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Taking Care of Each Other: A Tribute to Mary Vencill

I first became interested in road cycling about four years ago. I always had an affinity for the bike and the freedom that comes with it, but I never felt inclined to ride a bike for anything other than a mode of transport from one place to the next--as I made my way to the mall, the movies, classes on my college campus, friends' houses.

When I first bought my road bike, I hadn't accounted for riding on anything more than a series of flat surfaces or small inclines, and I never imagined riding much beyond Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Admittedly, I was pretty freaked out by the small hill in my mostly "flat" neighborhood, and I wasn't convinced my brakes would save me from an impending fall. Given all the fears that arose for me, I never imagined that just nine months after buying my first road bike, I'd be signing up for AIDS/LifeCycle--and preparing to ride 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Enter Mary Vencill.

For those who have been part of…
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Intuition: The Bridge Between the Art and Science of Teaching

Some scholars contend that teaching is an art--that there is an ineffable quality to instruction that can't be quantified. Great teachers have that "it" factor; students are inspired; learning happens as a result of passion plus osmosis.

Some scholars contend that teaching is a science--there are multiple layers (lesson design, unit design, pedagogy, theory, curriculum) that, when combined with precision and care, create standout learning experiences that provide clear learning and data to support it.

Some scholars contend that teaching is both an art and a science--that while there are theoretical constructs that underscore one's teaching practice, a teacher's way of being (their passions, interests, love of learning and craft) carries students even further.

The bridge between the two: intuition.

Intuition in teaching serves as an intersection between the "felt sense" of one's teaching practice and the habits of experience. After one has taught lon…

The Beginner's Mind Revisited: The Importance of Ritual

Last fall, I wrote about the Beginner's Mind in relation to new teachers and their expectations. And it's no accident that one year later, as the school year renews, as teachers and students return to engage in another year of learning, as we embark upon the predictable and unpredictable moments in the cycle of the school, that the Beginner's Mind becomes part of the yearly ritual I return to.
The concept of the Beginner's Mind comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition and is known in Japanese as "Shoshin (初心)":an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when entering any task, familiar or unfamiliar. For educators, this can be an especially important mindset as we begin with new courses, grade levels, and groups of students, even ones we have known and taught before. The Beginner’s Mind allows us the opportunity to meet people again as they change, to allow for us to change as well. The Beginner’s Mind makes innovation possible, gives chances t…

Thoughts on Orlando, or The Second Coming Out

Coming out was a painful process for me.

The first thoughts/inklings I ever had of being gay were in junior high when a friend of mine mentioned at a friend's slumber party about how lots of people are bisexual. I didn't entirely know what that meant, but I liked something about it.

I then went dormant in my thoughts of gaydom for another six or so years, and in hindsight, I must have been the butchest straight girl in high school and college. I had a boyfriend in college, and I dated men for a short bit, until I inadvertently met my first love at the end of undergrad. And so the story goes...

When I started coming out to people at age 23, I did so because I was in a relationship. It was easier to tell people I was dating a woman than to identify myself as gay/lesbian. So many unconscious messages--and overt ones--throughout my childhood alerted me that being gay was synonymous with "less than," "other," a sort of different that was bad. Even when I entered my…

Trans-itions

The news media is on fire these days regarding legislation in Mississippi and North Carolina--legislation that makes provisions for discrimination based on one's sexual orientation or gender identity. The governors of both states have signed off on this legislation (HB1523 in Mississippi; HB 2 in North Carolina), and the nation has responded, both within and outside these states—fromboycottstocollege campus protests.
Prior to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signing HB 2 into law, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts sent him the following text directly: 
Please do not sign this awful bill...Poorly conceived and written.There is no provision for any enforcement for race, religion, etc. It will be legal for restaurants to hang a sign saying 'no gays allowed' out front. Is this the N.C. we want?
McCrory ignored this text.
His decision to convene the North Carolina legislature and sign HB 2 into law this March came as a response to a local ordinance in Charlotte that banned discri…

Pedagogy in the Springtime: An Ode to Seasonal Teaching

Springtime in schools is exciting. And exhausting. As we prepare for end-of-year celebrations, performances, and rituals for closure, we must summon the same level of stamina we had when the school year began. Sometimes the light at the end of the school-year tunnel allows us to press forward until the finish. Sometimes the growth of our students inspires us to manage those final weeks of youth bouncing off the walls. Yet we also need to acknowledge, with care and honesty, that we are tired. 

When I was in my first years of teaching, I always dreaded the slog between spring break and Memorial Day. Typically, we had about six to eight full weeks with no breaks. And as the sun came out and the weather got warmer, students increasingly struggled to be in the classroom. I was afraid I'd get eaten alive because I wasn't sure I had the energy to maintain my class routines with the same meticulousness as the fall or when a new semester began. And sometimes these fears became self-fulf…

Humane Innovation for Today's Schools: Three Tips for all Educators

21st Century education has its share of buzz words: "innovation" being chief among them. From my first years of teaching (in the midst of Y2K and its anti-climactic aftermath), everyone in education was focused on the future. To innovate meant to do school differently: to throw out the factory models of education in favor of schools for different purposes--technological, thematic, globalized. 

16 years into this new century, and the factory model of schooling still exists. However, much has changed as well.

Numerous schools, from charter to independent to public, are blowing up the concept of traditional education in favor of more experiential and intentional learning experiences that meet the needs of today's students.

Some schools are responding to advanced uses of technology, like Michigan's Clintondale High School, a public high school in the Detroit area whose core focus is the flipped classroom. Other schools are innovating by unplugging, such as The Mountain Scho…