Report from the NWP Spring Meeting 2018

I’m just back from a trip to Washington, D.C., where I was participating in the National Writing Project’s final meeting relating to the Building New Pathways to Teacher Leadership work. We had a great chance to share and begin to disseminate the resources generated over this two and a half year deep dive into the NWP’s past, present, and future.

The official description of the project is it’s a three legged stool of opportunities and supports for teachers to develop as teacher leaders. The three legs of this particular stool, for the NWP, are:

  1. A website called Think Learn Lead, which is a curation of NWP resources that help teachers lead within and beyond the organization. The website is a pile of really useful stuff, from theoretical to extremely practical. And it continues to get fiddled with, so the collection will continue to improve.
  2. A badge system that will help to identify and credential teacher leaders within and beyond the NWP network who are “qualified to do the work of the the Writing Project in the name of the Writing Project.”1
  3. A pilot group of local site design teams who have been designing and implementing new ways of doing PD within the NWP network.2

My job as co-leader of the badging team was to help this very large network ask itself some very hard questions about what it means to be a teacher leader, and what it means to do our work of professional development with and for teachers.

It’s been incredible work – because in many ways  I basically got to be a petulant two-year-old asking the NWP “Why? Why? Why?”  Why do we do this entry experience this way?  Why does it have to look like this?  Why is the audience for this thing those people. You get the idea.

The badges are coming but what’s more important is we’ve helped the network better understand, or at least we’ve attempted to describe, a series of social practices that matter deeply to who we are, what we believe, and how we act. Those six social practices look like this3:

Screen Shot 2018 03 16 at 9 16 23 AMI want to write more about each of the social practices, but I wanted to end this post with an idea that, ahem, emerged in the work that I wasn’t counting on.

While we were aiming at helping our design teams and the larger network identify how they should think about New Pathways, new opportunities to engage teachers in useful ways, it turns out the social practices framework, or the SPF as our team calls it, is also quite useful as a program review tool for some of our older and previously designed pathways, too.

It’s obvious in hindsight. But worth saying out loud writing down.

You get better at being you by constantly relooking at yourself through the lenses of what you value. And when things are blurry or fuzzy or otherwise hard to see, that’s a good time to adjust what you’re up to, to realign with what you aspire to be.

I’m so glad I had the chance to participate in this work. It challenged me to reevaluate things I and others I respect take for granted, and that’s hard to do but well worth doing.

I’m also tremendously excited to see what local Writing Project sites will do with these resources, and what new pathways they will build.

Oh – if you haven’t found your own local Writing Project site yet, well, it’s time.

  1. That’s how Elyse describes it.  And since she’s the Executive Director of the NWP, I think she’s the right person to do the describing. []
  2. They just released highly detailed reports of their experiments and how things worked – or didn’t. You didn’t know you wanted to read these – but you really do. []
  3. If you’re not familiar with the NWP and its more traditional model, the typical initiation into the network has occurred through a several week long Invitational Summer Institute. Think of it as a summer camp. Where you write with, share practice with, and inquiry together, some really smart teachers who may or may not teach like you do. That’s commonly abbreviated as the ISI or the SI – hence the “in the classic SI” descriptors here. The group is still working on more resources to share the framework beyond the network. Stay tuned. []

The Enormity of Little Things That Are Huge

Some days can blow your whole heart wide open, and remind you why you do what you do. Or at least why what you do matters. I had one earlier and it’s still on my mind.

These moments aren’t usually planned, at least not for me. And maybe they happen quite frequently, but you have to prime yourself for them. I’ve not done a good job of preparing myself to see them lately.

I sure wasn’t expecting to have one of those days today. Especially not at around ten to five when Ia staff member approached me on our library service floor.  She asked me if I had a minute to assist a patron with a computer/printing need.

I did. It’s what we do at the library, after all.

And as we began to navigate to the pages he wished to print, he began to tell me a bit about what brought him into the library today, and things went along fairly normally. We found his document and I left him for a few minutes to review some things. When I returned, my heart was ripped asunder. I mean, it just blew right out of me. I’ll be cleaning up pieces for weeks.

The details are his, and not mine to share. But in many ways the story wasn’t unique. I was present and listening and attentive, and he had something he needed to get off of his mind. And no one else to share it with. He was struggling with several things, and making some progress on most of them, but maybe not as much as he wished. He felt alone. And there was pressure. And stress. And concern. All of which came out because we were present and open and there. I couldn’t fix his problems, and he certainly wasn’t broken. But he did need, and deserve, a little bit of attention.

HIs story is far from unique. I know many people who can tell similar stories from their daily interactions with library patrons, students, citizens and others who they encounter in public spaces from day to day. I’ve been on both sides of such interactions. I suspect you have been, too.

There are many people among us who need a little more attention from time to time. Sometimes, we’re that person. And I have grown numb or indifferent to such needs as an IT administrator, or a teacher, or whatever it is I am these days. Lots of the places in our society would rather these folks moved along to somewhere else.

But what happens when there’s nowhere else to go?

So tonight, my heart aches for a man I barely know, who lives in my community, and who trusts my library to be a safe place for him. I wish for a pleasant tomorrow and a step or two of progress. And I remember all the students who lingered after class, or stopped by while I struggled through a paper load, just because I was present and it was warm in my classroom. And I remember more about why it’s so important to be present and there for folks. Even for small needs. Some of which are the biggest needs of all.

There’s no incentive for being kind or present or good in the metrics that drive our systems. No charts will appear on 60 Minutes or in the Twitter rebuttal the following day that can truly measure how much it matters that we’re in community with our students, our patrons, and our colleagues. But it matters. Daily. In big and small ways. I don’t want to forget that again.

What should I do to remember?

Bravery is Neither Created Nor Destroyed

Last week, many of the middle and high school students in my local school district chose to walk out of class to ask for a reconsideration of the way that we handle guns and school safety. They’re a part of a larger national movement, but the schools here are closed for Spring Break during that walkout, so students here organized their own.

My daughter asked to participate, so I called the school and excused her from class1 so she could walk out and march from the school to downtown where students from all over the town gathered to wave signs, chant, and be together.

Because my daughter is 13, I thought it would be worthwhile to accompany her, not too close, but close enough that I could feel comfortable with her being downtown in a large group of other students and the potential counterprotestors I’d heard a little about.

I’m at a place in my life where it’s easy to forget what it means to be a citizen in the world right now.  I lose track too often that we have to practice the things we want and expect and need for our country, and each other, to be.  Sometimes, we’re strong and brave and true, but we’re almost never those things right out of the gate. We have to pretend to be them until we realize that we are them, or at least until we’re pretending well enough to pass. And things like being strong and brave and true take time to master. But all three of those attributes are muscles that atrophy through inattention and disuse. All are hard to do and be.

So we’ve got to practice.

The night before the walkout, I promised not to hover. And I didn’t.2

It was a powerful event. The square was more full than I’d ever seen it, with students filling every inch of space available, save for the 8 foot buffer around the open businesses patrolled by a few vest-wearing volunteers. It was peaceful, too, with a mixture of chants and moments of silence and reflection. And some children being children.

There were counterprotestors. I counted less than ten, all together, waving flags and moving around the square.  ((I wonder why fewer students in the walkout carried the US flag as they marched. There’s certainly no reason to not be proud of the students’ 1st Amendment rights while they’re struggling with our 2nd Amendment ones.))  Most students didn’t know what to do with the counter protestors, so they did what I wish more adults would do when faced with opposing views – they quietly watched and, for the most part, ignored them. Sometimes, our instincts about such things are right on.

I don’t know my daughter understood exactly what she was doing there. She knew her friends were there, and they made signs together, and they talked about being afraid and wanting to stand up.  “We’ve got to be heard,” she told me at one point.  She thought it was important. But they also talked about making sure to grab a late lunch downtown. So there was some social in the action, for certain.

Whatever her reasons, I was glad to see her there, and to watch as she and other students from around town came together, not so much with answers, but with concerns and a desire to express them. She was standing up, even in the middle of so many other students, and being brave, in a way.

I was reminded by a friend recently of the power of being strong and brave and true.  She’s learning to tell her own stories3, and along the way to exploring one to tell, Katie pointed out to me that bravery isn’t a thing that you go looking for outside yourself, because bravery is neither created nor destroyed.

“Bravery exists already in each of us. But it is in a different form. It might not be bravery yet. But it’s there,” she said.

That’s good to remember.

I say that’s true, but you’ve also gotta exercise your bravery on a regular basis so that you can access it when you need it. That’s how the bravery that isn’t quite bravery becomes what you need when you need it.

What my daughter and the others were doing was flexing their bravery muscles. They were doing strength and truth exercises.  These things matter.

It’s easy for me to forget, in the humdrum of spreadsheets and TPS reports and invoices and administrivia, that there are real fights to fight, and real struggles of the head and heart and hands that require my, and many others’ attention.  As an almost forty-year-old white guy with way more privilege than I should have, my engine fires differently than it used to. And I get to have the privilege to shut down the outside world4 when it’s convienient. That’s not so good.  That’s how I lose my way.

Important stuff atrophies. To that, I humbly say: “No, thank you.”

I hope you’re finding ways, even really little ways, to practice being brave and strong and true. Not only will they make the world a better place – but they’ll make you stronger for the next struggle that’ll need the best you can bring.

I suspect we all need you ready for whatever’s ahead.

  1. As that’s a very reasonable way to protest. []
  2. There were far too many people there for me to hover closely, and, to the event’s credit, it was led by students and for students. Us grown ups were supporting from the sidelines. I might’ve hovered from a distance. []
  3. Aren’t we all? []
  4. And sometimes, my inside one. []

“We Get To Change Expectations By Raising Expectations”

My friend Zac:

That’s the opportunity each of us who has the privilege to working with children has each day. We get to change expectations by raising expectations. We get to throw joy where anger or apathy is expected. We get to be kind.
We have the exceptional challenge every day of being better versions of ourselves every day than our students expect us to be.

 It really is a gift to get to challenge the expectations of students and grownups towards what we could be, instead of what we often become in spite of ourselves. Don’t forget. You can do that in each and every interaction in your day. There’s absolutely no reason not to.

And it’s not just those of us who work with children who have the obligation to try to raise expectations and bring some joy along into places where that other stuff is too frequently given instead. 

That’s all our jobs. 

Go read the rest

“Seeing My Daughter Dare Was Wonderful”

I’m doing some work that involves a new teacher colleague in Costa Rica, and I took three years of high school German.  What little Spanish I know I’ve picked up from my wife and children’s conversations around the house. I’m a crummy listener.

Enter Google Translate.  For the last week or so, I’ve been dutifully copying and pasting my writing in English into the service to translate into Spanish.  And vice versa for the new colleague’s words. I expect this to become a habit, but it’s not one yet. Right now, it’s a chore. But sometimes it delivers prizes.

I don’t know if Google Translate is serving us well, but in our first exchange about our holiday breaks, my new colleague shared that his daughter has been horseback riding.  I shared that my daughters love riding, but it’s not my thing.  His response was the title to this post.

I don’t know if the translation is accurate, but that phrase is sure poetry:

… seeing my daughter dare was wonderful 

I hope you get the chance to see someone dare soon. I hope you notice how beautiful it can be.

And I hope that maybe some one gets to see you dare beautifully, too.

Stuff Changes. Or Not. Transformation Isn’t a One Time Thing.

A class I was involved in a little while back took a few minutes to write together the other day about a time “before technology,” “after technology,” and “personal technology.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I should share my writing there, but it turns out I have a blog – so I can share my writing here.

One of the things that I’m always reminded of when it comes to frames like “before technology” and “after technology” is that such distinctions are relative.  There wasn’t really ever a “pre-technology” period in my life – it’s just the technology of the moment that’s changing. Yesterday’s Word is today’s Google Docs is tomorrow’s I dunno yet. And so on. And my personal explorations of technology aren’t linear – it’s not like ever since I started typing words I no longer write them by hand. In fact, I’m writing lots more by hand lately than via keyboard, as I cherish the quiet of pen to paper without Internet connection over the allure of “what’s the latest news” when I’m sitting in front of the screen I spend far too much of my day in front of.

There’s not really an “after technology,” for me. I suspect the framing was meant in part to help folks realize that adding technology to something makes that thing better. That’s, of course, not always true. Frequently, it’s not at all true. Just because you can automate something sure doesn’t mean that you should. I wish more of the people in a hurry to automate education and learning and relationships realized that. The struggle is a big piece of the thing.

Adding extra stuff – technology, processes, media, etc – to a thing that doesn’t need it is folly and foolish and wrong. Tell your friends – don’t do that.

I’ll skip the personal part of the prompt – I don’t really know what that means. The tech I use IS personal. The same messaging tools I use to ensure my appointments are on time are those I use to ask my daughter how her day at school is going.

Maybe that’s weird, but I don’t think it is. Not one bit.

Faking It


I’m working with a couple groups of teachers next week who want to explore the idea of blogging as a way of promoting inquiry and professional growth in their practice. As I’ve proposed to one group, here’s the session description as I’m thinking of it:

We’re on the third generation of writing tools for the Web. Or the 33. It depends on who you ask.

The tools for writing on the Web have never been easier to use or harder to master, but they all rely on basic writerly moves – an understanding of purpose, an awareness of audience, and an attention to detail that matters more and more as attention to detail is paid less and less.

In this workshop, we’ll explore how teachers write online for personal growth and professional development. We’ll talk about and help you unpack your reasons for writing online, and how you might get started.

Drawing on my twelve years of writing as a teacher, an educator, and a blogger, we’ll unpack what you might want to do as a writer today, how blogging can push inquiry both in your classroom and elsewhere, and how you can get started.

But what I really want to talk about with these teachers, as they consider moving forward as public writers, public inquirers, and public strugglers with their practice, is imposter syndrome.

Actually, how to defeat imposter syndrome. You guys, you fake it until you make it. So let’s do the things that writers do until we feel like we’re good at them. And we will never feel good at them.

It’s the doubt, I think, and the worry, the voice nagging at you that it’s not going well, or could be going better, or asking you to pay attention differently, that’s the power of writing about one’s practice. A big piece of the publicness that has value is the reassurance, both to yourself, and to others, that the doubt and worry exist. We really do have to fake it until we make it.

And the faking it, in truth, is an awful big piece of the making it. Being afraid/nervous/concerned/worryful is how the good work gets done.

That’s not to say that all worry is productive or necessary, but a good bit of teacher inquiry is scratching the intellectual itch or wonder.worry/doubt/concern that comes up when you begin to try to describe your practice in thought then words.

I don’t do a lot of teacher blogging workshops anymore. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of blogging for personal or professional growth. It’s not that I don’t find it important to reflect on one’s practice. It’s that, most days, I feel like an imposter in a room full of teachers and learners.

But the truth is, I’ve always felt that way. What’s changed is that I’ve gotten better at listening to the demons that are shouting down my better angels. That’s mostly the opposite of what I wish were happening, truth be told.

Why I struggle with writing and inquiring online of late is that my young-middled aged self is less able to resist my doubts. That’s something I’m fighting and will continue to fight. But I hope I can offer to others some tips on how to get started and then they can help me remember how to continue.

That’s of course, what good classrooms look like. All the folks in the room are teachers and learners. When the classroom is working well, we all take turns.

Seek Less Permission

Over the weekend, I read Dan’s post. I thought it was the right thing to say, and a good way to think about moving a networkish kind of community-esque thing into a better place in a time of networked publicness1 .

Stephen’s take is a good reminder of one of my Internet teacher pet peeves:

And it’s funny how passive people are – why would you need permission to use a hashtag? Nobody can own a hashtag, not even if they set up a Twitter identity and lay claim to it.

I wish more folks would quit trying to claim territory and focus instead on doing interesting things in ways that invite other folks to see/help/share/experience.

  1. Yeah, I know that’s a ridiculous phrase – but it’s more accurate than something like “the community.” On the Internet, there’s no such thing. Just the illusion of one. []

Just Read, Dammit.

A couple of small things intersected in a timely fashion in my Twitter feeds yesterday.1

The first was this piece in the Washington Post about a district administrator in Florida who has banned all homework in elementary school – save for reading twenty minutes a night:

Elementary school students in one Florida school district are going to find a welcome new — but controversial — policy when they return to school for the 2017-2018 school year next month: no traditional homework.

They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.

Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of the 42,000-student Marion County public school district in Florida, said in an interview that she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.

What a wonderful reminder of the power of reading AND the importance of taking a break from school. And, for that matter, the importance of actually incorporating data into teaching and learning. And, heck, while we’re at it – the significant power in NOT doing something. Not doing the wrong thing is a wonderful way to get better. It gives you room to try something else.

The second item was a collection of tweets I saw in passing during an EdSurge2 twitter chat. The gist of my noticing is summed up here:

If teachers don’t understand the the value in reading is less about WHAT gets read than the fact that READING BECOMES A HABIT for a learner, then there’s work for us to do.

Reading3 is essential to lifelong learning. It’s worth doing and it’s worth doing promisciuously, at least some times.  It’s also more important that most of what’s ever been foisted on children as “further practice” or “homework.”

While you’re reading big and broad this summer, you might want to pick up a copy of Daniel Pennac’s Better than Life, a delightful meditation on what it means to read and be a reader. Be sure to pay special attention to his Reader’s Bill of Rights, and consider how you’ll make the shift towards allowing those rights to be present in the reading lives of your students.

In the meantime, as you’re out and about this summer, please grab a text, be it an old favorite novel, or a trashy magazine, or a vampire romance, or a graphic novel, or the newest mystery, or a scholarly chapter, or back issues of your favorite newspaper, and please do me this:

Just read, dammit. And help others do the same.

  1. I’m learning again to watch for these, the moments when my writer sense tingles. []
  2. The fact that EdSurge itself is an infomercial is irrelevant to this particular post, but probably worth talking about at some future point. If EdSurge is your go to source for information on Ed Tech/edtech/edutech, you’re definitely doing it wrong. []
  3. In multiple modes, yes. Audiobooks count. []

Custodians of Magic & Wonder

I’ve been working for a little more than two years as a library administrator, and am awful lot of my work of late has been planning for the future of the Clearview Library District, my workplace home.

We’re dreaming hard and big right now about what we want the future of our library community to look like. Specifically, we’re planning to build a new library.

It’s important work. Not just because you want to get the details right. (But we do.) It’s that when we’re dreaming about the spaces we want to build, and to ask the public to support, I wanna make sure we’re dreaming about the right sort of stuff.

Here’s the thing. Libraries aren’t just warehouses for books. But that’s a part of what they are. Libraries aren’t just quiet reading rooms. But that a piece of it. Libraries aren’t just civic spaces where people can gather. But they’re that, too.

Libraries are also places for events and experiences that help all folks learn and dream and wonder and hope and explore and be curious. That’s important. Essential.

Our library’s mission is to:

Cultivate curiosity. Enlighten the mind. Strengthen the community. 

At the library, we’re in the business of magic and wonder. We are the stewards of the experiences visitors will tell their grandchildren about. And we are the space in the community where anyone can wonder about most anything they want to. Our library is a curiosity and serendipity engine.

My job is to help make sure these things happen for all the people who might interact with the public library, as well as to engage anyone in the district as to the fact that we’re here, we’re open, and we’re eager to be that civic curiosity and wonder space for all. And that means we have to get the building right, yes. But that’s not enough. We have to make the culture work, both  for our staff as well as our patrons. It has to feel right and good and open and safe.

I used to teach high school to students who didn’t like school. Now, I help run a school that no one is required to attend. We call it the library, and the curriculum is mostly whatever you’re curious about when you walk through the door.

I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m helping, in some small way, to keep a tradition alive that’s American and right and good, in all the best ways about those words.

Magic. That’s what we do.