Small Reminders

This remote learning stuff has its ups and downs. Yesterday I got a couple reminders that the seemingly ordinary and unremarkable things in my teaching can make a difference. 

The first reminder was a thank you email from a student. It was a small gesture, but it meant a lot since I’ve felt disconnected and dejected about this e-learning stuff at multiple points the past few weeks. 

The second reminder was the reveal of next year’s agenda book cover for school. One of my students won!

Her skills and detail are amazing, but I couldn’t help notice she included a Post-It note of slope-intercept form (y = mx+b) with a smiley face in a prominent place among all the the other academic and extracurricular details in her drawing. 

The equation is something I mention all the time throughout the year and encourage students to write down for reference. I never thought it would be something a student would choose to include in an art competition entry. 

The smiley face was similar to the random smiley faces and smiling cat pictures I would find on my desk before or after class every so often throughout the year. They were usually left on my desk when a day had an above average level of stress. It’s nice to know that small token of kindness will be an ongoing reminder for next year’s students whenever they jot down assignments or frantically flip to a multiplication chart.

“I wonder if we might pledge ourselves to remember what life is really all about – not to be afraid that we’re less flashy than the next, not to worry that our influence is not that of a tornado, but rather that of a grain of sand in an oyster! Do we have that kind of patience?”

Fred Rogers

It can be easy to lose sight of the small grains of sand I place through my teaching, chalking it up to being ordinary or unremarkable; however, it’s those grains that lead to pearls like these reminders.

21 Days of Gratitude Days 19-20: Coworkers and Cards.

Last year, I had all my classes take a minute to think about the people in their lives that it make it better. After sharing a quote about gratitude and drawing attention to the fact that that thinking gratitude and doing something because of it are two different things, I gave students the rest of the period to make Thanksgiving cards for the people in their lives.

I did the same thing today. A few students have the typical “I’m too cool for this thing,” but most realize it’s a unique opportunity and make something thoughtful for a family member, friend, teacher, coach, or other person.

I love the activity as much as the students because I get a chance to write something for my coworkers. I’m grateful for each of them and writing something on here wouldn’t have the personal feel of a written note.

Today, I took time to write to some coworkers and let them know how much I appreciate them as teachers, coworkers, friends, and people. Each of them has helped me grow as a teacher, whether it was the result of me seeking advice or just by example. Each of them has helped me grow as a person as a result of their continual care for my overall well-being. In the process of writing, I discovered that it was often the small things they do that stuck out in my mind.

My #teacherleader goal from TMC this year was to thank more teachers. Today reminded me how I need to take a few minutes each week to write or speak to a coworker about what they do that helps me, helps students, and helps my school grow.

21 Days of Gratitude Days 16-18: Family

I’m grateful for my family.

I’m thankful for the family alive today who have always been there for me and continue to having that loving influence in my life day by day.

I’m thankful for family that has only gotten stronger with time.  The relationships which may have been distant at times or awkward have healed and deepened as a result of shared joys and grief.

I’m thankful for the family who are now fully alive in eternity.  I’m grateful for the love that continues to shape my life long after their physical presence has ceased.  I’m thankful for the life lived with them and my life that continues to speak to their impact.  Their memory continues to provide me with moments when words fail.

I’m thankful for the family I am related to by blood, but I’m also thankful for the family I am related to by faith and choice.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to bear the depths of grief without the love of friends who gave their time to listen, spoke reminders of important truths, asked me how I was really doing, and provided moments of joy and comfort to help me remember that beauty of life.  Whether a shoulder to cry on (literally) in the anguish of grief or a warm embrace to celebrate the gift of a newborn baby or marriage,  I’m grateful for the love these people have given.  I only hope that my words and actions express the gratitude and love I have for these people in return.




21 Days of Gratitude Day 15: Slope Dude

I know it’s lame.

I know it’s something Sarah Carter has written about a lot.

I know it’s kind of a memorization tool.

I still love using the video.

I’m grateful for Slope Dude.

I show this video a couple days after starting slope.  Each year, the reaction from students is different:

  • 2016/2017 School Year – Blank stares and multiple students saying, “What?”
  • 2017/2018 School Year – Some students mildly entertained and a handful instantly saying the phrases out loud in step with the video.  “Puff puff positive. Nice negative. This is zero fun. UNDEFINED!”
  • 2018/2019 School Year – Some students mildly entertained.  One student asked, “When was this video made? It looks old.”

I love using the video to help students revisit how to read a graph on a coordinate plane (looking left to right) and how to check their work when finding slope from a graph.  Check out Sarah Carter’s posts for more information about it.

Last year and this year, I also used Slope Dude to help students get familiar with function behavior.

Every student got a copy of the Slope Dude visual with a coordinate plane layered behind it to use for notes about function behavior:

Slope Dude Function Behavior

After revisiting what Slope Dude says about each part of the journey, I changed things up a bit to introduce function behavior.  We add labels and units to the axes to tell a different story:

Writing Equations Practice Book Function Behavior 1819_8.png

Rather than being a picture of Slope Dude’s journey, it’s now a graph of his skiing trip.  The first part of the graph is Slope Dude at the ski lift station.  The second part is Slope Dude riding the ski lift up the hill.  The segment with the the negative slope is Slope Dude skiing down the slope after hopping off the lift.  The segment of the graph with a slope of 0 is Slope Dude skiing in the field at the bottom of the hill, stopping to take off his skis, and walking around for a bit as he tries to find a ski lift to go up another hill.  I didn’t include a description for the vertical segment, but I’m sure I could’ve went with something ridiculous like Slope Dude mistakenly walked out on the ice of a pond in the field and fell through it.

What I love about this arrangement is it quickly leads to the vocabulary for describing functions (increasing, decreasing, constant) and students see the connection to slope.  I also like how I get to stress that the graph is no longer a picture.  Because of the labels and scale of the axes, it’s no longer just about Slope Dude skiing uphill, downhill, across a field, or falling over a cliff.  The graph can now tell a more complex story like the one I wrote in the last paragraph, but it’s still relatively simple to understand (which is why we make graphs in the first place).

I know it’s not the greatest lesson in the world, but I like the way I was able make slope the common thread throughout an instructional unit and use a recurring example for different purposes.

I’m thankful for Slope Dude (and Sarah Carter for blogging about that video before I ever even had to teach it).

21 Days of Gratitude Days 13-14: Relaxed Days

My classes today were pretty laid back.

Math was basically students talking about homework in groups, a brief recap of graphing lines from slope-intercept form, and time to work on some practice pages in preparation for a test at the end of the week.  I spent the majority of each period checking in with students here and there, making conversation, and answering questions about a couple tricky questions.  At the end of class, I told students to choose the practice page that showed their strongest work from the period.  When I graded it later, it didn’t feel like grading at all because most papers were 10/10.

Science involved students staring into a lava lamp for a minute, then using the oozing wax to develop an understanding of density and convection.  We drew some diagrams for notes and I described convection and plate tectonics, then we wrapped up the period by looking for coastlines that match up on a world map (think South America and Africa) to lead into continental drift.  My questions were stronger than the past few lessons and for the first time in a while, my science classes matched the pacing I envisioned in my planning.

Throughout the day, there were multiple moments where I couldn’t help thinking, “Thank you.” I love the conversations I have with students on relaxed days, whether it’s  as they work in groups (like math class) or the whole class (like science class).  I’m grateful these days have the right balance of academic and social talk.  It was awesome to hear and see students in math class help each other without any prompting from me.  What stood out most in my mind today was that since I was relaxed and confident in what students were doing, I was able to be fully present in each moment.  I’m thankful for being able to practice presence today.  I hope to make it a more frequent element of my teaching.


21 Days of Gratitude Day 12: Former Students

Today was a decent day overall, but it got a bit brighter when I went to the high school to work the scoreboard for a basketball game.  Before the game started, a couple students from last year walked over to talk for a couple minutes.  It was just some pleasantries, but I’m always grateful for a chance to see how former students are doing in school and in their interests.  I was especially glad to see these students because they grew into leaders in my classroom and it seems like they’re carrying that confidence with them into their new surroundings.

When I was driving home after the game, I thought about other former students I’ve seen this year.  Since this year is my fifth at the middle school, it’s finally been a mix of freshman and upperclassmen who I end up crossing paths with at school events or around town.  Regardless of the circumstance, the conversations have been defined by a few notable characteristics:

  • The former students are happy to see me (even ones I wondered if they hated my guts when they were in my class).  Most are surprised by the shorter hair and bushier beard.
  • The conversations include questions about academics and interests.
  • I’m surprised I remember as much as I do about each student.
  • The students seem surprised at my memory, too.

I’m grateful for the chance to see former students unexpectedly.  The conversations are needed reminders that what I do makes a difference and that teaching is not something that’s solely academic.  Sometimes the struggle of each school year can be feeling like I’m building temporary relationships; however, it’s conversations like the one I had today that remind me that these relationships endure.

21 Days of Gratitude Day 9-11: Too Difficult to Express in Words.

I’m thankful for the moments where words fail.

I’m grateful for the people who’s mere memory causes my heart to well up with love, my eyes to well up with tears, and all adjectives and descriptions to seem inept.

When the words fail, I’m reminded of what really matters: the people in our lives (in flesh and in memory) and the wonderful capacity that each person has to express and receive love.  While words may help, I’m thankful for the ways that love requires no words at all.


21 Days of Gratitude Day 8: Silence

Sometimes I need silence to think.

Sometimes I need silence to listen.

Sometimes I need silence to just clear my mind entirely.

I am thankful what can happen and not happen in silence. I’m thankful for the calm that can wash over me in these moments, even when life seems so hectic and stressful. I’m grateful for what I learn about myself in the quiet moments.

21 Days of Gratitude Day 7: Flexibility

My computer froze this morning. At first I thought it was the typical wait 5 minutes and hold the power button to fix it kind of thing, but an hour later I was sending in a help message to the IT department for our district.

I quickly adjusted to doing everything old school today. I wrote examples on the whiteboard. I stated directions instead of using music cues.

The IT guy for our building showed up quickly. I’m thankful for his diligence. I found out from him that my computer was toast. Apparently, the hard drive was part of a bad batch. Fortunately, he told me he would replace it and have it back to me before the end of the day. He came back before noon and took a moment to tell me how to finish setting up the device.

One thing I’m always grateful for is when I have to switch around my plans like today, but the lesson still works. In the moment, I felt a little off-balance and that the day was a mess. In reality, my students probably noticed very little was different other than a slower pace than normal. I’m thankful I’ve gotten more flexible with making changes on the fly.

21 Days of Gratitude: Days 5 & 6

Days 5 and 6 get combined because it was a long two days.

Yesterday, I spent the morning at Institute workshops.  I usually find myself nodding off at Institute sessions, but I had a good time!  I spent one session revisiting Meyers-Briggs using the idea of personality colors.  My big take-away from the session is paying attention to the personalities of my students and coworkers in order to figure out what encouragement is best for them.  At the other session, I got to learn about the fascinating history behind improv games (surprisingly, a lot of them started as way for English Language Learners to get practice communicating) and got a chance to see how a coworker uses them in his classes to build a caring atmosphere and student confidence.  I’m grateful for the people who presented being well-prepared (no reading from PowerPoints!) and that my district switched to a workshop format where teachers get choices.

Yesterday evening and today, my school had parent-teacher conferences.  I was surprised at how many appointments were filled this year.  I always have a little nervousness before conferences, but (like always) it quickly dissolved as soon as I got into the first few conversations.  Every year seems to have a recurring topic in my conversations.  This year, responsibility was the word that kept appearing.  Many times, it was me expressing to parents that I appreciated the responsibility I observed in their children.  Sometimes, it was parents bringing up the topic themselves and acknowledging their children have a ways to go in their journey.  A few times, responsibility was the word that characterized the needed changes to make the next quarter better.

I’m thankful for the conversations I had with parents.  Conferences are a much needed reminder that parents care deeply, try to set limits, and encourage their children to grow in character.  I’m thankful for the parents who are trying to find the delicate balance of fostering their children’s independence, while providing the support and guidance every adolescent needs as they navigate school, activities, and relationships.  While email and phone calls are ubiquitous, there’s something more personal and effective when talking with a person face-to-face.  With so many forms of communication that can feel rushed or a task to be done, I’m thankful for the chance to slow down and dialogue with parents.