Making It All Worthwhile

I was at urinal during a break in my Grand Forks session. “I’ll give you this,” the guy said next to me. “You walk your talk.”

Two things:

  1. The etiquette on urinal interaction must be a little more relaxed in North Dakota than in California.
  2. You get the subtext right? “I’m not buying any of this stuff, obviously, but you put on a good show.”

I knew exactly what he meant.

I’ve facilitated enough PD to not feel new at it. I’ve taken enough coursework in PD at Stanford to feel like I get some of the theory behind teaching adults about teaching children. Whenever I’m planning a session or a talk, though, I don’t lean on the theory or my experience half as hard as I do on the fear that I’ll be working with a teacher who’s exactly like me, and he’ll hate me. Which is to say, rather, that I’ll hate me.

My urinal buddy helped me understand that whenever I blog or facilitate PD or give a talk or drive in traffic or cook a meal or talk to my friends, subconsciously, I’m always wondering, “Would I hate me?” It’s a coin flip, really, whether that’s evidence of personal integrity or flagrant self-absorption.

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. …whether it’s evidence of personal integrity or flagrant self-absorption.

    My guess is that it’s not either/or but both/and with the edge going to the former.

  2. Being aware enough to even ask yourself the question sounds to me like personal integrity.

    It’s hard not to “hate” a presenter who is asking you to change in a way that is going to take some time and effort (not a quick fix) and gives you a compelling reason to change. But when that same presenter can, with great honesty, reveal their own challenges (hey, this isn’t a piece of cake…I don’t always get it “right”…but it’s worth it and here’s why), it’s harder to “hate” the messenger.

  3. As a recent attendee, I was impressed with how focused and practical your workshop was. You might be considered a big idea person, but the workshop was unquestionably about the nuts and bolts of implementing that big idea (in our case, mathematical storytelling).

    If someone doesn’t accept the big idea from the outset, the most you can probably hope for is to move their needle a bit toward reflective practice. I’d consider “NOT A WASTE OF TIME” as evidence that you accomplished that.

  4. Having not been in the urinal or the PD, I don’t really know what is going on here, but in general if a teacher said to me “You walk your talk,” I’d take that as meaning “(I don’t necessarily agree with you but at least) you aren’t one of those jackasses who stands up front and lectures about not lecturing (etc.),” which, as you know, is pretty much par for the course.

  5. Ah… the back-handed compliment. One of the hardest things I find about giving PD are the people that don’t want to be there. I don’t think it would have mattered who you were, he wouldn’t have been happy. I guess the question is, do you want to try and change his mind?

  6. Eileen Finney

    July 7, 2011 - 8:31 am -

    I disagree with your interpretation of his comment. So often we have PD from people who rely on theory and dismiss the how they work in the classroom. From my experience listening to your TED talk, and reading your blog etc, I feel that what works in the classroom is key to why you do all of this! He was giving you a compliment… not well worded, but well intended.

  7. Certainly, I felt complimented. His remark was obviously well-intended. But I also took it as evidence of the extremely low expectations common to PD experiences. (ie. “Just try to get your message aligned with your medium a little.)

  8. Hi Dan,

    Thank you for sharing a REAL story. Storytelling is a marvelous way of communicating and figure yourself out. As a math teacher and a human, I find your thoughts to this full of self reflection and not navel-gazing. If your intention was to share it so we would feel that you are real and not hung up, you’ve done an excellent job. Amy

  9. I agree with Eileen Finley.

    I can only imagine him congratulating you on bringing your theory into practice. Even if some disagree on your theory, you at least put your money where your mouth is. Thanks for that…I do miss your WCYDWT blogs.

  10. Joshua Schmidt

    July 7, 2011 - 9:33 pm -

    In a way, I think that if I was working with PD this is exactly what I would want to hear. Someone who had no interest from the get-go listened to you and heard the words that you said. In a way, you reached the “student” that is hardest to get to. If this were a classroom setting, you just set the first building block to creating a positive classroom relationship, but there in lies one of the greatest issues with PD.

  11. I wrestle with many of the same thoughts. I hated most of the PD that was done to me as a teacher. It’s part of the reason I became a consultant. I thought I could do better.

    One of the first things my employer taught me was how to facilitate adult learning. They taught me processes to use with adults in sessions. Unfortunately, most of those processes were the same things I hated about most of the PD I attended. High school math teachers, generally, do not like fluff and weird activities that make them touch and interact with strangers.

    I threw a lot of that stuff out the window early on. Interaction between participants in my sessions is purposeful conversation about math, pedagogy, assessment, or whatever the topic may be. I’m not saying I don’t want to hear their voices, or let them learn from each other, but I don’t force it through silly activities.

    When I think I am done planning a workshop, I ask myself three questions.
    1. Are there any parts of this that would make me uncomfortable in a bad way if I was a participant in this session? If there is accidentally such a part, I eliminate it. Bad uncomfortable is when a presenter says something like, “Stand up and move around the room until you find someone you don’t know. High five that person. Then share with each other your biggest teaching success from this year.” Good uncomfortable is when my thinking is challenged.
    2. If I came to this session, what would I do differently in my class tomorrow as a result? I feel like I have to give people that. Rightly or wrongly, adult learners don’t want an entire day of big ideas. They want things to use.
    3. Are there any parts where, as a participant, I would be making lame excuses to leave early? I need to engage people. It’s my fault, not theirs, if I don’t.