Thoughts, links & ideas from the 2008 National Teacher of the Year

Each time I've taken off in a plane since May (which is a lot), I've been writing in my journal, then adding these journal entries on this blog.

Check in often, or subscribe to get headlines fed to you! Oh, and the views expressed here are not those of anyone but me.  And anyone who happens to share the same views, I guess.

(Note: the blue posted dates are actually the dates I wrote the journal entries, not when I posted them online.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Your Holiday Homework Assignment

Okay, so a couple of my readers (i.e. half of my loyal following) have wondered what on earth they will do when I remove myself from civilization for three weeks and retreat to a remote beach in Mexico, far from suits, conferences, airplanes, and (gasp!) my computer!  Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do: not much of anything related to suits, conferences, airplanes or computers.


We're going to surf, sleep, eat, play, make music, and listen to the ancient sound of the pounding waves.  We won't be showering much, but we'll be smiling plenty.  Ah, the good life.  [pictured are my cousin, Mike, and my son, Aspen (always training!)]


As for the rest of you, don't worry.  I have a plan to keep your inquisitive and insatiable appetites for more National Teacher celebrity gossip and deeply meaningful pedagogical discussion well fed.  Here's how it works:


Look back to some of the previous posts (there are now 63 of them, easily accessible from the Blog Archive on the sidebar, right) and re-read them.  Then, in an effort to make this more of a discussion (say "Web 2.0") post a comment or two!  I must say that Paul Bunyan and RunningGal have been the teacher’s pets in the comment arena, and a few of you have chimed in from time to time.  But in the spirit of good teaching, I’m going to leave the discussion to all of you.


Perhaps my absence will be a good thing.  Perhaps it will renew my hope that I’m not just spouting off into oblivion.  Perhaps we’ll build a community here.  It’s up to you.


I would propose the following guideline:  check in just as often as you always have, but each time you visit for the next three weeks, instead of reading a new post from yours truly, read an old post or a colleagues comment and leave a new comment.  (Dad, this means that there should be approximately 84 comments from you.)


You don’t have to be a blogger to comment, you don’t have to use your real name if you don’t want to (although Paul Bunyan does,) you don’t have to sign up for anything, and you can even post anonymously.  There is no risk whatsoever!  But the rewards are great.  Think of all the brownie points you will earn.


Feel free to disagree, challenge, question, and wreak havoc while I’m gone (but keep it clean, eh?  This is a family show.)  I want to see some discussion, not just “you’re the best thing since sliced bread, Mike!”  A couple of those are nice for brownie points, but keep it real.


Happy holidays.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Halfway to the Moon

Redmond, OR

Well, I’m halfway to the moon.  According to my flight tracker, I’ve logged enough airline miles to circumnavigate the earth nearly 5 times, or fly halfway to the moon.  I’ve spent almost eight full 40-hour workweeks in the air since May (and that’s not counting all the time sitting on the plane waiting to take off or deplane, or the time in airports, or in taxis, or…)


Time-wise, I’m about halfway done with my reign as Mr. Teacher of the Year.  So I have a big decision to make: do I turn around now and hope to make it back home by next summer, or do I keep flying toward the moon?


I am, of course, speaking metaphorically.  I have made dozens upon dozens of trips, but each of them has included a return journey.  In fact, I’m actually sitting on my couch right now (my first official post not originally written while on a plane!  Does it feel different to you?  To me, it feels, well… much more comfortable.)


Jen says, “Go to the moon!  It’s the trip of a lifetime!”


“But how will I get back,” I am compelled to ask.


“Oh, we’ll figure that out later,” she assures me.  “You’ll probably have enough frequent flyer miles to at least get out of the moon’s weaker gravitational pull.”


I think what she is trying to say is “enjoy the journey, and go hard until the end of it.”  She fully supports me returning to the classroom next year.  She knows that’s where my heart is, and where I get so much of my creative energy.  But the journey wouldn’t be quite as unique if I turned around half way.


My flight tracker also informs me that I’m just over 1/1000th of the way to the Sun.  I don’t think that destination is worth the effort.  Plus, I’d burn up and stuff.

(Scientific note: The diagram above is to scale in terms of the moon's distance to the earth in relation to it's diameter.  Farther than you think, eh?  I am not to scale in the diagram, though.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thinking About the Box

Redmond, OR


The cardboard box.  Within the cardboard box lies the future of all humanity.  Children recognize this potential, and act!


It is a shelter, a space ship, a table, an outhouse (my kids have very active imaginations.)  The possibilities are endless, and children enter a different world when they enter the box.  It is their world.


We’ve all seen children ignore the contents of a box, choosing instead to sail the vessel in which those contents were packaged.  Perhaps it is this limitless appeal that encouraged the National Museum of Play to add the cardboard box to its Hall of Fame in 2005.  (Just a month ago, they added the lowly stick.  I was in agreement, remembering the time that my own children entertained themselves on a 7-hour road trip with a stick and a drinking straw.  No, they’re not weird.  They’re just more creative than we are.  They’re free.  They’re children.)


It is this imaginative spirit, this creativity, this freedom, which hold the future of humanity.  They hold our cultural and economic futures.  These are the qualities that make us uniquely human, and are essential in the increasingly technological and global world in which we live.


We need to teach our children, yes, but we ought to be learning from them, as well.  Learning how to recognize the potential, and act!  Learning to not only think inside the box, or outside the box, but to ask "what can I create with this box?" or “where can this box take me?"


Our response to the potential of the box may very well determine whether our nation is destined to live in a cardboard box, or whether we will sail it to the stars.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Hartford, CT


Passionate.  Cooperative.  Always learning.  Creative.  Hard-working.  Team player.  Inquisitive.


On and on they went (not as many –ing words as I might have expected from several hundred ING employees!)  These were the qualifications for someone they would hire to work with them at one of the world’s leading financial management companies (which is also a major supporter of the Teacher of the Year program and other education programs.)


After a dozen such wonderful adjectives, I finally had to ask, “what about knowledge?  Knowledge of markets, of analysis, of tax law?”


The two main responses:  “Oh, knowledge should be a given,” and “Specific knowledge can be easily learned by a person with these other qualities.”


Fairly astute observations that these business people made about education and what we should be more formally valuing in our students!  I think when we have a more balanced approach from our leadership, we find that these qualities begin to emerge from our students on a more regular basis and more consistently across the demographic gaps.  Not only would it be better preparation for our students as corporate workers in the 21st century, but as global citizens, too.  Perhaps we ought to listen more carefully to some of our major stakeholders, and less to our educational traditions.