Research: October & November 2015 digest

It’s been a challenge to work blogging into my routine the past month – partly because I haven’t succeeded in making it a priority, partly because I’ve been dealing with flu.  However, I have been taking field notes, analyzing those notes, and writing short reflections.  I’ve also written some incomplete draft posts, which I’m going to “collect” in this post as a record of my thinking about my inquiry.

October 18

I indexed my field notes, a la Shagoury & Power p. 75-76.  I noticed that a lot of my notes had to do with inappropriate student behavior.

I wonder if this is a holdover from my earlier approach to classroom management, which involved documenting “misbehavior” so as to be able to “bring a case” against misbehaving students.  I think I still worry that if I trust my students, they will take advantage of this trust, so I document all of my conversations with students about appropriate & inappropriate behavior.

The predominance of “inappropriate behavior” notes in my notebook, though, suggests that I am focused on the wrong thing.  Instead of noting “inappropriate behavior,” maybe I should also try to note when students are focused on the right things?  When students are taking chances and learning?

Another theme:  extensions on deadlines.  I have been trying to incorporate flexible deadlines into my classroom culture.

November 5

It’s taken a bit longer than I anticipated to get student permissions and write the survey for initial data, so I’ve amended my research calendar:

November 2 – 10 – obtain permissions from students, revise research brief as needed

November 12 – 18 – initial data (student perceptions of power)
I got help from colleagues Aaron Sepulveda & Santiago Moran with the Spanish translation of the permission slip, and these have gone out.  I’ll go ahead with the survey next week.

I’ve been collecting data, however, and taking field notes.  Some themes and questions have emerged.

  • Students have begun to make progress on their curriculum integration projects, though not at the pace I would like.  The workshop format seems to help with structure; I think patience may be a key in working with the groups that are moving more slowly.
  • One period of seniors is quite happy with our class constitution, while the other period has expressed some concerns.  The latter period has expressed confusion about how the assignments work.
  • My field notes have shifted from noting “bad behavior” toward questions related to moving groups’ projects forward.
November 15

Another discovery:  it’s hard to keep to a calendar for my research.  Due to delays, some self-inflicted and others due to external circumstances, I’m amending my research calendar.

October 8 – publish research brief on my blog

October – November – obtain permissions from students, revise research brief as needed

It took longer than I expected to get the permission slip ready, partly because I needed (as noted above) to get help from two colleagues to translate it into Spanish.  This is not a critique of my colleagues, who generously lent their time and attention to help me, but rather of my planning.

It’s also taken longer than I expected to get the permission slips out and back from the kids.  

Lesson learned:  make a research permission slip part of my beginning-of-the-year communication with parents, and talk to the students about my project(s) throughout the year.

late November/early December – initial data (student perceptions of power)

This has also taken longer than I expected, mainly because I needed to adapt questions from existing surveys to create a survey for my project that would be sufficiently focused.

#DigiWriMo, November 23 – Co-learning #2

This post is an excellent example of how disorganized, disoriented, and below-top-efficiency I’ve been all month:  I wrote it on November 14, but didn’t have access to wi-fi when I wrote it, and didn’t return to WordPress to publish it till today, 9 nine days later.  Sigh.

I had hoped to do so much more writing this month.  The silver lining, I suppose, is that I don’t have to stop writing on November 30; I also have the whole week off, so I should be able, finally (fingers crossed), to vanquish the beast of a virus (or brilliant collaborative team of viruses) that has plagued my immune system for several weeks.  Seriously, this virus has stamina.

From November 14:

Cynthia Sanchez and I have continued our conversation via text message, and the other day she offered another excellent question:

“What goals do you find yourself working towards on a daily basis?  And how can you incorporate people in this goals, while also honoring their own visions and constantly looking for ways to find overlap?”

She posed this question in response to my remarking that the next major stage in my growth as a learner and leader would need to involve learning how to build capacity instead of trying to take on every task myself, and that my next step would be to figure out where I can pare down my responsibilities.

To answer her question, I would say that my over-arching goals are to be a “bridge-builder” who connects students to resources, as well as wanting to create – or perhaps co-create – democratic learning spaces where I can learn alongside students instead of using a “banking” approach.  (I don’t ever intentionally teach this way, but I know that I revert to the coercion model–the system I grew up in as a K-12 student and was trained in as a beginning teacher–when I am not intentional about co-learning and sharing power.)

Another goal – but one that I do not spend a lot of time on – is to work toward social justice.  I want not only to help students reach college, but also to be part of creating a society where the same kids don’t pay three times what I paid in tuition just 15 years ago.  I want to prepare them for careers, but I also want them to find a job market that allows them to begin those careers in the first place:  to fight to make sure that horrific policies like free trade and corporate welfare don’t destroy the job market before my kids can enter it.  In other words, I want to align my teaching practice to my vision of a socially just world.

So a couple of questions arise:  1) How can I spend more time working on this vision of social justice?  (Sustainability & environmental justice might play into this – local sources of food, e.g., community gardens; solar power on campus; avoiding water waste).   2) How can I re-focus my current roles (e.g., SSC) to create democratic learning spaces?  3) What activities are not supporting my goals, and how can I “divest” from these activities without being negligent or creating problems for other members of the community?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to take an inventory of how I spend my work day, and try to create a workable routine that will help me do what I’m currently committed to more efficiently – and then examine what I can move away from, and how I might do that in a responsible way.

#DigiWriMo, November 13

I’m sure that there are lots of really cool things going on with DigiWriMo, but for me November has actually become FluColdNoWriMo, as I’ve been battling a weird mixture of flu and head cold since November 2.  It kept me out of work for 2 days and has rendered me quite incapable of lucid thought past 3:30 pm on every other day.  I’m just starting to feel better, though not as better as I’d like; I skipped the fall drama production, for which I had a ticket, this afternoon because I needed to get some grading done and I didn’t have the energy for both.  Events like the drama production are one of the reasons I love my work at a high school, so it’s an indication of how poorly I’ve felt that I skipped it.

So, I haven’t done nearly as much as writing as I’d have liked, and what writing I’ve done has been analog, in my field notes notebook at work.  I feel as though everything around me is moving much, much faster than I am, and that I can’t keep up.  I have a nearly-finished post on my research project that I’ll finish and post later today or Saturday, but at the moment I find myself frustrated, discouraged, and extremely short of patience.  The good news:  I think this is just a matter of being sick; I’m pretty confident that once the fog of flu lifts, I’ll be enthusiastic about my work, inquiry, and writing again.

One insight that has made its way through the mist:  the next major stage of my development as an educator, leader, and learner must involve improving my ability to build capacity.  I simply can’t sustain doing as much as I do now.  In my next post, I’m going to reflect on my daily routine and consider where I can pare down my responsibilities, as well as where I can be more intentional about involving others in helping me with the load.  It may well be that I need to do less in order to accomplish more.

#DigiWriMo, November 1 – Co-learning #1


In my last post, I mentioned that I had a conversation that impressed me with the need to think more deeply and write about co-learning.

Some background – this alum graduated from MVHS in ’09, attended Berkeley, and now works as a community organizer. She wrote a Facebook post earlier this week that challenged my thinking: it was about the need not for individual success but for collective liberation.

CS Facebook post

I was deeply impressed by Cynthia’s argument, and I asked myself, is my teaching practice helping or hurting? For example, as I wrote to Cynthia after reading her post, we have worked at our school to create a college-going culture – but should we instead focus on creating a culture of care? Last year, a pair of surveys indicated that fewer than half of our students perceive our school as a place where an adult cares about them.  Perhaps not coincidentally, our A – G completion rate (in California, this measures the students who are eligible to apply to a four-year college for freshman entry) is also below 50%.

Now, of course, going to college is a good thing; we are right to encourage our students to go to college. But would we perhaps have a better outcome if we focused on creating a culture of caring instead of a “college-going culture”? Put another way, is our emphasis on college readiness paradoxically replicating the inequities that we see in the wider society?

I had a chance to talk to Cynthia when she visited Mountain View last week, and I explained my research project. After discussing my aim for a bit, Cynthia suggested that I didn’t sound confused about how to move forward with making my classroom more democratic – that I had a plan for learning more about how this might work in practice. Instead, she suggested, the deeper question centered around co-learning. She challenged me to consider this idea, and its implications for transforming Mountain View, more deeply.

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to do this during #DigiWriMo.


For my first post, I’d like to ask the question, What exactly is co-learning?

As with any profound and complex idea, my definition of co-learning will evolve over time. At the moment, though, I think that co-learning demands a shift in perspective.

It’s not just making the classroom student-centered, although it involves this. (It seems worth noting that “student-centered” is one of those phrases that, value-laden and presumably progressive in addition, have been hijacked by reactionary forces. “Accountability” and “writing workshop” are two more such phrases that spring to mind. I’ve come to use “accountability” – in quotes – to mean “coercive, anti-democratic policies” while I reserve accountability, without quotes, to mean “responsibility to one’s community.” I think I’d like to write a kind of glossary post to explore this idea of “hijacked lexicon” and “authentic lexicon” more deeply.)

Instead, it demands a radical humility, a humility that acts not with “the behavior of those fulfilling a vow” (Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers – Letters to Those Who Dare Teach, p. 39) but rather challenges the teacher to view the classroom as a space where, as Cynthia put it in our conversation, students can be “their true selves.”

This is a tremendously exciting prospect, as well as a frightening one.  What if I make mistakes? What if students don’t learn “what they’re supposed to?” What if an administrator thinks that my room is chaotic?  Perhaps most importantly, what if these changes to my classroom practice prevent meaningful learning instead of supporting it?