It was perfect for today’s Morning Pages, so I stopped, as I often do, and took a picture of the random thing for the day.

I’ve seen these signposts before. They’re on every floor to let you know you’re in the right place, but some lost soul interpreted the sign as I did: Have I?

I mean, how do you know, really?

What I’m learning these days in my deep dive into the literature on meditation is that it’s true no matter what. My mom used to say that I was wishing my life away. And, I admit it, that’s been the case to a large extent, but I don’t think I’m in the minority here. As the Buddhists might say, we’re addicted to clinging (to the past) or grasping (toward the future), and in the process, we miss the right now. This state of mind is especially prevalent among teachers because we are always getting kids ready for the next thing. Standards and curriculum articulation charts demand it. Since I’ve been a teacher and/or a student practically my whole life, I know it’s part of the territory.

But the thing I’m thinking about on a daily basis, and sometimes a momentary one as I space out on what I vaguely since is a beautiful day on my walk across campus, is that I often don’t realize “I’m here” either–no matter how many times I dab essential oils on my wrists, rub them together, and inhale; no matter how many gallon-sized breaths I take; no matter how many times I check in with my body and notice where the tension lies; no matter how many times I look around me to locate 3 things I can notice with my 5 senses.

All of these are good practices. They make you pay attention–at least momentarily…that is, before you forget. Why is this the case?

Well, what I’m learning is that the lure of clinging relates to nostalgia–the yearning for what used to be–while the trap of grasping is wanting for things to be better, however you define “better” to be. That’s always a changing target, of course; nevertheless, it distracts you from the now.

Despite understanding these definitions intellectually, there’s one quandary I can’t quite escape, and that is this: What if you want to get the hell away from the “now”? What if it’s a place you just want to pedal away from as fast as you can (cf Tara Brach in True Refuge) because dwelling there in that really sucky place, objectively speaking, feels intolerable?

Other stuff I’m learning: the bad news is that trauma is real, and there are lots of “life events” that can cause it (43, to be exact, according to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, which is a research-based quiz to determine exactly how sucky the present can actually be, especially because stresses have a tendency to pile up). Furthermore, it literally lodges in your body. That’s what PTSD is all about it. The past essentially becomes the present.

The good news is that because our brain is made of plastic, our neural pathways really can be rewired. It’s where the practices I mention above come in, like meditation/contemplation, study, plus support from others like good therapists/family/friends/doggies. From my students in CO301D, I also learned today, that sometimes, when the sensation of waiting is the present state, you might as well enjoy it.

Ergo my happy tights. They’re what’s getting me through this day, and it’s the only day, really, that even exists. I just gotta remember to look down at them every so often and be happy that someone created their awesomeness, to remind myself that I have indeed arrived, and this is the only place I need to be.



what’s your 3-foot sphere of influence?



A week ago today, we met outside in the frosty morning to talk about how our 3-foot sphere of influence. Inspiration came from this blogpost by Sharon Salzberg on the On Being website (one of my favorites) and tells the story of a man on a subway who realizes that although he may not have the power to change the world–and let’s face it, most of us teachers get into the business because we want to do that–he does have power within arm’s reach, within that 3-foot circle.

So we wrote about that in correspondence with the badges on which we’re currently working. I’m not (officially) pursuing a badge, but I kinda sorta am because I’m involved in the Institute for Sustainable Teaching with the CSU Writing Project. This group of educators from around northern Colorado have lots of spheres to influence, but it’s rough out there for teachers. Changing the world for everyone means that you often leave yourself behind, and all of us in the group have felt that, are feeling that, even and especially because we’ve stuck with the profession way past the increasingly common 2-3 years of expected longevity.

But like I said, it’s hard, not just on us individually, but because we’re nested in contexts that seem to push back against our aspirations, for our students, ourselves, and our profession. It seems as if we’re doing our work “in spite of,” and it’s taking its toll. Our goal now is to build theory around this concept of sustainable teaching and practices that will test its efficacy.

All of that is to say that the symbols in my sphere reflect our current experiment with a handful of practices that might see us through, not just as individuals, but as members of a community that’s committed to our students, each other, and ourselves.

how do I shut up? how do I get on with it? (and what is “it,” by the way?)

Well, some in my family might say I never do (entirely “shut up,” that is). Actually, that’s not so true. I like to watch and think about what others have said a good deal of the time, and then I like to “not shut-up” for a while. But I’m sure that’s not quite what Helen Simpson had in mind.

When I was working on my dissertation and on any giant writing project since, those voices, those evil little voices, pop into my head and say something along the lines of “Who do you think you are in your big britches, thinking you have something to say?”

The other big impediment is the allure of the library. I often think I have to read EVERYTHING before I’m entitled to say anything (see first paragraph–it’s basically the same syndrome).

So how do I ever shut up and get on with it? I sometimes set a word quota for the day (though this can trigger the evil voice, so I have to be careful here).

I sometimes set a timer. Often, once it goes off, my muscles are flexed, and I want to keep going.

Sometimes I try to have a writing partner who I can be accountable to and commiserate with as we try to just get on with it.

It’s not that the act of writing is hard, per se, just like working out isn’t really hard either. It’s the gearing up that makes the wobble and makes me forget I know how to flow.

Dear Me

Even though the prompt says that we should speak to ourselves as if we might comfort a writer friend who’s struggling right now, I must confess that the first thoughts that spring to mind are decidedly critical, so I’m going to try to talk to Cindy like I might talk to Cam.

Cindy, you know, you may not be writing in one very important particular genre right now, but you are showing up, and you’re writing this very minute. That’s a small thing, but it’s something. You know those Morning Pages posts that you keep writing with your students? Yeah, it’s probably time to the lead writer-wobbler in CO301D and get them out there. Is anybody reading? Anybody? Anybody? Well, maybe not, but you’ll have cast some ideas into the great void anyway. That’s a small thing, but it’s something.

And what about the theory-building you’ve been doing with the incredible teachers in the Institute for Sustainable Teaching? Write about our work that you’ve already started.

Also, your unfamiliar genre was intended to be flipping, right? You have ideas. Just write them down, whatever form that writing takes. You could be the guinea pig for open genre work if you wanted.

And what about that list of all those lovely words you’ve been collecting for a while now. Write your way into those a la David Whyte, or take the challenge of incorporating them in your work for that day.

The point is, it’s not that you’re at a loss for what to write. Sometimes that’s the most difficult thing. You’ve made some progress. Just trust it.

You can do this.



Where’s Waldo?

In the Preface to Why School, Mike Rose characterizes his timeless book as a “series of appeals for bighearted social policy and an embrace of the ideals of democratic education–from the way we define and structure opportunity to the way we respond to a child adding a column of numbers.” Why has Rose written such a book? Because according to him, “we have lost our way” (p. ix).

It’s 2017, and we’re reading the 2014 second edition of Why School?, which was originally published in 2009. In the years since, however, Rose’s original assertion hasn’t changed: “…we have lost our way” in recognizing and doggedly pursuing the ideals of education in a public democracy and providing equity and access to all students in reaching them.

It’s as if we’re playing a giant game of “Where’s Waldo?,” and no one can find the guy in the striped shirt and the blue hat who’s sitting right there in the middle of the picture.

Why is that the case? Have we lost our way in education? And what can you as an American citizen, who is studying to become a teacher, do about it?

In your response to my post here, share the lines you recorded from Why School? and respond to them in light of the questions in the previous paragraph. Share YOUR voice so all of us can hear it. Then maybe, just maybe, we can find Waldo together.



Students are writing the Morning Pages prompts from here on out in CO301D. Here’s a good one:

What is something from either this class, another class you’ve taken this semester, or something happening outside of school that you have learned this semester that you will consider adding to your teacher philosophy statement?

This year I’m on the five-year cycle for my post-tenure evaluation (which I have finally referred to as the PTSD eval), and I had to write a teaching philosophy for the first time in years (or maybe never?). Teaching is so in my bones that I hope it’s somewhat self-evident to my students, but this was a good exercise for me. I got an entire paragraph to do it in. Geez, it was harder than I thought. Here are the results:

My teaching is informed by both current and time-honored theory and research and is framed by a social justice perspective that stresses the use of literacies as instruments of creative expression, academic argument, and cultural critique. Teachers are understandably preoccupied with “what works” in the classroom, and I do my best to support my students in learning to plan lessons and develop engaging, authentic curriculum. At the same time, however, I also encourage them to unpack what it means to say that a certain literacy practice “works.” Why does it work? In what context? For whom? And what work does the practice itself do on students, teachers, and schools?  By posing these questions, I hope to help students articulate and interrogate their unspoken principles for teaching and to measure these against current theory and research, their own schooling experiences, and most of all, their students’ needs in their particular classroom contexts. In sum, I strive to equip my students with research-based, theoretically sound teaching methods geared to help their own students construct meaning and, to paraphrase Paolo Freire, to read and compose words in order to read and compose the world.



Today marks the first day that CO301D students are providing Morning Pages prompts, and you can see from the one below that they’re already off to a good start:

“I was asked to share my story, my concerns, and my beliefs about education. No one outside my family had ever asked me about my outlook on education. I realized I had a voice – an authentic, small but strong voice with a valuable perspective on students’ needs. Somehow I understood how to paint a picture with words, a picture that pulls people into my world with students.” (Crabtree). Both the Ally and Advocate badges inspire different reactions within each of us, but we all have a unique voice to share these reactions. How can you act as a leader within your current community? Your future community/schooling system? Think of the ways you can use your voice to share your thoughts and inspire change within all aspects of life as well as the education system. What will you do?

Today, maybe the best part of my day will be sitting here in this room writing with these human beings who have become dear to me in the course of this semester. As we’ve been working on their digital badges and they’ve made a couple of presentations to push out their learning, I’ve been inspired by their courage and candor. They’ve made me feel hopeful about the future of our profession, and I’ve gotta admit that in light of external demands on the national level (and even the local level), it’s been hard to feel hopeful.

But you know what, they have embraced teaching as a vocation, not just a 9-5 job (which actually is way longer than that for English teachers.) The word “vocation” comes from the Latin verb “vocare,” which means “to call forth.” Most days, they’re feeling called forth into this difficult, beautiful profession because they had teachers who were as well.

I’m working on another book right now that’s focused on vulnerable learning and teaching. The chapter at hand is one on mindfulness, and yesterday, I wrote about setting your “stubborn intention,” the one that will serve as a lodestar to guide your work with teachers and colleagues, the one that you will come back to when it just doesn’t seem worth the labor anymore.

And it will feel that way. I can promise you that. But I still can’t give up the idea of my stubborn intention that I, as a literacy teacher can teach in ways that will make the world better and that will help my students do the same.

Part of that is not “empowering” them to share their voices, but helping them to recognize that they already have the agency to do so. They can use their literacy tools to critique inequitable structures so that the “moral arc of the universe will bend toward justice,” as Martin Luther King, Jr., said on multiple occasions.

I’ve seen very young school-aged students share their voices. My university students who are answering their calling can do so as well. I have no doubt that they can. I have no doubt that they have something that I, that all of us, need to hear. #feelinghopeful #inspiteofeverything #co301d


standing in wait

I love my school and my campus and I don’t want to go anywhere else. But its lonely. This transition is so much harder in a way I never imagined. Theres not really anything to do about it–you’ve dreamed about this for years. You’ve wanted this your whole life. You’ve done everything you could to get here. Now what? When you realize this isn’t exactly what you imagined, what you had hoped for, and you don’t even know if you’ll get what you want anywhere else. I mean, I can’t do anything else except wait. Wait for the wind to change. Wait for the seasons to pass. Wait for something. – 

from “I’m In The Right Place But I Don’t Quite Belong Yet” by Maddi Burns

Like Maddi Burns, the CSU student who wrote the poignant passage above, I really thought I’d be over this feeling by now because I’m at the end of the academic road–graduated high school –> college –> graduate school –> got a professor job –> got promoted once –> got promoted again…yet here I am, still learning, still going to school, and waiting for –>

…teaching to get easier, to get it right once and for all! (though I’m glad that it continues to be interesting and frustrating and exhausting and fulfilling–all of those things that I expected it would be).

…my time to become “managed” and to stop comparing myself to everyone else who seems to have mastered this skill. I’m waiting to grasp that the narrative in my head is the only one I can control and that everyone else’s narrative only intersects with mine, yet is not the focus of theirs (to shed that narcissistic tendency that drives so many of humankind’s insecurities). I’m waiting not to wear this anxiety as some sort of a badge that legitimizes my professional work.

…the day when I can play and play and play the piano without a shred of guilt, to walk the dog, to bake an elaborate meal and spontaneously invite friends over to share it. I’m waiting to stop living by the clock and the calendar. (I’m waiting to be spontaneous). I’m waiting to accept the sacrifice that Mary Rose O’Reilley speaks of–the almost certain trade-off of academic prestige that comes from loving and living the ephemeral. I’m waiting to really start listening to my kids when they call every night instead of simultaneously filling out my to-do list and scanning CNN to catch up on the 24-hour news cycle that only leads me to the brink of despair in the end.

I’m waiting to stop waiting. To do. And to be okay with the inevitable trade-offs. I’m waiting for fullness. I’m waiting to begin.