In my boredom on a Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon a new (to me) series on Netflix titled, “Chef’s Table.” The very first episode featured 3-Star Michelin chef, Massimo Bottura, from Modena, Italy. I was hooked.
Chef Massimo Bottura
While every episode features a totally different style of chef with very different philosophies of food, this first episode harkened me back to a time when I was enmeshed in creating ritual and memories.
Chef Bottura talked about life being slow, and the enjoyment of food should also be slow. This resonated with me mainly because I have never fully enjoyed the slowness of food. I love food. All kinds of food. But I have not mastered the art of truly “enjoying” time at the table.
He also discussed having a certain reverence for the food. As they were cutting open an aged wheel of Parmesan cheese they talked about “listening” to the food. They tapped the wheel with a small hammer on both sides and around the edges listening for a certain sound that would indicate it was aged properly. When it was cracked open slightly there was the smell of the cheese that met them as well. Long before tasting they knew it was going to be great.
This idea of reverencing food, of the slowness of food, I sat there thinking about how terribly opposite my life is. I grab fast food in the morning on the way to work. If I’m too tired to drive straight home, I will stop somewhere to get something fast and get back on the road again. I’m trying now to get back to cooking at home with fresh ingredients, but its a difficult paradigm to change.
There are memories attached to food that should also be reverenced. Some food speaks to you in ways nothing else can. Lasagna is one of those foods for me. I don’t remember exactly where I was, but I remember being seated at a children’s table in a basement of someone’s house (could have been my own, but I don’t think so) when I first tasted lasagna. I thought it was food from heaven.
No matter where I have fried catfish (and I try it a lot of places), it takes me back to family fish fries where an uncle of mine would produce some of the most mouth-watering food I’ve ever enjoyed. And it reminds me of church fish fries where we laughed and ate and talked around the tables creating a true sense of community in the same way the early church did when they met in people’s homes.
Obviously, at nearly 45 pounds over my idea weight, I have a certain enjoyment of food. But it is a false enjoyment. It is one based on the act of eating and not the experience.
The closest I come is on vacations. I look for places to eat that I can only find in the place where I am. In that regard, I am looking for an experience with food that will tie me to the place and embed my memories deeply. But even then I am inhaling food more than enjoying it.
As with most parts of my life, I need to slow down my eating. I need to raise the level of experience. And I need to combine the visual with the nutritional values of what I’m eating.
So stay tuned for a new page in the food pictures I post to social media. Different foods. But also a different perspective of the food in the camera to go with a changing perspective of eating.
At the L&N STEM Academy, we finished the week strong. Despite all that has worked against us this year (its always different every year, so it keeps things fresh and fun!), students are settling into schedules, teachers are settling into classes, and the administrative team is keeping the coffee hot.
We have been in Advisories all week during lunches, and our student Gryphon Guides have done a phenomenal job of creating and presenting ideas and plans for those groups. Last year, that fell to me (self-imposed, of course), so I’m very thankful to have one thing off my plate this early in the year.
Monday starts the newest part of our schedule: Labs. Labs is a fancy name for a space where students will meet to catch up on homework, practice writing skills, do math, collaborate on projects, get 1:1 help from teachers, and more. We set up Writing Labs, Math Labs, Science Labs, Digital Labs, Art Labs, and Latin Labs. We also have Reading Intervention and Math Intervention for those students are struggling with either the content or the schedule.
Our philosophy of education has finally made us put our money where our mouth is. We believe that as students take ownership of their own learning, their learning will accelerate. We encourage students to self-advocate. We encourage parents to let them struggle in the process. We encourage teachers to be guides along the journey. And Monday is a time to demonstrate that.
Here is my take on what we are calling Mastery Monday.
First, we have a few classes that still meet 3 days per week. Students in classes like Chemistry 1 CP, Biology 1 CP, and a number of AP classes will meet with that teacher on Mondays in their 3rd class time of the week. They are not allowed to bypass that class time. It is required of all students.
The labs help us accomplish several things. Take a math lab for example. It isn’t subject specific. In other words, they aren’t just Algebra 1 students or just Geometry students. They may come from different grade levels and various math classes. It is not a teaching time. It is a Mastery time that falls to the students.
Students will meet in Advisories on Fridays each week. During that time they will decide the priorities of things they need to do on Mondays during their labs in order to excel in each subject. On Mondays they will share those plans with their Lab teacher. The teacher’s job is to make sure they stay on track, monitor their progress, and help them succeed in a personal learning plan.
Some students will do just fine without the lab time. Not every student on campus is in a Writing Lab, for instance. But we have also scheduled some top students in some labs to act as tutors and collaborators with students who may be struggling. Student-to-Student tutoring is often more effective than Teacher to Student tutoring.
At the end of the first 4 1/2 weeks we will look at grades for all students. Some students may indicate to us that they would do just fine if we took them out of a Monday Lab. Others may indicate they should have been in one from the beginning. We will make some adjustments and move forward.
I’m looking forward to seeing where we are with this by Christmas Break. I think we will be amazed.
(Image Credit: I don’t know who made the Lego L&N in the picture above, but it sits on our front desk. It was too good not to take a picture!)
It is 8:10 on Monday, August 10 (see what I did there?), and we are preparing for our first official day of the new year. Last Friday we had new students walk through their schedule and find their bus routes. Saturday was a student and family Carnival where our clubs and other organizations got to vie for the attention of new students, and we raised a little money for St. Jude. Today, though, is the real kicker.
We are staffed for 580 students. We have room to seat 500 students each period. As of the moment of writing this sentence, we have 632 students enrolled. Yes, its going to be an interesting week.
We know we will have a handful of students who decide in the first few days that this school is not what they expected. Some will return to their zoned schools. And we’re told that a few are already known to be moving away from us, we just have to wait for the people at the district office to remove them from our rosters. As a result, that 632 should come down over the next few days.
After my last post, a few people commented to me that the narration of how our new schedule is going to go was fairly complicated. They still did not totally understand it. We also have students and parents (and a few teachers) who also don’t really see the big picture quite yet. So, I created this short video to help outline what it will look like on a student’s schedule. If you still have questions, feel free to email me, or leave me a comment.
On August 6th, I realized I had started working at the L&N STEM Academy exactly three years earlier on that very day. What a whirlwind those first few days, weeks, and months were! On August 7th, we hosted all of our new students at the school to walk through their schedules, meet their teachers, and figure out where their busses are in the afternoons. Today, on my 58th birthday, we are hosting our Fall Carnival and Movie Night on the Plaza. It is a time for all students and their families to come together and learn about the various clubs and organizations on campus, pay school fees, spend some money on fundraisers (we are raffling off an Apple Watch), try to dunk various teachers and administrators (not me) in the Dunking Booth, and eat burgers and hotdogs. Monday all of our students come for a half day. We will walk through the schedule again. We’ll find even more problems with room assignments and over crowded classes. And when its over, we will be so happy to have seen our kids again.
And so it begins.
This year we are working on a different schedule than anything I’ve ever experienced before. It is both exciting and frightening, wondrous and wild.
We operate on an alternative block schedule, so our kids take 8 classes all year long. They have 4 classes on L days and 4 classes on N days. At least, until this year. This year, we’ve made Tuesdays and Thursdays our L days and Wednesdays and Fridays our N Days. Mastery Monday stands on its own for the most part. So let’s see if I can explain this in a way that makes any sense to those reading this post.
We have classes that meet 2 days per week. These are TR and WF classes. We have some that meet 3 days a week. They meet MTR or MWF. These are typically some of our more strenuous AP courses, Biology 1 and Chemistry 1, and music classes (for extra rehearsals). And then we have some classes that meet Monday only. The vast majority of these classes are for no credit.
Our freshmen all have 8 credits that fall in the regular L and N day schedules. Every period TWRF has a class. But they are the only ones. Once you get to be a Sophomore, Junior, or Senior, you would take a Science Research Class on Mondays for 1 credit. As a result, out of the 8 class slots on TRWF, students only have 7 taken up to earn credits. They all pretty much have a free period in their schedule where they can listen to music, watch videos, play games, study, do homework, or any number of other activities suitable for school.
It isn’t the schedule we set out to create, but its a pretty close replica (we envisioned fewer 3 days classes with more freedom to move kids around on Mondays). It is a pilot. A prototype. It was born out of the d.school process of ideation, sympathizing, prototyping, building, and now testing. Some teachers love it. Some despise it. Some are in quiet desperation about it.
This year, from time to time, I’ll update our progress here. It is an exciting time to be an educator. We want it to be an exciting time to be a student as well. I guess we’ll find out.
One of my favorite moments in the movie, The Replacements, is when Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) explains what he means when he says his greatest fear on the playing field is “quicksand.” Its that moment when one thing goes wrong. Then another. And another. And pretty soon you spend so much of your time trying to get out of trouble that it causes you to lose focus entirely.
Quicksand happens in sports. I’ve seen it happen to teachers when they are being evaluated. The technology doesn’t work right. A particular student disrupts the class…again. The worksheet needed for the lesson was left in the office…on the printer.
It happened to me last week.
I’m not speaking out of turn (I hope), because my boss knew I was interviewing for an elementary principal position in another district. A job I would really have loved. A job I did not get.
I walked into a committee of six for the interview. I knew them all except for the new Director of Schools. The Supervisor of Elementary, two elementary principals, someone from Special Education, and another from Title I (primarily) were on the committee. My mind immediately started thinking about the direction of questions from this particular group.
The first question out of the gate was a pretty straightforward, softball lob question to get things started. I even recognized it as that and felt good that I had a chance to sort of “warm up” before the more difficult things came my way. In essence, the first question was this: When you walk into an elementary classroom as the principal of your school, what do you expect to see?
I’ve answered this question a million times in workshops and discussions with other teachers about best practice and student engagement. I evaluate teachers using the TEAM rubric. I know what is expected in a classroom. And yet, in that moment of singularity, nothing came to mind. I could have talked about using in-class flipped instruction to get kids focused on the lesson while the teacher monitors the room and gets things ready for students to break out into groups. I could have talked about the latest brain research that shows us that movement helps activate the brain to learn and remember. I could have talked about play in the role of learning and how being active is the new ADHD drug of choice. I could have talked about utilizing the handful of computers in the back of the room to have students watch a Discovery Streaming video and answer some brief questions online to get immediate feedback for part of the lesson to be taught later. Or using those computers for kids to log into Khan Academy, or PLATO Learning, or Study Island and working through some sample problems so I have some formative assessment data at my fingertips. I could have talked about using iPads in groups of 5 or 6 as a center activity and having kids learn to code in order to build logical thinking skills for math and writing. I could have talked about the d.school process in elementary that could help kids learn to work collaboratively, empathize with their peers, and design-build-test-redesign-rebuild-retest in order to see the benefit of failure for success. I could have talked about Minecraft for goodness’ sake!
I could have. But I didn’t.
I blathered on about controlled chaos in the classroom using centers for learning and how the teacher should be more of a facilitator in the process than a direct instructionalist and yet understanding that some things (like multiplication tables) should definitely be memorized and stored in a folder of the brain so that dendrites and axons can find the necessary building blocks for mathematics when students need to think.
It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. It was an attempt at a textbook answer devoid of risk or meaning. OK. It was bad.
And then there was the silence. Each committee member had one scripted question, but they could also come back with follow-up questions. I wondered if the interviewer would ask for more detail or for me to explain something I had said in more concrete terms. The next person in line to ask questions was evidently wondering if it was her turn yet. The silence was deafening in my head. And I felt myself step into quicksand.
The next person in line finally asked the first questioner if she was finished. Her answer was, I think, meant to bring some levity to the situational awkwardness. “I’m finished if he’s finished,” she said. And I chuckled along with everyone else.
But I knew in that moment that I had underperformed right out of the gate. As I attempted to answer the next question, part of my brain was in overtime trying to go back and re-answer the first. And yet the questions kept coming. What is your role as principal in the building? What do you tell a parent whose child just took the TCAP for the first time and the child underperformed? What do you see as your role in IEP meetings? What can you tell us about your vision for RTI?
All fair questions. Each one answered more blandly than the last. Somewhere in the middle I knew I had failed. I was neck deep in quicksand and nothing I did helped me get out of the bind that first misstep had caused.
Finally, the Director asked me the get-out-of-jail-free question. What else do we need to know about you? But it was too late. My brain was mush. My body drained. It had only been 45 minutes, but I felt like I’d just gone 15 rounds in my head.
I wouldn’t have hired me.
I spent the next 24 hours kicking myself every single way I could imagine. I answered those questions again and again. I couldn’t sleep that night for laying in bed rethinking how I should have or could have or wish I had done something different.
No. I did not get the job. And that kind of opportunity does not present itself often.
And here’s my take away about it all.
When I interviewed for the job I have now, I think I pretty much nailed it. I was confident. I was direct. I felt good about it when it was over. I did not get the job, but what I did get was a phone call from the principal stating that everyone in the room felt I needed to be at that school in some capacity, so a job was created for me. That’s not unusual. It has happened before.
So…perhaps there is something inside of me that knew I wasn’t ready for this job. Or that this job wasn’t ready for me. Something in my head that kicked in and helped me fail in order to protect me from a bigger failure. Failure, after all, is a matter of perspective.
I’ve tried to remain as quiet as I can on social media lately when it comes to the Confederate flag controversy. It isn’t really in my nature, and sometimes my thoughts have leaked out on to my Facebook page as I have both applauded actions and decried actions.
For me, it harkens back to England and my extreme love of Ely Cathedral. Ely is a little village not far from RAF Mildenhall where I worked with Air Force families in a Christian Servicemen’s Center. The cathedral, however, is anything but little. It is so large that planes returning from bomber strikes in Germany used it as a landmark by which to turn toward their landing strips.
Even as I write this, I realize that the word “controversy” explains my dilemma. In the United States we mostly pronounce this word CON-tro-versy. In England it is nearly always pronounced con-TRAH-versy. We’ve often laughed about England and the United States being two countries separated by a common language.
Ely was first built as a Catholic cathedral. It is wildly ornate in places. Its octagonal auditorium is beautiful. And the acoustics…wow. I had the privilege of singing there once. It is unlike anything I’d ever done before or since.
There is a section of the Cathedral that is now empty and rather stark. It is called the Lady Chapel. All of of the archways that once housed statues of saints are now empty. There are small statues of saints actually carved into the walls themselves that remain.
But every single face on those small statues have been chiseled off in order to take away any chance they can be used as icons for worship.
In a purge of all things Catholic, Cromwell and his men raided cathedrals and shrines throughout Britain and destroyed any vestiges that might be used in Catholic worship.
At the time, I’m sure it made perfect sense to Protestants and the monarchy. Today, it is viewed as useless, destructive, and extremely intolerant.
Time, even a short amount of time, has a way of changing our perspectives and altering our realities.
The Confederate flag, or rather the Virginia Battle Flag, should have been taken down a long time ago by the SC government. It was a finger in the eye of the federal government and, to a large extent, the Civil Rights Movement. There was a reason it was moved to a pole where it could not legally be lowered or taken down without approval of the legislature. So kudos to the legislators for finally doing the right thing and taking it down, regardless of the length of time it took.
But now…wow. Dukes of Hazard has been taken off the air because the General Lee has this flag painted on it. Its been fine for years and years and years…until now. The golfer who owns the General Lee is threatening to paint over the flag. Why didn’t he do that when he bought it? Walmart has stopped selling anything with this flag on it. Yet plenty of other politically insensitive and offensive materials remain.
And in the midst of it all, I have heard very little about the official state flag of Mississippi that contains this battle flag in its design. Anybody besides me watch Mississippi Burning? And few dare to speak of then Governor Bill Clinton signing into law a new official state flag in Arkansas where he said its very design is a homage to the Confederate states and the very same battle flag.
There is a fine line for me between government sponsorship and common sense. (Sometimes its not so fine a line between government and common sense).
Protestors have called for Kid Rock to stop using the flag in his merchandising and concerts while Kanye West has “made the flag his own.” Some of the same people who despise this flag for its racist overtones listen to music that is blatantly racist and misogynistic and often blare it so loudly out of the speakers of their cars that the entire universe has to listen as well.
So, to be clear, I don’t have a copy of this flag to my knowledge. I barely ever watched Dukes of Hazard. I was born in Indiana, but my roots are in the South. I am extremely saddened that it took the ruthless, senseless, brutal killings of 9 innocents by a traitorous racist bigot in the sanctuary of a House of God in the middle of a prayer meeting to get the attention of (most of) the SC legislators. I’m glad the flag is down.
But if we’re not careful we will reinstate Oliver Cromwell and his reign of terror and our society will lose the uniqueness of its founding and become nothing more than an empty chapel of destroyed beauty where we are no longer allowed to shine forth as individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, gender, religion, geographic upbringing, or thought.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go listen to a little Skynyrd to clear my head.
I suppose I should do a very quick follow-up to my recent trip and bring it to closure. So here we go.
I will definitely do this again. Yes, there were problems. I took a total of 4 buses. Out of those, 2 of them were pretty late. But these were also the buses with the longest drives, so anything can happen on the road. Standing in Union Station, I did get an email (which I did not see at first) telling me my bus would be 60 to 90 minutes late. Once I saw that, I was fine. Communication is key in everything we do.
The buses were crowded, but everyone was friendly and respectful of your space. The only thing I would do differently next time is to take at least a half a Dramamine. I don’t do well on buses sometimes.
I really didn’t plan much with regard to the photo walk. I sort of had a plan, but was willing to do something different as the need arose. And with rain, the need arose. In short, I had a blast. I saw some amazing places, and captured at least a few shots that were very pleasing to my self-critical eye. On the other hand, I regret that I didn’t spend at least a couple of hours at ISTE. I had the time, but chose to do something else. When I take another trip like this, I will plan things a little better in advance so that I don’t wind up with a 20 mile hike as I did in DC. I made it fine, but the next day walking was not fun.
In all, I got some shots I may use in my home. And I got some I will put on my photography site for sale. At some point, that may be something I want to push, but for now it is just sort of there.
There is no way, in such a short span of time, to see all of your friends. By skipping the ISTE Exhibit Hall and the Blogger Cafe, I missed a lot. On the other hand, I was able to catch up with several, and taking more time with each allowed us to have much more deeply personal conversations. And I would not change that for anything.
And with that, my summer has come to an end. It is back to work next week. But watch out when a 3-day weekend crops up. I may be off again.
As part of my time spent with my good friend RJ, we discussed our spiritual heritage and journeys for a while. It had been on my mind since walking through the Cathedral Basilica the day before, and is my habit if it is on my mind its probably coming out of my mouth.
My spiritual history is one centered on the Pulpit. In the Charismatic, Pentecostal traditions we are known for wonderful music and sincere efforts at praise and worship. The Charismatic movement is more toward “teaching” from the pulpit while the Pentecostal tradition is more toward “preaching.” Pentecostalism more accurately defines me, so I grew up hearing fiery sermons on hell and holiness that causes one to want to find an altar and repent as quickly as possible. I think I went forward for salvation nearly every week in many of my teen years.
When you look at architecture, Pentecostal/Charismatic churches are designed with the Pulpit front and center. This is neither good nor bad in my opinion, but it has led to some who fill that space to think more highly of themselves than perhaps they ought. And it has caused those of us listening to hold them up higher than they deserve. Television pastors and evangelists have proven this downside more times than I care to recount.
Catholicism and other “high church” traditions are geared much more toward the Altar. The pulpit is set off to one side. Priests give homilies rather than lengthy sermons. The emphasis, both by tradition and by architecture is centered fully on the Altar. It is, after all, at the altar where the priest connects the congregation to the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ through the act of Holy Communion.
I have been blessed to be in both traditions at various times, and I find them both spiritually fulfilling. But it is in the area of Ritual that I find myself moving away from my Pentecostal/Charismatic past and finding a sense of belonging and community within the larger Body of Christ known simply as The Church.
Some within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement attempt this. They celebrate Advent, observe Lent, and attempt to move Communion away from plastic cups and animal crackers. But it often still feels like something “stuck on” as an after thought.
There is a “togetherness” that happens in ritual. And when it is gone, there is separation and “apartness.”
Think of it in terms of the family dinner table. I grew up in a time when the family generally sat down together around a single table to have dinner. It was often nearly the same time every evening. Things stopped. Phone calls went unanswered. Discussions took place. And bonds were formed. The experience was about satisfying the family.
Today I find myself eating in my car more times than I care to accept. I stay connected to others through texts, emails, and Facebook posts on my phone. I eat quickly. I eat in silence. The experience is about satisfying me.
And this is where my mind goes when I think about ritual in the church. There is a connectedness found within the act itself that lifts up the Church as a sacrifice to God. Without it, there is a move me if you can attitude that pervades our mindset.
I know this. Yet I don’t live this. At least not right now. But there is a longing in my heart to belong again. To connect again. To be part of something bigger than myself.
Philadelphia has been a great trip so far. As with most things in life, it hasn’t been exactly what I planned, but perhaps its better.
I had ever intention of walking through ISTE’s exhibit hall and seeing some friends that hang out in the Blogger Cafe and other places. But, the best intentions are sometimes just not enough. Walking. Exploring. Photographing. These are the things of this trip, and they have been great.
Today, Mark Smith and I trekked down nearly a mile to grab breakfast at Sam’s Morning Glory Diner (the Finer Diner). And…it…was…marvelous! A little hole-in-the-wall place with the friendliest waiter and some amazingly good food. I think when Mark and I are together again at a conference we are going to need to do a morning podcast about where to get the best breakfasts!
From there I took a long, meandering route over to the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul (nearly 2 more miles). Today I had my tripod and two fully charged batteries ready to tackle the place. It is gorgeous inside and out. On the way I stumbled into a little church (I didn’t catch the name) that was being renovated inside. It was also a beautiful chapel.
So I spent the first half of my day reflecting on the greatness of God and man’s attempt to demonstrate His greatness by offering up the most beautiful edifices as a place of community and worship. It brought me back to the theology of the altar and the pulpit and how various Christian traditions emphasize one over the other when both are equally important.
The second half of my day was spent with another long-distance DEN friend, Kimberly Wright. She was brave enough to tag along with me as I went to the East State Penitentiary to scout around and take more pictures. We had a fabulous lunch at Jack’s Firehouse. The food was amazing. The service was exceptionally slow, but we were too busy talking and talking and talking to worry about it.
After that, I was just tired. And it was about to rain. Big time. So I came back to the hotel where I believe I will be hibernating for the evening.
Tomorrow is another travel day. But not before breakfast with more friends….
We interrupt this photography walkabout stream of blog posts for the main reason why I even made this trip.
RJ and I met at my first DEN national meeting way back when we were in Silver Spring, Maryland, and 1 Discovery Plaza. In those days I knew absolutely nothing about technology in the classroom. I was invited to attend because I had streamed more Discovery Education videos than pretty much any other teacher in the state. And I’m glad I did.
There is absolutely nothing about our personalities that would immediately tell you that we would become fast friends. RJ’s vivacious love of life fills the room when she enters. I usually sit in the corner and people watch. I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger. Until I get to know you, you would get much out of me sometimes. She already had over 30 years in the classroom. I think I had 3.
The 2nd time we were together she walked up to me with a martini in hand and said, laughingly, “I bet you don’t even remember my name do you?” She had me pegged. Names have always been a problem for me. So I just lied and said, “Of course I do!” But she knew better.
RJ has battled two different types of cancer and a very rare blood disease and came out a winner. By all accounts she should have been taken from us two or three times over the last few years. But watching her progress on Facebook showed her continually smiling, telling how good life is, and pointing that thumb up to give the its-all-good signal for the world to see. (She held it up for me again today in the picture above).
I am at ISTE, but I’m not really at ISTE. I have not registered for sessions. I haven’t even used the pass for the Exhibit Hall I was given. I am in Philly because I promised RJ a cup of coffee on me. This morning, I got to pay up.
I got to spend about 4 hours with RJ today. And we shared a fantastic lunch time with another great friend, Danielle Abernathy. Listening to her laugh, watching her eyes beaming with joy, and sharing our life stories with one another was exactly what I needed.
I cannot even begin to describe the joy that is in my heart today after this visit. RJ, you are an inspiration to so many. But you are a very special angel to me. I love you, my friend. You embody the heart and soul of what it means to be an educator. But more than that, you embody the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being.