Stepping Outside my Little Corner of the World

Our school had a day off on Friday (and a day off today as well) for a long fall weekend. We were asked by the powers that be to use Friday for professional development. I chose to drive a couple of hours in the morning to go visit another school. When I did my last job search in the early months of 2010 there were a number of schools that caught my eye and the school I visited on Friday was one of them. The chair there was remarkably kind and helpful in setting up a too short visit that morning. Since I had kid pick up duty that day AND we had agreed to house sit for some friends to look after their dog AND my boy had an ice skating birthday party to go to (there is a theme here about how life unfolds in the dardy household) I did not have quite the leisure I had hoped for. I arrived at 8:30 ish for a warm, quick chat with my host, I saw a Geometry class, then I saw a Precalculus class, then I saw an AP Stats class. A nice follow up chat and lunch with the chair, then I was off to home. 

I always enjoy seeing classes – it is a part of my job as a chair that unfortunately gets buried under other tasks. It is fun to  pick up tricks from other teachers. In this case, the geometry teacher had a lovely way to highlight parts of the parallel line with transversals problems that they were working with that morning. She had spools of different color tape that looked like athletic trainer tape. She pulled off two of one color to highlight which lines in the diagram were parallel to each other and a different color for the transversal. It was SO COOL to see this way of making the relevant information in the diagram just pop out to the kids. It was also fun to see her improvise. The kids were checking their work from the night before and were having disagreements about measures they had taken. Out the window went the lesson plan for the day and out came a class set of protractors so that they could practice with their measuring skills. The teacher confided in me that some of her attitude about this was strongly influenced by her husband who is a woodworker. In the AP Stats class I was privileged to watch someone who was a real, honest to goodness statistician before entering the classroom. As a stats novice myself, it was great to chat with her beforehand and to watch her in action. I think that she convinced me to try an activity that has been previously pretty intimidating to me. The precalc class was fun to watch as well as the kids were hanging in there working through some complex polynomial graphing ideas.

I know that I have a tendency to look at my world and see the potential for excellence in the people around me. I know that I focus at times on what is not quite right instead of celebrating what is right. A visit like this worked wonders for me on a number of fronts.

1. It’s always great to reach out to more people to bounce ideas off of

2.  It’s fun to watch kids at work – especially when I have no preconceived notions of who they are or what they SHOULD be doing

3. It’s rewarding to talk to others who are working through some of the very same struggles. How do we accurately place test kids who are new to a school? How do we balance ambitions for kids with their abilities and previous track record of achievement? How do we find TIME in the school day/week/year for meaningful problem-solving while still serving an ever expanding curriculum? The chair I met with is thoughtful, experienced, and intelligent. The fact that she is struggling with these questions as well makes me feel better.


I’m proud of my school, our students, and my colleagues. I believe that we can all be better than we are but I want to try and focus on what we’re doing right and I think that this experience on Friday can help me with that.


8 thoughts on “Stepping Outside my Little Corner of the World”

  1. One of the things that I miss most about (formally) being an education student is the opportunity to sit in on classes and watch other teachers and students at work. As a mentee, I know that it would help me tremendously to sit down and watch some of my colleagues’ classes, but there is always something holding me back – tests to grade, work to prepare for absent students, copies to be made, etc. I hope to make the time to do this soon.

    1. Brianne

      I hear you loud and clear about the obstacles – I experience them myself as dept chair. I urge you to make the commitment to sit in on as many classes as you can. I have even found it valuable to sit in classes outside my department to watch kids I know in different situations.

      1. Great advice, for many reasons, about observing outside of our own departments! The teachers in your department are lucky to have a chair who sees the value in classroom observations.

        I would like to propose that it is also important for math teachers to observe at other adjacent levels as well (elementary visit middle school, middle school observe elementary and high school, high school visit middle school and college, college/university observe high school, etc.). Knowing how a topic was presented to students in prior grades or how our current students will be expected to use a topic later in their school careers would be so helpful.

  2. I love that you visited another school on your own time. It shows how dedicated you are. In our district, there is a policy that we must observe 2 of our peers throughout the school year. It counts toward our flex time at the end of the school year. But I like this idea to observing people (teachers and students) of which we have no preconceived notions.

    1. Nora

      Thanks for the kind words. My wife tends to think that this is a sign of how nutty or obsessive I can be at times…

      I think that our profession is so inward gazing at times that the opportunity to step outside our walls is absolutely vital. Visiting other rooms in my building is fun, but this feels like a completely different experience.

  3. Your second “front” particularly resonated with me. It’s amazing what seeing kids with fresh eyes can prompt in our thinking.

    “If we look at children only to see whether they are doing what we want or don’t want them to do, we are likely to miss all the things about them that are the most interesting and important.” John Holt, How Children Fail

    It sounds like you made a really useful day of PD for yourself. Way to push out and further your horizons! I hope you find the Explore MTBoS missions to be equally useful and enticing. I’ll stay tuned!

    1. Justin
      This reminds me of the quote ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ I find it too too easy to see where things could be better instead of reveling in what is right. Must remind myself over and over again to celebrate the victories.

  4. Some of my best lessons came from things outside my department. Like silent lessons. I frequently lose my voice, and the way my own high school band director mimed entire rehearsals was an inspiration. These days were the best, most focused classes for my kids!

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