Sew Like a Man

Recently, as part of a project I am working on, the following question was posed to me:

What does your ideal school or classroom look like?

My answer?

Imagine a traditional Wood Shop class in which each student arrives and begins working on a project he or she designed and created, rarely if ever disengaging from their work.  They all have a personal stake in the outcome of the project, they build it so that it will last beyond the time they are in this class, and they build it to be seen by more eyes than just their teachers.
Now take away the wood, the saws, the dust, and the nerdy goggles.  Place the student in a classroom that we might perceive as a history class, an English class, or a math or science class, but keep the elements of creating work that has legacy, personal purpose, and is publicly viewable.
The image above (I’ve appealed for leniency from the original authors), appeared as part of a presentation I did on Saturday at the first annual West Essex Tech Symposium, and came out of a classroom I observed a few weeks back, only it wasn’t woods, but sewing.  For days after the observation, I remained blown away by the way the class ran–and not as if the teacher was unnecessary, quite the opposite actually–and how the students were just locked in to what they were doing.
  • The work they were doing had value.
  • It mattered to them now.
  • It would be seen by more than just their teachers, but also their parents, their classmates, and quite possibly someone they met at the mall.
I couldn’t help but think about the classroom environment in a traditional siloed academic content area where this is taking place.  But is that possible?  If we create this type of environment–this messy, cross-disciplinary, creative, non-bubble tested idea-space–do academic departments then dissipate?  Some seem to think so, but I’ll cling for a bit to see if the creative capacities of our current teachers can rise to this type of challenge.


I’m such a post stealer.

But this is a horse I’ve fallen from, and I am going to do whatever I can do get back on.  If that includes riding the ideas of those much more intelligent than myself, then so be it.  I’m not ashamed of that.

For the past two years, I’ve been riding this wave of ideas that I’ve tried to carry out, but, due to circumstances only partly under my control, I have not been able to carry them to fruition and completion. See, I’ve been in three school districts in the last three years.  That type of mobility is not often seen in education (or should I say, seen in good light in education), but it has been a wonderful experience to meet so many talented educators and professionals in each of these places.

What bothers me most about the moves is that I still don’t know how well the ideas we all hatched worked in a supported environment.  What I mean by that is when you work with a group of people to create something new within curriculum, staff development or educational technology,but don’t stick around for its implementation, it’s hard to measure how much of a difference the new model made to student learning.  The support systems you would have put in place may or may not be what the person who follows you is up for–and that is their prerogative.  Each new leader has to come and work with what’s in place, but they also have to make it their own as well.

So what does this mean in regards to the title of this post?  Easy.  I want to ship this year, much like Doug did in 2011,

but I want to make sure that I fully support the ideas that get shipped when they hit the ground next September.

For some reason, I have always been the type of person that needs to work under deadlines to fend off stagnation or atrophy.  Case in point: I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but I am at my best (disciplined, dedicated, injuy-free) when there is a scheduled, paid-for race on the calendar in the months ahead.  That was the case with the Finger Lakes Fifty, the Vermont 50, and with countless other races.  If there is no way out of it, I buckle down.  So the other day, I registered for the Bald Eagle Mountain Megatransect on September 29th, 2012.  I put it on the calendar, paid for my admission, and I am going to ship.

Now, professionally, what will be my September 29th-type event?  Being so new to the district I am working in, I am still figuring that out, but I have a few hunches.  As they roll out this spring, I’ll be updating them here to insure that they meet with the same dedication and discipline that the Megatransect will have.

Transcript from “Building a Community of Literacy” from Edscape


  • Welcome. Patrick 
  • hi Michelle 
  • Are your students turning away from printed books and materials. Dr. Timony 
  • Yes, but the printed materials are also turning away from us. eBooks, mags &news online etc. Laurie 
  • Teachers have to be readers. Admins too. Sisyphus 
  • Kids need printed books. Experience all sensory inputs. Become attached. Love books.Dr. Timony 
  • Don’t make them read for a grade. Sisyphus 
  • Let students have access to information. Vivian 
  • Students need instant access to info. Laurie 
  • I would like everyone to stop typing and listen. Not PHiggins 
  • Having a print-rich environment, especially for younger students. Laurie 
  • Reading rich environment across all content areas. Vivian 
  • Opportunities to read and comment on others’ work. Laurie 
  • This room is a no-tie zone. Not PHiggins 
  • Recirculate books. Laurie 
  • I LOVE taking my daughter with me to the used book store in Philly. She loves it. Dr. Timony 
  • Bring the classics to kids, like bringing them to lima beans ;)! Jennifer 
  • Saturday morning. Newspaper. Pipe. Tea. Dog. Heaven. Not PHiggins 
  • Readicide- systmatic killing of reading in schools.- need to read. Vivian 
  • Exposure to words has far-reaching effects, some of which have no effect on literacy but on development. Dr. Timony
  • More books in the home = more appreciation for the printed word, ideas, diversity. Sisyphus
  • thanks for ruining Mockingbird for me. #onmylist. Dr. Timony 
  • Students lack knowledge capital. Vivian 
  • Number of books in the house persists as a predictor of academic achievement. Indicator of many things. Dr. Timony
  • Viral books. Creating mini-cults of book personality works. Dr. Timony 
  • Reading can catch fire! Give kids ‘buzz books’ and also asked teachers to read them as well. Jennifer 
  • If schools looked more like barnes and noble and less like government block houses, we might all read more in education. Design inspires. Sisyphus 
  • Dr. Timony 
  • I do not coordinate bullying in my district. Not PHiggins 
  • Showcase reading and literature in every venue – websites, fb pages, etc, Sisyphus 
  • shelfari; good reads. Vivian 
  • Online comics are great for reluctant readers. Dr. Timony 
  • Letting you go early. Grab an extra sandwich, would you? Not PHiggins 
  • Thanks for all of the dialogue! Resources to follow. Patrick 
  • Writing for authentic audiences: Patrick 
  • The “choose your own adventure” using Google Forms: Patrick 
  • The “choose your own adventure” using Google Forms: Patrick
  • Penny Kittle’s video with her Senior English students: Patrick 

Why Does Change Cause Problems?

Today, I have the great honor of speaking to our Eighth grade students as part of their “Last Lecture” series run by Anne Bergmann, Gina Doane, and Lisa MacDonald.  Monthly, they ask a member of the school community to speak to their students in the format of a “Last Lecture” to try to impart some wisdom upon the students.

My charge today is to speak to these students about the idea of change: how it affects us, how it changes us, how we respond to it, and most importantly, how we make it.  I’ve invited the students here to discuss their answers to the question “How does a big change in your life make you feel?”

This post is open to any and all to respond to, but I’d love for the students and their teachers to drop in their views.