Author Archives: blogessor

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.

Love,

Me

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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.

 

#whyIteach

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.

 

#hopeful

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.

 

faire et se taire

How do you “faire et se taire” as a writer, as Flaubert put it? (Also, that rhymes, just to say.) Author Helen Simpson translates: Shut up and get on with it. And that’s what we’re writing about today.

I’ll admit it. This is really hard for me. Mostly because my to-do list looks like this:

 

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(NOTE: My to-do list does NOT include pics of my students, because that would be way creepy. I just have my journal lying on top of my roll sheet.)

 

Sometimes I think that my to-do list it detailed enough to count as actual writing, but alas. If you look closely, however, you’ll see that there’s a “RESEARCH” sticky listed and that there are even times listed beside each bulleted item on the list. For me, RESEARCH = WRITING.

Actually putting times on the items on the list, then making sure I block them into my day is improving my efficiency this semester (I think). It’s hard to make sure the writing sticky doesn’t get crowded out by those other notes, but this strategy is helping. I’ve also found a sweet new (free) app for my phone that’s called 30/30. It keeps me honest in the blocks of time when my mind feels like the urgent has to supersede the important. You basically enter in task and assign times to those categories, then tap on them and forget the time until the app buzzes that it’s up. It looks like this:

 

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Yet even with all these strategies in place, there are still days when I just Don’t. Want. To. Write. because I feel as if I just Don’t. Have. Anything. To. Say. Well, that could be true at any give time, but I’m allowing the writing bar to scroll up to the top of my screen anyway because I know that almost inevitably, about 10 mins. in, I gain some momentum and don’t want to stop.

If you need more encouragement, Austin Kleon of Steal Like an Artist fame, has his own “faire et se taire” mantra that’s so darn loving, it’s hard to resist: “something small, every day.” (Plus, check out this post to see how Kleon repurposed a workplace safety scoreboard sign above his desk for extra incentive. It’s pretty great.)

I suppose you can woo yourself in French (faire et se taire) or take a roll-up-your-sleeves approach (shut up and get on with it), or coax yourself to your writing space (Here, kitty, kitty, kitty–do something small, every day). Whatever you do, the end result promises to be the same. Just show up and trust that something will happen. Then pick up your pencil or turn on your machine and write, and something will.

 

Dear Me — inspire yourself as a writer

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Today, we’re writing letters to ourselves as writers. We’ve all been there, and by “there,” I’m talking about that moment in writing when you feel like a big fraud. The “mean girl/boy” voices (or “little mousies,” as Anne Lamott calls them) can be pretty vicious in casting their aspersions. No matter how many times I forget it, I know those are the best times to remind yourself that you can push through. Here goes:

Dear Cindy,

So you’re winding up that prospectus right now. The end is in sight! (not “near” because that sounds pretty much like the doomsday clock is counting down even further). Rather, the time is the thing now. Wow, it’s easy to let the urgent crowd at the important, especially when it comes to writing, but think about how good you feel when you’ve gotten something down on the page.

Forget about all the times you write to erase, that is, those times when you use the backspace button more than you use move forward. (P.S.: I totally just did that.) Spelling is perhaps a legitimate reason to hit backspace, but you’re a good speller (plus, spell-check), so what would happen if you didn’t revise as you went for once, but just got your ideas down on the page? What if you wrote to the end of a single paragraph even, and then moved forward to another paragraph and another and another until you had generated a decent bit of content that you could spend 15 mins. editing at the end?

I predict it would feel pretty good. Why don’t you try that today?

Also, just for a minute, think about the stuff you’ve read that even upon re-reading seems pretty good, seems true and enduring, even though the circumstances that inspired the content may have passed. Think about the tweets you get like you got last week when someone read something from Pose, Wobble, Flow and felt inspired! The notification on your phone woke you up that morning, and there was a moment then before you drifted back to sleep that you thought, “Good, someone felt encouraged in their practice and they just might pay it forward as a teacher or a writer, and you had a small part in that.”

You might be able to write something today that will work in a similar fashion tomorrow.

Give it a try. Be surprised. No back-spacing. Write to the end of the paragraph.

Best,

Me

what’s your mindset on “mindset”?

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[IMAGE CREDIT: Edutopia]

One of the most common refrains I’ve heard from my students over the years is, “I’m just not creative.” When I taught high school, I heard and I asked my students to write in any genre beyond the five-paragraph essay (which is indeed a secondary school genre in that very few writers write in it past graduation, even English majors). In fact, if I dared suggest that my students write FOUR or FIVE+ paragraphs, oh the gasps that ensued! Oh the wringing of hands!

As determined as I was as a teacher to coax students out of their fixed mindsets as writers so that they could grow creatively, I have a confession to make: when I’m asked to move beyond a fixed mindset as a writer, I feel aghast sometimes, too.

I’ve been earning part of my living as a writer for “five-ever,” as my daughter would say, and though I definitely have my dark days, I’m pretty confident in claiming that identity once-and-for-all. In that respect, I’d say I have “fixed mindset” that yes, indeed, I am a writer. So that’s where my quibble with Dweck’s thinking about mindsets in dichotomous terms comes in. Rather, I see fixed and growth mindsets as related in potentially positive way.

When a fixed mindset is tied to an actionable identity, I believe it can be generative. That is, actually seeing myself as a writer is what propels me to engage in and grow through writing.

At the same time, when I dabble in varied genres and write for audiences beyond academia, I inevitably have to activate a growth mindset. I have to start over in a sense, but I can always come back to that anchor identity, that fixed mindset that I am a writer, just one who’s always stretching and growing. I ‘m not gonna lie, as with my high school students, there’s always some gasping and wringing of hands when I transition into a growth mindset, but it’s the fixed mindset that gets me through said grasping and wringing to the other side.

Thus I don’t see fixed and growth mindsets as either-or’s; I see them in potentially generative tension with one another.

I’m not the only one with a quibble about Dweck’s ideas. See, for instance, Alfie Kohn’s critique about buying the “mindset” mindset hook, line, and sinker, and then take a look at this critique of Kohn’s critique by whip-smart writer/gifted teacher/former student/luminous human being Jaime Wood. (Jaime’s piece is on a terrific site called Bark, which you’re going to want to start following right now, immediately. Just read this for starters.)

I think Jaime gets it right when she points out that an inordinate focus on the individual, which the notion of “mindset” (understood singularly) implies, ignores that the individual always exists in a sociocultural context of “family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success.” In that case, “the notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”

Jaime’s conclusion: “growth mindset isn’t really the problem. The problem is that we have to understand the complex system in which this new strategy will take place and how other issues like forming positive relationships between students and teachers will have a substantial effect on whether a growth mindset will work.”

What she said.

in spite of / because of / on behalf of

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I made the mistake of checking CNN at lunch and spoiled my appetite. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my worst fears for public education were just confirmed today by Betsy’s DeVos’s confirmation. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked, but somewhere between disappointed and devastated sounds about right.

And for about the hundredth time in the past few weeks, I thought, “What now? What’s next?”

Ironically, I had another tab open on my laptop while I was reading the news. It was this blog post by Parker Palmer on Krista Tippett’s fantastic website On Being. Palmer was writing on an unrelated topic, but as usual, his words had profound relevance for the moment. Here’s what he had to say:

“…you may be asking the vexing question, ‘What can I do?’ For me, the answer begins within, then moves out into the world.

…Here’s where many of us get stuck, thinking of how little power we possess compared to the enormity of our nation’s problems. So let’s listen to the wisdom of writer and activist Wendell Berry who reminds us that, when it comes to big problems, there’s never been one big answer, only a million-million little ones.

If you believe that the little thing you’re doing can’t possibly make a big-picture difference, remember Berry’s words:

‘We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do?’”

Well, at the moment, I don’t really know what to do. So in the absence of that, I just invented a heuristic to ground my thinking. I’m calling it “IN SPITE OF / ON BEHALF OF / BECAUSE OF.”  Here’s how it worked for me:

IN SPITE OF Betsy Devos’s confirmation, I will keep working…

ON BEHALF OF public education…

BECAUSE OF my belief that the world will become more just and peaceful only if all children have an equal opportunity to thrive and grow.

At the moment, I still don’t know what to do exactly, but I’m hoping this statement can be a starting place that will allow me to follow Parker Palmer’s advice to “[begin] within, and then [move] out into the world.

If you try the heuristic for yourself, will you let me know how it worked for you? I’d love to hear your statements and feel inspired.

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weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down

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Okay, the truth is that Weebles actually do fall down, but the thing that Weebles do that other playthings don’t–the quality that is the essence of their Weeble-ness–is that they pop right back up again into their original pose. I bet you can see why a tagline like “Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again” didn’t make the cut.

I bet you can also guess there’s a metaphor at work here. You can take a look at this Morning Pages prompt for more details on what our community of writers is addressing today, but for now, it’s enough to know that we’re pose/wobble/flow-ing in relation to the pose of “Teacher as Writer,” that is of committing yourself to being a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. (See this previous post for details on the pose/wobble/flow model and how it can support your growth as a teacher.)

When I think today about how and where I’m wobbling as a writer, it’s in the justdo-ing it part, in simply “engaging regularly in the practice of writing” (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 76). I rarely suffer from writer’s blog, but there are so many demands on my time that writing on a daily basis often gets pushed to wayside. I’m talking about a certain kind of writing here because don’t get me wrong, I’m writing all day long (and doing so right now, in fact). But the kind of writing that dominates my day tends to fall into Scardamalia & Bereiter’s (1987)  “knowledge-telling” genre rather than the “knowledge-transforming” genre that feeds my soul. Writing grant proposals, lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and teaching observations does not feed my soul. Even though I acknowledge its necessity, duty-based, knowledge-telling writing plagues me because it tends to crowd the generative, knowledge-transforming writing right off the day’s agenda.

Herein, I wobble.

In Pose, Wobble, Flow, Antero and I cover strategies for dealing with wobble in more detail, but there are always challenges (did I mention the time thing already?), so this is a really good example of why it’s important to go back to the pose: I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes. So as a note to self, here’s what I know I can do to wobble toward flow:

  • I know I can set up writing as a non-negotiable “meeting” in my calendar.
  • I know that coffee is a must, as is a quiet place or a place where I can be quiet in myself in a crowded place like a coffee shop.
  • I know it helps to have a writing partner who holds me accountable.
  • I know that just 25 mins. of knowledge-transforming writing a day, five days a week,  quickly adds up to a couple of hours on even the busiest week. If I can knock out 1,500 words in 2 hours and write 43 weeks of the year (yes, that’s over 2 months off), I get to right at 65,000 words, and that’s a book, my friends! Yeah, yeah, I know that amount of time doesn’t take revision into account, but you get my drift here.

And yet…I wobble.

There. I said it.Coming clean with my students about wobbling is sometimes a risk because I run into the do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do syndrome, yet I hope it helps to know they’re not alone. (Psst! You’re not alone!) Remind me to be a good Weeble and check in this time next week to see if I stayed true to my Teacher as Writer pose.

In the meantime, let’s all of us let the throwaway tagline be our mantra:

Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again.

 

  • Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • IMAGE CREDIT: Community Blogs