With the state testing and school year winding down, I wanted to reflect upon how things are going. Teachers are notorious for their “armchair quarterbacking” skills. “If the principal had only done this, or had the curriculum team done this…” You know what I am talking about. How many missed opportunities for change did you allow to fly by? How many second chances did you get to make an impact? More important, how many second chances did you grant someone to make an impact?
As I reflect upon this year in my new position, I am keeping mental notes of the successes and challenges I need to improve upon for the next year. However, I am reflecting upon the opportunities I had and judging whether or not I was able to capitalize upon them. I am thankful to take up the many challenges this year, both personally and professionally. Moving into a new house, taking on a new job, having my parents move in with my family, driving a textbook review and purchase for elementary schools, co-leading #EdCampSTL (made especially difficult on the day of when I was sick), facilitating a design thinking challenge, continuing work on my doctorate, being a husband, a dad, a son, a brother, an uncle, a colleague, a teacher…being a friend…Seems overwhelming when looking at these roles, but those things mean nothing, unless I have invested myself wholly into those roles to make a difference in the lives of those folks I encounter.
I cannot be the same person I was as a 20-year old college kid. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care for that person. I cannot be the same teacher I was in 1999, fresh out of college. My methods are obsolete. I am not the same person Julie Stafford married on November 12, 2005. I have evolved. I have changed (mostly for the better). We cannot be stagnant in our development and hope everyone conforms to us. Instead, we need to be the agents of change in the world. For me, this starts as an educator. So I ask the following of you as teachers and school leaders:
“How are you being the change in your school or district?”
Leave me some comments and let’s continue the conversation.
George Couros’ post from yesterday about finding problems and creating solutions has me thinking about professional development this morning. Far too often, PD is a prescribed “sit and get” lecture with minimal interaction. I have been guilty of facilitating this style of PD, but what if this changed?
Couros suggested asking a question like, “What are some practices in education which need to change?” When answers are provided in advance, utilize those answers to drive towards solutions in the general session. Waiting for solutions to happen without taking action is akin to waiting for money to grow on trees. It will not happen.
So, what about PD? The same principle applies here. What if teachers are allowed to identify their weaknesses and then work together to drive solutions? By interacting and engaging with one another, they initiate the change which is desperately needed. Within my district, this could be what is needed to empower teachers to take back control from the “one-size fits all” approach to PD and growth. I also see this improving the perception of what curriculum is and what curriculum can become with this mindset.
For the past 18 years, I have worked in the St. Louis Public Schools. During that time, there have been 5 social studies curriculum facilitators/specialists. I am the 6th one during that time. Taking on this role, is not one in which I would classify as a dream position. Nobody I have ever met in education aspires to be the curriculum specialist for the district. My guess is that the position really does not have any real “power,” it is a 12-month position, and does not pay much more than being in the classroom. Please hear me out when I say that the previously mentioned list is not a litany of complaints. Those are just the facts. What this job does offer is influence.
Influence is often overlooked by those in leadership roles. A positive influence is able to generate a culture which is open to experimentation in methodology. A negative influence can cloud the culture of an organization or group of teachers to merely thrive on the concept of survival. I for one, never thrived under threat. If anything, the development of deep interpersonal relationships with students and colleagues afforded me the opportunity to grow as a professional. When teachers sit alone in isolation, or commiserate in negativity, there can be no growth.
Having the opportunity to lead professional development allows teachers the ability to develop networks with other teachers to seek out improvement. Unfortunately, many teachers are fearful of the judgement of their peers. While not unfounded, how sad is it that adults who tell children to not be bullies and treat everyone with respect, become the very thing they advocate against? The reluctance to improve. The familiarity of the known. These are the zones of comfort teachers need to break out of.
Christopher Emdin in his book, “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education,” said the following: ” The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company–it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.” This statement is everything. We are a huge influence not only on the students, but also on where we go together as colleagues in this journey called education. We control what happens in our classrooms in many ways, but we also need to control who we surround ourselves with.
Build a positive network of support. Reach out to people who will build you up instead of tearing down others. Be the person who influences positive energy and attention into the work of your school.
For the past 6 months, I have been involved in the planning and leading of #EdCampSTL with the ConnectED Learning STL. ConnectED Learning is a 501(c)(3) organization which hosts and promotes free learning opportunities for educators from around the St. Louis region. Every year, the big event is EdCamp. The best way I can explain EdCamp is that is a “conference about nothing.” Educators come and sign up to facilitate sessions on topics or issues they are passionate about. For example, there were sessions on Makerspaces, Bloxels, motivating the unmotivated, improving data teams, Google Expeditions, bringing empathy to leadership and even using WordPress in classes. Over 450 people gave up their Saturday to learn and network. Urban, rural, suburban, black, white, Christian, and Muslim educators came for one purpose…Improve the teaching and learning happening in their schools.
Here are my takeaways from this event:
- Surround yourself with an All-Star Team. I say this as a member of the leadership team and as an educator. This event is not possible without the guidance of Chris McGee, Bob Dillon, Manual Herrera, Julie Szaj, Chuck Baker, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lamb, Steven Shaw, JaNekka Hutchinson, Dorean Dow, Danielle Zuroweste, Kristen Wellinghoff and so many others. Communication plans don’t happen without the guidance of Samuel Fishburne and Cody Collier. Other behind the scenes folks include Debbie Fucoloro, Christine Ruder, Melissa Hellwig, Chris Campbell, Dino Kiveric, Kat Korte, Julie Tiemeyer, Erin Whalen, Colleen Skiles, Erin Whalen, Matt Weld, Kathleen Dwyer, Lance McLard, Matt Geringer, Ryan Boeckman, Drew McAllister, Michael Dragoni, Emanuel Young and countless student volunteers. Connected Learning STL Board Members deserving of praise include Amy Peach, Jason Kelly, Cathy Bear, and Brenda Watt. These passionate educators believe in the mission of EdCamp and are willing to dedicate their time and energy in sharing best practices with so many other educators. This passion is contagious and what has rejuvenated my passion for education. Besides, it is not everyday a teacher is able to surround themselves with genius and these men and women are my educational heroes. (I apologize if anybody was omitted, as there are so many folks who make this event happen.)
- Take risks and get out of your comfort zone. The first EdCamp I attended in person was at Grand Center Arts Academy in 2015. I learned about things like Kahoot, Quizizz, ZipGrade, Plickers, and other Web 2.0 tools/apps. These were things unknown in my school. This was foreign territory for a school which banned phones from the classroom. Early on in this experience, you start talking to people, exchanging ideas and networking with folks via Twitter. The conversations continue and the thoughts of the day continue to grow. EdCamp merely plants seeds in learners who are willing to take calculated risks in their professional learning. For school districts looking for innovative practices, imagine having your professional development sessions in the same style as EdCamp. While EdCamp is not innovative in and of itself, the thought processes and practices which come out of these sessions will drive your innovation. All it takes is someone to take the risk and facilitate this movement.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Honest conversation is the hallmark of a great experience. My first session on Saturday involved attending a packed session in which teachers discussing issues of race and privilege in the classroom. Conversations like this and employing empathy are conversations that we overlook far too often in our schools. Confronting our our biases is needed now more than ever, especially if as a teacher you work in a predominately white institution. We need to confront why we feel or believe certain things, while also uplifting all of our students to be compassionate and caring individuals of all humanity.
- Being selfish is OK, when it comes to your professional growth. Very rarely do teachers get to experience anything for “FREE,” let alone of a professional development aspect. EdCampSTL works to ensure the experience is largely free for those who attend. Breakfast and lunch is provided at no cost. Prizes and resources are offered at no cost. You may buy a t-shirt, but they are sold at cost. Also, you have the ability to choose the sessions you want to attend. Nobody is forcing you to sit down for hours at a time and keep track of your attendance. If you don’t like a session, use your feet and find a place which will feed your brain. If you didn’t learn anything, that is your fault, because you control the learning.
- Your knowledge means nothing if you keep it to yourself. Too many teachers, schools and districts exist in silos. Information is not shared. School culture stifles innovation when we do not network with others and ask the simple question, “Why can’t we do this here?” I have asked that question so much as of late and will continue to push the envelope on this issue. Reading authors like Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink, George Couros and others has pushed my thinking in a whole new direction in addition to the EdCamps themselves. As teachers, we need to familiarize ourselves with the world of business and organizational theory. When we isolate ourselves and keep doing the same thing for 10 years, we become obsolete as practitioners. The need to constantly evolve and stretch what is possible in our schools is desperately needed.
For me, EdCamp allows me to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” That means disrupting stagnant processes. It means having courageous conversations and incorporating voices which are not included…mainly the voices of students. They are the voices we need to hear from. If they are not learning, we need to take a look at ourselves and figure out how to best reach them. EdCamp helps facilitate those connections.
- Observe and Support staff at Carnahan
- Participate in Carnahan Social Studies PLC
- Meet with Gateway Middle AIC to discuss student interventions.
- Respond to emails
- Update course descriptions and placement in catalogue.
- Start preparing items in my cube to move to a different cube.
Always remember and embrace this! I was witness to this today. Great relationships and trust existed in the classroom. Makes all the difference in the world.
- Observation at Collegiate
- Conversation with Collegiate Principal
- Support at Collegiate for BreakOutEDU
- Conversation with Dr. Edwards
- Meeting with Curriculum Team members
- Loaded and tracked Benchmark questions
- Placed a supply order
- Spoke with tech representative
- Conversation with Katie Lamb on student programs
Final thought for the day…