This is a first, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I had the opportunity to witness a “math person” saying he “failed” at “art.” We know how rare this instance is, given that if you replace the previous sentence with “artistic human” “failed” “math,” we’d have approximately one majillion examples to point to.

Dan Meyer compiled a collection here, and I know the FW folks actually have used it quite a bit.

Anywayzzz, I’m trying to live that Guide on teh Side lyyyfe, so I’ll just share the screenshots and let you comment below or on Twitters.

Tweet exchange Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.15.03 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.14.45 PM


<3 <3 <3

National Blogging Collaborative

My writing coach through the National Blogging Collaborative is a wonderful woman named Lisa Hollenbach, and I think her getting-to-know-you questionaire is a good tool for thinking about personal and professional goals, so I’m posting my responses here.

What is your story? Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m an elementary school teacher who needs to transition out of the classroom for the time being because of chronic medical issues (recent Bipolar I diagnosis). I’m interested in the big, giant pictures related to education, but I’m also interested in and passionate about day-to-day life in the classroom. Outside of teaching, I’m interested in yoga, math, equity, feminism, video games, space, music, dinosaurs, and both history and futurist thinking.
My current plan for next year (fingers crossed; it changes every day) is to earn what I can from freelance writing unless I’m able to score a fellowship (I’ve been in touch with TNTP and the Bucky Fuller Institute, and I’m contacting my college physics professor because he’d asked me to review a book he’s writing).
I’m also folding Look Great Teach Great into a wider effort for the stuff I’ve been working on for #AnAmericanLessonPlan and #TeachersWhoGame, which would be both CCSS compliant, but also relevant, rigorous, social justice-focused, and FUN. I want to model teaching myself to code through being transparent about how I’m creating my own website because #codeispoetry and I view it as a bit of a think-aloud. I’m also casting weekly on Twitch to show how #TeachersWhoGame relates to video games and virtual reality.
Have you listened to Hamilton the Musical? If you haven’t yet, it might be helpful in understanding me and my brain. I’d also say I relate strongly to characters in Parks and Rec and The West Wing.
Do you have a place where you currently blog / write? If so, paste in the link. I would love to see an example of your writing.
@MsHoughton on The Twitters
Why do you want to blog?
I need to get this ish outta my brain. I want my brain-droppings to maybe be interesting to or helpful to my readers. I want people to read something that makes them feel better by the time they’ve read it, even if it’s a piece on a serious or contentious subject.
Are there particular topics about which you are passionate? Tell me a bit more about Look Great Teach Great.
Social justice and equity, particularly as it relates to math instruction and larger systemic educational issues. I love folk songs and singing, and I’m looking to design lesson plans around songs and other elements of pop culture. I’m looking for a way to tap into the hype around midcentury vintage stuff by designing lessons based on the old crazy books I’ve been showing snippets of on Twitter and Instagram. I like fashion and art and eating good food. Also, just as an FYI, I’ve been in recovery for alcoholism for the past 6 years or so, so I’m also interested in addiction, homelessness, and the schools-to-prison pipeline.
Who do you imagine as the audience for you blog?
I hope it’s a combination of teachers, families, students, and other stakeholders in education, as well as my friends and family who’ve followed my online essays since 1997.
Do you have any questions about blogging or the NBC process in general?
I’m most interested in establishing writing routines that help me keep my brain from revving too hard while still being a productive writer. I also want to help hype the work you folks are doing for other teacher-writers!
That’s about it for now; can’t wait to hear back from you!
In service,


So friends, our dear ENC Eddie James Ronks The Fourth ((Ed Ronco)) is doing his darndest to save a radio station out here in the Emerald City. They’ve crossed the halfway point, but there’s still a long way to go to hit $7 million by June.

If you’re a longtime Puget Sound resident, you might not have had the opportunity to live in a community without a thriving public radio news outlet. Trust me as someone who makes cross-country drives listening to NPR: it’s rare. Verrrrrrrrrrry rare. We need to preserve this valuable asset we are fortunate to have taken for granted.

If you know Ed from school, maybe you’re thinking, “Ed gets things done, I’m sure he’s doing just fine with this ENORMOUS UNDERTAKING because he’s kind of a force of nature. A gentle, druid-like force.” And you’re not wrong, but I really think that for this project, we need to summon the ‪#‎citydesk‬ ‪#‎campusdesk‬ ‪#‎Udown2die4this‬ crew. Because ‪#‎SpartansWill‬ and I’m sure you’ll agree that this ‪#‎MarchMadness‬ was a bit of a bust.

Do you know that KPLU hasn’t been able to hire an education reporter because of this crazy buyout situation? And, in a brief tangent, I need to point out that the Seattle Times is also hiring an editorial person with expertise in education? Good things, scary things, and crazy things related to education are happening in this region, and I’m desperate for those stories to be told. We don’t have the capacity right now to tell even a fraction of them.

A few months ago I snarkily told Ed over Hawaiian pancakes at Kona Kitchen (I dragged the poor guy all through my first neighborhood) that if they didn’t save the news station, the jazz station that will allegedly replace it wouldn’t matter because jazz only happens when we cover news and build that community connection. My tone could have used adjusting, but I think there’s still truth in that statement.

I left journalism because it got too broken for me to be a healthy contributor.Ed Ronco and the other folks working to tell stories all across the nation and the world are still fighting that battle every single day. I want us all to be in that room where it happens, so I hope you’ll join me.

Click here for the Save KPLU Ambassador Kit.

This piece was originally posted on my Facebook page.

Dear Beverly Cleary

POZ Beverly Cleary Covers

Happy hundredth birthday to legendary children’s book author Beverly Cleary! (Who I always assumed was BFFs with Judy Blume because they were both close to each other on my alphabetically-arranged bookshelf)

Beverly Cleary was one of my top five absolute favorite authors growing up. At one point, I’m pretty sure my mom had found a copy of every single book for me (used, garage sales, etc). (Have I mentioned we’re both completionists?) (this is going to be an excessively lengthy post, ‪#‎sorrynotsorry‬)

I first learned about sibling dynamics from Beezus and Ramona. BTW, I always saw Ramona as a leeeetle bit of a brat. Girl, did you really just squeeze a whole tube of toothpaste into the sink? Why are you so hung up on what the cursive Q looks like? Can you puhhhlease get your ish together at your favorite teacher’s wedding? Did you seriously think you could find the end of the rainbow? What are oxfords and why are you wearing ugly old fashioned outfits? (I didn’t know at the time that books often change their front cover without altering the inside art).

Anyway, I get it now, Ms. Cleary. I was Beezus with a healthy dash of Ramona, and I need to be compassionate and patient and loving in a fiercely non-condescending way with the Ramonas of the world.

I carry Ms. Cleary’s stories around inside of me. When I turn on a lamp, I’ll sometimes catch myself muttering about the Dawnzer, which gives off “lee light.” When I think about elementary school theater productions (which I’m realizing in writing this is far more often than is perhaps healthy), I remember the yellow-bordered cover of Ramona and Her Father. When I open a piece of Dubble Bubble gum, I shake my fist at Henry and his stupid schemes.

I discovered my love of the epistoliary novel through Muggie Maggie and Dear Mr. Henshaw. I realized I hated dog books when I followed up my reading with Strider. I scratched my itch for animal-centric books with the magnificent Ralph S. Mouse.

Speaking of which, one of the main reasons I still get star-struck at being friends with @Paul O Zelinsky is frankly not because of all his stunningly illustrated picture books, but because he illustrated a number of Clearly’s books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

Before Poppy (Avi) and the Redwall crew (Brian Jacques), there was Ralph S. Mouse. In 2nd grade I was obsessed with Stuart Little and had not yet discovered Jacques’ work, so I’m sure my parents were at least a little pleased that by discovering Ralph (in a pink-bordered mass market paperback copy from my Troll book order) I finally had more variety in the books I stowed away in my backpack. (I read Charlotte’s Web probably a half dozen times in 1st grade. It was excessive.)

When we were last in Portland, Toby and I happened upon Quimby Street and a nearby apartment building called the Ramona, and I wept tears of delight. Similarly tear-inducing was receiving this month’s copy of the Horn Book, which is a blockbuster issue dedicated to Ms. Cleary’s work.

Beverly Cleary is one of the most remarkable authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She was my constant companion on long car rides (although I didn’t understand why she wrote using a few long chapters rather than shorter chapters like I found in The Baby-Sitters’ Club books). As an adult, I’m impressed that she created a world and characters who are still so relevant despite all the changes since her work was first published.

I felt a little scummy when I discovered she was approaching her 100th birthday, because I assumed she had left this world many moons ago. Maybe today is the time for me to write her a thank you note. But first, I’m going to reread Dear Mr. Henshaw for inspiration.

((obvi not my copy, but I wanted you to see Paul’s handwriting))

(Originally published as a Facebook post.)

Declaration of What’s Up Next Year

When I first decided to take a year’s leave of absence, I made a promise to myself that I’d have a plan for next year by Spring Break of 2016. Welp. I have no clue what I’m doing next school year. But I promised I’d tell you, dear reader, so I’ll share one thing I do know. I’ve resigned my position at Federal Way Public Schools. I leaving with a heavy heart and a hope to return. Chronic health issues are preventing me from serving in the classroom next year.

A year ago, when I broke the news of my leave to my teaching partner and dear friend, she told me, “You’re moving on to bigger and better things.” If anyone else would have told me that, I would have rolled my eyes and gotten flustered at the semi-compliment. I believe our most important work in education is being done in the classroom, so where did that leave me?

A few months later, I followed up with her on the comment.

“If anyone else had told me that, I would have told them to — off. But *you* said it to me, and you love me and I value what you have to say, so I need to give more thought to why I respond so strongly to it.” So here’s what I came up with, briefly.

I’m deeply uncomfortable with the phrase “moving on to bigger and better things,” because if we’re always growing and learning, aren’t we always inherently moving on to bigger and better things? And isn’t that a beautiful thing? So why do folks often use the phrase as a loaded way to pass judgement couched in a compliment? I realize now that she wasn’t using it in a loaded way, she meant it sincerely, and I love her for saying it.

Here’s the text of the e-mail I sent to my principal, and in the spirit of completionism, I’ve attached my official resignation letter.

Hi Michael,

I had hoped to be able to speak with you in person before I submitted my resignation letter, but I hope you’ll be able to understand and forgive me for communicating in digital means instead.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to put together a plan where I’d be able to stay at the Wood; if anyone asks what’s up, let them know I’d love to talk with them in person once I’m able.
It has been a privilege to work with and learn from you. I look forward to possibly hanging out with you in the future? (question mark? If you and Elizabeth are interested?)
Thank you for believing in me and pushing my thinking. Thank you for trusting me (? question mark?). Thank you for being our Superman.
In service,

FWPS Resignation Letter 2016

So, I guess, that’s what’s up.

We are Wildwood. #wildcatsrawr

April 27, 1992

From my collected correspondence.

Monday, April 27, 1992

Dear Betty,

I haven’t been able to write because we had been busy. Last monday we went to the librab library, Tuesday we went to the show. Wednesday we went to bowl. Friday we went to the craft shop. You can see how busy I was. Today, I went to my friend, Sandra’s house. Oh, by the way, on Saturday and Sunday we worked on remodeling our house.

Busy this week,

April 19, 1992

I’ve been looking through my old journal entries trying to process my recent bipolar diagnosis, and it’s been therapeutic to digitize some of my early work. Because getting started on writing can be the hardest part, I wanted to share this, my first ever diary entry. Bonus points to you, dear reader, if you can guess the famous diarist I quote in my first line.

Sunday April 19, 1992


Dear Betty,Correspkln

I got lots of neat stuff for Easter, but you were the best. Today we went — in the morning — to (Grammy) my mom’s mom’s house. Now I’m at my Aunt Chrissy’s house now, sitting by the doorway.

** ** ** **

Now I’m away from the doorway. I will tell you about my boyfriend. His name is Ryan. I don’t know if he likes me, but I like him. He is a good-ball. He is in 4th grade. He get’s in trouble alot.

* * * * * *

I forgot to tell you that today I went to my cousin’s birthday party. Got to go now!

Your new pal,

February 2, 2016

Yesterday I visited a high school on the Eastside. The people there were working very hard. I had the privilege to sit in on some tremendous student conversations. I was overwhelmed and spent most of the time with my hands shaking, sloshing my Starbucks drip coffee onto my hands and vest. I’m still working to unpack what spooked and startled me most about my visit to this model high school, but my biggest revelation came when I arrived at home.

I live in an apartment building that’s sorta an in-between neighborhood. Go further east and it’s Capitol Hill, with all the #seattlestereotypes that I love and loathe most about Seattle. Legit coffee shops, amazing food, interesting people, lots of thinking. Go South and it’s a tense combination of a night club that’s been the site of some pretty scary violence with bars, burger joints, and The Quintessential Portlandia Market Experience. This is now loosely referred to as the Pike Pine Corridor, a term developed to appeal to tech employees who can’t afford to live in South Lake Union.

If you go north, turn on Denny, it feels more like downtown. The streets, though clean, seem a little bit less well-maintained than other parts of town. For a few years, there was a sizable homeless camp by the on-ramp to I5, but the city rounded everyone up and had them head somewhere else. (to their credit, it seemed like they brought counselors and social workers to help folks receive the services they might need)

And immediately west is I5. From the fifth floor of our building, we hear the vehicle noise at all hours, even when there isn’t much traffic. That’s because the noise echoes off the Metropolitan Park towers like a river running through a valley. (science)

In this scene, Eric sat on the porch with a giant coffee. I parallel parked (like a pro; I’m a bit of a savant) and sat next to him on the porch steps, giving him a patented Shannon-Bug-Eye-You-Are-Not-Going-To-Believe-This look. Bless him. “Tell me more,” he said.

I ran him through my day at the Modern Major High School, showed him my Snapchat story. We started a really amazing conversation about well-meaning white people in Seattle. He handed me a cigarette and, dear reader, I smoked it.

I told him about speaking at the MSU commencements and how after I spoke with Maya Angelou, the most common question I received was “when you talked about people smoking outside Berkey Hall, does that mean you smoke too?” Seriously? That was your takeaway from the conversation?

Enter Kevin.

Living in this no-man’s land of Seattle, we encounter a variety of dependable archetypes. There are the White People Lost on Capitol Hill, who accidentally go further north than Olive and lose their minds because there’s broken glass on the curb. There are Tech Bros. There are the alterna-teens (I don’t know what we’re calling Youth Culture these days). And there are folks who are just trying to get through their days.

Kevin was one of those guys. As he approached our building from the north, Eric and I made eye contact and said hello.

“You’re not from here, are you?” Kevin said with a grin.

Eric and I knew exactly what he meant. The Seattle Freeze has some pretty profound racial and class manifestations that we as a city haven’t really begun to unpack yet. Eric shared that he’s from Chicago, I said I hailed from metro Detroit.

The next line in a typical Seattle porch exchange like this was well-executed by Kevin.

“Do you have a cigarette I can buy off you?” 

But Eric flipped the script.

He pulled out two from the shiny foil inner wrapper of his half-empty box of Camels. “One for now, one for later.”

“Thanks, man.”

And usually that’s where the conversation would end. We’d all uncomfortably smile and maybe give an awkward half-wave, and then Kevin would continue on his way (he said he was heading to an AA meeting at The Recovery Cafe further down Denny)

I piped up. “They have AA meetings there? I had no idea! I’ve been working to remove alcohol from my life for the past four, five years.”

“God bless, one day at a time.” *fist bump* “You should come, the people there are great.”

And then he started telling us about the folks who have his back. He adjusted his Seahawks beanie and poured out the shortened version of His Story (I always think of it like the really long passages at Mass, how sometimes the priest skips the bits in brackets? Where the stuff in the brackets is important, but if you’re listening hard, you get the gist even without all the details). I pulled out my notebook.

Things have been tough because he’s been on a half-dose of his meds until his next doctor’s appointment. After scheduling it two months ago, it’s finally happening this week, Thursday, at Swedish Medical Center up Pill Hill (which is a name nobody really actually uses).

“I’m kinda nervous,” he said. “At the cafe, they told me that sometimes when you go back up to the regular dosage, the side effects are bad.”

I expressed concern and said I had a similar experience when I lost my insurance and had to jerry-rig my mental health self-care, by taking half-doses of my antidepressants, combined with legal recreational marijuana.

Then Kevin’s story started to pour out. I have a page of notes, but they’re all jittery and don’t make much sense because my hands were shaking and I was busy making eye contact with this man who was invisible to so many people in the Emerald City. He was a vet. He took two bullets.

“It’s not the bullet that killed me, it’s the VA.”


I asked Kevin how folks could get in touch with him. Kevin is available at ###-###-#### (“I had an Obama phone”). I told him I have friends whose work is to listen to the stories of people whose voices aren’t being heard, and would it be okay if I passed his information on to them? He said yes.

Initial readers of this piece asked what Kevin’s race was, and whether he was black. I chose to tell Kevin’s story without this information inspired by the work of Christopher Paul Curtis in his Newbery honor winning book The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, which takes place in Flint, Michigan.

Out-Gunned, Out-Manned

Tacoma high school teacher Nate Bowling has been sharing some pretty hard-hitting pieces on his website these days.

First there was this #RealTalk Gold, “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having,” which was as pitch-perfect a Hot Take Viral-worthy Piece as has ever been crafted.

Anyway, so then there was this straight-up flame emoji, crystal ball, 100% emoji followup, “Just in case things weren’t clear.”

The cited letter in that second post got me thinking. I’ve been interested in researching primary sources ever since I started reading the American Girls books in first grade. I spend most of my energy in the education world advocating for math-related stuff, which isn’t mutually exclusive from being an English major at heart who lurrrrves annotating documents. What if part of open sourcing education looked like large-scale World Game-like voluntary collaboration? What if this was part of a current larger effort on behalf of educators to tell our stories?

Nate’s first post had already shoved my mental ball rolling in the direction of using historical primary sources to ground an education conversation. A few weeks ago, I created a tangentially related lesson plan that taught a close reading annotation lesson using a recent widely circulated public document. It was good fun and genuinely had me thinking more critically and in a deeper way than I usually do in the “real world.” It was a great example of Project Based Learning. So then what’s holding us back from sharing our stories and then leveraging them to find solutions?

Earlier today, Jose Vilson posted this:

This resonates with me. I’ve been approached by a number of teachers looking to process how nervous we are about being open about our classroom experiences for fear of backlash. I’ve hesitated at uploading lessons and essay reflections for fear of creating drama. (I think my personal concerns about sharing stories from my experience are compounded by knowing what happens when the Internet decides to lash out against a woman. Not ready to unpack this bit yet.)

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Three years ago, when I posted a YouTube video explaining recent changes to grading practices, I was contacted by the president of an organization that represented me indicating that “a few dozen” members complained about the video and that I should take it down.

I consider myself lucky to be employed by a school district that values teacher leaders engaging in dialogue on important issues. I consider myself lucky to have worked for administrators who walk the walk regarding whole-child education and teacher self care. I have been lucky, but all our kids and teachers deserve better.

Tomorrow there’s a Walk-In at schools across the country, and you should totally participate! I’ll be attending at my neighborhood high school, Garfield, at “30-50 minutes before bell time.” First bell is at 7:50, according to Garfield’s website.

“There’s an infinite inkwell high above the city.”

An Open Letter to Mrs. Chan

Dear Siobhan,

Happy Monday! I was thinking of you this morning when I was thinking about teaching, which is something that often happens.

When you transitioned to a new school this spring and I attempted to write you a farewell note, I struggled to find a charming, inspiring duo that I could compare our partnership to. Leslie and Anne wasn’t quite right, but the teamwork shown by Ben and Chris seemed a little more accurate. (I can’t WAIT to watch Parks & Rec with you and talk about how the episodes relate to the world of education)

That made me think about other partners who share their public conversations, like Hank and John Green (did you know Hank Green led the Lizzy Bennett Diaries series on YouTube?), or Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp, or Steven Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Actually, let’s pause and watch what I consider to be one of the best conversations ever captured on video.

This fall, I contacted Jose Vilson and asked him if I could visit and be a fly on a wall in his classroom — I just wanted to observe and learn from him. I lost my nerve because I’m working on being less afraid of saying or doing something ignorant or insulting, but I hope to be able to be in touch with him this spring. But my desire to peep in on Jose’s class (or Evin or Kristin or Molly or Cheryl) got me missing creeping on you like a creepy creeper.

I’ve been thinking about how one of us would always pop in to the other’s room to show them something neat or ask a question or share a brilliant realization. And how even when back in the day I was convinced that I was suuuuuuper irritating to you, I’d try to strain my ears to hear what was going on across the hall in your world. That’s something I’ve really missed this year. I miss puzzling out difficult situations, regrouping and figuring out what to do better next time, and building off each others’ excitement. As I’ve been pondering Teachers Who Game and spending more time online, I’ve been thinking of how we could use this technology to help improve our educational practices for our students, our colleagues, and folks trying to understand the education system?

If, like I said, *I* really wish I could spend time as a fly on the wall in Jose’s class, mebbe making our conversations public could be interesting or helpful for not just us, but also for other friends and educators? It’d be a way to show how we “authentically” do think alouds or close reads? And it could cast some light on the processing that goes on in designing rigorous, relevant instruction?

Anyway, you know I’m really good at starting something and then dropping the ball, so I’d appreciate your insights.

ALSO. When I was on YouTube looking up the Colbert/Tyson video above, I rediscovered this, the mathiest movie trailer I’ve seen in a very long time. (I’m having Toby take us to go see it on Christmas!!!)

Also, that trailer was kind of intense so I’m going to conclude with the best Christmas movie ever made hands down.


P.S. Next time I write, I’m supes excited to talk about –> this piece <– that has consumed my brain for the past few months.