Walking the Walk

I’m very happy to be back in the classroom once again this semester. After I stopped teaching high school English to become a school psychologist, I was only out of the classroom for three years before I had the opportunity to teach a graduate level class in developmental disabilities to mid-career teacher certification students. I did that for two summers before demand for the course dwindled and my services were no longer required. Now, six years on, I am teaching an undergraduate course this semester (for the same university) on teaching literacy in content area classrooms.

This is good for me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I have always missed teaching since leaving the classroom ten years ago. I may not have missed some elements of the job, but I have always missed the act and art of developing engaging lessons and teaching students, regardless of age. I also think it’s good for me, as somebody who evaluates teachers as part of my job, to keep my hand in the craft as best as I can. In no way am I equating teaching undergraduates to teaching high school (or middle or elementary school); each context has unique opportunities and challenges, and certainly I deal with far less oversight, bureaucracy, and red tape in my adjunct teaching position than does a full-time K-12 teacher. This position, however, does afford me the opportunity to put into practice the suggestions I give my staff, as well as try for myself the great things I see them doing with their students.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit rusty and anxious about going back after such a long layoff. Planning a course from scratch is tough, especially since I haven’t ever taught a full semester of three-hour classes before (those grad classes were accelerated summer sessions; just 7 or 8 weeks). From the “that’s just my luck” files, I also came down with the flu early in the semester, which necessitated canceling the second class and risking losing whatever momentum we gained in the first class. I’m happy to say, however, that despite the anxiety and the uncertainty and the hours of planning I’ve put into the course (and will continue to, as I refine my vision for what it needs to be), it energizes me to no end to work with a group of enthusiastic future educators who have been kind enough to humor my dumb jokes late on Monday nights.

It would be much easier for me to turn this course into a series of three-hour lectures, but while I am a man of many flaws, hypocrisy generally isn’t one of them. I’m seizing this opportunity to walk the walk and live up to the high standards I hold for my staff every day, hopefully achieving the dual purpose of teaching my students the information they need to learn while also modeling effective teaching practices they can take with them into their own classrooms.

Resolving to Set Goals for 2018

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I don’t buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  I find January a completely arbitrary time to change behaviors; after all, if you feel strongly enough about a habit or behavior to want to change it, why wait til January 1?

BUT, despite my obnoxious killjoy contrarian leanings, I’m not entirely immune to popular sentiment and I can acknowledge that a calendar year is a perfectly serviceable frame of reference for goal-setting (certainly no more or less arbitrary than school years, no?).  While you won’t find me resolving to exercise regularly (I already lift weights 3-5x/week and run 2x/week, without fail, barring illness or injury) or read more (I read 67 books in 2017; more on these in an upcoming post), I did decide to set some concrete goals in those areas for the coming year.

At Runkeeper‘s insistence, I set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018.  I set similar goals in 2012 (as I recuperated from hip surgery) and 2013 (read about that here).  I readily acknowledge that 300 miles in a year is really not a huge milestone (it averages out to a little under 6 miles a week for 52 weeks), but as I mentioned above, my fitness priority is on weightlifting.  With only so many evenings in a week, if I’m lifting 3-5x/week, that leaves only so much time for running.

Goodreads issued its 8th annual Reading Challenge today, and, like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I had to take the bait.  I upped the ante a bit for 2018, my third year participating in the challenge.  I committed to reading 30 books this year, twice my 2017 commitment but still well within my reach.

So if I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, why did I commit to these two goals on New Year’s Day?  Because it’s not about New Year’s.  It’s about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable (oh, you know the rest) in order to stimulate growth or progress.  I enjoy both reading and running and would likely engage in both activities with or without a specific goal, but it’s also an added bit of extrinsic motivation for when the intrinsic motivation is lacking a bit.

Along these lines, one of the 30 books I will read this year will be done along with my friends and colleagues at work.  A small group of high school assistant principals and instructional supervisors are reading The New American High School, the last book written by Ted Sizer and published posthumously.  Starting next week, we’ll be meeting weekly to discuss, and if it’s half as valuable as the last professional book club in which I participated, it’ll be time very well spent.

2017 Reading Challenge: Completed!

It’s been way too long since my last post, but life, work, and all the obligations that come and go betwixt and between have conspired to put the kibosh on my blogging mojo.  I’m taking advantage of a rare moment of clarity amidst the otherwise rushed holiday season to write the sequel to this post, in which I outlined my reading list for the first half of 2017.

As I write this post, I am juggling three books, which I anticipate will be the last three books I read in 2017.  If that ends up being the case, I will have finished the year having read 65 books (50 more than originally intended), by far the most I have ever read in a year as an adult.  I plan to put up a separate post in the coming weeks breaking down my 2017 reading habits by format as well as listing my favorites of the year, but for now, here are the books I’ve read/am reading since late summer, in reverse chronological order:

As always, I’m open to recommendations – if you’ve read anything good this year, please let me know!

Habits of Mind: Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Learn from experiences!  Having humility and pride when admitting we don’t know; resisting complacency.

…I guess it’s a loose interpretation of the word “series” since I haven’t written a Habits of Mind post in over three years, but better late than never, right?

Of all the Habits of Mind, I think this one is probably the most important, as well as the most difficult, for educators to exercise.  I say this because it requires us to remain humble, teachable, and open to new learning despite enormous pressure from multiple sources to appear as “experts”, either in a given content area or in the field of education in general.

That’s certainly not to say we do not achieve respectable levels of expertise throughout our careers.  As I begin my 18th year, I certainly know more than I did in my first, tenth, or even my seventeenth, and I hope to continue that trend well into the foreseeable future.

The rub comes when we start to believe our own hype.  It takes a special degree of self-awareness to balance the knowledge of what one knows with the understanding that there is much yet to learn.  I did not start to achieve that balance until at least several years into my career, having spent the first few keeping up appearances in order to maintain the trust of my students, their families, and my colleagues – at least, that’s what I thought I had to do.

Call it maturity, experience, or something else, but I’m much more comfortable saying “I don’t know” at this stage in the game than I was as a 23-year-old rookie.  I chalk some of that up to the fact that when I don’t know something, my background is deep enough that I usually know where I can go or who I can consult to find the information I need.  The rest of it, I suppose, is that I’m finally over the need to feel I need to prove my knowledge or value in a given moment because I prove my knowledge and value every day in my job.

I’ve had a few “do-overs” in my career so far, starting as a teacher, then moving to a school psychologist, and most recently to an instructional supervisor.  The first year in each position was the roughest, but I took those opportunities to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening, and keep my eyes wide open, observing everything I could.  Starting those positions in a place of humility, rather than aggressively trying to prove how much I knew or throw my authority around, was not necessarily easy, but it was worthwhile, as doing so helped me to continue my learning and move forward as more confident and, ultimately, more beneficial to my students and colleagues than if I had just tried to bulldoze my way forward from the word go.

Reference

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Ten

This past week, tech journalists across the web celebrated the tenth birthday of the hashtag.  While they are ubiquitous across social networks now, the hashtag as we have come to know it originated, as have so many other major events and movements of the last decade, on Twitter:

Despite the fact that at that time I was a teacher on summer break, I consider that time period to be one of the most significant times in my career.  Having started experimenting with blogs, wikis, and many other emerging “Web 2.0” tools in my teaching in the year leading up to summer ’07, that summer was when I took my deep dive headfirst into the world of the read/write Web and social networking.  I, along with a cohort of other early adopter types, created a Twitter account, and very quickly we teachers, professors, and administrators began to find each other.

My Twitter timeline, ca. summer 2008

2007 was also the summer I started this blog; after some fits and starts throughout July, I finally pulled the trigger on both my Twitter account and my first blog post in early August.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it is truly amazing to look back and consider how much has changed.  At that time, my wife and I had both just turned 30, I was about to start my eighth (and what would be my final) year of teaching high school English, I was less than a year away from completing my graduate degree in school psychology, and I was still a relatively new father of a two-year-old, with one on the way.

In the years since, a lot has changed, both professionally and personally.  My six-year career in school psychology came and went, I started and finished a doctoral program in educational leadership, and I left the district in which I started my career for three jobs in two subsequent districts.  We turned 40 this year, and our children started 7th and 4th grade this week.  We will be the parents of a teenager this coming February.

But time marches on and change happens to us all.  What is really mindblowing to me is how my activities that summer have so permanently impacted my approach to my profession, and how the effects continue to this day.  Education can be a very isolating profession, even under the best of circumstances.  Connecting with other people through social media was novel and cool, but honestly, I had been doing that since my Bulletin Board Service (BBS) days in the early ’90s.  The concept was not new to me; actually, I think the familiarity of it was what made me so comfortable jumping in with both feet.

Where the true value was was the discussions and sharing of ideas, both through chats (Twitter) and in longer form, on our blogs, back when people still used to comment on them.  I know it can sound trite to hear, “Twitter is the best PD you’ll ever have!”, and I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment on its face, but for me, gaining access to such a vast multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, stories, and professional backgrounds through the people I met/meet there… I mean, how could that not change a person?  When I look back over a career that started in 2000, I really do see the summer of 2007 as a major demarcation.  Pre- and post-summer ’07 is my BCE and CE.

Perhaps I’m looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but it seems there was something different about it all back then.  Blogging – at least from classroom teachers and school administrators working in the trenches – has largely died off (I clearly just don’t know when to quit).  Real-time Twitter discussions that used to bring me fresh ideas and perspectives seem to me to have mostly devolved into individual or corporate self-promotion and banal, self-congratulatory chats rehashing the same topics and fluff phrases (a notable and most appreciated exception is #educolor).

I still find value in the network, I just use it differently now than I did a decade ago.  That’s as it should be, I think.  As nostalgic as I get for the “good old days”, I think it would be worse if I was doing the exact same things with social media a decade down the road.  That might be comforting and familiar, but it’s also stale.

Much of my Twitter activity now focuses on promoting happenings in my district (more broadcasting than interacting), and eyeballing my mentions, it seems that most of the interpersonal interaction I have on Twitter is between and among people I work with – sharing resources I believe will have a direct impact on their instruction and amplifying, retweeting, and otherwise promoting the great work of our staff.

Of course, people in my extended network still tweet interesting articles and resources from the web, and I love it when people tweet passages from books they’re reading.  Even an interesting title or book cover is enough to send me looking for more information; after all, I want to read what smarter people and better educators than me are reading.  It’s how I learn and grow, and the potential and promise of being more than what I currently am is what sucked me through this particular looking glass all those years ago in the first place.  Despite my misgivings and grievances, the benefits ultimately outweigh the drawbacks for me, and ten years and a quarter of my life on, I still wouldn’t give up those learning opportunities for anything.