Monday, July 28, 2014

A Healthy 2014-2015

It feels really good but a bit awkward to be writing about something outside of my norm, but this isn’t going to be about ed policy, classroom practice or technology.  There won’t be anything about literacy or systems thinking.  The only thing on my mind this morning is health.  My health and the health of educators.  Today I want to move beyond all of those unhealthy years I’ve spent in schools, tell you that I’ve found a path forward, and see if anyone wants to join a new kind of team.  

It’s important for me to share this story because I’ve always been a “big guy,” both of my parents passed away young (57 and 61), I have two wonderful kids (6 and 9), and because my life as an educator - for many reasons - has often been in conflict with my physical health.  This past year has added the “final straws” for me. First, my father-in-law passed away, which both left my kids with only one Grandparent and prompted me to leave my position in a Bronx, NY high school and move to Massachusetts.  Family first...period.  Finally, I’ve been out of work this past year while getting set up here, so there has been the type of unforeseen set of anxieties and stressors in my family’s life that are always brought about by change.  

Doing something about my health has afforded me a fantastic level of optimism and agency in my life.  We aren’t always in control of situations, so I believe in embracing the facets of life in which my choices will directly impact the outcome.  

I’ve lost 40 pounds since April vacation and have another 30 to go.  

Along the way, here’s what I’ve come to know about our modern culture (feel free to join me in admitting taking part):

- We eat too much food.  Whether we are super-sizing, socializing or sitting around the house, it’s just too much.   
-  We use food to mark any and all special occasions.  The irony being that we’ll celebrate birthdays with junk food, calling it a treat, where it’s not a present for our bodies.
- Like so many products out there, food is marketed to give us emotional responses to it.  We, in kind, tend to think food will help us emotionally.  Bacon cheeseburgers and Bloomin’ Onions to don’t solve life’s struggles.  We don’t respect ourselves, become adventurous or get along with our family because of what we eat.  These things happen because of the way we feel about ourselves and those around us.
- We are too high-strung and don’t sleep nearly enough.

As an educator, my lifestyle always exacerbated these issues:
- I always stood throughout my classes, but far too much of my overall day was spent at a desk, either with student work, at meetings, or with content to review.  Before my children were born, I’d be at the gym by 5 so that I could make school by 6:30, but that wasn’t happening anymore.  I also tended to eat when I was sitting.  
- I barely slept.  Lots of people don’t get their 6-8 hours a night.  I rarely got more than 5.
- The stress.  I felt not only the weight, urgency, and overall responsibility for the students’ education, but also the struggles against public opinion, unwise political reforms, and painfully shrinking budgets with which to work.
- The parties.  Everyday was cupcakes this, pasta tray that, bagel mornings and Friday social hours.
- Time. I was always eating something quick, which can mean unhealthy. The schools I have been in usually allotted 25 minutes for lunch.  Not healthy.  

I’m looking to start a team!!

Take Shape for Life is an organization with the research, people, mindset and resources that I’ve needed.  It’s first and foremost about leveraging the strength of their organization and the personal nature of a “health coach” to understand, focus and maintain a healthy state of mind, but it also has components that are helping drop my weight fast.  Eventually, because they depend on word of mouth and therefore spend very little on traditional advertising, there are also built-in opportunities for a level of financial health with which everyone can get involved.

Like everything in life, I think this works better for people with a support team, so I’m writing this because I’m proud of what’s going on in this corner of my world, I’m excited about how it’s happening, and I’m hoping to find some people who are looking to make a change in their lives.  

You can find me to tell me about your experiences and talk about what I've learned through Take Shape for Life right here in the comments, at a new email I’ve set aside for this, or on either of my Twitter accts @TSFLNewEng  or @DavidHochheiser

You can read about TSFL all over the news, watch a few videos on YouTube from a wide range of people, see how it’s presented by the founder and a number of top coaches or read through the official website.

If you want to feel better throughout this school year and beyond and/or you know someone else who might, I’d love to hear your stories and team up to move forward.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keeping Students' Full 360 in Mind

Please note: This post also appears as part of Edutopia's community page.

The biggest tragedy I’ve read about in modern schools has to be the increasingly myopic ways schools are addressing foundational needs of literacy and numeracy.  Yes, I get that reading, writing, and arithmetic form the basis of most everything that’s done, so I get why they’ve always been prioritized. What doesn’t sit well with me - or for our students - is that places are cutting so many other pieces of students’ education - e.g. arts, history, sciences, recess - and replacing them with more reading, writing, and mathematics worksheets, videos, and computer testing applications.  Yuck.  There are four tremendous issues with this approach:

1) These decisions are almost always based on scores from standardized testing, which means that even if reading, writing, and math were the only things that a school ought to be teaching, moves like these are only looking at a very limited perspective on them.  I’ve never, for instance, heard of a school changing the schedule and shortening or even cancelling recess because students were taking a long time to choose an independent reading book or craft a blog post.  It’s such a limited way to look at education.  In truth, if students are struggling, schools need to be excessively creative in broadening the scope of topics, ideas, and courses to which students are being exposed.  We have to fight to engage them and help them see that we are interested in them as people.  Then, they’ll be more likely to follow our example and dig into the foundation lessons when it’s time.

2) The pieces being dropped have been proven to be essential to the development of great academic programs.  Art, music, playtime, and science and history courses have all been proven to elevate students’ overall achievement, self-perception, and - yes - test scores.  Too many teachers, schools and districts are just choosing to ignore this research.  This , this , and this are all articles that speak to the need to develop the “360 child,” which I’ll get to in a second when I address the idea of “summer slide.”

3) What schools really need to do is ensure the quality of their Tier 1 teaching.  Subjecting students to more weak instruction or sitting them in front of a computer as a means of “remediation” is not a strategy I’m buying into.  Yes, sometimes, more is more, and practicing helps (think: McDowell’s 20,000 hour theory), and yes, there is software out there that can be appropriately used to support struggling students, but all of this has to be part of a purposeful program that ought to be founded on the best instructional practices we know about.  

I’m thinking about this in mid-July because of this article ( I just read on how to prevent the “summer slide.” At the fully polar opposite end of the spectrum from the other articles, this one speaks to setting aside time during the summer for family activities that sound a lot like test prep to me.  So let me offer some alternatives, things I believe take a 360 in helping students who struggle, things that could very likely also be part of schools’ curricula, things that come to mind when I stop long enough to ask questions like these:

- Adults need to be walking with children, taking them places.  They can then write letters and postcards, with photos and art work, telling relatives and friends where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.
- Research the historical significance of places they’ve seen and/or heard about.  Invite them to journal and/or teach someone something about it.

- All kids, by the way, should have a special journal.  If you think money can’t help education, think about how powerful giving all students a nice notebook of sorts to write or draw in over the summer could be.

- Kids and libraries are such a natural mix.  Not only can they get all sort of books to borrow for free, but there are also often great programs going on.  Surround kids in the chance to choose books as much as possible.  Invite them to tell you about what they’re choosing.

- If you’re going to the store, bring your children and have them help figure out the costs.  Have them ask people where things are and check the change at the register.  Social skills and math all wrapped up together :)

- If you or your kids are sports fans, the potential to work on geometry and statistics are bottomless.  

- Find paper maps of wherever you’re going with the kids and have them navigate.

- Try food from another country and learn about the place of origin while you’re at it. Music and art great components of culture studies.  

- Speaking of music and art, can you get to a museum and or a concert?  Summer is a great time for free, outdoor music and many museum and zoos have free days.  

- Model and share:  Kids should know that even though all of these are great, adults still like to sit down and read during their days.  (If you’re not a reader, by the way, having kids is a great excuse to become one.)  Find some time to relax and read something, be it a book, magazine or otherwise.  Share with your kids what it is that’s interesting to you about what you’re reading.  Invite them to do the same.  Reading books together is also great.  

The reason ELA and math have become the focal points for education is that they are found everywhere, in everything.  It’s a miss on the part of adults, then, when the opportunities we give kids to master them are exponentially skewed to the pieces that are easiest to measure and photocopy.  Even my daughter, who in her own nerdy way actually loves workbooks, gets much more excited when I ask her to tell me a story about or take a picture of something that interests her.  


Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Non-Negotiables for Great Teaching

Often enough, I'm in conversations about how I know what good teaching looks like, and although I've used effective tools like Danielson's Framework for Teaching and Saphier's Skillful Teacher framework, fulfilling those expectations isn't the answer I go with.  Here's a stab at the big picture of what I consider non-negotiables for great teaching.

An understood purpose


Contagious Passion

I'd love your questions, comments, and/or additions? How do you know when you're seeing great teaching?