By Todd R. Nelson • Feb 20th, 2018
The zamboni factor is more than some sleight of hand that gives profound meaning to ordinary tasks. The power isn’t just in the tool. I think it signifies the meaning we seek in tasks, the link between good work and good works: taking pride in the work we do, and being offered work that feels valued.
By Todd R. Nelson • Dec 1st, 2017
Stewardship of a learning community requires intimate knowledge of its climate and soil. Schooling, like farming, is an intensely local enterprise. My favorite poet and farmer is Wendell Berry of Eastern Kentucky. “The particular farm,” he writes, “must not be treated as any farm.... Farming by the measure of... the nature of the particular place means that farmers must tend farms that they know and love, farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods that they know and love, in the company of neighbors that they know and love. . . . The inability to distinguish between a farm and any farm is a condition predisposing to abuse.” When I first read these thoughts I was struck by how parallel they are with the qualities of robust schools. It emphasizes the strength of progressive schooling to substitute the word “school” for “farm” in these sentences.
By Todd R. Nelson • Dec 1st, 2017
Mama, can you help me dress all in black today?
Are you doing a secret dark matter costume again?
I account for most of the known universe,
From the Big Bang to lunch recess—
By Todd R. Nelson • Oct 1st, 2017
As I was young and easy, my childhood was ruined by beautiful writing and high-minded values and verbal expression, and I blame it all on poetry. For years, my parents left this dangerous, unstable writing lying around the house in plain sight. It was, alas, the era before parent advisory labels. Mom and dad left poems where unsuspecting children could find them. For birthday cards, there were poetic quotes. For the solution to every torment, from mere doldrums of summer to heartbreak and adolescent angst, there were quotes from poems.
By Todd R. Nelson • May 29th, 2017
I can still recall it with clarity and joy: the sunny day in May of seventh grade that altered my life. Personal history for me is divided between Before or After Green Man Day—the day when Jimmy Butler and I painted our faces green at the 7th grade Arts festival. What were we thinking? What could possibly have inspired us? Who knows. But it did. First of all, it was an astoundingly vibrant and unusual day of school...
By Todd R. Nelson • May 8th, 2017
When he was poet laureate, Billy Collins created “Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry.” It’s an anthology of “contemporary poems,” enough for one on each school day (with a few to spare, in our case). His goal was to freshen up the perception of poetry by collecting new voices and varied topics, have poems simply read aloud without comment at the beginning of a school day. No point in extracting a confession from them as to deep inner meaning, but just let the topics and words and nuanced feelings flow over us, a trickledown effect of fresh words. Listen to the sound of myriad voices. Tune into perspectives and insights that prose (or texting or Facebook or Snapchat) does not give us.
By Todd R. Nelson • Aug 1st, 2016
Everyone can think of a favorite tree stump, of counting rings for the first time; of learning what those rings meant. I like thinking backwards from the spruce stump out front. When I was born, its diameter was perhaps twelve inches. When my grandmother was born, the same year the Wright brothers flew their plane, it would have been a lanky sapling. Now in its final round of storytelling, its rings remind me of the stories trees tell us, and how we use trees to talk about ourselves.
I once gathered some students to talk about a poem by Howard Nemerov: “Trees.” They joined the poet in their connection to trees.
By Todd R. Nelson • Jul 1st, 2016
Like every teacher, I stand on the shoulders of my own teachers. I think upon them often, not just during Teacher Appreciation Week. In fact, mid-year, end of year, start of year—all seem like appropriate times to become reacquainted with these stirring words. And my thoughts extend beyond my own immediate school colleagues to the corps of men and women everywhere doing important and much needed work with our society’s children. So I’ll share my all-time favorite charge to the faculty, written for the start of a new school year, but appropriate every day of the school year. I always find new energy from it. Perhaps it will have the same effect on you, whether you are a teacher, a student, or a parent of a student. We are all at least two of these three. It’s written by Jonathan Slater, a school head with whom I worked a while back, and his remarks to the faculty at the Start of School.
By Todd R. Nelson • May 1st, 2016
I’m fond of saying in response to the drumbeat for 21st century skills in today’s curriculum that I’d rather not live in that century absent a significant number of the 19th century intellectual skills. Who do we think we are, to abandon the wisdom of the ages for a few course credits of superficial software facility and the ever-ready digital devices? I think Frank Bruni has it right: “Education is about growing bolder and larger. It’s about expansion, and that can’t happen if there’s too strong an urge and a push to contract the ground it covers, to ease the passage across it, to pretty up the horizon.”
By Todd R. Nelson • Apr 1st, 2016
Books by this author
Testing a String Theory
To Eaton’s Boatyard…and beyond!
Joey Spinazola had been saving string—a lot of string. He started in the summer when a character from his favorite television program, Family Matters, gave …