Friday, June 9, 2017

Oddly motivated

I tend to plan out blog posts and iterate a few times before posting, but this revelation hit me like a ton of bricks 10 seconds ago: I am oddly motivated for next school year.  I just submitted my 2016-17 grades yesterday.  I have always loved what I do, but not like that.

The speed of the turnaround is connected to a lack of burnout.  This was an exhausting school year in many ways, but it didn't kill me like most do.  I think a few things helped with this.

First, I had a baby in January.  Usually, this should have the opposite effect, but it meant paternity days.  This is the best concept employers ever came up with, as it gave me an opportunity to continue to push hard at work while making myself available as actual help around the house.  It was also a chance to really enjoy and treasure the early days with my son, Lukas, who is now a giant 4-month-old.  Without this time, that would have been just a blink.  A day out of the classroom is hard, but when you have a fantastic sub (thank you, Marlene, and other Byron teachers subbing during prep), you can trust that most things are still carrying forward.  Since my 9th-grade class is co-taught, it also meant continuity while I was out.  This fell on the shoulders of Rachel, student teacher, and Brandon, SpEd co-teacher, who were great.  In all classes, the team picked up my slack.  Thank you.

I was gone even more with an extra trip for robotics.  This was our first year going to Worlds down in St. Louis.  The extra 3-days out of school following 2 schools in Duluth for our regional created more breaks from the usual daily routine.

I also had a relaxed schedule this year.  The teacher schedule typically consists of short lunches, sprints to the bathroom between classes, and generally running around with your head cut off.  Instead, I had prep in the morning with my co-teaching team immediately followed by math.  After that, I left the building to meet a tiny section of Grand Challenge Design students.  This time was heavily self-directed by students, freeing me part of the period to further develop the classroom makerspace, handle space logistics, and do my own tech project to further skills that I would need to later teach students.  Being in another building the rest of the day also meant not taking on a high school advisory, saving independent time to continue these projects.  My day ended with my larger GCD class which, though crazy, had a positive energy with great ideas and questions.  Rather than running to my next class, students trickled in as they arrived from their drive and I had a chance to greet them at the door.  Unfortunately, I'm back to a more traditional schedule next year, but things are in a much better place to not depend on that R&D/setup time next year.

As part of the extra time, I took on a lot more roles.  I was a construction worker, electrician, purchasing agent (I raised and spent over $8,000 with an average purchase around $20...I was receiving a package/day or more for the entire year), accountant, connector, custodian, designer, engineer, architect, and probably a zillion other things.  The variety was exhausting at times, but it was truly invigorating.  I learned so much and dabbled in so many things while trying to bring our space and class to life.

The year also ended looking forward.  I had a ton of opportunities to reflect with awesome people.

The Bush Foundation hosted "School Design for Personalized Learning", a series of sessions designed to help school teams implement personalized learning and apply for Bush funding to support the work.  Our team of co-teacher Brandon, principal Steve, tech/innovation director Jen, and instructional coach Andy, did the first session virtually at our own pace.  We then traveled to St. Paul for the follow-up, focusing our design and ideation around our challenging 9th-grade inclusion Algebra class.  I will create a full post on our ideas for that class, but we discovered that the core problem was class culture and our ability to create an emotionally safe space for learning.  Besides major changes in classroom management, we plan to positively frame this with a weekly trip to the elementary school to have our struggling learners tutor younger struggling learners.  We will focus on mindset, language, and approach with both our 9th graders and tutees.  An additional idea to build in computer science and game design, fueled by an opportunity from the Infosys Foundation,, and Bootstrap, have us especially excited for the next iteration of our Algebra class.

GCD also went through significant reflection, but that was fueled by conversations with my students.  We spent hours thinking aloud through the early game-construction / R&D part of the course, the game phase, the game redesign, and the open project time.  We reflected on what was fun, what was productive, what was hard but positive, what was frustrating, and what the next generation of the class could look like.  The vision I have moving forward emerged directly from all of these varied conversations.  It will still have significant revision throughout the next school year, but I now know SO much more about where to go that the initial plan should be able to hold.

I also had a chance to reflect with my college friends on the year.  Thanks to a weekend ordination of an engineer-turned-priest (some of us Oliners stay engineers...I swear), a number of my favorite people were in the same place at once.  As I talked about the year, they provided a lot of great feedback and ideas on what I could try next.  Many of these friends were GCD mentors for students and thus stayed in the loop, in some form, during the year.

Finally, the Robotics team is fired up and moving forward, and their energy is carrying me.  Our new coach, Sean, designed an amazing structure for leadership moving forward.  Each student leader is paired with a 1:1 or 2:1 mentor for an initial interview, monthly reflective check-ins, and ongoing support.  The student leaders then, as a team, divide up the roles and collectively run the team.  The model's design makes students far more likely to make decisions, with adult support, rather than the opposite.  By starting now, it means that we will have strong recruiting, clear organization, internal training, and a healthy rhythm heading into the year.  Coming off of St. Louis and the state tournament, the team is hungry to be back.  This energy means that I am actively spending time in reflective and forward-looking interviews with students, churning my gears about what comes next for our team, our space, and GCD.

I will admit that I slept 9 hours last night.  That felt great and my body desperately needed it.  I also spent the full day with my kids while my wife worked the last of her 12-hour shifts for the week and had a great time with them.  That said, I am back in full planning mode for 2017-18.  I will grow a ton as a teacher and classes will be so much better for students than they were this year.