Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Power of Projects

I have been writing for awhile now about my journey in education and sharing my thoughts and experiences. I am by no means and expert and struggle with the term master educator when people sometimes refer to me as such. I prefer the term life long learner. I am always learning new things especially from those new to the profession who have the gift of being shown the latest research in educational practice. It is also nice to see them come into the profession fresh and excited to teach. I am learning to check myself as a veteran teacher in telling them things to avoid and things to try as was done for me. I want to encourage them to try out what they know and see what works for them. I am doing this with a new member of my staff who is new to my department and school. I am also trying to learn from what they are doing and trying out rather than "showing them the ropes." I am also trying to learn from a fellow teacher who is what I could consider to be in the middle of their career. I am hoping to glean from both teachers more about their knowledge and mastery of having students do projects.

Every year when asked what kids will be doing in my class I tell people that we are changing it up from years past because I like to "drive my principal nuts" (he loves this by the way as I know he is watching/listening). This year was no different as I decided to delve into my past as a middle school student and bring back the experience of "shop" class. We started out the year learning about classroom procedures and then a month on the engineering process. After that I gave students a menu of projects they could work on and turned them loose. My expectation is that complete 1 project a month for a total of 3 projects. This is on-top of the 20% time project I have students work on throughout the semester. I was a little nervous in starting this endeavor as I though 1 project a month would be too much. However what I am finding is quite the opposite that 1 project a month may be too little. Also I am finding that when I give students the ability to work not constrained by a set "curriculum" their creativity start to flow a bit more. It is this creativity that I hope to stoke more and see what they may come up with down the road. I will admit I am struggling to keep up with the demand of sending projects to 3d print, vinyl creations to cut out, and feedback to give but I am managing.

In the managing of projects this is where I could use some help. In the past I have had students work on 1 project and all the same project usually through a set curriculum. It was easy for me to manage and students did ok but quickly got bored as they completed the steps ahead of others or were so far behind felt they couldn't catch up. As mentioned before I am the one trying to play catch up but in a presently surprised way. This is where I hope to learn more from our new teachers and those with experience in managing students working on multiple projects. 

Use this link to listen to a podcast version of this blog post.
The music in the podcast is protected under creative commons licensing. Attribution information is below:
Music from https://filmmusic.io
"Fearless First" by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com)
License: CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Assessing in the new age

So I am trying something different this blog post. I am trying out my first Podcast. I was inspired by both my principal and by author and speaker George Couros who recently spoke at a training our district put on as part of our state training day. We were challenged to do something new and innovative in our practice to help inspire kids and let them explore the world around them using the tools that are out there rather than the tools we are familiar with. I have been trying to do this for the majority of my teaching life and have had some successes and some failures which is how it goes. 

Today I will be talking about assessments and highlighting a way to assess kids that I was inspired to try but Author and game designer Jane McGonigal in her book Reality is Broken. This is my first attempt at podcasting so be kind in your feedback.  The format is my unscripted thoughts on the topic and more like a informal presentation I might be giving to a group of teachers. 

A link to the podcast is below:


Link will be inactive after 90 days if anyone knows of a better way to host my podcasts for free I am all ears or if you know of a way to attach an MP3 in blogger I am also all ears. 


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Leadership when your not in charge: Follow like a leader

My first post around leadership when your not in charge was about knowing yourself and how to use that to be a better leader. This post will focus on what the author Clay Scroggins calls self leadership. For those of you reading this as the first post a little summary. I am talking about the book "How to Lead When Your Not In Charge" by Clay Scroggins. This is a position many teachers find themselves in throughout their teaching careers. It is not an easy position to be in as we as teachers often times have a tenuous relationship with our admins.I know for me personally there have been times I have been all in behind my admin and there have been times when I cocked my eyebrow and said HUH? at things being proposed thinking I could do better. This books helps navigate the middle ground of being a follower and a leader and is helpful for those like me who like to lead from within. Ok on to the post.

So we have done some self exploration and figured out who we are. Not an easy thing to do and if you are like me you may be still doing it. I think this will always be something we as teachers do as who we are as teachers changes over time. However that being said it is time to talk about the idea of "Self-leadership". In the book Scroggins shares an adage "I would much rather steer racehorses than carry racehorses." in reference to trying to lead someone who doesn't want to be lead. I often times think of my students. They are eager to do but not necessarily in the direction I want them. As I was working on my admin credentials I experienced this with experienced teachers as well. They often times know what is best and don't like to be told what direction to go, they just want to go. This is when we as teachers, admins, leaders are put in the position of carrying the racehorses as opposed to steering them. I recognize in myself when I am forcing my admin to carry me rather than steer me. What can help with this is Self-Leadership and to me the core of leading from within.

The first principle of Self-Leadership is: Model Followership. This doesn't mean you follow every direction given to a T and not complain? No absolutely not. It is about how you handle yourself when the person in charge makes both good and bad decisions. It is about not diving in to the water cooler talk. It is about standing tall and responding to situations appropriately and respectfully. You want others to see you as a person who doesn't pick people apart and belittles them but more one who is supportive and honest. This can be hard to do at times as it is easy to get sucked in to the water cooler talk; I know I have been there many a time. What I try and do in this situation is to listen and not talk. It doesn't always work but again I am only human. A change I am working on is when I feel like I have to talk; I try more to point out other points of view or encourage those who are complaining to try and understand the reason why. Which leads us to the second principle.

The second principle of Self-Leadership is: Monitor your Heart and Behavior.  This is probably the hardest part of Self-Leadership. Many a time we let our emotions (heart) drive our behavior for good or for bad. I can't count the number of times I made a poor decision based on emotions. The 2 that stick out were deeply rooted in emotion for me. One was bad and one was good but both were based on emotions. I have learned from both of those experiences to always stop when I feel my heart jumping up and telling me to do something. It is important to take a step back and think before you act to make sure you are heading in the right direction. In the book the author talks about 3 questions he asked is his old employees before leaving to help inform the work he would be doing in his new job. These questions are based out of the book "The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter." The questions are:
  1. What did I do over the past few years tat inspired you?
  2. What did I do that frustrated you?
  3.  What do I not know about myself that has become a blind spot?
The questions in and of themselves may not be helpful as a teacher but being reflective is very important. As the author says feedback is always circling around your classroom and school about you. Tapping into that feedback is important to monitoring your heart and behavior as it will help mold your behavior in the future. Also it shows to others that you value feedback and are willing to use it to change. Which leads us to our last principle.

The third and last principle of Self-Leadership is: Make a plan. I have a famous saying (one of many my students and family would say) "Know where you are going before you get there." I came up with this as I was stuck behind a slow drive who was obviously trying to find someplace they didn't know. I remember being very frustrated with this person and found myself yelling at them my quote. Fast forward to the present and I find myself being in the situation of that driver. I had been teaching for a number of years and feeling frustration of not having any direction or knowing what to do. I knew I didn't want to teach in a classroom my whole life so wanted to know the next step. On the recommendation of my admin I got my admin certificate. Upon finishing that I found that I still didn't know where I wanted to go as a leader. That was when I inadvertently did what the Author says is the third principle, I made a plan. To help with this plan there are 3 things one needs to do:
  1. Know where you currently are.
  2. Have a vision for where you want to go.
  3. Develop a discipline and accountability to do what it takes to stay on track.
This is important as it is very hard to follow someone who doesn't know where they are going. I know that for me personally it is all about my plan to help teachers become better teachers or a teacher of teachers. I want to be that person in the district that support teachers in honing their craft to be better what what they do. Which is why I am doing this blog and why I offer to teacher classes, and why I want to be a better leader even though I am not in charge. Someone who knows where they are going whether they are in charge or not is easy to follow.

So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is I want to hear from you about how I am doing. 
  1. What are you enjoying about this blog?
  2. What do I do that frustrates you in regards to this blog?
  3. What might am I seeing or not getting?
  4. What could I do better?
  5. What topics would you like to explore as we continue this journey?
I welcome your feedback and as always Go Forth and Do Great Things!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Leadership when your not in charge: Exploring who you are

I am currently working on reading the book "How to Lead When Your're Not In Charge" by Clay Scroggins. The premise of the book is how to harness your leadership potential and skills even when you are not what the author refers to as "in charge." I can relate to a lot of what he is talking about as it fits with my type of leadership. I tend to want to lead from within a group and help move it in a particular direction rather than be the figure head or standard barer. I have worked for 9 different principles and 3 to 4 directors in my life and I found that I got frustrated from time to time with the direction they were going. Part of that struggle are the lessons I learned as a child, working as a teenager & and college; one always respects their boss (and those over them) and does not criticize them and does what they ask within reason. Once I started in education as a para-educator I started to experience the sometimes contentious relationship between staff and principles & other administrators.

I know that a lot of us teachers out there feel this contentious relationship between admin and ourselves. I know I felt it for years, that us vs. them attitude. Admin is the dark side that can't be trusted and doesn't know or remember what it is like to be in the trenches of the classroom with 25 to 30+ kids a day. One thing I did to help with this was I took the advice of a principle and got my admin credentials a while back. It was one of the best things I ever did for my teaching. I learned a lot about being an admin and what it is like being a principle. I have filled in for both my vice principle and principle as well as other principles within the district I work. I found that those in that job have the same frustrations that we as teachers do in our classroom. Best way to describe it is that they are teachers of teaches not necessarily the "boss" we see them as in a sense. They have a vision just as we do and they have to move it along with a group of people who may have their own vision. However I digress back to the point I started with about my thoughts and lesson from the book mentioned above.

 I sought out this book at first as possibly a humorous read that might have some ideas on how to work with leaders who I don't agree or get along with. However as I get more into the book I am finding that it fits well with my leadership style of leading from within. While I am still reading the book I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned so far regarding leadership when you are not in charge with the hopes of helping you grow that leader inside of you.

One of the first things you need to do is figure out who you are as a person or as the author says your "self-in-relationships". The first step is to analyze your past. To do this you need to look at more than just your past experiences in life. You need to look at where you come from and how your family is as well as where they come from. Explore your social-economic status as well as your ethnicity, gender, and citizenship. The goal is to be able to "see yourself in time" as the author says, see who you are truly. One of the best ways to do this is to create a timeline of 5 highs and lows in your life and list them out chronologically. I did this and found it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I found that as I picked events to put on my timeline I would think of others that overshadowed ones I initially thought of initially and it was very hard to limit myself to just my top five. Which I feel is the point of the exercise to really explore who you are and how your past has shaped you today.

The second part is to explore the people you choose to surround yourself with in life or as the author says your "self-interior". To do this you need to look at who you are associating with both your friends and co-workers. Are they good supportive people who you can count on or are they overly critical of you and everything else. Are they what the Author refers to as toxic people or do they support you as you grow and evolve. I will say I have done this over the past couple of years even before reading this book and it has been helpful. I have found that it is powerful to look at and think about who you surround yourself with. You may find that your list may change over time and people you saw as supportive are not "toxic" and vice versa. That is OK in my opinion as long as your recognize it.

The third part is looking at what they author calls "self-interior". This is who you are as a person and your personality. This we have millions of times when we take those funny online "personality quizzes" on social media or when we do a personality test. I know that after going through my psychology degree I became rather skeptical of personality tests but I am now beginning to see the power in them when trying to figure out my personality. I have come to think of personality as more amoebic in nature than set in stone. I think it shifts and morphs in shape to fit the situation/needs of the situation yet still having a core belief that we pull from. I say this because I am by nature a very introverted person but at work and in some social situations I can be very extroverted, yet when I get home I am exhausted.   

The fourth part is to look at your purpose. For some of us who are more spiritual in nature it may be easier to answer this question. However it is deeper than that as I have found (as I am not overly spiritual in the modern sense). Figuring out your purpose is more about "Why [you are] here?" & "What [you] uniquely contribute to this world?". The author refers to this as your "self-agency". I am still trying to figure this one out on a deeper level but I feel that I am close when I say that I think I am here to help others grow, hence my work on this blog and as a teacher. However I think it might be more than that.

The fifth and last part is to examine your priorities in life and what drives/motivates you or your "self determination".. It is not so much about, as the author says, how you prioritize your life around friends, work, family, etc. It is more about the truths that shape your identity. This could be your spirituality in a sense. I see is as looking at what motivates and drives you to be who you are today. What principles do you use to guide you through life. What are the rules you live by is another way to view this. An example for those you like me who may not be overly religious are "Gibbs rules" from the show NCIS. For those not familiar with the show Gibbs is a grizzled Marine who is a member of the the Navel Criminal Investigative Service who has a set of rules he lives by both personally and professionally.

This is just  taste of the book and I will be adding future posts as I delve deeper into the book to help synthesize what I have learned and hopefully give you examples of how I am using/applying my reading from this book. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the above as well as how you use them to find out more about who you are as a leader.

As always Go forth and do great things!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Summer Vacation

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Yesterday was the last day of school in our district and it is always a bitter sweet time of year for me and for the kids. There is joy in the air because school is out and there is sadness in the air over not seeing friends. There is also fear in the air for some over not having the security of being at school for 6 to 7 hours a day. For me I will miss the kids but am looking forward to some time off and getting away. I am looking forward to getting in the yard as well as retooling my curriculum in addition to the family vacations and conferences. Sharing this with staff at our end of the year party got me thinking that just because summer is here and school is out doesn't mean the learning is done; it is a time for the learning to begin or even continue. It is a time to possibly even apply the learning you did over the year to real life.

Summer slide

As teachers we often time talk to parents about the summer slide. For those not in the know it is what happens to kids learning over the summer. They tend to slide back a bit in skills and ability. It is something we have to account for in the fall when school starts up by reviewing basic skills to bring them back up the level they were at in the spring. It is something that districts struggle with and try to compensate for in many ways. I know I was a kid I would get summer math packets and reading lists every year. I came to loath them over time because summer was my time not teacher time. Now a days we have summer camps which focus on areas like Reading, STEM, math, outdoor skills, etc. There are reading contests, and learning centers open for tutoring. I know for me and my kids there will be some online classwork done to hopefully prevent some slide as well as bolster some of the skills they are behind in. However in a new twist I am going to be joining them this year in taking classes online with them. I want to prevent my summer slide as well. I am not talking about the a-fore mentioned conferences and training's I will be attending. I am talking about taking classes online in what I teach already (programming, 3d design, engineering, Google certification, etc.) so I don't slide in my learning. I have tried this in the past and found it to be helpful and also a good way to model life long learning for my kids. As a start off my journey I thought I would put together a list of resources for teachers, parents, and students who might want to join me in doing some basic skills learning over the summer to hep prevent the summer slide. Below is a list of resources I have found that you can use. This list is by no means complete and I hope that you will add to it.

Resources 

  • STEM

    • www.khanacademy.org/
    • www.hourofcode.com
    • www.codecademy.com/
    • www.instructables.com

  • Google & Microsoft office

  • Reading list

    • "Brain Rules" by John Medina
    • "Social: Why our Brains are Wired to Connect" by Matthew Lieberman
    • "Start. Right. Now." by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, & Jeffrey Zoul
    • "Culturize: Every Student, Every Day, What ever it takes" jimmy Casas
    • Any Fiction book in a genre you like
These are just a few of my quick ideas sits and book teachers can check out to keep their learning sharp. I invite and encourage you to share resources, books, etc. that you know about to grow this list for teachers.

As always: "Go Forth and Do Great Things!"

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Prepping kids for the "Real World"


Credits: pic 1= https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Women_at_work_during_the_First_World_War_Q30804.jpg 
pic 2= https://c1.staticflickr.com/7/6083/6102401113_68b228bb15_b.jpg

The two pictures above represent 2 different career paths that students can take but they represent a topic that has been on my mind for the past couple of years as a teacher, prepping kids for what I refer to as The Real World.

No I am not talking about the MTV reality series but life after/outside of school. For those who don't know I work in the curricular area of CTE (Career and Technical Education) and enjoy what the work I do greatly. I often times refer to my classes as the glue or the reason why students need to know Science, English Language Arts, Additional Languages (my own term since I consider coding to be worth a foreign language credit to graduation), Math, PE, Art, etc. In addition to giving students opportunities to apply their learning in other curricular areas, I also teach is referred to as employ-ability skills or 21st century skills.  
These skills include things like working as a team, problem solving, project management, improvising
These skills include things like working as a team, problem solving, project management, improvising, showing up on time, work ethic, and many more. It is the last one work ethic I have been struggling with over the last few years. Then a recent exchange with colleagues got me wondering how and if we are prepping kids for the real world of work or if the world of work is evolving.

Back when I was in school doing quality work, following directions, and getting things done on time were non-negotiable
. We did the work and if we didn't do a good job or turned it in late we understood the consequences. Now sometimes we were given grace but usually we had to ask for it or let the teacher know things ahead of time. However now a-days it seems that kids expect that they can turn something in late, or redo work that was not to the expectation, or can negotiate different expectations whenever they want. This is not something I usually allow in my class without a good reason and done before assignment is due. Yet it seems this is happening more and more and without students initiating the conversation. In conversations with my colleagues we debate giving test corrections for kids to improve their score or having flexible or no due dates because we are measuring a standard and turning in things on time is not the standard being measured (not a knock against standards based grading).
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I know that there are good intentions in these practices. We want kids to experience success, we want to know they have mastered that standard, kids learn at different paces and ways, and on and on. These are all great reasons but at what cost are they being used?

So my concern is that as kids move through K-12 if we are not putting an emphasis on things like getting things done on time, to standard/Spec, etc. are we really preparing them for life in the real world or has the real world changed to where you can redo things until you get it correct, there is no real time limit, etc.

I know in talking with employers in my biannual meeting I do heart the opposite of what we are doing in education yet I know that is a small subset of employers so I would like to hear from others about this. What are your expectation of people entering into the workforce these days?

I would also like to know how you teach kids employ-ability skills like the ones mentioned in this blog. What ways are you helping to prepare kids for the real world. I look forward to your comments.

As always: "Go Forth & Do Great Things!"

Monday, May 13, 2019

Teacher Mental Health

As we round out another teacher appreciation week I want to thank those of you who are educators out there. Often times it may seem like the work we do is thankless at times but know that we are making a difference. I was reminded of that by a story a colleague shared this week about a student they had who was what I often times call a high energy student. You know the one I am talking about as we all have our names for those students that push us to our limit and back again, and we all have our names for them. I choose the term high energy because that is what I truly see them as having or needing high energy. Although I digress. My co-worker shared with me that they ran into this student at a local fast food establishment and said student was a manager. In their conversation the student tool my colleague that they were sorry for the way they acted and now understand why it was so frustrating working with kids like this student. The former student was now a manager and shared how hard it was to motivate and manage people who didn't want to work or were as I say high energy. It is little stories like these that remind me the pay off in teaching is sometime much farther down the road for us that we may like. However it also brought me to another realization the stress that as teacher are under throughout the day is enormous then you add to that the stress of every day life and it is a wonder you don't see teachers snapping.

How do we as teachers do it? How do we keep from snapping? like the ones you see on TV for "taping" a kid to a chair, kicking a student, cutting their hair while singing the national anthem.
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I know between the stress of kids testing boundaries, grading work, students hounding me to get missing work graded and turned in, on top of dealing with neighborhood stress, stress of severe health issues of loved ones, and I could go on I sometimes worry I might end up on TV. I know what you are going to say; maybe it is time for a break or time to look into doing something less stressful. I know I often times think about that as well but for one like me it is not that easy. I do truly enjoy the work/art/science of teaching. I crave that aha moment when a student gets it. Also taking a break is easier said than done. Often times I get into a discussion with friends over how much time off teachers get and how "lucky" we are. I don't want to get too into this discussion but Il I will say that if you looked at my summer schedule you would wonder why it is called summer vacation. As teachers time off is not always a break but a chance to get caught up on the back log of work, required training, and planning. But after reading an article in the May 2019 issue of Men's Health entitled "My First Mental Health Day" I want to encourage my fellow teachers to change their tune on breaks.

Taking a break from work, stress, life, etc. is essential as hopefully we all know. At some point you will break if you don't have fun or relax.
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However as teachers we don't get or take breaks often enough in my opinion. I know what you all may be saying: "I don't have time", "I have students coming in to work", "I hate taking time off because of writing sub plans", "Work won't get done if I am not here", and I could go on and on. I have used many of those excuses in the past and still do. However I was reminded of the power of taking a day for myself earlier this week. It was my twice yearly trip to the dentist that reminded me of the importance to take a day. I know what you are thinking how can a trip to the dentist be low stress. Well for one he is my uncle and I enjoy seeing and catching up. Also I am hearing those of you getting ready to ask my why I took a whole day for a routine cleaning appointment. Well I learned long ago that trying to schedule an appointment early or late enough I could take a half day off was a pain. So I decided that I would take a full day and schedule it when it worked into their schedule. Oh man what a relief that was. it also gave me a day to do things like run errands for my wife so she could rest and also open up my weekend. It was nice to be able to take a mental deep breath for a day. Even with all the emails coming in from students and staff. I was more relaxed when I got back to work and those high energy students weren't as stressful to deal with. Case in point, rather than yelling and lecturing a couple of students who drive me up the wall, I simply had a good heart to heart with them and moved on. I think I may have confused one as he walked away I could tell he was thinking "why didn't Mr. G go off on me" (Chalking one point up for Mr. G).

It was a day like that that reminded me that I need to do that more often during the year. Take a day for myself to take care of myself. Go to the doctor, take care of appointments, be there for my family, etc. Yes I know I will have to write sub-plans, deal with the lack of production, and on and on. But in the long run I believe taking that day here and there may help keep me sane. That being said I also think we as teachers also need to find time during our day to de-stress. I am often times asked why I don't let kids in for lunch to work. I tell colleagues and kids alike that that is my time to get out of my room have adult time. Yes going tot he staff room can be stressful but just taking the 30+ minutes we get to be "duty free" should be that "duty free". I also want to encourage teachers to take some time during the planning to breath and reflect and not "plan". Take a moment to meditate if you can be mindful. At the end of the day leave work at work. Go home and spend time with family and/or with you. Do something you want to do not sit and grade papers, plan out the next months lessons, etc. Maybe sit and watch TV, read a good fiction book, or just let life pass by as you observe it. It is ok to do this once in a while.

Lastly I would like to encourage our unions and administration to seriously look at providing not only mental health days and/or personal leave time in the contracts but look into providing time and/or language in our contracts for mental health both of teachers and students. Lets look into giving teachers a break beyond planning during the day. What I wouldn't give for a para to stop by once or twice a day to ask if I needed a break to go to the bathroom (although I often joke about invoke the power of teacher bladder) so we don't have to hold it for hours between our planning or lunch.
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Wouldn't it be interesting if all staff had a 4 hour aide to work on grading, organizing, etc. What might it be like if we had an hour lunch rather than 30 mins? I know these would cost money and possibly add time to the day but I wonder what we might find in the way of job satisfaction and learning if we did? Also I wonder if we might see a reduction in news stories about teachers snapping.

What are your thoughts? How can we help ourselves be mindful of and deal with our stress? What do you do to get through the stress? I can't wait to see your thoughts and comments.

As always:

Go Forth and Do Great Things.