The End-Of-Year Reflection

In the last week, after grades are in, I send a Google Form to all of my classes.

I thank them for a great semester/year, and I feel some feelings in front of them.

I mention my zillion-page Google Doc, and explain why I keep it.

I tell them that I value their ideas and advice, and that growing and being better matters a lot to me.

I explain that positive and negative feedback are both welcome. I ask them to keep it constructive, even if they think I smell bad and look funny.

Then I go away while they fill it out.

It is usually anonymous, name optional.

I don't grade it, or enforce it getting done.

I want their thoughts about specific projects and units. I tell them the things I'm feeling meh about and ask them about their experiences in the class. I want to know what they thought about the routines and procedures and if the desks are arranged effectively. All of it.

Students do a lot of reflecting, as it is, on each project and process throughout the year. But the course reflection is a bit different. Instead of looking inward, I'm inviting them to think about what they would change not about their own performance, but about the things they might not typically feel that they can change: the environment, the grown-ups, the content.

I want them to know.
That they have a voice in shaping their education.
That their experiences are valid, and valuable.
That like them, I am also still learning. And very, very human.

It's a vulnerable space. And it has to be.
I have to welcome the full spectrum of responses.

Even though I ask, "What do you think?" all the time, there needs to be a space for the thoughts about the class or about me that might never be spoken aloud, face-to-face.

I'm floored by the results. Some students write the bare minimum, yes, but others really open up. This year's seniors told me that they appreciated my positive energy. That they would have liked to see more nonfiction among the course texts. They let me know that I'm "too soft" and they got away with a lot of things they weren't supposed to do. That the projects were really interesting, but one of them could have been better timed.

I get some love notes. I get some disappointed missives. I get a lot of fearless honesty.

At the risk of going all meta with it, I'd love to know: What questions do you ask on your course reflections?

Know Better, Learn Faster

One of the pinned tabs in my browser, perpetually open so I can access it and add to it eleven times a day, is a Google Doc titled, "Notes for Next Year."

It's a bulleted list of necessary changes and new ideas. It's full of hyperlinks. It includes notes on just about every unit, project, process, and routine.

It revisits everything that happened this year. I have notes for improving and redoing what worked. And even more notes for overhauling what didn't.

It's a lot of pages long. Looking at it is simultaneously dispiriting and motivating.

It's a highlight reel matched with an equally long blooper reel.

Because seeing both parts is critical.

It's how I come back and do it all again.

Getting to do this is a professional gift in the teaching world. My career is a series of do-overs.

I remember listening to an interview that Thao gave about her album titled, "Know Better, Learn Faster," and when asked why she titled it that, she replied, "Because you can't."

That has stuck with me.

She goes on to say, 'By the time you realize you should, it's too late. And I enjoy the predicament and the totally devastating, unfunny humor of that.''

This first year in a new place I've learned that I can be pretty hard on myself. And I know that it's important to honor the process. To create and attempt, then reflect, and try it all again.

Current status: Loving life in Philly

It hasn't even been a year, I know. And I'm probably still in a quixotic honeymoon phase with our life in Philadelphia. But still, knowing that it won't always be like this, and that even now there are days -- and oh, but there are -- where I don't feel any of this, I want to make this list. Whatever the day-to-day of life looks like, no matter how messy, I want to keep the big picture in mind. And I document it here, for the days when I might lose perspective.


The big picture summary is this: we love it here.

I snapped these photos on a walk through Fairmount, our neighborhood, which is downright adorable, wouldn't you say?


I can pinpoint the pieces that make up the whole.

Our neighbors have introduced themselves. They say hi and invite us to stuff. I get compliments on my junky little bike. It feels like everyone is looking out for everyone else, at least a little bit.

On holidays our street gets unofficially closed, and neighbors gather and share food and drinks and the kids ride their scooters up and down the road. A strong sense of family is one of the things I loved most about Harlem when I lived there, and what I will always seek in new places. Neighborhoods, comprised of neighbors, feeling all neighborly.


I have potted plants on our sidewalk. I kill them all, but the street is forgiving.

With the exception of a few icy days this year, I've been everywhere on my bicycle. The city has given us a zillion lanes for just us, and has spaced most of the places I want to go a perfectly bikable distance apart from one another.

I still love not owning a car, and not needing to.


Our friends live nearby. Blocks away. They've seamlessly and graciously invited us into their lives. We get to see them all the time, for kickball games and Game of Thrones and just because.

We live in a tiny house, just right for us, and comfortable enough to have had friends and family in town almost every weekend.

Here I've determined the perfect size for a back yard: big enough for a grill and too small for maintenance or yard work.


Art is everywhere. On the walls and in the architecture. Museums and exhibits and galleries galore. Murals and pop-ups and creative businesses around every corner. Details and stimulation and eye candy.

And theater! I've seen four plays this year.

It's just the right amount of friendly. Strangers smile and say hi and hold doors and have conversations of just the right length.



Not for nothing. My job is the best. Like, I might never leave.
I'm kind of still floored that it exists and that I somehow landed it.
I don't want to go on and on because what if I jinx it.


Also. This husband of mine is even better than I imagined he would be. Which was, in the first place, unrealistically good.


I love that we're not feeling the itch. Or thinking about the expiration date. Or wondering where we'll move next.

Here and now is a good place to be.