Category Archives: thinking

Time Travel

I’ve really been feeling the pinch of time in my classroom this school year.  My new schedule has me on campus only three days a week, handing my classroom over to a partner teacher for the other two school days.  I feel super productive when I am away from school, with long stretches of time to focus on specific work, flexible hours to schedule meetings and phone calls, and the ability to arrange most of my work travel on days I am not on campus.

But…I feel like time is taunting me when I am with my students.  Each lesson and project seems to take longer than anticipated, forcing me to leave work hanging across weeks instead of days. I’ve found myself prioritizing and rethinking everything I ask students to do.

My past practice has been to use Fridays as a day of reflection and work completion, giving students long stretches of time to read and write and think.  Without new instruction, they could dig deep, revise, rethink, and get projects done.  Today, Monday became that kind of day (I no longer have Fridays with my students).  I did have to spend some time reviewing expectations, reminding students of the work we started, but then they dug in…and that beautiful thing happened.  Work began to hum, students were engaged, working at their own paces, allowing me to help individuals as needed.  Time both stopped and flowed–no one needed to use the bathroom, roll around on the floor or annoy a classmate.  I wasn’t feeling the need to rush students with my eyes glued to the clock, dolling out minutes like rationed resources (I’m thinking about the water restrictions we experience in Southern California).

The reality was that still everything didn’t get done.  I’m already reevaluating and reprioritizing my plans for tomorrow, pushing off launching that new math concept to make space for a bit more finishing time, figuring out ways to make space to confer with students over a piece of writing they’ve been working on and provide feedback on another project.  And I’m excited about some new reading and writing I have planned for tomorrow…something I’m already anticipating taking more of that precious time than I initially allotted.

Somehow I will figure out how to travel through time this year, carefully balancing new content with time to dig deep, think carefully and produce meaningful, high quality work products.  I know I’ll still find myself with unfinished student work, lessons that run short and those that run long, requiring that continual rethinking of lesson plans.

I’m hoping that this will be the year that I learn to make time jumps, those science fiction leaps of faith:  pushing time forward to see which lessons produce the best results and scrapping those that end up as a waste of time.  But…just in case that doesn’t happen, I’ll keep paying close attention to my students, adjusting to their needs and reworking my plans to make sure school is more about learning than about time.

kelp haiku and art




Water. There is something about the sound of a splash, waves curling with foam before crashing onto the shore, the white noise of the ebb and flow of tides that brings a calm and focus to my brain, causing connections to build, ideas to generate, understandings to emerge.

Maybe it is the smell, briny molecules that tickle my nostrils.  Cool, damp. Particles searching for their polar opposites, sticking together, forming droplets that create a film on my skin, a chemical change that soothes not only the body but also the soul.

Could it be the walking that makes the difference? Putting one foot in front of the other, the bipedal motion integrating the hemispheres of the brain, breathing in and out, swinging arms in rhythm. Or is it the combination of water, walking, and fresh air that energize the mind, replenish the spirit, and allow for creative thinking and problem solving?

As I walk the shore my eyes search the horizon, taking in the blues and greens and all the shades of white.  I notice the ripples in the sand under my feet, the tiny bean clams sitting up on end partially buried, the uneven terrain of pools and islands revealed as the tides pull the water back.  Seagulls squawk, shouting directions and warning to their kin,  Sandpipers whistle their concerns.  Pelicans dive and float, soar and scan, only to dive again.  Children scream and squeal as they race into and out of the water.

In all of this commotion, there is stillness and space.  I breathe deeply, taking it all in.


egret silhouette


Walking My Way In

I spent the last several days thinking and talking about leadership and the pathways that lead to and open into leadership opportunities—particularly in a writing project context. Settled in the rustic natural beauty of the hills outside Austin, I did a lot of walking, and talking, and thinking.


In the educational community, many teachers doubt their leadership—especially if it is situated outside of the classroom. Leadership feels like something bestowed, it comes with a recognizable title, and it means telling others what to do.

But in so many ways, my own experiences with leadership have involved making and doing. It has been about invitations that carry with them a sense of belief that I have something to offer—maybe something I haven’t yet recognized in myself. It has been about saying yes even when I wasn’t sure of what saying yes meant.

And like this weekend, sometimes I walk behind someone else, noticing the footsteps, watching where they sidestep the boggy places and climb over the branches.


Sometimes I break the trail, exploring through my feet on the ground, listening to the sounds around me, noting the running water and the squirrel that runs overhead. When I feel lost (and that definitely happens!), I stop to look and listen. What happened to my path? Can I find it again…or make my own in the moment? And there are times when I simply have to backtrack, retracing the steps I already took.


So I know how to support new leaders in the ways I have been supported to grow as a leader. But how do we recognize and make spaces for leaders with abilities and knowledge different from our own?

How do we make spaces so their leadership can take root and grow outside the groomed planter boxes that are easily recognizable?


All that walking and talking has me contemplating possibilities, and is lighting the fires of design thinking.  I’m looking forward to gathering a team at our writing project site to considering alternatives that will include those who haven’t found our typical entry points, creating new access–hopefully for those who bring talents and perspectives currently missing from our conversations and our planning.


I’m walking my way in to new understandings…and I hope that will also open up new pathways for others to walk their way into leadership at our site, enriching and expanding our community of learners and leaders.




Taking the Long View

There’s a temptation to view learning as quick and direct.  I teach it, you learn it…as simple as that.  You don’t learn it, you must not have listened, you must not have tried…or I didn’t teach it right or well enough.

But over the years I have learned that it is not as simple as that.

Learning is complex…and complicated.  And much of what is going on in terms of learning isn’t visible on the surface.  Like an iceberg, most of the structure lies below the the waters edge–we can only see the tip.

Some days I can see evidence of my students’ learning.  And with some students learning is easy to spot.  With others, it’s not so easy to see.  You have to dig, watch closely and listen carefully, and sometimes sneak a peek when they don’t know you are paying attention.

And most of all, you have to take the long view.


Step back and wait.  Keep teaching and providing opportunities for active learning even when it doesn’t seem to be having the desired impact.  And I have to remind myself to think about my own learning processes too.  Like an onion, learning keeps layering on, building connections, drawing on what came before.  It takes time–sometimes longer than I want to learn new skills, to understand new concepts, to think in new ways.

But, I’m taking the long view.  I’m learning every day and so are my students, even if it isn’t noticeable to others.

In a New Light

I had the opportunity today to see a museum through the eyes of people who helped to design it and nurture its continued growth.  The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a gem. The museum is a combination of old and new, growing from a robust history of collection and curation to a modern space of interaction, interrelationships, research, and digital tools.  There is something about a tour led by the director of exhibits who clearly loves his work and his museum that refracts the museum experience, bending the light in ways that allowed me to appreciate nuances of museum craft and scientific discovery and learning that I hadn’t considered before.

Having a working research lab in the middle of the museum (actually several of them) seems ingenious!  Partnerships with local universities bring scientists out into the open, working in modern, state of the art facilities behind clear class walls.  Seeing scientists at work helps to demystify what it means to be a scientist…and they are able to interact with museum visitors, answering questions and explaining their work.


And this interactive projection allows the glass between the lab and the exhibit to nearly disappear, and also works as a tool for the scientists to use to explain their work with school groups and tour groups.

interactive wall

Augmented reality and robotics allow young people access to difficult to understand concepts, using models they can virtually hold and manipulate as they watch atoms come together to form molecules or see the changes in the earth as it is impacted by fire, drought, and storms. This robot, whose head was printed using a 3-d printer, will soon be roaming the museum responding to questions asked by museum guests.


The story of this right whale is both a tragedy and a triumph.  Killed by a boat, its skeleton and that of its fetus were recovered and studied by scientists.  Experiments to determine the speed a boat would require to break the facial bone of a whale and kill it resulted in legislation slowing boats during the migration season of the right whales off the Atlantic coast.  Here’s a great example of science working to save a vanishing species!


And in a unique space, short visual narratives mesmerize you with their beauty and fascinate you with their complexity.  Balconies allow you to stop and watch from different locations and you can easily dip in and out of the viewing experience.  This sequence on networks grabbed my attention…I know i want to think more about the different kinds of networks in our lives, how they are similar and different, organic and manmade…and how light and movement help us understand them.


These mini movies were projected on the inside of a curved surface that just happens to be this extraordinary globe from the outside of the building…another interesting and beautiful way to learn about our world.


Today’s tour allowed me to experience the museum in a new light, refracted by the passion of those who know this place intimately.  This post only begins to scratch the surface of what I saw, heard, and experienced in my short visit.  And I’m lucky, I get to return to the museum again tomorrow when it will be filled with museum people from all over the world as they socialize and learn from each other.  I can only imagine what new insights I will gain as I return to this magnificent place of science, research, and learning.

Monumental: Old and New

I love the complexity and juxtapositions of urban spaces.  They are crowded, often teeming with tourists, business people, and very often, the down and out.  Downtowns are an amalgam of old and new, history and current events, a place where wealth and poverty rub shoulders.

I’ve noticed this in my hometown, in big cities like San Francisco, New York City, Chicago…and I saw it again today in downtown Nashville, TN.  Music City.  Downtowns have their own personality.  Some are all about food, some all about architecture, and some, like Nashville, are all about music.  Live music poured from bars and restaurants…even before noon.  Guitars and banjos were prevalent, and street performers were also in evidence.  There were the requisite bars on every corner and tucked into alleys and happy hour seemed to start early on this warm Friday afternoon.

And today I was especially tuned in to the contrast between the old and new.  New (ish) restaurant chains occupied historic buildings…and springing up in the background were shiny, reflective, skyscrapers.

old and new nashville

And in some instances, the new buildings seemed to emerge from the top of the shorter, older ones.  Almost like they were grafted on, breathing new life into an older, more classic and established host.  (Isn’t that how it works with fruit trees?)

springing up nashville

And while taking a photo of the Ryman Auditorium, I noticed that the more interesting shot was the reflection of the auditorium in the facade of the glass of the building across the street.  A reflection of the past in the shine of the present?  A mirror of the interconnections of history and current events?

Ryman reflection

There is something monumental about this juxtaposition of the past and the present, the intermingling of history with life today.  The present keeps the past alive and relevant…the past keeps the present grounded and forward thinking as it reminds us all to learn from history.

And then there is the river…the powerful force that gives us energy and life, and if we are not careful, takes both away.  Downtowns always seem to be close to water too.  Maybe water is the true monument.

river in Nashville

The Dilemma of Labels

I’m still thinking about weeds.  Probably because we read Weeds Find a Way in class today.  Our students were so surprised when they realized the puff balls they love to blow from dandelions are really seeds!


We talked about the places weed grow…and I urged them to be on the lookout for weeds in unexpected places and to report back to us what they noticed.

The more I think about weeds, the more I realize that weeds are just plants that have managed to make pests of themselves.  One of my students pointed out that weeds are plants that we don’t try to grow–they plant themselves.  There’s a list of weeds in the back of Cindy’s book, most that I have never heard of (obviously I’m not well-versed in weeds beyond dandelions).

But then again, is labeling a plant a weed just a matter of opinion?  Is a weed a plant you don’t want?  I can remember as a kid my mom calling geraniums weeds.  They grew along the side of our garage and my mom was always trying to pull them out.  And now I see people trying to grow geraniums, buying them from the nursery, cultivating them for their beautiful colors and vibrance.

Yesterday I noticed this ivy coming through the fence to my backyard.

gate with ivy

Sometimes I think ivy is pretty…but it can be insidious once it takes hold and is very hard to get rid of.  We had some ivy wrap itself around the trunk of a tree in our yard…and nearly kill the tree!  And it took a lot of work to free that tree from the ivy, and the tree is just beginning to come back to health.

So just when does a plant become a weed?  Is ivy a weed when it chokes a tree, but a plant when you cultivate its growth? And does the label matter? What about students?  When we label them…gifted, learning disabled, autistic, dyslexic…does it change the ways we view and treat them?  Do they become metaphoric weeds in our classrooms when they become a nuisance?  When they take too much work?  When they choke someone else’s growth?

Can we change our perceptions by changing the labels?  Or by removing the labels?  Would we like weeds better if we learned their names and noticed their unique qualities?

Hmmm…weeds and labels.  I need to do some more thinking about this!

Going Beyond Either/Or (Threes)

Black or white, the fork in the road, Republican or Democrat, male or female, smart or dumb, phonics or whole language, cats or dogs, tea or coffee, win or lose, right or wrong…  the list goes on, always focused on choosing one of two choices.

Why are we so drawn to these dichotomies?  And do they actually serve us in any positive way?

I often feel that these forced either/or choices close down conversations and limit the options and possibilities that would exist if we broadened the conversation to include more gray area, pathways between the two opposites typically posed.

What would happen to our country if our political system worked to solve pressing issues without regard to political party?  And what would happen in our schools if instead of classifying students as high or low achieving, we paid more attention to students’ strengths and interests and piqued their natural curiosity?  What if there were more options for success?

So when I saw the weekly photo challenge at the Daily Post today, I looked for a photo that not only met the challenge of threes, but also worked as a metaphor for me about moving away from these all-too-common dichotomies.  (In a footnote to this, after reading the threes prompt more closely, I see that I re-interpreted it before noticing the invitation to tell a three picture story.  I may be trying that in the next couple of days!)

I took this photo today from a bridge over a freeway leading to downtown San Diego.  I like the way you can see three distinct paths curving toward the city in the distance.  It’s interesting to me because I know that the freeway has southbound and northbound lanes…but at this juncture, there is a third route.  I love the idea of including additional options, of getting a more complete picture, of considering a bigger understanding of the story.


I’m not suggesting that three is the answer…we do enough with the ideas of high, medium, and low…but three does suggest getting beyond either/or thinking, making it at least a starting place for expanding the conversation.

What image would you chose to represent going beyond standard dichotomies?  How do you get yourself to go beyond the binary?

Ups and Downs

You’ve probably noticed that I love the beach–I take lots of photos there and it’s a wonderful place for walking.  There’s the sea breeze, the beauty of the surroundings…and it’s pretty much flat, making walking easy.

So today, we decided to take a walk away from the beach.  In fact we went to a place that we knew would have some pretty significant uphill and downhill climbs.

And while there is something to be said about staying on the flat and keeping things on a even keel, there is value in the ups and downs too.

As we started up the gently slope it was easy to set a brisk pace even as I was looking around at the native plants and looking out over the vistas.  I could walk and talk and breathe.


The first part of the walk continued on a gentle incline.  We walked quickly without feeling labored and then began down a pretty steep decline.  Walking downhill does’t feel too hard…but I was remembering that I was going to have to walk back up that same slope.  And at the bottom there was a pretty steep incline in front of us.  And rather than turning around, we decided to continue up for a bit.  I could feel myself slowing down and my breathing becoming more labored as I headed upward.  And then, about halfway up I noticed a mushroom growing along the side of the trail.  Of course I had to stop, kneel low, and take a photo.


When we turned around to head back, lots of steep uphill was in front of me.  I could feel my muscles, my heartbeat, and each and every breath I took.  And yet, I kept climbing and kept walking.  I had to give up talking for a bit…I needed my breath for the climb.  At the hardest point in the climb, the place I was ready to stop, I found myself noticing and naming the native plants.  I recognized the black sage, the lemonade berry, the alkali heath…

As the grade eased, so did my breathing and I began to enjoy the scenery again.  We could see evidence of the rain in the plants, tender green shoots and colorful blossoms decorating these often monochromatic plants.


As the walk came to an end, I felt good.  The ups and downs made my body (and mind) work in some different ways than walking on the flat.  The peaks and valleys made me work harder, and I could feel myself working on both my stamina and my resolve as I walked.

There are many more steep trails that we haven’t yet tried, and in spite of the fact that I know they will feel hard, I can’t wait to head back and explore some more of them.  I have great admiration for the woman I watched run the same trail I had trudged.  I don’t aim to run that route, but I would love to improve my fitness by including more of these challenging walks in my repertoire.

I find myself thinking about ups and downs, peaks and valleys in the classroom too.  There are some climbs that leave us all winded, laboring to get to the next flat stretch.  But, like my experience today, the challenges help us build our stamina, increase our “fitness” for learning together, and remind us that even when things are hard, there are reasons to continue on.

What ups and downs do you experience?  What do they teach you about your life and learning?  I know that I will be including more ups and downs in my walking routine, but don’t worry, I’ll still make time for walks by the beach.

Window Views

I’ve heard that saying that eyes are the windows to the soul…a way to look beyond the surface of a person into their thoughts and emotions, which got me thinking about windows.

From the outside, you can look through a window to see what is inside.  But sometimes, when the light is right, what you see when you look through the window from the outside is a reflection of the sky and trees…like this.


It’s almost more of a mirror than a window.  You don’t see through it, you see the world reflected back at you.

And other times when you look through a window you can see through one window and then back out another window…and catch a glimpse of what is on the other side.


It’s almost like looking beyond the present…into the future or maybe into the past.

But what about the shape of windows?  How does that impact our view?  These windows are long and thin, reducing the amount of light that enters and restricting the view.  Was that an intentional goal of the windows in this applied physics and math building?  Or is there some physics and math at work that impacts just how these windows work?


Looking through my photos also makes me realize just how much of my life is seen through the frame of a car window.  How does this window affect my view?  (This one is from the passenger seat…not the driver’s!)  I was fascinated by the VW bus, the rusty roof, the retro license plate…


And we also look out through windows.  Sometimes the view is pretty open, allowing a wide angle of view.


And other times there are barriers, restricting our vision and limiting what can be seen.


So are our eyes really like windows?  Do they sometimes reflect, sometimes allow the viewer to see beyond, sometimes carefully frame or give a view influenced by your seat?  What affects the way we see out?  When are the curtains drawn wide open and when are the blinds restricting the view?

How do your windows influence your view of the world?