Running as a Metaphor for Teaching

I was out for my run this morning, and I got thinking about how similar running and teaching are.  I have been running for about 10 years.  I wasn’t a runner as a kid.  I thought it sounded good, but the actual work of running wasn’t appealing, so I never got into it.  I’m a recent convert.  I like to tell people I run, since no one ever asks if I run fast.  I don’t.  I’m slower than a turtle going through peanut butter.

Anyway, I find that teaching has a lot in common with running.  For instance, you have good runs and bad runs.  There’s never a reason behind a run being good or bad.  Yesterday, I went out for my run and felt amazing.  It was cold, windy and early in the morning (none of which are good in my book!), but my running felt good.  I finished and felt so proud that I had accomplished a run.

Then, today.  It was awful.  I had to take a number of walking breaks.  I hated every minute of it.  I was in a  terrible mood when I got back (no runner’s high for me!)  It was just plain yucky.   Beautiful, sunny sky, warmer than yesterday, not as windy, later in the morning.  None of that mattered.

I have those kinds of days teaching, too.  Some days, everything just clicks.  No reason for it to be a good day, but there it is.  Friday was just such a day in my classroom.  Full moon, Friday, big unit test.  All things that should have caused the kids to be a problem.  Even a mix up with the unit test and I gave them the pre-test for the next unit instead of the test we had been prepping for.  None of it stopped them.  They worked hard, were happy to be in school and generally had a great day!

Then there are the days where you’ve planned everything out.  You’ve got an exciting lesson plan, full of fun activities that will lead to those light bulb moments.  Until everything falls apart.  You know how that goes – you expect it to be wonderful and it’s NOT.  Everyone frowns as they leave for the day.

Teaching is like training for a race.  You put in the hours, day in and day out, slogging through the tough workouts, until the day when it all pays off.  Friday, it paid off for me.  I have a student who has been failing my class all year (and everyone else’s).  I’ve been working with him every day to get his work for the week caught up.  Friday afternoon, he had everything done and got to hang out with his friends for the last half hour of the day, instead of catch up on work.  He was so excited!

What else is a metaphor for the hard work of teaching?  What do you compare it to?

Relationships Matter: AMLE

Just read an article that reaffirms everything I believe about teaching middle school students:

AMLE publishes a newsletter at  The article is entitled Relationships Matter by Sara Davis Powell.  It’s worth a read!  Simple things we can do to build a relationship with our students and let them know we care.

Click on the link below to see the article:

Relationships Matter article

My Latest Read

Each summer, I like to read education books to gain that all important professional development (the real thing, not just a seminar to check off on a box).

This year, I read Teaching With Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. teaching with poverty in mind

If you have any students who qualify for free/reduced lunch, you need to read this book. It makes SO MUCH SENSE! My school has a high free/reduced lunch population. As I read, I saw my students represented in this book.

The main idea that I took from reading it, in terms of what I’m going to do differently in my class this year, is to affirm these students’ abilities. They need to be told often how wonderful and smart they are. I already did some of that, but this year, I plan to make a conscious effort. So much of their lives are uncertain, it’s hard for them to believe it.


After reading this book, I’m more convinced than ever that they need a different approach. They need to see me attempt things and fail, then continue on, because I’m confident in my abilities. They need to be reminded that they can succeed after failure because they have the strength and ability.

Power of Positive Thinking

I often tell them stories about my running (mostly because running makes for good life metaphors). Last year, it came up that I never win the races I run. They were astounded (I don’t know why – I’ve told them frequently how slow I am!) I explained that I just run the races for the shirt and the food. That seemed to make some of them feel better. Apparently, they had this idea that I’m some sort of star athlete. I think the more I can share with them the problems I’ve encountered and the ways I’ve tried to overcome them, the better.

Connecting with these students is SO important, too. Middle class students will often learn in spite of the teachers. However, these students need to care about their teacher and believe that their teacher cares about them.

So, who’s with me? Check out the book, then come back to my blog and see how things go this year! I’m excited to work with my new students and, hopefully, make a difference!

Democracy Needs an Educated Citizenry

We need schools


We keep hearing that public education is broken.  That schools are no longer doing a good job.  That we need to stop sending taxpayer dollars to the schools.  People seem to think if we cut off the money, schools will improve.

I think there’s more to it than that.  I think we, as a people, need to decide what it is we want schools to do.  Clearly, public schools are seen as effective.  Everything anyone wants to see changed in our society is pushed onto the schools.  Want your child to be nicer?  Lobby the school district to put in more character education.  Want children to know about storm safety?  Send storm safety coloring books to their schools.  Concerned about bullying?  Pass legislation that schools need to develop lesson plans to stop bullies.

Given the obvious belief that public education can change lives, shouldn’t we be more supportive?

Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”  Without education, people cannot make informed decisions about their government.  We need students to see the value in education each and every day.  That way, they will grow up to be informed voters.

Thanks to our public schools, we have incredible inventions – like the computer, the iPod, the cell phone and more.  Thanks to our public schools, we’ve been able to cure diseases.  Thanks to our public schools, our children grow up to be productive members of society.

If we want schools to continue to create a vital citizenry, shouldn’t we be willing to support it, both monetarily and socially?

Branding My Classroom

Once again, my travels around the internet have given me inspiration:internet

This time, I’ve been checking out BrandEd podcasts (if you haven’t listened, yet, you should!  They are filled with great ideas and inspiration) and I ran across a tweet about a slideshare presentation here: Branding Your Classroom.branding your classroom

These various educators got me thinking: the more we remind our students what we want them to achieve, the more likely they are to achieve it.  I look at it as if I’m marketing a product for a large corporation (or a political campaign).  The more recognizable the name is, the more people are to buy what you’re selling.  So, if I can sell my kids on my “product” which is the content I need to embed in their brains, I can improve their test scores, their confidence and their IQ.  At least, that’s my hope.

I’m thinking about creating some vines for back to school time.  Get the kids and families excited about their child being in my classroom.  Then, sticking with the branding idea, we could embed the slogan, logo and other things in our newsletters, our remind101 notes, and on the walls of our classroom.  My teammate and I could simply bombard them with the brand.


Now, for the brand.  I’m thinking it needs to be something that will continue to raise their achievement, so my slogan could be “Today, be awesome”.  That’s something that would cover many things.  It allows me to use it referring to behavior, studying, test taking, homework, writing assignments and more.

I don’t know that we can get the money to have t-shirts printed up, although that would be “awesome!”  I’m also planning to focus on attendance and getting students to be in school whenever possible.  We have a number of students who have very poor attendance and research shows that this can impact their graduation capability.  Perhaps “being awesome” can also fit with good attendance.student led conference

Do you have a brand for your classroom?  Do you use a slogan?  If so, how does it work?  What do you do with it?  I’d love to steal (I mean borrow!) any ideas you have out there!

Inspiring Creativity

creativityI ran across a video recently that is amazing.  Check it out here: High Diving Giraffesgiraffes

Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back.  🙂

I’m planning to use this video to spark some creativity with our final Genius Day.  This will be the third Genius Day we will hold this year.  We’ve kind of settled into a once per trimester schedule for our Genius Days.  We invited 5th graders to our first one, 7th graders to our second, and 4th graders will be viewing the results of this one.

For our second trimester Genius Day, we added some parameters: the students had to invent something to solve a problem.  This led to some interesting presentations!

This time around, we’ll be encouraging the students to demonstrate their creativity.  That’s where the video will come in.  My hope is this will inspire students to think outside their normal boundaries.  The idea of having giraffes in a swimming pool at all is pretty outside the box, then having them do tricks off a diving board, well, there’s just nothing more that needs to be said!

Do you do Genius Day with your students?  How do you inspire them to create something new?

Challenging Gifted Students

Business Expo

Fair warning: this post will include some bragging.  However, I think my students and I deserve it – you’ll see why if you keep reading.

Ever since I started our middle school’s gifted and talented program (thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor), I have believed my job is to challenge these students.  I’ve since expanded that belief to all of my students, but that’s another post.  My students have heard me say that so much now, that they help me finish the statement.

I think it’s been successful, since I recently took a group of middle school students (5th through 8th grade) to a business expo in Lansing.  We turned out to be the only middle school there – the rest of the groups were all from high schools.  Not intimidated in the least, my students set up their displays and proceeded to wow the judges, the keynote speaker (star center from the National Championship Spartan basketball team) and any other adult who moved into their orbit.  They approached adults, held out a hand to shake, introduced themselves and launched into their “elevator pitch”.  Not one of them hung back, sat behind their table display or behaved like anything less than the entrepreneur they were.  It was amazing!

At the end, awards were given out, along with cash prizes.  I’m proud (and a little embarrassed!) to say that my 5 middle school groups took home slightly more than half the cash and 5 prizes!  This was even though they were against all those high school groups!  They excelled!

What’s the secret?  I truly didn’t “train” them.  It was a process that began last year.  Our computer lab flooded, so I needed something to keep them busy.  I invited Junior Achievement to come in and do some of their lessons with the class.

At the end of the lessons, we held a mini business expo in our library.  We invited local business owners to join us (even gave them pretend money to invest) and the students showed off their work.  The Junior Achievement people attended and were very impressed.

Last winter, when the Lansing expo was being planned, those same Junior Achievement people remembered my students and invited us.  I encouraged all of my students to join us, but not all wanted to.

We proceeded to write business plans, executive summaries and elevator pitches.  They registered for the expo and created displays, samples and speeches.

In doing this, I gave them the freedom to succeed.  I find myself feeling like a mother bird, quite often.  I slowly, but surely, push them out of the nest that is their comfort zone and give them the chance to try their wings.  In doing so, we all discover what they can truly accomplish.  I’ve been absolutely amazed at what these kids can do.  So much more than any of us give them credit for being able to do.

What could your students do, if they were challenged?