Monday, March 31, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #22

Reason to Race #22: To Be "On the Edge"

me...on the edge of a frozen waterfall

I'm often asked to explain my Twitter handle & blog: Teach on the Edge. The edge is a space where the flat, secure terrain meets a precipice. Beyond the precipice is a vastness which is simultaneously breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and terrifying. Being on the edge means balancing awareness of both spaces and consciously pushing some level of security into the vastness so as to capture its power without falling in. In my life, in my classroom, in my fitness, I like to be on the edge...

Where land meets air
of a cliff (literally, in a harness)
of a crevasse (anchored in & ice axe in hand)
of a frozen waterfall

Where old meets new
of innovation
of change
of creativity

Where maternal meets military 
of compassion
of expectation
of no-nonsense

Where power meets blackout
of exhaustion
of failure
of personal best

Being on the edge means feeling continuously empowered by possibility and slightly unnerved by possibility. And just when you think you can't reach higher, pull stronger, push do. Reason to Race #21? That feeling! 

If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below. Thank you for the sharing, liking, tweeting and other forms of support. #getedgy #thumbsup

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #21

image credit:
(smoothie cheers!)
Reason to Race #21: A Better Goal for 21

There's something seriously wrong with college culture, and we aren't talking about it enough. Across the nation, there's a growing epidemic  endangering the lives of our college-aged children. Let's see if we can name the culprit...

1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from it, roughly the same number as an entire graduating class at Dartmouth.

More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been doing it. That is more than the total population of most US cities.

More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of sexual assault or date rape related to it. This is almost five times the number of individuals who can fit into Madison Square Garden and about 10,000 more than fit into "The Swamp" at University of Florida.

599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of it. That is just shy of the number of people who live in Boston.

More than 150,000 students develop a health problem related to it, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to it. (

As you've undoubtedly inferred by now, the culprit is drinking, binge drinking specifically.

And the solution lies in student choice, voice, and leadership. Just as my generation raised itself out of the smoke-infested life most of us grew up in when we recognized how seriously dangerous it is to smoke and gross it is to smoke inside restaurants and too can this next generation raise itself out of the Animal House debauchery we gifted to you. In other words, be smarter than us for crying out loud!

What many of my generation didn't realize until they had already suffered many consequences of rough living is a much better path to dealing with stress and a much smarter way to socialize. You guessed!

So my Reason to Race #21 is to inspire a new goal for 21. How about a classic distance tri? That's about 21 miles, what an amazing accomplishment! Even a fun midnight run followed by a ton of cake would be a great idea. Don't love my old-lady ideas? Here's a great list by a college student who is part of the 20% who don't drink, "Sober Things to do on Your 21st Birthday"

My wish to all my students and my children is that you stop the insanity. Already, some of you out there have begun to make that change in the college culture with strong leadership. Bravo! I firmly believe that some of the student leadership needed at the college level is going to come from students who have talent and not funds. It's one of the reasons I've chosen Scholarship America for my race cause. If you'd like to donate, please click the link below, and thank you for your support! #thumbsup!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #20

Reason to Race #20: "Because I'm Happy!"

Like much of the world, I'm in love with song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Yes, I'll "clap along!" Yes, I do feel like "a room without a roof" and "that happiness is the truth!" It makes me happy each time I hear it, and usually it makes me burst into clapping, even in the midst of a run. It also makes me wonder how I got so happy...

There was definitely a time in my life when I was far more moody and sad. I wasn't suffering from diagnosed depression, but my temper was often short, and I just felt a certain dullness settle as a layer atop life's daily gifts. It was as if I needed an event or something special to raise the texture to vibrant. Flash forward a few years, and here's me, happy and feeling on top of the world, which is how I feel literally here but how I feel figuratively day to day!

I'm very grateful to have lived an overall happy life. However, even those of us fortunate to live a life free of debilitating mental illness experience the vicissitudes of mood. When I began exercising, everything illuminated, and my outlook on life grew more optimistic and empowered. It's no secret that exercise causes boosts in mood through endorphin release. In fact, research shows fitness could do even more than just boost our mood a little. According to Web MD, "exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression."

As I've grown in years and gray hair, so has my career grown in opportunities and the accompanying stresses. And yet, I find that I rarely feel overwhelmed, tired, or stressed. I also feel paradoxically younger as I get older--and of course, much happier. I attribute all this to fitness, and next week I'm racing for that peak feeling of power, accomplishment, and happiness! I hope that in doing so, I am also showing my students and children a healthy way of attaining happiness in a stressful world.

If you'd like to contribute to my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below. Thank for for sharing, liking, retweeting, and other forms of love & support! Thumbs up! Now off to do my happy dance part of my taper week. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #19

Reason to Race #19: To Hit the (Hopefully Flat!) Beach

It's Friday again, and what better way to enjoy TGIF than a morning walk on the beach with my mom? As I strolled along the shore before hopping on a flight back to NYC, I thought no matter how many times I see the ocean, I'm always struck by its beauty. 

However, it would be nice if the ocean's motion calmed down a bit between now and next week's race. The three days of strong rip currents and whitecaps as far out as I could see kept me on shore. I'll be completely open in saying I'm very worried I'll be faced with daunting waves again next Sunday. I'm hoping that if it's a moment of get over it (literally) or go home, I'll overcome my trepidation and persevere. Still, if I could have one TGIF wish (if there is such a thing), I'm putting out a request to Mother Nature that when I return next Friday, I'll be welcomed by a different TGIF...Thank God It's Flat!!!

Hoping for this:

Not this:

So friends, send out all your good weather karma to South Beach for me! I know it's a lot to ask when all my NYC friends are needing it to banish neverending winter, but I would be very grateful! 

Also, if you're able to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below. Thanks for all the sharing, likes, retweets and other support! 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #18

Reason to Race #18: If the bone don't show, you GO!

After bagging my swim yesterday because of nasty waves, I woke today to this:

and this:

I was as angry as the ocean seemed to be! I had planned for a long ocean swim yesterday and a practice run at the full tri today. I went into pouting mode and had resigned myself to battling the 15-20 mph wind gusts on the bike and run today and heading back to the stinking pool upon my return to NYC. Then, this guy called (the handsome guy without all the wool):

Midway through my rant about the state of the ocean and wind, Eric interrupted me and said, "Honey, you are in Florida; there are a million ways to swim. And regarding the wind, be grateful for it. It'll make it easier on race day if it's not as strong and doable if it is. Now, stop the pity party and go get the job done. You can do it!" 

I love Eric for many reasons, but today I love him for giving me a kick in the rear. He reminded me that (as he often says in his many ways of expressing his no-excuses attitude to life), "Excuses are like butts. We've all got 'em but nobody wants to hear 'em!" 

So I ditched my pity party and hit the pool at a local gym, had my awesome dad meet me with my bike for my post-swim transition, and my mom meet me with my shoes for the transition to the run. Even if I hated the chlorine instead of the beautiful ocean, and my run time was much slower than my current pace, I finished my trial tri and mostly felt strong!

Thanks to my hubby Eric for my reason to race today. To quote the most handsome guy in my life, "If the bone don't show, you GO!" 

If you'd like to contribute to my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below. Thank you for all the love, likes, retweets, & other support! #thumbsup

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #17

Reason to Race #17: Carpe Diem

As more tragic news hit the streams this week with the fate of Malaysian flight 370 and the mud slide which swept away the idyllic community in Washington, I found myself feeling grateful for each moment I have with all the wonderful people in my life. 

There's no moment like this one to capture life's opportunities. Each step I take, each mile I ride, each lap I swim, I seek to feel more alive. However, there are few things that measure up to the rush of crossing the finish line in a race! This year, when my colleagues asked me to join them in the race, I thought I don't have a bike, or a pool, or time...maybe next year. But then I thought, Why not? It's not like I'll have more of any of those later! I'm so glad I didn't hesitate and dove right in. We often get stuck in a pattern of analysis paralysis in our lives when the reality is tomorrow is not usually better than today nor any easier. So, reason to race #17: Carpe Diem!

If you'd like to donate to my race cause, Scholarship America, please click the link below. Thank you for the continued likes, shares, comments, and other support along the way! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #16

Reason to Race #16: To see my Florida family & friends!

Having moved to NYC almost five years ago, I've adjusted to all aspects of city life (even the weather!) but I haven't adjusted to not seeing my Florida crew. I miss them all the time and look for every excuse to get down here and see them. 

My parents have even kicked their hospitality (always stellar) up a notch to help me get race ready. I traveled down this week for a spring break training session and arrived to a supply of sports beans and Gatorade, with my equipment ready to go as well. 

Mom drove me to pick up my bike, and tomorrow morning will find her walking along the beach next to my swim route. I'm a very lucky person to have such wonderful people in my life in both of my favorite places. Looking forward to returning in April for more time with my Florida family & to rocking the race! 

If you'd like to contribute to my ace cause, Scholarship America, please do so here. Thank you! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #15

Reason to Race #15: The Anti-Virtual Reality

It's "spring time" in NYC so naturally we are holding steady at 30 right now. I'm sick of the cold, and the virtual training that accompanies it! This winter, swim, bike, run went mostly like this: laps, spin, treadmill. It's a reality of training in cold climates but it's sure far from the reality of a great race. 

In fact, so much of what we experience today is mere simulation of the real thing. It's an unfortunate byproduct of our tech-enriched lives. As much as I promote the possibilities our virtual, digital world can offer in my field, it's not at the expense of real reality. Racing means getting in a real ocean and swimming with the current for an actual distance, getting on the bike and going through south beach, and running from one place to another. I can't wait for real miles and the anti virtual experience of it all!

If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please do so by clicking the link below. Thank you for your support and encouragement! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #14

Reason to Race #14: Recovery Days

As I type this, I am very sore from some great workouts last week leading into this weekend. I need a day off, or at least one of mild yoga or stretching. Even though I love working out, I don't always love it until I'm in it, and sometimes, not even then. Today was one of those days...wasn't looking forward to the workout and fought the urge to cut out all the way through it. I'm feeling fatigued and my muscles are mad at me, so I'm thinking tomorrow is a good recovery day.

When I work out well, I never have just a "day off" because instead of having it off (passive), I'm helping my muscles to recover (active). Even though it's a game of semantics, I works to convince me that I've done my job for the day. And like pancakes, the recovery day taste so much sweeter when I've properly earned it!

If you'd like to contribute to my race cause, Scholarship America, please do so by clicking here. Thank you to all my donors so far and for all the encouragement!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #13

Reason to Race #13: Inspiration

I don't have many brilliant ideas, but the ones I do have ALWAYS come to me in the midst of a great run, bike, or swim. Almost every speech, every blog, and every interesting lesson I've created has its genesis in sweat. Maybe it's the beautiful surroundings when I'm outside or the meditative breathing of swimming but something about expending physical energy fires up my mind. Speaking of ideas...I'd better head outside for a ride so I can think up some more reasons to race!

If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please contribute here and thank you for the continued support and encouragement!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #12

Reason to Race #12: For pancakes & life’s sweeter things

image credit:
It’s Friday again, so I’m keeping it fun with this reason to race, borrowing inspiration from my former student and awesome runner/blogger, Andrea. When she first shared her blog I Run for Donuts, I immediately thought, “Brilliant, me too!” I have a rather insatiable sweet tooth, and I’m happy to put in the miles and laps to have guilt-free enjoyment of all things sugary. In fact, last time I ran the South Beach Tri, Eric & I walked our bikes straight from the finish line to breakfast on the beach. I ordered pancakes, and they never tasted so great as that morning after a swim-bike-run. As race day approaches, I’ve got my eye on the finish line…and those post-race pancakes!

If you’d like to donate to my race cause, Scholarship America, please contribute here, and check out Andrea’s blog for more fun fitness motivation. Thank you for the ongoing support and encouragement!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #11

Reason to Race #11: To Get Outside!

My reason to race #11 coincides with the first day of spring when life is abuzz, not through the power of electricity but through the beauty of nature. We live in such a tech-enriched world, where the wonders of human innovation abound. Yet, the most amazing transformations and intricacies of machinery exist in nature, where they always have. To balance my techie, connect lifestyle, I find myself constantly searching for everything in its natural state. So, excuse me while I get outside! I'll leave you with some shots from my run around the Stanford Dish yesterday and this poem by Marcie Hans which always causes me to reflect. If you'd like to donate to my race cause, Scholarship America, please contribute here and thank you for the ongoing support and encouragement!


by a million
wings of fire-
the rocket tore a tunnel
through the sky-
and everybody cheered.
only by a thought from God-
the seedling
urged its way
through thicknesses of black-
and as it pierced
the heavy ceiling of the soil-
and lauched itself
up into outer space -

--Marcie Hans


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reasons to Race #10

Reason to Race #10: I’m not getting any younger, and it’s better than plastic surgery!

image credit:

The expression grow old gracefully…not for me. Life is fascinating, fun, and surprising in so many ways. I’d like it to last for as long as possible, and I’d like to live it as young as possible. Aside from working with amazing teens and preteens each day, nothing makes me feel more vibrant than fitness. Despite my getting older each day, I feel much younger than I did in my 20s; I attribute this all to fitness. They say the oldest person alive is alive today…and I bet that person is exercising!

Five years ago when I last ran the South Beach Triathlon that I’m heading back to in April, I remember being humbled at the very start of the race. I was in the early thirties bracket, a group which headed into the water a few minutes or more ahead of the last group of women. The last group was the over 50 leg, all adorned with bright fuchsia caps. Midway through my swim--during which I felt strong and like I might be swimming as fast as I had through training--I looked up to spot the shore. To my humbling astonishment, I found myself surrounded by pink caps, and there were several out in front of me. I remember sort of chuckling (internally lest I inhale salt water) and thinking, Man, I hope I’m that fast and furious at fifty!

When I plunged myself back into the pool this January for the first time since that race, I again found myself surrounded by older women who not only whip by me and leave me in their graceful flutter-kick waves, but who also consistently beat me to the gym and fill up the lanes before 6 AM when I arrive.  Having met a few, they’ve accomplished so much more than my international distance goal. They arrive at 5:30 to train and in between sets, swap stories of Half-Irons and Ironmans. They also share stories of survival, a couple having battled cancer to get back in the race. Truly, it’s incredible, and I’m amazed by not just their strength and commitment, but also by their beauty.

I’ll take muscles and power over Botox any day! That’s my reason to race #10 and a huge #thumbsup to all the fierce lady trailblazers out there. If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please donate here and thank you for your support and encouragement!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #9

Reason to Race #9: Community of Crazy

image credit: lifetime south beach tri

A couple days ago, I blogged about "conquering crazy" as a reason to race, but if it's crazy to do these kinds of events, there sure has been an outbreak of crazy over the last few years. The community of running and triathlon athletes is growing in number, and everyday I'm inspired by friends within this community.

Being part of a sport which is so individual yet so unified in community spirit has redefined my definitions of team and collaboration. For the upcoming Lifetime Fitness South Beach Tri, I have been able to collaborate with my colleagues from Mandell and Rocket to fundraise for a great cause, Scholarship America, while engaging in a secondary passion together. We are indeed a team, both in school and on the course. We are also part of a larger community of athletes from around the world who have unique reasons to race.

So my reason to race #9 is for all the awesome people who swim, bike, run, or any one of those three! #Thumbsup everyone and thank you for the daily inspiration! #letsgo

If you would like to support our cause, Scholarship America, please do so by donating here. Thank you for your support and encouragement!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #8

Reason to Race #8: For the "non-athletic" kids out there!

notice the balls!
image credit: discovery education
When I was in high school, I was not athletic, at least in the traditional sense. Sure, I was fit and flexible, could tumble and leap around in dance class or with my fellow cheerleaders...but to me, I was still not an Athlete. The reason was simple--by any definition of the word, it seemed to me that if one were an athlete, one could not be afraid of the ball in gym class. And this soundtrack was definitely on repeat in my head all throughout my years in PE: Don't hit it to me, don't hit it to me, don't hit it to me. Oh no! the ball's coming to me...what do I do?!!! 

Throughout middle and high school, it seemed definite to me that the world was divided into two groups: people who were good at sports and those who weren't. And by sports, naturally I mean baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, dodgeball, kickball, Anythingwithaball ball. It's really a shame that it took more than a decade of life beyond high school for me to think about the words team sport and athlete as things which could be separate from the word ball.

I know it seems ridiculous to view myself as non-athletic because I wasn't "good at" sports with a ball, and of course it defies logic to think that there are young people who can view the category of athlete as having such narrow prerequisites. However, I would argue that this still happens to kids today. In fact, by the time my students reach me in middle and high school, many if not most have already defined themselves as athletes or non-athletes. Thankfully, there are more and more dedicated PE teachers and coaches working to broaden the definition of athlete by diversifying team and fitness experiences in schools.

So, reason #8 I'm racing is to show all the "non-athletic" kids out there that the word athlete is much more about personal best, strength, endurance, commitment, sacrifice, and fun than it is about how well you can serve the ball over the net in PE class! I'm also racing because unfortunately, colleges mostly reward team sports with a ball when offering scholarships, and so many talented "non-athletes" go without well-deserved opportunities.

If you'd like to support my race cause, Scholarship America, please donate here. Thank you for your support and encouragement!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reasons to Race

Reason to Race 7: My Dad & Other Amazing Teachers

My dad...and me on his shirt!
My dad, Doug Wycoff, was the first amazing teacher I knew. I didn't realize just how much of an impact he had made on his students until I myself began high school and started running into current and former students of his in social settings. It didn't take me long to catch onto the fact that if I mentioned him, there was a good chance my social standing would leap a few levels if the person knew my dad. Talk about a revelation! How could my dad carry such currency in my attempts to be cool?

It turns out, my dad was an incredible teacher and had been for my whole childhood even before I realized it. He cared deeply about his students, was creative in engaging them in learning, and was just plain fun, often dressing up as characters like Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield. As I grew into adulthood and (surprising to all including myself), became a teacher, I developed a much deeper appreciation for the work he did and the hard work of teachers in general.

I was fortunate not only to grow up with a great teacher but to have had several during my life. My hope is to also be one, a little better tomorrow than I am today. I'm racing to remember this goal, and I'm racing for all the teachers out there who seek to do the same. In the face of so many people who question their expertise, of so many tests and standards, and so little funds available, great teachers remained focused on what matters...students.

If you'd like to support the race cause, Scholarship America, please donate here. Thank you for the encouragement and support!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reason to Race #6

Reason to Race #6: To Conquer "Crazy".

That's me! ^^
If you had told me 10 years ago I would have been racing in events like this or climbing mountains (or
at least attempting to!), I would have thought "that's crazy"! I'm racing now because it is crazy...but also attainable. Today, it doesn't seem crazy or out of reach at all, but other things do, like climbing a really big mountain like Mt. Everest or racing in an Iron Man. If I keep challenging my notion of crazy, maybe one day, those won't either.

My point is, many times in life, we think, "no way, I could never do that; it's crazy". And kids think that too...about their abilities, friends, college, all kinds of challenges. As educators, we all know that the biggest obstacle to a student's success is seeing the challenges as insurmountable. We have to help them see the larger, crazy achievements as composites of smaller victories along the way. The important thing is to a) embrace the challenge even if it does sound crazy and b) to just start. Starting with one foot in front of the other is the best way to conquer crazy! I'd love to model this for my students, so that's why I'm racing.

To help support our race cause, Scholarship America, donate here and thank you!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tri for Triumph: Reasons to Race 1-5

In April, two of my passions will collide: education & fitness. I've been training since January, and on I'm racing for access to education for those whose paths are cut short not from lack of talent or promise but from lack of resources. All proceeds will benefit a great organization: Scholarship America.
April 6th, I'll hit South Beach, along with some Mandell colleagues, for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon. I'm racing for fun and for a personal best, but more than that, I'm racing for a great organization: Scholarship America.

Scholarship America widens the access to quality education by helping to remove the formidable economic barrier facing many students. Through our partnership with Scholarship America, we've also been able to enrich our school community by sustaining our commitment to diversity and equitable access to a quality program.

I've decided to share my reasons to race in pieces over the next few weeks leading up to the triathlon. Here's 1-5 to kick it off...

Reason to Race #1 (Monday): I've had the good fortune to teach some incredible students who have benefited from access to quality education because of this organization.
Reason to Race #2 (Tuesday): I'm racing because in life, some paths are filled with more obstacles than others, yet achievement is measured as if the course is the same. It won't ever be the same for all, but removing some obstacles along the way creates a chance for victory despite others.

Reason to Race #3 (Wednesday): Yesterday, thousands of NYC 8th graders found out which public high schools they got into. There are some excellent public "options"...but too few for too many students. Unfortunately, despite "school choice" instead of zoning, a student's neighborhood and the quality of public middle and elementary schools still dictate the opportunities they have in high school. Organizations like Scholarship America provide opportunities for some students who failed the numbers game in the public hs race to gain access to private options. Rich or poor, all students deserve a quality education, and until we have consistently high quality in all public schools, public and private must partner to widen the path to a bright future.

Reason to Race #4 (Thursday): To see the awesome people who come out to help. When we are tired, sweaty, and want to stop running, those along the sidelines cheer us on and give us water. Everyone needs cheerleaders in life! Happy to get the chance to pay it forward to some great kids.

Reason to Race #5 (Friday): For Friday, let's stick with fun. At a (much) younger age, I never would have imagined hearing myself say this, but fitness is fun! I'm sick of cold weather and am looking forward to some sunshine and sweat.

Stay tuned for more Reasons to Race and please consider donating. Thank you for your encouragement and support! To make a donation, please click here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

5 Cool Student #Projects Happening Right Now...Unassigned!

In the recent New York Times article, "How to Get a Job at Google", writer Thomas Friedman discussed the traits Google Senior Vice President of People Operations, "i.e. the guy in charge of hiring" pointed to as key indicators of success over traditional metrics such as G.P.A. Among them were the skills of collaboration, leadership, adaptability, and ownership. While it's true that many assignments provide students opportunities to hone these skills, there is a unique growth margin for them when students engage in authentic initiatives driven by their own passionate pursuits of knowledge. It caused me to ponder some of the incredible unassigned student initiatives we have seen bloom over the course of the year at my school when grading, due dates, and even class time are removed from the learning equation.

On that note, here are 5 cool student projects happening without grades, due dates, clubs, or even class time allotted to the endeavors...

1) Filmmaking: Our fifth grade has some aspiring filmmakers who have begun a film project with the support of teachers. The students are using their "free" time in recess and any spare moment throughout the day to write, direct, and produce the film. 

Image Credit: TheTweetBeat
2) Writing: There's a whole lot of writing and publishing going on outside school. Several of our The Tweet Beat from my friend Ryan as a great example! Another student Sam likes to publish blogs about science, like Science the Cool Way, and is working on a novel about a young girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder who faces and overcomes struggles to find friends and connect with others.
students are engaged in ongoing blogging, nonfiction, fiction writing, and fan fiction. Some of their publishing communities are robust in readership as well. Here's

3) Whiteboarding Everything: The recent installation of Idea Paint on the tables in the French room has created quite the frenzy. Our students are abuzz with ways to make all the learning surfaces areas where they can write and express their ideas. One group has taken up the task of researching and trying out different, more cost effective solutions. Their ideas have ranged from transparent, disposable sheets to whiteboard film. We're eager to see what they'll come up with!

4) Exercise-Powered MP3: One of our 7th Graders is working on designing an MP3 player powered by movement. Her goal is to enter the prototype into an upcoming medical design competition. Medicine is a passion of Sam's, and this would follow other designs she has completed in this area. Other designs include enhanced therapy suits for the treatment of children with autism.

5) Book Discussions: When we started the Summer Reading Group in Schoology, it was for the purpose of discussing the books we read throughout summer and a means to stay connected or get to know new members of our community prior to school. We were pleased to see our students continue to post about their reading adventures in this shared space. Their use of the group to share their reading experiences is an excellent example of positive, purposeful digital citizenship.

It quite remarkable to witness the learning that still takes place when the traditional school mandates are removed. It reminds us of the power of child inquisitiveness and the importance of allowing space for it within our walls, even when not always assigned to our classes.

**This post is cross-posted from our school's blog, The Mandell Prep Perspective

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Teachers Appreciate Agency in PD

In a recent post, Personalizing Professional Development, I shared our plan to differentiate an upcoming professional development day by having teachers indicate which target goal they wanted to focus on and what activities they would like to engage in to further their learning outcomes in that area. The experience proved largely successful and respectful of teacher autonomy and specialization. When we anonymously surveyed teachers to obtain their feedback, we were able to reflect on the effectiveness of the day and were even able to learn more about our individual team members. Here are the insight highlights...

  • 100% of teachers found the experience at least as enjoyable or more enjoyable than a more traditional professional development experience, with 85% of teachers reporting a more enjoyable experience. Many expressed gratitude for the ability to customize the day with comments such as this one: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to tailor the PD to our individual goals. The time allowed me to really focus and make progress on the goals I set earlier this year. It felt positive and productive.”

  • 100% of teachers found the experience at least as valuable or more valuable than a more traditional PD day, with 78% of teachers indicating a more valuable outcome.

  • Preparation was key for the greatest outcome. One teacher shared the benefit of pre-planning, “I feel the planning for the day went well. We were able to meet prior to our trip off campus, allowing us to set goals for the day. We also met after the experience to discuss the experience and work on putting a plan in action” while another pointed to the need for more to maximize the experience, “The only change to our experience could have been a little (30-minutes) pre-planning so we could have hit the ground running.”

  • Some teachers indicated the value of both types of experiences in reflections such as, “The reason I chose "about the same" is I think our PD's this year have been very good!” A few even suggested that having an option of a more traditional workshop as a learning path on a choice-based day would be helpful “in case plans fall through” or simply because they enjoy shared learning, “It would have been nice to have one topic/ article to discuss and learn together as a team.

As an leadership team, we are very grateful for the reflective feedback. It was clear that teachers put in a great deal of thought into their responses, and we plan on incorporating some of the great ideas into our next professional development day.

I’m inspired to continue searching for innovative, personalized approaches to professional development. It seems that the more validated people feel in their professional endeavors and the more opportunity they have to engage in meaningful, passion-based learning, the more invigorated about their profession they feel. For teachers, as winter endures and the year grows longer, energy is especially precious!