How Do I Expedite This Process?

Michael Wesch:

Instead of focusing on self, [Diana Degarmo] focused on the beauty of the audience and the whole event. And I allowed myself to do the same thing. I never let that leave me. I would start with that. I would start with loving my students. And it’s striking how much my teaching has changed in five years, as a result of that. It’s basically about shifting from getting people to love you to you loving them.

It is paralyzing for me to think how Dan Meyer circa 2003, student teacher, would have endured a discussion facilitated by Dan Meyer circa 2009, aspiring mentor teacher, on the lifestyle of a teacher. That kid wanted as close to an eight-hour work-day as he could manage. He wanted strictly amicable relationships with his students, neither enamored of nor enraged by any. The mailman doesn’t let the mail get him down, he told himself then.

I can’t bring myself to walk all of that back. I still wish I worked less. At that point, though, I saw a happy life as a zero-sum of work and play, where professional investment came at the expense of the personal. It made me mostly miserable on the job and also, regrettably, a non-presence to my students.

The problem is, these aren’t differences in methods or pedagogy. These are differences in personality and lifestyle and it took me three years to start to move away from such a compartmentalized view of work and play. I don’t know if it’s possible to expedite that process for another teacher, or how, but I suppose that’s the fun I have to look forward to in graduate school.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. In a word: “blogging.”

    In seven words: “blogging and probably using a digital projector.”

    The digital projector opened up my classroom and practice to visuals, which was a profound, if rocky and still ongoing transition.

    But blogging was the cheapest, most risk-free investment I could have made of my personal time into my job. You start by writing down things that are interesting to you, practices you don’t want to forget. And then you start trying new things just so you can blog about them later, picking them apart, and dialoging over them with strangers. Periods of stagnancy in your blogging start to correspond to periods of stagnancy in your teaching. You start to muse on your job when you’re stuck in traffic, in line for groceries, that sort of thing. That transformation has been nothing but good for me and it all began on a free Blogspot blog.

  2. Sounds like the answer is “Get them blogging.” They’re not likely to figure everything out before they start teaching for real, that’s impossible. But they’re set up for more rapid development if they start with this habit. And it can be scary to get started.

  3. @Dan, Your credentialing program required reflective journal writing, correct? (I’m recalling that from the “guest blogger” posts). So you have been engaged in the self-reflection process since early on in your career. Blogging obviously brings you feedback (and push-back).

    I’m thinking @Kate that getting in the habit of self-reflection is really the big change. Blogging is bringing it public (a big step granted). I’m wondering how foreign this would look to someone not even doing regularly scheduled self-reflection.

    I would have to say that blogging made a huge difference in my practice too, and I didn’t start until 5-6 years in. However, it felt “natural” because in my mind, I was coming back to a practice I had done earlier.

  4. Considering I haven’t even started teaching yet, the things that have helped me the most are to see what other teachers are doing. Talking to teachers on Twitter and reading other teachers’ blogs have given me opportunities to question teachers on why they do what they do. Those answers help me figure out what I want to do and why. It’s helpful to go into teaching knowing you have this group of people behind you with limitless ideas, activities, experiences, stories, theories, and resources.

    Seeing the change that other teachers are making in their schools reminds me that it’s possible to make changes in my own.

    Reading different methods and practices helps me compare and contrast what I think would work best in my circumstances. The biggest thing is giving me a practical starting place. All of Piaget’s theories don’t tell me how to give homework and how to create lesson plans. I can use ideas from other teachers and modify them for my needs. This seems obvious but in a small school where there aren’t a lot of teachers to collaborate with, a diverse PLN is priceless.

    So along with the self-reflection and blogging, I would say a diverse PLN expedites growth as well.

  5. @Alice, my credentialing program required reflective journaling but those guest blogger posts were something else entirely. I rarely received comment on my reflective journals (e-mailed to my supervisor every Friday) but I imagine they figured into our interaction somewhere.

    The public-facing nature of a blog, I think, has made all the difference, keeping me just a little more intellectually honest than I might have been otherwise. Also, feeling beholden to a readership has been useful, feeling pressure to bring a little depth to a post, to bring something of interest.

    It would be nice if a) we could convince new teachers to blog and b) their blogs came with an intelligent readership of hovering mentor teachers pre-installed, each one taking their turn to comment and pick up slack and help out.

  6. @Alice I’d tend to agree with you that the reflection is the important part, but in my personal experience I have never been able to maintain a journal, personal or professional. (I actually have an embarrassing tendency to start projects that don’t last more than a week or two. I can’t even finish a 10-day teeth-whitening regime.) However for some reason writing for an audience compels me to crystallize, summarize, and justify my thinking and practices more consistently. The blogging part of the reflection equation must be reinforcing the behavior in a way that private journaling didn’t.

  7. The public-facing nature of a blog, I think, has made all the difference

    Agreement here: all the pre-teaching reflective journal writing I ever did was essentially useless. Without the dynamic feedback (or at least, potential feedback) of a blog, putting what’s in my head down on paper has been just an academic exercise.

  8. So the consensus is, you can go straight to blogging. For some folks making what was a private journal public is a big step, but having an audience is what makes all the difference in terms of motivation.

    Hey, I’ve read at least 10 studies to support that as I slogged though this EETT grant process. Aren’t you happy to know that research supports that position?

    Question, as I try to set up activities for the teachers to support the grant (should it happen), I want them to do reflective writing. Audience thoughts, should this be a requirement, or optional?

  9. If it’s a one-shot I wouldn’t ask for reflective writing; I’ve always found it very patronizing in those cases, especially when there’s a grade-school-like graphic organizer attached (three things I learned at the presentation are …)

    If it’s a longer thing I’d consider it, but only if the writings get used somehow. Maybe you have a collective thing where each person writes a reflective sentence, the papers get randomly scattered, and then another sentence gets added which can agree with the prior or contradict, etc. Maybe the writings get collected and used on a later day to spark the next set of discussions.

    I think the general rule of thumb is if you are asking the teachers to do something they could easily do themselves later without your help by writing a blog post or chatting about it with their colleagues or whatnot, it isn’t worth using the time for; find something more productive instead.

  10. @jason not one time thing, implementing grant to get kids doing projects with online reflection and documentation of learning, so the kids would be doing blog, wikis, or podcasts. Will also have a PD component for teachers. Rule of thumb used to be to have the teachers do blogging too since they will have to require kids to do it as part of grant.

  11. @jason, what’s wrong with grade-school graphic organizer, I’ll be teaching Elementary students and teachers, and some training will be on Inspiration/Inspired Data. I was thinking of having kids design their own.

  12. @A. Mercer: First note my comment was aimed at teaching adults, not K-12, and additionally flow charts, brainstorm diagrams etc. aren’t what I call a grade school organizer.

    I am meaning the kind of “fill in the blank with your answer to these prompts” type organizers which are reasonable at least as motivators for K-12, but which I tend to find insulting as a grown adult who is perfectly capable of asking myself questions like “what did I learn?”

  13. ADD: My posts are still sounding grumpier than they are meant to be, likely because I am having semi-trauma from bad presententations in the past. As long as you treat your audience like adults you’ll be fine.

  14. @jason, no worries, lol. I just thought it was funny that someone had twitter that page with studies support graphic organizer. What you had is not a graphic organizers by a sentence starter, and usually is just appropriate for mid level ells and kids with processing/attentional issues, not a great practice with adults, unless you’re studying a foreign language. I get the basic gist of what you are saying. I will say that it’s a real fine line with elementary pd because you often do dorky kid activities to model the practice. I don’t think the good ones are dorky, but I think I’ve been in some of the same type of PD sessions you have, which is why I’ve been known to bring my knitting.

  15. You question is not teacher-specific. So, maybe get people to read “What would Google do?” or “Flow” or some Frankl or Wesch’s “Anti-teaching” or, well, anything about meaning and significance.

    Love people for whom you work.

    The concept is pretty simple and independent of your area of work: “love one another in the context of Perl” – Shirky.

  16. @Elissa – i’m entering year 6 and as i’m changing jobs i’m walking in to a completely new curriculum. so i also have no idea what i’m doing. dan’s post on “thirty minutes” is worth reflecting over.

    @kate – i also never seem to finish what i start. i think that there is something missing on this point when everyone suggests that new teachers blog, and it’s in what dan says about the intelligent hovering readership. there are only three teacher blogs that i still consistently read – they belong to people who have spent time looking over my comments and posts and replying to me.

    to me, it feels like vain talking into the mirror if there’s no one writing back to you. blogging is based on relationships developing.

  17. Jeff, one way for a blog to start right off is, as you explained, for several people to start together and comment for one another. However, in this case you may as well organize a wiki or a ning or even an email group – platforms better suited for collective communication.

    An easy and fast option is Twitter. There are good PLNs (personal learning networks) forming there, as well as open networks. Check out #lrnchat or #mathteach for example:

  18. @Dan: Thanks for the answer (1st comment above). I actually discussed your question at length over at my blog. It gave me quite a few good thoughts.

    @Jeff: I understand somewhat what you say about it being “vain.” My blog’s readership is likely no more then a few handfuls of people, and I sometimes wonder if I’m just navel gazing. But, I also think about how much I have benefited from blogs I have just “stumbled across” (including this one). One sort of has to hope that good writing with some smart promoting (I use Facebook) that helps people can win out. It’s why I often feel that blogs need to move away from our general thoughts (which I admit, is what I write right now) to more topics that aid collaborative exchange.