My secret identity

As Whitman said, I contain multitudes. We all do. But there are parts of my identity that remain mostly hidden. I’m an avid motorcyclist, but I don’t share that with my students because I dread the “creepy biker teacher” persona that may very well only exist in my own head. There’s another identity that I’ve been struggling with bringing into the world.

I’m an investor.

There, I said it. The truth is that I’ve been investing in equities (stocks of publicly traded companies) for about 20 years now. And my only thought partner in this part of my identity has been my mom. I don’t discuss it much with my colleagues because we don’t talk about money “in polite company,” as the saying goes.

In recent years, three things have happened that have led me to be more open about this part of my identity. First, I’ve been chatting with a young colleague that has been interested in but fearful of getting started with investing. The market histrionics of late 2018 and early 2020 only compounded his fear that he’s not up to the task. My job has been to coach him through his fear and how to learn to analyze companies.

Second, I began working with the Atlanta Student Investor Club of Georgia State University. I delivered a few presentations, hosted a panel discussion and coached a few students on the mechanics and psychology of the market. And Bitcoin. I non-answered a lot of questions about Bitcoin.

Finally, at student request, I sponsored an investing club at my own school. I worked with 10 8th grade boys on the basics of equity investing. They got started in the heady days of late 2019 and early 2020. They were convinced that stocks only go up. Then COVID happened and they got a front row seat to a bona fide market panic. And they got to process it with the guidance of a steady hand in the person of yours truly. If you ask me, these kids learned the very best lesson at the very right time in their lives: when it cost them nothing. It wouldn’t surprise me if each one of them went on to become successful individual investors because of the timing of that event in their lives.

And so, after maintaining this sparsely populated blog since 2008 and writing about travel, books, and education, here I am writing my first post about one of my greatest passions: investing.

My motivation for investing has nothing to do riches and everything to do with increasing the odds of financial independence for my family. My passion for investing, on the other hand, has little to do with money at all. It has to do with hope and agency. You see, my investing journey has its roots in the story of my mom’s life and my dad’s death. I think that’s where I’ll start my next post.

I’m an investor. It’s getting easier to say publicly. I invest. I love investing. Getting easier.

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.

Leaning back and forward: why we read

This unexpected gem came from the Editor’s Note in a recent issue of Runner’s World magazine.

Here’s to encouraging as much “lean back” time for our kids as possible. Silent Sustained Reading and other such activities designed to encourage reading for pleasure should also include a conversation about why we read and why reading on paper is so important. There’s a time for funnels and a time for filters.