Shuttering the Apothecary

mug shotCommencement commenced, summer upon us, and a moving truck idling in the driveway, it’s time for me to take a few weeks to make the major life transition from one state to another, one principalship to another, and one comfortable situation to a brand new adventure.

I started this blog for education related thoughts years ago when I was an assistant principal and have cheerfully kept it up as a principal, remembering that my starting point was an understanding that it would be filled with odds and ends, diverse and sometimes personal notions, and the kind of variety suggested by the line from Shakespeare stolen for the title:

I do remember an apothecary…
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff’d, and other skins
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scatter’d, to make up a show.”

But as life takes a huge leap toward the green expanses of Oregon, I know that it would be wise to shutter this apothecary for the summer and focus on making the drive north, settling in at a new school, and preparing for a new collection of “alligators stuff’d, tortoises, and old cakes of roses.” I have enjoyed the opportunity to reflect that this space has provided and relished the comments and engagement so many have offered.

I’ll pick up in the fall with Oregonian tales, and until then wish all my gentle readers a marvelous summer and, for taking time for these modest posts, a heartfelt thank you!

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Candy’s Dog

I’m in a room surrounded by bloggers.

Thirty fourteen year olds and I are all working on laptops and chromebooks writing posts that we hope might entertain and tell a meaningful story. Constantly circling us, like a benevolent shark, an inspiring English teacher peeks over shoulders, offers prompting and praise, asks questions, and challenges us to “stretch ourselves” as writers.

photo 1It’s Freshman English, and midway through Of Mice and Men students have paused long enough to do a bit of flash-research and creative writing on a post called: “Candy’s Dog: An Alternative Ending.”

In-class blogging has emerged as an interesting variation on the kind of writing English teachers have been assigning since before Steinbeck wrote his novella. It’s nothing new to see students answering writing prompts, but as I’m learning first hand today, putting their answers into a blog has every student in class focused on developing an “answer” that they feel proud enough to post.

This class is using a program that allows the teacher to share the posts as much or as little as she likes. This could be with peers within the class, students from multiple of her classes, or students across the school. The students seem aware that their audience might be more than their teacher sitting alone at her desk after the bell has rung. the result seems to be a greater level of care and focus.

dogPart of today’s assignment includes finding a picture of a dog and putting it in with the text, a task our teacher has warned us shouldn’t take all of the half hour or so we have to build our post. I went with a picture of a dog I had the pleasure of escorting off campus a couple of years ago; a friend had snapped our photo when he saw how much joy that pup had brought to my morning.

After an initial ten minutes of laughter, searching for photos and quick research on how elderly dogs get treated in contemporary society, the volume of the class has sunk to zero. Keyboards quietly tick as students, and I, hurry to finish our posts before the end of the period.

I leaned over to ask the fellow at my elbow what program they were using to blog; a few minutes later he leaned my way to ask how to spell “infinite.” I’m curious to read his post. We’re working side by side, a teacher never far away, and an audience for our work just around the corner.

I see the hands of the clock sweeping closer to 1:30, when we’ll need to bring an end to our work and send our posts out into the broader world. I’ve promised myself that I’ll live within the same constraints as the students in the class, allowing myself a similar experience and the joy of camaraderie that a challenge like this offers.

We haven’t used words like “paperless” or “21st century learning” today. Students haven’t marveled at something new or different. Instead, today’s blogging challenge feels natural, a simple manifestation of the world in which they learn and live.

I taught English for more than a decade, and wish I would have had the flexibility to share student work that blogging allows. I wish my students might have known that the audience for their work could extend beyond me. If blogging in the classroom is transformative, and it very well might be, it’s a quiet transformation, and one that doesn’t feel as revolutionary as it does a normal part of our world.

Blogging, in the classroom or out, isn’t a new trick, but it seems a nice way to celebrate learning, even for an old dog like me.

Apothecary

I do remember an apothecary,—
And hereabouts he dwells,—which late I noted
In tatter’d weeds, with overwhelming brows,
Culling of simples; meager were his looks,
Sharp misery had worn him to the bones;
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff’d, and other skins
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scatter’d, to make up a show.
Romeo and Juliet V.1

Not long ago a friend of mine asked me why I blog. Why this salmagundi of ideas about (mostly) education? How, he wondered, did I decide what to write about, and when? I tried to answer him over the phone, a muddled answer at best, one that made me sound a lot like that apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, who stocked his shelves with oddities, some of which made a difference in the course of Shakespeare’s play. Asked again by another friend, I thought I’d do a better job if I jotted out an answer. Here goes.

I blog because I want someone to notice what I’m doing and give me a five issue story arc in the new Moon Knight comic book.

photo 1 (24)Just kidding.

I blog because writing helps me reflect, celebrate, explore ideas, and (when I’m at my luckiest) join the great conversation about a topic I care greatly about: teaching and learning.

Flannery O’Connor said: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I’m not quite that bad (or good; I’m sure there are some Flannery O’Connor fans out there; I’m one), but I do know that putting pen to paper puts me in a contemplative zone, and helps me reflect on my professional practice. In addition, I think that blogging regularly helps me live life in a more thoughtful way, observing more closely and engaging with the world more mindfully as I go through my day.

Through posts I’m also able to celebrate the great work of teachers and students at my school. I’m often out and about on campus and see inspiration, and writing about the positive events I see helps me appreciate the people I work with every day.

I hope my readers (from Minnesota to Australia) know my school, at least a little, and think: “now that’s a good place.” It is, and blogging lets me share our story in a truthful and celebratory way.

Blogging also helps me push myself to explore new ideas, and connections between education and the world around us. It prompts me to engage with educational theory, and see how I can bring this to my own professional process. And by its public nature, it puts a bright light on what I do, and invites me to be (or at least feel) accountable to more than just myself. I’ve had parents and teachers ask me about ideas I’ve blogged about, and this interaction is renewing, rewarding, and keeps me on my toes.

It’s this potential to prompt conversation that intrigues me most about blogging. This public collection of thoughts is a modest way I can join the greater conversation about education. Sure, my work is mostly local, but I hope that some of the ideas might resonate with folks with different zip codes and different points of view.

If one of my posts can spark discussion or be a catalyst for someone else, then maybe these odds and ends, these skins of ill shaped fishes, have a place in the conversation too.