About Ryan Winn

Greetings from Memphis, TN! I teach middle school mathematics at KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, a growing 5-8 KIPP school. This is my fourth year in the classroom here in Memphis, where I started as a Teach For America corps member. I am originally from Massachusetts (Go Pats!) but attended The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and studied Political Science. Connect with me on Twitter @RyanDWinn.

What Charters and Public Schools Can Learn From Each Other


During my Thanksgiving break, I had the chance to spend the morning in the classroom of my college roommate. On the surface, our teaching experiences couldn’t be more different.  I teach math at a growing charter school in North Memphis where nearly 100% of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch. My friend Chris teaches reading in suburban Massachusetts at a traditional public middle school with a strong history of academic achievement.

Spending some time with Chris and his students was an eye-opening experience.  It reminded me a lot of my own time in middle school (just two towns over from the school I was observing). Students had a lot of freedom, high academic expectations, and systems were a lot more relaxed than my own experience. After getting over the shock of students chatting in homeroom, leaving their seats to sharpen pencils when needed, and 6th graders transitioning freely, I had the chance to chat with another member of Chris’ team who had tons of questions about how my school was run.

It hit me at that moment that these two school models rarely, if ever, talk to one another.  Whether it is mistrust or animosity, these two constituencies of dedicated public educators never come together to share what they have learned. As classes passed, and I got a chance to view more classrooms, the reality struck me: both traditional public schools and charters have a lot to share with each other about how to best serve kids.

For example, I was stunned with the level of integration I observed between material presented in the classroom and the online resources teachers were leveraging so students could continue to learn at home. Similarly, I realized that the intervention models we use at my school as well as urgency-driving practices could easily be shared to maximize instructional time.

The opportunities for collaboration are numerous and underlie the fact that a forum needs to exist in order for educators, regardless of their school affiliation, to share what works for them in the classroom. Creating the time and space for this level of collaboration is vital to bridging the gap between charters and traditional public schools as well as improving educational outcomes for all kids.

By |December 15th, 2014|General Pop|0 Comments|

4 Reasons the Bus Is Not the Best


There is nothing less fun than riding on a bus. It is a unifying principle of the universe that riding on a bus, even a nice bus, is unpleasant. Young or old, nerd or jock, student or teacher, riding on a bus is a fate that should be reserved for those who perpetrated a capital crime and no one else.

As I write this post, I am in hour 4.5 of a 6-hour trip from Memphis to Nashville and back, and I can report that the struggle is real. Here four reasons bus rides are my least favorite parts of my job (despite the awesome field trips they bookend):

  • There Is Never Enough Space

It doesn’t matter whether you are stuck on a school bus or a swanky coach, there is never enough room for all the people to sit comfortably on a bus. Teachers are further squeezed when laden with several bags filled with hot chips, whoopee cushions (not making this up), and other assorted contraband confiscated from students.

  • Sound Carries

These buses get loud with 50 people talking at even a reasonable volume, and few (if any) middle schoolers come equipped with reasonable volume at four hours into a bus ride (to be fair very few adults do either). The noise I am currently experiencing  is an eclectic mix of whatever PG movie is playing on the bus televisions, desperate pleas to charge phones (middle school boys are lost without Instagram access), and cackles that would chill the Joker himself to his very core.

  • Photographs of You Sleeping

Now to the reason that all of those phones are dead in the first place: there is nothing (and I mean NOTHING) more exciting to students than when adults fall asleep in front of them. This trip is no exception. I’m pretty sure that Ellen’s Oscar selfie has nothing on the attention the snapshot below got on our Nashville trip to the State Legislature.  I know that I will be dodging this picture on my Google image search for years to come.


  • Ridiculous Gift Shop Crap

Now I am not so old as not to appreciate the appeal of any opportunity to spend money on nonsensical things that likely originated from an Oriental Trading Catalog.  However, there is nothing worse than being forced to set expectations for the most random, ridiculous, and bizarre collection of crap that my students buy at gift shops. I am truly at a loss as to how any of these things (Chinese Yo-Yos, Harmonicas, Rock Candy, etc.) relate to the Tennessee State Museum of History. Plus, the kids get really ticked off when you inevitably take these new treasures away from them because they are not following directions. On the bright side, it makes me realize that there is a lot of money in the manufacturing of teacher torture devices for gift shops around the country.

Long story short: being on a bus sucks, but it does remind me that I must really believe in these students to endure this cruel form of punishment multiple times a year (shivers in terror thinking about a week-long college trip in May).

What are your favorite or least favorite parts of field trips? Any good stories of your own?

Photo by: Dliban

Five Factors That Have a Huge Impact on Teacher Quality of Life


Teacher quality of life has quickly become a hot button issue as teacher retention at high-performing, “No Excuses” charter schools has taken center stage. Having taught at three very different schools, I have uncovered five factors that can have an impact on teacher quality of life.

1)    Planning Minutes Per Week

Planning time, or lack thereof, can be the difference between getting by until summer break or thriving at a school. Knowing on the front end the number of minutes or periods, as well as any standing responsibilities, gives a lot of insight into how much work you’ll have to take home each night. Specifically, find out about any meetings you have during your planning time, whether or not you need to enter in behavior data, or if your planning periods will be sacrificed when a team member is out sick.

2)    After School and Weekend Responsibilities

School hours are increasing across the board, and it’s not unusual for me to be with students from 7:15am until 5:30-6pm each day. Add on meetings two days a week and Saturday School once a month, and it’s very easy to let a schedule overwhelm you. Clarity around when you are expected to be at school allows you to be more efficient with your hours and work-life balance.

3)    Access to Technology

This year I have rolled out a number of blended learning programs to help build my students conceptual math skills. I am only able to do this because I know that I have complete access to a set of working Chrome books every day. Knowing exactly what sort of tech access you have allows you to get creative with your lessons and ensures that you don’t get left with out-of-date technology.

4)    Substitute Policy

What happens when someone is sick? Teachers get sick, relatives go to the hospital, and once in a while, people will have to miss a day of school.  Does your school have a stable of substitutes? Will other teachers have to cover your class? In my experience, teachers are an incredibly selfless group, but people will inevitably be out of work. It is vital that schools have a clear plan to cover absences that are humane for teachers and ensure that students are still learning.

5)    How Discipline Works

My mantra for my friends who are considering new schools is: what is their discipline policy; explain it in two sentences. With all of the options for how student behavior is managed, it’s critical to learn what happens to students who are not meeting expectations, when they are removed from the classroom, and what absolute deal breakers are for your school building.

What are your deal breakers? What do you look for in a school to support quality of life for teachers?

Teach For America Alum or Middle School Teacher?

(Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan)

(Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan)

I was having dinner recently with a few other teachers who are all TFA corps members or alumni, and we hit on an interesting topic: how do you identify yourself when people ask what you do?

For me, that question really hit home. When I accepted my offer to join Teach For America in Memphis almost three years ago, I was thrilled to join such a prestigious organization. The first few times I flew home to New England for Christmas and then again during the summer, I definitely wore a TFA t-shirt on the plane. I was subconsciously begging to be asked what I was doing with my life, and when the question inevitably came, it went something like this:

The 5 Types of Snow Days

(Photo credit: ecksunderscore)

(Photo credit: ecksunderscore)

Despite the calendar telling me that it is March and that next week is in fact spring break, I spent the majority of this past week out of school for what Memphis refers to as “snow days.” (I grew up in the Northeast, where one inch of ice doesn’t make for a snow day, let alone three of them.) All that time off got me thinking about the five types of snow days I have experienced as a teacher and the range of emotions they conjure:

1) The Wake and Watch: School is cancelled the morning of. I’ve already gone through a night of hoping, praying, and snow dancing, not to mention getting up at 5 a.m. to huddle with my laptop, waiting with bated breath for the name of my district to flit across my Twitter feed. By far the most common snow day, the Wake and Watch is wonderful but entails a lot of stress and prevents you from planning much of anything.

Inspiring Civic Duty in the Classroom


(Photo credit: Robert Neff)

I grew up watching way too much “West Wing,” and as a result, my theory of change was simple: find a candidate you can believe in – hopefully in a town meeting in New England –  work your butt off to get that candidate elected, work for him or her, and change the world. So that’s what I did in college. I worked on campaigns, advocated, donated, and, of course, voted every chance I got. My political idealism came under fire in my third year of college when, even after getting some great people elected, I saw little in the way of change. This lack of movement is what inspired me to go out and teach, to confront one of the issues undermining the promise of our nation directly rather than talking around it. However – as you may have guessed – I still vote every chance I get.

So on a recent blustering, rainy, and altogether miserable Thursday evening, I trudged out to the polls to cast my ballot in favor of ensuring that nearly 6,000 Memphis kids had access to pre-kindgergarten (and, obviously, to get my “I Voted” sticker for my collection on my corkboard). The benefits of pre-K are absolutely clear: it improves educational outcomes for all students, especially those coming from low-income backgrounds, and that Thursday’s effort was the second attempt in two years to ensure educational access to all of Memphis’ four-year-olds.

Bringing Grit Into Your Classroom

If you examine the recent work on what makes students successful, one word pops up over and over again: grit. The concept that the most successful students aren’t those with the highest IQs but instead are those who react positively and persist in the face of challenges isn’t a new one. It is, however, incredibly popular right now. Between Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk above and Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, the word “grit” has been thrown around a lot in the education conversation.

It makes sense: my students are going to face a number of challenges on the road to and through college. Equipping them with the ability to productively deal with those obstacles will give them a huge advantage. But before you run off and toss the word “grit” into your classroom vision, I have a few tips on helping to make grit (an admittedly vague concept at times) more tangible for you and your students.

By |November 11th, 2013|Your Best Self|1 Comment|

3 Prompts To Keep Your Students On Task After A Quiz


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quiz days are one of my favorite things about teaching. My students get a chance to show what they know, I get a fresh batch of data to track, and most importantly my students get to respond to one of my patented post-quiz writing prompts. These prompts are something I borrowed from a TFA video, however, mine always have a twist designed to increased student engagement and minimize distractions to the students who are still being assessed.

Especially with the specter of state testing looming large (or already upon us) it can be easy to forget how awesome and hilarious your students really are. Writing prompts are one way that I build in space for my students to bring more of themselves into my math classroom, and they help me to get to know my students more fully as people. The fact that they are a lot of fun to respond to doesn’t hurt either.

Prompt #1: Use the lines below to write to Mr. Winn. You can write about anything you’d like. Talk about what songs you’d like Mr. Winn to play during group work time, your family, how you feel about your effort this week, or anything else you would like.

Prompt #2: If you could have any superpower what would it be and why would you choose this power? What would your hero’s name be and what would your costume look like ? Draw a picture in the space below.

Prompt #3: If you had a time machine and could go back in time, who would you want to have dinner with and why? Remember this can be any person living or dead. What would you have to eat?

The prompts listed above are a few of my favorite ways to get to know my students better and engage them in a conversation outside of my content area. What have you done to build relationships with your students? Do you have a favorite prompt?

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