Abstract blogging…time to play catch up

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“I do a lot of painting.  Abstract painting.  No brush.  No canvas.  I just think about it.”

– Steven Wright


I started this blog last spring with the hopes of furthering myself in the educational world.  When my school year ended on May 31, I was so excited about reading, learning and blogging about new ways to help students learn!  It was going to be a non-stop blitz until school started up again in August!

Well, August has arrived, and I have yet to blog this summer.  Where did that time go?

Now, mind you, I have been reading and learning A LOT!  However, what I haven’t taken the time to do is to reflect and write about what I’ve been reading and learning.  So, instead of blogging a number of times on each area of new learning that has taken place, I am now forced to create a last minute summary here before life turns insanely crazy next week when teachers in my district report back to school.

That seems like a pretty daunting task, but then I think about Steven Wright’s quote above.  I have actually blogged quite a bit this summer–the only problem is that it has only taken place in my own mind.  I guess that’s not too bad as long as my ability to recall events is sound…also the other advantage by the cumulative blog is that I can now make connections between events that I wouldn’t have been able to make if I had blogged a play-by-play.

So, here goes nothing:

1.  For the first time, I was able to meet with some colleagues in my school district at coffee shops and Panera Bread restaurants a few times to have a show and tell about what we are reading and doing to get ready for next year.  We made a Vine (a six second video – https://vine.co/v/blYm9tBmWPU) showing our excitement during one of the sessions.  Another colleague and I logged into Google+ and horned in on a video call somehow just to see if we could do it.  For a few minutes we talked with a couple of people in San Antonio at the ISTE conference.  From an informal level of professional development, it was great fun!

2.  I teach in a Missouri public school district with four high schools, which is considered pretty large by our standards.  Our superintendent is very highly regarded and has a great deal of influence locally and at the state levels.  Therefore, it’s very hard to catch him in one spot for too long, much less have a private conversation.

So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when, in mid-June, I requested an appointment to speak with him.  He not only accepted my appointment to discuss various aspects of leadership, but I was able to have his attention for TWO hours!  In fact, he shooed away a television news crew wanting an interview so we could continue our discussion.

I asked him about many aspects of leadership, and how he reacted to various situations he’s been presented with since taking over the district.  There are many people tugging at him from all sides.  Of course, there’s learned behavior and reactions he has been able to pick up over the years that has assisted him greatly with making the best decisions for the district’s children, as well as successfully handling the public relations that go along with those decisions.  I learned a great deal about leadership, along with confidence, power and patience, and how those aspects work together in order to head up a large public school district.  It was a tremendous opportunity that I will be forever grateful.

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  1.  Phil Jackson is the 11-time NBA world champion coach of the Bulls and Lakers whose latest book is titled “Eleven Rings–The Soul of Success.”  While on family vacation in the Bahamas, I was able to read the book and reflect on Jackson’s teachings.  My big takeaways from the book deal with leadership and trying not to overcontrol situations.  Give up control and trust the moment are continual lessons he illustrates over and over again.  In addition, he’s a huge advocate of exercises that quiet a cluttered mind.  Being mindful when the pressure is on is the key to performing at critical junctures.  Overall, it was a terrific read as long as you understand the leadership parallels that exist between Jackson’s world of high priced NBA superstars and the world I know best in a middle school classroom.Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 5.22.59 PM
  2.  I was fortunate enough in mid-July to take part in something called EdCampHome, and it was an incredible experience!  The EdCamp movement is a new, less formal, but more personalized way to approach professional development.  EdCamps are held at many places nationwide where people would show up without any agenda whatsoever.  Participants would create topic areas on site and then attend these sessions where discussion about a given topic would take center stage and the learning would organically evolve.  People sitting in these sessions would tweet or blog or broadcast them to engage others outside of the EdCamp in order to gain additional perspective or expert opinion on the topics at hand.Well, EdCampHome took this concept to another level.  Using Google Hangouts (which I had never attempted before), people could sit in the confines of their own homes and take part in sessions that were created on the spot.  It really was quite something to see it all come together.  I don’t have enough room here to fully explain it, but all of the Hangouts were video archived and can be seen at www.edcamphome.org– it was really was an amazing experience that I hope more people will be fortunate enough to take part in someday.
  3. One of my partners in #educrime, Laura Gilchrist (@LauraGilchrist4) who teaches in another middle school in my district turned me on to something called the EduTour.  Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) and Tim Gwynn (@tgwynn) are teachers in Michigan and North Carolina, respectively.  They have had quite an online presence in terms of providing professional development, so I’ve already been somewhat in tune with their insanity.  But they wanted to take it up a notch by putting their wheels on the ground and driving from Indiana (the site of a conference they were both attending) to California stopping in cities along the way to talk with other like-minded educators.  Thus, the EduTour was born.

    So, I sneaked out of a family camping trip for a couple of hours to join Nick, Tim and about 20 others at one of these stops in a bar/restaurant in downtown Kansas City.  It was great meeting Nick, but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to engage very much with Tim.  The conversation that I sneaked in on with Nick was about Evernote and also about effective teacher evaluations.  Although it was a short visit, it was enough to want to learn more about the topics we discussed and to network with some of the current rock stars in education.  Check out their other adventures along the way at www.edutour2013.com.

  4. Our district has a week-long Summer Academy where we actually get paid to attend professional development sessions that we normally wouldn’t have time for during the school year.  This year, most of my sessions were ones that our district “strongly suggested” that I attend.  Even though I was somewhat strong armed into these math-related courses, I really did enjoy picking up some new techniques and management strategies.

    When I was a basketball and volleyball coach, we would frequently attend coaching clinics.  The mantra of those clinics was that if you are able to learn just one thing that you could fully implement into your program, then the time spent was worth it.  Well, the same thing applies here.  I do believe there are items that I learned that I will put into my repertoire this year–success!  Our district is moving towards the workshop model, so much of my focus will be spent on real-life situations, collaboration, engagement and the proper incorporation of technology in my classroom.

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  5.  Well, I wish I could say that was all, but there was so much learning that occurred from reading tweets, journals and articles, that I can’t even quantify those opportunities.  I was able to participate in a number of online Twitter chats (like #moedchat, #satchat, #sunchat, #edchat, etc.) and meet and discuss current educational topics with educators from as far away as Sri Lanka and Australia.  Also, I’m not done reading yet.  I still have yet to finish, “The Art of Non-Conformity,” by Chris Guillebeau, “Teach Like A Pirate,” by Dave Burgess and I just ordered a book called “Minds on Mathematics:  Using Math Workshop To Develop Deep Understanding in Grades 4-8,” by Wendy Ward Hoffer.  In addition, I have a whole handwritten sheet of paper devoted to the ideas, ramblings and scribbles that fleetingly went through my head over the course of the summer that I want to try in my room beginning this fall.I think that about covers it.  I still wish that I was able to blog on all these events separately, but I think the big lesson I learned here is that education (even my own personal education) is rarely pretty.  As much as I would love to take each individual experience and boil it down to its component parts and file it away properly, that won’t happen as long as there are human beings involved.  Teaching and learning is a messy proposition.  Oftentimes, most of the notes that I so eloquently take on a book or at a conference are not going to be feasibly used in the classroom on a daily basis.  So, instead, what I take into the classroom are the memories that come to me off the top of my head.  That’s what this blog was all about…the summative knowledge that I gained from these experiences cumulatively.

    Man…and I thought I took the summers off…

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