Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

My Blogless Year

…or, ‘And Nothing of Value was Lost’.

Several months ago, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in over ten years prior: take a conscious, long-term break from regular (i.e., monthly) blogging.

It didn’t start that way, of course (nothing ever does, does it?). I’ve been blogging in this space regularly since August 2007. The span from August 2007 to December 2018 is a little over 11 years. Thinking of it in other terms, that’s over half my career and nearly a quarter of my life. Clearly I must have found value in the practice to have stuck with it for so long, but at this time last year, I guess I was just, for lack of a better term… done. January 2019 came and went without feeling the urge to put pen to paper, then February… I think by March I was pretty sure I needed to give myself permission to just shut it all down for a while, rather than beat myself up over yet another month gone by without me writing anything public.

It’s interesting how these habits we develop can turn into feeling like obligations. That’s not always a bad thing: it’s how my exercise habit has stayed as consistent as it has over the course of my entire adult life. It’s how I managed to complete two graduate programs on time (and on budget!). And, until recently, it’s what’s kept me reflecting in this semi-public place about my practice.

So what happened?

Aside from the usual “life gets in the way” stuff, I think, for me, as I’ve moved up the administrative hierarchy, I’ve felt more and more vulnerable about putting my reflections out there. Please believe, reflection is still a major part of my practice – I do it often, by myself and with colleagues (and I work with the greatest team of folks who not only push my own reflection, but encourage me to push theirs as well). But I guess that as a classroom teacher and school psychologist, I just felt less put out there writing about what went well and what didn’t go as planned in my classroom or my practice. Over the last few years as a K-12 department supervisor and now as an assistant principal, I have struggled with the public reflection piece more than I did in other positions.

As I draft this and push myself to think about why that might be, I am thinking that when I was a teacher, it was about what I was doing in my classroom. Regardless of how objectively true it was or wasn’t, my perception was that I was writing about me, myself, and I. The further away I have gotten from my own classroom, the more stakeholders – students, teachers, administrators, parents, board members – are involved in my practice. Perhaps I fear my personal reflections, considerations, and questions being twisted, taken out of context, or otherwise impacting my colleagues in ways I didn’t consider likely (or just didn’t consider at all) years ago.

Perhaps these concerns are not well-founded; I’m certainly open to that possibility. Perhaps I just need to find a better way to write about what I might want to write about in ways that won’t have implications for confidentiality or propriety. Perhaps my perspective has shifted with age (I started blogging at 30; I’m 42 as I write this). Perhaps I just need to get over myself.

Miscellaneous Observations from 2019

  • People still read this blog. I get hits daily for a variety of posts but the most visited post of 2019 (and overall) is this one from 2012 in which I describe my transition from high school English teacher to school psychologist. The really cool part is that people still leave comments asking me for advice as they face similar decisions and transitions – the most recent one came in August of this year!
  • Control is an illusion. As a general principle, I’ve come to accept in my adult life and often advise others of it, but this truism punched me square in the nose this year in a way it hasn’t in a very long time. I generally believe it’s better to be proactive than reactive, but in some cases, reactive is all you can be.
  • Relationships still matter. Content knowledge matters. Theory matters. It all matters, and if someone tells you otherwise, make sure they’re not trying to sell you something. Still, the relationships we develop with students, colleagues, and families facilitate all the other stuff to a large degree; at least, that has been my experience over the last two decades in this profession, and I have experienced how both the existence and absence of strong (or at least burgeoning) relationships can impact our work.
  • Lifelong learning’ doesn’t have to be just a buzzphrase. I continue to read voraciously (most, but not all, books about my profession and/or books I think will help me improve my practice), and I put many miles on my library card this year, as well as got the most out of my Audible account. I set a goal of reading 30 books in 2019, and while I managed to double that, I think a more modest goal is appropriate for 2020, as both professional and personal obligations after work hours have increased significantly over previous years. Check out the 60 books I read in 2019 here!

Progress Monitoring: Checking In On My 2018 Reading Challenge

At the risk of turning this blog into a reading log…

As I have for the past few years, in January I took the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge and set myself a goal of reading 30 books in 2018 (I also set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018, but the less said about that right now, the better).

At just past 1/3 of the way through the year, I’ve finished 15 books.  As in past years, I have my 10+ hour weekly commute and access to multiple audiobook sources to thank for much of my productivity here.  In reverse chronological, these are the books I’ve enjoyed so far this year:

  • A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
  • Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus, by Vanessa Grigoriadis
  • The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  • Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter
  • Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, by Jonathan Abrams
  • The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
  • 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (3rd ed.), by Douglas Fisher, William G. Brozo, Nancy Frey, & Gay Ivey
  • Civil War, by Mark Millar
  • Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience, by Indre Viskontas
  • Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, & Strategies, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder
  • A Life in Parts, by Bryan Cranston
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks

I’ve got two books in progress right now: the audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here is my commute buddy for the next week or so, and I’m just about done with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

Next up in the hopper: Morrissey’s Autobiography, and I’m really excited about next month’s American release of the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Irvine Welsh’s Dead Men’s Trousers, a continuation of the events of the Trainspotting universe.

I suppose I like to share the books I’m reading in an effort to provide my fellow educators some suggestions for something valuable to read.  I know I rely heavily on suggestions from friends, colleagues, and social media connections, especially when it comes to books about education.

On a related note, I just wrapped up teaching my first undergraduate course in teaching literacy in the content area classroom, and one of the choice assignments my students could choose was to do a book talk and close reading activity on an education-related book of their choice.

I liked this assignment because it was a low-risk way for students to read something they might not otherwise have the opportunity (or inclination) to read and reflect a bit on why they liked it, and why we might like it too.  While I will definitely refine the parameters of the assignment if I teach the class again, it was interesting to hear my students share their takes on books like Teach Like a PirateReadicide, and Understanding by Design with their classmates.  These are books that I’ve only ever heard discussed through the lens of veteran teachers, so to hear pre-service teachers’ perspectives on them was a treat for me, and more importantly, will hopefully inspire their classmates to read them and consider their messages as well as they head into their own classrooms in the coming months and years.

Resolving to Set Goals for 2018

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I don’t buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  I find January a completely arbitrary time to change behaviors; after all, if you feel strongly enough about a habit or behavior to want to change it, why wait til January 1?

BUT, despite my obnoxious killjoy contrarian leanings, I’m not entirely immune to popular sentiment and I can acknowledge that a calendar year is a perfectly serviceable frame of reference for goal-setting (certainly no more or less arbitrary than school years, no?).  While you won’t find me resolving to exercise regularly (I already lift weights 3-5x/week and run 2x/week, without fail, barring illness or injury) or read more (I read 67 books in 2017; more on these in an upcoming post), I did decide to set some concrete goals in those areas for the coming year.

At Runkeeper‘s insistence, I set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018.  I set similar goals in 2012 (as I recuperated from hip surgery) and 2013 (read about that here).  I readily acknowledge that 300 miles in a year is really not a huge milestone (it averages out to a little under 6 miles a week for 52 weeks), but as I mentioned above, my fitness priority is on weightlifting.  With only so many evenings in a week, if I’m lifting 3-5x/week, that leaves only so much time for running.

Goodreads issued its 8th annual Reading Challenge today, and, like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I had to take the bait.  I upped the ante a bit for 2018, my third year participating in the challenge.  I committed to reading 30 books this year, twice my 2017 commitment but still well within my reach.

So if I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, why did I commit to these two goals on New Year’s Day?  Because it’s not about New Year’s.  It’s about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable (oh, you know the rest) in order to stimulate growth or progress.  I enjoy both reading and running and would likely engage in both activities with or without a specific goal, but it’s also an added bit of extrinsic motivation for when the intrinsic motivation is lacking a bit.

Along these lines, one of the 30 books I will read this year will be done along with my friends and colleagues at work.  A small group of high school assistant principals and instructional supervisors are reading The New American High School, the last book written by Ted Sizer and published posthumously.  Starting next week, we’ll be meeting weekly to discuss, and if it’s half as valuable as the last professional book club in which I participated, it’ll be time very well spent.

2017 Reading Challenge: Completed!

It’s been way too long since my last post, but life, work, and all the obligations that come and go betwixt and between have conspired to put the kibosh on my blogging mojo.  I’m taking advantage of a rare moment of clarity amidst the otherwise rushed holiday season to write the sequel to this post, in which I outlined my reading list for the first half of 2017.

As I write this post, I am juggling three books, which I anticipate will be the last three books I read in 2017.  If that ends up being the case, I will have finished the year having read 65 books (50 more than originally intended), by far the most I have ever read in a year as an adult.  I plan to put up a separate post in the coming weeks breaking down my 2017 reading habits by format as well as listing my favorites of the year, but for now, here are the books I’ve read/am reading since late summer, in reverse chronological order:

As always, I’m open to recommendations – if you’ve read anything good this year, please let me know!

So Far, So Good: My 2017 Reading Challenge

For the past few years, I’ve taken some space here each December and/or January to highlight the books I read or plan to read in a given year.  Among the many uses I’ve found for blogging in the last decade, goal-setting (and the public accountability thereof) has been one of the top ones for me.

In January, I set a goal of reading 15 books in 2017, 3 more over my goal of reading 12 in 2016.  As of this blog post in late July, a bit past the halfway mark for the year, I’ve read 34 books in multiple formats (e-book, audiobook, and traditional).  After a year or so of making do with my (otherwise excellent) public library’s relatively meager electronic offerings, I pulled the trigger on an Audible account this year, which really expanded my listening options.  Between Audible, the two public libraries of which I am a member, my regular rotation of favorite podcasts, and my music, I finally have enough at my disposal to make the hour-plus one-way commute – dare I say? – pleasant!

Of note: the books I read last year were fairly evenly distributed across formats (4 books, 5 e-books, 6 audiobooks).  This year, traditional books have constituted the majority of my reading (18), with audiobooks in second (10) and e-books shortly behind in third (6).

This balance will surely shift somewhat over the next five months, as I’ll be downloading audiobooks and e-books like crazy before we leave on our annual family vacation next month, but it’s interesting for me to pause my consumption and look at this breakdown and wonder why.  As I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t have an expressed preference over format (though I have found that I find it easier to let my mind wander with audiobooks than with books that require visual decoding).

If you’re interested in what I’ve been reading so far this year, here’s the list, in reverse order (most recently finished first), with links to Goodreads and authors’ Twitter accounts, where applicable:

I’m always on the lookout for book recommendations, so please feel free to leave me a rec in the comments, and let me know what you’re reading, for business, pleasure, both, or otherwise!  Also, please connect with me on Goodreads; I love seeing what teachers, administrators, and other smart people are reading.