Duck Rescue! and Applied Lessons from the PLC Institute

What do you do when see five baby ducks stuck in a flower planter outside of a convention center?  What do you do when you watch the mother duck jump into the planter and jump down, quacking for her ducklings over and over and over again?  You apply the knowledge you just learned at the convention. You rely on action.

I have spent the past three days at the Monona Terrace Convention Center right down the road from me at the Professional Learning Community Institute.  This is three intense days of reflection and planning, hoping and strategizing. At the crux of the institute are the four essential questions: 1)What do we want our students to learn? 2) How will we know they are learning? 3) How will we respond when they don’t learn? 4) How will we respond when they do learn (or learned it eons ago, I’d add.)   But the institute’s work cannot progress if we educators aren’t willing to step in thoughtfully and commit.

When we left Dr. Muhammad’s keynote, there was a mother duck and her five ducklings in a planter.  The mother duck would jump into the planter and out of the planter, quacking for the ducklings, only little balls of fluff, to follow.  They were like “heck, no!” They were right. Look at it. Here is a picture of the lip of the planter the ducklings would have to jump over.  For comparison sake, look at the lip vs my mega coffee cup.


Then look at what they would have to jump down.   I put my camera on the edge and took the picture, looking down.  Remember, these are tiny ducklings.


Criminey. I’ve seen baby ducks jump amazing heights, but I think they were right.  Jumping from that planter was an impossible ask.  (What do we demand of our students that is an impossible ask, I wonder?)

So I did what every nature loving soul would do.  I told two conference workers, who cheerfully got on it, contacting building staff.  Then I went to the bookstore.

But then I went to check on the ducks again, where there was no change except momma duck was getting exhausted and frantic.  I saw her try each side of the planter with no different results. So I decided to help her out. I gingerly lifted each baby duckling down, where quacking, they scampered to their mom.






And then I realized I made an error.  I just got the ducks out and now they were in the middle of a huge concrete structure and on the edge of a curved bike and running lane. Not safe.  Not safe at all.

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I tried to get the ducks to move.  Nope. Not happening. Did you know that ducks, like their “cousin” the cobra-goose, can hiss?  Yep. True.

Back into the convention center I went.  At this point, it is the third time I left the convention center to check on the ducks.  Re-entering the building requires walking around the building, entering a stairwell, going up some floors to get to the public entrance level, and then walking through the building and then going down some floors. Its decent exercise. I ventured back into the building, talked to the same amazing convention workers, and got a box from them.

When back outside, I kidnapped a duck.  That means I had to be brave enough to reach under hissing momma duck and carefully grab a duckling.  This did not go unpunished.  Momma ducks, even terrified ones, aren’t bad at pecking.  The duckling went into the box and its quacking lured the momma duck to follow me, slowly, slowly, toward water. I walked backwards, continually looking out for bikes and warning riders and runners of the duck family.  Here is the baby in the box, and hurried pictures trying to capture the family following me.  Crazy nuts trying to rescue ducks and take pictures.



The journey was tedious and precarious.  It took some juggling to keep the box open enough for the baby’s quacking to be loud enough for the mom to hear but  closed enough for the baby not to be able to jump.

And then success.  I could put the box down and on its side… and the family could reunite and get to water.


Whew.  That was sweaty and time-consuming.

What are the lessons?

1. Action is necessary.  One of the lessons learned these days is that education often says “hey, the opportunity is there.  Just do it.”  That’s the meritocracy and the status quo.  That view needs to change.  The momma duck was trying hard.  Those baby ducks were trying hard.  But without some intervention, I don’t know that things would have changed.

2.  Taking action isn’t comfortable.  I don’t know if I should have left them.  Maybe some duck expert will believe me to be completely wrong.  Being hissed at is uncomfortable.  Getting pecked by a rightfully angry duck isn’t pleasant.  And that was sweaty, sweaty work.  Action isn’t comfortable.

3.  Things might seem worse before they are better.  That huddled family on the cusp of the bike path reminded me of every significant change in my classroom or English department; it feels worse before it gets better.

4.  Celebrate what is done.  Look at these ducks.  Pure happiness!  There is so much to confront in my classroom, my department, my school.  Take that uncomfortable action, knowing it is going to be hard, and celebrate the experience.







An amazing Twitter thread for Friday the 13th: Happy Cool Dude Day

It is summer.  Aaaah, summer, when sleep and family time and personal care can actually get done, but even in such halcyon days, I am thinking school.  Working toward school.  Worried about kids and colleagues alike.  One summer ritual for me is to go through all the tweets I liked throughout the school year, plugging in those tips and lessons to my year.  Recently, I just rediscovered this… Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 10.21.09 AM.pngScreen Shot 2018-07-11 at 10.21.25 AM.png

Mr. Schneider @Edu_Historian, thanks for sharing that story of father-love and teacher-courage.

Adding this in…Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 9.10.45 AM.png


I am going to model Best Buy this year…

Have you been to Best Buy lately?  Previously rumored to be at the end of their corporate existence due to giants like Amazon and the near evaporation of CD sales and other revenue streams, Best Buy holds its own, having actually rebounded.  It is surprisingly a happy place to go shopping.

Why does this stand out? At this stage in my  teaching career, I have three questions that haunt:

  1. How do I be the best parent I can be with my own kids in my school?  That means balances of work/life and a tricky walk of what is personal and public.
  2. How do I keep up the energy (physical and emotional) to be the teacher each kid needs? Dang, this job is exhausting, and this body is aging.
  3. And how do I remain relevant?  How do I keep evolving, keep learning?  How do I stay true to me, to my roots, to what I know works while I also keep challenging my concepts, keep folding new skills in, and keep questioning what I know?

I am thinking Best Buy did a lot of thinking on that #3 question, and I can learn from them.

First, focus.  Best Buy has a lot less stuff around.  Yeah, that’s because it wasn’t selling (CDs) and its inventory management, but it is also freeing.  With less there, I can focus more. I can navigate the store better and I certainly feel more comfortable.  For my classroom, keep remembering less is more. Two days on a poem in depth can be worth it. Stop crowding the content or the kids.

Second, be there.  Why do I go to Best Buy?  Because a real human is going to show up pretty quickly.  I find it ironic I now read Amazon reviews and then go to BestBuy.  Visits used to be the other order, but a real human– that is worth paying for.  In the classroom, be there. Don’t be at my desk doing email or (yep, admin, I know you don’t like this one) attendance.  Just be in the moment, being present.

Third,  listen. When we were contemplating our purchase, the sales rep listened.  Listened without judgement and without selling. He heard what we wanted, he knew we had opted out of some features and he didn’t pressure.  He answered every question without make us feel stupid or silly. Every classroom question is valid. What a student doesn’t know or a skill not in place is not a time for judgement, but something to address, fill in, and practice.

Last, provide options but not too many options  I recognize there is paralysis in too many choices.  Best Buy had a couple options that worked for us, so there was choice, but not meaningless choice.  And then there were choices on how and where to check out and how to get a receipt. These are small details, but when I watch teachers still try to control the minutia of the classroom, I think nah.  The right number of choices, the right amount of flexibility– yep. That’s sweet.

But in reality, I think what made the Best Buy visit better was the simple fact our sales person seemed happy.  Genuinely happy to help. Authentically knowledgeable. I am my classroom. My happiness, my attitude makes or breaks the day.

Yep, I am getting old.  I am that experienced veteran teacher, but, like Best Buy, I can keep my core and adapt.  And I can do it all with a smile.Big Box Retailer Best Buy Post Better Than Expected Earnings


A bit of faith and feedback salves the soul

This week, I’ve been calling some of my students who scored a below “qualified” on the AP Lit test, earning a “2”.  I haven’t yet connected voice to voice with each student, but so far, the conversations have gone well. It wasn’t until I was walking with a friend processing my son’s soccer tryout (and placement on a different tier team) that I made the connection between my personal and professional worlds.

As my son approaches eighth grade, his soccer age mates fold in the kids in the previous birth year who aren’t yet entering high school.  Sometimes those are kids “redshirted” and sometimes it’s just a December birthday. Two weeks ago, my son learned he was moved down a tier from “Red” to “White” team.  With any range of pre-thinking, whether that decision was feared, anticipated, or felt inevitable, the judgment plays with his sense of identity and worth, and that thinking (mourning) process is really hard to watch as a parent.

For my part, I keep wondering if I read last year’s coach, the one that continues with the “Red” team, correctly.  I thought he trusted and esteemed my son. I thought he valued him. I have my own identity crisis: do I understand people?  Did I understand what I was seeing on the field?

You know what would solve much of this?  A message from the coach. An outreach, a connection. My son didn’t think any step of tryouts went his way.  On each day, he talked about why he didn’t think his abilities showed through. If his coach could add feedback– either on the tryouts decisions or, most importantly, on my son’s soccer abilities, some of the placement angst might be blunted.  Some of his soccer identify salved.

So cue the phone calls about AP scores.  In those calls, maybe the student and I both recall timed tests weren’t a strength.  Maybe we curse the complexity of Hawthorne or laugh about plants revealing colonization. Maybe we both think the score doesn’t make sense and isn’t accurate for the skills revealed in class– and then there is that key bit of feedback I can offer the student:

“This is a a single score on a single day.  You are not the score. You are ready for college.  You will do fine. You are_____________– resilient, a thinker, an amazing discussion broker, a writer willing to work the process.”

That feedback and that renewal of faith— well, that goes a long way.  It does a long way in a classroom and it would go a long way on the soccer field.  And that connection– having my parent heart and my teacher brain both in alignment– will help make those remaining calls.

grass sport game match

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