For Teachers: Thoughts From “Kitty Hawk”


My friend @RyanSethJones recently moved back to Nashville and we went and had lunch to catch up.  Almost a decade ago, Seth and I co-taught some classes for a few years at my school, USN; he picked up some part-time work with us while he was pursuing his Master’s Degree across the street at Vanderbilt.  Since then, he’s earned his Doctorate (also from Vandy) and spent some time working at N.C. State.  The strong siren call of the Nashville area was too much to resist, and he’s started working at my graduate school alma mater M.T.S.U. this year.  It’s good to have him back.

During our lunch Seth made an analogy about my school that has stuck with me.  It’s not his original analogy – one of his mentors at Vandy used it, apparently – but Seth has a way of delivering things with a wisdom and straightforwardness that has always resonated with me.  And this was no different.

“(Your school) is like Kitty Hawk.  The Wright Brothers didn’t try to fly their first airplane in the great plains during tornado season.  They knew if they were successful first in the most optimal of conditions then flying had a chance of working where conditions were harder.”

USN started as Peabody Demonstration School.  This was where Peabody College sent their education students to learn how to teach in the context of an actual K-12 classroom.  It was experimental, progressive, and cutting-edge.  When that model went out of style in the 1970s (and when Vanderbilt engulfed Peabody to make it their education department) the school became (the completely independent) University School of Nashville and, from all accounts, was in survival mode for a few years.

In the 13 years that I’ve been at USN, we have slowly shifted towards a 21st Century Demonstration School model once again.  We have a wealth of resources, tremendous connections in the educational community, a good reputation in the national and international community, and the ideal qualities to succeed (excellent teachers, administrative support and trust, parental involvement, small class sizes, really smart kids, reasonable diversity for the type of school we are, a commitment to improving all of these areas even more, etc).  We try some really interesting things at USN.  The Malone School Online Network, The E.E. Ford Grant Initiative, and The Educators’ Cooperative are just a few examples.

In my little corner (7th grade Pre-Algebra), I’ve tried to do some interesting things, too. I teach a novel in my math class.  I have a Sports Analytics curriculum for students.  I have a challenge curriculum for gifted middle school students (Fractals for 12 year olds, anyone?)  Heck, I dropped my textbook and just use this website as our whole course of study in 7th grade math.

I have good intentions.  I have always wanted to share this material I’ve made for free to the wider educational community.  I’m happy that a number of teachers have used this stuff and found it helpful.

Here’s what was missing though:  The acknowledgement that I am implementing these initiatives in the educational version of Kitty Hawk.  I mean…I knew that.  But I guess I didn’t know or understand the extent to which all of the educational community outside of my school is basically Kansas in May .  Not like my Kitty Hawk, and not at all suitable for “flying.”

This stuff I’ve created has worked wonderfully at my school.  I’m glad.  And I’m happy I’ve been able to share it with as many people as I have been able to share it with.

It is time for next steps though.  Seth and I are going to start this year with some research-based stuff here at “Kitty Hawk”, and I promise to share the results once we’ve got it figured out.  Some of it revolves around the Probability unit that I’m really proud of — but willing to rethink and retool.  Some of it revolves around teacher feedback systems.  We’ll dream up more initiatives later, I’m certain.

And I need your help, #MTBoS, if you’re willing.  Which of these sounds most helpful?  Or is there something else you’d like from me?

  •  taking the material on this website and figuring out how to make it withstand a tropical-strength hurricane as opposed to the ideal conditions of Kitty Hawk.  This may mean minor modifications or a complete overhaul.


  • taking other peoples ideas and implementing them here in “Kitty Hawk”.  I’m in the ideal position to try out new ideas and see how they work in the math classroom.  Success here is no guarantee they will work elsewhere. But I can pretty much guarantee that if they don’t work here, they’re not working anywhere.  Does anyone have something they want to try but don’t know how to make it work in their own environment?  Let’s talk.  (Note:  I only teach Pre-Algebra.  But if you have ideas outside of that realm I’d still love to hear from you and see what we might imagine together.  I can’t promise anything, but I may be able to recruit a fellow teacher to your cause).


  • keep sharing my resources, but blog about them more so everyone can hear more details about implementation, specifics about ups and downs, etc.  Basically what I’ve been doing but with more of a blogging presence to help teachers see how this stuff is used here at USN, and help us imagine together how they might be used away from here.



Neither Wilbur nor Orville.

This “Kitty Hawk” metaphor might imply that I think I’m the educational equivalent of one of the Wright Brothers.  Even if I did think that (I don’t) that would be for someone else to say.

What I am really trying to avoid is the “Born on third base but thinks he hit a triple” mentality.  I’m on third base, no doubt;  however the heck I got here I just want to help other teachers (and consequently other students) get to third base…or, you know, why don’t we all just try to score while we’re at it?



If you’d like to be in touch, please comment below or use this form:








2 thoughts on “For Teachers: Thoughts From “Kitty Hawk”

  1. Ryan Seth Jones

    Joel, I loved the conversation, and appreciate your reflection on the particular context you are teaching in. Just to clarify my intent with the metaphor….

    1) The metaphor, to me, has nothing to do with the kids in your class. I think that kids in the most challenging circumstances are tremendously talented, smart, interesting, and creative. So, I did not mean to say that you have “ideal students”, but rather that the structures, resources, opportunities, privileges, etc. in your school make for a place where “flying” is supported. As a design researcher (me), I have to think hard about the kinds of conditions that are in place when I’m thinking about how to design supports for kids to “fly”, so that’s where my comment came from….just trying to theorize the kind of place you and I will be studying this year and what we think we can learn from it. Then, moving to the tornado season is not a matter of moving to “more challenging students”, but a more challenging context for supporting those (very talented) students to “fly.” I don’t think you took me the wrong way, but I wanted to be very clear to outside readers.
    2) I did not mean to suggest in any way that working at “Kitty Hawk” minimizes the work you do. I think you are a tremendously thoughtful, caring, and innovative teacher that has had an amazing impact of hundreds of students (thousands by now? you are pretty old). I am also excited that you are thinking hard about how to support children to thrive outside of your particular context.

    Hopefully this clears up my intent for your readers.

    1. jbezaire Post author

      Ha! I AM pretty old. It’s gotta be thousands.

      Thanks for clarifying. I took your comments exactly as intended (though I’m glad you clarified for my readers’ sake), but your insights have always had a way to spur me into deeper thinking about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Thanks even more for that.


Talk Back To The Teacher Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s