Monday, November 20, 2017

Inspire & Be Inspired

Years ago while still in high school, I made my decision that I wanted to go into education.  I was inspired by a lot of great teachers, from Mr. Pintar, my US History teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Caderette, my school's athletic director and my baseball coach, Mr. Linton, my government teacher and football coach, Mr. Bell, my biology teacher, Ms. Wojt, my earth science teacher, Mrs. Dewitt, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Meek, my Latin teacher (yes, Latin!), and Mr. Bennett, my PE teacher and football coach, just to name a few.  While I didn't end up pursuing biology and chemistry as my degree program as I had originally planned, my mind was made up by my sophomore year that education was going to be my career path.  I always told myself that as long as I was in the game, I wanted to be that inspiration to my students.  Over 12 years and thousands of students later, it is always comforting running into former students and hearing their stories and the kinds words that so many of them have in regards to their time with me.

Really, Chipotle?  
At my school, we have periodic releases of students to go back to a comprehensive school.  Students are assigned to my school for various infractions and as long as they take care of business by attending school, performing in the classroom, and staying out of trouble, their assignment to my school comes to an end.  Last Friday was one of the release days, so several of my students will be at a different school when we return from the Thanksgiving holiday break.  As the day progressed, I said goodbye and good luck to several students that will not be returning, with many of them thanking me for their time with me.  One such student shook my hand, thanked me and told me that he was going to miss me.  Another young lady stopped by my room between classes a couple of different times to see me, thank me, and tell me that she was going to miss me. I will definitely miss many of these students, but as I told them throughout the day, "No offense, but I don't want to see you ever again, unless it is randomly at Chipotle or something" (Why I chose Chipotle, I don't know, I like Chipotle, but it is far from my favorite place").

Clearly, throughout my career, I have had some form of inspiration on my students.  But my students have inspired me throughout my career as well.  When students in my classes have struggled, they have inspired me to better my craft so I can better serve them.  In a previous post, I talked about how I was not the innovative, technologically savvy educator that I like to think that I am today; my students were partly the reason as to why I am who I am professionally today.  When I have learned about some of the struggles that so many of my students have had to deal with, socially, economically, psychologically, and physically, it has inspired me to be a more empathetic and compassionate person, not so much of the "tough love" kind of person that I was, and still am to  an extent, early in my career.  More recently, I had a different form of inspiration from my students that has changed my approach some.

As a PE teacher, I get to work with students each day in some form of physical activity.  In my class, I give students a great deal of choice in what activities that they would like to do during class.  Basketball is popular, as is table tennis, and so is weightlifting.  One day a few weeks ago, some of my students were working on the bench press and asked if I could lift what they were working on, which was 135 pounds.  I told them that during my college football days and a couple of years ago when I was heavy into weightlifting (see what I did there?), I was bench pressing well over 300 pounds.  One of the boys challenged me to see if I still had it.  They set the bar up with 225 pounds and I told them that I hoped I could still get it at least 5 times.  When it was all said and done, I pressed the weight 10 times, something that I fully did not expect.  Word started getting around school that I had lifted that weight and kids were asking me in the hallway if I really did.  Since that day, I have been regularly lifting weights 2-3 times a week.  I am still working on motivating myself to start getting up early to get a cardio workout in, something that I have gotten away from since I hurt my knee a year or so ago.

Bottomline, my students inspired me to do something that I wasn't doing before.  Had it not been for those boys challenging me on the bench press, I probably would not be pursuing a regular weight training schedule.  My goal for the Thanksgiving holiday is to start getting back into the habit of not only weight training, but cardio training as well.  While I will most likely never be jacked like I was during my football days, it would be nice to cut weight, get stronger and more fit, and be a piece of eye candy for Mrs. Anderson.


Strive every day to be an inspiration to your students, your colleagues, your family, and your community.  At the same time, take inspiration from them as well and we will all work together to make our world a better place.

Until next time...



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Expanding Horizons

Image courtesy of
https://giphy.com/gifs/just-thanks-KJ1f5iTl4Oo7u/download
If you are reading this, first of all, thank a teacher.  Also, you must think that my post has something meaningful to say or something that you can learn about, whether it is from past experience in reading my posts or somebody has recommended my blog to you.  If the latter is the case, please pass along my thanks to your colleague for the recommendation.  Maybe you are a first time reader that happened to stumble upon my blog.  I hope that you can glean something useful from this post or others that I have written and will return for future posts.  The bottom line is that I write this blog for several reasons, including my love for writing, my love of sharing my knowledge and skills, and to contribute to the many professional learning networks in which I am proud to be a member.  

This love of sharing isn't limited to just my blog, tweeting ideas (and my blog), and participating in chats on various Voxer groups.  I also love to share at trainings and conferences, which is also one of the main reasons why I choose to volunteer so much of my times working with CUE-NV.  Over the course of my first few years of teaching, I didn't do a lot of presenting to staff and I certainly never had presented at a district level professional development day or at a regional or national conference.  I was too wrapped up in coaching football and working on my master's to sacrifice any more time and, regrettably, I didn't think that my voice was worth hearing at the time.  

Finally, a few years ago (the exact year is lost on me at this point), I started to come out of that shell.  I started to become more involved at my school on various committees and I was tasked with presenting to staff on various things on professional development days and during our "house meetings" after school once a month.  Then the million dollar question was asked of me:  "Would you be willing to present to educators during a Google Mini-Conference offered by the district?"  I was definitely stunned by the question, but without hesitation, I agreed to do so.  

At one of my previous schools, we were a pilot for the rollout for Google Apps for Education accounts.  Each teacher and student was given a GAFE account, along with everything that comes with that account.  While I already had been relatively tech-savvy and had incorporated a great deal of technology into my curriculum, I really took off with the account.  My classroom was incorporating aspects of the flipped classroom and I was nearly paperless, with a few exceptions.  When Google Classroom came out, the transition to paperless was complete.  Did I have access to one-to-one devices in my classroom?  By no means, but I was lucky enough to work at a school where students could and would bring their own devices, even if it was a simple flip phone that had access to the Internet (I am still amazed by the resiliency of a student that did not have any access to a device outside of her flip phone and wrote all of her assignments and even papers on that phone for me and her other classes).  Over the course of a couple of years, I became very savvy using the various Google tools, as well as other tools that I had delved into and had started making a name for myself.  My supervisor at the time had mentioned my name to some district-level educators, hence why I was asked.  

Fast forward a few years, and I cannot even begin to think about how many presentations I have made at various district conference, EdTech Team Google and Apple Summits, and CUE-NV events.  It occurred to me a few days ago that while I have presented dozens of times, I have never presented outside of Las Vegas.  I mentioned this to my wife, and she was surprised as well (she has this really unique "Really?"  when something confuses or surprises her, this was one of those moments).  I decided that it was high time to start looking into presenting in other areas to a new audience.  

Have you tried Pear Deck yet?  If not, you should...
Image courtesy of peardeck.com
One of the requirements of the Pear Deck Certified Coaches cohort is that you present sessions on Pear Deck at a Google Summit.  This is easy; we have a Google Summit in Las Vegas every year, one that I have attended and/or presented at for several years now.  However, as much fun as I have had presenting at the Summit in Las Vegas, and submitted my presentations on Pear Deck and Google Keep for it, this was a great opportunity to present somewhere else.  I also submitted presentations for a Google Summit near Los Angeles in February.  Then a couple of days later, I noticed that there was going to be an event in January in Visalia that was organized by some of my virtual colleagues, Adam Juarez and Katherine Goyette.  I asked if they were looking for presentations, to which they said yes, so I submitted some presentations for their Tech Rodeo.  Now, just because I submitted doesn't mean that any of them will be accepted; however, if accepted, I look forward to expanding my reach a little bit more.  

My next step: completing my Google Certified Trainer requirements and application again (my last submission was rejected, but I know why and haven't had the time to go back to correct it).  I will need to recertify my Google Certified Educator Level 2 first, as well as redo the requirements for the trainer application, but I am not worried about that. I also need to consider submitting proposals for future events like Fall CUE and CUE National.  I think I am ready for that kind of an audience, something that I would have never said as early as 5 years ago.  

Until next time... 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What Scares Me

I love this time of year.  The weather is getting cooler, the (limited number of) leaves are changing, football and hockey seasons are in full swing, and Halloween (need I say more?).  While I don't get into the Halloween spirit of dressing up, going to parties, and watching marathons of scary movies as much as I would like to anymore, I still enjoy the occasional movie that I can squeeze in (I watched Hellraiser last week, and how about Stranger Things?), getting my kids fired up for the holiday, crushing a bunch of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and carving pumpkins, like my tribute to the Vegas Golden Knights to the right.  When it is all said and done, the only things that truly scare me are snakes and clowns, or worse, a clown with snakes for fingers.  Zombies, ghosts, ghouls, and gore may startle me in the moment, but I get over it, and frankly, I enjoy the quick scare!  However, in the spirit of Halloween, I want to highlight a few things in the world of education that scare me.  Not just scare me for a moment and I am over it, no, I'm talking about things that scare me to the core and if not addressed, will ruin many a student and education as a whole.

At risk of beating a dead horse here, but funding is the number one thing that scares me.  I get that government budgets are tight.  However, what I don't get is how education takes such a low priority when said budgets are negotiated.  The State of Nevada is one of the lowest funded states in the nation when it comes to education.  But miraculously, when the Oakland Raiders expressed interested in pulling up stakes in Oakland to move the team to Las Vegas, the governor called an EMERGENCY session of the state legislature to negotiate and ultimately approve a $750 million incentive package that would not only help bring the team to Las Vegas, but it would help pay for a stadium.  Sure, the legislature and governor worked together to increase education funding in the last session, but not to the tune of $750 million.  And has that money trickled down to districts throughout Nevada?  Hard to say, and in the case of my district, who is facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, teacher pay has been frozen (again), positions are being cut, and schools' individual budgets that could buy supplies, provide professional development, and fund programs to help underachieving students are being slashed significantly.  And it is not just Nevada; education budgets are being cut everywhere at the federal, state, and district levels, with a few exceptions.

Closemindedness is another thing that scares me.  All around me, there are educators that are doing some amazing things.  Teachers are trying new things without fear of failure, going out of their way during weekends, after school, summer vacations to attend trainings and conferences to expand their toolbox, and overall, going to work every day with a positive attitude.  However, it only takes one person to ruin a lot of positive.  Too often, I see or hear about educators that refuse to grow, insist that "it won't work in my classroom" or "we have always done it this way, why should we change?", are comfortable with teaching how they were taught years ago, or the worst, "my students can't do this".  When educators are closeminded, it can wear on others around that are trying their best to improve. 

The next thing that scares me is a closemindedness version 2.0 of sorts.  It relates to the political and social fabric that the United States and many parts of the world have embraced in recent months and years.  As a former history teacher, I struggled mightily each year to present the history of slavery, racism, segregation, apartheid, persecution, etc. to my students.  It is a very uncomfortable subject to address, but a necessary one.  Over the course of hundreds of years, numerous atrocities were committed in the name of superiority and empire building.  What I am seeing, and what I am sure many are seeing, is a return to "comfortable racism" and a lack of empathy and compassion.  Prior to a few months ago, our world was far from perfect, with plenty of problems regarding race and equality that still needed to be addressed.  However, our nation has been set back decades as a result of numerous events, including the white supremacist rallies, allegations of sexual abuse by people of influence and power, and so much more.  What scares me most is how this is going to affect our students.  We as educators need to be even more diligent in embracing and promoting diversity and equality; let's flood our schools with positivity! 

I have so much to be happy and hopeful about in our schools.  If we all continue to fight the good fight and do it with a smile on our faces, we as educators will be the difference makers.  We will overcome the negativity, the hatred, and the violence in our world.  We will be the positive influence in our students' lives. 

Until next time...


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Keep" Your Sanity With #GoogleKeep

In the coming days, I have a couple of things to square away regarding some presentations.  First, I have to submit a presentation to Pear Deck to fulfill my requirements for the Pear Deck Certified Coach cohort, one that exhibits solid "peardagogy" (their pun, not mine, I wish I could take credit!) and displays my knowledge and skill in using the different types of formative assessment and presentation slide types in Pear Deck.  I also am in the midst of working with my CUE-NV team to put together a one-day symposium that highlights various Google and digital tools that can be used to enhance instruction and student learning.  I decided, "Why not knock out both with one fell swoop?"  

A tool that I cannot get enough of is Google Keep.  In the absolute, most basic laymen's terms, Google Keep is a digital version of a pack of Post-It notes.  However, there is so much more that you can do with Keep beyond jotting down a quick note, reminder, or checklist.  And recently, Google added the ability to seamlessly add notes from Keep into Google Docs and Slides, and images you create in Google Drawings can be saved as notes as well! 

If you have never opened Keep, this infographic will give you an idea of what you are looking at.  Feel free to share! 
On the desktop version of Keep, you have multiple options in which to create and customize notes.  You can create basic notes, checklists, and color coordinate them.  However, you can go further by adding images, drawings, collaborators, and reminders to notes.  You can even go as far as adding a location for a note so it will automatically pop up on your device when you arrive in said location.  For example, you can create a list of items to get at Costco.  If you put in the address for Costco, you won't even have to open the app because it will recognize when you arrive and pull up your list for you (this is one of those "creepy cool" things that are becoming so common in our society).  

When creating a note, this will help to guide you in the different options available on the desktop version.  Feel free to share!
If you are a Chrome user, you are most likely aware of the extensions that you can add to the browser to make some task way easier.  At last count, I have about 30 extensions that I use on a relatively regular basis.  Google Keep has a Chrome extension that allows you to create a note of a website link.  Perhaps you are browsing articles to prep for the lunchtime debate on sports or politics, or throwing together an amazing hyperdoc, but you simply do not have the time at the moment to go through everything.  Simply click on the Keep extension and it will create a note that saves the hyperlink; add your own title and notes to the link to customize it further.  The next time you open Keep, your link and notes will be there for you to pick up where you left off.  If you haven't added the Google Keep extension, make sure you are logged into Chrome and click here to add it.  

Google Keep also has apps for iOS and Android systems.  The apps allow for users to do things that cannot be done on the desktop version.  In both apps, Google Keep allows for you to create notes using voice memos.  You can record your voice (I have heard of people using this to record where they parked in a parking garage) and the app will save your recording AND create a text note of what you said.  You can also use the app to take a picture, then grab the text from the picture in order to edit it.  Think about those papers that you have but do not have a digital copy of it and scanning it isn't an option because you cannot edit a .PDF with ease.  You can also grab text from images that you add to a note in the desktop app, but taking a photo with a laptop can be cumbersome.  

Once you have all of your notes, you may want to add them to presentations or documents.  Google Keep makes it simple with the Keep notepad function in Slides and Docs.  Under the Tools menu at the top of Slides or Docs, find the Keep notepad function and click on it.  A menu will open to the right of the presentation or document, showing the notes that were created in Google Keep.  Adding the notes into the presentation or document is a simple as clicking and dragging the note over into your file, or you can use the "three-dots" menu to add the note to your file.  From there, edit your note, move it around to the desired location, etc. however you see fit.  No more having to open Keep and copy/paste your notes, save yourself time by using this quick and easy tool.  Created images in Google Drawings?  Create a note from the Tools menu in Drawings to save your creation as a note.  You can also, just like in Slides and Docs, add notes to a drawing by using the Keep notepad in Drawings.  The ultimate time saver:  create a drawing, add note using the Keep notepad option in Drawings, save the drawing as a new note, then paste it into Slides or Docs!  

If you haven't used Keep before, I highly suggest giving it a try.  It will revolutionize how you lesson plan, create presentations, and even how you grocery shop!  And again, feel free to share my infographics, the more that can harness the power of Google Keep, the more time we will all have on our hands!  

Until next time... 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Getting My Mojo Back with #SGVCUE

Last week, I talked extensively about how in recent months I was starting to have doubts about whether or not to continue in education.  However, my motivation had been sparked recently by getting back to my roots, exchanging ideas and learning with like-minded educators.  That motivation was further along this past weekend during the SGVCUE Innovation Celebration at Bassett High School in La Puente, CA.  I was graciously invited to attend by Tom Covington and Michael Jephcott, two members of SGVCUE and educators from Bassett Union School District.  I was one of over 700 educators that took time out of their weekend to learn about new technology that can change the classroom, network, and make new friends.  When asked what I thought of the conference, my response was, "It was definitely worth the four-hour drive from Las Vegas!"  

You know it's probably time to go when people
dressed up as a fox show up to the pub!  
The weekend started with the four-hour drive to the Greater Los Angeles area.  I stopped to get gas in Primm, NV, which lies on the border of Nevada and California and learned never to do that again, as Primm is one of the few stops for gas between Las Vegas and Barstow, the price was nearly $4.00 a gallon (had I got gas in Las Vegas, it would have been about $2.50 a gallon), so my advice to you, make sure you have gas so you don't have to stop in Primm (or Baker, about 50 miles later, they gouge you on gas prices there as well).  Because I was going toward LA, and not toward Las Vegas, traffic was very good.  I cannot say the same for the northbound lanes of I-15, as the typical excursions to Las Vegas of thousands of Southern Californians were well underway as I passed through Barstow, Victorville, and then eventually the Inland Empire.  I checked into my hotel and met up with Michael Jephcott, Jose Balvanera, and April Buege for dinner and conversation, learning how incredible a pizza with sauce, cheese, pastrami, pickles, and mustard can be (Innovation Brew Works in Pomona if you are intrigued!).

Ann does bear a striking resemblance to Melissa McCarthy...
Saturday morning started with a phenomenal keynote speech from Ann Kozma, a brilliant educator from Fullerton, CA.  The theme of her keynote was "diamond time."  Diamond time was explained as something that is where one is at their best, whether it is professional, socially, mentally, etc.  Ann explained her diamond time as some of the sights that she saw on an Alaska cruise, but also interacting and learning with people all over the country, either in person or through social media.  She also explained that in the wake of so many terrible things that have happened lately, from the Mexican earthquake, the shooting in Las Vegas, and the California wildfires, it even more important to find that diamond time and find that positive light in one's life.  Ann created a Flipgrid that solicited people's responses to what their "diamond time" is, you can submit your own response by going to flipgrid.com and using the code "diamondtime".

While working with WeVideo during the session, I came across this deal that
extends a pretty sweet deal until Halloween.  
For my first session, I chose to go to a presentation on WeVideo.  I had heard of WeVideo before and had even toyed around with it some, but I really wanted to take a deep dive into the program.  If you haven't heard of it, WeVideo is a web-based video editing and creation program that has a lot of the same functions as Apple's iMovie.  What is great about WeVideo is that it is not exclusive to Apple like iMovie is; you can use WeVideo on just about any device that can connect to the Internet, including Chromebooks and Apple devices!  The kicker, however, is that it is a premium service.  There is a free version, but you are limited in what you can do using the free version (only 5 minutes of video per month, a large WeVideo watermark on videos, and limited editing abilities).  Premium versions include the Power account, which extends to 30 minutes a month, no watermark, and premium editing functions.  The Unlimited plan gives you unlimited video and even more premium features.  The presenter gave each attendee a "dummy" account with some preloaded items to toy around with.  What I learned is not only was I able to use my Chromebook and my iPad with WeVideo, I found it easier to use than iMovie, especially when it came to uploading video clips, audio tracks, images, etc.

I decided that for the next session, I finally had to figure out the hype behind Flipgrid.  I had used it before in responding to others' grids, but I hadn't created an account and really looked at the features extensively.  I must say, I completely understand why everybody is so excited about it and has caught the #FlipgridFever.  Lucretia Anton was the presenter, somebody that I have followed on Twitter for a while, and she recognized me as I walked in the door, which totally took me by surprise (this is one of those "diamond time" moments, by the way, when you meet some of your Twitter friends IRL, or in real life).  Lucretia showed several ways that it can be used in the classroom, how to customize a grid and topic, and even shared a promo code that let you try out the premium version for free for 45 days.  If you are interested, go to flipgrid.com and create your account, or if you already have an account, go into your account settings and use LUCRETIA as a promo code to redeem.  The session inspired me to create my first Flipgrid topic, so I created one asking the attendees of #SGVCUE what they learned over the weekend and what they could take back to their classroom.  If you would like to view responses or create a response of your own, please check it out below.


After a lunch of visiting with David Platt and checking out Tom Covington and Michael Jephcott's "dog pound at the BIC" (listen to their podcast, TOSAs Talking Tech, you'll get the reference then...), I decided to go to a session on Coding Across the Curriculum.  Unfortunately, the session was not what I expected.  The presenter had a wealth of information on coding, why it is important for students to code, and showed attendees how to dabble into coding with Scratch, I did not get anything on how to incorporate coding into my curriculum.  As a former social studies teacher and one hoping to get back into social studies in the near future, I have never been able to jump onto the coding bandwagon because I don't know how I can apply it.  While the Scratch program had some different things that you could do in the program to create games, mazes, and other neat things, I still am struggling to figure out how I can apply coding to, for example, United States History.  If you are a social studies teacher that is using coding in your classroom, please, by all means, share your awesomeness with me, I am completely stuck at this point!  

Heidi, Anita and I are a long day of learning, and if you look closely,
Jon Corippo was there in spirit!
The weekend was a resounding success, I learned a lot of things that I can apply to my teaching practice, and as a board member for CUE-NV, Heidi Carr, Anita Thompson and I were able to glean some ideas from SGVCUE's event that we can apply to our events.  I had a great time debriefing afterward with many of SGVCUE's board members, then headed over to Santa Clarita to meet a friend from high school that I hadn't seen in five years.  What originally had been planned to be dinner and a drive home turned into dinner and crashing on his couch to head home on Sunday.  I look forward to seeing events by other affiliates in the near future and continue to motivate myself through learning.  

Until next time... 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Refreshed & Rejuvenated

I have a confession to make.  With the tornado that has become my career in the past year and a half or so, my desire to continue in education has been tested.  When I first decided to leave the classroom to become a technology coach, my desire was strong, but with the ups and downs of having that job cut out from under me on the last day of school, to finding a tech coaching position at one school, rather than several, to making the leap into administration, to deciding that now was not the time for administration, to now in my position as a PE teacher, my mind has been churning.  On top of all of that, there are some other family developments that may potentially dictate where I will be living in 6-9 months time.  However, what I can say with the utmost confidence is that over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have been able to determine that I am in a good place for many reasons.  

My first thought was, "What would I do outside of education?"  Education is all I have known, outside of cooking in various restaurants in high school and college.  I knew as a sophomore in high school that teaching is what I wanted to do.  I walked into college declaring biology as my major and chemistry as my minor.  Granted, that changed a few months later when I decided that I wanted to do social studies and PE/health.  Either way, I was set to go into education from the time that I was 16 years old.  Where can you find work with a teaching degree and years of experience, but no longer want to do it?  In my short time researching, I wasn't able to find much.  

My next thought was, "So, I am able to find a job.  What if we have to pack up and move in a few months?"  It would be hard enough to start over knowing that you'll be living in the same area.  Multiply that with a potential cross-state, or even cross-country move.  The stress of having to pay bills, provide a roof over my family's heads and food on the table, etc. is something that definitely crossed my mind.  

Then comes the mental part, the question of, "Why can't you just suck it up and be happy with what you have and realize that some people don't have it as good as you do,  you selfish jerk?"  My answer to that is twofold.  First, the question answers itself, maybe I do need to appreciate what I have, a good job, a good salary, a good schedule, benefits, the list goes on and on and on.  However, I am also a firm believer that nobody should do anything that they do not like and do not want to continue.  I think about a lot of people, especially in earlier generations, that worked a job that they hated for 30 years just to provide for their family, rather than trying to find something that they enjoyed and could provide for their family.  

However, my faith in what I am doing has been renewed in the past couple of weeks.  All it took was to get back to my roots and my passion, plus a bit of tragedy mixed in.  The CUE-NV Silver State Technology Conference surrounded me with over 125 like-minded educators, passionate about learning what they could about educational technology and pedagogy.  While my current position severely limits what I can do with edtech (PE in a behavior school that does not allow for students to use devices), I want to keep up on all of the latest and greatest, especially since I am pretty sure that I will not be in this position for the next 25 years.

Quick disclaimer:  this does not mean that I do not like PE, teaching at a behavior school, etc.  It simply means that I taught social studies for 11 and a half years and sprinkled in almost a year of tech coaching.  I miss social studies, I miss sharing my knowledge of social studies with students, and I miss being able to use technology in exciting and engaging ways and sharing my love for technology with my peers.  Teaching PE at a behavior school is an interesting challenge every day and for the time being, it is something that I am enjoying; I miss my previous career path too much to want to continue down this road for a few decades.

This coming weekend, I will be going to the San Gabriel Valley CUE Innovation Celebration to learn with nearly 700 educators.  So many people that I now call friends will be attending, presenting, and even keynoting this event and I am very excited to see them socially and professionally.

The tragedy in Las Vegas, my home for the past 12+ years, hit me hard as well.  It put into perspective a lot of things, namely how brave so many people were on that night, the outpouring of support that so many were willing to offer in the days following, and how there is still a lot of good in this world in the face of so much that is evil, including, but not limited to gun violence, racism, homophobia, terrorism, and more.  It also put into perspective how many lives that I have had an impact on over the course of my career.  Even if only one former student comes to me and tells me what a positive impact that I have had on them, that is enough to continue to impact more lives.

Image result for jump start car in the cold
Too many memories of this... photo courtesy of
https://www.morefmphilly.com/2017/01/08/how-to-jump-start-your-car/
Growing up in Michigan and its cold winters, the occasional jump start was needed on the car to fire it up in the morning.  However, once the car got a jump, it would run fine, without issues, until maybe another frigid morning where you needed another jump.  Eventually, you would need a new battery, but you never had to pay thousands to get a new car because the cold destroyed your battery.  My career at this point was simply in need of a jump.  I look forward to the remainder of the school year and, wherever the road may take me in a few months, I look forward to the next step.

Until next time... 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Weekend with #CUENV17

This weekend, CUE-NV hosted the Silver State Technolgy Conference at Western High School in Las Vegas.  Nearly 150 people took time out of their weekend on Friday night and Saturday to attend dozens of sessions, keynote presentations, a student panel, and attendees to meet educators from all over the country (and Canada, right Jennifer?).  As a board member of CUE-NV, my team and I spent months planning the event and could not be happier with the outcome.  

Friday night kicked off with three featured speakers, Dr. Jesse Welsh, Mr. Pat Skorkowsky, and Mr. Jon Corippo.  Dr. Welsh and Mr. Skorkowsky addressed the importance of incorporating technology and professional learning into the craft of teaching, citing how the world will leave students if teachers do not prepare them.  Mr. Corippo spent his time demonstrating how teachers could be more innovative and engaging with students, showing attendees tools like Socrative and Quizizz and how they could be used on a daily basis to promote student learning.  

Jon Corippo congratulating the student panel on a job well done!
Mr. Corippo followed up his rousing session with a student panel.  Six students took to the stage to share their thoughts on education, such as what their teachers are doing well and what they could do to improve their practice.  The students were as young as 4th grade, up to senior in high school, but the theme for each of them as similar:  too many teachers do not engage students as effectively as they could, and technology could go a long way to engage students better.  After each student was given the opportunity to speak, the panel was asked questions by the audience.  The students did an amazing job speaking to over 100 adults and answering questions that they were not prepared for prior to taking the stage.  I look forward to this session at future CUE-NV events! 

After the student panel was completed, attendees had the choice of various sessions to attend or vendors to visit.  Some of the sessions, such as Dr. Welsh's technology tools, were an hour, while most of the sessions were quick-fire 25-minute sessions offered twice for the final hour of the Friday night schedule.  Because my district is fully integrating G Suite for Education in 2018, I presented a session titled "What Do I Do With This Google Account?" that outlined how to log into the district account, introduced Google Drive, and highlighted the various tools offered by Google with the account, such as Docs, Slides, Gmail, Calendar, and Keep.  I had never presented a session so short, and even though I had practiced ahead of time, 25 minutes goes by very quickly!  However, I was able to complete the session and feel that it went very well.  

The conference wrapped up on Friday evening at 9, so it was going to be a quick turnaround to Saturday morning, as the doors were to open for attendees at 7:15 AM.  Ben Cogswell, Saturday's afternoon keynote speaker, stayed with me, so we decided to meet up with two other friends from the edtech world, Michael Jephcott and Tom Covington, for a beer and catching up.  Over the course of an hour or so, the four of us watched football, at pizza, talked about education, and "shot the bull" over a beer at Tenaya Creek Brewery.  Over that hour or so, we solved the world's problems and planned how to execute the plans while looking forward to what the conference would bring on Saturday.  After leaving, Ben and I retired to my house where we reviewed his keynote presentation and finally got to sleep around 1:30 AM.  

Ari Flewelling explaining her thoughts on #TechEsteem
Saturday morning kicked off on a tremendous note with an inspiring keynote speech from Ari Flewelling.  The theme of Ari's keynote was the concept of #TechEsteem.  What is #TechEsteem you ask?  This is the idea that in today's world, technology is all around us and it is not going to go away, so we need to catch up to the times.  However, that can be very tough, especially if you are a tech newbie.  At the same time, if you are a math teacher, would you allow a student to tell you that they just aren't good at math or that they are a math newbie?  #TechEsteem is about taking the initiative to learn something new, incorporate it into our teaching, and have the confidence to work with it.  What if the technology fails us?  Do we get frustrated and give up?  No, because we would not expect our students to give up if they are struggling or "failing" at something.  #TechEsteem is also, in my opinion, about having a sense of humor and a sense of adventure to try things, no matter what may happen.  You wouldn't have known it because she did such a phenomenal job, but the keynote was Ari's first ever keynote, and she absolutely killed it!

After Ari's keynote, attendees were treated to dozens of sessions of varying educational technology, from hyperdocs to Google tools, social media to blogging, makerspaces to coding, and digital citizenship to podcasting.  Many presenters, such as Joanne Schmutz, Heather Nail, and Keith Thomsen, hail from Las Vegas, but many others like Amanda Haughs, Tom Covington, Michael Jephcott, Randall Sampson, and Jennifer Casa-Todd hailed from California, Ohio, and even Ontario, Canada!  Each session ended with a 15-minute break to network and move on to the next session, and the looks on the faces of attendees were of pure amazement, as you could see in their faces how they would begin to implement what they learned.

Ben even dressed for an after party!
To close out the day, Ben Cogswell held his keynote... er... AFTER PARTY!  Ben was very adamant in communicating that it wasn't going to be a keynote but an after party to a weekend full of fun and learning.  The theme of the after party was thanking teachers and recognizing what teachers are going to be recognized for long after their students have moved on.  What was also interesting about the after party was that in closing out a technology conference, Ben had attendees color a bookmark that he created with a crayon!  The focus behind that was how a stained glass window is made of tons of small parts (in this case, the teachers that made a difference) and Ben had attendees color part of their bookmark a different color to represent a masterpiece.  It was a very fitting end to two days of learning prior to the raffles, in which numerous people walked away with great prizes, like admission to future CUE-NV events, signed copies of various books, and Chromebooks.

When I started my reflection piece on Sunday, my mind was buzzing from the weekend and I was trying very hard to be quick and concise so the post didn't get too long.  About halfway through writing, I decided to think a little more about everything and pick up where I left off on Monday afternoon.  However, everything changed when I woke up on Monday at 5:30 AM.  I woke up to a text message from my brother/best friend/roommate from college Brandon, asking if I was okay and that he needed to hear from me ASAP.  Confused and still half asleep, I groggily text back, "I'm fine."  I realized what he meant when I ambled out to the living room to turn on the TV news while I got the coffee going.  After I had gone to bed on Sunday night, a crazed gunman changed my city of Las Vegas forever when he rained terror down from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay on over 22,000 country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  As of this writing, 530 people were injured, with 59 people killed in this cowardly, senseless, heinous, gut-wrenching, disgusting, and horrific act of violence.

If you are able, blood is in short supply,
please  consider a trip to your local blood
bank to help the victims of the Las Vegas
Upon learning of the events the prior evening, I immediately was sick to my stomach.  My second thought was that there was no way that I was going to work, not until I knew that people that I know and love were safe.  On top of that, I knew that help was going to be needed in numerous ways, including blood donations.  I woke up my wife and told her what happened, and we sat glued to the TV for two hours.  When our five-year-old daughter woke up, we explained to her what happened, because as a kindergartener, she was going to hear about it; best she heard it from her parents.  My wife got ready for work, intending to join me later to help, but things are her school were chaotic, so she couldn't leave once she arrived.  I got to a blood donation center around 10:30; so many people came out to donate that I did not get through the line until after 6:30, eight hours later.  It was the least that I could do to help, I only wish I could give more of my blood.

While so many lessons were learned this weekend with the #CUENV17 Silver State Technology Conference, so much of it pales in comparison to the lesson that I already knew, but was reiterated with the events on the Las Vegas Strip: don't ever take any moment for granted, hug your kids and spouse, tell people you love them, and in general, be a great person that is willing to help.  If we can all live our lives this way, the world will overcome hatred, bigotry, and violence.

Until next time...

The CUE-NV Board and friends look forward to seeing you at future events!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Changes (For The Better)

Last week, I revealed that I had made the decision to leave administration to return to the classroom.  My new position in which I was assigned is physical education at a behavior school within my district.  My first day in the new position was on Monday, September 18.  While it has been drastically different than anything I have done in my 12+ years in education, I can say with 100% confidence that I made the right decision, for many reasons.  

Prior to entering administration, I taught social studies for 11 years.  During those 11 years, I taught United States History, United States History - Honors, AP United States History, American Government, and AP American Government.  I have always held a license for physical education and health, but never taught either class.  The nine years of coaching various sports were the closest I came to teaching physical education.  However, when requesting to return to the classroom, my options were very limited, due to an extreme budget crisis and hiring freeze that is taking place in my district.  Physical education was not my first choice, but as the old saying goes, beggars cannot be choosers when faced with limited choices and desperation to return.  Needless to say, teaching a subject that I have never taught has made the transition interesting.  

What also makes the transition interesting is teaching a new subject at a behavior school.  My school is where students that have made severe mistakes are sent to correct their mistake prior to returning to a standard school.  Students at my school have been assigned to it for infractions such as fighting, drugs, weapons, and other major offenses.  Class sizes are very small, but many students can be very tough.  However, in one week, I have determined that it is not much different than teaching in a standard school.  Most of your students in a standard school are going to show up, do what they need to do, and do it with respect toward themselves, their peers, and their teachers.  A few students will struggle in one of those areas.  The biggest difference that I have seen is that my students are working to go back to a standard school.  Most of them are going to make sure to do everything that they can do to make sure that when their release date approaches, nothing is going to stop them from returning to a standard school.  So overall, my students have been relatively hard-working, respectful, and responsible.  

My favorite part of my new position addresses the main reason behind why I wanted to return to the classroom in the first place: more time with my family!  My administrative duties had me at school for 10-12 hours a day, and often times, bringing home several hours of work, which severely cut into the time I can spend with my wife and children.  Very rarely was I ever able to pick up my son from daycare and spend some time with him before my wife and daughter got home.  However, this past week, I was able to get my son from daycare every day, with the exception of Friday (and the only reason I didn't get him then was that my friend bought me a beer for my birthday, so I met up with him after school for an hour).  I was able to eat dinner when it was cooked, not hours later, heated up in the microwave or toaster oven, or sometimes, just cold.  My sleep schedule has become more stabilized and I feel better.  And, the icing on the cake, because I am teaching PE, I am active all day, so if I don't make it to the gym, it's ok!  

This week, I have so many great things to look forward to.  I am starting a unit on hockey with my students, most of which know nothing about the sport.  I get to continue to have positive interactions with students, helping them to achieve their goal of returning to a standard school, many of whom are set to be released on October 13.  And, unrelated to my new position, the hard work of my CUE-NV colleagues and I will be realized as we host the Silver State Technology Conference on September 29-30 at Western High School in Las Vegas.  We are going to have dozens of presentations from some amazing educators, featured speakers in Dr. Jesse Welsh, Mr. Pat Skorkowsky, and Mr. Jon Corippo, a student panel, and keynote speeches from Ben Cogswell and Ari Flewelling.  There will also be tons of great educational product vendors.  If you have not registered, you are risking missing out on an amazing event!  If you live in the Las Vegas Valley, you have no excuse; elsewhere, maybe you need a weekend getaway in Las Vegas to learn with your PLN!  Register ASAP at http://bit.ly/CUENV17STATE.  Want to know what kinds of sessions there will be before you register?  Check out the conference schedule at https://cuenvsilverstatetechconfere2017.sched.com/.  We hope to see you there! 

Until next time.. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Priorities

When I began applying for administrative positions last fall, I applied because I thought I was ready to make a difference as an educational leader, impact student learning through careful observation, feedback, and evaluation of teachers, and have positive interactions with students that would give me my fix that I knew I would miss from the classroom.  I knew that administration was going to be long hours, multitasking, and making plans to do great things, only to have them dashed by the everyday grind.  What I did not know is just what kind of a toll it was going to take on me and my family.  

When I started my position as dean of students last spring, I got a taste of what the daily grind of administration can be.  The hours were long, stress was abundant, and deadlines and tasks were demanding.  At the time I chalked it up to being new at the position and that things would get better.  However, when I returned for the new school year at the beginning of August, things were not getting better.  More and more needed to be done on short notice, and this was before students even arrived.  Once students arrived, the daily routine included all of the duties and responsibilities, discipline, teacher observations, and so much more that made the days even more jam packed and long.  

After careful consideration and conversation with those nearest and dearest to me, I made the decision to request a return to the classroom and leave my role as an administrator.  Several factors went into my decision, but ultimately, it boiled down to priorities that were above any job.  

My number one priority is my family: my wife, Mary, and my two children, Elsa and Reed.  The long hours at work and the several hours of work that was brought home on a nearly daily basis were having a severely negative impact on my family life.  There were too many days to count where I would come home and get to see my children for less than an hour before it was time for all of us to go to bed, only to get up and do it all over again.  The last straw came a couple of weeks ago when my five year old, excited to see me after a long day at kindergarten, told me, "You're never home and you never want to do anything!" when I told her that I would rather sit and watch a show on TV with her than play a board game after a 12-13 hour day at the office.  It really hurt to see her walk away and hear those words come out of her mouth.  It was that moment that I realized that something had to change.  

For several months, I have not been shy about my struggles with depression.  When I finally admitted that I needed help from a therapist, I went on several occasions and was making progress.  However, because of the demanding hours, I have not been able to get into a therapist, and there have been several times in the past few months where I really could have used the conversation, but have not been able to.  A change in my role will free up my schedule and give me the opportunity to work on myself more, emotionally and psychologically, and hopefully physically (gym memberships are paid, gym memberships not used for weeks on end at this time).  

When I left the classroom, first as a learning strategist over technology, then as an administrator, I did not leave because I was sick of teaching, quite the contrary.  I've still been able to get my teaching fix through the various conferences and trainings in which I have presented, but it is not the same as working in a classroom with students.  Over the past several weeks especially, I have missed the classroom and the positive interactions with students, getting to know them and their interests, and sharing jokes and great times in the classroom.  My administrative role did not bring me the fulfillment that I had in the classroom and what I had hoped for when I applied for positions.  

It is with a heavy heart that I will bid my school and my position farewell on Friday, September 15 to start a new chapter in the classroom.  For the first 11 years of my career, I taught social studies, mostly United States History.  Starting on Monday, I will be stepping into a physical education position, something that I have never taught and have not given much thought toward since graduating from college 12 years ago.  I am also going to a behavior continuation school, a place where the students are assigned after making severe mistakes in a standard school and are trying to earn their way back.  I am going to strive to be a positive beacon in their life, help them get a little more physically fit, and selfishly, allow myself the opportunity to spend more time with my family.  

On a completely unrelated note, the past few weeks also included the application process of the Pear Deck Certified Coach cohort.  The process included a standard application, a sample Pear Deck lesson, and a Flipgrid response explaining why I would be an awesome Pear Deck Coach.  I was nominated by a Nick Park, one of the amazing employees of Pear Deck, which by itself was quite the honor.  Last Friday, I was informed that I was accepted into the cohort, which will include some training on Pear Deck, the opportunity to present the sweetness that is Pear Deck at a conference, and the ability to interact with the Pear Deck coaching community.  I am humbled and honored to have been accepted.  

I am hoping that with my schedule opening up some over the coming days and weeks, I am hoping to get back to another love of mine, and that is writing this blog.  In the meantime, I appreciate the love and support that so many have shown me through these past few days, weeks, months, and really, my entire life.  

Until next time... 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Goals - Revisited

At the turn of the new year, I went on the record with a few goals that I had for 2017, rather than resolutions.  My goals were to lose some weight, put some work into the beginnings of a book that I want to write, and to obtain a position as an administrator in my district.  As the new school year is set to kick off for me in a few days, I got to thinking about my goals and the progress that I have made over the past eight months.  Because I am very demanding of myself, I will say that I am not satisfied with where I am at, but even in the areas in which I have failed, that means that I am recognizing it and setting up a plan to still achieve my goals.

My first goal that I set back in January was to obtain an administrative position in my district.  At the time, I had applied and interviewed for a handful of positions but had not been offered anything.  As January and early February went on, I applied and interviewed for a few more.  Mid-February brought second interviews for two positions, then the waiting game.  If you have read any of my past posts, you know that I was offered, and accepted, a position as dean of students at a middle school.  My first day was February 24, which is a date I will always remember as my first day in administration because it is also my wife's birthday.  

Another goal that I set was to lose some weight.  I cannot say that my weight has been an issue for me my entire life, but between my family history, playing college football, and my love of food (I can count on one hand things that I will not eat, I am always willing to try something once), and the fact that I am several years removed from that peak "I can eat anything and not gain weight" time of life, my weight has crept up and has started to affect me in various ways.  Sadly, my goal to lose weight this year has not happened.  However, not one to give up on a goal, I am pledging to get up before work to go to the gym (I actually joined a second gym to get to one that is open and on my way to work, making the excuse not to go that much harder to make), make better choices, and politely refuse the doughnuts and other treats that will inevitably end up in the main office or staff lounge.

Lastly, I set a goal to get started on writing a book.  At the time, my thoughts were to write a book that was part personal memoir, part state of education in the world.  My thoughts for the book have shifted a little bit in the last few months, to more of a part memoir, part collection of short stories on teachable moments in my life and how they shaped me as an educator.  Examples of short stories would range from things like some of the most memorable (and sometimes agonizing) experiences during my first year of teaching, to what I learned from the toughest, but most compassionate, coach I ever had during my college days, to rigging a system that would fire Class C bottle rockets from a dock so that they would go underwater, hover, and explode, until a spark sets off a full package and 36 projectiles start flying around (this is a 100% true story of my 13-year-old self that could have killed me, but I definitely learned a solid lesson!).  Unfortunately, I have yet to put "pen to paper" on anything that would resemble a book, outside of my blog posts.  However, there are a few months left to still accomplish this goal.

I refuse to give up on my goals, and neither should you.  You may have setbacks, like I have, in achieving your goals. I wanted to quote one of my favorite Berenstain Bears books, Trouble at School, with "It's never too late to correct a mistake!", but it didn't' seem quite right.  However, this line from Will Smith's character on The Pursuit of Happyness seemed to sum things up very well.

Until next time...




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Refresh & Learn

At this point, it has been summer for several weeks.  For many, summer vacation starts in mid-May, others not until mid-June, and some of you, depending on your position or district, may still be in session.  Whenever you may have started your break (if you are yet to start), summer vacation is a time of resting, relaxing, traveling, and many other things that may not necessarily directly relate to improving yourself professionally.  However, summer is also a great time to become a better educator, with opportunities galore for conferences, engaging online (ex. Twitter chats), and catching up on some reading.  As of this writing, my time is running out, with only about 4 weeks left until it is back to the grindstone on August 1.  

A quick side note: I knew that going into administration would mean reporting back to school earlier than teachers.  My contract is a 10-month contract, whereas teachers work a 9-month contract.  Other administrators work an 11-month contract, and some never get the glorious summer vacation, working a 12-month contract.  To constrict my time off this summer more is the shifting of the calendar for my school district.  In the past, the district always let out for winter break in late December, with two weeks of the first semester to complete upon return after New Years.  My district shifted the calendar to make sure that the semester and grading periods are complete BEFORE going on winter break, thus starting a new semester after the New Year and eliminating that tedious time of getting students back into the routine, only to have semester exams.  To make it even better, now the school year will end prior to Memorial Day at the end of May.  I am definitely in favor of a short summer this year to be done with the year early in the future!

Since I finished my school year on June 14, my summer has been both business and pleasure, but it is definitely leaned more toward the pleasure side.  Immediately after my year ended, I attended a leadership institute offered by my district.  The institute consisted of two parts: the first session was on building school culture, something that I have been reading more about in George Couros' book The Innovative Mindset (more on that later), with the second session on student learning goals.  As a newish administrator, I have a lot of things that will be coming at me this fall that I simply did not have the experience within the few short months at the end of this past year.  My administrative team showed me the ropes on a lot of things and I learned a great deal, but next year I will be expected to jump off of the high dive and swim around the deep end, not just simply float around the shallow end.  The school culture and student learning goals session in the leadership institute not only gave me the opportunity to learn more about what will be expected of me this fall, but it gave me an opportunity to meet other administrators in my district, interact in a professional setting, ask questions of those with more experience, and make connections in which to refer to colleagues in the future.  My biggest takeaway: school culture starts with good intentions, but does not go anywhere without action and buy in.  

I also had the opportunity to provide professional development for administrators in my district, along with some good friends in Lucas Leavitt, Margie Zamora, Heidi Carr, Keith Thomsen, Jody Myers, and got to meet a great dude in Nick de Buyl, who flew from Kansas City to represent Pear Deck.  Together, we presented a variety of technology tools for administrators.  Some tools were presented as ones that would directly affect administrators' daily work grind, whereas others were presented as tools to share with the staff of their school to implement in the classroom.  Over the course of two days, over 100 administrators attended two of the two events, with a lot of positive feedback and hope for future opportunities.  CUE-NV is already excited to plan the next event, but first, the Silver State Technology Conference on September 29-30 (sign up for this event for numerous edtech sessions, two keynote speakers in Ari Flewelling and Ben Cogswell, vendors, lunch, and so much more!  If you'd like to present, submit a proposal!).  

As for the pleasure side of my summer, I have experienced several things that I have never done before.  The best was the trip that my wife and I took to Seattle for our 9th anniversary.  We had never been to Seattle before, my mother flew into Las Vegas to take care of our kids, and we spent 4 days experiencing an amazing city.  It also happened that the Detroit Tigers were there playing the Seattle Mariners, so we took in a couple of games at Safeco Field (the Tigers lost both, they're in freefall mode, tough to watch this year, but Safeco is amazing).  We ate some great seafood, saw some cool sites like the Space Needle and took a harbor cruise, got to see Michael Che perform comedy that was nothing like his Weekend Update sketches on Saturday Night Live, samples some great beers from Elysian Brewing and Pike Brewing, and experienced coffee on a whole new level at several places, especially the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room (didn't go to the original Starbucks in Pike Market, hotel concierge told us to skip that for the roastery).  I made a short video with a few pictures, but there were way too many pictures to choose from, and as I am not much of a picture guy (I am more for experiencing the moment rather than trying to take pictures), my wife has a lot of pictures that I did not have access too, and at the time of this writing, she is in Mexico (more on that in a moment too).  


Upon returning from Seattle, my wife and I had a few days to relax before we both went out separate ways... in traveling that is!  Mary is currently in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico working with orphaned kids.  As a speech pathologist, she gets to work with non-verbal and delayed children for 10 days as a volunteer.  Not only does she get to experience the joys of volunteering and serving an amazing cause, but she gets to experience a culture and a country in which she has never experienced before;  I couldn't be more proud of her!  As for me, I packed up the Durango and the camper and hauled our kids to my parents' place in Northern California.  While Mary was flying to Mexico and settling into her hotel in Guadalajara, I drove 650 miles through rural Nevada to Reno, then three more hours to my parents' place near Redding, CA.  Grand total, after stops, it took us about 11 and a half hours.  For the past few days, I have been a single parent, but having a ton of fun with my kids that would be a lot different if my wife was here.  We will be spending a few more days in CA before we head over to Reno for the weekend.  My parents will bring the kids back to CA while I spend one more day in Reno.  My wife will be flying back from Mexico to Las Vegas, spend a day to get her things in order before getting onto another plane to Reno where I will pick her up and reunite her with our kids after being away for 11 days.  The kids will certainly be surprised! 

So what does my summer have left prior to heading back to work?  I am almost done with The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, which is a great read and a must for anybody looking to improve their teaching and leadership skills.  Once I finish that, I am going to read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess with the goal of taking some of the lessons highlighted by the book and presenting it to the teachers in which I get to work with this fall.  I will also be heading out on a couple of different camping excursions.  One of which will be a couple of nights in Lassen Volcanic National Park, about an hour from my parents' house.  Another will be a few nights near Monterey, which I planned out to coincide with CUE LDI (Leadership Development Institute), a great opportunity to improve my leadership skills and network with so many that I look up to and call friends.  On the way back home, there may be a quick stop in Sequoia National Park, just depends on how fast the family wants to get home.  

Regardless of what lies ahead in the remaining weeks of summer, I can ascertain that it will be relaxing, but with a great deal of learning at the same time.  I look forward to what will pan out and what the coming school year is going to bring.  

Until next time... 





Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Time is Now!

In the description of my blog, I describe it as a place where I will share tips, tricks, rants, and wisecracks about life, education, politics, and everything in between.  Typically, I stick to the educational aspect of that description.  However, there have been a few occasions in which I have strayed from education to address something else that I am passionate about.  This post will be one of the latter.  If you are expecting a post dealing strictly with education, you may stop reading now, but I encourage you to keep going, as I believe that this is something that is of the utmost importance and can have a very strong impact on our lives as professional educators and for our students, colleagues, families, and communities.  

 On September 22, 1981, my mother, after hours of excruciating pain and suffering, gave birth to me (I've never asked her what her labor for me was like, so that may be a stretch, but after watching my wife give birth to our two children, I think I have a pretty good idea).  I was born in the 1980s, so technically I could be referred to as an 80s baby, but I definitely identify more as a 90s kid.  The 1990s is when I completed the bulk of my schooling, grew to my current height of 6'2" by the age of 14, and eventually graduated from high school in 2000.  Some of my biggest influences during this time came from the music of the era.  My mother has always listened to country, my father turned me on to classic rock.  To this day, I still listen to classic rock, much preferring it to most of the "music" of today.  I still appreciate a lot of the older country and what I grew up listening to with my mom (Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, and Alan Jackson are still some of my favorites), but most of what is considered country music today does not appeal to me. By the time I had reached about 5th grade, I began to explore other types of music and really was turned on to harder rock and metal, especially the "Seattle sound", the grunge movement.  

Grunge had everything that I wanted as a preadolescent and teenager: it was loud, it was aggressive, it was something that my mom hated.  Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden kicked out album after album of tunes that I still listen to almost daily (Lithium on SiriusXM plays all of the 90s grunge and alternative, without commercials, and my car radio rarely strays).  Many songs spoke to me musically, others spoke to me lyrically ("You, my friend, I will defend, and if we change, I'll love you anyway."  -No Excuses by Alice in Chains).  Because of my love for the music that I grew up with, you can only imagine the shock when, as driving to work, I learned of the death of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell's death.  

Chris Cornell's final tweet, just hours before his death
Upon learning of Cornell's death, instantly I was overcome with shock, grief, and disbelief.  How can a man so young, after playing a show before a sold-out crowd at the Fox Theater in Detroit, only hours before tweeting out how excited he was to be back in Detroit for a show, have passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly?  Unfortunately, after a few seconds of letting the news settle in, I had some ideas of what could have happened.  My first thought was a drug overdose.  It wasn't a secret that Chris Cornell had struggled with addiction throughout most of his life.  And sadly, way too many artists, musicians, and others that live their life in the limelight have their lives snuffed out way before their time because of addiction.  My second thought was that it was suicide.  Cornell also struggled with depression, which probably was partially why he had also struggled with drug addiction.  My thoughts were confirmed later in the day when multiple sources had confirmed that medical examiners had indeed ruled his death a suicide.  

I cannot even begin to pretend I know what had happened, why it happened, etc.  What I do know is that too many people struggle with addiction and depression in our world, and there aren't nearly enough resources to help people.  There is also the stigma of addiction and depression.  I recall listening to a recent episode of the Eagle Nation Podcast (the podcast for Team RWB, an amazing veterans' organization that seeks to bring veterans and their communities together through physical and social activity) where the guest on the episode talked about the difference between physical illness/injury and mental illness.  If you broke your arm, there would be no question whatsoever that you would visit a doctor, get your arm set and cast, be prescribed medication to prevent pain and infection, and you would follow up with a doctor to make sure that your arm healed properly.  Mental illness is different; those with mental illness were treated like criminals, housed in horrific prisons, for hundreds of years.  The stigma of mental illness still exists today where people are judged, people are afraid to talk about it, and most won't seek help, hoping they can "deal with it."  

Again, I can't say I know anything about Chris Cornell's circumstances.  Maybe he was seeking help, maybe he wasn't.  Maybe he was sober, fighting his addiction, maybe he had fallen off of the wagon.  As someone that deals with depression (see my previous post, Highs & Lows), I can definitely identify with bouts of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and other symptoms that are common with depression.  With the help of a therapist and people that I love and care about, I have been doing much better. 

The whole idea of writing this post was to outline how important it is to do these three things:
  • Tell the people that you care about that you care.  Make an effort every day to tell somebody that you appreciate them and that you are glad to have them in your life.  
  • Encourage those people to never be afraid to talk to you if something is bothering them or they are struggling (I struggle sharing my own feelings at times, it's a work in progress).  This is especially important as educators to show our students that we care about them.  
  • Celebrate the accomplishments of those in your life and encourage during times of struggle.  
The time to remove the stigma of addiction and mental illness was a long time ago, but since we cannot jump into a Delorean with Doc and Marty to change things then, the time for change is now!  And while we are at it, we can celebrate the contributions that Chris Cornell made to society through his music and philanthropy.  And I know that for all of us, he took the moment to "say hello to heaven."  Until next time...