Teaching Opinion

Looking Back at ‘Capturing the Spark’

By David B. Cohen — September 18, 2017 3 min read
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This will be the second-to-last post for me here at the Capturing the Spark blog on EdWeek Teacher. It’s been a wonderful experience and opportunity, and as I conclude this chapter of my blogging life, I want to take a moment to look back at some posts that I hope will encapsulate what this blog was all about. In the final post, coming soon after this one, I’ll look ahead, sharing some hopes for the future in education and some information about where to find my writing in the future. [Update: here’s the link to the final post]

Before digging into some past posts, I want to thank the editors and staff at Education Week, not only for past opportunities, but also for holding the door open for future contributions as well. I’ve always appreciated the encouragement and positive responses, along with the trust extended to me and to other bloggers here. I came aboard knowing that the bar had been set rather high by the likes of my friends Nancy Flanagan (Teacher in a Strange Land) and Anthony Cody (Living in Dialogue), among many others.

My first contributions at EdWeek happened through coordination with the Teacher Leaders Network, a project of the Center for Teaching Quality. The earliest post (I think) was this one: Teaching Secrets: Establishing Your Professional Identity. More than 10 years later, I don’t see anything in that post that I would change. In a way, what stands out from that post is how the advice I offered about being authentic and principled in the workplace is the same advice I’d give about blogging, now that I have years of experience from which to speak. Perhaps the most commented upon piece from those early years was when I put together some ideas from my own prior blog at InterACT, and wrote “No Value Added: The Mismeasurement of Teaching Quality.”

After writing a few stand-alone contributions to EdWeek Teacher, I pitched the idea of “live-blogging” the 2009 conference of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and somehow, I put up 15 blog posts on Live from NBPTS in less than a week. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve aged, or if that experience aged me, but I don’t think I’ve ever matched that rate of writing and posting.

I came on board as a regular EdWeek Teacher blogger a few years ago. Road Trips in Education lasted for about a year, most of which I spent on leave from my teaching job at Palo Alto High School. My time outside the classroom involved visiting over 70 public schools all over California, gathering observations and material for my book, Capturing the Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools. Unlike some similar projects that have focused on the superlatives (best practices, greatest innovations) in schools, I was aiming to uncover some of the supports and conditions that enable teachers and schools to develop and sustain their own version of excellence. I concluded that there are limitations to imitation, and there is value in reinventing the wheel for ourselves, if we choose to. And even those road trips concluded, I had (and still have) plenty to learn about checking my assumptions. This blog post about a musical experience in Jamaica turned out to be one of my favorite posts.

Once the road trips had concluded, I continued blogging, and adopted the current title. If that title suggested to some readers that the focus would be on all that is bright, shiny, and new in education, I hope they came away understanding that what energizes teachers and schools is finding the sparks for themselves, building on their strengths to excel in unique ways. From one blog post to the next, I’ve looked at my own work as a high school English teacher, discussed education policy, and tried to examine teaching in a broader context of American culture. While I appreciate what I’ve learned from bloggers with the discipline to focus more narrowly, I’ve always found it too difficult to tease out and separate the threads for an extended period. I can focus at times on the way I teach Shakespeare, or To Kill a Mockingbird, but those instructional decisions, and even the fact that I have the autonomy to make decisions, are shaped by local and state policies that can help or hurt us. The work never takes place in a vacuum, and so I also used this blog to process some tragic events of national importance, and to raise concerns about the demonstrable threat posed to some of our students’ wellbeing by a presidential administration that is not committed to their health, safety, or equal protection.

Not everyone sees it the same way, but I can’t imagine blogging about education without tying everything together. And with this retrospective concluded, I’ll post here one more time in the near future, trying to tie it all together with a look ahead.

The opinions expressed in Capturing the Spark: Energizing Teaching and Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.