Meditations on a Cogen (No. 9) • Friday, December 17, 2021

During the 2021-22 school year, I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the ninth post in the series.

A fear realized
With COVID cases on the rise, there was a noticeable shift in anxiety levels at my school this week. Every day I’m getting emails informing me that someone from our school has tested positive. I was asked several times to identify students in my class who may have been exposed to COVID based on proximity and where they sit in the room. Attendance has been getting worse by the day and everyone has started worrying about a 10-day shift to remote learning. These growing concerns had everyone on edge and put the cogen at risk. Would my cogen students be able to meet? Would be the cogen be unintentionally sacrificed?

Adding to the fury of this week, we had a “Community Day” on Wednesday. These are days where our school scraps the regular academic schedule and fills the day with events and activities that aim to strengthen the social, emotional, and mental health of the community. I love Community Days, but it meant that I wouldn’t see my students on Wednesday and therefore couldn’t remind them of Thursday’s (yesterday’s) scheduled cogen.

Classes resumed yesterday, and guess what? I forgot to remind them of the cogen. It literally takes 10 seconds to go up to the students during class and ask them about the cogen, but I failed to do this. With remote learning bearing down on us and Community Day throwing my Wednesday reminder routine out of whack, my mind was scattered in a million different places. But given that my current cogen students (the 2nd cohort of the year) are still new relative newbies, I think, deep down, I was also curious if they would remember on their own. I enacted this same experiment with the first cohort, too. Was our cogen routine enough where they would remember to come without a reminder from me?

So, without my reminder, how many students showed up for our regularly-scheduled Thursday cogen?


My greatest cogen-related fear was realized: the students don’t come. One of them was absent, but of the other five students, not one remembered. Yesterday, after 9th period, after I pulled out my snacks and tablecloth, it slowly hit me that I was alone in the room. The silence of that moment was loud. For the first time this year, the cogen felt unimportant. It wasn’t a good feeling. The craziness of the week certainly had something to do with them not being there, but I also blame myself for not being more diligent in reminding them.

In lieu of the void created by their absence, I hung out in my empty room for about 20 minutes and sent the six cogen students an email. In it, I reminded them that Thursday is the day we agreed to meet and that I was eagerly expecting them. Fearing that the cogen is too much for them right now, I asked that they let me know if they are not able to honor the six-week commitment they agreed to. If so, I would hold no grudges if they wanted to back out. I just need to know so that I can try to find replacements.

That was yesterday. Today, in class, I touched base with four of them individually (two were absent), asked if they read my message, and checked in. All of them were gracious in our interactions, humbly apologizing for not showing up at our scheduled time yesterday. They all still wanted to be part of the cogen. Despite it being Friday, I asked if they had 10-15 minutes to spare after school today. I wanted to hold a quick cogen to revisit some of what we discussed last week and make plans for action. All four students said they could make it.

An improvised cogen
Only three students were present at last week’s cogen, so earlier this week I found the other three students after class and briefed them on what we discussed. We strategized around the weekly DeltaMath assignments and planned to implement a class-wide goal for completion that would, if reached, include an incentive.

When the students arrived after school today, I didn’t bother getting out the snacks or setting up our table. I figured we would stand. Right before we started, one of them let me know that he had to pick up his little brother and couldn’t stay. I was down to three students. Here’s what we discussed:

  • DeltaMath leaders. I asked them if they would be alright being my “DeltaMath leaders” and announcing/revealing the completion percentage for the class a few times a week and advocating for its completion. We said that Mondays would be the critical day because that percentage would reflect how much of the Delta was done on time; it would determine if we met our goal. It made sense for us to start this after the upcoming Winter Break. I asked the students to begin thinking of ways they’d like to own this aspect of our class. One student referenced an encouraging routine her math teacher used two years ago to help students complete it.
  • DeltaMath due date. A non-cogen student asked me in a Friday Letter this week if I could move the due date for the DeltaMath assignments from Friday to Sunday. This resonated because the cogen students requested this last week. I informed the cogen today that, starting with the next one, DeltaMath will be due on Sundays at 11:59 p.m. There were smiles all around.
  • Remote cogens. From the looks of it, I infomed the cogen that it’s likely that we’ll go remote in the coming weeks. I asked if they would be able to continue to meet because, if we go remote — even temporarily — I’ll need their feedback more than ever. The students nodded assuredly. One said, “I’ll be at home with nothing to do, so definitely.”
  • An adjusted meeting day. Next week Thursday is the last day before Winter Break and we won’t be able to meet. One of the students asked if we could meet another day instead. His proactive stance to us meeting was reassuring given the emptiness I experienced yesterday after school. I proposed after school on Wednesday of next week. Everyone agreed.

Lingering thoughts
This week’s cogen almost didn’t happen. It was a last-minute decision to ask the students to meet today after their no-show yesterday, but I’m glad I did. The urge to get us together on limb was driven, I think, by my trepidation around the cogen becoming insignificant and fizzling out during these crazy times. The dialogue looked different today, but I’ll sacrifice that for the continuity it gave us.

All this reminds me of how hard it will be to preserve and protect the cogen during any school year, let alone one seated in the middle of a pandemic. There are many aspects of formal schooling that make cogens impractical and illogical. Maybe that’s why most teachers I know don’t do them; navigating these challenges is hard. I hope I can maintain.

As I continue to have cogens with my students this year, an honest, yet unsettling concern has begun taking residence in my mind: are the improvements we’ve made this year meaningful? In thinking about things like DeltaMath and tutoring protocols, have our changes been largely cosmetic? Would they have found their way into my practice even if I wasn’t holding a weekly cogen? These questions have started nawing at me. They are gently pushing me to move beyond my students discussing change with me and instead being the change during class. Perhaps this is why I’m pushing my cogen to take ownership of our new DeltaMath initiative.


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