Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Connected Educator's "State of the Union"

362 days ago, I published my first blog post. I don't know if I would call it a blog post. I might call it an essay since it really didn't have an audience. Jerry Maguire might call it a mission statement. You can actually call it whatever you want if you read it, LINK - but buyer beware! I've received some feedback on my blog, both positive and negative. If I could say anything about the process, I would say, "Its been fun."

Processing the process is how we learn and grow. When I think about the process of becoming a connected educator, I can acknowledge my own growth, but moreover, I am in constant awe of how many creative, intelligent, and innovative people work in education. There will never be enough zero's at the end of our paychecks to quantify the importance of our jobs, but there will always be reminders of the impact that we can have on the thousands of kids we work with everyday. For me, becoming a connected educator reminded me of this. It centered me. It humbled me. It still challenges me everyday. And if I can reflect on anything I have learned as a connected educator in the past year, its this:

1. In any profession, connections matter.

I know I am preaching to the choir on this one. Connections probably matter more in the corporate or political world, but in education, I believe connections mean everything. The connections I have made through twitter and through my blog have been foundational in my growth as an educator. It's helped tighten my vision of leadership while widening my exposure to different ideas. If the old phrase, "The smartest person in the the room," is true, then look at how big our rooms truly are. The connections we are making together are building better leadership and instruction in schools everywhere. Isn't that powerful?

2. Our work is far from done.

If we are the marching army of connected educators, we have yet to take the battlefield. A friend of mine told me last month, "Man, you sure tweet a lot. I can't believe how much time you spend on that thing." It is easy to push twitter because we believe in it. I think its harder to push the connections and the resources because those take some time, and many of us struggle with time. But our connectedness has power, agency, and authenticity, and we have to continue to promote all of that, albeit gently, so that others can feel it too.

3. Every drain can become a fountain.

In my infant stages of being connected, I was the drain and my mentors were the fountains. I was constantly asking Jason Markey if my blogs made sense. I tweeted George Couros and Jimmy Casas with hash tags that probably didn't exist. They knew I was just getting started, and I relied on those fountains to help me grow. I'm thankful for their encouragement and direction. The best way I can honor that mentor/mentee interaction is to continue to be a fountain for others as they begin their journey. Great leadership is recursive and evident in the leaders we create. When our web expands and our trees grow another branch, we are creating the exact power of connectedness that hooked us in the first place.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The PLN Blogging Challenge

I am excited to be a part of a PLN blogging challenge that is sure to connect educators from all over. Today's blog will depart from the "3 Things I Know Are True" and focus on the challenge given to me by East Leyden Principal, Jason Markey. Jason has been a huge part of my growth as an educator. We first met on May 2, 2007, the day I signed my first contract to become a teacher. Since then, I have admired Jason's growth and passion as a school leader and am proud to say he, and a Bears loss to the Packers in the freezing cold are the reasons why I have become a connected educator.

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

1. I attended Marquette University
2. I was educated in the Catholic schools from kindergarten through college
3. My sister was an NFL cheerleader
4. I have coached golf, baseball, and basketball
5. My wife Lizzie is from Green Bay, which makes Sunday's tough
6. I make my own thin crust and deep dish pizza
7. I have never had a cup of coffee in my life
8. My Dad was a teacher and my Mom was a social worker, and both my sister and I followed in those professions respectively
9. My wife and I had 3 permanent addresses in 2012
10. My professional sports hero is Bo Jackson.
11. U2 and Coldplay are my favorite bands. 

Ok, now here comes the hard part. I have to answer 11 question's that my blog nominator has posed. Here we go...

1.  How has blogging and being “connected” impacted your practice?
I am sharing ideas and being inspired by people from all over the world. I now receive self-directed professional development everyday and am in a constant state of learning. It has been a game changer.

2.  What is a blog post you have read recently that you would like to share with others?
This is one of the most passionate blogs I've ever read from my mentor Tony Sinanis.

3.  What is your favorite food/restaurant? Tough one, maybe- "Smoque" BBQ in Chicago.

4.  Why did you choose to be a high school, middle school, or elementary educator?
High School is an incredible time in your life. I wanted to continue to be a part of the journey for and with my students.

5.  What is your favorite movie, book, and song?
Movie- Shawshank Redemption Book- To Kill a Mockingbird Song- U2- City of Blinding Lights

6.  What is your favorite vacation destination? 
Hawaii- more specifically Maui

7.  Where do you want to travel most that you haven’t been to yet?
I could probably spend some time in Australia!

8.  What are you most proud of in your career?
Its probably not anything you can quantitatively measure. I think the success and happiness of my students after they leave high school makes me the most proud.

9.  iPhone or Android?
Apple. Think Differently.

10.  If you had a superpower what would it be?
I'm flying for sure!

11. If you could change one thing in education what would it be?
The way politicians, the public, and state measure what truly makes a school successful.

Below are 11 educators/bloggers that I am challenging to answer my questions. I respect all of them for making me a better educator and inspiring me to do great things.

Here are 11 questions I have for my blogging friends:
1. What is your favorite quote about education?
2. What are you most passionate about in life?
3. If you were having students work in groups, how many should the group have to be most effective?
4. What is your favorite Sunday activity?
5. Which twitter chat is your favorite?
6. Who inspires you the most?
7. What advice would you give to someone interviewing for a job?
8. What will classrooms look like in 20 years?
9. Most significant historical event/sporting moment you've seen "live" in person?
10. What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
11. Best concert you have ever been to?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Raised by the Old, Inspired by the New

I think the gap between the old and the young in education is as wide as ever. Anyone who is reading this can probably identify as one end of the extreme; and if honesty prevails- could probably stereotype the other end of the spectrum too.

Technology has rapidly changed the way we educate and inspire. Its hands have reached into the way we raise children and how we acquire higher levels of education. But technology has likely been responsible for the largest gap in teaching styles, leadership methods, and educational philosophy this profession has ever seen.

I would like to think of myself as a hybrid of the two, if that's possible. My father taught for 38 years, mostly during the "chalk" ages. Even though he retired just two years ago, I doubt he could elaborate on digital citizenship, online learning management systems, or standards based grading. At the urging of my Dad, I clung on to veteran teachers when I first started. I loved hearing stories about the "old days," long before I arrived. I was honored and humbled to be included in their conversations.

At the same time, I struggled to lecture for 45 minutes like they did. I was bored re-using the same lesson I used the year before. I had to start putting my instructional plans online. I wanted  my students in the computer lab to create and explore.  I couldn't teach the old way. That's not to sound holier than thou- because I didn't really know where I was going as an educator- I just knew I would be running the whole time. Meeting inspired educators and leaders had a lot do with this. Tweeting and blogging contributed too.

In the end, I was raised by the old but inspired by the new. 

As perplexing as that may be, I am often reminded of how similar the two really are. The week before my Dad officially retired, he wrote an email to the faculty at Schaumburg that contained the four things he really believed about teaching:

1. You have to love your subject matter.
2. When it comes to discipline and grades, you have to be fair and consistent.
3. When problems arise, you'll never make a mistake when you err on the side of the student.
4. Most importantly, you have to love kids.

Think about that. Those four ideas are about as relevant as ever in education today. I read similar rhetoric from my PLN on a nightly basis via tweets, blogs, and edchats. Being inspired by the new also means honoring the work that has come before us. Instruction may be changing. Who we are instructing may be changing, but we cannot change our love of teaching and our love of kids- that remains the same.