The Edu Sunken Place

Appropriating PLNs Without the Pesky Hypnosis

I miss the movies. I don’t mean the novelty of going to the theater, the nervous excitement of a teenage first date, or the ginormous tub of popcorn and seemingly bottomless soda without which the whole experience would be ruined.

I mean sitting down to watch a great film. I mean having that film stay with me for days. I mean scouring IMDB and blogs to discuss the film with other cinephiles. I mean being able to stay up past 930 to actually finish a film.

For years, I would make it a point to find and watch films that were off the beaten path (Frailty, Her, The Machinist, to name a few). I would set my watch by my favorite director, Christopher Nolan, and carve out time to watch, consider, and discuss each film. I would participate in discussion board threads on nuances, I would analyze ambiguous endings, and I was the “Have you seen…” guy at parties.  

Now, because of work-life balance, two small children, and Netflix true crime documentaries, I may watch two or three films, in their entirety, a year. Of course, there are two inherent flaws to such a myopic approach to cinema. First, how do I choose what makes the cut? Oscar buzz? Lead actors? Secondly, it’s entirely possible that what I do choose to watch is awful and wastes my time (looking at you, Wolf of Wall Street).

Sometimes, however, a perfect storm forms and I get it right. I choose something that has folks talking, that I can digest and analyze, and that I would watch again.

For me, Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut, Get Out, checked all the boxes.  

Director? Check

Recognizable but not necessarily household name actors? Check

A perpetual watercooler buzz? Check

A socially relevant message? Check

Without question, Get Out is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. While I realize that such an endorsement is watered down by how seldom I can make such a claim, I do encourage readers to check it out. I would love to discuss it with the #leveluplead faithful.

I’ll spare the elevator pitch plot summary and teasers, but I will sum up the film in a single word: appropriation. The film, through clever writing and sleight-of-hand storytelling, examines how often and to what lengths people will go to experience life a bit, er, differently.


In the Eduverse, teachers and leaders, at least the ones who are obsessed with growth and improvement, appropriate with impunity. We appropriate each other’s followers, ideas, professional development strategies, discipline referral forms. Look, we basically appropriate everything.

The difference, however, between what we do and what Peele’s film mocks sardonically is that educators invite appropriation. We recognize, in a truly egoless way, that there are countless people doing what we do just a little bit differently. A little bit better. So when we seek counsel from these folks, as I did with Rich Czyz of Four O’Clock Faculty fame, they are all too willing to share.

When I hear folks discussing how difficult a time it is to be in education, it’s hard to argue. With so much imposed upon us from on high, so much riding on flawed, one-off assessments, and so much nonsense that removes us, literally or figuratively, from the kids, it’s no wonder so many people throw their hands up in resignation.

But we could also make the case that there’s no better time to do what we do because a new idea is only a couple of clicks away. While we may have to bob and weave around red tape, we can do so with an ever-growing tribe of shameless appropriators. With a band of outlaw poets, scientists, yogis, historians, and student whisperers. With follows, RTs, likes, and shout outs. With hand-written thank you notes and clever hashtags. With virtual support and real life conferences. With each other.

So while Peele’s film plays on the idea of “getting out,” appropriating PLNs is all about getting in. And all it takes is hitting that blue Follow button.

 

I Needed To Go Back

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series during which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.

For our first installment, I turn the keys over to Elyse.  Like so many of us, she has become reflective since her time in high school. Through age and experience, we often look back at who we were during those formative years with equal parts nostalgia and nausea. Her message speaks to appreciating from where we came, giving back to those who helped us along the way, and, ultimately, living our best life.


Now fourteen years out of high school and, like most people I know, I have regrets. I don’t regret nights when I stayed home to study instead of going out to party. I don’t regret working overtime to afford the down payment on my first home.

I regret not returning to Golden Slipper Camp, to the place that changed my life.

I was a camper and counselor, from the ages of 13 to 16, at the overnight charity camp in the Poconos. It was an amazing experience, and it left a mark on my soul that time can never erase.

I was a really awkward kid, was heavy, and was not very cool. So I got teased a ton, was really shy, and had no confidence. Golden Slipper changed everything for me. I found friends who loved me for who I was despite the ugly glasses and constant silliness. I came home a completely different kid.

During the summer between junior and senior year of high school, I decided to get a job near home to make more money, so I could buy a car. Camp didn’t pay enough, and I really wanted that green 1995 Ford Contour. What I didn’t realize is that job would be the first of many, all of which were chasing money that I thought I needed for whatever it was I thought I wanted at the time.

Now, years later, I have had to make hard decisions and huge sacrifices to get back to the camp that I love so deeply. I drive hundreds of miles each summer, splitting my time between camp and my full time nursing job. But I get to provide kids, who are just like I was, with an experience that shapes who they are and who they will become.

I would give anything to go back in time to spend more summers at camp. Looking back on it all, I’d be happy to make significantly less money to have spent more time at a camp where I felt such love and empathy. Sadly, I chose to put more value in money and material things than in people and relationships.

Whatever you do in this life, you need to do it for the right reasons. Go to summer camp, go on the road trip, take the vacation, see the band you love live in concert. But make sure the things you choose bring you joy. You don’t want to look back years from now, like I did, and think, “wow I wish I had done it differently.” You have the time now! You have the freedom now! You’ll never be so unencumbered as you are right now! So go out and find something that makes you insanely happy and throw yourself into it.

Elyse Realey is a 2004 graduate of Audubon High School. She is a critical care nurse in New Jersey. 

Change Your Bat Angle

Imperceptible Adjustments Are Key To Professional Growth

Read this blog long enough and you’ll realize how obsessed I am with baseball. Inevitably there will be posts devoted to baseball, anecdotes will center around baseball, and metaphors will be drawn from baseball.

Barguments often focus on which sport is the most difficult to play, the most demanding physically and mentally, the most failure heavy. As a lover of all sports, I can appreciate that an argument can be made for each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, football, and hockey but, to me, there’s really only one answer.

Baseball.

Because of the physics (round ball, round bat), the variables (pitcher, weather), and the psychology (streaks, slumps), there is nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball consistently. A monster game at the plate can just as easily be followed by a soul crushing slump of weeks, or months, the time in between at bats seeming equal parts interminable and immediate as you perseverate on what went wrong.

As a 41 year old weekend warrior, I only get a chance to play games on Sunday mornings. While my preparation for each game often dictates some midweek tee work or live batting practice, I’m still only playing once a week. Admittedly, I take baseball too seriously, but part of me doesn’t apologize for that because I don’t understand why folks would set out to do anything poorly, so I want to play as well as I can each week.

A few years ago I suffered through my worst season ever, and I’m including my high school playing days, during which I hit a paltry .179. During that summer, getting on base was such an anomaly that I can recall when I did reach base because it was only a handful of times. That ain’t good.

Deflated but undaunted, I continued to work that offseason because I was not going to return to my team the same player. At one point, I sent a video of myself taking swings off the tee to a friend who is a hitting tactician. In seconds, he responded with a diagnosis and, ultimately, saved my swing.

“Dude, look at how far you’re wrapping the bat around your head. Change the bat angle to 1 o’clock before you load, and you’ll be quicker to the ball.”

Change. Your. Bat. Angle.

Changing my bat angle has improved my game and my leadership.

No amount of work on my own would have led me to that conclusion because, though I would have been working hard, I would have been working incorrectly. There was no way for me to self-diagnose my own flaw, so I had to ask for help.

Now,  I “change my bat angle” all the time.

When I’m struggling with a certain colleague, I change my bat angle.

When I’m trying to convince my five-year old that he can, in fact, put on his own socks, I change my bat angle.

When my early morning writing process stalls, I change my bat angle.

As you approach the upcoming school year, I challenge you to change your bat angle. Reflect intentionally on that which you have done the same way each year and change it.

  • Experiment with flexible seating and let the kids help you design the classroom’s layout
  • Revolutionize your “Back to School Night” by asking parents to leave their kids a video via Flipgrid
  • Reframe your instructional walkthroughs to focus on the kids, even a specific kid, in each room and then write those kids a note of appreciation
  • Flip and hang old posters and allow kids to recreate them using their own words and images
  • Print, laminate, and hang Tweets or blog post excerpts about which you want your staff and students to think
  • Use a mobile desk so you’re in the hallways more and in your office less
  • Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s five minutes of nothing but sitting and breathing

Baseball is a game of failure, and in many ways, so is education. In each, the best players make adjustments all the time in order to best help their team. In each, those who refuse to make adjustments all the time don’t often have teams for long.

Change your bat angle.

 

Debarked

Provide Student Voice in Everything We Do

When we arrived at the rescue shelter that Sunday morning, I knew I didn’t have a choice.

Surreptitiously, my wife had begun graduate level research on what would become our next dog, and though she couched the idea to visit a Philadelphia shelter as “just a visit,” I have a feeling contracts were already drawn up and that everyone was in on the ruse. Except me.

With pinpoint accuracy (how many times had she been here?), she directed us to the kennel of a sweet, malnourished, Bichon Frise named Polly. Instantly, Polly meandered over and lent credence to the power of the expression “puppy dog eyes.” At that point, I was convinced that even she was in on the con. She knew she was coming home with us.

Debarked Daisy (left) and her alter ego, Sassy Daisy (right).

After spending a few minutes with her outside, we requested the paperwork to be drawn up.  It was our 11th anniversary, and our kids didn’t know we’d be coming home with a new dog. Clearly, it was going to be a good day.

However, something about Polly, who would quickly become Daisy at our daughter’s request, was off. Sure she was underweight, she needed a haircut, and her eyes had dark patches under them, but it was something else.

She didn’t bark. At all.

While the thought of a silent dog does have its merits, a dog without a bark is like a child without a voice. Daisy had been debarked. She had no voice.

Without being too graphic, the Pennsylvania Amish Country puppy mill from which Daisy was rescued was horrifying. My wife found pictures of it, of Daisy, online shortly after we brought her home. Among other atrocities, debarking dogs is fairly common. Frankly, the whole idea of puppy mills is unconscionable to us both.

But a funny thing happened a few months into her transition into our family. When she gets excited to go for a “walkie” each day, like most dogs, she prances around, pants, and leads one of us to her leash and to the door.

At first, she just jumped up on my legs to affirm that she was, indeed, interested in the walk.

But then one day she barked.

It was strained and almost scratchy, but make no mistake, Daisy had found her voice.


The importance and power of student voice has inserted itself into PD plans, book proposals, and Twitter chats across the nation. It’s about time. Finally, and in some deeply entrenched traditional districts, begrudgingly, adults are starting to frame their thinking around student voice. Decision making committees are beginning to include kids. Class libraries, Makerspaces, and common areas are taking shape with students at the helm. Social-emotional learning strategies and practices are considered by kids rather than for kids.

At long last, adults who have preached their love of children as the driving force behind their careers in education are replacing themselves with children as they look in the mirror.

We cannot underestimate the power of voice.

To return to Daisy, she is a completely different dog. The same dog who didn’t know how to go up or down stairs, who longed so desperately for human affection, and who had no idea Beggin’ Strips were a thing, is now playful, spunky, and, quite frankly, proud of her voice. She uses it with impunity, believe me.

Now, think about all the students you have taught, and have yet to teach, who found their voice. There’s an authentic glow and a stifled smile that accompanies that realization. For some, it happens, well, in utero (see: my own kids). For others, it happens in elementary school as they feel their way through letters, sounds, and numbers. For still others, it happens much later when they meet a teacher who gives them agency and audience, perhaps for the first time.

Voice, even in bark form, is the purest form of identity. Without it, students are reduced to a SMID, a plotted point on a data table, a standardized test score. With it, they are elevated and empowered; they are resilient and fierce; they are who we want them to be without us telling them who we want them to be.

They’re us before we became us.

As you plan your PD for the year, as you look at your budgets for next year, as you devise your district’s strategic plan, as you do anything that directly affects kids, give them a voice. Call them together, form a student leadership team, ask them to complete a Google Form. Take them seriously, praise their contributions, compliment their parents.

Then do it all over again.

Let the kids bark.

 

We Are All In a Megaband…

Never Take Great Teaching For Granted

Remember when we were kids and two of our favorite shows would surprise us with a crossover episode? You know the one.

Josie and the Pussycats help the gang from Scooby Doo solve a mystery.

Those silly kids from Beverly Hills 90210 found themselves caught up in the tempestuous lives of Melrose Place tenants.

Or when Family Guy and The Simpsons squared off in the courtroom over copyright laws.  

We love when our favorite shows, which often take place in the same “universe,” team up for an episode because we feel like we’re in on something, like we’re part of something.


In November 2016, Seattle megaband, Temple of the Dog, played its only tour together: eight shows in five cities, beginning in Philadelphia. Combining members of grunge icons Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, the group recorded only one album, in 1991, in memory of their mutual friend, Andy Wood, the frontman for an earlier Seattle band, Mother Love Bone. Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990, the ominous harbinger to the birth of what is now Pearl Jam.

But this crossover experience is just getting started.

Seattle megaband, Temple of the Dog (from left): drummer, Matt Cameron; guitarist, Stone Gossard; bassist, Jeff Ament; singer, Chris Cornell; and guitarist, Mike McCready.

The show was transcendent. Equal parts an escape from the present and a return to the past, the band’s frontman, Chris Cornell, who also fronted Seattle’s Soundgarden, was on fire. Though I had just seen Cornell live a couple years back as part of a solo tour, this was something different; he was something different. He evoked his friend Wood, he gave us chills, and he reminded us all what it was like to be a teenager in the 1990s.

Six months later Cornell hanged himself after a show in Detroit.

When I reflect on what had to go right for me to be a part of that crossover experience, it is always sobered by what had to go wrong for Cornell to commit suicide months later.

A month earlier during his speech in honor of Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, David Letterman noted, “Never take the opportunity for live music for granted.” I didn’t miss my chance to see Cornell live, but if I had, I would never have gotten a chance to see him again.


In education, we get to see “live music” every day. Sometimes we are the conductor, sometimes we are the rhythm guitarist, and sometimes we are in the cheap seats just happy to be in the room.

We cannot take our role in the lives of our kids for granted. Furthermore, we cannot take our role in each other’s lives for granted.

Teachers: Go see colleagues teach. Co-teach with them. Guest teach for them. Get off campus and see other teachers work. Investigate powerful PLNs on Twitter like #4OCFpln, #ProDriven, or “Like a Pirate” groups like #tlap or #LEADLAP.

Leaders: Provide opportunities for your teachers to form their own crossover experiences. Offer to teach a lesson with or for them. Celebrate your teachers when they form megabands. Find more ways to say yes than to say no.

Ultimately, crossover experiences allow each other and our kids to see the same thing from a different perspective.

As I sat in the Tower Theater watching some of my favorite musicians on that November night, I knew all the words to all the songs, but they were somehow different, somehow better.

As our students sit in their classrooms and participate in a read aloud led by someone other than the lead teacher, they know what to expect and how to engage, but it is somehow different.

It may even be better.

 

What I Forget…

Forgotten Memories Are Still Shared Memories

Remember that time…

I can’t count how many times a former student has started an exchange, email, or tweet with this trio of words. After fifteen years in the classroom, most of which was spent with seniors, there’s certainly no shortage of inside jokes, heart-to-heart conversations, and class-specific memories to go around.

The problem is I don’t remember them all.

Remember when you gave that fire and brimstone speech after the Heights game and you thought I was smiling? No.

Remember when you did that silly dance in the front of the room? Negative.

Remember when we had that discussion about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and you said I made a point you’d never considered after teaching it for so long? Sorry, nope.

Because there’s only one of me and well over a thousand former students, math and cognitive psychology alone dictate that I can’t possibly remember all there is to remember. For a while, I begrudged that immutable fact. I cursed myself for not storing up all the memories and all the feels in the same way my students did. I wondered how present I was during those fifteen years.

Then I got over it.

It doesn’t matter if I remember what my kids remember. What matters is that I gave them something to remember. Our shared experience is really only based on circumstance. Our association with and contribution to that shared experience is wholly personal.

So let it be.

Let your students and colleagues remember what they want to, how they want to. Absent a floating, omnipresent scoreboard indicating how often you actually remember what others remember, being a main character in someone else’s memory should be enough.

Teaching and leading are deeply personal endeavors because they include people every day. How we choose to interact with those people, to treat those people, and to honor those people will shape their memories whether we remember them or not.

So the next time a former student or colleague starts a conversation with “Remember that time…” I’ll be honest if I don’t.

But I’m glad you do,” I’ll tell them.

My Origin Story

How an NBA point guard, a mundane essay, and a cosmic influence launched a career

I became a teacher because of Isiah Thomas.

In 1991, while the Hall of Fame NBA point guard for the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons was adding to his legacy as one of the greatest players in the game, I was watching. When uniform selections were made for all the various teams for which I played as a kid, I always chose #11 in honor of Isiah. For my high school graduation, a friend’s parent gave me a gold necklace with that number dangling from it; I wore it for years.

Like most kids, I was obsessed with someone I could never be.

By that point in my life, I was certain of only a few things: I loved to read and write; I loathed all things math; I had terrible hair and acne. Only the first one matters now, though I would argue the other two are still relevant.

So when my freshman English class was asked to write an essay using the prompt: If you could trade places with anyone in the world, who would it be and why, I didn’t blink before I started to write about Isiah.

NBA point guard, Isiah Thomas, a central figure in my origin story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Sue McKenna, then head of the high school English department, walked into my classroom a week later, arms full of loose-leaf paper and gravitas, I thought nothing of it and prepared for a lecture.

But when she started to read my piece on Isiah Thomas, stopping for effect at several points and rereading my last sentence, “But why, I wonder, would Isiah want to trade places with me?” I sat near the back of room C209 blushing through a combination of fear and pride. On the one hand, I didn’t want anyone to know how insanely excited I was for fear of (further) social isolation, but on the other hand, I wanted everyone to know how insanely excited I was that an adult chose my work to use as an exemplar.

Roughly 43 minutes later, I walked out of the classroom as the still anonymous writer of the Ode to Isiah. It didn’t take long for my friends to catch wind of the experience and to out me as the writer, but by then, I was too euphoric to care what people thought.

I was a writer.

That, by way of an otherwise mundane writing assignment the likes of which kids today are still completing, is how I knew I wanted to become a teacher.

I was 14.


From that point on, my focus was razor sharp; my life’s plan was myopic. I would teach high school English. For me, making a conscious decision to never leave school was made with clarity, confidence, and cause. I knew teaching was what I was supposed to do. Nothing else mattered.

Four years after that watershed moment, I was declaring a major at Rowan University while friends were still trying to figure out how to scrounge up enough money for a 12-pack of Natural Light.

Another four years later, as a (still pimply) 22 year old, I was a month into my student teaching experience at Pennsauken High School when I received two calls from two separate teachers at my old high school. The first was from my former basketball coach, and now close friend, Casey Clements, who told me, rather bluntly, “I need a JV coach. Job’s yours if you want it.”

I knew that, for whatever reason, teaching was what I was supposed to do. Nothing else mattered.

Then, hours later, the true measure of the cosmic alignment of my teaching career occurred when, my mentor, John Skrabonja, who served as my real-life John Keating, called to tell me that he was being pressed into emergency action as a guidance counselor after the sudden death of a beloved counselor and that he was recommending me as his replacement.

So on February 1st, 1999, a cool eight years after I wrote about Isiah Thomas, I walked into room C206 on my first day as the new high school English teacher in my old high school. I replaced my hero, in his room, in which I sat, just a few years prior.

Sure, Isiah helped get me there, and I still do wear the #11, but, unlike so many others, my destination had been signposted for me long before I had anything to say about it.

What’s your origin story?

A Flippin’ Transcendent Conference

Inaugural FlipTech East Coast Builds Community, Shifts Focus Back to Kids

Man, was there some flippin’ leveling up last weekend.

After over a year of planning, my district played host to an international conference on flipped instruction and educational technology. The brainchild of our (only) resident flipped instructor, David Walsh, and his wife Melissa, FlipTech East Coast invited folks from around the world, virtually and in person, to share their experiences as flipping and ed tech gurus.

Highlighted by keynote addresses by Aaron Sams and Kelly Walsh, the weekend was inspirational, confessional, and educational. From those just dipping pinky toes into the waters of flipped instruction to those who have written books and traveled the country espousing its power, a palpable feeling of community and belonging served as the backdrop for dozens of sessions, countless laughs, and transcendent conversations.

Conference co-creators David and Melissa Walsh smile through our student-led panel discussion. Photo credit: Kate Baker.

For fear of #TLDR syndrome, I’ll be brief in providing a panoramic snapshot of the weekend’s brilliance.

  • Our friend Diana Duran came from Colombia by way of Atlanta and Detroit and then Philadelphia, which caused her to miss day one entirely. Undaunted, she arrived on day two and provided a powerful session on Flipping Foreign Language courses.
  • Dan Welty finished his impactful session on Transforming Assessments with an audience singalong on flipping set to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
  • AJ Bianco’s session on Personalized Learning and Student Choice was quite literally bursting at the seams, causing organizers to scramble to find more seating.   
  • Lindsay Stephenson’s session on Fast and Effective Digital Feedback will help transform how we speak and write to our kids and colleagues.
  • Carolina Buitrago and Martha Ramirez, also from Colombia, presented (twice) on Flipping EFL Writing Workshops and did so with humor and expertise.
  • And Kate Baker did what Kate Baker does: present with panache and poise, this time on Class Structures to Support Flipped Learning.

However, with due reverence to our presenters, the weekend’s finest hour came by way of our student panel. Nine upperclassmen graciously agreed to give up time on the first Friday of their summer to talk with a room full of strangers about their experience with flipped learning and ed tech. Equal parts heartwarming and honest, our panel acquitted itself with the kind of grace and professionalism to which all 100+ adults in the audience should aspire.

Of course, I’m leaving out so much about the weekend’s blur of awesomeness because it may or may not involve alcohol, horrendous flippin’ puns, and quiet moments between people who finally got to meet in real life after a year or more of developing professional relationships online.

Without question, we are living in the most challenging time in which to be educators. However, what this weekend did for me, and for so many others, is “flip” the conversation from all the things we’re told we aren’t doing well to all the reasons we made the conscious decision to never leave school: the love of learning, the desire to work with people who inspire us, and, of course, the kids. 

 

(no subject)

Subjecting to the (no subject) email

There may  be no more disquieting a combination than an English teacher with anxiety. Pepper in some empathy and add a touch of savior complex, and we have ourselves a downright Frankensteinian creation. As such, we tend to make complicated what should be simple, we (over)analyze the simplest of circumstances, and we think, ad nauseum, about the lives and happiness of other people. It’s all very exhausting.

My superintendent, the best leader with or for whom I’ve ever worked, is notorious for the (no subject) email. So much so that when such emails come through, my Pavlovian response is to hold my breath for a second before opening them. Immediately, I start to wonder to what this could refer. Without a subject line, the possibilities are endless and rife with disaster.

I consider: did I make a mistake recently so egregious that he couldn’t even bring himself to name it in the subject line. I think: is what I’m about to read so sensitive that giving it a name in the subject line somehow emboldens it. I worry: should I get my resume together?

One of the most challenging parts of leadership is reminding ourselves that everyone is not going to lead the way we do. Accepting that reality is paramount to our growth. My superintendent is amazing at his job because he is uber pragmatic, definitive, and articulate; he’s also a former high school math teacher, so, unlike me, he economizes his words under the banner of efficiency. To him, a subject line is no more than an unnecessary adjective in an already long sentence. An adornment to an already busy wall.

To me, a subject line is the billboard you see as you drive up to the stadium for a concert. It alerts the reader to what’s to come, it provides brief context to pique the reader’s interest, and it has a touch of my own personality, which signals the mood and tone of the email to follow. None of this is necessary, none will enter my emails in a competition for most clever subject line. However, because of the Frankensteinian combination to which I referred earlier, I cannot bring myself to start an email without a trailer.

In order to level up our leadership, it is imperative that we reflect on these nuances as often as we can. For a moment, step back and take a panoramic shot of your leadership team. Consider what each member does exceptionally well and how those strengths contribute to the success of the team. Then, and this is the hard part, consider what each member does differently than you. Though you may not be able to understand the motivation behind such differences, each provides you with an opportunity to hold a mirror up to how you choose to lead. Finally, create your own Frankensteinian leader with spare parts left over from members of your team.

But for goodness sake, put a stinkin’ subject line.  

Squish Yourself In or Squish Yourself Out

My five-year old is obsessed with slime. Truth be told, he’s obsessed with anything goopy, sloppy, messy, or mushy, but the advent of slime being sold as a “toy” has totally changed his worldview. Couple that with the fact that he can now make his own slime, and you can imagine what my house looks like on most days.

The thing about slime is once it’s been created, once it’s been played with, there’s really nothing parents can do with it. It’s not like there’s a specific container made for slime, and its malleability, while fun for kids, doesn’t lend itself to easy storage. Ultimately, parents are left trying to squish slime into something until it squishes itself out. What doesn’t make it in a container ends up in the trash or down the garbage disposal, never to be heard from again.


So much of teaching and leadership is, well, slimy. Teachers are asked to squish in as much content, assessment, social-emotional learning, professional development, activities, chaperoning, SGOs, and happy hours as they possibly can. Leaders are asked to squish in as many classroom visits, observations, professional development, meetings, parent refereeing, strategic planning, QSAC reviews, and emotional support as they can.

Eventually, something is going to squish out.

The trick, then, is to figure out, well in advance, what you’re willing to squish in and what you’re comfortable allowing to squish out. Determine how messy is too messy, when enough is enough, and when it’s time to put the slime down and slowly back away.

There may be no more amorphous a profession than education. Despite misguided narratives from on high and uninformed references to “summers off,” a life in public education is a life of, well, slime. Educators contort, flatten, absorb, repel, sparkle, maintain, camouflage, and adhere. Every. Single. Day.  

As you recharge and restore this summer, invite yourself to squish in as much as you want, and accept the reality that things will squish out.

There’s a brand new container of slime waiting for you in September.