The Value of Blogs – The 10 Blogs I Visit Most

I have to be honest, I am a relative newbie to both social media and blogging. I only started doing both this past October(ish), so 7 months of learning. As I have stated in previous blogs, I have always been a reflective teacher, but blogging and twitter have helped me find my own voice, reflect, and learn. There are so many people that I learn from on a pretty consistent basis. If you look at my PLN list on twitter, I think you will find a compilation of who I consider to be the superstars or dream team of the education world.

skype_logo_galleryFriday, I had a Skype conversation with one of the first people I started following on twitter Ms. Kelly Tenkely (@ktenkely) and I still cannot believe that this superstar would make time for me to talk about education. I don’t think of myself as being in the same league with most of the people I follow, but I hope that every once in a while I can add to the conversation, make people stop and think, or pass on something worthwhile to help people grow professionally.

A few weeks ago Mr. Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) wrote a post about the ten blogs that he must read every day. I thought that in this week’s blog I would follow his lead and give you my top ten or so list of blogs that I read on a regular basis. The list is in no particular order and I’m just going off the top of my head here (I know dangerous). So, I humbly present a list of blogs I follow on a regular basis.

Learning with ‘e’s by Dr. Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) – blackboardDr. Wheeler is a professor at Plymouth in the U.K. He writes about issues related to technology and pedagogy. My thinking is always being stretched by reading his blog. He has a keen understanding about learning and integrating technology. A couple recent posts come to mind, Learning Theories for the Digital Age and Self Organised Learning Spaces. Dr. Wheeler presents his thoughts and ideas at many conferences throughout the world and his work can be found in many places across the web.


MT & CKS Poole-

Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom by Mr. Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) – Mr. Anderson is a technology coordinator for the Winston-Salem, North Carolina School District. Steven was one of the first people I began following on twitter and I sought out his advice frequently. Through his blog, Steven writes about many different topics that blend technology, leadership, and education. If you want to learn why you should be blogging or how incorporating technology in your classroom can help you and your students become better learners, then this is a must read blog. A couple recent blogs of note, Google Tools to Check Out and Professional Development on Your Time, Your Way. Mr. Anderson can be found presenting at many technology related conferences and helping add to the body of knowledge about how to use the web and social media for teachers and learners.

Up next, two Canadians, both principals, but worth reading what they have to say as connected administrators and leaders in learning. The first is Mr. Interview questionsGreg Miller (@millerg6) who writes a blog titled Principal Greg Miller. In his blog Greg strives to reflect upon his experiences in education, the current state of education and what education can look like. A couple recent posts I found interesting; The New Look Teacher Interview and Try a Mystery Skype. Here’s Why. Mr. Miller is also very approachable and will answer questions that you might have. I was blown away when I commented on one of his blog posts and he commented back. Wow, me getting a message from Principal Greg Miller, unbelievable.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by -= Bruce Berrien =-

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by -= Bruce Berrien =-

The other Canadian is Mr. George Couros (@gcouros) who is a principal in Stony Plain, Alberta, look it up on a map. I like to refer the Mr. Couros asCurious George (no disrespect meant here, and no, I’m not comparing him to the monkey). The blog he writes is titled The Principal of Change. Always looking at moving education forward and sharing what he learns, George’s blog is amazing. He reflects upon his learning and experiences as a leader. I like his most recent blog post 10 Ideas to Move Innovation Forward.

Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher)CoolCat is one of the most amazing teachers I know and I have never even met her. We tweet back and forth occasionally and I find that I re-tweet many of her tweets to the people who follow me on twitter. Mrs. Davis is involved in social media and education in many different ways. You have to remember that this woman teaches elementary students all day long in Georgia, tweets more than a dozen times a day, writes books (see last week’s blog post), presents at conferences (Google “Flat Classroom”), puts together magazines for Flipboard, and is on Facebook and Google+. Whew, and did I mention she writes a blog? Yep, Cool Cat Teacher Blog. And her blog is awesome. I have learned so much from Mrs. Davis and there is no way I could ever repay her for all the help she has directly and indirectly given to me. She pours her heart and soul into the profession of teaching, just read her most recent blog post, 10 ways to End the School Year on an Up Note when You’re Exhausted and you will understand how caring and noble this teacher is to all that get the honor to know her.

I just realized that I am only half way through my list and I have a pretty long blog post for busy people on the go to read. So, I am going to put a hold on the next five and continue this blog sometime around Wednesday this week. However, I do want to thank all of you that are part of my social media networks. I would never have had such an enjoyable six or seven months if it weren’t for your leadership and encouragement. Thanks and God Bless.


Summer Reading

I plan to do a lot of reading this summer! I think we sometimes overlook the act of reading and reflecting as being a powerful part of our teaching professional development. I thought that since many teachers are looking the end of the school year directly in the face that I would provide a little insight into what a tech savvy pedagogue might have on his nightstand. If you have any suggestions as to what order I should begin with or maybe a top three to start with, please leave suggestions in the comments section.


A green ** next to a name means that the person (whether they are aware or not) is part of my PLN on twitter and/or Google+.

The Curiosity Cycle: Preparing Your Child for the Ongoing Technological Explosion by Jonathan Mugan (2012) – “To get the most from their curiosity, children must build models about the interactions of those around them and the tendencies within themselves.”

The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What we can do About it by Tony Wagner** (2008) “The skills needed to be a successful knowledge worker today continue to evolve and grow in importance everywhere – except in our schools.”

Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. (2008) author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – “Contrary to popular belief, boys are not born to rebel against their parents at any age. To a very large degree, this boy-hating-his-parents phenomenon has been contrived by popular media with the aid of some psychologists.”

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin ** (2008) – “This book weaves together a few big ideas, which taken together, form and irresistible argument. With tribes flourishing everywhere, there’s a vast shortage of leaders. We need you.”

One Minute Super Dad: 99 One-Minute Magic Moments You can Easily Create to Raise Amazing Children and Future Proofing Them by Dr. Prashant Jindal M.D. ( 2013 Kindle Edition) – “There are certain questions you can ask your child to help you both discover your gifts and talents. This way you will be able to provide relevant experiences and encouragement along the way.”

Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson ** (2013) – “With beginner-friendly instructions and examples from real schools, Swanson provides digital tools, learner-centered strategies, and exciting resources to help you improve your professional practice and become a lifelong learner.”

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess ** (2012) – “Like pirating, teaching is an adventure full of challenges and excitement. The way you approach your adventure can mean the difference between being shipwrecked on Burnout Island or finding buried treasure.”

Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time by Julie Lindsay ** and Vicki Davis ** (2013) – “We believe effective use of technology can build bridges between classrooms, nations, and humankind, and that 21st century skills harness not only the power of technology but the power of the people. We need this connection for the future of our planet. It is no longer an option. Students are the greatest textbook ever written for one another and will be travelers on this bridge.”

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) – “Blogs are a medium for learning, but they do not teach. Rather, they generate the space for a collective to emerge. It is impossible to predict what that collective will look like, and once it forms, equally difficult to manage it in any traditional way.”

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal ** (2011) – “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be responsible for providing the world at large with a better and more immersive reality. I want gaming to be something everybody does, because they understand that games can be a real solution to problems and a real source of happiness.”

Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson ** (2012 Kindle Edition) – “The world has changed — and continues changing — rapidly and radically when it comes to the ways in which we can learn, and what knowledge, skills, dispositions, and forms of literacy our children will need to flourish in their futures. Plain and simple, the Web and the technologies we use to access it drive those changes. And those changes are, in a word, profound.”

Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davidson ** (2011) -“Part of our failure rate in contemporary education can be blamed on the one-size-fits-all model of standards that evolved over the course of the twentieth century; as we narrow the spectrum of skills that we test in schools, more and more kids who have skills outside that spectrum will be labeled as failures. As what counts as learning is increasingly standardized and limited, increasing numbers of students learn in ways that are not measured by those standards.”

The World Is Flat [Further Updated and Expanded; Release 3.0]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman (2007) – “It is heartening to see educators now bypassing traditional intermediaries to share resources, best practices, and information…Some other entrepreneurs are now using the flat-world platform to try to improve government in the United States, because they understand that this new platform gives a whole new power to grassroots activists in a democracy – as opposed to party machines or big media.”

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room by David Weinberger ** (2011) – “Bringing smart people together is an ancient and effective technique for developing ideas. The Net also lets smart people connect and communicate. But the Net brings people together in new and occasionally weird configurations-a weirdness that is now being reflected in how expertise works. . . .”

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us byDaniel H. Pink ** (2009) – “…at the start of the school term, ask students about their individual passions and areas of expertise. Keep a list of your experts, and then call upon them as needed throughout the term. A classroom of teachers is a classroom of learners.”

And if I have time, I hope to get in the following books too:

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (2010) Edited by, Heidi Hayes Jacobs
21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times (2009) by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
Qualitative Research Methods in Education and Educational Technology (2008) by Jerry W. Willis
The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand (2013) by Lee Lefever **
Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, 2nd ed. (2013) by Barbara Blackburn **
How To Deliver A TED Talk: Secrets Of The World’s Most Inspiring Presentations (2012) by Jeremy Donovan

Learning, Teaching, Leading, and Having Fun

Hopefully, I will be offered a teaching job soon, but the hiring season has slowed and to be honest I feel that there isn’t an administrator out there that really cares about my particular job situation. It amazes me that I can pour my heart and soul into a profession, make loose connections, and keep developing as a teacher and leader, yet still be on the outside of the profession peering inside. Why do I continue to desire a secondary social studies teaching job? I can’t help it, I am passionate about teaching and learning.

I am also the kind of person who doesn’t settle for mediocrity. I have always been a reflective practitioner, but just recently have I had the courage to

cc - Alaska Teacher

cc – Alaska Teacher

stand up and speak out, to let my voice be heard. Twitter chats and Google + help me engage with world class leaders to discuss current pedagogy trends and how to best serve students. I started blogging this past fall as part of my reflections upon what I have learned and promoting ideas that matter. Engaging in discussions with other teachers and technology leaders helps me to stay relevant as a classroom teacher yet it makes me yearn even more for a school and a classroom I can call home. I curate articles and pertinent blogs on Scoop.It and Diigo. I am as transparent as transparent gets in the digital online world and I am willing to try things out to see how well researched and emerging trends in pedagogy can impact student learning. I engage in action research and I want learning to be authentic so students can see that what they do matters now.

I came into the social sciences via geography. Geography became my “gateway drug” and history became the content area I fell in love with. See history is more than just wars and dead presidents, it is the study of how we came to be the people we are today and in order to understand who we are today, we have to look at how we developed into that person. Everything has a story behind it and as we look at these stories we gain an appreciation and respect for those that came before us and the hardships they endured and the successes they attained. I am only a second generation American and I know that my paternal grandparents worked very hard to establish their roots in this country.

My own history has been a wild ride. After high school I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a wing command post controller and took a college course every semester. After my wild and crazy Air Force days, I attended college full-time for five years majoring in Broadfield Social Studies and Geography and a minor in 5-9 Earth Science. While in college, I worked about 20 hours a week as a master control operator for a local television station. My first and only fourteen year teaching job was in Northern Wisconsin where I taught eighth grade students about U.S. History and life. Along the way I also picked up a certificate in public history, certifications to teach history, economics, and psychology. My wife and I both worked on our masters programs at the same time in a Professional Learning Community format. The last three years of my fourteen year career included teaching seventh graders Introduction to the Social Sciences, 9th grade U.S. History and 10th grade World History, and one semester of 11th/12th grade psychology, as well as my eighth grade course.

My students always saw me learning and trying new things and they were excited by the things that we did in class. Parents were constantly remarking that their child never talked about school until they had me for history class. Now, that is high praise coming from the grade levels I taught!

The school I taught at was a beta test site for many different technologies and I got to use some interesting equipment, programs and the Internet on a daily basis. I even went so far as to volunteer my time to teach other teachers how to better use some of the new technologies like green screens, streaming video, putting together video clips versus watching entire videos, and the list goes on. Change was ever present and I never taught the same way from year to year. I was somewhat ahead of the curve when it came to PBL because I integrated National History Day into the eighth grade curriculum in my school district.

3 1/2 years ago my mother, who lived about 90 miles away, was diagnosed with uterine cancer. In an effort to be closer and be able to help out, my wife and I looked for teaching jobs to be closer to my parents. My wife was hired to teach in the area only 15 minutes from my parents home. I kept trying to find something to no avail. I had to make a decision about whether to keep my teaching job and see my family on weekends or give it up to be with my family. Well, I thought that I could cash in my retirement savings and work anywhere to be with my family and to help my mother.

I subbed for two years, which meant a paycheck that varied from week to week and jobs that ran from working all week to working once or twice a week. Holidays were stressful, no paycheck, and summers were terrible, lack of jobs, no pay, and even food stamps, and trips to the local food pantry. I hated to do it, but for the sake of my family’s welfare and my sanity, I signed on with a temp agency where I have been working at least 40 Fun Lerning Signhours a week for more than a year now. Paid holidays and one week of vacation pay after 1500 hours of work per year, no other benefits.

My wife loses her job at the end of the next school year because we chose to send our kids to a school where my wife doesn’t teach for their middle school and high school years. I was born to research, to be curious, to love learning, and to enjoy working with teenagers. I was not meant to spend my time as a glorified data entry person who stares at a computer screen for 8-10 hours a day. I was meant to be active and actively engaging with others. I need to have the opportunity to try 20% time and see kids thrive on their passions. I need to see kids finding and solving the problems in our world. I need to see kids engaged with kids from other cultures to collaborate on projects. I need to see kids get up and give TED type talks about the things that are important to them. I need to lead teacher professional development so that teachers can see the power of transformative learning.

I need an administrator who will hire me and trust that I will walk the walk and talk the talk. I am a very passionate man when it comes to education and learning. I want to have a principal who can see me as a leader and not be afraid to let me explore, teach, and lead. I also want an administrative team that will challenge me and help extend my thinking. The only thing I want is for just one administrator to give me another chance to look forward to rushing into work the next day because we’re going to have fun and learn.

For the Love of Teaching: What does it Mean to be A Teacher?

What does it mean to be a teacher? To me it means everything. If I would have known three years ago, that giving up my fourteen year career as a social studies teacher would mean three years of trying to find another teaching position, I would never have given it up. To be a teacher means that my life is complete, it means that I am doing what I was born to do, it means that I matter. Teaching goes well beyond the classroom walls. When I am not actively engaged with students, I am still thinking about my students and their learning. Lots of people see teaching as a cushy job, you get all major holidays off and two months off in the summer with a decent paycheck and benefits.

If you are only thinking of all the time off, the pay check, and the benefits, then you will not make it as a teacher. See, teaching is a 24/7, 365 profession. I know this from personal experience. Not a day goes by that I am not thinking about teaching, technology in education, teacher professional development, what’s best for learners in our ever-changing digital world, how can I better convince administrators that I am the best prepared, most passionate teacher they could ever desire. I wonder what my students will be like if I ever get hired again. I think about ways that I can utilize their natural curiosity and their passions to make learning authentic and let students know that they matter, that they can make a difference in the world right now.

Teaching is not for the faint of heart because a teacher can literally go through the whole spectrum of emotions in an entire day. Kids do not just drop their personal lives at the classroom door and become consumers of knowledge. Even with their own emotions and those of 25+ students, a teacher has to put the needs of the students first. I may need more support in my classroom, or be upset that I cannot attend a particular technology conference, or dealing with personal relationship issues, but that all needs to be put aside for the good of those precious students.

A teacher does more than just teach a particular subject like social studies, or math. A teacher really has to be a specialist as well as a generalist. No, we can’t know it all, but we do need to be familiar with a lot. A teacher needs to be a guide to students. We need to guide students to ask the proper questions and not be so concerned with the one right answer. I was texting with my thirteen year old daughter during lunch a couple days ago. She was home with strep throat for the second time in a month. I would ask questions and she would continually reply with one word answers. I finally started asking the right questions and got paragraphs about the new book she was reading. It was like pulling teeth, but the payoff was worth it. A teacher has to be able to hang in there with students until they can get them hooked into learning.

Teachers need to be able to differentiate instruction, provide quality lessons, and allow for student choice in matters of research and assessment. A teacher needs to be able to handle challenging students and to challenge students all at the same time. No one knows what the world will be like when our students graduate from high school or college so teachers need to make sure that they keep up with changes in technology as well as changes in the workforce. This means that a teacher needs to become accustomed to change and not get set in their ways. Being flexible and adaptable must be a part of a teachers repertoire, because students will need to learn these same skills.

Being a teacher is so much more involved than just the physical act of teaching. Being a teacher means being involved as a learner. Being a teacher means being a life-long learner and a curious soul. We need to serve as models for our students and if a teacher is not continually learning and adapting then they cannot expect the students to just acquire those skills.

Teaching is a lifestyle. When I became a teacher I wanted to have an impact on kids lives, I wanted them to love history as much as I did. After 14 years of teaching I have learned that I can be an expert in history but that isn’t going to make my students love history. I now want my students to love learning and be able to select proper ways to locate the information they need when they want to know it. Kids will see that I am passionate and knowledgeable about my content area and some may come to enjoy that content as well, but the best benefit of all is that they will become curious learners who will also become passionate about what they do.

I want to be a teacher so badly that I feel separated from a part of myself. I want to teach so that I can fulfill my destiny. I want to teach so that I can live my life fully and happily. All it will take for me to teach is for one, just one administrator to have faith in me and truly want what is best for the students in his or her district or school.