Why Poetry?

The Gaelic Harp traditionally symbolized poets and musicians. Some rights reserved by Neneonline

I’ve just spent a month in Ireland writing poetry in a land of poets. Bliss for someone who loves poetry in a world where poetry is largely tossed into April for National Poetry Month (a practice which I detest, but that’s a different blog post). The reason I was in Ireland for the month was to finish my course work for my MFA…in poetry.

As I’m finishing my degree soon, poetry is at the forefront of much of my conversation of late, and recently someone asked me a brilliant question:

How does poetry inform your work?

He thought it was a common question, but no one has ever posed this question to me, and to be quite honest, I’ve always framed poetry as my indulgent degree. Truly, I have embarked upon my MFA to improve my craft. And yet, upon reflection, poetry most definitely informs my work.

So why poetry?

  • Poetry is beautiful. It allows you to think in images, possibilities and imagination.
  • Poetry is concise and precise. It forces you to be specific, use precise words and foster an economy of language.
  • Poetry is reflection. You aren’t supposed to get it right away, so it forces you to think deeply, reflect and reread for deeper meaning.
  • Poetry is creation. In a world where creativity is making a huge comeback, I love the fact that I get to spend my free moments using words to create something new. And though poetry is a more conventional form of creativity, thinking creatively in one genre transfers to other realms of life.
  • Poetry is the essence of literature, society and language. Yes, I know this is a big claim, but look at how many cultures value poetry, either today or in history, as the foundation of culture, language and politics. I always started my English classes with poetry, for, as I told my students, if you can analyze a poem, you can analyze anything. And if you can write a good poem, you can most certainly write a good essay or story.
  • Poetry is problem-solving. A great professor once told me that writing is 90% revision. Revising poetry is definitely an exercise in problem-solving. Form must serve function. There has to be a balance of heart and head, a “foot on the ground and a foot in the clouds.” Writing a poem can take 10 minutes. Revising a poem can take 10 years. It is a series of deliberate decisions. It requires thought, separation and perseverance. It is the ultimate exercise in problem-solving.

So there it is…my attempt to answer a thought-provoking and valuable question. My work requires creative problem-solving, imagination, patience, reflection, perseverance and a range of other skills that the act of reading and writing poetry give me on a daily basis.

I love bridging connections between distinct areas in life, and now, I have new inspiration for why we should all embark upon a bit of poetry in life.

My Blog, My Philosophy

We are developing an online portfolio, and as a part of it, we’re including our Educational Philosophy.  I’m happy to say that in reviewing the most recent philosophy I wrote a few years ago, it’s still valid.  However, a statement of philosophy can’t possibly encompass everything and so I have added a sidebar to my philosophy page with posts from my blog.  I share them here, organized by topic.  
On Technology & Engagement
On Assessment & 21st Century Skills
On Trying Something New
On Collaboration and Partnership
Resources to Share 

Water, Water Everywhere

Expats love to compare.  In every place I’ve lived, I’ve spent time with expats who sit around lamenting all the differences between “this place” and “home.”  When I lived in Asia, the general lament was the lack of common sense, when in reality, there is no common sense that is not culturally loaded.  Even the common sense of my American self as opposed to my British husband is completely askance.

I’ve never bought in to the comparisons…there is, after all, a reason why we aren’t home.  What I prefer to do instead is focus on the positive.  I know, it’s very Pollyanna of me, but standing on the Corniche, watching my children play with a wooden Dhow on the beach, in mid-March, with palm trees swaying under clear blue skies and the Arabian Gulf in the distance is, to me, a moment of perfection.

WF1Another instance of perfection are the fun and unusual water fountains peppered around our city.   Each of these fountains has a metal cup chained to it, with the intention that water should be available to everyone.  It may not seem like much to those of us used to fancy bottled water, but the notion that drinking water should be readily available and accessible to anyone is super cool.  Especially in a desert where water is hard to come by.  It is small moments that equal happiness, and every time I drive by one of these numerous water fountains, I am reminded of the intentionality of generosity.  And the simplicity of water that many of us take for granted.

What is cool and unique about your city?  

What small things makes a big difference?   


I am not a runner, but I run.
I am not a public speaker, but I speak publicly.
I am not a natural nurturer, but I nurture naturally.

I am a poet, yet these days, I write mostly nonfiction.
I am a reader, yet these days, I read far too little.
I am a natural at yoga, yet these days, I’m far too inflexible.

I am not a cyclist, but I spin.
I am not a ballerina, but I dance ballet.
I am not techy, but I am a tech fanatic.

I am an introvert, yet these days, I’m with others constantly.
I crave solitude but I also crave friendship.

I am not a runner, yet
I have found joy in running
while listening to podcasts
that inspire ideas for writing
and mothering
and innovating.

I am not a runner, but I run.

“But we have to…”

There is one thing that continues to astound me in discussions about assessment and that is our attachment to teaching “responsibility” and our commitment to “fairness.”

“We must assign zeroes.”

“We cannot award credit for doing nothing.”

“It isn’t fair to the students who turn work in on time.”

Doug Reeves knocks it out of the park in his article “The Case Against the Zero.”

Yet, time and time again, the conversation turns to responsibility.

CCSS SS InfographicI am all for teaching soft-skills. In fact, we have committed to ensuring we are mission-based and focused on teaching those skills that don’t always show up in our standards: creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and etc. This summer as I was combing through Common Core resources, I was thrilled to see how often some of these terms actually do show up in our standards documents. Yet, in all of my work with soft-skills, I have never seen responsibility turn up. It is not one of the 21st Century Skills on which we are meant to focus, and yet, we educators are very committed to it.

Am I saying I don’t believe we should turn out responsible students?

Absolutely NOT!

I believe responsibility is an essential skill for success.  I also believe it is a skill we learn with natural consequences. However, it is not in our standards, and therefore, it should not drive our assessment practices. I know many responsible professionals who miss deadlines and get no penalty whatsoever. It’s called the real world, and the real world begins in university, a place where I have been given grace many times by professors.

21 C SI don’t know why our great commitment as secondary educators to teaching “responsibility” but I would urge us to focus on more essential soft skills – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking – ones that actually do show up in our standards and ones that will motivate and engage students, essentially leading  them to exhibit more responsible behavior.

Is It Ever Okay?

In looking at the above clip, at the behavior of Ortiz in this baseball game, and I wonder, is it ever okay to behave in this fashion?  In anger?  In the heat of the moment?  Is it okay to lose control?  Is winning worth more than character?  What is the cost, not only to the individual, but to the team, the spectators, those watching on television?  What are we saying when we behave in this way?

Recently, I listened to a morning show on gratitude hosted by Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and the conversation turned to sportsmanship, Little League and what we model for our children.  Sadly, many parents behave in anger and outrage even at Little League games, so is it any wonder things like this happen at Red Sox games?

Apology or not, of which there wasn’t (only some sad justification), I don’t see how it’s worth it.  I’m married to an athlete and a coach, so I know the stakes are high in sports. And I know emotions run high.

Still, we’ve got to get past anger and learn how to model a better form of disappointment. Because essentially, this great man, this nationally recognized star, was disappointed because he struck out.  And rather than accept blame or fault, he blamed the umpire, threw a temper tantrum and then ranted on about how it was justified.

How on earth does this contribute to a positive, well-functioning society?  We adults must recognize our own flaws and emotions, and then decide how we want to portray ourselves because we are all role-models and no one deserves to see this.  And even if the umpire was wrong, isn’t there a better way to solve the problem?

So if it isn’t right in public, is it okay in private?  Is it ever okay to get this angry?  To break things?  To yell and scream?  How do we get past anger and operate from a place of love and gratitude?  In all that we do?  No matter how much it tries our patience?  Or our pride?

What is Your Why?

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Simon Sinek tells us to start with why in our leadership practice.  He claims that “it doesn’t matter what you do.  It matters why you do it.”

Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino challenges us to pause, stay in the moment and listen to our heart because “our heart talks to us alot and tells us what our why is.”

Perhaps “listening to your heart” sounds new-agey and a bit kooky.  Interesting though, that be it in your heart or your head, why is the essential question!

“Why” extends into all areas of our life.

Why are we who we are?
Why are we different people in different areas of life?

Why do we do what we do?
Why don’t we do what we want to do?

Why are we happy?
Why are we unhappy?

Why did we have children?
Why do we make the parenting choices we do?

Why do we exercise?
Why do we eat what we eat?
Why do our days look as they do?


Living with purpose requires us to slow down and reflect.  It  requires us to be intentional in all that we do.  It requires us to wonder why.  And then answer the “why.”

What is your why?

What further questions can we ask of ourselves?  Please post more “Whys’” for us to answer!

It’s Not a Fight!

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 6.29.32 PMThis week has felt like war.      Everywhere I turn, there is conflict and I am tasked with seeking a workable solution.

In the midst of it all, I turn to the weekly #edchat, only to be confronted with blame and insults as comments come rolling in about “weak and spineless admin” who apparently are not in it for kids.  Truly disappointing to be a part of a group of educators who want reform by blame.  And to be fair, there were lots of people who didn’t agree with such comments.  Here’s the thing:

It’s not a fight!

We are all in this for kids. Parents, teachers, students, coaches, counselors, admin – EVERYONE!  No one wakes up in the morning with anything but the wish for their children/students to succeed.  So, then why so much difference of opinion?

I think we have to start asking ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do our practices (as parents and teachers) support learning?
  • What is best for kids (not easiest)?
  • Are we allowing for failure?
  • How are we developing resilience and problem-solving skills in our kids?

If we start to attend to the above, rather than worry about right/wrong, I think we’ll go a lot farther down the path of student success and happiness for all!

What would an Un-Classroom Look Like?

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I’ve just spent an inspiring Saturday at the American School of Dubai in an AP Capstone “Unconference” a term coined by Dennis Steigerwald of Singapore American School.  In this Unconference, the participants built the agenda with their questions, which the facilitators grouped into sessions and smaller discussion groups.  We then had a session convener and a session note-taker for each topic.  In our groups, we posed questions, answered with more questions and engaged in rich, meaningful dialogue and exploration.  We all have access to the other discussion insights via a Google Doc and so we all have access to the same information, but we’ve been allowed to engage and participate in a much fuller way.  Plus, the information was differentiated for our various levels, understandings and needs.

Can we do this on our classrooms?  Absolutely YES.

In our Unconference, we covered a lot of content, and we also uncovered the fact that we had various understandings of that content.  No one person knew everything and by exploring what we each knew, we added depth to the information and the experience.

Posing a meaningful question is one of the most effective means of assessing knowledge.  Thus, we could center our courses around meaningful inquiry and engage students in rich dialogue that extends their learning.  My main takeaway from my unconference experience was that engaging in question-based discussion poses far more answers (and more questions for growth) than any lecture-based format.  So let’s bring the unconference to our classrooms and meeting spaces.  Let’s explore what we don’t know so that we can begin to know in a much greater capacity!

Tech as TOOL: Feedback

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Happy New Year!  It’s 2014, which means we are well into the 21st Century and yet, many are still dabbling with the idea of “21st Century Skills” and bemoaning how technology is changing our lives for the worse.  I continue to disagree – fully!  Tech has transformed how we communicate, learn and collaborate in exciting and innovative ways.

In my last post, I addressed cell phones.  Today, I’ll speak to feedback.

How has technology transformed how I give and receive feedback?

Google Forms
What a fantastic and easy tool to create online surveys in minutes.  I use these often as a way for faculty to give me feedback on a number of issues.  They are also a great way to get information quickly, such as individual goals, interests and experiences.  Plus, they produce nice data graphs and charts to use in discussing the information.  We also use Forms to collect student achievement and behavior information, and we’ve just used a form to collect homework data in a homework study we are doing.

Google Spreadsheets
I use spreadsheets to generate online conversations.  One way we use them is to collect information so that we can easily see what each other is doing.  Currently, we are using a spreadsheet to track our teaching of literacy in various classes.  We’ve also used them to generate assessment maps.

Another way I plan to use spreadsheets this semester is to create ongoing, individual dialogue.  Here is a draft sample: http://goo.gl/QEMVun.  Essentially, I envision an ongoing conversation driven by posing thoughtful questions about craft and goals and providing comments and feedback from both parties.  This is modeled after the Downey Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through, in which posing questions to further craft is a goal.  Going online with this dialogue, at least to start, will hopefully deepen the exercise by shifting the time and place for the conversation to occur.

Google Forms & Spreadsheets w/Online Grading Tools
One of our teachers uses online grading software to produce feedback.  Students answer questions into a Google Form, which produces a Spreadsheet.  He then uses an online grading script called Flubaroo that grades the answers and sends an immediate e-mail to students.  It’s fantastic and immediate.

Observation Software
My AP and I use an App called GoObserve for walkthroughs and observations.  It allows us to take notes while we are out, and send an immediate email, if we wish.  It features tailored reports and gives specific information in the report that is easy for us to observe and record, and useful (we hope) for our teachers.

Online Discussion Forums
In large group dialogues, it is always difficult to preserve each individual voice.  Therefore, for “hot” topics, it’s nice to move the conversation online.  We use Moodle and embed our discussions there.  We’ve also used it to give feedback on projects we are working on in smaller groups.

Blog Comments
By participating in someone’s blog, I’m essentially giving them feedback with my thoughts and responses, thereby validating their writing.  I’m also connecting with people I don’t know and will probably never know outside of the virtual environment.

I’m sure there are a hundred other ways to give and receive feedback via technology and I’m keen to learn more, so please share.

It is important to note that in no way does any of the above lessen my connection with people.  In fact, I think it deepens connection and collaboration, which I will write more about in another post.  Happy 2014!