Eyes on the back of my head!

When I was in preschool,

My teachers, they’d tape

Eyes to the back of our heads

As a reward for sleeping.


Creeping around they would

Tape green, blue, brown, purple…

Eyes to our hair, and I wanted them.

But I had miles to go before I’d sleep.


Me, I’d jump around on the makeshift cots,

Grabbing another girl’s hand,

Pulling her into my four-year-old freedom.

Tip, tap, tip, tap. THE TEACHER’S COMING BACK.

To our beds, to pretend we’re sleeping.


Quiet, breathe, in, out,

She steps


The room.


Blinking, blinking,

Eyes, they close,

The blanket, warm

Upon my nose.

I had miles to go before I’d sleep,

But now,

I think,

I might.


I awake,

Eyes blinking,

A mile wide.

My hands jerk


To the back

Of my head.


I feel!



Just above

The nape of my neck!


I had miles to go before I’d sleep,

And now–

Mine to keep–

I have earned!


On the back of my head!



A twizzler, half-eaten, sitting on a chair

Is better than finding a pile of hair.


Strange things my students do–

Oh, do I have stories for you.


I once had a student, Michael M.,

Who questioned all students, asking ‘em,


“Can I have just one of your hairs?”

For him, each peer plucked out one of theirs.


Curly and straight, blonde and brown:

The hairs in his hand caused me to frown.


“Michael, this is weird,” I said,

“Taking hairs from your peers’ heads…”


He looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

Then he threw them away to avoid any fights.

Bravery Is (Day 3)





April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem features a play on #FreeVerseFriday. I encourage you to think about form and how your words play together on the page. Feel free to send me any #freeversefriday poems you’ve created, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

1,000 Mile Running Challenge

Tomorrow, our quest to #Run1000Miles begins. Join us!

My New Normal

1 year. 12 months. 365 days.

1,000 miles.

1 Challenge.

Over the last four years I have begun the wonderful relationship of loving and hating running.  My sister Heather, my wife Emily, and a few other members of our family, as well as friends, have slowly pulled me into the world that is running, not only as a hobby, but also as a way to stay healthy.  The past two years I have set goals to run with friends in the 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon Relay and the 2014 Pittsburgh Half Marathon.  It is starting to become an annual tradition that, each fall, we all signup to run one of Pittsburgh’s marathon events come May.

After completing the 2014 Pittsburgh Half Marathon last May I quickly looked to 2015 and started talking to Heather and Emily about what race we should do.  Although walking was quite difficult after the race, there…

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Poll: How introverted are you? The results.

In a world of celebrated extroverts, we have to remember it’s okay to be an introvert too. It’s okay, it’s okay…Thank you Susan Cain for empowering us all with your words in this brilliant TED talk.

TED Blog

Susan Cain is an introvert—but did an incredible job at TED2012. We want to know: Take our poll to share your insights. Photo: James Duncan Davidson Susan Cain is an introvert—but she stepped in front of hundreds to present her idea at TED2012. We wanted to know: How introverted are you? Here is what the TED community had to say. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

In her TED Talk “The Power of Introverts,” Susan Cain illuminates the many subtle ways our culture favors extroversion and gives some great ideas for how introverts can better shine at school, at work and in everyday life. This talk certainly struck a nerve — it’s been viewed more than 8 million times since it was posted in 2012. So we got curious: how introverted is the TED community?

Earlier this week, we asked you to take an 8-question poll about where you fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. What you had to say was truly fascinating. Here’s a recap:

More than 1,174 of you answered our first question, which asked how closely you identified with…

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Collections vs. Collaborations in the Classroom

Our lecture last night sparked many enlightening discussions, but the idea of “collections vs. collaborations” was the first thing I thought of this morning after my alarm went off. I couldn’t shake the idea, and I find it necessary to dissect it a bit more to figure out what implications it truly has in education, and more specifically in my classroom.

A collaborative quality is one of the twenty-first century skills that the workplace requires in any prospective new hire. This brought to mind a statistic shared in one of my last professional development trainings at my middle school: the top ten jobs today did not exist ten years ago. How, then, are we to prepare today’s students for the future? We must be constantly preparing for the unforeseeable, and we must give our students skills they may need, not facts which can be committed to rote memory.

One of the problems I am seeing in my classroom is that, when given group work, my students tend to create collective works, rather than collaborative works. It is easy for students to “work together” and divide up parts (i.e. “I’ll take odds, you take evens…”) The parts exist together, yes, but beyond discussing “who takes what” students are not actually interacting or collaborating. We must push our students beyond cooperating and coexisting, and into the realm of sharing ideas and creating better ideas together. “Two heads are better than one” has not stuck with us through the ages for lack of meaning.


In my English classroom, I have tried various ideas to get students to truly collaborate, and I believe the more heads we can get to work together, the better. In seventh grade, students are just learning to develop and own these collaborative skills. When giving students a group project, one of the first things I have students do is assign each member a role. They are all accountable for creating the product as a team, but they are in charge of a specific aspect of keeping their “collaborative machine” on track. During a stations rotations activity in which groups read aloud various texts and were in charge of discussing and deciding the texts genre, students held one of the following teacher-created roles: Spokesperson, Reader, Genre Judge, Main Idea Master, Time Keeper, Clean Up Crew. While it took a lot of setting up (and debriefing afterward, with students discussing what went well and what they could improve), this “everyone-has-a-role” approach truly aided my students in working efficiently and collaboratively. It is to the point now where I can give my students a new project and tell them to decide which jobs may be needed for the project and who will fit which role best.

Teachers must give and demonstrate to students the framework for a collaborative environment, and after practicing working within the structure, students can truly begin to own the idea of collaboration. My students amazed me as we continued completing more group projects in the classroom; they created unique job titles like captain, encouragement coach, and artist. In my experience, our students may need help seeing what collaborative work looks and feels like. Collective work and collaborative work are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but our students need to know that collective work and collaborative work are not interchangeable.

Do Your Best! It’s Just A Test!

In our collaborative learning team (CLT), we discussed different strategies for reviewing material for our standardized test, the Virginia SOL, which is this Wednesday. Given that it was Memorial Day today, and we have but one day left, someone proposed the idea of a Pep Rally Day.

Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

I instantly loved the idea. One of my colleagues specifically proposed the idea of writing our students a Pump Up Letter. Combined with my reading and research for my graduate school program this week on Pecha Kucha presentation technique, I decided to make a bit of a pump-up pep talk video based on this minimalist approach.

It is my hope that my students will take the test seriously, but not too seriously. After all, we cannot let a test result decide our fate. We cannot let a test define us.

We believe in you, Students! It’s time to Show Our Learning!



& All Your Teachers

Online Content as “Continuous Conversations”

We must always grapple with the issue of how to make education meaningful, purposeful, and significant for every student. No matter the millennia, I believe humans will always be prone to dazzling distractions and self-serving entertainment or knowledge. Time has shown us that technology affords us new, exciting learning experiences, but that does not mean the learning will stick: Baron shares his memory of education programs on the radio in class, “though I don’t remember any of the programs we heard.” Yes, we have a new technology, computers, to help and hurt learning in the classroom, but it is not as if history has not seen this before.

Carr contends that today’s technology, or “Google” as a general catch-all, is making humans stupid. While I agree that we have many more diverse concerns in the classroom (How do we get students to read and appreciate a novel when they can find a dozen suitable summaries online? How can we capture students’ focus in the classroom on a single topic when that is not what the internet provides or demands of them at any other time?) I have to argue that our students are learning to efficiently find what they need at any time. It is not such a bad thing if our students do not remember everything they read. Indeed, have students ever? There is more of an emphasis now not on “knowing things” but on “knowing how to find things”.  The fact is, Carr is swayed more by personal anecdotes and the possibility of future long-term studies on brain function, than he is by any actual facts (though we can argue yet again: what are facts anymore in today’s society?)

Claburn has produced an article, both in name and in content, that provides a diametrically opposing view to Carr. “Is Google Making Us Smarter” suggests that “searching the Internet may help improve brain function.” I have to admit, it sounds as though Carr and Claburn are actually arguing similar things, but wording them in different ways to prove their points. Carr might well say that brain function is changing for the worse, as we quickly glaze over content and barely focus or remember any one thing; Claburn, however, says that brain function is improved through perusing the internet, finding that it actually “engage[s] a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading.“ In Claburn’s article, he is able to “converse” with Carr in a way, presenting his findings, agreeing with Carr on certain points, and highlighting that “Carr’s concern about the impact of the Internet on the way we think isn’t misplaced.” If Carr wanted to, he could continue the conversation in yet another article, most likely posted online, reaching a large audience, among which would probably be a curious Claburn.

In Baron’s book, A Better Pencil, he took great care to teach us about Plato’s first misgivings about text, that a text, once inscribed, would be “orphaned by its author once it’s on the page” and that a text “cannot defend itself against a misreading.” How would readers know if they were right? Well, Plato, perhaps the conversation was never meant to be contained between two people. Interactions, conversations, and texts have evolved to be much more than that. Perhaps it is alright if the conversation continues and is passed on to others. Carr’s conversation, after all, incited a conversation by Claburn, which incited a conversation at the University of Illinois, which incited this conversation by me (the author) to you (the reader). As a student, I don’t feel any worse off reading others’ thoughts and forming my own, and to be honest, I never would have had this conversation or access to this content without the internet.

How does this opposing conversation relate to today’s ever-accessible technology and its place in our classrooms? I think we need to be transparent with our students: technology can and will lead you astray at times; you will be able to find any and all information, but what you choose to do with it is up to you. We must teach our students to be responsible when searching and using the internet. We must teach our students how to identify accuracy of information, but now, more than ever, I think our focus needs to shift to identifying bias. We must teach our students to evaluate a text to see if reading through the whole thing will even be worth their time because, my apologies, Carr, but I do not believe that spending hours reading through entire articles will provide any more lasting memories for our students than will browsing, taking notes on important points, and moving on to continue the browsing-reading process.

How must we adjust as a society and as educators? We must not only accept that there is an over-abundance of information, but we should also expect to be distrustful of online texts at first, and after evaluating, these texts can earn our trust. (You’re right on that account, Plato.) How are we to “evaluate” a text per se? That’s where the true struggle is: online texts are changing all the time. Where there used to be an epic battle against Wikipedia, with educators at the forefront, we are now realizing that it’s not such a bad place to get the general, simple summary of something, as long as facts are checked and double-checked. Where looking at the website address and seeing .org, .edu, or .gov used to be completely credible, we now have to ask what the purpose of each specific site is and who is funding it.

What will I be teaching my students?

Dear Students,

The internet can be a helpful, magical place, or it can be a hurtful, tragical place, if you let it. The internet, and all technologies including printed material for that matter, allow us to transport ourselves to other eras and to other places. Technology allows us to have conversations with others around the world and in other times. No, the original poster may not be able to reply to you, but that knowledge is passed on, so that YOU can learn and continue the conversation. There are no “right” answers to every question anymore. There are certainly still wrong answers though (2+2 will not equal 5, no matter how credible a source appears). However, the emphasis now is on making up your own mind after considering multiple sources, being able to provide support for your argument, and allowing technology and its ample resources to support your needs for whatever you’re doing: an English project, a college research paper, a grant application for your career.

You can navigate the Internet, Students. Just be smart about it.

Love, Your Teacher

Dear Teachers,

We must teach our students not just to think for themselves, but to ask questions of the world they live in and how they are to responsibly interact with and positively impact it.

Love, A Fellow Teacher