reflecting: NAFNext Conference, 2015

July 29, 2015

After spending three very full days in Anaheim, it's nice to sit down and reflect on what my takeaways from the NAFNext Conference. The National Academy Foundation puts on a great conference annually, and the days were filled with sessions that attendees could elect to attend, speakers during meals, and time to plan with academy teams.

Conferences and trainings in general

I think it is very worthwhile to attend conferences and trainings if you teach with national programs like NAF, AP, IB, or AVID. Attending this conference allowed me to understand the larger goals of the National Academy Foundation, network with teachers from throughout America, plan with my team, and learn from experts. Often, the time spent speaking with teachers from other areas is as illuminating as the lessons from the speakers; it's interesting to hear how other schools operate and implement their programs. These insights also allow me to examine what my school and district do well, and what we can continue to strive to improve.

Career education

The National Academy Foundation is committed to marrying rigor and career education. They are opening thousands of industry themed academies around America to help close the skills gap between what students know leaving school and what companies are looking for. Career education is not just for other people's children, it is not for students who are not cut out for college. Career education is a way into college, with a focused purpose and distinct direction.

Why teachers should seize every summer training opportunity

It was truly a pleasure to get to interact with teachers from my school, as well as teachers and administrators from across the country. If you teach with a national program, or a program that provides training during the summer, think about going. Not just for the content, but for the opportunity to network and reflect on your practices. Sometimes it’s necessary to take some time to get out of your house during the summer and really schedule some time to intensively work on planning for the year to come. It’s easier to do that when you are surrounded by other inspiring and inspired professionals, rather than with your dog who wants to constantly go for a walk and pull you away from your work station at the dining room table.

packing: Professional Conference or Training in the Summer

July 24, 2015

My top three tips for packing for a training or conference:
1. Pack light for your personal item, toiletries, and technology. Take the minimum, and only take what is necessary. Use lighter devices and multitasking products to save space and weight.
2. Pack clothing that can multitask: casual dresses to use as swim suit coverups, jumpsuits or dresses as business casual and cocktail hour wear, tennis shoes to work out and walk around in,
3. Pack clothing that fits into a color palette and can be mixed and matched to make various outfits. Think in terms of plane, daytime, and evening. Your daytime business outfits should be stand alone outfits that you planned ahead of time, because then you can save time and avoid deliberating on what to wear in the morning. Your evening outfits can be created by a few mix and match casual pieces, that can be combined with your flying outfit.

To pack for a five day business trip, where I traveled two days and spent three days at a business conference, I used a carryon suitcase, vintage Coach leather tote bag, Coach wristlet wallet, and smaller organizing pouches. If I could do this trip again, I would also pack a medium sized bag for evenings to bring my camera and wallet on excursions.

For flying, I always prefer to wear pants, a tank, a sweater, and a scarf, no matter the season. I hate being cold, and find airplanes are always cold. I can take off the sweater and scarf upon arrival. Smart items to bring along: notebook, magazines, iPad, wallet, empty water bottle to fill up after passing through security, and a small pouch with necessities like tissue, gum, and lip balm, as well as a pencil case to keep pens from escaping into the bottom of your bag. Things I wish I hadn't brought: my laptop computer and heavy books, as my iPad was enough for taking notes and reading.

I was unsure of what the temperature would be like at the conference. Basically, what I learned is that most trainings and conventions are going to be air conditioned. The conference that I just attended was at a hotel, and many trainings are hosted by colleges. So, err warm for your outfits- I was happy with sweaters, long sleeves, and scarves. I also appreciated that my jumpsuit did double duty and I wore it for a more formal dinner with evening makeup and earrings as well as to sessions with casual sandals and layering.

It's a great idea to have day and evening outfits, with the evening outfits being more casual. I packed a dress that could double as a swimsuit coverup, and shorts that could pair with my tops. I also brought clothes to work out in. The place you stay will probably have exercise equipment, and running around a new city is a great way to get your bearings. Bring your swimsuit, just in case. 

In general, trainings and conferences are such a great opportunity. Getting to fly to a new city and explore it in the evenings is also a great opportunity. I hope you find these tips helpful for packing and maximizing what you bring along with you!

reading: The New Jim Crow

July 13, 2015

When Bekah proposed that we read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for our book club, she said it was necessary and urgent to read. I really value her passion for racial equity, and respect her insights greatly. Her blog,, is a reflection of what she is thinking about and working on. We all jumped at the chance to read her recommendation and really challenge ourselves with the content.

This book's premise is that the War on Drugs has created a new Jim Crow, a new system of oppression that is "colorblind" yet overwhelmingly targets people of color, and denies citizens liberty indefinitely by labeling them a felon.

The structure of the book is interesting, it seems to me to be more of a coil than a step ladder. Michelle Alexander explains to the reader in the introduction the ideas that will be outlined in the book, she expands on these ideas and provides stories and data in the middle, and then she circles back in the last chapter to remind the reader of what has been said, and what must be done. I needed her to circle around the ideas like that, because it's a lot to take in.

"What this book is intended to do- the only thing it is intended to do- is to stimulate a much needed conversations about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierachy in the United States." -Michelle Alexander

It was, and continues to be, disturbing to learn about the ways that the criminal justice system rounds people up on drug charges, uses mandatory drug sentencing to acquire guilty pleas and keep people incarcerated for as long as possible, and then makes rehabilitating nearly impossible. If you wonder how this would be possible, I encourage you to read the book. The evidence in this book showing that ours is a system of control and racism, rather than a system of justice and rehabilitation is staggering. What is truly concerning is the role that my complicity, along with that of many other Americans, has played in allowing an injust system to label African Americans as criminals. 

One of the most powerful quotations from the book was this:

“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans." -Michelle Alexander

I still want to stew over this book, and its implications for my teaching. I can see some parallels between mass incarceration and suspensions. That both are systems that do not actually help people succeed despite hardship, but rather just remove them from the situation and penalize them. I would be interested in using portions of this book in my classroom, along with The House We Live In, a documentary that pairs well with this text. This may also be a useful text to read for equity work with the staff at my school. At the end of the book, Michelle Alexander calls for people to realize the trap of thinking about our system as voluntary, and wake up to the fact that all people of all races are committing crimes that should be landing them in prison, not just African Americans. She calls for us to care about the fate and humanity of all people.

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that's why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” -Michelle Alexander

reflecting: AP Summer Institute Training

July 2, 2015

Well, this week I attended the AP Summer Institute for teaching AP Literature and Composition. I’ve spent four days being a student again and been able to be a part of a larger movement for rigor and a pursuit of analysis, working with teachers from other schools and other states. It’s enjoyable to challenge myself, and reignite my excitement for literature by really dissecting the act of reading, writing, and finding meaning.

There are a few things that I have learned about classroom instructions, writing for analysis, and reading for analysis that I want to record and share.

Classroom instructions: 

Teenagers, and even adults, benefit from clear instructions, especially in regards to routine and expectations. Often, our class was left to make decisions about ending times for class, or we were expected to decide when to start an activity. I loved the ideas presented in this training, but unintentionally, the instructor taught me about the vital necessity of preparation, clear cues, and the teacher making scheduling and routine decisions. Student choice has a place, just not when directions need to be clear to help things run smoothly.

Reading for analysis: 

I love what our instructor told us to start our training: “Language is the black marks on the page. Literature is about the white space between the marks.” It’s so true: the allure of literature lies in the meaning created by the interaction of the reader and the text. We read a lot of poetry, which was a great divergence from my usual choices for class; in the last few years I have shied away from teaching poetry because it felt like such an undertaking. But in our use of poetry, we were able to look at language condensed, used at it’s most potent, which makes analysis really interesting and fruitful. We also talked about reading for the meaning of the work as a whole, and then matching the analysis to that overall meaning. This process could be adapted to the three steps of close reading: summarize the topics, find the overall meaning with proof and create nuanced theme statement, and then make a connection and explain why it matters.

Writing for analysis: 

The most helpful information I received for writing were the tips on the creation of a nuanced thesis statement. I often include this phrase, “nuaced thesis”, on my rubrics. But, I discovered language and steps to give students to get there, rather than just telling them to be interesting or original. Our instructor described a strong thesis as: stated in a full sentence, the text provide ample proof of the devised meaning, the thesis should not be too universal, too big, not too small, or cliché. A nuanced thesis will also talk about the interplay of two themes or ideas to create meaning, rather than just focusing on one idea.

He also suggested a structure for a sophisticated introduction paragraph which I quite like. It not only breaks the inane hook, background, thesis structure, but it also mirrors how the essay is set up. It could look something like this:
  • 1st Sentence: Specific evidence to start the essay that ties to the meaning.
  • 2nd Sentence: Strong link to the meaning, identify a complex theme.
  • 3rd Sentence: Answer the prompt. How is it used?
  • Conclusion: Why does it matter? Bring it home.
Overall, there’s a lot to mull over. It was an overwhelming, at times unorganized, but overall challenging and compelling week.

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