Wednesday Circle

Still working our way through the Power of Habit and I’m tying various circle activities to this text. Today I brought back the of visualization, asking them to draw/write their project as an immense success.

With the drawing concluded, we passed the paper to the next person who wrote out potential routines someone could build to reach this level of success.

Then we passed and asked some ways that the person will feel good when they finish the project.

Finally, we passed and asked them to list two things to think about to help them keep going.

Circle: Time. Again. And Again.

We come back to time management over and over again. For my students it’s not really about time management, it’s about choices. Are you choosing to do the work or are your choosing to do something else? Are you choosing to revise your work or are you choosing to wait until the last day and then write it in one setting? Do you understand that feedback allows improvement or is revision a process of clicking “resolve comment.”

(I can’t get things to paste into the WP application right now so the picture will have to wait.)

Here was the prompt:

They know they only have so much time.
They know good work takes lots of time.
They know they need to use their time well.
But they don’t always do so.

What helps you raise up?
What gets in your way?


Circle: What’s in your dna?

If they’re all singing it, you may as well make it a circle activity. We did the drawing below and then had a conversation about what’s born and what’s made, what habits are given and what habits are created, what we inherit and we make for ourselves.

The conversation quickly turned to the ways in which we hold things simultaneously — I had written joy and pain (Rob Base) which the kids quickly noted was in the song we listened to next.

Best lines of encouragement

Tuesday’s circle I asked everybody to write motivational letters to themselves about how to finish this year strong. Here are the best lines:

“Remember that Uncle Spanky promised $20 for each A plus mom will kill me if we quack up for our last quarter.” –TC
“By the end of the year, I’m going to have my first episode finished.” –IJ
“Stay focused.” –KM
“Remember that you have someone looking up to you so if you mess up they will think it’s okay for them to mess up.” –MT
“You gonna finish up the year strong because you want your grades to go up.” –AH
“I expect my project to come to life and end up being a big program, even afterschool”
“I want to show people that if I can speak up they can speak up also.” –DD
“Think of the final product you will have at the end of the year.” BC
“If you don’t finish this project you are going to fail in life.” MH
“You will complete this project because you will make this world a better place.” HG
“By the time you read this, I will be dead. But keep your head up and keep pushing through the work” VG

Thoughts on May 1st

The way you do things matters as much as what you’re trying to do. From Martin Luther King:

One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

–Martin Luther King, Christmas Sermon, 1967

One thought

This morning we went down to a theatre to see a performance of monologues sponsored by Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Taliya Carter, one of our amazing students, had submitted an entry that was selected as a winner along with seventeen others.

There was a power in this performance. One, the willingness, really the courage, of students to grapple with complex, challenging events and emotions was on full display. Their creativity and thoughtfulness was truly amazing.

There was also power in the theatre, in the authenticity of the production, in the fact that this work flowed out of the hard work of high school students but it was staged in such a professional way.

All that to say I got to have this conversation with a student as we walked back to the subway:

“Do you think I could do that?”

That’s why we do this. We want students to see the world and to see a vision of the world and to see if they couldn’t create something themselves. If you’re asking that question of yourself, you’re probably going to be okay. If you’re in a school where kids are asking this question, your school is going in the right direction.

Nodding acquaintance

In 1985 or so, I was standing in a McDonald’s near my high school. While I was waiting for my order, one of my former teachers asked me if I was Michael Clapper. I recognized her. I had been in her class the previous year and had been a, um, troubled, student. Still don’t know why I was struggling and it’s probably a tribute to the class that I can recall what we read — a biography of Lenin, a biography of Ghandi.

Still, after her gentle inquiry about how I was doing I’m pretty sure I said something like “I’ve got it figured out.” I know that she said something like “I’m glad you’ve got it figured out.”

About a week ago I was sitting with a student. I was trying to point out a series of not-so-great decisions. I was trying to gently explain there’s no on-off switch in real life. I was trying to express my worry for next year — will she be able to survive in a setting where there aren’t lots of adults looking out for her?

She said something like “I got this. Really, I got this.”

Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

Me at sixteen. Sigh. I wish I really had figured it out. I hadn’t. But I remember that part of me well enough not to browbeat my student, to pause, to nod, to say “I hope you got it.”

And there’s a kind of bittersweet feeling, to know that all I can do is try and keep the faith in this student, in the opportunities we’ve provided, the experiences we’ve created, the advice we’ve offered, the community we’ve tried to make with her, alongside of her, and sometimes just near her.

One of the great parts of our model is that we spend so much time with students that each of them glows with potential. You’ve had the chance to see them in so many different spaces and under so many different conditions that you can feel how alive they all are with possibility.

Defending your work

Defending your work

Bit of a teacher jackpot this week: it’s the week before spring break and the first week of fourth quarter. The energy is all over the place. There’s some funny things being said: “I’m going glamping during spring break… that’s glamourous camping.” There’s some residual restlessness as the year draws to an end and seniors start coming to terms with their imminent departure.

So I’m trying to frame this week as defend your work week:

One, you have to defend, with evidence, your choice for next year. Are you going to continue to take college classes, pursue an internship, or work in the shop?

Two, you have to defend, with evidence, your goals for your fourth quarter self-designed project. What shows that this project is viable for a fourth quarter completion?

Three, we’re doing a combined investigative journalism and playwriting unit for fourth quarter. You will have to be able to defend your chosen story, be it the Phillies victory or a spate of overdoses, as worthy of exploration and of a play.

I like the idea of defending your work as the kids get it quickly. In a project-based school you have to be able to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. The kids understand challenging each other on the relevance of their projects and most of the time they’re able to challenge in a respectful way.

The problem with the idea of defending your work is that it relies on students actually engaging in the defense; you can’t defend something you don’t care about. Similarly, if you don’t care about the process (or the outcome) then defending your work will be a hard road. I also have to tread carefully with making sure that kids understand that you’re not defending this to the death; that the goal is to go through a rigorous process that allows your work to improve.

Anyway, it’s the best way I could think of to frame a crazy week from the school calendar.

Feedback approach this quarter

Trying to do two things this quarter:

1. With each presentation, I want the students to reflect on what the student learned this quarter. Through their description of their work, their work process, and their accomplishments, can we feel what new knowledge and skills they gained through their projects.

2. The second part was to write about what we learned from them. For example, as I listened to TC, IJ, and BC I was forced to think about a number of things:

  • how do we break up responsibilities within project design? BC talked about how she was in charge of a particular deliverable and then held her group members accountable. Is this possible? If I did it this way, what would it mean?
  • how do we document change? In other words, TC talked about how she could stay focused this year whereas last year she would have given up. How can I help her document this for herself?
  • This happens every time I do exhibitions but I’m hoping the students can document (and feel) it too.