Saturday, January 6, 2018

I Choose Joy!

#OneWord2018

What do I want to be and do in 2018? How can I continue to become a better, more effective teacher? What do I want my students to see in and remember about me? How do I want my colleagues to perceive me?


I Choose Joy!


For many today, emotions rise and fall at the least provocation. Joy is a steady emotion that persists even in the most difficult times.

Many of my students encounter drama and tragedy regularly in their lives, not just in their required literature readings. Joy is a willful response to situations, bringing calm and control into the most chaotic places.

As with any job, teachers are sometimes required to complete distasteful tasks. Joy is a sweet-tempered attitude that does not allow external situations to sour an otherwise pleasant day or occupation.

If I could change one element of culture today, it would be our tendency to allow our emotions to dictate our day, and to allow outside influences (people, politics, news, social media) to manipulate our emotions. I cannot.

But I can model an unflappable and joyful spirit. 

I will not minimize or ridicule others' trials, nor will I cover up the sorrows in my own life. But, 

I will choose joy.

Crossing the Finish Line: Endurance!
By Le Miroir des Sports - Le Miroir des Sports, 12 juillet 1924, p.51, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61598095

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-2: note: you can have joy through any circumstance)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Listening or Hearing?


19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

By Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan - Conversation, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30754121

In the short span of a week I was misunderstood three times. 

  • One was only half-listening to something I said, which became apparent when she asked a question that was completely opposite of what I had just told her. Based on her own experiences, she assumed mine, and asked a question that didn't make sense.
  • The second presumed that she knew me so well as to voice what I was thinking and feeling--and to other people. But it was not true.
  • The third heard what I was saying and jumped in to finish my thoughts, but she misunderstood and concluded incorrectly.


None of these situations was crushing or life-altering, just a little frustrating.

But as I thought about them, I wondered about conversations I have with people, particularly students (though it could apply to anyone): 


  • Do I want to listen or to hear?
  • While listening, am I spending my time thinking about what I will say next?
  • Do I assume that I know what my student is thinking, feeling or planning?
  • How can I avoid misunderstanding what he/she is telling me?
  • How can I practice being a better hearer?




In every relationship, in every circumstance, in every interaction there is an opportunity to listen, rather, to hear. I want to learn to hear better, to speak less, to build up relationships!



When have you been misunderstood (words, intentions, etc.)?


What is the best way you have learned to practice hearing?


What are the advantages of "hearing" and the disadvantages of "listening"?



"Sometimes words--especially words that describe emotions--don't communicate effectively because we are too quick to think we know what the other person means by their use of the word. For example, if I were to tell you that the only memory I have of those days was a deep, deep peace, you might smile and say, 'That's nice,' or even 'That's great!' And, I might respond with frustration that you didn't really understand what I was saying. This isn't your fault, of course, because how can any of us truly understand what another person has experienced? I'm not hoping you'll understand what I experienced; I'm simply hoping that you won't too quickly assume that you do understand and, by doing so, miss the power of what I'm attempting to describe." (John Stumbo)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Compelled...to Love


Wise words from my principal, Mr. Michael Ditzenberger.

As a member of the #CompelledTribe, my blog topic for August was to describe my "goals, actions, focus, etc. for the new school year". Although I am a goal-minded person (I have lists for everything), I had trouble defining what I most wanted to accomplish in the coming year. So, as is our human nature, I just put it out of my mind for a while.

Then I faced my first back-to-school challenge (two weeks before the year begins), and sought advice from my principal. He gave me a great gift, clarifying my purpose. He honored me greatly, and I cringe at sharing it--because I don't want to sound boastful about something so very gratifying and yet humbling at the same time, and because sometimes gifts like these are more precious as they are cherished without an audience. 

But his words are wise, and are applicable for all who work in education at all levels. 


So, I take the gift I have been given, and I share it with you:

“…I would suggest that you do what you do best—crush (Student) with kindness. Tell (Student) that you can’t wait to see (him/her) on the first day, and that all Spanish 3 students occupy a special part of your class in their commitment to reaching a little higher for success.”

Have you identified your goal(s) for this school year? 

What is your purpose?

What do you want to accomplish?

What do you want your students to say at the end of the school year? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Parents' Makerspace Lessons (2)

>Note: I originally published this blog as "Learning Is a Messy Process" on another blog space: http://bkurtzlifelonglearn.blogspot.com/2015/09/learning-is-messy-process-not-tidy.html>



Learning Is a Messy Process, Not a Tidy Product

I am learning a lot about learning, and about teaching, by spending time working with my dad in his carpentry barn.


  As the end of the school year neared, I proposed some summer projects to my dad: a "covered bridge" birdhouse and bird feeder. My dad said, "See if you can find a pattern/plan on the internet". Easily done, right? No. There were photos but no design instructions (well, there were some plans, if I wanted to pay $80). I printed a few of the photos and sat down with my dad.

   For my dad this was not a problem. In his mind's eye, he already had some ideas, and he tried to help me visualize the end product as well: "How big do you want it?" "Do you want ramps, like the entrance/exit to the bridge?" "Do you want to hang it from a hook or mount it on a pole?" "What color do you want?" The questions came as he sketched a simple pattern and guesstimated the sizes. To finish he sent me home with a list of supplies to bring next time (Home Depot alert: there's a rookie wandering the aisles!).

   Throughout the summer we worked in the barn and I practiced my skills with the table saw and circular saw, the router, drill, sander and other tools. As I learned skills, I learned a lesson in thinking.

   My dad saw this project as a challenge--who needs a pattern, anyway? Here's just a portion of his learning process:

  • measure and think;
  • measure and think;
  • if using others' ideas, analyze what they did and see how you want to change or adapt;
  • begin creating;
  • stop and think;
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • measure;
  • stop and think;
  • "tweak"
  • saw, glue, nail, screw;
  • find weaknesses or obstacles;
  • (start over if your daughter screws up too badly)
  • stop and think;
  • look at product, hold it, turn it, think;
  • try a solution;
  • undo and try another solution;
  • cut, glue, nail, screw;
  • sand, varnish, torch (who knew you could burn wood to give it great color?!);
  • inspect;
  • celebrate!

If only you could have seen me as I came home carrying my finished products!


The bird feeder almost finished

One of our side projects was creating and laying a new floor in the barn.

Learning is often messy, taking unexpected twists, turns, detours, and even restarts. It also involves a fair amount of creativity, supported by confidence: if this doesn't work, I'll try something else! Learning also is about the process more than the final product--my greatest joy was in sharing this time with my dad and learning from him. The experience would have been worth it even if I had never completed my project!

I need to provide more opportunities for my students to learn in this manner. To accomplish this, I must develop in them confidence so that they will try, support so that they can fail and restart, curiosity and creativity so that they will view the learning process as more important than the final learning itself.

Can I deal with the chaos of a "messy" learning process? 

Can I teach my students to do the same? 

I am certainly going to try!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

My Parents' Makerspace Lessons (1)

My parents were born during World War 2, 

children of the "Greatest Generation". 

My dad (top left) and five brothers served in the military, spanning World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Nephews and cousins also served. I think they are a pretty great generation, too!

Growing up, my parents learned to think for themselves, to improvise with resources at hand, to make (or fix) what they needed. My parents can:

  • prepare ground, plant and raise crops, fruit trees and grape vines, harvest and can the produce (making pie fillings, salsa, jam/jelly, applesauce...);
  • build: garage, deck, steps, benches, lamps, bookshelves, birdhouses, etc.;
  • complete basic automobile maintenance tasks and diagnose problems with vehicles of all types;
  • sew and create useful products: clothes, pillows, furniture covers, curtains...;
  • repair household problems: well pump, roofing, windows, sump pump, plumbing, etc.;
  • restore or repair furniture;
  • graft trees;
  • drive almost anything;
  • raise and care for animals of all types;
  • live "with" and live "without"

My dad and I built this light house together. Solar panels gather power all day, and my lighthouse is alight from dusk to dawn.


In case you think my parents are "mired" in a past era, you should know that they can also use the computer and internet, and install and uninstall programs. Though they don't use Facebook, my parents maintain a detailed family history through a popular genealogy site, play games on both laptops and tablets, and keep in touch with friends and family through email (and text messaging on their phones).

My dad built this Rabbit Run for his rabbits to get exercise. I helped finish it.


Their "Makerspaces" are born out of necessity, independence, and a healthy dose of willingness to try.


These days the "Makerspace" movement is gaining popularity, and it seeks to instill these same characteristics in the youth of today.

Isn't it funny, though we've "advanced" over the past 70+ years, our modern lifestyle has taken away a lot of our necessity for making things. Cell phones, air conditioning, internet, packaged foods, cable tv, microwaves, email, cell phones, fast food...

We're faced with an interesting tension: we want our students to "make," in other words, to think independently and critically, yet, in many ways we no longer have genuine necessity for "making". 


I confess that I don't have answers, just questions:


  • How can we make the most effective use of Makerspaces with the youth of today?
  • How can we use the Makerspaces to foster independence and willingness to try?
  • In what ways can we connect the youth of today to those who grew up in different generations? Can we capture and share stories, explore their lives, place our hands on their tools, identify the needs and the outcomes of their work?
  • Is there a place for mentoring within the Maker movement--by older, experienced Makers?


Another of our past projects was building oriole feeders. Mine was hugely successful until some critter stole the jelly holder!

For my classroom I have questions as well:


  • In what ways can I foster independent thinking and a willingness to try?
  • How can I share the lessons I've learned at the hands of my Maker parents?
  • Am I a Maker? Do I lead by example?

One winter we created this "Cat Condo" together.


In what ways are you encouraging your students to think independently, to create, to meet necessity with innovation? 


How are you a model of these attributes and actions? 


What advice do you have for others to try?

One summer project was a "covered bridge" bird feeder. **Did you know that you could burn wood to add beauty?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Still Learning From My Parents

This summer I have spent a lot of time with my parents. The time is precious. I am still learning from them. What a blessing these moments are! 

April 17, 1962

Some things I've learned/witnessed with my parents:

  • Faithful, loving companionship and care: 55 years married, my parents still fuss over, care for and worry about each other.
  • Neighborliness: my parents have neighbors they know by name, and one young man whom they mentor and love as "second parents" as well as neighbors.
  • "Let's see" attitude: my parents face challenges with thoughtful problem-solving rather than panic. (Coming soon: a "Makerspace" blog about my parents)
  • Humor in the face of difficulty: pain, physical or emotional, can be faced with humor.
  • Abundant love: my parents love me beyond reason; they are always delighted when I come, and they can't wait to see me again. 



July 28, 2007
My return to school is still a month away, though I'm beginning to prepare. My parents' lessons are resonating in my heart and mind, and I want to take these learning experiences into my classroom.

My students need people like my parents in their lives--

may that be me!

  • Faithful, loving companionship and care: I want to fuss over, care for and worry about my students.
  • Neighborliness: I want to know my students, invest in their lives, and mentor them.
  • "Let's see" attitude: I want to approach problems as opportunities.
  • Humor in the face of difficulty: I want to maintain my sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Abundant love: I want my students to know that they are loved, that I am glad to see them, that I miss them when they are gone, and I can't wait to see them again.

Are you ready to return to school?

What attributes of your parents, heroes or role models do you want to imitate?

What student faces come to mind when you think of those who need you most?


2017-2018: BRING IT ON!


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Finishing the School Year: Grace in Action

The school year is nearly ended.

Teachers and students are tired.

     Nerves are frayed.

          Patience is in small supply.

               Demands are high but energy is low.

                    Some students seem to know just how 

                            to push us 

                                   beyond

                                          our ability 

                                               to cope.


How can we finish the year strongly?

  • Resolve to love every student: love is an ACT OF THE WILL, not an emotion.
  • Extend grace to forgive and extend trust to students again. 
  • Believe in and encourage the best in each student TODAY, regardless of yesterday.
  • Provide opportunities for each student to taste success.

As the school year closes, let us commit to extending grace again and again. Our toughest students are the ones who most need our patient endurance and gentle guidance.


  • Might we not need to practice these with our colleagues and family well?
  • Certainly they will need to do so for us, won't they?



I Choose Joy!

#OneWord2018 What do I want to be and do in 2018? How can I continue to become a better, more effective teacher? What do I want my studen...