Is it impossible?

Last night I started catching up on some time with some friends of mine – namely the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy.  I do not watch it to be intellectually challenged or to be inspired.

But there it is.  In the middle of my Mommy-escape time one episode really made me think and reflect on my teaching (something I was not looking to do at that time).  Imagine that?  You just never know where your inspiration is going to come!!

Throughout the episode a doctor (Dr. Amelia Shepherd) is giving a lecture series about the ground breaking surgery she will do on another character (Dr. Herman.)  A surgery to remove a massive brain tumor that no one but her believes is possible to remove.  And throughout the episode she is delivering a series of lectures about the upcoming procedure.

And the passion, the eloquence, the creativity, the connection she had to her topic – for that hour – made me want to learn about neurosurgery.  Made me believe I could!  Made me interested in something I never had thought about being interested in or thought I could be interested in.  Made the impossible sound possible – simply because she believed it so.

And I know it’s TV, but I thought “Wow!” “If for even 10 minutes a day I could teach with that passion, that conviction, what couldn’t I do with my kids.”

There is so much that we have to teach our kids that perhaps we think just is not age-appropriate -that it’s too rigorous, too complicated, too hard.  But if we approach it with that attitude we doom our lesson before we even begin.  We’re not giving them the chance to surprise us.  And nothing is more fun in teaching than to be surprised by what your kids can do!

I am not denying for a second that there are things that I feel like my kiddos are being asked to do that just aren’t developmentally where they are…yet.  Perhaps the standard is indeed too rigorous for most students, perhaps I have a group that even struggles with below grade level skills.  And it is incredibly frustrating and upsetting when you know that you are being held accountable for teaching something that you just don’t feel your students are ready for…yet.

But I really thought about the fact that if I go into it with that negative mindset before I even try, then my lesson is doomed before it begins.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I’ve lost my motivation to give my best because subconsciously, I think it’s a waste of time.  And certainly a positive mindset doesn’t mean that they are going to magically get it..yet.  But if I believe that they can’t before I even start, then they absolutely won’t.   It’s up to me to believe that today could possibly be “the day” if I just use the right approach or use the right tools.  That today is Yetday.

It’s up to me to see if I can try to give a Dr. Amelia Shepherd lesson and at least give them the absolute best chance I have.

I have to not expect the impossible, but expect that sometimes what we think is impossible turns out to be possible after all!

This blog post isn’t about making all kids reach some arbitrary standard, and it’s certainly not about kids not reaching that standard being the fault of poor teaching.  This is simply about not going into something with a “this isn’t going to work” attitude.

Before she started on her surgery she struck a superhero pose, stating that she had heard that it gives you confidence.  (A fact I confirmed from a TED blog).

So – Next time I set out to teach improper fractions to 8 year olds I’m going get REALLY creative, strike a super hero pose, believe I can do it, and see if they surprise me.


Depart from the Text

Growing up, I loved the Sunday Funnies.  And I really loved Bloom County.  Bill the Cat never failed to crack me up (Ack Ack Thbbft).  And I was obsessed with Opus.  For those that don’t know – it was Opus the penguin, Bill the Cat (was probably on something illegal), and a cast of other point of view characters.  They discussed and reflected on current events and pop culture in their own off beat way and I think the real allure was that It made me feel smart because I was old enough to get the jokes.

And somewhere, post college, I got “Good Night Opus.”  A picture book that has Granny reading Opus Goodnight Moon (a routine I became all too familiar with myself).  And the gist (the gist is something I’ve been finding a lot of here lately in my classroom) was that Opus didn’t want to follow the tired old routine.  He wanted to be creative and say good night to Lincoln and Tooth Fairy and get carried away by his imagination, which he gleefully did,  much to the chagrin of his nanny. Despite her warnings, he departed the text.

As an 8th grade English teacher, I used to read this to my students at the start of the year. I told them that this was going to be the year to take risks, to see how far they can take their writing and thinking.   It was our class mission statement (and this was before mission statements were cool.)   And I still read it to my 3rd graders at some point.

But at some point I forgot to take my own advice.  To depart from my own text.

Every day I ask kids to put themselves out there, to take risks by sharing and putting their ideas out there, even if it’s just for me to read.  Yet I’m not doing that myself.   So, I’m going to start blogging.  I was inspired by a recent unconferance that I attended – EdCamp Maryland, and specifically by a bloggers John Harper ( and Brian Cook (  Thank you gentleman for inspiring me to step outside my comfort zone.  And thank you Susan Verdi ( as well!

When I thought about what to title my blog I immediately thought of Opus departing the text and wanted to be as bold and giddy as him.

I also found it ironic that with CCSS, so much of my time is spent on telling kids to “refer to the text”  “what does the text say” “is the answer from your head or from the text.”  Seems kind of backwards.

So how to reconcile the two?  How to stay in the text, and depart it at the same time.  Kids need to do both.  Opus could not have departed from the text had there not been one to depart from to begin with.  He needed to understand the nature and content of Goodnight Moon to take his own path with it.  He had to have known the story so intimately that he could then make it his own.  He wasn’t just departing the text and leaving it behind, he was building on the foundation of it.   He was expanding it.  He was pushing the boundaries of what was.  (Pretty deep for a penguin).  And this applies to reading, writing, math – all content areas.

I hope to use this blog as a place where I can share my reflections, ideas, and tools I use to achieve my goal of keeping students grounded in the standards but with the creativity of mind and confidence to visit the milky way, Abraham Lincoln, and the tooth fairy.