Category Archives: Teaching 2017_2018

Friday in May

Let’s write monologues together. I had two starting points before today began:

What if you were a senior who had no plan for next year? What would you say in a monologue?

What if you were a basketball player on a team that had blown a twenty-two point lead?

Then somebody (AG) said, “I wake up every morning covered in scratches” so that became the third prompt: what if you were someone who woke up everyday covered in scratches?

One cool monologue, which didn’t devolve into a drug cartel drama, which is usually what happens in our collaborative sessions.

Constructive answer to not enough time

It’s that time of the year where the students are feeling like there isn’t enough time.

It’s that time of the year where it’s hard to watch certain behaviors and offer a civil response to complaints about not having enough time.

I’m thinking this afternoon about the positive things I’m going to say in response to these sorts of claims:

Let’s make a plan for the next week.
What do you feel the most stressed about?
What’s the one thing you could do right now that would help you feel caught up?
Have you made a list of everything you need to do?
What are the things you do that help you make the most of your time?
Have you looked at the requirements for the project, course, assignment? (With undergrads I find that re-reading the requirements helps them relax.)

I’m wondering, too, if I might enlist a few of the kids who are really working at managing their time to share their approach with the class.

What we accomplished

While it was a testing day, we still ran circle. Everybody came up with a list of their accomplishments during this school year. We looked at them and then tried to figure out if we were “real” this year.

I collected them and then we guessed at whose accomplishments were whose. Fun game.

It must have been a pretty good year because much of what was on the papers focused on our work together. Some years I’ve done this and kids have long lists that have nothing to do with anything we did, i.e., I got my license or I kept my job.

Teacher accomplishments

  • Four whole group projects of real quality: “Escape from College”, CSpan, Workshop Tank, and the current playwriting unit.
  • Read four real books together: The Hate U Give, Hillbilly Elegy, Another Brooklyn, and Fences.
  • Had a good, supportive community of learners. Managed conflict reasonably well.
  • A person of substance

    I keep trying to have the substance vs. style conversation in circle. I want students thinking about real work, authentic work, work with substance. And I want them thinking about how to maintain a consistent approach to work in all aspects of their lives.

    But I have to do it in indirect ways. This week I’m asking them to think about how a person of substance navigates the world.

    We began this week by trying to define this…



    For me, substance is about follow through, which I worry about, at least for myself, during this time of year when I’m just trying to stay afloat.

    Advice to tenth graders

    Finishing out the week, Friday’s circle was about connecting moments to movements. We wrote letters to our tenth grade friends offering advice on how to do this.

    Some excerpts:

    “Follow your passion.”

    “My advice for you is not to rush into something without knowing about it thoroughly. Take your time and ask for help. Real shit, though, ask for help. Don’t try to do anything by yourself.” SJ

    “Make sure your moments can lead to something to something that can last for a long time…Also, if you don’t know what you want to do take moments to explore your options and once you decide, make movements by following your choice.” JC

    “Not everyone finds their cause right away. Eleventh grade is hard and confusing, remember that you are doing something even adults have trouble with. Always ask for help even if you don’t need it. Teachers will be nice if you show you tried. Call out BS when you can but don’t make it all you do.” CS

    “Yo Dawg…believe in your self. If there’s anything you want to do, try it. Even if you aren’t sure you want to do it. Yell at your teachers and tell them about what you want to do. Eight times of ten, they’ll try to help you. Seven times out of ten, they’ll guide you to something cool. They don’t even have to your teacher, if you’re in Ms. C’s class, feel free to yell at Mr.A. if you think he’ll help.” MW

    “Focus on your work and your future because these last two years will go by fast.”

    MLK and a sad day

    I read this article in this morning’s paper and knew I wanted to read it in class. I took it apart so I could print it — when did the NYT disable the print function or when did I get so blind — and got it into a document. Then I left the computer home.

    So we began today with the question of what the difference is between a “moment” and a “movement”. Lots of super deep thoughts. AG did a great job facilitating. KH brought us the following statement: “You don’t want to be stuck in a moment, you want to get down with the movement.”

    It was a great set-up for a conversation about playwriting. Being able to answer when a scene represents a moment as well as how these moments eventually add up to a movement is vital.

    TC: a moment is when something happens and everyone’s talking about it for a short time but a movement is something that looks to solve a problem.

    VG: Dr. King losing his life (a moment) meant something to the Civil Rights MOVEMENT.

    DC: A movement is a group of people who join forces to bring light to a situation that is an issue to them; a moment is something that happens quickly, in a blink of an eye.

    KN: A moment is like a time in the day. It’ll always come around. It doesn’t last but it’ll come back around.

    JN: A moment just happens but a movement is something will change history.

    Third Quarter Letter

    A good quarter. Some general thoughts on Workshop Tank 1.0:

    You all were the pioneers, the pathbreakers, the first students at Workshop Tank to attempt to develop a fully-fleshed out organization plan. Twenty-two of you presented over four days to a real audience of professionals from around the Delaware Valley. There’s authenticity in this work that I hope you appreciated and, as I said, the judges were impressed by the poise, creativity, and energy you all displayed. Several clusters of feedback:

    One, when you are presenting an idea you are also presenting yourself. Part of this process allowed the judges to see how great all of you are. Always remember that there’s no right or wrong way to present — you can be noisy and charismatic or you can be quiet and detail oriented — either will work so long as you display passion about what you’re saying. Almost everyone had a moment during their presentation where they lit up the room. That moment was usually the moment they fully connected with something they cared about deeply. No matter what you end up doing, that’s a place you need to find in yourself.

    Two, there’s initial hard work in coming up with an original idea or a way to modify an existing program. What matters in these sorts of competitions (and in life) is that you have something behind what you’re saying, that you have back-up, that you have the evidence to support your idea going forward. For some of the presenters, when they struggled, they were able to reach back to their business plans and their research and find a way to move forward. For others, the presentation was all there was. What I’m trying to say is that the work is the work and that getting something started is a first step. All of these organizations required hard work to prepare a plan for and all of these organizations will require hard work to advance.

    Three, going simple is always better than trying to fake it. You had ten weeks to come up with a plan and present. When you get nervous, return to the basic idea you came up and go from there. Do not improvise! Do not try and talk your way out of a corner as you will almost always get yourself into trouble. Better to say something like, “that’s a great question that I’m not sure about” then to make a claim you can’t possibly support.

    All in all, a good project. I hope you enjoyed the final process as much as I did.

    Thoughts on individual project block:
    There were some provocative, creative, and outstanding individual projects. In watching the exhibitions, I was struck by one thing: what was the difference between folks who could talk about their individual deliverables (the products) and those who could not? The projects that had clear deliverables seemed to move and the individual doing them seemed to make regular progress. Others, not so much. What can we all do to keep the deliverables in the forefront of everyone’s minds? How do we help make that they are seen as stepping stones towards final excellence?

    A second concern I want to bring up here is outstanding work. How do we get to conversations about outstanding? Simply doing the work doesn’t make it outstanding. Similarly, if someone from our community stands up with work that is clearly not outstanding, what do we owe them? We’ll talk more about this during fourth quarter.

    Third, what do we do about time management. Our school is built on a four hour block together. Much of that block is given over to project work. There is a fifth period study hall two days a week and sixth and seventh period are wide open for project work. Yet I hear many folks say they do not have time. How do we reconcile this claim with reality? If were to look at the fifth period with Ms. Marina and the Tues/Thurs cafeteria times, would we see students plugging away at their projects and their CCP homework? If we looked into the revision history for project deliverables, would we see regular use of this time, or would we see extensive YouTube playlists? WARNING: annoying old person statement alert: you will never have as much time as you do right now. Developing good habits will take you a long way.

    Finally, for juniors and seniors, I’m still hearing these kinds of statements way too much:

    “I wasn’t passionate about it, so I didn’t do it.”
    “I didn’t have time for that.”

    We are a place where you have significant freedoms both within the projects themselves and in how you navigate the school. Part of that freedom is earned by completing the work. Much of life is consumed with tasks you don’t want to do, from small ones — taking out the garbage — to large ones — learning a skill well-enough that you can get paid to do it — and the sooner everyone understands that, the better. One of our biggest worries is always that students will interpret the freedom within our school to mean you only have to do things you want to do. Ask the humans you respect most about this issue, about how much of their time is taken up with difficult and not particularly rewarding tasks. See what they say.

    A good quarter. Thank you all!


    Two articles I’ll use

    Yeah, snow days and late arrivals mean you get to read more.

    One, Alex Mulachy’s thoughtful opening to Grid this month brought me to this William James quote:

    “We must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”

    I’m going to do our circle around this quote today. For me, it’s helpful to think about when I’m choosing to do something — sit down and write a blog entry — and when I’m lost down internet rabbit holes.

    Two, this article from Sunday’s New York Times on youth activism is powerful for all activists and is full of helpful advice. Distilling it to this quote:

    Trust your instincts, study your history and don’t read the comments

    is spot on. Irony: the on-line comments from this article.