Friday, October 31, 2014

Man Succumbing to Paperwork, Reports, Conferences, Grading, and OtherAcademic Stress #Halloween2014

As of this post I have no plans to do anything with Halloween. That's not my norm, but I'm locking my doors, strapping my butt into my writing chair, and working ALL DAY. Yesterday was a bonanza of car issues, house purchase disappointment, emails, and phone calls. Today is a confluence of multiple deadlines that I have not found time to meet.

So this is my costume. I am going as a stick figure man in a red t-shirt swimming in paper. What am I? Overwhelmed!

I am sure many of my colleagues understand this feeling - it's just that it usually doesn't arrive at Halloween, but this year the timing leads to the 31st.

The good news is that my house is scary looking, there are few trick or treaters who venture onto the highly trafficked Nichols Avenue, and it is doubtful any kid will walk up my steep driveway and stairs. This is why I somewhat have to boycott the evening (although I traditionally have gone to homes where candy can be handed out).

I write not to bum anyone out (even myself), but to declare to the universe, "I've got a lot of work to do today." Not only is it this Friday, but it's everyday for what looks like an eternity. Yet, I learned from my dissertation experience, if I put my head down, shine my horns, I can successfully get through it all.

That is the goal. Besides, I haven't had sugar, candy, bread, rice, or pasta in several weeks. The whole notion of rotting my teeth with this event today is not on my radar. With that noted, I say to you, "Go For It! Eat all that is truly pleasurable!"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Finding Creative Outlets Wherever They Present Themselves. Binders ForHalloween.

A truth about Graduate Schools of Education. There is never a shortage of binders lying around. In fact, I think they breed whenever we're not looking because every time I turn a corner, there's another piled stacked from reports of yesteryear, classroom projects, office organizing, and conference distribution.

At Fairfield, some of these binders find their ways in the strangest of locations and this morning, while making final edits to a presentation at Carrigan Intermediate in West Haven, one jumped out at me in the copier room and I decided there was a drastic need to get creative before my colleagues came in for the day. I went to my computer, designed a monster, and decorated in celebration of Halloween with a note wishing my neighbors the best, especially as they prep for classes and their own academic work.

I'm never sure if my humor and wit will be appreciated, but I left for Carrigan with a smile on my face.
"A little nonsense now and then, relished by the wisest men." ~ Roald Dahl
video
Any chance I have to create, innovate, jump outside the proverbial box, and put a smile on someone's face, I'll take. My personal Halloween plans are on the back burner and I haven't put any thought into the wackiness of the holiday, but I feel I contributed my share with my vicious monster binder. He seemed lonely by the copier and looked like he needed to be fed data, notes, handouts, and other shenanigans. I simply offered him a pair of teeth and eyes for intimidation factors.

GRRRRAAAWWWWWR!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Heading to Two of My Favorite Years of Schooling Today: 5th and 6th Grade in West Haven. @cwpfairfield

One of the best parts of my job is that 1/3rd of the work I do is out in K-12 schools. Two years ago I was dedicated to high school, then last year I delved into K-8, and this year I've been hired to work with 5th and 6th grade teachers.

5th grade. Seriously? 

It was my favorite year of all schooling because I had a fantastic teacher named Mr. Finster. Not only did Mr. Finster have a multiplication torture chamber in which he came at us in his electronic wheelchair spitting out numbers: "5x4, 10x9, 7x8, 2x4," etc., but he also offered one of the only glimpses of creative writing I ever had in my pre-college experience. Every Monday he wrote a prompt on the board and by Friday he wanted us to tap our minds and turn in a substantial piece of writing for him to read.  I loved learning in his room because the expectations were high, but he was with his learners every step of the way (well, wheel of the way - he had multiple sclerosis). He was also obsessed with Roald Dahl and his wife, Patricia Neal, and often shared with us his love letters to he wrote to the movie star, about how he was going to win her heart and and make her leave ol' Roald to his chocolate factories. His eccentricities were remarkable.

6th grade was also a favorite year of mine, probably because we started rotating classes and there was a sudden plunge in the mischief kids caused in school. Biologically, we were all over the place. Puberty hit some and didn't even start for others. I remember being dropped off at Penn Can mall one time to meet with classmates and my mom remarking, "I'm not leaving you with these kids. They look like they're in high school." I wanted her to leave me with them because they were the bad #$$es of my class.

The task I'm assigned today is to begin a conversation of teachers writing with students in a variety of the ways expected of them from the Common Core State Standards. The sessions are short, so I can only initiate a dialogue, but I'm looking forward to learning from teachers on what is working and not working in these grade levels.

It was a time of Little League for me: wiffleballs and plastic bats, football on Duncowing Avenue, tremendous gaps in my teeth, and bowl cuts. It was also the year of my first crush, but it was Peter Boy Caroli who, a year ahead of me, actually picked her out when he saw class pictures. Of course, then, crushes were only pointing at photos of the girls we thought were cute (read Rudolph here when he loses his red nose).

Have to keep this short, however, because the students at the school wrote me letters about what they think of writing and I need to peruse them before I make the trip.

Writing today, writing tomorrow, and writing everyday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Celebrating Literacy With Greenwich High School - Bringing Ubuntu Academy Kids With Me @writingproject

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by librarians and media specialists in Greenwich, Connecticut, inquiring about making presentations to middle and high school students. They are participating in a community reads initiative and one of the novels offered in their district is Warren St. John's Outcasts United. I have read this book several times and use it extensively as a resource in my courses and while mentoring and working with relocated refugee youth in Syracuse, New York. Parallel to Luma Mufleh's life mission with schooling and sports, so became my academic work: Responsibility to Speak Out”: Perspectives on Writing From Black African-Born Males With Limited and Disrupted Formal Education. 

Since arriving to Connecticut, I've worked with my cousin, Hoops4Hope, and Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield, to launch the first-ever young adult literacy lab for relocated and immigrant youth - Ubuntu Academy. A decade ago, while I was still teaching in Kentucky, my cousin Mark wondered what Literacy4Hope would look like. A lot of academic and leg work later, I'm beginning to see that it is beginning to look something like this. It is a willingness to be open to many communities who have needs, but also make unique contributions. 

Last summer, I had the fortune of teaching a weeklong seminar at Louisiana State University for a Young Adult Literature conference. While there, I kicked off the idea for Ubuntu Matters, a website for posting materials for individuals who work with relocated, refugee youth, especially from African nations. I still have work to do with it, but when I'm asked to speak to 160 high school students, I realize there's a lot more interest in K-12 schools about colonialism, post-colonialism, and the humanitarian issues that have resulted.

Today, Abonga, Omar, and Peter Simon will present our collaborative story to the students at Greenwich High School, and as a bonus, twins Abu and Lossine Bility will be Skyping to share their success in college.

Literacy really is for life and, like my research showed, communities matter most. This is a National Writing Project way of thinking and it is my thinking for life. I can be me because of who we are together.

And to punctuate the day, tonight....I get to teach back to back graduate courses and, tomorrow, lead school wide professional development in West Haven on Wednesday. And he's off!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Contemplating Leaves, Seasons, Leaving, and Arriving on a MondayMorning of a Hectic Week to Come. I've Got This!

Last week in a writing course, one of the graduate students led an activity with shells and leaves where we detailed what we were given and tried to find markings that would differentiate ours from all others.

I've been thinking about such markings, especially as I harvest all the leaves that are currently falling in pre-hibernal zest. I said to Pam the other day, "It's too bad energy folks haven't figured out a way to capture the pizazz of leaves to make something useful for human beings...after all, like waves, rain, and wind, we can count on them falling every year. What a waste not to find more use for them."

I think the autumn months are always transitional ones.

We're nesting into the darker, colder days of winter and this always has me thinking about where I was, where I am, and where I am going. I thought of a poem Ipublished via the Louisville Writing Project and post it here as I think ahead and contemplate my own life patterns. He's there, then here, then over there. Such an anxious, wandering fellow.

his leaving (a sestina)

                                     ~Bryan Ripley Crandall

            he never turned back.  packed his bags and left
            beyond a circus and history in his pocket.
            “goodbye, old world.” he promised. “i’m on my way now,”
            and stepped on the gas to drive away.
            that was when he was younger;
            fledglings have reasons to leave the nest.

            he walked onto his porch, today, & saw a bird fallen from nesting.
            glanced at telephone wires to see if winged parents had left
            this featherless embryo with its bulging purple eyes, so young,
            and a beak open for insight (the creature could fit in his pocket).
            youth fallen from its house, so quiet. he needed to find a way           
            to get the lil’ guy into shelter & now

            seemed as good a time as any, he thought. the parents
            were away and he climbed to the roof, found the finch’s nest.
            the flight was his fault. in his world, it’s always
            his fault, and he could never be sure how many days he had left.
            he put the bird in the twigs, climbed down and put his hands in his pockets

            to think about how vulnerable we are when young.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saturday Nights Are Meant For Rejuvenation and This Calls For an Art Walk At Erector Square in New Haven

When you're exhausted from a workweek, tired from playing catch up on curriculum and grading all day Saturday, the best thing to do is to go for a run, shower, and then join friends for the Art Festival at Erector Square in New Haven.

I knew Gordon Skinner was being featured, but it was also great to see the floors opened up to numerous artists in the area selling their wares. I walked around taking notes about pieces I would like to create should I find the time (and energy).

As I meandered, I couldn't help but think about how skewed our world is. Lawyers, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, athletes and actors makes lots of money with what they do, but it really should be the artists who are most revered by society. As I saw all the talent in each of the rooms and recognized with each the notion of "struggling," I thought to myself, "Our society has it all backwards. These are the geniuses of culture and they should be viewed as Kings and Queens. They are creators, makers, communicators, and visionaries. They express their worldview in creative ways and represent the hard work and focus of staying dedicated, thinking critically, and finding a way to express." Yet, most of these individuals do it as a hobby, not to get by.

It seems silly.

They are our culture's superheroes and I left feeling inspired and ready to begin making myself.

I am sad, too, to think that most schools have rid their art and creative programs. What a shame. It is a marker for everything wrong in education and it should be turned around. Each and every day we should be expected to wake up, think about the universe, and sculpt/paint/draw/build/write/ and doodle what it is that is on our minds.

That, to me, is what life should be about.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Um, What Ever Happened To Thirty-Something, K Dot C Dot? How'd We GetTo Our Forties So Fast?

Flashback. High School.

Not sure if my sisters watched this, but I know I did. I had an antennae t.v. in my room that required me to get up to change channels. I watched Roseanne, Beverly Hills 90210 (talk about contrasts), Oprah, Phil Donahue, Tracy Ullman, and Thirty Something. Those were my shows when I wasn't working at a mall being an 80s kid.

Flashback: Conversations.

I remember several of my high school classmates referencing Thirty Something in many of my classes and, at lunch, talking about where they planned to be two decades from where we were. Most of them wanted to replicate the professions of this particular show. I, however, wanted to be the long-haired hippie dude (far right) working on a degree in English. I managed this for a while, but cut the locks as I aged. Note to self: I still want to be the long-haired hippies dude working on a degree in English.

Reality Check: The majority of us have become exactly what we set out to be.

Purpose: This post is about my sister, Casey. She turned 41 yesterday and I'm wondering what the hell happened to our 30s? Shit. What happened to our 20s? Is this what The Big Chill is all about? If so, I totally get it.

Slow Down Universe!

Casey's not allowed to be in her 40s and neither am I. She's now 41. I'm 42, going on 43. To me, we're still swimming in Loch Lebanon, playing Hi Lo, throwing a softball/baseball around, sneaking beers from my father's fridge, taking $1 bills from my mom's purse, and riding 10 speed bikes down the hill of Amalfi Drive. We're at Southkirk in cabins with the Marleys. We're on roller skates that have to be strapped onto sneakers and that make your legs tingle for hours afterwards. Cynde and I are still playing Angels and Devils while harassing Casey in the back seat of the car. Casey and I are still drinking Capris Suns while I coach her to solve every Nintendo game we rent from...get this...video stores.

Last night, I called Casey at 9:35 and said, "This is the first chance I've had all day to call you. It's been too busy." She was like, "That's okay, I'm exhausted, too. We just got back from Twin Trees"

We hang up, and then I have a heart-to-heart with Chitunga about growing up, aging, making decisions, and doing what's right. He brought up the conversation when he said, "You opened your home to help me out. You make the rules." 

So I grounded him and sent him to his room. 

Actually, we talked. 

How has all this happened? How does Cynde have a daughter in college and a son about to enter high school? When did Casey stop caring about going out to 4 a.m. to local bars so that she could raise a family in Manlius? What the hell?

It's 10 p.m. and you're sitting with an 18 year old talking about the importance of making smart decisions for the next decade of his life. It seems somewhat important, but then you have flashbacks to what you were doing as an 18 year old. Times were different then, but the mischief was still the same.

So you say, "IN MY HOUSE, THESE ARE MY RULES."

But I don't have any rules. I simply am and let be what should be. This seems like sound advice until he reminds me that his American experience and sense of family has been different. Trying to find ways to respect his independence at the same time I try to "parent" is a new challenge to my world. 

Um, go watch Roseanne.

It's all a guessing game, I tell him "If you want me to whack you upside your head and tell you what a loser you're being, I can do that. But if you want mature conversations, guidance, and speculation, then I can give that, too."

I listen. He listens.  Then we watch Team America, #$@# yeah!

Who would have ever thought this would be my reality when I was 17?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Crandall is basically chicken #$@%. Living With His Mottos, Then, Sometimes Become Problematic. It's All Good. Leap.

I'm a scaredy cat. I hate horror films, watch the nightly news in paranoia that everything will destroy all that I love and know, and live, internally, as a worry-wart.

I don't personify this, of course, because I push myself to do things I normally wouldn't do. I take chances and I wade through them for whether or not they feel right.

Perhaps that's why yesterday's home inspection and commitment to 30 years of mortgage plagued me. I will always have to pay to live, but it's the commitment word. I hate it. I prefer the role of a dandelion seed. Float and see where I go.

Hmmm. That's what got me to Connecticut in the first place.

Scarier than walking through a potential home with an inspector (and the price one pays to do such a thing), is the fact I left my laptop charger at the office. This created panic. Prayers needed to be made that the battery life would last for six hours while I finished looking over midterms, planned for a class I'm subbing in tomorrow, and distracted myself with word-searches and content-quests. Whenever I have a question about anything, I search for answers.

I can't say I do something scary everyday, but I do drive I-95 on most. I count that.

In truth, every move, every change, every decision is the potential for disaster or celebration. My optimism usually chooses hope. Perhaps that is scary to others.

So, I wonder what I will do today?

I know - throwback to a year ago and, once again, say,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lil' Sis!!!! (CLICK HERE) - Orange scares her to death!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

19 Days Later, The Good Lie Comes to Connecticut Theaters- @UNICEFAfrica @EmmanuelJal

Emmanuel Jal in Birmingham, Alabama
In 2013, the Great Whatever introduced the narrative of Emmanuel Jal to my world. I was presenting at the Urban Sites Conference of the National Writing Project, and part of our experience was a collaboration with the Civil Rights museum in Birmingham. Emmanuel Jal performed at an event and, because of my work with relocated Sudanese families, he and I had an evening to talk and think. At the time, he was filming The Good Lie with Reese Witherspoon and signing copies of War Child: A Child Soldier's Story.

The work I do with relocated youth continues at Fairfield University (see Ubuntu Academy) and I've been scanning theater websites since October 2nd waiting for the film to debut. For the last few weeks I've been talking with schools as they read Outcasts United and next week I will be with Greenwich High School for a discussion of the book. The librarian at the school let me know that UNICEF was having a special screening of the film so I bought tickets for some of my students at Fairfield University and a few youth I've been working with in Connecticut.
On the set of THE GOOD LIE

Since arriving to Fairfield University I have been teaching the Sudanese narrative of relocation and sharing with both undergrad and graduate students about the continued struggle of individuals who are part of the 1% relocated to the United States. These narratives parallel those of Liberians, Somali Bantus, Eritreans, Rwandans, and Congolese. To know the conflicts they've endured is to have a better understanding of global relations, colonial histories, and 21st century industries. To know America and our place, it is important to know Sudan and its place.

I went to the screening with critical doubt of how a 'fictional' story would be portrayed through Hollywood (even if Richie Cunningham - Ron Howard - was the director). The trailer made it seem that it would be a story of Reese Witherspoon and I worried about historical accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and American sensationalism. I learned from my attendance, however, that the efforts of those behind the film were rather acute and I recognized lines from documentaries, NY Times articles, CBS News, and 60 minutes.

The Good Lie hit me emotionally and intellectually on a number of levels and although Reese Witherspoon's character was two-dimensional, I felt her connection for helping young men and women struggling on American soils. It is a monumental task for many and it is a journey that is hard to explain...we can never do enough.

Quinn, Evan, and John
I had my eye on Emmanuel Jal, however, and felt he made the character of Peter very convincing. Arnold Oceng, Femi Oguns, and Ger Duany were also wonderful in their roles, representing the Sudanese narrative with conviction and sincerity. Kuoeth Wiel, too, was simply stunning on the big screen. I am sure, for them, the theatrics were also remembrances of times in their lives that were extremely difficult.

I am only one of many who have become involved in refugee relocation in the United States and, although I'm a literacy teacher and scholar, I will continue to advocate for global stories in the work I do. It was an honor to bring students from my English courses and Chitunga with me to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with them. Although we couldn't stay for the discussion after the screening, we were thrilled to see actress Maria Howell when she was brought in. She is a phenomenal actress and more beautiful in person (she responded to my Tweet from that night, too - whoa!).

It will take me a while to process the film, but for now I'm saying, "Thumbs Up, Peter." You continue to inspire me in all that you do. I hope one day our paths cross again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mirror, Microscope, Telescope: Three Metaphors for Thinking About Writing @writingproject @ncte

The bad news about my writing course this semester is it met on Tuesday night, a day after The National Day On Writing. The course also meets at the latest time for graduate students, so by the time everyone arrives, we all are exhausted, giddy, punch-drunk, and ready for bed. Even so, the tradition of promoting writing instruction continued, and one of my students kicked off the evening with a great activity of choosing an object and writing, in detail, about the item we chose.

I couldn't help but see faces with the way three shells landed on my page and I promise, I was on task with the work at hand. I did, however, have to take a moment to be silly.

Actually, I didn't.

We were discussing Gallagher's ideas for using rhetorical devices and I recalled an article I read (Carroll & Hanson, 2004) about thinking about writing through the lens of a mirror, microscope and telescope. We looked, too, at several commercials with these varying lenses, to understand the ways we are hooked by celebrity appeal, emotional appeal, celebrity, humor, and the what not.

I meant to be a good boy, and before class I found a Thai Insurance commercial that was billed as the saddest commercial ever made. As I brought students to the ad, however, I began laughing. I told them, it was a different commercial from what we're used to seeing. It was far from funny, but I had one of those moments.

It aired.

Several people were emotionally touched as I knew they would be, and (I'm not sure what happened) when I began to talk I just started laughing in one of those uncomfortable fits where my body shakes and tears pour out of my eyes. My laughter got all the graduate students laughing and before we knew it we were all laughing, uncontrollably, trying to figure out why anything was funny. It wasn't. We did begin a conversation about cultural contexts and whether or not such a commercial would air in the U.S. Perhaps it was because we looked at Clint Easton's It's Half Time America, first, followed by a parody. Maybe it is because we also looked at an Old Spice commercial, but following these with an emotional appeal just hit me in a place of exhaustion that triggered a release I didn't expect.

I'm chalking this one up to having a sense of humor when trying to find effective practices for teaching writing in a variety of genres for multiple purposes. Something about the Thai commercial, and the planning for the heaviness it delivered, just got into my head and gave me giggles in a way that I haven't experienced since working with Alice at the Brown School and being in silent locations with my little sister, Casey.

I'm not proud of my behavior, and am writing my way through it before I begin my Wednesday afternoon. I think it has something to do with "teaching writing processes" and coming to a place where I ask myself, "Why?"

It must be the life insurance. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Think It. Design It. Construct It. Make It. Put It Into Action. Distribute. Publish. Bravo! #writemycommunity #ce14 @NCTE @writingproject

I once read in a Douglas Coupland novel that the human body is water's secret ambition to transport itself around the world. I have thought the same for ideas and about history. Water and content is recycled in magnificent ways, yet our human carcasses are temporary. The only way for either to go forward, they must be passed on.

Yesterday, during NCTE's National Day on Writing, I stopped by the Oak Room at Fairfield University's campus to catch up with my colleague, Dr. Cinthia Gannett, who has the enormous task of organizing and supervising all the Core English courses for incoming freshmen. This year, in the tradition of celebrating the National Day on Writing, Cinthia organized several sections of EN 11 for students to think about ways writing matters in their life, but also to make connections  to the larger theme of water that crossing throughout courses at Fairfield University.

Students set up tables to write poetry, to think about the numerical literacy that can be measured through plastic bottle industries, to explore children's books with water themes, and to reflect on aquatic novels. One of my favorite projects, however, came from one of the sections of freshman English where students photographed images of water and aligned them with quotes from famous writers. These imprints were then made into postcards that were cut out and available for anyone to write a message. Many filled out an address so the postcards could be mailed (the writing program paid for the postage). The result was a collage of images, quotes, and messages to others to think about their place in the universe and on issues of water. Most of the students, I noticed, wrote messages to their parents. Through this ingenuity, they were able to mail a postal hug.

Of all my National Day on Writing events yesterday, the postcard activity made the greatest impact. It was such a simple way to promote communication and activism in a feel good, purposeful way. It reminded me of the assignment I often give where students revise and draft letters to share an opinion, make a demand, or inform a reader When the writing is ready, I mail what they had to say and respond, "There isn't a grade until you get a response. If your words caught the attention of someone else, then I've succeeded in my instruction."

Here's to the innovative ways teachers across the United States are reminding schools that writing matters. Without a doubt, it always has and always will.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Am Keeping Calm, Writing On, Teaching On, and Reflecting On! #writemycommunity #CE14 @writingproject @ncte

How awesome is it that one day, every year, there's a space in the universe to reflect on writing, creativity, composing, creating, and making the world a better place? Phew! Thinking about it, it seems to be a grueling task - but it is an art form I celebrate, uphold, and dedicate my life upon.

And, it is stressful.

Teaching, guiding, mentoring, reflecting, drafting, editing, supporting, coaching, playing, wondering, being, and believing - so many verbs! How else to proceed forward than with a calm sense that writing will deliver me to the places I most wish to explore.

So, how will Crandall spend this occasion?

Here's a few ways:
  1. Several writing prompts have been delivered to schools, encouraging them to reflect on writing with me.
  2. I am posting on Kreativitet.
  3. I am assessing several midterms for content areas teachers exploring literacy in their fields.
  4. I am presenting to a research methods course on what I learned from working with relocated refugee youth and their writing lives.
  5. I am challenging my numerical literacy while writing an offer with a real estate agent! Whoa!
  6. I am meeting with my administrative assistant in support of the second publication of POW!
  7. CWP-Fairfield will launch a Literacy4Life initiative in support of the how athletics and literacy interconnect.
  8. I await an email from CT Mirror about the launch of a collaborative website project showcasing teacher Op Eds.
  9. I will plan two classes for Tuesday night: one on content area vocabulary and another on writing to inform and explain.
  10. Finally, I will send a digital birthday song to the twins at Brockport and put my sister's BDay card in the mail so it reaches her by the 24th.
I can't imagine any day without writing or thinking about the ways writing enhances our world. Even so, today is extra special. 

Here's to everyone else dancing through the National Day on Writing

Write on!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Prepping For Tomorrow, The National Day on Writing 2014. WhyWrite? #CE14 #WriteMyCommunity @writingproject

For the third year, I'm offering a writing prompt to teachers that asks them to survey their students on five questions: Why Write? What is Writing? Who Writes? Who Cares? And What About You? 

I've used this prompt to initiate conversations for professional development in schools, asking students K-12 to respond to these questions in any way they wish: a letter back to me, to their teachers, through lists, a brainstorm, a free write, an essay, cartoons and even doodles. Usually, I ask teachers to then learn from students about the vast ways writing is understood by them - data that is extremely useful to beginning a dialogue of the writing instruction offered in a given school.

I personally like to align the themes that arrive along the way, and I encourage teachers and administrators to respond, too. Usually I find that young people have multiple explanations for writing, but they tend to find school-based assignments disconnected from what interests them most.

I've been asking the five questions of myself for 20+ years and I realize that every time I respond I have newer, and more surprising answers. Researchers often point out that young people are expected to write very little in school, but those that work with youth outside of school usually find that young people write for a wider variety of reasons and for purposes that matter to them.

This, to me, is part of finding solutions for writing instruction we offer in our content areas. There are multiple genres for teachers to explore within school, but more often than not, they tend to assign short responses to testing questions. This is the shame. We write to communicate to others, to wide variety of audiences, and for contexts that alter given our life experiences and purposes. Writing is an art and I tend to see written text as one way to express, inform, analyze, think through, believe, entertain, and wonder. I nod my appreciation, too, to Kelly Gallagher and his work in Write Like This.
I lament that his advice wasn't available when I was still working with portfolios in Kentucky. It is a must-have text for all teachers because there are numerous, insightful activities and suggestions that make sense, are ready to go, and that change classroom practices.

Last night, CWP-Fairfield hosted a spoken word event in collaboration with outsider artist, Gordon Skinner (check out his new website). In attendance were teachers, painters, academics, poets, and sculptors. It was amazing to witness the way that language and visual forms of communication quickly bounce off one another to make meaning for our world and to inspire the desire for more creations. In fact, one woman jumped onto a piano and began playing ragtime music. She said, "I want one of the poets to write language to go with what I play."

I wonder, though, if we limit the ways we encourage creativity and expression with our students. Writing classrooms should be art studios where brilliant minds bounce ideas and experiences off one another. This is what occurred last night and, I suppose, what I hope the five questions will prompt for any teacher and/or student who decides to take on the reflective challenge.

We shall see. This is what such practices bring to the table.

And by the way, Gordon Skinner's art will be featured at next week's City-Wide Open StudiosEre Event at Erector Square.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Writing Beyond the Hoax in Educational Policy. @YohuruWilliams A Need For Staying Connected

Yesterday, Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke to the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, in which CWP-Fairfield is housed. His dialogue - Reclaiming Our Schools: Social Justice in Education - addressed history, the current "reform" (read deform) movement, and the grandiose narrative that is currently being written by a national movement destroying public education. This narrative, as most public school teachers realize, needs to be challenged. Yes, achievement gaps in the nation are horrific but the current solution offered by the 'story they are telling' is short-sighted, self-serving, and extremely destructive.

Williams referenced Thurgood Marshall's influence with Brown vs. The Board of Education, and noted the importance of promoting democracy through teaching citizenship in our schools. The reform movement placed upon teachers, including Common Core State Standards, is not genuine to democratic traditions. Rather, it has been an exercise of monumental bullying by individuals who have political and capital power, but who lack savviness for teaching and differentiating in American schools.

Monday, October 20th, is the National Day on Writing and those of us who remain devoted to the work of the National Writing Project recognize that it is through the power of writing that the greatest changes are made. October is also Connected Educator Month, an exploration of key educational issues through online communities and networks, dedicated to broadening and deepening educator participation, as well as bringing online community and education leaders together to move towards a more fully connected and collaborative profession.

Today, I write as an educator, a proponent of America's public schools, in defense of teachers, and with advocacy for youth and parents across the United States. Dr. Williams addressed the discourse used by individuals such as Arne Duncan, John King, and Michelle Rhee who make claims that "schools are in crisis," "American students are behind the rest of the world," and "Schools and teachers are inadequate for closing the horrendous achievement gaps in our nation."

These claims, as historian and activist Diane Ravitch (2014) writes, are a complete hoax causing insurmountable damage to our schools. Ravitch writes these hoaxes have been perpetrated by policy makers, corporate reformers, and non-educators - falsehoods that have established a state of fear in America's public schools and have undermined the hard work of teachers, administrators, national organizations, and scholars in higher education. The bamboozlement of these individuals is well funded and misguided (see commercials airing nationwide in our urban centers as evidence). According to Ravitch there has been a No Child Left Behind Hoax, The Race To the Top Hoax, The Reformer Hoax, The Private Sector Hoax, The Technology Hoax, The Teaching Profession Hoax, The Teacher Preparation (NCTQ) Hoax, The Teach For America Hoax, The Teacher Evaluation Hoax, The Poverty Does Not Matter Hoax, and The School Choice as a Civil Rights Issue Hoax.

Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke with our department about the claims the tricksters make in regard to Civil Rights and how their "hero/savior" motif is a 21st century form of colonialism. It is derogatory mis-management. In my thinking, the reformers are simulacra of Sylvester McMonkey McBean, a character in Dr. Seuss's cautionary tale, The Star-Bellied Sneetches. In opposition of the hoaxes, Williams nodded his head to the 53,000 educators who have signed up for the Bad Ass Teachers association to provide counterclaims to the paranoia that the so-called "reformers" have used to destroy the infrastructure of public school educators. The de-formers are well-financed, see themselves as CEOs rather than educators, and are more interested in fluffing up their boards than serving the youth of America; it should be noted, too, that Sylvester has many sisters named Sylvia. If only the salaries, commercials, and investments given to these organizations were used as investments to support curriculum in America's schools.

Advocacy must be a community initiative.

Public school educators must stay connected. 

More importantly, however, young people who attend public schools and parents who send their children to them must stay connected in the on-going dialogue to reverse the consequences that are resulting from the hoaxes brought forth by a regime of individuals who are NOT teachers or professionals and who do NOT have knowledge about child development, curriculum, wellness, and effective instructional practices. More times than not, the "reformers" are hubris-oriented, well-intended nincompoops who are tragically wrong with their beliefs.

In the last four years of working in high needs schools, I have witnessed firsthand the negative consequences resulting from a hoax-driven reform movement. My analogy has been that "reformers" have managed to duct tape the mouths of teachers and students, tied their hands behind their backs with thick rope, chopped off their legs at the knee, and asked them to run a marathon in record time. When they have not (or do not) make the required time, the "reformers" then point to the ineffectiveness of individuals (wounded teachers and students) for not reaching the prescribed goal. I have witnessed weekly the ways that public school teachers: rural, suburban, and urban, have been scapegoated for larger societal ills. Programs have been defunded, salaries have been frozen, professional development has been taken away, and arts and electives have been cut. Meanwhile, expectations placed on students have been hijacked by the peculiar objectives stated by the Common Core State Standards. A vast majority of time spent in school has mandated test-only instruction.

I, myself, leave schools feeling alarmed, frustrated, fearful, and sad. I worry that my observations are like those of Cassandra who spoke often but was never believed. At times, I feel like Schindler in the seminal movie, Schindler's List. I find myself remorseful and saying, "I could do more. There's got to be a better way."

I left the classroom in 2007 to pursue a doctorate, not because I wanted to leave the young people I loved working with, but because the mandates coming from above were in direct opposition to what I felt 21st century youth need from public schools. I earned a doctorate to find researched-based ways to fight against educational policies that are unhealthy, misguided, short-sighted, and ridiculous. Seven years later, I am writing this post, only to realize that the nation has also turned its back on research, expertise, and instructional practices (the National Writing Project's story personifies this, but we remain strong. We continue to fight. Applebee and Langer (2013), too, have written about proven methods that work and share the cautionary tale of poorly executed writing instruction in our schools).

Connected teachers need to be at the forefront as a constructive force.

The National Writing Project treated me as a professional when I was still in the classroom. They respected my expertise and invested in me as a passionate individual driven to do my best for all students. The success in my classroom and for my district were many; I look to those days as a guiding force for the work I do now. My quest is to promote writing for social change. Henry Louise Gates (1986), the great post-colonial scholar, wrote that writing is the absolute way for 'righting' the world. The empire must write back.

Our schools need to write back.

We need to fight for the rights of our students. We need to represent the heterogeneity of our classrooms and to help students bring voices to the forefront of these conversations. We must teach our students to be advocates for their learning.

Hmmm, just thinking here.
I have expressed to Dr. Yohuru Williams on numerous occasions that although I have followed the work of Bad Ass Teachers, I have wrestled with their title. Bad Ass, to me, connotes rebelliousness that seems somewhat counterintuitive to the professionalism and work that teachers do. Still, in this current political climate, I feel that teachers need to have a Bad Ass streak within them so they will be heard, defended, supported, and believed. I've played around with the language, but have come to terms with how they have titled their organization because teachers have been silenced in the national school reform movement for way too long. This has been the greatest tragedy for our nation.

Another great tragedy for our nation, just over a decade into the new millennium, is the fact that all disciplines have national standards that have already been created, upheld, and stood by through professional organizations and supportors in higher education (e.g., NCTE,  NCTM, NCAS, NCSS, NSES, etc). These standards have been usurped, however, through the Common Core, a movement that has not been common nor core to those who work in America's public schools. Why wasn't the expertise of LRA or AERA or IRA brought into the conversation on effective practices for working with K-12 youth?

The greatest hoax, still, might be that those of us dedicated to the profession and who work to advance lifelong critical thinking skills will be silenced and will not stand up for what we believe in. This is not true.

We need Ubuntu - "I can be me because of who we are together."

There is tremendous power when many of us stand united to oppose the detrimental consequences that have arrived as a result of politics, greed, and socio-economic realities of the last decades.

The pockets of educators may be shallow, but our minds are deep.

I write today as an advocate for putting the word "professional" back into the teaching profession. America's educators deserve better professional development. Current school meetings about teacher evaluations and data-team mining is a waste of time. Teachers need to teach. It's hard to measure growth when a vast majority of a day is monopolized with benchmark testing, test reviews, tests to practice for more tests and, well, even more testing. There isn't anything to document because content is not being delivered. The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for this and should be ashamed.

Enough is enough.

As Dr. Yohuru Williams advocated yesterday at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, there needs to be more organic conversations and action. We need to involve ourselves in local communities and to fight against the 'outsider' movement and its mission to destroy public schools.

Real teachers talk in faculty rooms every day. They have amazing conversations that transcend the  dialogue of political parties, teacher unions, and corporations. They know what works. They know what they need. They have the brilliance that our nation deserves right now, but too many of the greatest ideas go unheard because teachers, as a profession, have not written or spoken up enough.

Teachers owe advocacy to their students. They owe it to democracy. But, more important, they owe it to themselves to show the naysayers that they are educated, driven, hardworking, and innovative individuals.

They gotta write! Ai'ght?

And, we owe it to the profession to keep one another in check. Listen to the kids. They have insight on what we need to do next.

It's time to take back the narrative.

Applebee, A. N., & Langer, J. (2013). Writing Instruction That Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gates, H. L. (1986/2006). Writing Race. In B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths & H. Tifflin (Eds.), The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (pp. 216-218). New York: Rutledge.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Hoaxes in educational policy. The Teacher Educator, 49:3, 153-165, DOI:  
          10.1080/08878730.2014.916959.






Friday, October 17, 2014

Pushing Toward the 30th Year, An Anniversary for @CWPFairfield and its affiliation with @writingproject

Bryan's first draft.
Neither Ellen nor myself have been trained as graphic designers. Okay, Ellen does have expertise in this area in ways that I can never imagine for myself (she's a visual perfectionist after all who will be mortified that I posted this sketch here). Still, I'm visual and knowing that Monday is the 20th and The National Day On Writing I thought it would be a great day to announce CWP-Fairfield's 30th anniversary kickoff. Next year's summer institute will represent three decades of providing professional development to Connecticut literacy leaders.

I told Ellen that I've had this vision of a man climbing out of the box in celebration of 30 years, especially at a time when 'out of the box' thinking is so necessary in K-12 teaching (even as it is discouraged). She didn't quite get what I was saying so I sat in my office and began to sketch this out in a makeshift form that shows my lack of visual design training (the left is what I came up with).

CWP-Fairfield needs a milestone graphic to celebrate the 30th institute for educational leaders and a way to say, "Yup, we've lost major funding from our federal government, but we are here, we're strong, and we are still doing what we believe in - teaching writing in K-12 schools while using effective practices that work."

I continue to believe in the power of teachers, teacher leaders, and teacher educators to make sound decisions that will prepare youth up and beyond the rhetoric surrounding our schools. In my old age, I'm beginning to stand my ground: corporations and government should guide out schools but keep their money-making greed away from them. They can sponsor programs that work - such as the National Writing Project - but they should look elsewhere to fill their pockets and egos.

Teachers need the freedom to provide instruction that reaches kids and that benefits them. They need autonomy, trust, and professional development that enhances their practice (and does not stifle it). They need to be treated as the professionals they are.

It's Friday. There are TGIF's being sung all over the world. I, too, am singing, but I am looking forward to all the 'bringing' that is still yet to come.

I am thinking ahead to the next 30 years.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Slimed By a High School Friend (okay, Prom Date). National Breast Cancer Awareness Month @Pink_Bracelets


Today I will write in pink. Yesterday, I wrote with normal fonts and colors, but in the afternoon my high school prom wrote a post on Facebook that she was rolling on her kitchen floor in butter while dressed like a slug. Her confession caught my attention because, well... I have fond memories of doing such things with my high school prom date while we were young (in college, too). We learned that utter rarely hurts anyone when it is used on the outside of the body.

Kirsten's ploy worked. I was duped by her and I responded, "Well, that's what I'm doing right now, too....flopping around in butter" She wrote back to report that this was her way of getting me to be part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Because she caught my attention, I was obligated to get the attention of others.

It worked. That is why I write today.

My grandmother Vera had breast cancer and was a survivor. She didn't talk about it much. Instead, she lived as a humble, hardworking, and empathetic individual who preferred spending her time caring for others. She didn't like any attention being drawn her way. As a result, my memories of her battle are slight, but now my curiosity has grown to know more about that time in her life. 

While teaching in Kentucky, too, many of my high school students had relatives who battled breast cancer and, yearly, we did the Breast Cancer walks in Louisville. I still have many of the t-shirts given for all the money we donated to the cause. 

I'm really glad I was slimed by Kirsten yesterday. I believe that awareness is very important and that men like me should be aware of breast cancer statistics and ways for contributing. The key for this month campaign is to keep the subject central to conversations we have in the United States about our bodies, health, and care for others.

I'm dedicating today to the impressive campaign that oozed its way into my creative radar. I knew I had to stop, reflect, and respond as soon as I was reminded of the campaign. I challenge you to do the same. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stating the Obvious: It's the Littlest Things In Life That Make the Largest Difference. Every Once In A While....

I made it to my office yesterday by 8:30 a.m. and quickly bulldozed through helping Ellen with the POW! Anthology of student writing, class preparation, a slurry of emails, and final touches on a site profile report...

...yes, one of those days when I don't take the time to look up...

...but I did. I asked the university to provide a monitor to attach to my upgraded laptop (which, as an upgrade, is four inches smaller and difficult to read). I'm getting used to using two screens, but I'm loving it, especially as the wider screen randomly selects photos from my lap top to display. It's like my own personal museum.

And when I looked up, I saw a picture of Abdi and his little sister at his high school graduation. I also saw the award given to me by my alma mater and a photograph from the first Writing Our Lives conference that I loved helping to create. I had this strange moment where everything in my life made sense - the chaos, the hard work, the constant quest for answers, the inability to get to 1/4th of them, and the schedule I keep.

Seeing Abdi and his little sister in this photograph on the screen before a wall I painted Orange (yes, Go Cuse!), I felt centered.

Everything has been evolving at exactly the right time. I've tried to slow down to enjoy the journey, but the pace I keep rushes me forward.

This quick moment made my day. The screensaver changed, of course, but I had a glimpse where everything made a tremendous amount of sense.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

That Moment When You Know You've Been Duped, But Must Go Along For The Ride and Suck It Up. Yep.

The plan was to meet Pam at Burlington's and then do Christmas Tree shop, then return home to run and prep for classes. I should have known when I walked into Burlington's and saw Sharon...and then Kaitlyn...and then Shirley...that I was tricked. They had an estrogen excursion pre-planned and wanted me in their menopausal shopping musical.

That's unfair.

Kaitlyn was cranky like me, too. "I was promised lunch," she confessed. And we got h-angry , but our whining didn't matter. They had shoes to buy, hats to try on, and every corner of every rack to rummage through.

Hand to head. Actually, I took a footpath to the sock table. I can always find 5 pairs of socks for $10. And I did. They had monster robot socks which were cool. Grrrrrwwwwwllllll beep beep.

Lucky for me, too, they said we could get food. We went to Over the Border and I knew I was in for it. Two beers and chips for lunch didn't compensate well with the healthy vegetables and grilled chicken I ordered (and because it was a bad day, I decided to make apple crisp, too - it's been a loooong time since I splurged like that).

The Christmas Tree shop wasn't as horrendous as I expected because the place has moved beyond cheap and tacky, to utterly junky, so we only spent a short time there...just long enough for me to find my wandering eye (which I left in the store for someone else to buy). Actually, I am now thinking that if I bought two eyes, and made a pair of glasses with them, that it might be a really cool costume for Halloween. Whoops, too late.

And I shouldn't be so harsh on the ladies. They were tame and helped distract me from my typical work-a-holic tendencies (although they admitted they usually trick Leo into their outings). After all, I did finish a book chapter before I met up with them, and returned home to work on other projects. I also got tomorrow's classes in gear, too.
This will help Ellen and me to have time during the day tomorrow to finish collaborative work we've been doing.

I've said it once and I will say it again, "Every weekend should allow for a three-day weekend. It makes all the difference in the world."