What If We’re Designing for Disengagement?

A favorite opening question of mine in professional development workshops is: What do you struggle with the most as a teacher?

The answers are almost always:
1. Students’ lack of motivation
2. Students don’t value education
3. Parents aren’t supportive
4. Students don’t believe in themselves
5. Technology distracts students

These comments are not facts, and viewed differently, they become design questions: Continue reading What If We’re Designing for Disengagement?

Who Is Served By Keeping You So Busy?

We can’t expect those few who are well-served by the current reality to give us time to think. We need time to develop clarity and courage. If we want our world to be different, our first act needs to be reclaiming time to think. Nothing will change for the better until we can do that. – Margaret Wheatley

The most radical thing I’ve done in the past month is to do nothing. It was also the scariest because I’ve never faced a busier 28 days. Every one of them screaming at me to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!

Continue reading Who Is Served By Keeping You So Busy?

You’re Saved By What You Love

This is what I wasn’t brave enough to tell you because the force of your pain scared me when we saw each other last week:

Tell me who and what you love and I’ll show you that it’s the light when all others go out.

When it’s dark here in February and you feel like quitting. When you find yourself starting to envy the people you notice on your way to work. When you feel like maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to just completely change careers because this – what you’re doing now – feels too big and too difficult to do for even one more day.

Continue reading You’re Saved By What You Love

Discomfort By Design

“Everyone had a very top-down approach, and it brought the same individuals as always to the table.” — Antionette Carroll

This quote, from the founder of the social justice nonprofit Creative Reaction Lab, struck me as astute and succinct.

Top-down approaches are easy. They’re controlled, predictable, and efficient. Those aren’t bad things, but they risk becoming the central values and vision of any enterprise if you exclusively rely on them.

The second part of her quote — bringing the same individuals as always to the table — is another simple, but overlooked truth.

Continue reading Discomfort By Design

I #LoveTeaching Like This

Three days spent working with the 2017 cohort of State Teachers of the Year has solidified a feeling in me that I struggled to name two years ago. The feeling is a mix of relief and hope.

It’s easy to panic in this current climate, to believe that everyone is bolting for the exits and filing their resignations in teacher lounges across the country. So it is with grateful eyes that I see them as the next wave, the cavalry, the reinforcements. They are here. They will help. They will lend their voices to the voices already raised in defense of our students and our colleagues.

Continue reading I #LoveTeaching Like This


I love teaching because it is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I love teaching because it breaks my heart and makes me cry. I love teaching because it makes me so happy I feel like I swallowed a helium balloon on those days when a student owns his or her own power of expression. I love teaching because it is the only job I’ve ever had that hugs me back, that argues with me, that makes me feel like the one candle I can light in my little corner dispels a bit of darkness in the world. I love teaching because it calls on me to be smarter and braver than I ever want to be.

Yes, it’s hard. But then what do you ever commit to that isn’t hard? Yes, it can make you feel like you’re burnt to a crisp, but then isn’t that what happens when you really care? There’s a passage from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King that I turn to when I feel like I can’t gin myself up for another day: Continue reading #LoveTeaching

Ripe For Ruin: Why Facts Matter

Does it matter if a fact or two gets messed up? I mean, does anyone really care if their name is misspelled or their business gets called by another name. It’s not that big a deal, right?

It was a big deal to get everything right – down to how we used numbers and spelled names – when I worked at the Amarillo Globe-News. I was thinking of that while I read this line from Charles M. Blow’s column:

The press may sometimes get things wrong, but it most often gets them right.

Continue reading Ripe For Ruin: Why Facts Matter

The Personal Spin Cycle: Blame

…we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up.” That’s it. Just certain.The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort.- Brene Brown 


Pain and discomfort are the ground of teaching and learning. So, to hear Brene Brown describe blame as the way to discharge that makes sense to me.

I don’t have to sit in too many meetings or listen to too many people, like the cardiac nurse who hooked me up to the treadmill for a stress test, to know how often blame is heaped on teachers or students. Sometimes both.

Why isn’t (fill in the blank) happening? Teachers.

And teachers will say: students. A few will say: administrators. Others will say: parents. And around and around it goes, the blame cycle picking up speed and creating enormous distance between people.

This graphic is from a post meant for construction contractors, but it elegantly describes what blame does and how it proliferates along its own vector.

Brown outlines, in her brilliant TED talk, a way out of the cycle. One that is initially much more painful and uncomfortable: the courage to be seen for who we really are:

To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”


Image credit: Patrick McManaman/Unsplash


What I’ve Learned From 21 Days Of The Whole 30 Diet

I’m day 21 on the Whole 30 diet and several things have occurred to me:

  1. I feel markedly better
  2. I am a massive sugar addict
  3. This diet masks a tremendous amount of privilege

Let’s start with the positive — I do feel a distinct difference in my mood and people have commented on the way I look. Not that I look so much skinnier as I look brighter, happier. I have more energy and am able to make better choices because of the discipline of such strict limits: no sugar, no grain, no dairy, no alcohol, no fake sugar.

That’s forced me to drink more water, which has forced me to have to get up from my desk much more to walk down the hall to the restroom. This has created a pleasant result of painlessly incorporating the advice from the NY Times to work for a bit, move around for a few minutes, work again, then repeat. And I do feel happier. That’s partly the diet and partly being able to stay with my intention to be more present.

Which leads me to the next item: sugar. To my horror, I’ve discovered that the stevia I dumped into literally everything, including coffee, tea, over grapefruits, and packed into the protein bars I was eating, is banned in the Whole 30 diet.

Getting rid of stevia hurt almost as much as getting rid of chocolate, which hurt as bad as giving up red wine. And when I say “hurt,” I mean made me feel physical withdrawals worse than the nicotine I gave up eight years ago. Headaches, trouble sleeping and concentrating, irritability, and a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction centered on feeling like I was missing something or deprived of something. And I was. I was deprived of sugar in all of its forms except fruit. It’s cold comfort to drink peppermint tea and eat blueberries when I want dark chocolate and glass of red wine.

More than anything, this diet has revealed the extent of my dependence on sugar to cope with stress, boredom, sadness, and as a prop for social gatherings. It’s been quite literally, a shock to the system.

However, that sense of deprivation has sensitized me in a way I haven’t been and in a way that makes me feel ashamed and selfish. It’s created an awareness of deprivation in others and heightened my empathy.

I wasn’t aware of how much I’ve been numbing myself, particularly in the wake of the election. The more I numbed, the more I wanted to be numb. That all seems well and good until you realize that those feelings go somewhere. They’re an energy that gets stored inside my brain and pushes to be noticed. Deliberately numbing them is somewhat like deliberately blinding myself to the pain and need of others.

And I do that to not only my detriment, but to the detriment of any sense of community or peace or healing I might desire. And as it turns out, the Whole 30 has forced me to see how much privilege it masks. To do the diet well enough to fit it into my schedule, I’ve had to reconnect with cooking meals. It’s a good thing I not only like to cook, but know how to cook and how to shop for the lesser-bought foods it calls for like Swiss chard, spaghetti squash, beets, nut butters and coconut oil.

Being able to shop for and cook these meals means I have the privilege of time, which I hadn’t really noticed as a luxury before. I have time on the weekends and work a normal day with time left over to make food for the next day. Even having the time to plan such an endeavor as a restrictive diet is a privilege, not to mention the means to purchase all of it.

The restrictions mask another privilege — the ability to choose my calories. I live within walking distance of a grocery store and a health food store, both of which stock organic produce and meat in addition to their regular counterparts. Both of these combine in the privilege of having the financial means to buy more expensive food. To have the choice of eating a sweet potato, the privilege of an education that taught me to read and be able to navigate nutritional information. To think critically about how chemicals affect my body.

Finally, this diet has had the unintended consequence of being a spiritual practice for me, and no one is more surprised about that than me. I don’t mean to sound preachy or self-righteous. I know how easily I fall for and develop new interests, passions, and obsessions. I don’t expect to enter a monastery and become Pema Chodron anytime soon. I don’t even expect to stay a halfway decent version of my petty, anxious self. But most of all, I’m grateful for the spiritual cleanse of this diet.

Image Credit: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash