Monday, January 9, 2017

What’s In Your Wallet?

I carry these words in my wallet. 

They have served me well during my entire teaching career. They serve as a reminder on my darkest days to never, never, never give up—the professional path we chose is never easy, but it can be so worth it  - for us, our students and our colleagues.
The words give me perspective on this January 9th, 2017. As we launch into the second half of another school season of our professional lives, there are two realities we face as educators.

One overriding reality is that life is short. 

Where does the time, energy, and effort of ending one school year in June and starting another one in August go? Pretty soon, all those school years become a blur of sorts. Your career becomes this connected series of school-year segments as thousands of students roll through the kaleidoscope of your work.

And, those students we have this year, pass through just this once. We do not get a 2nd shot at them.

And another reality we know from experience—life is uncertain. The single adjective that best describes future events is unexpected. There will be unexpected stuff—illnesses, accomplishments, transfers, promotions, surgeries, triumphs, and tragedies. The events sure to follow in the rest of this school season are indeed uncertain, will drain your energy, and often only be fully understood in reflection once the season ends.

As I write this blog, my wife and I are being slammed by some unexpected and difficult life events. Life indeed is uncertain. How will we respond? It is a measure of our character.

You and I, as we face these winter and sometimes darker days, build the story of how we will be remembered this coming year, every day, one brick at a time—by the way we choose to respond to the stuff of our life.

Here are the words in my wallet:
We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face the reality of [our work] and still strive for every ounce of energy to prevail. Every important battle will need to be fought and re-fought. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose the path will be easy. It’s tough and rain falls on the just.

It is the last line that hits me the hardest. The hardest. 

“Rain falls on the just”. 

We are in a flood as I am writing this. It is raining. And there most likely will be some rain in your professional life the rest of this school year too. It happens.

It is why I wrote HEART! I want us to connect to our work in a way that helps us to survive the rain. To understand the heartprint and the impact we leave on students and colleagues alike even during the dreariest of months for our work – the middle of the season doldrums that can set in upon us during January and February.

The author of the words in my wallet is former presidential advisor, educational author and leader John Gardner.He summed up the goal of our journey by reminding us there is a certain toughness required to do the difficult and deliberate work of our profession. I never met Dr. Gardner, but his words have had a profound impact on my life as an educator, and my choices each day. 

It can be a long second half to this school season. But we will look back in May and realize it was short. This school season is over. Did we choose to prevail? 

We will also look to the next few months and realize they are uncertain. Unexpected events will happen to us – with a student, with a colleague, with family.  The path may not be easy. 

What’s in your wallet, this school season?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 Is Over! Where Did The Time Go?

Dear Friends and Colleagues! 

“You still alive?” “Everything OK?” “Did you move?” “ I need a new post!” “ What’s going on?” “Did you stop blogging?” “Are you retired?”  “Can I use your blog title now that you are not using it?” “ Did you run out of ideas or thoughts?” “ Where did you go?”

These are just some of the messages I received from you in 2016. Apparently only writing 3 blog entries for the year (counting this one), qualifies as a cause for alarm. You may even be in a bit of a shock if you are reading this blog post. You too might have wondered where have I been in 2016? What happened to him? No blog posts in over 9 months creates a bit of a void.

Close friends and followers emailed me or texted. Some were worried because my email address went down too…it changed for the first time in 20 years – at least that is what I told people, until I realized I did not actually have an email address back in 1996! Guess it was closer to 18 years.

Gee, how time flies.

If you still need it, my new email is Not too original, but it works.

Well, we are 14 days from the end of 2016. And what a year it has been, filled with joy and sorrow in the journey. And I bet the same is true for you!

First, I was staggered for a bit by the loss of my best friend of 35 years, Jerry Cummins in January of 2016. If you allow your self to reflect on the depth of feeling and emotion that comes from the best friend in your professional or personal life – the person who is like a brother or sister to you, then you will and can understand the pain and sorrow of losing the benefit of their love for you and their friendship with you.

Jerry’s death and a few other “Stuff of Life” family and friendship events caused me to “get urgent” about going into a deep and reflective time for writing my latest book. The real reason there has been no blog entries is that I have spent the past 11 months in the inner sanctum of a manuscript, that I hope will have an impact on your life, the way Jerry had an impact on mine.

Simply called HEART! and quite largely displayed over to the right of this entry (I am in awe of the cover design for the book!) this manuscript has been an effort of deliberate practice (Angela Duckworth would call it Grit) – a personal writing practice that has undergone writing, feedback, reflection, and refinement with more than 90 drafts of the book. I called on over 42 colleagues during 2016 to provide meaningful feedback and criticism, and in many cases I embedded their very words and actual voice into the book as well.

This exhausting writing effort is essentially where I have been.

I am a very visual person so, when I write, I need to post pages on walls, and look at the story as it unfolds- literally touching the pages in a way. It is funny too, because when I am in my office and deep into the writing process, our Golden Retrievers (Kutya and Fibonacci) would often join me. With my door closed it could get a bit gamey in there. The picture at the right shows you how they would try to help.

Consider too, that I am not a very gifted writer. I am not sure how quickly for you lessons design elements occur, but for me, the writing process is painfully slow. It takes lots of repetition and eventual organization of my thoughts in the hope those very thoughts will eventually connect for the reader.

Perhaps the greatest heroes of the writing story for this book are the two people that gave me the gift of confidence and time to take on such a work. So, a big shout out of thanks to Douglas Rife – who when first approached about the book never flinched in his belief in me, and in the idea of HEART! And my wife Susan, who tolerated more than her fair share of hours in which I was either completely detached from family into the writing process, or in a constant state of angst about one of its chapters – even while on vacation.

HEART! will be released on March 16th, 2017 if all goes well, and it will only be because of the efforts of so many at Solution Tree, even as we are in final edits. I want to tell you more about the book, and its ideas, but will reserve those thoughts for my early blogs in 2017. Soon enough we will have a landing page for the book, and lots of information about its hope to help every educator find the happiness, and the energy to fully engage in his or her work life.

I promise this much, HEART! will be different than any other book dedicated to those of us that call education our profession! Ultimately, you will decide if my 2016 hiatus was worth it or not!

With all of my heart, wishing each of you a happy holiday season and blessed beginning to 2017! I need to go take a break! See you in the New Year!

Tim Kanold

Monday, March 21, 2016

Teaching Mathematics is a Cultural Activity!

Exactly one year ago today, my colleague Matt Larson and I met in Sacramento, CA at the end of a long day, to hammer out was to become our newest book to be released this month: Balancingthe Equation – A Guide to School Mathematics for Educators and Parents.  

This April, Matt is about to become President of NCTM, and I have a lot of respect for Matt, but when he originally pitched the idea for the book, I thought he was a bit off his rocker! 

We should write a book for both Parents and Educators?

A book that cuts through all of the rhetoric and frankly the misinformation floating around about what great mathematics learning experiences should be for each and every child?

A book that addresses the history of mathematics education in the United States and how dangerous 200 years of extreme swings of the pendulum has disadvantaged adults and children alike?

A book, that provides informed research and attacks uniformed opinions? 

A book that helps the reader separate the lies from the truth about the current state of mathematics education in this country, provides meaningful advice to parents and to teachers, and suggests a pathway for a better tomorrow?

“Yes”, he said, “A book like that.”

We were just starting, and I was exhausted!

And so our journey began. Co-published by Solution Tree and NCTM, the book will be released this April. And there is a lot in the book that you can use at your next neighborhood party. You know when the topic about that darn new math program creeps up: Why is it so different from my experiences at school? 
Here is an excerpt from Balancing the Equation  inspired by a message given by Dr. Richard DuFour of PLC fame during his keynote address at the PLC At Work institutes during the summer of 2015. 

As we have discussed throughout this book, teaching is a cultural activity—mathematics teaching, in particular. As Hiebert writes in The constantly underestimated challenge of improving mathematics instruction (2013)
Instructional strategies for teaching mathematics are not invented new by each teacher. Methods of teaching are handed down from one generation to the next. . . . [Teachers] acquire their training by observing what their teachers do. . . The methods they use to teach—the ways in which they interact with students around content—are likely to be determined by their own experiences as students in K–12 classrooms. (p. 52)

Hiebert was referring to how mathematics teachers learn to teach and develop their beliefs concerning effective mathematics instruction. We contend this argument also applies to all adults in the United States as they have also experienced classroom mathematics instruction.

In fact, most high school graduates have experienced around 1,500 hours of mathematics instruction. This creates a powerful cultural expectation for mathematics teaching and learning among the general public that does not exist for other professions.

Consider a physician. Most physicians in the United States did not grow up during their formative years observing a physician at work for one hundred eighty days per year for thirteen straight years. Consequently, we do not have the same sort of expectation for how a physician does his or her job that we do for mathematics teachers. Therefore, we trust the professional expertise of the physician who is treating us, and in fact, expect that our physician is up to date with current research and treatment protocols. When physicians use the latest and most effective research-informed treatment protocols, most of us do not push back and demand that they instead treat us with leeches.

Because mathematics teaching and learning is a cultural activity, we do resist change. This is natural, as cultures exist in part to resist change—to pass on current practices and beliefs to the next generation (Stigler & Thompson, 2009). However, this also impedes progress toward improving mathematics teaching and learning. Often, when educators, schools, and districts attempt to implement research-informed practices, including some of the research-informed instructional strategies we have outlined here, some parents (as well as some educators) resist that change because it doesn’t conform to their beliefs and cultural expectations for mathematics teaching and learning.

As a result, as James Stigler and Belinda Thompson (2009) argue, we are still conducting certain aspects of mathematics instruction as we have for centuries, even though the importance of mathematics education to students’ future success, what we know about teaching and learning mathematics, and the students themselves have all dramatically changed. You wouldn’t want your physician to treat you today the way physicians would have treated their patients decades or even centuries ago. The same should be true with respect to our expectations for mathematics teaching and learning in this decade.

So, as educators and parents how can we overcome the inertia of the past so that our students receive a more balanced mathematical education (Thus the title, get it?) that likely differs from the one we received ourselves and graduate more mathematically proficient?

Well, to get those answers you will have to read the book! We did our best. And we hope you will agree. Maybe this will help you at that next party!! 

Hiebert, J. (2013). The constantly underestimated challenge of improving mathematics  instruction. In K. R. Leatham (Ed.), Vital directions for mathematics education research (pp. 45–56). New York: Springer.

Stigler, J. W., & Thompson, B. J. (2009). Thoughts on creating, accumulating, and utilizing shareable knowledge to improve teaching. Elementary School Journal, 109(5), 442–457.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

We are our Experiences!

It was September of 2010 and we were walking along the long stretch of beach in Mission Bay, near San Diego CA. He described to me how he and his wife had gone to see a Doctor as he was starting to forget things. He was 73, so I am thinking, “Who doesn’t forget things as he or she gets older”?

Only this was different. He was very scared.

He could not pass certain memory tests. You know, the ones where they give you a list of 10 animals, make you repeat them one at a time, then ask you to now name as many as you can remember? Lists like that. Word lists and number lists. And he was a pretty bright guy. He was a writer and a teacher, a technology geek, and a deep thinker, all of his life. Something was changing though.

We walked a long way that day. Miles on that beach. We laughed and cried, got angry and tender. We prayed, and wondered why. In modern day terms we were BFF’s. Thick as thieves. We had been though 35 years of life together – leaning on one another during good and bad.

And that day on the beach, we had a beer together as the sun was setting, looking for that “Green Flash” moment as the Sun sets down on the horizon.  Not this time though. No green flash. Not ever again. We had no idea what was really ahead.

What does it mean to start down the road of early onset Alzheimer’s? It is a road that once entered; you cannot choose a different path. And the road takes you to places your friends and your family will not be allowed to go. You will not know if they are there or not. You will not be able to respond the way you want. You and they will learn to let go. And, it will be painful. 

Moving through the Stages of Alzheimer’s has a different rate of speed for different people. In his case, it was a five-year journey for my friend. There was plenty of time for some great and sweet memories before it was too late, but gradually his movements become more and more restricted. His ability to communicate and to respond became gradually limited. It sneaks up on you, one day at a time and then it finally ends.

In his case, that was January 13th, 2016. We just finished with 2 days of celebrating his life. More than 600 people showed up, and I am sure there would have been so many more had those at the national level not been trapped by the crazy distance caused by mid-winter storms. Chicago can be a tough place to get to sometimes.

He and his wife were local heroes in the community. Long time members in faith and in friends across so many professions and personal experiences. At the celebration of his life, USC Theologian Dallas Willard (2013) was quoted:

A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That is why we treasure the good ones.

He was my treasure; my collection of experiences with him will forever be part of the good ones I get in this life. And, my experiences with him have shaped me into the hope of being a better teacher and leader for others tomorrow.

If you have read this blog entry this far, you might wonder why would I write about this experience in my professional blog for educators? I suppose because I had so much respect for him as a math teacher and leader. I just felt the need to place some thoughts together. I suppose it is cathartic for me as well, as I process losing a best friend. Something that is just so very human. 

But what is in it for you? The reader? Well, I suppose that you too, have a BFF. Maybe more than one. And whether it is this year or 20 years from now, you too will go through the stages of losing that BFF, and just maybe Dallas Willards’ words will lift you up. Or just maybe, those words will remind you today – and every day - to treasure those good experiences with that BFF of yours. 

Today, in the middle of the winter in so many parts of our country, I just simply wanted to let the world know, that Jerry Joe Cummins - mathematics educator extraordinaire – was one of those really really really good ones. I treasure every moment I was given to share my life with him as I know so do hundreds of others. 

I hope the same for you with your family, friends and colleagues as well.

Treasure those good experiences – even in the middle of a crazy week this week.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Unwelcome Guests of the Holiday Season!

It has been two years.

And the pain still lingers in the recesses of my mind.

My dear friend and colleague of 22 years, High School mathematics teacher extraordinaire Mary Layco, passed away unexpectedly on December 26th, 2013. And the holiday reminds me of the loss. And, the love I had and have for her. Is it selfish, I wonder, to move on and to enjoy many of the more positive “Hallmark Moments” that can and should be part of this holiday season with friends and with family?

The holiday also represents a time for a vacation. A much needed break ahead. I know there are readers of this blog glad they made it to and through last Friday – on the fumes of what little work energy they had left. Ready for a mid –year break from the pressure cooker of a 2015-2016 school year.

I try not to dwell on it, but it is both the curse and the blessing of this time of the year. The Holiday season can be such a wonderful and enjoyable respite with family and friends. 2015 ends as 2016 begins in a blink of the eye. It is a season often filled with renewal and new hope.

And yet, it is also a season that can bring unwelcome “guests” into our homes and our lives.

Those guests include unreasonably high expectations of pleasing others, shifting or changing rituals and traditions, painful reminders of the recent loss of loved ones, grudges and grievances with family members or neighbors, pressure to hurry up and donate time or money before the year ends, gift giving decisions, unhealthy eating habits, and the potential for overspending, all have the potential to come to our doorstep over the next 2 weeks. These unfriendly guests can overwhelm us at the holiday if we are not careful. Sheesh, everything becomes so hyper focused.

And, the reality rarely outpaces the hype. Where and how exactly did the word “holiday” (as in vacation) get lost in the translation of expectations during this season?

So, what can we do? How do we make this 2015 end of year Holiday as enjoyable as possible? Well, as I said to a remarkable group of leaders from Wayne Co Michigan last week, you need to find some intentional Quadrant II low energy time over the next two weeks. Give yourself that gift this holiday. And do it every day.

Here are some suggestions:

Get outside, let it all go, and just go for a walk! Alone! Find a place to hide for 2 hours and read a book! Sleep! Go to a movie! Find grace and give it freely to others! Dance! Listen to your favorite itunes songs and belt them out if you dare! Find laughter in the simplest activities with your family! Don't expect perfection! Hold on to rituals, but accept they might be changing as your family grows and changes too! Use lots of exclamations points! Oh, did I mention sleep?

But back to my more spiritual connection to Mary Layco, which these days include too, my thoughts about best friend and colleague of 37 years, Jerry Cummins (Now residing in an Alzheimer’s center, and living at the most acute stage seven of the disease). How do I honor Mary’s life in my memory? Will I take the time to honor Jerry’s life and all that it has meant to me? Or will I be too busy and wrapped up in the emotional drag of those unwelcome guests this year? Important people cross our paths, and the holiday can bring a rough reminder of why we loved them so much, against the backdrop and pain of missing them too.

So, I have decided that this season, I will sit with their memories in my mind, in the quiet hours before dusk. And in those quiet moments, I will allow myself to pull them in to the recesses of my heart and my thoughts. I will quietly and intentionally embrace them, and embrace the pain and sadness of missing these welcomed guests of so many wonderful years, by finding the joy of who they are and were as fellow travelers in this crazy fast paced, mixed up and now instant gratification social media world we live in.

I will intentionally enjoy the warmth of what was once their deep friendship. I will celebrate them as I slow down and fiercely deny all of those unwanted holiday guests that can potentially rob me of being the kind of person you would want to be around this season. I will laugh because of the gift their lives once gave me.

I will laugh because of the gifts of the wacky family and friends that continue to love me for one reason or another. I will stand strong against those other "unwelcome guests” by giving myself some grace, so that I can be a better me for them this holiday season and just maybe into 2016 too.  

This season, be intentional about finding your place to get quiet. Every day. Think about whom you need to embrace? What memory gift of joy do you need to give yourself in the quiet moments of this season? I think it is the best gift you can give not just to yourself, but also to others, as those unwanted guests are left outside of your door this season.

Happy Holidays Everyone!