This is what's on my mind right now.
It's not Yay Math's mission statement. That's in the navigation bar at the top of the website.
It's not social media, which shares Yay Math's latest milestones.
It's what I'm focused on at this point in my life. Think of how you'd answer when a friend asks you, "So what's going on with you?"
This is what's going on with me, right now.
updated on March 14th, 2023
Master chefs need precise setups for their kitchens. Elite athletes demand a multitude of specific processes and routines. Highly competent business moguls are fanatic about the structures that form the backbone of their enterprise.
Masterful teaching is no different.
To anyone charged with educating others: as you progress in your craft and gain experience, don't hesitate to have requirements. Examples may include how you set up your learning space, the exact breakdown of how much time is spent on what, and what the students need to bring, do, or even believe for that matter. We can and must have laser-focused intention on everything, from the supplies on the tables, to the culture that swirls around the room.
To become a masterful teacher requires you to be specific about what must be in place. Claiming that right is a critical must-have in your ascent as a practitioner.
updated on March 21st, 2023
Does pride have any utility in education? I'm certain it does.
I learned about the concept of pride in 11th grade, on the football team. Coach talked about our gait on game days, in reference to how we walked out of the locker room on those frigid Saturday mornings back in Maryland. There weren't many people in attendance, pretty much just those whom you'd expect: the opposing team, the families, and the officials. But coach said that everyone would be watching as we walked out. He tuned us into how people can immediately tell if you're empowered or dejected, if you're serious or clown-like, and if you're just... ready... or not.
I also learned from my dad about the importance of writing my name at the top of every page, before even one lick of work. He said that once my name is on the page, it represented me, and thus I have an obligation to put forth my best effort. That my work becomes associated with who I am and what I'm about.
updated on March 30st, 2023
The importance, or lack of importance, of teacher prestige?
When people find out that someone's a doctor, they go, "oooh..." To this day, doctors command instant respect. Do teachers? Yes and no. Those who value education have gratitude for what we do. They may even hit us with the "I don't know how you do it" line. I still don't know how I feel about that. Is it a compliment? Or a hint that we're somehow ok with subjecting ourselves to some form of torture?
Do teachers, or do professionals in general for that matter, require some level of prestige to make their work more resonant, or more meaningful? The explosion of social media would scream in reply, "YES!" Teachers around the world post clips about themselves or their work onto social... why? To gain a following? Ok, why? I can't help but conclude that it's for a sense of prestige. It surely matters to me. I want to do transcendent things in this business, and that's only possible from some form of perch.
The truth is, we DO hold a healthy amount of prestige. A group of students who spot their teacher at the local supermarket kinda act like it's a celebrity citing. That says something, right? "Whoa, Mr./Ms. So-and-so really exists outside the walls of school! Let's watch from afar, or maybe say hi? No, you have to come with me, I'm not going alone!"
I wonder though, that if I'm onto something and that teachers desire substantive prestige, what could that look like? Beyond social media. I'm talking substantive prestige. What if a teacher wanted to call a town hall meeting one evening, and invite parents and community members to discuss an issue? I think they could fill the room. Or how about if a teacher would just reach out to their mayor and lament having no AC in the summer? That could lead to a coffee sit down meeting, which could lead anywhere.
I think it's ok for educational leaders to check in with their teachers and inquire as to whether some of them are looking to expand their reach, create even more positive waves beyond their students' lives, and aspire to gain some form of personal prestige. Such ambition can be celebrated, and surely lead to both teacher retention and personal growth.
updated on April 10th, 2023
To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.
Maybe you've heard of the "dog run" in cross country running. The dog run is for those members of the team who need a higher challenge, while they still participate in team training runs. Essentially they run like dogs do, bounding ahead of the running group, then swooping back to the group, then turning around and bolting ahead of the pack yet again.
Sometimes I feel like the dog, sprinting ahead, then circling back to the pack. And sometimes I look out and see others in their K9 glory, as they gallop ahead of the rest of us. Dog runners are quite a spectacle to behold. To watch them is motivating.
The dog run allows a harmony between the binary fast=alone vs. far=together buckets. Groups benefit from their dogs to push their collective pace, while they remain a pack... powerful together.
updated on April 24th, 2023
Kim Scott's "Radical Candor"
A character trait that is an asset for teaching sometimes is a liability in life. The trait I'm thinking of is empathy. I have a deep well of empathy, primarily for kids. Empathy is great for teaching, to put myself in the students' experience, and channel what could best serve them. But until recently, I thought that empathy was at odds with when you need to speak up and challenge something, or someone. I thought that you needed to put your empathy on hold for those moments.
Then I was turned onto Scott's Radical Candor matrix. This blows my mind. You can optimize both empathy AND direct challenge. In teaching, business, and relationships in general. It just feels right. We can articulate what isn't working, without mincing words, AND couple it with maximum empathy for our counterparts in the exchange. Game changer. It's the formula I've been looking for.
updated on May 19th, 2023
Empathy for those who shut down
I'm not a gardener. So of course karma necessitates that I recently move to a new place with a beautiful and elaborate backyard. The area includes a myriad of colorful trees and plants, all of which require work and attention to flourish. But when I went to test the already installed sprinkler system, and it wasn't working the way I thought it would, I panicked. I don't know the first thing about how to tend to this backyard, beyond the importance of water, and even that wasn't working.
Then I shut down. It felt like gravity was pulling my body down twice as hard. My breathing was shallow. I didn't want the first thing to do with the garden. My only play was avoidance. I couldn't hear about any potential solutions, like reading the sprinkler manual, or possibly hiring a gardener... all of that was just opaque noise to me.
When I came out of that state, my mind went to my daughter, who sometimes shuts down while doing schoolwork. And I thought of the countless students who experience the same shutdown. Only when you go through it do you know how debilitating it is. Powering through it is out of the question. The only thing I needed at the time was support and understanding. It also helped to know that having those feelings were ok. To not run from the feeling while having it, and eventually, I'll get through it.
For me, it was the backyard. For some students, it's math. For any of us, it's something. We need to give space for people to experience shutdown and be guiding forces to help them through it.
updated on June 26th, 2023
Teaching is an exchange. It's never one-directional. Much like an inspired musical performance or a comedic artist in the zone, energy flows back and forth.
In the video era, of course this becomes more of a challenge. How can a teacher actually interact with students, through a video?
Of course, it's not a literal interaction. But by all means, we can make that connection with them, if we just try to. We can empathize. We can be vulnerable. We can admit mistakes. We can take risks. We can lead by example. We can be welcoming and non-judgmental.
Teaching at its best, no matter what the medium, has always been a partnership. It's not about me and you. It's about we.