30 Goals Challenge: Exercise 2

Quite a while back I began Shelly Sanchez Terrell‘s The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform your Teaching (I carry the book with me everywhere Shelly). I have been so busy that I tend to look at the cover and sigh, saying, “I will get back around to you one of these days.” Well today is the day! And I am going to Blog about it. My posts might not be real lengthy, but I hope to cause you, dear reader, to pause and think. Think about how we can become the best darn teachers in the world for the world’s best kids.

As part of exercise 2, I am creating goals and my teaching manifesto. I’m not sure of being at the manifesto part yet, but I do have goals. I used a tool called Buncee to create the stunning visual below. I also have a copy posted in my classroom for all to see. What are your goals for this school year?

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

 

One Block at A Time: I’m Just Learning

Following education, technology, pedagogy, brain research, as well as a plethora of other educational trends and issues has been a passion of mine over the past half decade (does the seem to look like a lot more time?). What has been weighing most on my mind as an in the trenches teacher for the past three years is, how can I become a GREAT teacher?
img_0475 I don’t want to just settle for average. I mean, my kids have enough average teachers every day. I want to be up there with elite teachers, teachers like Paul Solarz, Dave Burgess, Michael Matera, Nicholas Provenzano, Starr Sackstein, Shelly Sanchez, Alice Keeler, Joy Kirr, and Vicki Davis. These teachers are passionate about what they do and make a difference for not only the students they teach but also for the teachers that teach other students. These elite teachers have an impact on my classes here in Iowa City.
One of the things that I am coming to realize this year is that many of the trends and issues I was following didn’t or haven’t mentioned the six fundamental teaching strategies that form the basis from whence great teachers spring. My current research into the realm of educational psychology and how we learn began with reading just a bit of John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. I got just a little ways into the book before I realized that I needed to read Hattie’s and Yates’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. While reading this book, going through a number of highlighters, and taking many notes, I began to realize that there was something missing from my educational foundation!

Back in college we didn’t really have any textbooks that I can recall ever buying or reading that really focused on how people learn. I recently came upon the following articles in my Flipboard feed;

The Internet Makes Us Stupid and Here’s Why, We Need to Rewrite the Textbook on How to Teach Teachers, and How Has Google Affected the Way Students Learn? These all helped to lead me to the following documents:

  1. Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.
  2. National Council on Teacher Quality (2016). Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know. 
  3. Behnke, Rachel. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction: A Guide for Administrators. TCEC Conference.
Now that I know the basics, I feel that I can move forward and better understand how to become a GREAT teacher. What was missing from my own teacher prep program has been located and I can rectify the deficiency and finally move forward. And, so I begin building, one block at a time (I knew there was a missing piece somewhere).

Make the Most Important Things the Most Important

I would like to become an expert at teaching and learning. I can find a lot of research about how to become an expert artist, musician, or athlete, but nothing about how to be at the top of my game in teaching.  
Can a teacher become an expert? What should they become expert in? Content? Psychology? Assessment? Curriculum? Relationships? There is so much conflicting research out there that I can’t make up my mind about what to focus on.

Since I have four distinctly different courses that I prepare for every day and some research says that it takes 10,000 hours of intense study to become an expert, where would I be able to find 40,000 hours to become expert in each area? When will I be able to find the time to make a lasting impact on our profession, like writing a book?
Even if I completely ignored my family and just focused on becoming an expert, I don’t think I would have the time (my work/life balance would pretty much suck too).

So I guess my question comes down to, how does one decide on what is most important? Is Visible Learning more important than understanding formative assessment? Should being a team player come before shoring up my own skills or vice versa? 

EXPlore Like A Pirate, Teach Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, Standards Based Grading, Throwing Out Grades, quizzes, tests, UBD, PLC, lesson planning, research, professional development, genius hour, innovation, creating versus consuming, portfolio assessment, priority standards, technology.

If you have a suggestion, drop me a line, I’m drowning any way ;-) 

                                 

SemicolonEDU

Last month I took a bold step in my life. I joined two of my education heroes Joe Mazza and Nicholas Perazanno and got inked. My semicolon tattoo will serve as a constant reminder of how damaging my depression had been, that it is always with me, and that others; parents, students, and colleagues may be going through what I went through in the past eight years.

 Two causes I firmly stand behind, #prolife & #SemicolonEDU The first is rather self explanatory, the second is an actual tattoo (which I thought I would NEVER do) of a semicolon. Semicolons are used by authors when they could choose to end a story bu

Our health is important, but oftentimes people are dismissive of or downright ignorant of mental health issues. When people found out about me having problems with anxiety and depression, they usually responded in one of three ways, they empathazie and share their own story, they are empathetic but don’t know what they should do, or they shrug and blow me off as lazy and possibly require too much maintenance to be worth building a relationship with.

The thing is nobody wants depression. I wish every day that I could be cured and life would go back to the way it was before anxiety and depression entered my life. Unfortunately, depression cannot be cured. I am fortunate though that medication has helped as well as doing something I am passionate about, teaching and learning at a Catholic high school.

Depression can make life really suck. When I learned about #SemicolonEDU I knew that I had to become involved. My advice to others dealing with depression or anxiety is to see a doctor and get the proper medication. Also, make sure that you do some research about how depression works. For those living with someone who struggles with depression or anxiety, be patient! Don’t think that they are just being lazy if they can’t get out much. Always love that person and know that they are trying to deal with mental health as best they can. Love can conquer all.

Knowledge: Easy Come, Easy Go

Knowledge about educational psychology, educational technology, relationship building, and being able to implement sound pedagogy are all essential tools for helping a teacher to be successful. So why then do many teachers appear to either lack one or more of these skills or they lack the time and energy to research these topics? Why do some teachers appear to be so skilled and competent, whereas I feel like I can never consume enough research or learn enough about my students to just keep my head above water?

I know that most teachers believe that what they teach is very important for our kids to know for success in life, but do these same teachers truly believe that kids will actually remember what they were teaching decades later? The only thing I can recall from my high school chemistry class is that the chemical equation (if that’s even the proper term) is C6 H12 O6. Most of the material from high school geometry and algebra is either very deeply buried in my subconscious or lost because I haven’t had to use it for quite some time. Heck, maybe I’m literally losing my mind because much of what I learned in college geography and earth science has been lost to the ages. And I majored in geography with an earth science minor!

  
There is an old saying I recall, “it’s like riding a bike.” The saying is meant to convey the idea that anything learned can be easily recalled just as if you have not rode a bike in a few years you will be able get back on a bike and ride it any way because you learned to do it at one time. Well, I beg to differ. I think that the mind begins to let go of ideas, concepts, and information after they have not been used in quite some time and this is much different from learned psychomotor skills. Although, muscles that are not used do tend to retard or even atrophy over time.

The question for this teacher is which happens quicker, the loss of learned ideas, concepts, and information or the loss of psychomotor skills OR were the ideas, concepts, and information ever fully understood? I guess I need to do more research.

Is High School Theology Just About the Content? 

For about a year now I have been searching. I have been searching for ways to engage my freshman theology students. I go between the USCCB’s “Framework,” my school’s textbook, the Bible, etc. I often feel like Moses wandering through the desert. I have learned from the National Directory of Catechesis that there is a different way to teach theology.Alpha and Omega

I am not a creator of teaching materials, I am a searcher for the best materials for my students. I have searched for any freshmen theology teachers who have developed standards that augment the bishop’s “Framework.” The “Framework” does a good job of outlining the content that should be included in high school theology courses, but it lacks what the students should be able to do or how they are to show what they have learned.

Do I decide what it is that my students should be able to do? Am I the one to decide how my students show their learning? What are the best ways for students to show that they understand, that they remember, that they can apply, analyze, evaluate, and create? The Church is the authority on many things, so who is the authority when it comes to theological pedagogy?

I guess that I feel I rely on the Church for so much that when it comes to something that is so extremely important like preparing the souls of adolescent learners, I need more than just my feelings, prayer, and approved textbooks to guide these decisions. I do have textbooks that have suggestions but that’s the rub, they are just suggestions. Can I make those learning decisions? Yes, I can. Do I know why I would choose an essay to express the four senses of scripture or an album cover with liner notes, or are the senses of scripture not really that important? Where should I be expending my efforts?

To me, it appears that there is a disconnect between what research is showing in education in general and the specifics of what is to be known in theology. What should freshmen theology students be doing? What should they be producing and creating? How do they show that they are making the connection between knowledge and the heart? How do we help them come to know the goodness, richness, and Tradition of the Catholic Church?

The Dreaded PD Staff Meeting

the dreaded dead spider

the dreaded dead spider

For the past year, I have been wondering why I come away from staff meetings in a grumpy mood? The funny thing is I enjoy meeting with my colleagues but I seem to leave the meetings frustrated. Don’t get me wrong here because I work for great administrators and colleagues and we have awesome students, but we are stretched too thin. I feel that a couple of things are in motion here; one, I never feel as though what I have to say matters to anyone and second, the focus is seldom on what’s best for kids but on topics that might someday be remotely related to my daily interaction with students (and even this is quite a stretch). And some things just get started and they whither away, so why put effort into something that may or may not be revisited in the future?

I feel that for a staff “professional development” meeting to meet my needs as a professional teacher and learner it has to have five things.

First, it helps if the topic will be personally useful to me and by that I mean something that I can turn around and implement in my classroom. Second, it needs to be focused on helping students become self-motivated learners. Third, I want to know that my voice is valued as a contributing member of the community. Fourth, professional development meetings need to be a dialogue not a lecture.  And last, the topic needs to have a sense of urgency attached to it. 

I want to be the best teacher I can be for every student, teacher, and parent I meet. So, wouldn’t it make sense if professional development centered around what individual teachers need most?

What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?

This is my first Blog about Catholic schools and theology. I am a teacher at heart, but the BIG eternal questions have begun to dominate my time. The seriousness of trying to get others to Heaven has been weighing heavily on my mind as a new school year has begun.
Catholic School

First and foremost a Catholic school should be the face of Christ to the world. The very first question we in Catholic education must ask ourselves is, will what we are doing help our students to become saints? A very close second question should be, what are we doing to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life? I teach high school theology, junior high religion, a college and careers class, and a mobile computer science principals class. I teach in a Catholic school! But, how is a Catholic school any different from a public school or a charter school? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are three types of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.”(There) are parochial schools, which are associated with particular parishes; diocesan schools, which are associated with the larger diocesan unit; and private order schools, which are associated with specific groups within the Catholic church, such as the Christian Brothers, Dominican, Jesuit, and Marianist Orders (see full statistics here).”

In choosing to send my children to a Catholic school as well as 20 percent of my meager income, I expect that they will have theology or religion class on a daily basis because we all know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that our purpose here on earth is to know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him eternally. I choose not to send my children to public schools because most public schools are bigger and I want my children to be part of a smaller albeit strong academic community of disciples responding to the call of Christ. I also expect my children to learn charity by serving the culture of life through total giving of self. I expect a Catholic school to ground my children in the mission, sacramental life, and magisterial teachings of the Church. I want everyone of my students to be able to combat social relativism, know what and why the Church teaches what it does, and then be able to defend and apply that teaching to their lives.

I came across the following article recently by Jason Adams, “Raising Religious & Moral Standards for Catholic High School Students,” and after just one year of teaching high school theology I concur with his findings. I am especially disappointed that theology (the study of God) is not given the same academic status (rigor, or as I prefer, vigor) as the rest of the curriculum. This all begins and ends with the culture of the school. If the culture in a Catholic school is not clearly focused on Christ, if it is at all caustic, negative, or even doubtful about Church teachings, then students will pick up on this and theology or religion will become a touchy-feely-everyone-sing-kumbya-and-be-happy class because the tenants of our faith really don’t matter. If all a Catholic school does differently than a public school is pay lip service by “looking” Catholic and praying, then is it really a Catholic school?

In my opinion, theology is probably the most academically challenging course a student can have. In theology we are trying to understand God, to prove that He even exists. I have a lot of priest friends and one of them told me about a class where he was talking about concepts like eternity, God being outside time, and the uncreated creator. At one point he stated, “I only began to be able to understand this concept enough to explain it to others about five years ago.” His advice to me that same day was, “we all should be aware that if we don’t practice what we preach, then we begin to lose that which we once knew.” Theology is definitely not like learning to ride a bike. We will never fully understand God in a lifetime of committed theological study, but we can begin to know Him better and be able to evangelize others through this study.

One of Adams’s solutions for making Catholic schools more Catholic is,

          “Students should be made accountable for learning, retaining,
           and applying the content of the faith. They should read primary
           documents, research matters of faith and morality, write in-depth
          analytical papers, take notes frequently, and give quality individual
          presentations. They should be exposed to adult thinking about the faith
           from their teachers, guest speakers, and other sources such as articles
          from Catholic periodicals and audio/video presentations from orthodox
          theologians. Accountability for learning also means frequent testing and
          honest evaluations of the quality of students’ work. Religion courses
          should be anything but cupcake classes, considering the volume and
          complexity of theological concepts that they survey.”

This is a serious charge to undertake and sometimes stake holders at Catholic schools get sucked into the idea of the school having a “Catholic identity” but get distracted by numbers of graduates attending college (don’t get me wrong here as I want all my students and children to attend college, but not at the cost of their eternal happiness), numbers of students taking advanced placement or honors classes, or even numbers of students scoring high on state achievement tests. Many Catholic schools have a Mass, pray, and have kids wear uniforms, but does this alone make the school truly Catholic? Most Catholic schools have theology courses but at many of those schools people continue to see theology as a fluff class. The question often is, how can you assess my son or daughter on religion? So, the conclusion is that it’s a feelings course with an automatic A attached. We cannot afford to do this to our children especially in an era when Catholic church numbers are dropping drastically. In May, the publication Crux published a finding from a Pew Research survey which showed that only sixteen percent of Millennials (those people born between 1981 – 1996) identify as Catholic (see article here).

Religion should be at the heart of every Catholic school’s educational program and research has proven that Catholic schools, religious orders, and the priesthood begin to thrive when there is a commitment to the Magisterium, the principles of Catholic faith, and the moral life of the church. Students need to be exposed to the roots of our Catholic Faith and its relevance and application to contemporary living and faith issues. If Catholic teachers and administrators really took to heart what the Church teaches and the eternal implications of what we do here on earth have on the next part of our journey, then we would be on our knees daily as a staff praying for the students and families we are privileged to serve. As St. Theresa of Calcutta was fond of saying, “I see and adore the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Back In the Saddle Again

Corn growing in driveway

photo by Aaron Maurer @coffeechugbooks. Used with permission

It’s a good thing that I took a break from social media for a month. There were so many things that I did with my family and moving two households into one place was just the most recent event. Yes, I have bruises from carrying boxes and household items and I have muscles screaming that I didn’t even know I had, but the move is over. Finally, after two years, my wife and kids and I are living in one place, in Iowa.

What was being off social media for a month like? At first it was freeing. I felt like I had more time, which I didn’t have because I’ve been taking two online classes, one that ends this week and one that ends the day school starts on August 24th. I found that I couldn’t keep away from my Flipboard account which is where I get most of my news and where I curate information into a dozen magazines. I didn’t turn my notifications off so I did notice the constant stream of my Twitter feed popping up on my iPhone. I read a lot for pleasure, tried out some new iPhone games (including one called Ingress which is location based and entails getting outside and capturing virtual portals), and I colored. Yes, that last one was coloring. I bought an adult coloring book Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, a set of colored pencils, and spent some time coloring. No, I’m not trying to reclaim my lost childhood, I have read a number of articles about coloring helping keep stress levels low so I gave it a try. I find that when I color I am so focused on staying inside the lines and preoccupied with my color selection that my mind does not wander to the daily stressors of my life!

My daughter has been running with other kids from her cross country team this past week so I was at school from 7 AM until 8:30 or 9 AM all last week. This week she begins two a days that start at 6 AM and 6 PM and we’ll throw in a drama camp at 3 PM. It will feel like being at school full-time.

Where do I stand as of today? I have about 400 Voxer group messages, I have been peeking at my Twitter feed and occasionally favoriting tweets and even retweeting the past couple of days. I have to learn my routine again which means setting aside time for things like blogging and participating in chats. It was really difficult to stay away from chats. I looked at my notifications about every third day just to make sure I wan’t getting trolls into my feed.

I miss my friends. As many of you may know, I don’t have a lot of friends IRL, so being away from my friends on Twitter and Voxer was really trying on me. I’m an introvert at heart, but I love all the friends I have made via social media. I saw quite a few items come across yesterday from Shelly Sanchez (@ShellTerrell), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz), Andrea Kornowski (@andreakornowski), Aaron Maurer (@coffeechugbooks), Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19), Darin Johnston (@AnIowaTeacher), and the always early riser Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and I couldn’t help but feel ecstatic that I would be joining in their conversations again and tapping into their expertise.

Now, do I try to get through all those Voxer messages or do I mark them them all read and begin anew?

Technology, A Blessing and A Curse

Always on, connected 24/7 always carrying more technology than the astronauts involved in the Apollo moon landing can be both a blessing and a curse. As I tried to follow along with the #NotAtISTE2015 group and all the wonderful presentations from ISTE 2015 I realized that I could not keep up. It was too mentally stimulating. I felt like my mind was on information over load. I realized that I need a break!

It seems as though I have lived, breathed, and soaked in social media and education for six years straight. I believe that everyone needs to take a vacation or even a staycation (is that even a word?). Needless to say, I’m taking the month of July off. No social media, no blogging, no Voxing, no Twitter. Unfortunately, Email never goes away. If I didn’t keep up with that at least every other day, I would most likely have over 1,000 Emails by August 1st.
July 2015 Calendar
One of the first people I began following on Twitter was Dr. Doug Belshaw. He (@dajbelshaw) started taking a month away from social media in 2007. He called it Belshaw Black Ops. Doug has the right idea, we all need to take a break from our always on society. I too am going to focus on reading books during July and spending time with my family (Coach D – I will also NOT be following news stories).

Yesterday I read a blog post written by another Twitter friend of mine, David Geurin (@DavidGeurin). He is a high school principal, blogger, and moderator of #MOedchat. You can read David’s post here. One thing from his post hit home and it hit me hard. He said, “I will pull back as I completely restructure my time. You see, there are five people in my life who are counting on me more than anyone else. They call me husband and dad.” I don’t know why Mr. Geurin’s post resonated so profoundly with me. Is it because we are both married and have four children? Is it because I too feel that my family had been getting whatever dad has left over in the tank after ed chats, school, grading, and student events?

Whatever the reasons, I have these two men to thank for my disappearance from the Twitterverse and digital social media. I’m going to live in the moment, try to dream, relax, and connect with people face to face. I’ll be back in August with #CathTheoEdChat and start gearing up for fall presentations and the 2015-2016 school year, but I’m hoping I can be a better resource to my PLN upon my return.