I’ve been fortunate to have really strong leadership throughout my teaching career. If you are keeping tabs, 7 principals in 3 buildings across 15 years of teaching. Each had unique strengths suited to the particular school setting, and all had a commitment that kids are the reason we get out of bed in the morning.
My previous assignment, in an urban district just outside Chicago, we had two guiding principles:
- We do what’s good for kids, not what is easy or convenient for adults
- Would what you’re doing be “good enough” for your kids at their school? If not, why are you doing it?
That’s a tough standard. I know we say we love all our students like our own kids, but let’s be honest. Blood is thicker than everything else.
The second half of summer I’ve been preparing myself for back to school, not only in the Xs & Os of planning and setting up Canvas and such, but in learning from teacher leaders online through a couple of pop-up digital summits. First was the CUE Craft #DitchSummit, hosted by Matt Miller. Next: #HiveSummit, in which Michael Matera picks the brains of some brilliant folks. (Conference closes on August 14, and all the materials go dark).
Things got a little meta last night when Miller was Matera’s guest, talking tech & pedagogy. Miller is a highly-sought-after presenter, a veteran teacher, and author of two books, Ditch That Textbook and Ditch That Homework. As of late he is focusing on helping teachers pivot from the “wow factor” of tech toys to a stronger focus on how they fit within good pedagogy. His books have always emphasized that tech use in school should exist to serve learning goals, but pedagogy was the theme of the #DitchSummit.
In a bit of a switch, my freshman-to-be son was watching over my shoulder. He heard Miller expound on all the ways teachers can use, say, Google Slides in class beyond their value as a presentation tool. Then, the nuclear weapon dropped:
If you know Miller’s background, he was the World Language department at his rural Indiana school. One guy. Which is both frightening and thrilling. It forced him to seek new ways to engage his kids. His #DitchBook stuff isn’t theory. It was his reality. He was an early adopter of Skype in the classroom, matching his emerging Spanish learners in Indiana with English learners in Spain. They’d Skype and speak the language to each other. So cool.
And that’s just the beginning of tech’s ability to serve kids and break down barriers. Miller related a story of doing a mystery Skype with a class in Belgium where kids in both countries starting Flossing on camera.
While it was intended as a cautionary tale, my son was hooked by the concept of a classroom without worksheets, where teachers crafted engaging lessons using the tools we ask our kids to lug around in their backpack:
“Are my Valpo teachers gonna do stuff like that?”
Record Scratch Freeze Frame.
I hope so, kid. I really do. That crinkly sound you hear is my heart breaking in a million pieces. He didn’t have a great middle school experience. For all his teachers’ efforts, they were never really able to hook him in. He wants school to mean something, it just… hasn’t yet.
Now, keep in mind: It’s one kid in one town. Generalize at your own risk.
But still. He is not your traditional student. “Sit still” and “take notes” and “do this worksheet” is not his thing.
He needs teachers to teach different to teach him. And: There are teachers out there doing just that.
Matt Miller calls them “Maverick Teachers” – teachers who are willing to take risks to engage their students.
And now that my son knows those teachers exist, he’s not going to settle for anything less.
How many more Sams are out there? How many are on my roster this year?
How about my teacher friends rosters?
And what happens when we ignore their needs and teach them the same old traditional way?
Guess what: Now that we know they’re out there, we don’t have any excuse for not doing what we need to do to reach them.
Sam was born in 2004. For our incoming freshmen, there aren’t “21st Century Skills”. There’s just “Skills”. By the end of next school year, the 21st century will be 20% over. As my bishop Donald Hying told the St. Paul confirmandi last year, their class will live long enough to ring in the 22nd century, in all likelihood.
Here’s the good news though: With my online PLN (#MTBoS) and at #sselearn and #eVillageNWI and Canvas Camp, I was surrounded by teachers putting in the time over the summer to work on their craft, to stretch themselves and learn new tools and tactics. They know they need to take risks to engage their kids, on the daily. The same-old, same-old, is not going to do it. I hope my kid ends up in their class this year.
I really hope so.
Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).
My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.