Driving home today, I had a quirky thought about what to do with my next notebook.
This came about because I got a compliment today on my Extra Large Moleskine calendar notebook that I'm not really using as a calendar, but instead, as an expensive composition notebook.
I forget what my co-worker said, but she complimented the look of my black notebook with the elastic strap holding it shut.
Did she say it was sophisticated?
I can't remember.
I'm definitely not someone you would consider 'sophisticated.'
I had the idea to transform my next notebook, which will probably be an inexpensive composition notebook, into something a bit more functional, something that mimics the Moleskine-style notebook.
I'll staple a strip of elastic to the back cover so I can keep the notebook shut, and I'll tape card stock on the back cover to create a pocket to keep important papers.
But that's not why I'm writing. At this point, I assume you'll think I'm obsessed with the idea of the teacher notebook.
You're not far off.
Once I finish one notebook, I'm quickly off to the next one. It feels like I've accomplished something when I write on the last page of any notebook. Then, I stack it on top of my other notebooks in my cabinet and move on to the next.
If this is what you do, too, we need to stop this.
As an elective teacher, I switch classes every nine to ten weeks. I teach four different quarters. This is nice because it gives me a chance to refresh with each quarter. If I didn't like how I'm running the show, I get to hit the reset button.
Because of this, I get to teach similar concepts multiple times a year. What I realize is, I don't usually teach a concept the same way twice. I'm always mixing it up.
Sometimes I mix it up so much, I forget that I've done some amazing things in the past.
I mix it up so much, that it almost feels like I'm reinventing the wheel. Constantly.
This can be exhausting, and this quarter I finally looked at myself and said, "Stop doing this!"
It was time to reach for my past notebooks. I needed to look through all my archives to see what I had done in the past that I really liked, or take what didn't work quite well, and revamp it.
Our reflections, lessons, notes in those notebooks are much like the stories/novels a writer creates. The best advice a writer will give after they finish a story or novel is to put it away for the time being.
Then, after a certain length of time, the writer will look over the work again, with fresh eyes, and begin to edit it.
I needed to look through my old notebooks with fresh eyes.
Some of the those good ideas might not have been executed very well the first time, or some of those good ideas were great ideas, and then we forgot about them...and didn't do them the next year...
Let's not do this again.
This quarter, I sat down with my stack of notebooks, and although I didn't go through them with a fine-toothed comb, I flipped through them and waited to see if something caught my eye.
Something did: The Writing Marathon. And I used it this week.
My goal this quarter is to work smarter, not harder, with my planning. One of the best tools I have is myself. I've been through countless PD seddions. We all have. Some of the ideas handed out during those meetings are actually quite beneficial...but then we forget about them, don't have time to implement them at that moment, put them away for a rainy day. It's the same when it comes to ideas discovered on Twitter during edchats and the like.
Although I'll always continue to change things up when it comes to teaching journalism, there are some tried-and-true pages in those notebooks that I have that I need to make sure I revisit.
I may even rewrite some of those ideas into my latest notebook.
Those notebooks are a treasure chest of great ideas, and also, memories of reflection: that worked great, that was terrible, remember when I did that because it was such a trend in education?
I hope to go back through them again before the quarter is over and find another juicy tidbit of teaching excellence that I can dust off and reuse.
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, but sometimes...we can be our own best resource.
Notebooks, people. Notebooks.
That is the tried and true system that has worked itself into my teaching. Oh, I've tried other ways, but those ways are not my ways.
The notebook is the only way. But, then, the science of which notebook kicks in, like, now that I know I love using a notebook to plan, sketch, doodle, create, plan, rehash, reflect and plan, the next question is: what kind of notebook?
As a writer of sorts, friends and family are always buying me notebooks. They think a person who journals, notebooks (yes, that's a verb now) and writes wants notebooks as gifts. And although some of these notebooks are very nice, and in full color and are from Italy and have my name on them, I would much rather just choose the notebook I'm going to write in.
I didn't learn to use this tool from a college course, but during student teaching. I did not learn to use a notebook from my supervisor or mentor teacher while student teaching, it just made sense.
Like, "I'm going to put everything and anything about teaching in this one notebook to keep me organized. Ideas, plans, quotes, you name it."
And I carried that half-sized, black, three-subject spiral notebook around with me everywhere.
It was my bible containing a litany of ideas.
I still have it. It's kept with all of my other notebooks.
(If you saw that this was Part One about notebooks, please realize that Part Two deals with what to do with all the old notebooks.)
After that, I continued to find my groove as a teacher. Although I liked the three-subject, spiral bound notebook, I had always wondered about those interesting-looking, but weird, composition notebooks.
I tried using one once before in high school, but gave up. They never made any sense, nor felt right to me. The lines were always wide-ruled. There were only 100 pages. It wasn't very comfortable to write in, since I couldn't just flip the cover open and place it behind while I wrote.
So alien, they were.
I unburied the one I started in high school, tore out any used pages, and decided that I would use it as my teaching notebook.
That's where the magic started. Sure there were lines, but I didn't pay any attention to them.
And I didn't just use black pen and write. I doodled. I used markers. I created calendars. My lesson planning became visual. Funny, even, as I made small notes on the side where stick figures did some talking (those were created usually during staff meetings).
The notebook was my groove, and became synonymous with me. Fellow teachers and principals have teased me about it.
"Put that in your notebook," they've said.
They must believe it's the note-taking reporter in me.
In reality, it's the writer.
In high school and through college, a notebook was always with me. No one to eat with? Just write in the notebook. A weird 15-minute break between classes? Just write in the notebook. In class? Take notes in the notebook. On the phone with someone? Doodle in the notebook. Just feel like writing in a notebook? Write in the notebook.
My creative notebook of choice is the Large Moleskine with no lines. I like the creative freedom it allows.
My teaching notebook of choice is a Mead Composition notebook. Sure, it could be another brand of composition notebook, but let's be serious folks. Mead knows notebooks like Crayola knows crayons.
I know my teaching notebook has to be a composition notebook because I have ventured out and tried new things.
Those large teacher planners with dark green covers?
I look at those pages with boxes on them and can't understand how they work. This is because I have never taught just one or two classes.
As the sole journalism teacher in my building, I can teach up to four completely different classes in one quarter. Four preps needs a heck of a lot more space than those teacher planners allow.
A binder, using those cutesy printouts from Teachers Pay Teachers?
For some reason, only ladies make those for other ladies, and with design skills of my own, I would just create my own.
(Wait. Here's an idea! Do any of you out there need lesson planning sheets designed? Something sleek that doesn't use Comic Sans? I could whip those up -- do you have a font of choice? I'll use it!)
In between composition notebooks, I decided to use one of my notebooks that was a gift. I knew that I wasn't going to use it for creative purposes, so I thought, "Eh, I'll just use it for teaching."
This was before I realized that the composition notebook was the Tesseract of notebooks. Deep inside was an Infinity Stone of planning.
Although it allowed me to still be creative, the notebook my friends got me fell apart. The cover, these super-thick sheets of cardboard, were tearing away from the rest of the book because they had no give. Eventually, I had to turn to my moustache washi tape to salvage it.
My current notebook, the notebook that has helped me realize that Mead Composition notebooks are the only way to go, is -- and you'll laugh -- a Moleskine.
Since I fell in love with my creative Moleskine notebook, I figured that would also be the perfect notebook for teaching. But it needed to be a tad bit larger that the Large Moleskine, so I opted for the Extra Large Moleskine model that's also a planner.
With days of the week on the left side and lined pages on the right.
This is so adult, I thought. How professional. And it even has a strap to keep it closed. And the calendar will totally help me stay organized, I thought. I can plan out what I want to do and write it next to the day I do it.
You should see it.
I'm using it like I use my composition notebooks, by paying no mind to the calendar. I tried. I really did.
But, as an adult needing a calendar, I didn't start using one until Outlook was a part of my professional life -- and now Google Calendar.
I work better with digital calendars -- and if the Internet goes and dies on all of us, that's fine because when that happens, we probably won't need calendars anymore, anyway.
We'll need to learn how to hunt, forage and farm in our backyards.
So, my Extra Large Moleskine simply became an expensive composition notebook. I rue the day when it is finished.
It is simply trying to be something it isn't.
I even helped design and create a planner for our teaching staff this past summer. We're able to get them printed and bound within the district.
We switched from the more traditional seven-period schedule to a block schedule this year. My fellow teacher was dissatisfied with any planners out there and wanted to create her own.
This was a dream. I was helping to create a teacher planner. If I helped design it, I would totally use it, right?
Like the yucky giant green-covered one, it was also limiting to someone who teaches up to four completely different subjects and not the same subject six times. I would need to have at least three of those planners.
This made me sad because it held so much promise. A place for important notes (that I can already place in my composition notebook). A place for important dates (that I already keep in both my Outlook and Google Calendar, with reminders). A place for planning out my week (that I can create with markers and fun colors in my composition notebook).
Trying to use that customized-planner made me realize why I like having a composition notebook as my end-all-be-all: complete and utter customization. On a whim.
If I want to create a chart, calendar, schedule, lesson, drawing, sketch, etc., I have the freedom to create that in my notebook. The notebook becomes whatever it is I need it to become at that moment.
As a teacher, I have so many plates in the fire -- or, wait. I'm spinning so many irons in the air. That's not right either.
The notebook is a transformer.
It's more than meets the eye.
And that's what I need as a teacher because I need to keep all the newspaper stories, yearbook designs, broadcast plans straight, and the composition notebook helps me be the teacher that's more than meets the eye.
It allows me to be Optimus Prime.
Who is The Vade Mecum
Evan Williams is a middle school journalism teacher in Indiana. He advises the student publications: yearbook, magazine, video announcements, broadcast and online news. To find success in the classroom, he uses blended learning with the help of Canvas and Google Apps for Education.