Like MJ, I’m in the (Teacher) Zone

When I was around twelve or thirteen, I remember having that great Michael Jordan poster, his arms stretched out wide with just the word “W-I-N-G-S” spread across it. I wasn’t a Jordan lover, but I certainly wasn’t a hater. I guess I was–an admirer. I like watching athletes at their peak.

I recall Jordan describing, after one of his many games where it seemed he couldn’t miss, the hoop like an ocean. He could just throw the ball toward the rim and–SPLOOSH!–right in without touching anything buy nylon.


I don’t want to call this summer my absolute zone, my peak; I would never do that. I intend to improve my entire career. But, I’m feeling more in the zone than ever before. And it is an awesome feeling.

If Jordan described the hoop as an ocean, I describe my brain as a lightning storm, just electricity firing about how to make my students’ work more meaningful.

I’ll take a little bit of credit later, but most of the credit really goes out to others. I stopped thinking I was such a great teacher and I let others show me how to be better. It is because of my connection with others that I am in the (teacher) zone.

From the books I’ve read:

  • Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones has moved me to action; I’m hoping to get a community book club going involving students, teachers, business people, anyone. “It takes a village” is an old, but appropriate saying. If we’re going to have a real discussion about bullying, it needs the whole community. 
  • Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing have both pushed me to look at myself as a writer. Better than that, they’ve given me material to push my students to believe in themselves as writers.
  • Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a Pirate has me energized to get back with students. As I read his book, the lightning storm inside my head was fierce. He gave me immediate ways to improve my teaching.

From the conferences/professional development I’ve attended:

  • MACUL 2013 was last March, but the electricity from it is still in my brain. It got me to act on bringing great technology into my classroom. I’m implementing those strategies.
  • Twitter Chats allow me to connect with people around the world. These folks have their digital door open, offering up their greatest techniques for all to have. 
  • The Lake Michigan Writing Project changed my identity from teacher to teacher/writer. I am a writer. From the people I met and the time I was given just to work, new ideas entered the lightning storm and they’re turning the sand into glass as we speak. The Lake Michigan Writing Project made me work and produce. 
  • NERDVANA–a group of 7-12 English staff in my district–gets together to discuss whatever professional text we’re reading at the time. It’s wonderful connection within the school and it improves all of our teaching.

From the people I’ve talked to (This is where I don’t know how I’ll ever stop. The people I mention, and many more who I don’t, have made the lightning bolts flash brighter from their encouragement.):

  • It starts with my family. My wife, as I’ve been working more hours than ever on my craft, has only been encouraging. After deciding the parameters (no working meal times or children’s bedtime), she’s encouraged the lightning storm. My daughters are fun. Lots of fun. That’s been essential in the down time.
  • New friends from the Writing Project–Lindsey, Erica, Ben, Chris, Greg, Rachel, and all–have given me the pushes to believe in myself. They’ve encouraged the storm. They’ve asked necessary questions about my writing and then they’ve encouraged me to continue when I questioned myself.
  • Old friends from life–JB, Garth, Rim, Eric, Joe, and their families–have been essential to me being in the zone. They have given me encouragement and laughter. They have given me fun.
  • I’m also grateful to authors/speakers who didn’t have to take time with me, but did. Without this kind of help and encouragement, the lightning storm would have dimmed. Because of them, it has intensified. Emily Bazelon, Kevin Honeycutt, Penny Kittle, and Dave Burgess have all been wonderful at various points over the summer.

Finally, I do take some credit–from the reflections I’ve forced myself to have:

  • Writing this blog forces me to pull my thoughts together. Because of it, I have proposed ideas, thanked necessary people, offered concerns and fixes on education.
  • In getting ready to lead some workshops, I’ve been able to question myself: am I really qualified to be leading a group of educators? Each time, after more work and practice and reflection, I’ve come out on the other side of that question with the same answer: YES! I can be a leader.

I also remember that shrug Jordan gave (I think it was against the Trailblazers in one of his six championships) to the announcers when the man just couldn’t miss. He was having straight-up fun. And so am I. In my spare time, I want to get on Twitter. I want to read and write. I want to plan for my students. I want to get another presentation ready.

An athlete knows he’s in the zone because he never wants it to stop.

Neither do I.

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