A year-end reflection

I’m in the middle of my 2nd Talks with Teachers challenge on Facebook, where educators from around the country are challenging themselves to grow as teachers.  This weeks project was to write a letter to my beginning of the school year self as a means of reflecting on the year.  It was a great activity, and I would encourage everyone to take a minute and reflect on the great things you have done this year as well.


Dear Josh, 

It’s that time again. You are heading back into the trenches. This year will be the most expansive, branching out, collaborative year of your short career. There will be times when you want to give up and times when you are so exhausted you can barely stand, but it will be worth it.

            When you begin the year you will jump into it with a fire in your step. You will have a lot of great ideas. Follow through with as many new and inspiring things as possible, but don’t stress out when you can’t get to everything. Sometimes it’s better to do a few things well then to do many things mediocre.

            One of the newest additions to your list of responsibilities is Cyclone Academy. You will come into the year psyched for the potential this organization possesses. But temper your expectations. Sometimes your gung-ho nature causes you to jump before you planned out how you will land. You need to take your time and give the group direction and a purpose before you begin. Otherwise you are just muddying the waters and will stumble around grasping for direction.

             This will be the year you finally get to stop waiting on tables…just kidding. You will still need to work twice a week waiting on tables. I won’t lie to you. It won’t be the greatest, but hopefully after you’ve paid off your student loans it will be worth it.

             At times it may feel like you aren’t making progress or your lessons aren’t working, but at the end of the year you will be shocked by how much growth the kids have made. The last unit of the year you will require more of the kids than any previous year. They will toil and toil and at times you will feel like you’ve gone too far, like you’ve pushed them beyond what they are capable of. In the end your amazing students will rise to the occasion.

            Most importantly you will try a lot of new things. Here are some of the things you will try with your kids: hour of coding (teaching kids about computer coding), the poetry bracket challenge, a new field trip to the Truman Library, a new anti-bullyng campaign project, plus your kids will video chat with Bill freaking Gates. 

            You will also take some steps to become an active participant in the larger field of education. You will participate in chats, twitter feeds, e-mail conversations, and even be mentioned on a podcast. At times you will feel like a little kid getting to eat at the adult table for the first time, but as time goes on you will feel more comfortable on this playing field. You will start your blog and slowly begin to develop it. It won’t be a smashing success, but it will slowly begin to gain momentum. 

The most important thing is to keep innovating, keep trying new things, and don’t be afraid to take risks. You will fail sometimes, but that will make the successes that much more amazing.


Here are some highlights from your year:

  1. Your letter will be read on the Talks with Teachers podcast
  2. Laurie Halse Anderson will Favorite one of your tweets during a twitter chat
  3. After your World War 2 unit your kids will have some of the best responses to their online posts, signifying that they not only read the books but understood them at a deep level
  4. Cyclone Academy will be a moderate success
  5. Through your work on the textbook committee you will help ensure that the new textbook selected will be the best one (the one with the best online elements)
  6. Again your kids will chat with BILL GATES!



                                                            Your future self


P.S. Make sure to spend plenty of time with your family.

Failure is an option…and I'm ok with that

My son is almost a year old and has finally learned how to pull himself up to a standing position next to the coffee table.  It is exciting and terrifying at the same time.  We have hardwood floors, and I’m so worried that he is going to smack his head on the ground and die.  I know it’s melodramatic, but as a parent the first thought in my mind is always the worst-case scenario.  I feel like I have to catch him every time he falls over. 

Fortunately my son is my second child.  I learned a valuable lesson with my daughter, who is 5.  Kids will get hurt.  Kids will fall and tumble.  They will get cuts and scrapes.  Sometimes they may even require stitches (1 set of stitches for my daughter).  But some of the most valuable lessons come from those falls.  Those minor bumps and bruises have taught my daughter why she shouldn’t run in the house and why it’s a bad idea to goof off when standing on a stool.  It kills me to see her get hurt, but I would much rather a few bumps and bruises versus something much worse down the road.

Which is why I let my son fall.  I’m there to make sure he doesn’t fall too hard or too fast, to brush him off and help him get back up again.  But those falls have taught him how to fall without getting hurt.  They’ve also taught him that it’s easy to get right back up again.

This is an area that I have struggled with in teaching.  I always want to make sure students can accomplish every task I put in front of them with ease.  It pains me to see them struggle and watch as the frustration level builds.  I want to jump in and show them how to solve the problem or overscaffold the lesson to ensure their success.

But I’m slowly learning that sometimes it’s ok to let students fall.  It’s ok to let them struggle through something, to grapple with a problem and fail a few times.  If the lesson we teach students is to get back up again when they fail and learn from their mistakes, they won’t stress failure. 

This week my students have been struggling with a group project.  Some of the groups haven’t been cohesive (one of the pitfalls of working with friends).  I think I stepped in more than I should have.  If I had let the kids solve their problems, maybe the leadership traits that I know are buried deep inside of them will emerge.  But for me maybe this is a failure of my own.  It has brought to my attention the importance and value of making mistakes and using those mistakes for learning opportunities.

Sometimes failure is just as important as success.