A Call to Catholic Teachers

I just finished reading Jonathan Doyle’s new book Tools & Fuels last night. IMG_1083It is a truly inspirational book with simple advice for anyone involved in Catholic education. Doyle takes the reader on a journey of discovery. From viewing Catholic schools as a mission, “(That) they exist as an integral part of the mission that is the Catholic Church” to his mantra of, “you can’t do a supernatural task with only natural resources” Jonathan expertly narrows the focus of Catholic schools down to simply putting Christ at the center. It’s something so simple and so easy to put into action but many in Catholic education make it much more difficult than it needs to be.

I have seen first-hand how many Catholic schools focus more on college prep, test scores, and analyzing data than they do on putting Jesus at the center of all that they do. Mr. Doyle issues a clarion call to step back and put our total dependence on God, only then can we become Saints, beat burnout, and save the world.

Weaving personal experiences, stories of saints, and quotes from Popes and theologians IMG_1087into the narrative seamlessly makes for a captivating read. I can identify with the life experiences Jonathan shares on a very personal level. This man pours every fiber of his being into showing how the Catholic teacher is called by God to a vocation that is so important (helping form Saints) that only a total dependence on His help can we accomplish what He wants us to do.

I applaud Mr. Doyle for his energy, zeal, and willingness to be countercultural in a very disturbing point in our history. If you are a Catholic teacher, you MUST read this book. If there is one book you read this summer (other than the Bible) read this book! I’m just a high school teacher from Iowa but I truly think that if you teach, administrate, counsel, or work in a Catholic school that this book will change your life.


Teaching is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?


cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

What Your School Says About Your Culture

Psychologists say that it takes less than a second for our mind to form a first impression. So someone walking into our buildings judges our school in the blink of an eye. The entire school building should maintain a warm and learner centered focus, but is learning the focus at the entrance to your school?
Many school entrances look like a trophy room. These “trophy schools” tend to highlight the achievements of their sports teams rather than any academic accomplishments. One of the most underutilized spaces in many schools is the lobby. Why do we not use this space for learning and welcoming?
A warm hand shake of welcoming in the morning and a warm inviting atmosphere can set the proper scene and mindset for learning. The entrance should scream YOU MATTER, we care about you. So many entrances say, yep, we’re a school. I think that there should be information about the school, places for conversation, bright lighting, warm color tones, and a large screen television that rotates through important information (updated on a regular basis) and pictures of students just enjoying learning. There could even be a slightly smaller television monitor that streams the social media feed from the school.
Of course, what would be wrong with having a coffee/cappuccino bar in the entrance? The sweet smells emanating in the morning can really have a psychological “wake up” effect. And, much of my pay check could then go directly into the coffee coffers. I think this could be a nice fundraiser for different school groups to rotate through and give some students the opportunity to do a work study in managing school stores like DECA provides.
Any way you look at it we want an inviting atmosphere where students, parents, and the community feel welcome and where everyone takes pride in their school.Print
Hour glass with wings

A Crazy Kind of Teacher

It has been almost one month since my last blog post. Wow, time flies when you’re…….swamped!

I have had the busiest, the most hectic, the most chaotic month than I can remember since I began teaching in 1995!! And I am loving every minute of it 😎 I began my first full-time teaching job since 2009 this August and it seems as though I have been caught in a whirlwind ever since. The year got started as any school year does, and I am at the top of my game in the classroom. It seems to be that all the other pieces of being a veteran teacher have gone out the window. No, the technology pieces are just fine although there have been days….. I have been keeping up with current trends, issues, and research in education like I never have before. Thanks to my Twitter PLN, news aggregators like Feedly (blogs), Flipboard (I have about a dozen magazines that I curate to including technology news, blogs, video games, social media). I also use sparingly Reddit, Tumblr, News 360, Pearl Trees, Pinterest, Zite, and Scoop.It, Rebel Mouse,Nuzzle, Instagram, and Google+.

Google Classroom is a very nice addition that could make my classroom paperless just as soon as all my high school students have a computer of some sort. It seems that Classroom just isn’t ready for the world of mobile learning. I have enjoyed gamifying my 9th grade religion class and using Cel.ly for class communication is awesome. Implementing so many technology pieces, which will include student blogging, flipped learning, and a possible digital textbook makes for a pretty busy first year at a new school. You might be wondering why does this sound so challenging to a veteran teacher? School culture and WADITW (we’ve always done it this way) as a common, sometimes never even stated, response.
I want to be a teacher leader and I have that role firmly established in the classroom by intentionally building relationships with my students. This alone takes a lot of time and planning. I figure that I should just be able to pick up where I left off teaching and dive right in. Whoa there, back the bus up! Some say that I am setting expectations too high for myself, that all I can be is me, and that I will never achieve perfection. I understand this on one level, but on another level, I want to put the best me possible in front of my students every day. Yes, I daresay, my goal is to be a national award winning teacher of the year. I don’t say this because I want an actual award, I say it because it is what my students deserve. If I don’t challenge myself to be the best and set the bar high, what am I really accomplishing for my students?
I was asked by students to be their coach for robotics, and so it is, I am now a robotics coach. Do I know anything about robots? Not a thing. This is where I put myself on the line and get out of my comfort zone (I’m a certified secondary social sciences teacher). Yes, my kids know more than I do and I am learning by leaps and bounds every day! I also want to start a one day a week club where students get together and play good old fashioned board games (we could sneak in some video games too). I see how important it is for even high school students to enjoy time at school by playing. Play involves most of Dr. Tony Wagner’s @DrTonyWagner 7 Survival Skills and we get to have fun learning.
Okay, so my reading of books has taken a hit, but like this video about Snap Chat explains, I am living in the moment and I am definitely living the dream! 😎

Goals, Technology, and Observations

I have accepted the 30 days of blogging from the staff over at @teachthought.com. With planning for the three different courses I teach and gearing up to coach the robotics club, I have a lot on my plate this year. I mean, I’ve already missed days one and two (well I kind of have day two’s post in last week’s blog post)!

My New School Regina Jr/Sr High School in Iowa City.  reginaDay 1

Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!

SMART (Sustainable, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) Goal: I will implement game elements into my 9th grade theology course to increase student use of, excitement for, and understanding of the Holy Bible and Jesus Christ. I will measure the goal by developing a fall questionnaire, a semester questionnaire, and a spring questionnaire for students to take to see if student use of the Bible has increased. The data for the questionnaire will be gathered via Google Forms and I will gather anecdotal evidence to see if there is an increase in time spent in discussing and/or writing about how a part of scripture can be applied to life in our modern world (understanding). By the end of the 2014/15 school year I will have data to either support or refute my use of gamification in the theology course.

DUMB (Dream driven, Uplifting, Method friendly, Behavior triggered) Goal: I want to help make education AWESOME again by becoming more motivational or inspiring for teachers and students alike. My dream is that students will develop life-long learning portfolios and learn how to be strong, curious independent learners. I will surround myself by positive, innovative teachers and administrators that are relationship focused servant leaders.

See the difference between SMART Goals and DUMB Goals here.

Day 2

Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this edtech integration. (See this blog post)

Day 3

Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

The observation area that I want to improve on is relating to my students. I am really focusing on building positive relationships with my students and I have realized that the positive starts with me. I can help students get excited about things by being excited about them. It’s all about how you convey the message to the kids. Build suspense, drama, excitement, and desire to learn by intentionally focusing on that in the daily planning.

Conferences, Connections, and Culture, A Conversation

I attended theice-logo Illinois Computer Educators (ICE) conference from Wednesday, February 26 to Friday, February 28. You might be wondering why? Why would someone who is only a substitute teacher pay all that money to attend one of the best technology and teaching conferences in the Midwest? Well, for this veteran teacher it comes down to relationships and building lasting relationships.

For the past few years I have not held a full-time teaching job (except for a little jaunt into North Carolina for a semester, but that’s a completely different story). See, I am a teacher. Teachers enjoy being around others who are passionate about kids, teaching, and technology as they are. I was totally blown away by the fact that I was able to meet many people who I have had online relationships for a couple years face to face for the first time. These education rock stars keep me striving to be the best teacher I can be.

On Wednesday I attended a workshop lead by Steve Dembro (@teach42) and co-author of Untangling the Web. He shared with the group many gadgets and devices that made many people salivate. Now I must confess that I am a gadget geek, and it sometimes drives my wife batty, but I just can’t help that when I see a new gadget I also see possibilities for how that gadget may be used to teach my future students better. I ask myself how can that gadget help improve me as a person? How can it help improve my teaching, and how can using the gadget improve relationships with other people? Just having a new gadget in and of itself sometimes helps spark people’s curiosity and brings alive conversation. Witness the fact that if you ever ran into someone wearing Google Glass that they look like Mr. or Ms. Popular. It’s not a popularity contest at all, because people are generally asking the wearer all kinds of questions and they are engaged in conversations.

I also learned about many uses for Google in education that I wasn’t aware of. I attended a session lead by Molly Schroeder (@FollowMolly). She shared with the group many different ways that teachers can learn from and with Google all in an effort to help aid communications, connections, and understanding today’s culture. It is truly amazing the possibilities that exist for all of us to build lasting relationships that are focused around improving ourselves, our teaching, and our society.

The last workshop I attended on Wednesday was lead by none other than my social studies hero, Mr. Dave Burgess (@burgessdave). Dave is the author of the great book Teach Like A Pirate as well as founder and moderator of the #tlap twitter chat. (Don’t know what the pound symbol means or what a twitter chat is? You are becoming an illiterate. Find out now! Don’t even finish reading this post. FIND OUT! If you have not heard of the book or read the book, then you haven’t been having the right conversations with other teachers. The book is full of ideas and idea starters all geared to pump a teacher up and sustain energy to make teaching and learning matter for kids. I consider Dave a friend and the most important part of our friendship is that we communicate regularly about how to become better teachers. Meeting him in person made my day and had me grinning from ear to ear which is difficult for me as I am in the dumps about not being in the classroom again. But, meeting one of my personal teaching heroes made me feel giddy and like a first year teacher again. If you ever get the chance to see Dave in person and present, run for the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.

I almost forgot. I attended my first #EdCamp on Wednesday evening. Teachers getting together all on their own, discussing the things that matter the most to them is an experience every teacher should have. ICE After Dark is an experience I will never forget and It makes me look forward to #EdCampIowa this coming weekend.Print
As teachers, we can become very isolated in our classrooms, hence the importance of professional conferences, connections to others, and creating a culture of life-long relationships and learning. In this post I do not have room to write about the other two days of the conference. I did however meet face to face and/or learned from the following great friends of mine: George Couros (@gcouros), Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz), Holly Clark (@HollyClarkEdu), Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher), Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr),  and Maria Stavropoulos (@mstavi3). Yes, I consider them friends, because we learn together, support each other, and when we meet face to face we get to enjoy the company and knowing that comes from connections to the profession of teaching and doing what’s best for kids.

If you have read this far, please look at or pass along the link to my resume at the top of my blog. Thanks 😎