Making Poetry and Politics

Right around the end of each school year I piece together a reading list for the summer, then I go to my school and public libraries and start clearing the shelves. COVID forced me to amass a summer reading list out of the books on my shelf at home. As a result, I managed to read several books that I have owned for months or decades. Some were better left on the shelf, but some have been a delight.

Even though schools and libraries are now open, I’m continuing the trend and recently picked up “The Buried Mirror” by Carlos Fuentes. Part history book, part Latin American polemic, I first read the book in its native Spanish (“El espejo enterrado”) in 1998. Some time later I bought the English version, put it on a shelf, and never looked at it again. Until now.

Fuentes opens the book with reflections on the relationship between Spain and the New World. Above all else, he characterizes the relationship as “a debate with ourselves.” In the process he evokes a W.B. Yeats quote:

And if out of our arguments with others we make politics, advised W.B. Yeats, out of our arguments with ourselves we make poetry.

Fuentes, p. 15

The original Yeats quotes is as follows:

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.

Let’s not let slip the opportunity to quarrel with ourselves. Let’s, in every occasion possible, make poetry.

Election

My favorite tweet from the last few days:

We’ve turned the page on “Tuesday, Part 5,” and Joe Biden was officially projected to be the 46th President of the United States on Saturday, November 7. All the news networks showed footage of Biden/Harris supporters spilling into the streets. Jubilation and affirmation from the side that won, silence and disbelief from the side that lost. It has always been thus.

One thing that is distinctly different in the current scenario is how the Market reacted. In the days leading up to the election you can expect fits and starts. We mostly got starts with several +1% days for the S&P and or NASDAQ. Once Election Day came and went without a clear winner, we could have all expected the Market’s reaction: selling.

The Market abhors uncertainty. The Market more often than not reacts to an unwelcome situation more favorably than an uncertain one. So, the fact that the Market remained positive during the week of the post-election ballot counting is truly incredible. It happens that Election Day overlapped with 3rd quarter earnings season, so in a fit of uncharacteristic rationality, the Market actually did what it is supposed to do–move in relation to market-specific inputs rather than exogenous events such as elections or Twitter feuds.

Superpowers and kryptonite

“Its network is Facebook’s superpower;

its reputation is its kryptonite.”

Motley Fool analyst Aaron Bush recently spoke about the viability of a currency developed by Facebook. Their Libra cryptocurrency is in the news for its widespread adoption and subsequent widespread dismissal by notable companies and organizations in the domain of international finance.

Of Facebook, Bush said the following:

Its network is Facebook’s superpower; its reputation is its kryptonite.

What would you say is your superpower? Your kryptonite? What helps you amplify your existing strengths? What perpetually limits your potential?

I’d like to ask this of the teams that I lead. In some cases I lead teams of team leaders (insert Escher sketch). What would they say about the superpowers and kryptonites of their teams?

Lost in a sea of strategies? Focus on Engagement.

For the past few months, PLCs have been exploring a variety of instructional strategies. These conversations usually take the form of “Activity A begets Strategy B.” The result is a lot of strategies and A LOT of activities. While this may work for some, the surfeit of options leaves some teachers to nod politely and continue on with business as usual.

Rather than placing the focus on activities, consider the atmosphere of your class. What’s it like? What are students doing and how are they doing it? How do they enter your classroom? Far from ephemeral, these questions were studied by a team of researchers whose findings were published in a 2016 article for Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The authors identify three ways in which teachers may measure engagement:

Academic Engagement

The authors lift up attentiveness and compliance as hallmarks of the academically engaged classroom. Attentiveness and compliance are anathemas in many present-day conversations around classroom management. “Attentiveness” means an excessive focus on the teacher while “compliance” suggests that we’re grooming automatons. For starters, attentiveness and compliance connote an adherence to social norms in class, which means that norms must have been established. (“In this class, we attend to everyone and we make sure we understand the demands of the task before we begin the work. Everyone on board with that?”) Students should certainly bear the agency to question ideas, but they had better understand the rules of engagement such that the seeds that they sow fall on ground that’s ready to nurture them. Far from a flock of conscripted sheep, an attentive and compliant classroom can start all manner of revolutions.

Cognitive Engagement

Cognitive engagement can often be very difficult for an outside observer to identify. I’ve visited many classrooms where only after I knelt down and spoke with students did I realize the high-octane work that they were doing. Analytical, collaborative work can draw in students that are nurtured by a challenge. Most English classes that I’ve observed have high levels of cognitive engagement…reading Chains or The Outsiders through the lens of depression or examining dystopic elements of our own societies through the lens of dystopia novels. Even at the middle school level, students can shoulder these ideas and concepts, not just for their provocative nature, but for their relevance to their own lives.

Relational Engagement

Based on my observations, the amount of relational engagement really depends on the teacher’s belief behind the role of knowledge in the classroom. Those who believe that knowledge should be earned and displayed (on an assessment) will demonstrate low levels of relational engagement. Knowledge is guarded and sometimes fought over, a prize to be won through a high quiz or test grade. By contrast, classrooms that view knowledge as a shared endeavor, the force that raises the tide of understanding for the entire class, these classes show unmistakeable amounts of relational engagement. Class conversation is discursive, relaxed, students attribute one another’s work and build upon it. How deftly this is done usually depends upon the amount of scaffolding teachers have built around discussion. The use of sentence stems (I like what Cristiana said about…) help build student fluency with relationally intelligent conversation.

So, now what?

When teachers talk about strategies, a litany of activities (and accompanying to-do’s in order to set up said activities) is soon to follow. Rather than think about strategies at the activity level, consider thinking about strategy at the atmospheric level. What’s the vibe in your classroom?

  • Are students attentive to the teacher and to one another? Have they all bought into the same rules of engagement on the task at hand?
  • Are they engaged in highly challenging cognitive work? Are they asking or answering How and Why questions, rather than a lot of What and When questions?
  • Are students encouraged to share their knowledge? Have they learned strategies and protocols to share knowledge fluidly?

If your classroom looks like this, may I pay you a visit?

The authors’ article may be found at Sage Journals.