Tuesday, February 23, 2016

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

While participating in #nvedchat on Monday night, one of the tweets that came across the hashtag was a link to a blog by Jeremy Stewart (@J_Stew314 on Twitter).  His blog had an interesting twist/challenge to it, identifying the following five ideas regarding his school year thus far.  After reading his blog, I notified him that I would be stealing his idea and doing it myself.  With his blessing, here goes... 

What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

1.  I have struggled, mightily, with my 8th-period class.  Even with a co-teacher to assist me with students in the class with IEPs, we cannot reach the majority of the class.  What makes it worse is that it is the smallest of my classes that aren't an AP class.  With only 23 students, you would think that two of us would be able to reach students on a consistent basis.  However, we struggle to get students to participate in class, complete work on a regular basis, use time wisely during class, and demonstrate learning on assessments. This is not the case with my other five classes; my other five classes do an amazing job on a regular basis. We are at our wits end as to how to address this class and, unfortunately, I sometimes dread the 85 minutes that we work with them every other day because of the apathetic attitudes of so many.  However, the 4-5 students in the class that are consistently good make it worth it and make me continue to be positive.

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of this school year.

I have a lot to be proud of this year.  It is quite hard for me to narrow it down to two items.  

1.  In December, I completed the Google Certified Educator Level 2 exam and became certified.  Over the course of many years, I have become very proficient in the use of GAFE tools and have begun to lead trainings for my colleagues on how to use the tools to the utmost of their potential in the classroom.  I decided last summer to make it official.  I was ready to jump all over the test in September, but Google was in the process of revamping the certification program, so I had to wait.  After a few weeks of preparation, I was able to pass the exam in December, certifying myself as a Google Certified Educator until December 2017.  

2.  In 2014, I graduated from Nova Southeastern University with an educational specialist degree in school administration.  I love my current job, so I haven't been actively pursuing any school administration positions.  However, my district has changed the way that one may apply for an entry level administrative position by requiring one to complete a leadership preparatory academy.  Entry to the academy is very competitive, with only about 50 slots available to hundreds of applicants.  After sending in the required letters, resume, transcripts, etc., completing a timed writing sample, and interviewing with district level administrators, I was accepted into the reboot of the academy that hasn't been held for several years.  After completing the 13-week academy, I will be eligible to apply for the administrative pool, thus opening up the opportunity to apply for assistant principal and dean of students positions throughout the district.  

What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

1.  As an AP United States History teacher, it is my goal every year to help prepare all of my students to pass the AP exam with at least a 3, giving students the opportunity to earn college credit.  Last year, of my nine students that took the exam, four of them earned a 3 or better, with one of them earning a 5!  It was the first time that any of my students earned a 5, and as much as I would love to say I helped him get there, I had nothing to do with it; this student is the epitome of hard work = success and he is going to go places.  In the future, I get to say I knew him before he was big time, I couldn't be prouder of him.  This year, I hope that I can break that 50% passing threshold.  I am not sure how many of my 14 students will take the exam, but if all 14 do, I hope that 7 of them can earn a 3 or better on the test, and I am going to do whatever I can to get my students ready for that test in May.  

2.  I hope to be able to expand the scope of my Ski & Snowboard Club so it is more of an outdoor recreation club that includes all outdoor activities, within reason.  Some activities, like whitewater rafting, are not allowed by the district, but skiing, snowboarding, fishing, camping, and hiking are all allowed.  Working at a school that serves an urban neighborhood, there are numerous students that have never been camping, seen what rural Nevada has to offer, or traveled on overnight excursions without their families.  I hope that I can expand the club's scope and rename it, purchase the necessary equipment to camp, and take a group of students to Great Basin National Park to introduce to them my love of the outdoors, show them the beauty of one of the least visited parks in the nation (it is in the middle of NOWHERE, look it up!), and hook them into an activity that they can share with their families and do for the rest of their lives.  

3.  I love going to educational conferences.  As of today, I am scheduled to attend three conferences in four months.  I will be heading to Palm Springs, CA for the CUE National Conference in March, followed by ISTE in Denver in June, and finishing up with the AP Conference in Anaheim in July.  Whenever going to a conference, you hope to get as much as you can from the sessions to take back to your practice.  My goal is to learn at least one new teaching/tech method that I can implement into my practice at each conference AND network with as many people from throughout the nation to engage in dialogue about practices.  I have met numerous amazing educators and speakers at previous conferences, I don't see any reason why it won't continue.  

Give FOUR reasons you remain in education in today's rough culture?

1.  I genuinely enjoy my job.  What other job allows me to geek out on history and technology and get paid to do it, not to mention watching kids grow into their own and eventually come back to to tell me about where they are today and how their teachers helped them get there?  If you can find another career that gives me those perks, please fill me in and I'll dig deeper.  

2.  Somebody has to do it, and it may as well be me.  Teachers are the scapegoat for so many of society's ills and are underappreciated for the job we do.  Does that bother me?  Sometimes, absolutely.  However, I have thick skin and really do not care what the critics think.  I am going to do my job to the best of my ability and I am going to mold young minds into the future leaders of America.  

3.  History, if ignored, will repeat itself.  It is up to me to expose those around me to the good and the bad of our history to inform people of the dangers of ignorance, the importance of being a good citizen, and the importance of participating in the political process.  

4.  I am a learner.  The books that I read are always educational in nature.  I enjoy watching documentaries, political commentary, and other programs that are educational (I am heartbroken that Mythbusters is in its last season, but I digress).  My job values those that continuously learn to improve their practice.  Many other jobs in the world do not hold that kind of accountability to learn, so being "forced" to take classes, participate in conferences and trainings, and interact professionally with peers is not a punishment, it is a reward (I kind of stole this from Jeremy Stewart's blog, but I found his reasoning to be extremely fitting and couldn't' ignore it).  

Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

1.  Snehal Bhakta:  I met Snehal a few years ago at an informational meeting for the Ed.S program through Nova.  We immediately had a professional connection and worked together through our program as a support for each other through the hours of writing papers, reading text, and discussion boards.  I consider him a great friend and an educational inspiration to my work on a daily basis.  

Follow @snehalstocks

2.  Brian Briggs:  Brian presented at the CUE Rockstar of Las Vegas in August 2015.  I sat in on some of his presentations about various educational technology and started following his posts on Twitter.  I was lucky enough to be able to work with him in January when he came back to Las Vegas to give a keynote speech at a conference that I coordinated.  He brings so much to the table in regards to edtech and STEAM that I cannot even begin to heap enough praise.  

Follow @bribriggs

3.  Ben Dickson: Ben is a regular participant of Monday night's Nevada Ed Chat and an administrator in Reno, NV.  He also leads the #teachNVchat on Thursday nights.  His passion for teaching and leadership is unprecedented and I have learned a great deal from him, and my only interactions with him have been over Twitter.  

Follow @BDicksonNV

4.  Heidi Carr:  Heidi is a member of the CUE-NV Board with me.  Her passion for teaching and technology is through the roof.  We have grand plans for sharing our expertise with others and implementing new ideas into our own practices.  She has a dearth of knowledge that you need to hear about! 

Follow @carr_8

5. Samantha Bledsoe: Samantha is my teaching partner. We see each other every day, we plan lessons together, we share our excitement and frustrations over our classes with each other.  She is very passionate about her work and is a great human being.  

Follow @sbledso_e

Follow each other these fine educators on Twitter.  Take the challenge yourself.  What are your struggles, accomplishments, goals, reasons for staying in education, and who do you admire and challenge?  

Until next time... don't be this guy! 

    Monday, February 22, 2016

    Busy much?

    When my alarm went off at 5 this morning, I actually got out of bed.  Lately, that has not been the case.  A little bit of background...

    The first class of my school day starts at 7 AM.  Contractually, I am obligated to be in my classroom by 6:50.  However, I like to be to my classroom by 6:40 or earlier to get everything set up for the day and to clear my head in preparation for whatever it may be for the day.  If I leave my house by 6:30, I can make it to school in about 7-8 minutes, grab all of my stuff from the car (I look quite ridiculous when I'm coming in, as I am always carrying my lunch, my gym bag so I can go for a run with a couple of my colleagues from school, my Chromebook, and lately, my briefcase that holds all of my leadership academy materials), go to the mailroom to check for anything, work my way upstairs to put my lunch in the office fridge and fill up my Nalgene (shameless plug, can I get some free bottles now?), and walk in to my classroom.

    If I can get to work and get everything done that I need to within that time, why am I waking up at 5?  My wife and kids are still sleeping, they do not go to daycare until about 7:45, and my wife to work around 8, so why am I waking up so early?  The answer: I like to get up and take my time on most mornings getting ready.  When the alarm goes off at 5, that gives me the opportunity to have some coffee and breakfast while watching the news (or usually, I catch up on either The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from the night before).  I am in the shower and getting dressed by 6, and out the door no later than 6:30.  With the amount that's been on my plate lately, the alarm hitting at 5 AM has been depressing and going back to sleep for an hour has been more appealing.  So, my morning routine has been vastly different as of late.  Now it's been scrambling to get ready, coffee is taken with me for the drive, breakfast may be something I can scarf while driving, or I pack it with my lunch and eat it before students show up, and I don't get my dose of comedic news and politics.

    This morning when I woke up, I actually felt refreshed.  Sunday was a relatively stress free day of hanging out on the couch with my 10 month old boy while watching hockey, Better Call Saul (I'm all caught up on all of Season 1 and watched the first episode of Season 2), and The Walking Dead.  Laundry was taken care, the house was picked up (for the most part, a clean house with a 4 year old and a 10 month old is like a unicorn, you know that it probably exists, but you never see it), and the dishwasher was unloaded and reloaded.  I was in bed and asleep by a little bit after 9, which is another almost impossible feat as of late.

    What has made me so busy as of late?  I am an educator, what hasn't made me busy?  Between technology presentations, grading assignments, prepping students for their video presentations later this week (you'll be getting the YouTube links to that!), leadership academy assignments, planning the summer road trip to the Midwest, and making travel plans for CUE National next month and ISTE in June, I have been quite busy.  Because of this, I am calling it a victory that I actually woke up and did my "normal" routine this morning!  Now, if only I can stick to it for the rest of the week.

    Until next time...

    Monday, February 8, 2016

    Leadership is Tough!

    Very recently, I had the privilege of being accepted to the Clark County School District's resurrection of its Leadership Academy.  The purpose of the Academy is to better prepare administration candidates for the expectations and rigors of a school administration position.  The 13 week academy will explore different aspects of school leadership and give candidates the opportunity to learn their strengths and weaknesses in regards to a leadership position.  After one week of the academy, it has opened my eyes even further as to what I may eventually get myself into.

    Now don't get me wrong: I have never thought, for one second, that any school administration position was easy.  I have had my moments, as a teacher, where I have expressed frustration in some of my supervisors, but who hasn't done that at some point?  What began to open my eyes even further to what a school leadership position entails and what makes a good leader in those positions was an amazing book (which is ironic, I hate paper, my classroom is paperless for the most part, and I was required to read an actual book, something that I couldn't just read online).  This book, Tough Truths: The Ten Leadership Lessons We Don't Talk About by Deirdre Maloney, presented 11 (Surprise! She included a bonus truth after the 10 as advertised) ideas about what makes a good leader, how it is uncomfortable to talk about them, especially as an individual, and why they are so important in making a great leader.

    One of the things that stuck with me instantly when reading the book was right in the very first chapter. Paraphrasing here, it basically stated that "chess boards only have one king and one queen per side because it's tough to become one."  I thought about that in the sense of chess, where a queen is your piece that can move anywhere and losing it is nearly certain defeat while the king needs to be protected by all pieces and can only avoid harm's way by moving one space at a time.  To obtain another queen, you must move a pawn all the way across the board, which is not an easy task against any chess player worth their mettle (I am TERRIBLE at chess, for the record).  The book goes on to say that a great leader is a lot like the king and queen in chess in that it is very hard to become one, and it is hard to continue to be one and that one must address numerous aspects of their personality and professional growth in order to be an effective leader.  Our first written assignment for the academy was to look at our own personal characteristics and determine what we feel to be one of our leadership strengths and one of our leadership areas of growth (or weaknesses if you prefer) and how we can improve ourselves.  Before the instructor was done explaining the assignment, I already knew what I wanted to write about, but then when I sat down to put my thoughts down in type, I hesitated.  What was my greatest strength?  I know I have weaknesses, which one is most pressing?  I ultimately decided that being a risk taker was my strength while humor is my weakness.  

    Great leaders take risks.  Think about the best leaders you have worked with in your career.  You may not have liked the decisions, but you almost have to respect one that took the risk to try something new, risking their own reputation for the chance to improve something.  I have taken all sorts of risks throughout my career in the name of improving my students' education.  At the same time, humor is something I need to work on extensively.  I love to talk and crack jokes (if you have read this before, you've probably picked up on this, right?).  However, there is a time and a place to crack a joke.  I struggle with this on a daily basis.  There are times that, in hindsight, I have made a remark that has made me question myself later on.  It could have been an inopportune time for a joke or something that may have been misinterpreted as insensitive, despite my best intentions. Knowing that I struggle with this, the book and the assignment have made me think hard about this weakness and what I can do to improve.  

    Think about the leaders you have ever with, what made them great or terrible?  

    Until next time... what would my thoughts be without a witty graphic (is this an appropriate time for a joke?)?