In My (Summer Vacation) Feelings

Concluding this year has brought a multitude of emotions ranging from pride to anxiety and just about everything between the two.

The myriad of headaches that come from being a public school classroom teacher were really digging deep in my nerves this year. The struggles of my school and district combined with the pressure to pay student loans drove me to question staying at my current position. This led me to doubt and despair as I exclaimed to family members (and some colleagues) that I was ready to leave the field of education. I saw no reason to stay. My mind was focused on the emerald shining grass on the other side.

In past jobs I have reached the point of no return. That moment when you realize that you will no longer be working with that company much longer. This felt different. I was exhausted and deterred; regardless, I turned my attitude towards empowerment and engagement. I was determined to do all that I could to prove my skills with or without assistance. For those of you that have been following, my assistance came in the form of a pilot program. I took on this pilot and integrated it into my classroom immediately.

My reward for taking on the pilot was a leadership conference and a live filming of one of my classes. The consequences of my decision reaffirmed the valuation of my skills and refocused my sight on my goals within the field of education. This led to the realization that the majority of problems I faced were self-created. Accepting this enlightened my mind to creating positive solutions for the problems I would encounter in the next school year.

Over the summer I have the chance to reflect on the past years struggles and victories, and I realize that there is an incredible amount of work still to be done. I became determined to get right into busting the myth that teachers have the summers off; I began developing a year long curriculum of professional development. The curriculum is aimed at assisting educators in my school earn their Google Educator certifications. This professional development will provide teachers with ideas for implementing digital tools in the classroom and will transform the way teachers address collaborating with colleagues and students. The next project was to build an Applied Digital Skills curriculum for my English 2 and English 3 courses to take in the following year. I do not want to reveal any more about that being that there will be surprises hopefully coming for the classroom in the form of a co-teacher. This brings me to the end of June and a project with the district.

One of the struggles of this year was working while being unsure if we would be compensated for the raises earned the following year. The union and the school board had been struck at impasse for the entire year, and salaries were froze where they were concluding the end of the 2017-2018 year. I watched the school board meeting regarding solving the impasse while working on this project for the district. I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was supporting and working for the district that, at the same time, was vastly underpaying me (I have a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education and make almost 10 thousand dollars less than the average salary in the district). My thoughts on the matter will be further explored as I continue through the summer building curriculum and collaborating with colleagues to prepare for the next school year.

I am most certainly Buzz in this meme. I cannot help but be excited for the opportunity to build new relationships, teach skill and develop my craft. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 4 yet, I highly recommend it. I do not want to spoil anything; however, for those that have, I will most certainly be listening to my inner voice the rest of the summer in preparation for 2019-2020 school year.

‘Tis the season (spoilers)

The television gods have seen it fit to bog all my free time with wondering whether Jon Snow will sit on the Iron Throne just as testing season rolls in. Monday mornings have been quite groggy as I stay up past my 9 ‘o clock curfew to ensure my viewing is not ruined by any would be spoilers. Whether my students are fellow Game of Thrones enthusiasts or they are simply ready for summer remains unknown. My freshman students have been prepping for their state standardized reading test while my juniors finish their current unit with a project-based performance task.

The use of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s “three big questions” combined with the questions “What did you notice?” and “What did you think?” have provided the proper scaffolding necessary to work through the play “Romeo and Juliet.”

Between End of Course Exams and Cambridge testing, juniors have a steady stream of writing coming their way. My class of juniors worked their way through a multitude of texts studying how American authors used naturalism and realism to create social change. They concluded their study of The Jungle and Food Product Design by debating on whether the way America processes food has truly become safer for workers in the industry and consumers at home. Their performance task offers them five choices. They may profile themselves as a “modern muckraker,” build a photo-narrative identifying a problem in their community, write a short story that uses naturalism to depict a modern man vs nature struggle, satirize an issue of modern society in an essay, or develop their own idea to demonstrate the comprehension and mastery of skills built within the unit. I have already had one student submit an idea to create a board game titled Realism.

Testing season is upon us. We must face it together as the free men stood against the Night King. Covering classes, making positive conversation in common areas, sharing materials, and grading from the couch will all serve as strategies to maintain sanity and make sure the students we have helped grow do their best on the test. Small acts of positivity travel far and wide across the campus, and you never know who might need a smile just to get through the day. Happy Testing Season yinz!

Update from the Whirlwind

There are plenty of reasons to delete a post and get back to work. It was much easier for me to maintain my goal of one post per week when I was doing interesting things every week. For a stretch, it was conference after conference and experience after experience. I moved back into my classroom routine somewhat apprehensively due to a feeling of restlessness. Nothing an inbox of essays and some challenging students cannot help solve. Knocking items off of my to-do list kept me from continuing my posts. I consistently found a reason to divert my attention or walk away from the keyboard in self-doubt. Well here I am, back at the keyboard, still doubtful, reflecting on my practice.

There’s not much needed to say when you are caught up in the daily whirlwind. All educators have been there. You put one fire out; another fire starts. Remember that how you put out each fire is being monitored, and you may use that to your advantage or disadvantage. Remember that students do care, and they do want to succeed. Remember that your colleagues want to collaborate. Remember that your administrators do want to support your goals, fundraisers, field trips, and after school clubs. The daily whirlwind can be defeating. The daily whirlwind can be empowering. Organize your priorities and attack your to-do list one bullet point at a time. Use motivation accrued after each small victory to intrinsically motivate your continuation through the whirlwind. Don’t forget to take a breath before you walk out of your educating space to appreciate your opportunity to have a positive impact on the other life-long learners around you.

Say Yes and Take the Stage

Before I get into my experience at the Florida Thespian Festival, I must give credit where credit is due. The past six months have afforded me two opportunities to hear Kwame Alexander speak. The first was his book signing in Vero Beach for his newest novel Swing; the second time was at Literacy Leadership Summit hosted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Over these two meetings, Kwame placed the “power of yes” in my toolbox for teaching. Saying “Yes” must be the first response to any human that aims to maintain a growth mindset. “Yes,” lessons need planned. “Yes,” grades need posted. “Yes,” meetings need attended. “Yes” professional practices need developed. Educators are well aware of the “many hats” worn throughout the day engaging within the field of education. Insert update on my latest chance to say “Yes”:

As I plugged my last laptop in on my way home, my phone at my desk rings….a song comes to my mind that was recently reintroduced to me by Noelle Morris. On the other end of this ancient piece of technology is my colleague Jennifer Rock. Ms. Rock teaches the performing arts at Heritage High School and asked me if I would be willing to sacrifice the end of my spring break to chaperone our students competing in the Florida Thespian Festival. Kwame’s words regarding the power of “Yes” ringing in my brain, I accepted this opportunity and got in my mandatory stack of paperwork to be approved in order to go on a public school-sponsored event out-of-county.

The first thing we did upon arriving to the Tampa Convention Center was to grab a snack and get some practice in. As my students ran through their selection “The Color Purple Reprise” from The Color Purple, my mind ran through the various songs I would listen to in the locker room to get ready for my upcoming game. This was most certainly a new world, but the competitive spirit was alive and surging. The rest of the day was breakout sessions, dinner, and college basketball from hotel room TV as I crashed into sleep.

Waking up Friday, the pride of representing my school at another state competition pushed me through the morning routine and to the convention center. First on the to-do list was to get the troupe to their large group performance of “The Color Purple Reprise” seen to the left.

More breakout sessions and walking through the exposition of vendors and recruiting schools left my stomach empty and my legs weary. We headed back towards our ride on the search for fuel to get us through the rest of the night. After all, there were still three performances Saturday. Major props to Vale Food Company for having a surplus of healthy options to get us back on our game and ready to practice for the next day.

Saturday brought a monologue, “Is This a Dagger Which I See Before My Eyes contrasted by “The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife,” a solo performance, “As If We Say Goodbye,” and a second solo, seen to the right, “Waiting for Life to Begin.” Before we left for the closing ceremonies, I was privy to one more breakout session. A session that provided me the reaffirmation that teaching can be addressed as holding theater between desks. Practicing a drill that aims at creating a self-awareness, I re-realized a truth of human life: engagement creates engagement.

Those that engage in the people and situations around them will receive the reward of new opportunities and new connections. Teachers that engage with their students in the classroom will provide the opportunities and environment for students to engage in the content and build skill. Closing ceremonies, another stop at Vale Food Company and a two hour drive brought me back home ready to rest up for the final quarter of the school year. Testing season and Romeo and Juliet will provide plenty of ups and downs through the final weeks of the school year. Coming at you next week will be my reflection on how #Writable helped my students prepare for their FSA writing exams. New tools, new experiences, and new lessons abound. Keep on your grind and remember to say “Yes.”

Refresh and Retool

Returning to writing continues to be one of the driving forces in professional development. A quick reflection on the roller coaster of the past month reveals a need for evaluation. A stream of created content becomes essential when competing in today’s career fields. Regardless of which platform or platforms chosen to employ, professionals that develop and maintain a professional network using social media move themselves to a higher step within their field. Whether you need to bolster your tweeting skills or continue developing an understanding of a new tool, create content. Use sharing capabilities to assist content in reaching a larger audience. Learn and practice craft while conveying growth; artifacts created build a reputation for being a positive digital citizen. Look for opportunities to conclude the chance to refresh and retool with an affirming experience that assess practices.

What I Did With My Chance

The first thing I wrote in my complimentary Hilton notepad with my complimentary Hilton pen was “*savor being the least experienced in the room LEARN from everyone around you.” Choosing the pre-seminar session with Carol Jago was a no-brainer when registering for the summit. Carol had presented a professional learning seminar two summers ago for Brevard Public School literacy coaches and teachers. I saw a seat near the front and got settled. The educators that I sat down with introduced themselves and where they were from. Southeast High School in Manatee County. It had just so happened that my Heritage High School TSA Chapter competed in the state competition with Southeast High School, a convenient ice breaker in a room of expert educators. Carol’s enthusiasm for reading provided a backdrop to an engaging evaluation of vocabulary instruction. I felt a tap on my shoulder during a table talk and was promptly asked to share my idea with the rest of the room. When the speaker asks you to share, it is hard not to feel enthused enough to put on the teacher voice and take a chance. A page of scattered bullet points, two-pages of book recommendations, and a completely refocused strategy for effective vocabulary instruction later I made my way to lunch. Shout-out to the Hilton for providing a delectable spread each day of the summit. I met up with Lisa Davis and found my seat in the ballroom.

Bill Weiler got the summit started and was followed by Noelle Morris. After a short reading of The SunCatcher, Noelle led us through an inspiring welcoming activity. While reflecting on the Owls and Wrens of our professional learning network, we set goals for the next few days and introduced ourselves to our colleagues. David Bain and Connie Harmon explained a refocused lens on the data behind teaching a diverse range of reading levels in the same classroom. Interactive charts asked us to assess our schools’ data and to decide if there was a more effective process to raise student achievement for each student in the classroom.

Having read Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers’ and Robert Probst’s names caught my eye when previously reviewing the agenda for the summit. Neither speaker disappointed. Kylene instilled a growth mindset with her reflections on engaging students, “You cannot improve competence without improving confidence.” Bob recounted the learning environment he and Kylene created to promote students conversation between each other and not the teacher. By using the “3 Big Questions,” students engaged in meaningful peer-to-peer conversations. Video displayed a group of five students reflecting on author’s purpose and diction. These three questions allowed students to convey an analysis and evaluation of the text by making genuine connections between the text and their understanding of the world.

After soaking up the experience surrounding me on the first day, I was ready to make an impression on the second. The day began with Rose Else-Mitchell. Rose challenged us to ensure the development of significant learning environments by leveraging technology to implement the best possible instructional practices. To inspire and create a culture powered by the growth mindset, leaders must model by starting with the end in mind and making choices that support those that the choices affect.

Noelle Morris provided a personal reflection on her story and reminded us the power of recounting our past in order to stay connected to our “Why?” Noelle asked us to think back to our first memories in the classroom and pair a song to them. Newly married, Chance the Rapper’s All We Got came immediately to the front of my mind. While Chance may have been exclaiming his desire to give music everything he has, as an educator I have brought my best to my field day in and out with the same priority put on the education of America’s youth. In the word’s of one of Chicago’s most empowering sons, “This is all we got. Isn’t it all we got. So we might as well give it all we got.” It was a most excellent surprise to learn that Noelle was not only familiar with one of my favorite artists, but she was also a fan.

Anthony Colannino’s interactive session focused on developing a deeper understanding of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. The audience was asked to dedicate their conceptual understanding of learning to include the stance that all humans have the ability to develop intelligence and abilities. Anthony closed his session with a numbers race that demonstrated the affect of preparing students with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

My chance had become a shining gold paper plane in front of my eyes. Mike Dey coached us through effective strategies in communication and leadership. To emphasize these strategies and the growth mindset, Mike continued the summit’s “chance” motif. What Do You Do With a Chance? reminded the audience of the power educators have in providing chances to those in our professional and personal lives alike. Feeling empowered, the audience took a guided tour through Writable from Monica Graham.

Educators gained a hands-on experience with Writable at the HMH Literacy Leadership Summit.

Monica paired her demonstration with a live-pilot of the program in which the educators in the room developed a piece of writing and reviewed each other’s work. The audience took advantage of the opportunity to move through the platform as students would in order to gauge whether it would be a student-friendly tool. My chance became a reality when I was asked to provide testimony to the product within the breakout session. Furthermore, my chance developed into an interview with Monica that was posted via multiple social media accounts.

The last session of the summit was also the most anticipated. Earlier in the school year, I had the opportunity to “Say Yes!” to 2015 Newbery Award Winning author Kwame Alexander. A second opportunity to hear the uplifting messages and anecdotes from Kwame while his friend Randy Preston accompanied him with his guitar and voice was a chance that must be taken. Kwame rekindled the love for words and their power to change lives. He shared steps in his process to become the human that stood in front of us exclaiming the importance of truly believing in the mantra “Change the world, one word at time.”

As I exchanged farewells and thanks for chances and opportunities that had been provided to me at the summit, the growth in my professional learning network was confirmed. The people that I had met provided me an outlet for advice, encouragement, and reflection. Aside from the books that I acquired and strategies learned (both incredibly important to my professional development), my teaching philosophy and approach to teaching were confirmed by a group of the most credible and qualified educators in the country. I look forward to the continual growth of my classroom and my career as I strive to be a literacy hero.

A Display of Future Innovators

The 2018-2019 school year brought with it a large share of new opportunities and experiences. Joining Heritage High School’s TSA (Technology Student Association) chapter as a sponsor continues to highlight this school year with moments of personal and professional growth. In the fall, I attended the Florida TSA Leadership LEAP Training and Competition. Students attended sit in seminars, participated in problem solving competitions, bonded with their chapter members in a haunted house, and competed against each other in the annual Aligon Bowl. In the following months after the Leadership Conference, students at Heritage High School came together after the school day to develop, build, construct, and explain a variety of projects aimed at developing skills necessary for leading in a technical world. February 27th through March 2nd, those students put their skills and products on display against over 1800 other students from Florida.

Heritage High School 2018-2019 TSA Chapter

One of the events at the competition and conference was the Vex Robotics Competition. Students were required to build and pilot their robots to be used in the competition. Students earned points in the competition by flipping the coins, knocking down the flag targets, placing balls back on flipped coins, and maneuvering to the top platform before the end of their two minutes.

The newest competition in the event is the Drone Piloting competition. Students must construct a drone that fits the specifications of the competition. Students then pilot that drone through a tent of obstacles to earn points. Points in the first portion of the competition are earned by piloting the drone around a target and returning to the launchpad within a time limitation. The second portion of the competition asked pilots to use a claw attached to their drone to pick up targets, fly them to a specified location, drop them in the specified location, and then return to the launch pad. Other competitions varied from fashion design (students competed to develop the best example of a cosplay costume) to bio-technical design (students identified and created solutions for issues surrounding the maintenance of Earth’s oceans) to a dragster competition (students designed and constructed their own Carbon Dioxide powered dragsters).

Dragsters move down the 66 foot track in less than one second.

My first year with the Heritage High School TSA chapter has been full of rewarding experiences. Assisting students develop their projects and watching their display in competition provided me the ability to continue developing my leadership skills and knowledge of the technological world. Students used digital tools along with their collaborative and leadership skills to brainstorm, develop, and produce their projects honing skills necessary to compete in the digital age’s job market. Our success in the State Competition has earned a place at the 2019 National TSA Conference in Washington D.C. I look forward to assisting the Heritage High School students in furthering the development of their projects and competing at the national level. Until then, congratulations to the finalists and medal places from Heritage High School, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your growing chapter.

Before We Teach Students, We Must Teach Ourselves

Each day as an English Language Arts teacher, I ask my students to participate in a thinking process that aims to develop critical thinking skills. My students then participate in a multitude of activities that range from identifying specific diction that creates tone to applying seminal documents to the topics found in everyday American discussion. My students’ success in properly analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing the information that I procure for them depends heavily on how I model the process.

A common practice of professional development tends to be the introduction of information without determining first if the audience comprehends the conception being conveyed. An instructional coach that places this image of Hattie’s Effect Size within their presentation must first ask if the audience has an understanding of what effective implementation of each cause entails. That same instructional coach will also include a summary of the information regarding the how and why of Hattie’s Effect Sizes similar to the information conveyed by Chris Barlow in his post “The “Effect Size” in Educational Research: What is it & How to Use it?” found on Illuminate Education‘s blog. The problem is that the teachers’ understanding of Hattie’s Effect Size means very little if the same teachers do not have a conception of how to effectively implement the causes for each effect. The instructional coach that does not first identify if their audience has a common understanding of what effective teaching looks like gives that audience information they do not know how to use effectively, wastes their audience’s time, and contributes to a culture that overlooks the root of problems in search for a quick fix. The largest effect size on the provided list is “teacher estimates of achievement.” Does the instructional coach have the same estimates of achievement for the students as the teachers that will implement the causes to determine each effect? Do the collective teachers in the same school, building, or even hallway have the same estimates of achievement for their students? Without answering these questions, the instructional coach is providing the message of “hold your students accountable to an expectation” without displaying what that expectation should demand.

Another practice that finds itself near the top of Hattie’s Effect Size list is scaffolding. Classroom teachers around the world will agree that chunking a concept for a student allows that student more opportunity to develop a more complete comprehension of a concept or skill. Do our instructional coaches scaffold their lessons for the teachers they are instructing? Do those same instructional coaches observe the practices of the teachers they have been placed accountable for developing professionally? After the teachers have been observed, do they receive meaningful feedback from their coach? I ask these questions because as life-long learners attempting to create more life-long learners, it should be clear that we must role-model the teaching and learning process within the system of professional development. By role-modeling effective practices top to bottom teachers are going to build their skills and have confidence in transferring those skills to their students. Teachers must be introduced to examples of effective practice within their professional development. In addition to the examples of effective practice, those same teachers must display learning and effective practice in order to understand these practices for themselves and in order to impact student learning. Administrations that offer their faculty an effective professional development will benefit from better managed classrooms, a common vision of effective teaching, and a growing culture that emphasizes value on the learning process from the top to bottom.

Reminder: Keep Writing

It’s always nice to take a break. Gather experience. Collect thoughts. Make memories. However, breaks must end and growth must be attended to. I may have earned my Master’s degree, but I stopped using the skills that I had acquired in my journey to lead in education. I will be following this update with a deeper delve into my status as an educator at the current time. For now, I would believe myself rude to not explain my leave of absence.

Since graduating I have been:

Traveling

A family vacation to Italy brought me to the most beautiful country I have yet to see in my life. We were fortunate enough to tour through Rome, Sienna, Tuscany, Florence, and Venice. Summer of 2018 ended with a trip to San Juan with the gentlemen I am lucky enough to call my friends. Traveling throughout the country and now the world has provided me with a wealth of experience and perspective. I look to continue expanding my reach in 2019 within the United States and into Mexico.

Supporting

In 2003, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and re-diagnosed in 2013. Since beating cancer for the second time, she has joined into the competitive world of Dragon Boat Racing. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Italy to support her in a tournament of thousands of women from all over the world that have battled breast cancer. Then, in September, I was able to participate in the second annual Dragon Boat festival held at North Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The tournament was put on by my mother’s team, Hearts of Steel, that participated in the international tournament in Florence.

and Marrying

On November 11th, I married the love of my life Keri Lynn Maurer (now Bagnato). The event happened at The Kraft Azalea Gardens in Winter Park, Florida. Ours is not a whirlwind romance. Our marriage was long awaited and well earned. Keri being from Melbourne, Fl and me being from Pittsburgh, PA made our story one of commitment, trust, and dedication. Years of friendship blossomed into a beautiful relationship that was destined for forever from the day it began.

2019 will bring

My DLL Journey

The past 18 months provided excitement, inspiration, anxiety, stress, jubilation, and determination. The comic below displays my journey through each course experience in the program. The program demanded an adjustment and development of what would eventually become my innovation plan for my organization. I researched, I planned, and I developed a model. Every plan needs an outline, and every plan must have a backbone. Now that I have completed this stage in my growth as an educator, I must take what I have learned and promote it effectively throughout my organization using a new model of professional learning. My time in the Digital Learning and Leading program at Lamar University may be over as a student; however, my journey will continue with my colleagues and professors by my side. Using the COVA approach to CSLE could not have resonated more with my personal philosophy and for more information please check out my reading list. A HUGE shout out to all my peers that helped me along my journey and all my professors that facilitated my learning experience while allowing me to personalize my assignments that formed my innovation plan. Stay tuned for updates on the implementation of my innovation plan and new digital tools that can be fused into a blended learning model for your classroom.

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