Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Worst They'll Say Is No!

The school year was winding down, and frankly, it couldn't come more quickly.  The previous 8 months had been mostly online, and if you are an educator and reading this, you know what online teaching was like in the 2020-2021 school year.  I was exhausted and the last thing that I wanted to do was to start thinking about the following school year that would, hopefully, return to in-person learning, albeit with some sort of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But with schedule planning for the following year in full swing and school leaders looking to make some changes to course offerings, my co-teacher and I were thrust into more planning than we had anticipated.  

At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, I met the teacher that I would be working with via Google Meet.  We talked a little bit about who we were as educators, expectations for the year, and how we would plan together through a screen.  I also explained that I was asked to co-teach algebra, a subject that hadn't even take as a course in 20 years, let alone ever taught it, but she assured me that regardless of my inexperience in teaching math, we would get through it and learn along the way. 

Over the course of the next few months, we developed a great relationship, realized how well we worked together, which only became better once we returned to part-time in-person teaching in April after 7 months of online teaching. I enjoyed math, for the most part, as a student, but my co-teacher's passion for math was infectious and made me truly love teaching math.  Not bad for someone that last had math, a trigonometry course, in 2001.  

As the school year was winding down, we were both excited and anxious about what the following year would bring us.  We wanted to continue working together, but it is never guaranteed when schedules are created.  We notified school leaders of our desire to work together, but again, we just did not know.  But a bombshell to scheduling created an opportunity for us that we did not see coming.  

For years, my school offered a course titled fundamentals of math for incoming freshman.  This was a class that was assigned to students coming from middle school that had struggled with math over the previous few years in addition to the standard math class for freshman, algebra.  The course would be scheduled on the opposite day of a student's algebra class so that they would have a math class every day.  Once a student passed the fundamentals class, they would earn elective credit toward graduation.  However, it was decided to discontinue the class for the 2021-2022 school year, but my co-teacher and I had an idea...

We knew the benefits of the fundamentals class for so many of our students and were disappointed that the class was eliminated.  We knew that many incoming freshman, especially after nearly a year and a half of online learning, would benefit from an extra math class.  So we came up with a proposal for our principal: why not offer our algebra class as a double block where students would have us every day and allow for us to spend more time with students on algebraic concepts?  And because it would be in the student schedules as two math classes, perhaps they could earn two math credits instead of the one math and one elective credit like the fundamentals of math class did previously.  So we walked over to our principal's office with our plan and hoped she would at least consider it.  

Our principal had questions, naturally.  How would we determine which students should receive the second block?  Would we make the second block class different than the first block in regards to activities, assignments, etc.?  Would a student that did not struggle with math in middle school be a good fit for the class?  Ultimately, we didn't really have answers to these questions and asked our principal what we would need to do to make our idea become reality.  After some brainstorming sessions and a couple of more meetings with our principal, we came up with a final plan:

  • Students would be enrolled in Pre-Algebra and Algebra, two separate course for scheduling purposes, as we could not simply place a student in two sections of Algebra
  • Allow us to evaluate incoming freshman in our classes for the first two weeks of school to decide which students would most benefit from a second math class
  • Students with strong math skills needed to be included as well to serve as peer leaders and to be a positive influence on students that did not have strong skills or confidence in their mathematical skills
  • The Pre-Algebra section would focus primarily on skill building through student collaboration and mathematical stations 
  • Student aides would be assigned to the Pre-Algebra sections that had previously demonstrated strong math skills and could serve as student tutors in class or as leaders of stations on occasion
It was ambitious to say the least.  In my 16 years of education, I had not seen anything like this in any of the schools that I had worked.  And while we had confidence that our principal liked the initial idea, we wondered if this was too ambitious or if was even possible to offer based on district policies.  We didn't have to wait long to get our answer though.  

Before we had even finished pitching our final plan to our principal, she was sold.  Ultimately, she loved the idea of giving students two math credits, getting students the extra help they needed, giving students with strong skills the opportunity to build their leadership skills, and in times of tight budgets, it wasn't going to cost any extra money to make it happen.  The only thing that our principal asked for was that we go out of our way to try outside of the box things with our classes and not simply use the class as a way to do our same lessons from algebra and treat it as extra time.  

Fast forward to this year, about five weeks in, our plan is a work in progress. We created two sections of Pre-Algebra with a wide variety of student skills.  The students selected were evaluated by us in Algebra for two weeks before we had counselors make schedule changes.  We had individual conversations with all students and many of their families about why we believed the second class would be beneficial, and out of the nearly 70 students we talked to, only two decided that they did not want to take the extra class.  In the end, we anticipate that more of students are going to earn the credit, more students are going to appreciate math instead of approaching it as just another class they don't like but have to pass to graduate, and better prepare students for geometry and beyond.  

You may be thinking to yourself, "There is no way that this would ever happen at my school."  My reply?  "How do you know?"  When it comes to any idea that you may have that you believe will benefit student learning, whether it is proposing a second math class, purchasing a site license for a great app, or anything, the absolute worst thing that can happen is that your principal will say no.  I fully understand that some school leaders may be intimidating to approach, which is very unfortunate, but as long as you have a good idea and reasons why it would benefit students, I would venture to guess that most would at least hear you out and now shut you down from the start.  And I am not saying that all ideas are going to be approved, but hopefully you will be given a reason for denial or feedback on how to make your idea better for potential approval in the future.  

Until next time... 

Friday, July 9, 2021

School is Not the Same as Education

A few weeks back, prior to the school year ending for summer break, I was meeting with some colleagues as part of my school's vision team. The vision team is comprised of my school's administration and a handful of teachers and staff to analyze what our school is and what we can do to improve multiple aspects of the school, such as daily attendance, course offerings, pathways to post-secondary education, and training, and much more. Conversations as a group are always enlightening and productive. And my principal loves the Google Meet breakout room feature, so small group conversations are frequent and just as enlightening and productive. However, something mentioned by one of my colleagues during a breakout session really sparked my thinking about something that sounds very simplistic, but it is much more layered and, in my opinion, deserves a little attention.

During a conversation about a variety of topics, most notably a discussion about how to better convey information to students and families about the academic pathways that our school offers or can offer, one of my colleagues said, "School is not the same as education."  He proceeded to explain that the phrases "go to school" and "stay in school" and bantered about, almost without thought, on a regular basis but that both phrases were very simplistic in scope.  What he meant by that was that a student could go to school regularly, earn passing grades and get their diploma, but is that student really prepared for whatever they pursue after high school?  Have we really provided that student with an education, or did that student just "stay in school?"  

This statement really resonated with me.  It's not because I haven't thought about whether students are prepared for life after high school when they graduate.  It resonated with me because with the exception of a handful of schools around the country, or even the world, I don't think we are truly providing students with an education, we are providing them with the opportunity to go to school.  It took my colleague's statement and his insight to really open my mind up to this thought.  Please allow me to explain further...

I have always taught high school, with the exception of a short stint as a middle school administrator, so my frame of mind is in the high school educational model.  When a student comes to high school, they are given a class schedule that includes some, most or all of the following:  English, math, science, social studies, physical education, health, and electives.  Throughout high school, students meet with their counselor periodically to review credits that are based on the requirements for earning their high school diploma; these requirements are based on state, district, and school standards.  But outside of a handful of students, do students really know why they are taking the classes that are required?  Are the classes that are required tailored to a student's preferences and interests for postsecondary education or career paths?  Oftentimes, the answer to these questions is no.  

As a result, schools are failing to fully prepare students for the future. Students don't know what they don't know about what is out there.  If a student wants to go to college, there is plenty of information available to them.  But what most students don't know is the vast amount of training and career options out there that don't require college.  Oftentimes, these "vocational" programs as they used to be called pay students to learn a trade, such as plumbing, and once they have completed the training, pay even more and include excellent benefits.  But while schools should have more information on trade programs and other choices for education and careers that don't require college, why should they stop there?  

Many schools around the country have specifically focused on career and technical education.  In these schools, students are introduced to a career path through classes beginning their freshman year.  Throughout their four years of high school, students complete the requirements needed for their diploma (math, science, English, etc.) and complete courses that will prepare them for further education or a career in their chosen pathway.  

I used to work in a school like this.  We had a variety of programs that students could choose from, including culinary arts, business and marketing, auto technology, building technology, and more.  Over the course of the six years that I taught at this school, I watched students invest themselves in their education.  Why?  Because they were doing something that they WANTED to do.  They weren't placed in electives simply because they had to have an elective.  They chose the electives that they wanted and many found that they really enjoyed learning more about a career pathway that interested them and prepared them for that career when they were done with high school.  Many of my former students walked away with a diploma and were hired into positions in high-end restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, auto repair shops around the valley, had the upper hand in getting into an apprenticeship program with local construction unions, and much more.  

Many go to college and spend the first couple of years trying to figure out what they want to do for a career.  Sometimes, that leads to students spending more time in college, spending more money, trying to figure it out.  What if these same students had been given the opportunity to explore while in high school through a career pathway such as medical science, had more time with career exploration experts at the school, or got to listen to guest speakers frequently throughout their time in high school?  

We cannot afford to continue to encourage students simply to stay in school.  We need to give students a reason to "stay in school" and provide them with the tools necessary to change staying in school to getting an education and preparing them for their futures.  It will not change overnight and it will most likely start with tough conversations amongst stakeholders in schools and districts, but we risk students falling even further behind if we don't start making changes.  

Until next time... 


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Revisited: #OneWord2021

Each year, ramping up in December and into January, social media is flooded with posts, videos, blogs, etc. proclaiming individuals' one word for the upcoming year. In most years, the exception being 2020, I have also participated in the #OneWord movement. After not choosing a word in 2020, I returned this year, choosing commit as my word to 2021.  Throughout the year, I like to revisit my word and evaluate if the word is still resonating, have I been living up to my choice, and propose and adopt any changes if I need to do so.  

In my original post for #OneWord2021 when selecting commit, I identified some areas in which to firmly commit in 2021 to improve myself as a person and as a professional educator.  Briefly, those areas included committing to exercise, eating better, becoming better informed about issues of equality and equity, becoming a Google Certified Innovator, and overall, just being the best educator that I could be regardless of the model of instruction in which I was teaching.  

As of January when I wrote my original post, I had exercised outside for 43 days in a row. My preferred activity is a walk, usually about 3-4 miles, sometimes further.  Since that writing and as of this writing, my streak is up to 156 days in a row and I have incorporated some additional activities in my days besides walking.  Since the beginning of my streak, I purchased a Peloton bike, and with the exception of 3 days during my spring break, I have completed some sort of activity on the bike or on the app (Peloton isn't just a bike, the app has a variety of walking, running, yoga, cardio, boot camp, and meditation activities as well).  I have started playing hockey again, joining a great group of men and women that play to have fun in a competitive league on Sunday nights on occasion (games are very late on many Sundays, so I don't play every week).  I even bought a skateboard and have been learning how to ride it along with my son who has been wanting to learn himself; my decision to learn to skateboard was my way of spending time with him as he learned to ride.  (I get that at the age of 39, the risks of getting hurt and the time for recovery are higher than if I would have learned as a teenager, but my go-to answer? I wrote a book about risk-taking, so I'm just modeling my own words!) I am able to move around, turn, and balance on the board with relative ease and I am starting to try some basic tricks like an ollie, but I am not expecting to be Tony Hawk anytime soon, so I am most definitely taking my time.  

On January 4, I started actively monitoring my food intake, food choices, and tracking those through Noom.  In addition to helping me track what I am eating and the choices I make, Noom also has lessons built into the program to help me make better decisions, cope with emotions and food (I am definitely an emotional eater, regardless of the emotion), and learn what they call Psych Tricks to help make a healthy diet and lifestyle a part of me and not just a fad diet.  While I still have days where I slip up and make poor decisions, I feel that Noom has helped me become more aware.  I was a Weight Watchers member in the past and while Weight Watchers worked for me at the time, the daily lessons from Noom have helped me to be better committed than the weekly meetings and weigh-ins with WW.  That said, between my commitment to exercise and eating better, I am down over 30 pounds from the beginning of the year.  I still have more weight that I want to lose, but I have more energy, I feel better, and I am definitely seeing results.  Weight isn't coming off as fast as others that are similarly committing to weight loss, but non-scale victories like clothes that fit better are common for me.  Just comparing the two pictures here from late January to mid-April, I can see it in my face and my body.  In addition, I purchased a FitBit smartwatch to help me track steps, exercise, heartrate, sleep, and much more, plus get into some friendly competitions with those that I have connected with on the FitBit app.  

While I have concrete evidence of my commitment to exercise, a healthy diet, and weight loss, evidence of learning more about equality and equity is not as visible.  However, reading, having conversations, and most importantly, listening, have been part of my routine to be a better ally.  I paid close attention to the Derek Chauvin trial and was relieved when a jury found him guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd.  And while many proclaimed that justice was served, to me it was more accountability than justice because justice would bring George Floyd back.  And the fight for equality is not over, the verdict is only the start and there is so much work to be done.  And proof of that is in the comment threads on social media and news websites regarding the verdict and the outright hatred and bigotry in those comments, not to mention other incidents that have occurred since George Floyd's murder and even during the time of the trial.  My commitment is to continue to learn, be informed, and listen to help make the world a better place for people of color and end discrimination and bigotry once and for all.  

In the summer of 2020, I submitted a project of the virtual Google Certified Innovator academy but unfortunately, I was not selected.  For 2021, I am hoping to submit again and learn from incredible innovators around the world to help me improve education in my community.  As of this writing, the Innovator cohorts for 2021 have not been announced.  One can assume that they will be virtual again, but perhaps they have not been announced because they are trying to gauge whether an in-person academy can be held later in 2021.  Either way, I am looking forward to the opportunity to try again.  

Lastly, I wanted to commit myself to be the best educator that I could be regardless of the mode of education.  Throughout 2020 and into 2021, my school and district were in full-time distance education.  As things improved, elementary-aged students returned to hybrid instruction in February and eventually were given the choice to return to full-time in-person instruction in early April (my own kids returned to much excitement, especially my son who had never experienced in-person school).  Middle and high school was a little different, with a hybrid schedule proposed but most students remaining in distance education.  I returned in mid-March to work from school and shortly thereafter, having a handful of students in class.  Again, most are still online, so, unfortunately, not much has changed in regards to how lessons are taught.  But for that handful of students that are in person?  It has been game-changing for them!  Students that I rarely interacted with or received any work from are now doing much better just because they are back in person and I can interact with them.  I can better gauge their emotional wellbeing in person and I can have deeper conversations with them about a variety of topics.  While it is still not the "normal" that we knew prior to March 2020, it's a start, and barring any major setbacks, I look forward to full in-person school in August.  

Commit has been a great #OneWord for me thus far.  I look forward to continuing the journey across the board for the remainder of the year. If you chose a word for the year, take a moment to reflect back on it and see if you are still connected to your word of choice and if not, how can you reconnect or even choose another word.  

Until next time... 



Monday, March 22, 2021

The Return to In-Person Instruction

For over a year, COVID-19 has impacted the world in ways that haven't been seen in decades, if ever.  For students and educators in the United States, March 13, 2020, is the generally accepted "last day" of school. Mine was actually March 12, as my school had a four-day weekend for March 13-16. I did not learn that we would not be returning until late Sunday afternoon. But fast forward now to March of 2021 and many schools and districts, including my own, are now returning to at least a partial in-person instruction model, with mixed emotions and reactions.  

What format are you returning to, IF you are going back?

There are a variety of formats depending on the situation for individual schools and districts around the country. Some schools are back to 100% in-person instruction.  Some are returning to a standard schedule with alternating cohorts of students to reduce numbers, with one of the days of the week as a virtual day.  Then there are concurrent hybrid models that involve teaching some students that are in-person while others are at home participating in class virtually.  No model is 100% safe and effective, but it is a sign that things are starting to return to a sense of normalcy.  

And while there are a lot of different approaches to returning, I want to focus on the concurrent hybrid model because this is what my school is returning to for the remainder of the year.  And this focus is only for secondary students; elementary students have a different system. Students and their families that chose to return to hybrid instruction a few weeks back on a district survey were divided into two cohorts.  One cohort would attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other cohort would attend on Thursdays and Fridays.  Wednesdays for all students would be a designated virtual day.  But this is where the return to school becomes confusing and problematic.  

The hybrid model would only be a half-day model.  The first week would allow for grades 6, 9, and 12 to return, with grades 7, 8, 10, and 11 returning with their peers a couple of weeks later after spring break. Students would attend two classes for 90 minutes each in the morning of their designated cohorts.  Virtual students and the other cohort would attend those classes online.  After a two-hour break, all students would get online to attend two more classes for 30 minutes each.  The two-hour break would allow for those students that were at school to get home, have something to eat, and take a break before getting online for their other classes.  

For my school, our "normal" schedule is a four by four block schedule.  Students attend four classes on "odd" day and their other four classes on "even" day.  In the new schedule, Mondays and Thursdays are "odd" days while Tuesdays and Fridays are "even" days.  Over the course of two weeks, students that returned to hybrid would go to each class in-person one time for 90 minutes.  In those two weeks, whether in person or online, students attend each class for a total of 270 minutes or four and a half hours.  Over the course of the remaining weeks of the school year, students would see each teacher in person four times, if they returned to hybrid. 

Now, before I go any further, I do not want to disparage any person or group that was responsible for the planning or the execution of the hybrid plan.  There is no perfect plan to return to and I cannot imagine the time and collaboration that went into planning a safe return to school. However, I do feel that this plan is very flawed in many ways. 

When the survey asking families if they would want to return to a hybrid model was sent, cases of COVID-19 were very high and a safe return would have been very hard to do.  Fast forward a couple of months and the same survey results were used to determine if a student was going to return or remain in distance education.  Families did not have the opportunity to change their mind from virtual to hybrid (if they had chosen hybrid and wanted to stay in distance, they could do that).  As a result, very few students are actually returning to in-person instruction.  

The half-day model is also problematic, in my opinion. Rather than staying at school for a full day, students need to return home to attend two shortened classes. Online classes are hard enough to get started and accomplish things in the time allotted, now 30-minute classes will be done in a snap.  Because of the alternating schedule over two weeks, while students will be on campus for two days a week, they will only see all of their teachers once during that time.  

While many are happy about a return to school, many are also questioning, "Why?", especially with only a few weeks left in the school year.  Many teachers have requested to remain at home to teach remotely due to concerns with a safe return.  Students are not able to get vaccines yet, so families are concern about potential exposure. However, after a few days of working from school without students, then seeing a handful of kids on campus for orientation, it was really nice to see the excitement in their (masked) faces.  

In the end, while I think the system has its problems, I am excited to be back on a school campus with other educators and students.  While it is a far cry from what we used to know, this is a good first step toward getting closer to that sense of normalcy that we have all craved for over a year.  And as cases have steadily decreased in Nevada (the test positivity rate in the state has fallen from a high of nearly 24% in December to under the World Health Organization's recommended rate of 5% as of this writing), I have even more hope that schools will be fully open again come August. 

Until next time...


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Where Do We Go From Here? Four Years Later...

In the days after the 2016 election, I wrote a blog post titled Where Do We Go From Here?, a commentary about the runup to the election and the results.  At the time, I was very disillusioned by the negativity of the campaign in the months prior to the election and while I was not at all pleased with the results, I wrote about keeping an open mind and hoping that the Constitution's system of checks and balances would result in limiting any drastic changes to policies in the years under a Trump presidency. And while I had full intentions to write this in a more timely fashion, the developments were moving so fast that anything I wrote would have been obsolete the moment I published it, and that may still be the case! In a review of this post four years later, so much has changed, but at the same time, not much has changed at all.  

Four years under Donald Trump has made us more divided than ever.  Issues that should not be politicized, such as racial equality, scientific evidence, and denouncement of hate and domestic terror groups, have divided much of the nation into distinct camps.  Trump and his supporters have made bigots of many kinds comfortable to spew their hatred and misinformation like wildfire.  He has sown distrust for credible media sources, teachers, doctors, scientists, and essentially anybody that does not agree with his agenda.  And a pandemic that has been raging for months? Don't get me started on that...

To top it off, weeks after the elections and after the results of the election were called by major media outlets (across the political spectrum, mind you) and vote certifications underway, he refused to concede defeat and has filed lawsuits that claim rampant voter fraud without evidence, nearly all of which have been tossed out.  Supporters continued to feed into the misinformation and other leaders within the party that has the ability to denounce it have enabled him even further.  Then, the unfathomable happened: a sitting president encouraged a violent uprising in protest to the certification of the Electoral College results, leading to hundreds, even thousands, storming the Capitol in an attempted coup.  If you would have told me in January 2017 that this would have happened, I would have thought you were writing a movie script. 

As a historian, I can think of countless comparisons of leaders that did these exact kinds of things in dictatorships where misinformation, distrust, and questioning of legitimate election results have plagued nations and lead to outbreaks of violence and worldwide wars. But in the United States of America?  The nation that is supposed to be the beacon of democratic principles across the globe?  And to have an armed mob storm the Capitol, nearly without resistance, is something that you see on the news that "happens someplace else." (I recently watched both seasons of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime and found it very chilling to watch people storming the presidential palace after a contentious election in Venezuala, events that are not true, but very realistic looking on the show.)  Whether the security for the Capitol on January 6 was that ill-prepared or in cahoots with those responsible remains to be seen, but to have it be the first time that the Capitol had been breached since the British stormed Washington, DC in the War of 1812?  I'll let you reflect on that... 

Now that President Biden's inauguration is behind us, I have been overcome with a sense of relief.  Not because things are going to change instantly and life is going to be "normal" again, but because of a lot of different reasons.  I am relieved and excited that the new president is somebody that is not going to go out of their way to be divisive in their words and actions (politically, one may not agree with him, but let's face it, Joe Biden is not going to take to Twitter to belittle people and fire them from their jobs).  I am relieved that the new president is surrounding himself with competent, intelligent people that have experience in their fields, not simply appointing friends and supporters like the spoils system of decades ago.  I am relieved that the various government agencies are working diligently to bring those responsible for the insurrection of January 6 to justice, as arrests and charges are filed on a daily basis.  And I am relieved that the problems that were brought into the open further by the previous four years can be addressed and work can begin to solve them.  

This is not going to happen overnight.  When the Allies defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, Nazism did not simply disappear.  It took years for war criminals to be brought to justice and the effects that fascism had on German society to be eradicated, but even then, it wasn't eradicated completely.  Is it fair to compare Trumpism to Nazism?  Perhaps not, it is comparing apples to oranges, but many aspects are very similar, such as the disinformation campaigns, attempting to ignore legitimate elections, and the refusal to denounce xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism in the ranks of supporters.  And this is not to compare all Trump supporters to those groups, but this country has, for far too long, ignored problems in the name of supporting a party or ideology, i.e. supporting law enforcement but turning a blind eye to systemic racism in policing. 

And what does this mean for education?  For starters, an educator, Miguel Cardona, will be leading the Department of Education, not a billionaire hellbent on destroying public education and helping for-profit schools line their pockets.  There has already been discussion of forgiving student loan debt to help people get out of that debt and stimulate the economy (imagine where people that normally spend $500/month on student loans can put that money!), but with slim majorities in the House and Senate, it may be tough to pass large scale forgiveness.  But perhaps the most important aspect of turning the page?  It is even more apparent how important educators' jobs are to help mold informed citizens.  Even after Biden's inauguration, there is still a large percentage of people that feel that the election was stolen and rigged, all because they were fed lies by the president and relied on QAnon and far-right "media" sources for their information.  Teaching students how to analyze sources and determine if a source has a credible reputation (ex. Associated Press, Reuters, etc.) is going to be the catalyst moving forward for limiting disinformation from our lives.  

As I mentioned, I was not excited for a Trump presidency in late 2016 and 2017.  I kept an open mind but was sorely disappointed in those four years.  And while I do not expect Joe Biden to be a miracle worker that will go down as the greatest president of all time, I do have hope for the next four years simply based on common decency and the decisions that he has made leading up to the start of his term, most notably, naming Kamala Harris the first-ever female vice president!  We may not agree politically, but I look forward to the coming weeks of productive discourse without fear of reprimand from the Oval Office's personal Twitter account.  

Until next time... 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

#OneWord2021: Commit

The air was crisp, deceiving considering the bright sunshine and the wide blue skies.  A slight but steady breeze cut into me, forcing me to zip up my sweatshirt and pull the hood up over my ears.  The only sound was the crunch of rocks beneath my feet. I strained to hear other sounds, hoping for something out of the ordinary, after all, this was a ghost town.  Even though I couldn't hear anything, another strange sensation overcame me; it was almost as if I could feel the presence of those that were here before me, over a hundred years prior.  

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park
I had been to Rhyolite before, but this was the first time that I truly had the opportunity to explore the ruins of the former gold mining town.  Located about 120 miles from Las Vegas, Rhyolite was a boomtown in the early 1900s after gold was discovered but quickly depleted.  A town that is estimated to have been as large as 8,000 people disappeared by 1920.  A quiet New Year's Day walk around what was left of Rhyolite was a great way to kick off 2021, followed shortly by a drive to Death Valley and a handful of short hikes along Artist's Drive, Devil's Golf Course, and the salt flats of Badwater Basin.  The day was a great way to continue my daily exercise routine, marking 43 days in a row of getting outside, mainly walking 3-5 miles a day.  

After the turmoil of 2020 and everything that came with it, it would be very easy to go through the motions or even give up on things.  And in all honesty, I did that with many aspects of my life, personally and professionally.  As remote teaching and learning, or more appropriately, emergency teaching and learning, progressed in the spring, it became harder and harder each day to commit myself 100% to my craft.  After a strong start to getting outside and walking or riding my bike in the spring, I made more excuses that I made commitments to stick to the routine, especially after my move and the heat of the Mojave Desert intensified in the summer months.  Rather than writing and reflecting on a regular basis, I got away from this blog for weeks at a time, did not interact as much on social media, and spent less time participating in professional development (I even spent money on a virtual conference that I DID NOT attend because I simply "did not feel like it").  

As the calendar approached the new year, I began to think about goals for 2021 and a return to One Word.  For reasons that I cannot quite pinpoint or remember, I did not choose a word for 2020 and did not write a blog looking ahead to 2020.  The closest I came to any sort of looking ahead was refusing to predict the future in my end of the year reflection piece from late 2019, The Closing of a Decade: 2010-2019. I am not so pompous to suggest that 2020 turned into the proverbial dumpster fire because I did not choose a word, but if you want to blame somebody, I'll fall on the sword for you.  

Circling back to the start of the new year at Rhyolite and Death Valley, I mentioned that January 1st marked 43 days in a row of exercise and getting outside.  It marked substantial commitment on my part, one that has continued through this writing.  Even when I was younger and playing sports, including four years of football in college, I don't think I had ever exercised that many days in a row.  Rest days were rest days where I did not do anything.  That said, for 2021, I have selected COMMIT as my One Word.  Basically, I want to own the things I say and the commitments that I make and follow through each and every time.  But it's more than just a continuation of my exercise streak:

  1. Take my streak one day at a time.  I am not committing to 365 straight days of exercise, but each morning, I can commit to working out that day.  Even if it is just a short walk, a short walk is better than not getting off of the couch at all!  I know that at one point, the streak will end, but as long as I am physically able to continue my streak, I will do it!
  2. I have struggled with my weight for a long time.  I have always been big, but at least in high school and college, I was more fit and toned.  My wake-up call came on Sunday, January 3 when I stepped on the scale for the first time in probably eight months.  For the first time in my life, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  No matter my muscle mass and excuses that I have made in that regard, that kind of weight is not healthy for a person with a family history like mine.  And while I have a goal weight in mind, like my exercise commitment, I am committing myself to one day at a time of eating better, making better choices, and holding myself accountable to make a permanent change to my weight and my health.  
  3. 2020 has brought to light issues that have always been there and have needed to be addressed for hundreds of years: equality for all and educational equity.  I will be the first to admit as a white male that I have a lot to learn and more that I can do to become an antiracist educator and advocate for educational equity.  I am committing myself to learn more, not shy away from tough conversations, and be more of an ally for all that are unfairly disadvantaged.  
  4. In 2020, I applied for the Google Innovator Academy and unfortunately, was rejected.  While I believe that my initial application included a solid idea, I know that there are thousands of people that also have solid ideas, and competition for that coveted Innovator certification is fierce.  I am committing myself to evaluate my ideas, polish the application, and hopefully, earn the opportunity to participate in the Innovator Academy in 2021.  
  5. Lastly, the first half of the 2020-2021 school year was a tough one, completely online.  And while we are starting the new semester virtually once again, regardless of how the remainder of the school year and beyond plays out, I commit to being the best educator that I can be for each one of my students, their families, and my colleagues.  
What is your One Word for 2021?  What goals do you have for this year?  How do you intend to meet your goals?  What do you perceive as possible barriers to achieving your goals?  Think about it...

Until next time...