Wednesday, December 28, 2016

One Word for 2017

It's good to be back.  I've admittedly been slacking in my posts, and I wish that I had some glorious tale to tell about why I've been delayed.  The truth is...life caught up with me.  In many ways 2016 has been a tremendous year.  I've been able to be a father to the two most amazing young men anyone could ever meet (biased...nah), I've been able to be a husband to the most amazing woman anyone could ever meet, and I've been able to be a teacher to the most amazing kids anyone could ever meet.  I achieved a pinnacle in my professional career, began this blog, and have had the chance to network with some amazing people who have transformed my teaching.  In short, 2016 has been a blessed year.

But, looking back, I can see that it has also been a sloppy year.  I've allowed myself to become pulled in so many different directions that I have let some things that I wouldn't normally allow to fall, slip through the cracks.  I wouldn't say that I have done any one thing poorly; I would simply say that I've done many things in a mediocre fashion.  And that is unacceptable.




As I stare 2017 in the face, I'm faced with certain realities.  Choices really.  Do I continue down this path of mediocrity, or do I do something about it?  That's not really a question now, is it?  So, in the spirit of the new year, I've decided to approach it with goals in mind, resolutions if you will.  But...is that really worth the time?  You see, everyone sets new year's resolutions...and most drop them before the end of January.  I've been guilty of that many times.  Recently I stumbled across the #oneword campaign, drawn from the book One Word That Will Change Your Life, and the idea is simple.  Instead of setting resolutions which are doomed to fail, select one word that will define who one is, and what we desire to become.  Needless to say, I love this idea.  And I thought long and hard about how I could sum up what I want to do, and who I want to be, until it came to me.

My #oneword2017 is "FOCUS".


In 2017 I want to focus.  I want to focus on being a better father, husband, and teacher.  I want to focus on setting priorities.  I want to focus on removing needless drama from my life.  I want to focus on being the best version of myself possible (which is advice I give to my kiddos all the time).  I want to focus on living the advice I give to my students.  I want to focus on being determined.  I want to focus on being positive.

With this clarity and goal in mind, I can look back again on 2016 and realize that much of the stress I've brought on myself is my own anchor dragging me down, and when I look back on it positively, I can see how blessed I am to have these stresses.  And I can focus on meeting challenges head-on, determined to meet them with a positive attitude and deliver on them in the best way which I am capable.  My stress is not one of being over-loaded; it is simply one of being unfocused.  With that in mind, I've decided to focus on these three things.

1. My family- to focus on being the best father, husband, and friend I can be.  To love fiercely. To love with passion.

2. My students- to focus on being the best teacher, but also the best mentor to my kiddos I can be.  To do what is best for them, not for me.  To teach with passion.

3. My partners in the educational community- to become more active in learning and contributing to the educational community that I love.  To help ensure passionate teaching.  To share with passion.

I am truly excited to see this #oneword unfold in my life.  It is an endeavor which I truly believe can impact me in a positive way.  It is something I believe so much that I plan to open the idea to my students.  I don't believe it matters one's age, we can all benefit from a realistic aim and goal.  With that in mind I look forward to implementing a #oneword board in our classroom, and hope that my kiddos will join me in this pursuit.

Will you join me?  What will your #oneword be?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Election

I've been fortunate over the past several months to have this blog in which to put my thoughts on education, and know that I have grown simply from being able to put my thoughts into writing. When I began writing in this blog I set the rule for myself that I would only focus on thoughts regarding education.  I'm about to break that rule.  Forgive me.

Last night I sat with students in our AP Government class and watched the election returns come in.

I was able to listen to some of the best conversations I've heard in this entire election cycle, and it wasn't lost on me that 1. I teach the best kids and 2. I am so happy that we have a future generation of leaders like these.  As mentioned I teach government, and of course we have spent time discussing the election, examining the polls, predicting the results, etc.  Yesterday I had close to 70 students working the election, experiencing first-hand the process at work.  As I sat with them later that night, and watched the results come in, I couldn't help but look at each of them and think about the questions they might ask today.  All night and all morning I thought about how I might answer some of these questions, and I still don't know.  I've never felt less prepared to face the day than I have today.  And so, here I am, putting my thoughts into my blog.

Quite frankly, I've been appalled at this election.  From the local to state to national races, I have been ashamed that these students would vote for the first time in this political climate.  I'm 35, and while that may be young, I've been around politics long enough to know both that an election like this has been coming for a while, and that we are better than what we've seen in this cycle.  I believe passionately, to my core, in the true and overarching singular value on which this country was founded:  freedom.  This country was not founded on the belief that we were, or would ever be, the perfect country, but in a belief in the greatness of our potential.  That each American had the freedom to realize a dream in their own life.  But I understand that the realization of this dream comes with a sense of responsibility, that we are responsible to participate in the government that guarantees us this freedom.  This government relies, at it's foundation, on voting.  But it is sustained through the acceptance of these votes, regardless of how hard that acceptance may be.

I may not be happy with the results of the election, but I will accept them, and I will move forward with hope.  I place my hope in President-Elect Trump to realize the historic progress we have made as a nation, and that he will continue our march towards the true recognition of civil rights and liberties, of freedom, to all Americans.  I place my hope in Speaker Ryan and Congress to recognize the key role that a strong system of checks and balances plays in the effective implementation of our system. I place my hope in the leadership of both major parties to realize the need for a more transparent method of choosing our candidates, that the parties will see the desperate need to encourage strong candidates to run for public office, and that these parties will realize that the current climate serves to discourage such candidates from running.  The negativity that dominated this election has undoubtedly turned many away from the idea of public service.  These parties must realize that the negativity, the atmosphere of partisanship and polarization, is one that they have largely produced, and can be equally responsible for its change.  It seems true now more than ever, after such an election, that our progress forward as a nation stands in direct parallel with our ability to understand the partnership that belies our pursuit of freedom.  We must either come together as a country, or we must face the realization that we have failed in the pursuit of our great potential.

Coming together does not mean sacrificing our ideals.  Standing up for truth and freedom, standing up for what you believe in is never a waste of time.  But we are a system built on the reality of compromise, on working together, giving a little each way, to accomplish something better.  We've lost that.  We've lost the art of conversation, the ability to engage in civil discourse with another who may see things different than we do, and emerge respectfully.  In many ways it is this loss that has brought us to the caliber of candidates from which we chose.  We have lost our great common interest- the preservation of our potential as a country.  But I believe we can bring that back.  A dream is only truly dead if we stop believing in it.  But we must realize that our national recovery is not in the hands of any one politician, but in each of us entire.  We can use this election as a transformative moment, as the moment that we took stock of our shortfalls and refused to descend further into polarization. 

If my students are any indication of the caliber of leadership in upcoming generations, I am truly excited in what they can achieve.  These kids are open-minded, deeply caring, and far more motivated than older generations give credit.  I love my students, and see in them a tremendous generation of leaders.  But we must realize the responsibility that we have to these kids, especially as teachers.  We are responsible for igniting and encouraging active citizenship.  This does not involve impressing our beliefs, values, ideals, etc. on them.  In a country and world polarized like never before our effort is not in molding their minds into our own personal definitions of a “good citizen”, but in equipping each student with the necessary tools to become their own definition of a good citizen.  

I may be deeply troubled with this election, but those concerns do nothing to dim my belief in what this country can be.  This is our moment to fix our climate, to refuse to give into cynical beliefs that the system is forever and fatally corrupt, and make the changes that need to be made to ensure the opportunity for our students to lead us in the continued and renewed pursuit of American potential.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Underestimating Your Students- Don't Be Surprised When They Blow Your Mind!

It's been far too long since I've had the chance to write, and I can't begin to tell how much I've missed it.  Blogging has become a tremendous outlet for me, and has increased my connection to some of the fantastic teachers around this country!  Honestly the past few weeks have been a whirlwind for me as I've spend time with the amazing Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History as their honoree as National History Teacher of the Year, and while that has been a life and career changing experience, I'm so glad to be back to talking about the purpose behind my passion- my students!

I love the quote above, and believe it sums up how teachers should approach their students.  In 12 years of teaching I have never regretted pushing my students, and have yet to see a student truly push back.  We need to realize that our students not only need the encouragement to step beyond pre-conceived limits, it is the only way any of them will grow.  And I am constantly impressed with my students when I give them that kind of challenge.

This was never more evident than in the last week of an immersion project in our Dual Credit/AP US Government class.  The students who take this class are seniors with one foot in the school, and one out the door into the "real world."  They are, essentially, adults, and I have always tried to treat them as such.  The class is built on the notion of the "real world", meaning lots of research-based discussion, lots of unanswered questions (which are not a bad thing; they provide impetus for further research), and experiences which are designed to immerse them, as much as possible, in the real workings of American government.  One such endeavor, which has become a yearly tradition, is the campaign.

         (Campaign Speeches)

This project is a mock election, but is not connected to any actual campaigns (otherwise we would only be doing some every four years).  Instead the students are separated into groups which would be visible during an actual national campaign.  Leading up to the project start date, time is spent in class speaking with legislators and political party heads, studying and discussing elements of campaigns, and considering how elements such as campaign finance can help/hinder the process.  Once the project starts, groups are working towards "electing" one of their own as the faux President of the Independent Sovereignty of Frankton!

The groups often differ, but this year we had enough students to feature two major political parties, a third/minor party, and a SuperPAC.  Each of the major parties were given a financial head start, but had to join the other two groups in fundraising.  Several teachers acted as "donors", given money to dole out to the groups in any way they saw fit.  I give the donors zero rules, and I love it when the students come back to me and vent about a certain teacher who promised them money, and didn't deliver, or who is being stingy.  The major parties are required to conduct polls, from which platforms are created.  The third party and SuperPAC were allowed to coalition around a singular issue, as many real versions do, and then given the option to merge with one of the major parties if they saw fit.  The SuperPAC, of course, was not allowed to have any contact with the candidate they supported. The students were required to give speeches in a convention type atmosphere to their electorate, and on campaign day aired televised ads in an attempt to sway voters.  Needless to say, by the end of the week, students were tired, stressed, irritated, angry...and I was ok with all of that.  I know that sounds mean; feel free to berate me for it.  But if the students were to know even a microcosm of what a real campaign feels like, there was no other way.

(Polling Booth and Campaigning Outside Polling Place)

I threw a lot at these kids, and guess what, they survived.  Not only that, they thrived!  These kids worked so incredibly hard that I couldn't help but watch with pride.  Every year I worry that I've put too much on the kids, I worry that I've pushed too hard.  And every year these kids make me feel foolish for underestimating them.  How many of us are guilty of this?  How many of us treat our kids as though they are these fragile things that will break at the first sight of struggle?  How many of us underestimate what these kids can do?  It is clear that teachers must be there to support, but we teach remarkable people.  Push them!  You won't regret it!


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Taking the Conversation To the Students

As a government and US History teacher, I predominantly work with students who are among the next generation of voters, a generation often maligned because of their lack of participation in the civic process.  To be fair, it's hard to ignore decades of statistics on voting turnout which show that the young voter tends to be the least likely to vote.  But instead of lamenting on our youth, calling them lazy, or just hoping that they will vote more when they "grow up", we have a responsibility as teachers to, at least, make the attempt to inspire citizenship in the students.  I assure you:  the issue is not that these students don't want to care, it's just that they need to know why they should.

Teaching in an election year is always fun, and this election cycle is no different.  Okay, maybe it is radically different, but at least it has been a little easier to cultivate interest.  I've been pushing my students to keep up with the candidates, largely through current event portfolios and in-class discussions.  In-class discussion is great, and easy to accomplish, assuming that one is prepared to handle it appropriately.  When talking about our responsibility to try and inspire "good" citizenship, we have to remember that it is NOT  our job to mold these kids into what WE think they should be, or how they should think.  Our responsibility is to equip each student with the ability to think for themselves, to make their own decisions on issues; we show them doors, not force them to open one over the others.  To that end, while I tell my students that I have very passionate views on most issues, I am going to largely keep those to myself so that I can assume a position as unbiased mediator, and argue the silent point if needed.

Once again, if prepared, in-class discussion is great.  But what about the teachable moments that happen outside of class?  What about moments like last night's debate?  Without a doubt there was a time when the only choice a teacher had was to hope that students would watch, maybe give an assignment to force them, and then hope to be able to discuss it the next day.  That time has come and it has gone.  Like many schools we are 1:1, and so I know my students have access to a computer.  And if they have access to a computer, then we can talk in real-time.  I set up a chat forum through Today's Meet (https://todaysmeet.com), emailed the link to the students in our government class, and we met online and stayed in the room through the duration of the debate.  And it was great.  The students made insights that I missed, and it was great to see the reactions in real-time.  The students were able to ask questions regarding points made, and I could answer them (or most of them) in the moment.  Without a doubt these kids care; we just have to be willing to take the conversation to them.
 

"But Mr. Cline, what about those of us who aren't 1:1, or who are but are concerned about wi-fi?" Why, Mr. Invisible Question Asker, you pose a great query!  There are always the "Debate Bingo" cards, and activities like it, that are great resources to encourage the kids to watch.  I was also enthused to see so many colleagues post on Twitter pics from their "Debate Watch" Parties; great stuff!

In the end, we have to realize that our responsibility to our students reaches well beyond content, and into actually getting them ready for the "real world." We are sending our students into an environment which is severely lacking in an ability to have a legitimate conversation, unable to compromise for the common good.  What can we do to help our students emerge ready to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Do We Give Our Students Enough Credit?

Ask my kiddos, and I think they will tell you that Mr. Cline loves music.  Unless we are talking, music is playing.  It plays when the students enter the room and leave the room.  I even have a record player, and spin vinyl, both for me and so the kids can hear the sound of music played in a true form. On our board I post a "lyric of the day" each morning, usually tied to a message I want to send to the kids, and every Friday is a student suggested lyric.  It's safe to say, music is a big part of our classroom.

Earlier this week I happened to catch the Jonny Lang song "Thankful", and it struck a nerve.  I had just received some exciting news, honestly the most exciting news I had ever gotten in my professional career, and while I was trying to process this news, this song played.  My eyes got a little misty as I was reminded, as I am almost every single day, that as exciting as my news was, it had only been made possible by the kids that I get to teach.

I'd like to think that good things happen in our classroom.  I'd like to think that we have some great discussions, and that lives have been impacted in there.  I'd like to think that my classroom has been a safe haven for kids, a place where they have always felt they could be themselves, vent if needed, but most of all feel loved.  I'd like to think all these things, I hope all these things.  But there is one thing I know, above all else.  There is not a single good thing that has ever happened in our classroom that isn't because of the kids I teach...because of the kids who teach me.  Discussions rage constantly around the question, "Do teachers get enough credit?" I would ask, "Are we giving our students enough credit?" Are we taking the time to realize the impact that they play on us? Are we taking the time to say thank you, I appreciate you, you have made an impact on me?

To my own kiddos, if any read this blog, here is my message to each of you, today and every day:

THANK YOU

YOU ARE THE HEART OF OUR CLASSROOM

YOU MEAN SO MUCH TO ME

I LOVE EACH OF YOU

THANK YOU!

And here is my lyric of the day, a shout-out to all of my students:
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Our Twitter Challenge- Pursuing 21st Century Professional Development (Part 1)

The pursuit of professional development is something which is increasingly more difficult now than ever for educators, but hasn't lost any of its significance in our growth.  Due to financial constraints and mixed support from schools, educators may find achieving quality growth opportunities.  But, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

One of my goals each summer is to find some way in which to achieve this growth.  I try to find a great conference, or read a great book, but the goal is simple:  come back to school invigorated by having been challenged through some kind of professional development.  Without a doubt this summer was the biggest for me in terms of growth as an educator, and I have one medium to thank for it:  Twitter.

We're back in school now, and I am still brimming with the excitement that comes from professional growth, I want to get as many teachers within my building as I can on Twitter; they need the resource, and we need to grow together as a team.  To that point I've begun what I am calling the #GetConnected Challenge, a "Twitter in 5" challenge designed to encourage online discussion and afford a great way for the teachers in our building to pursue 21st Century professional development.  The challenge will take place over the course of 5 weeks, with each week putting a new challenge in front of the teacher.  The weeks lay out as follows:

Week 1- Make a professional Twitter. Put your picture up, fill in a bio, and send a Tweet.  Familiarize yourself with the basic vocabulary and uses of Twitter:

  • Favorite
  • Retweet
  • Hashtag- tagging and chats
  • Direct messaging
  • Notifications 

If you have questions or need help, just ask!

Week 2- Brainstorm at least three ways Twitter could be used to advance your teaching, and Tweet the ideas with the hashtag #fhsconnect; this way we can all learn from your ideas.  Remember that Twitter use in a classroom or for a teacher is not a “one size fits all” deal; it may work differently for you than others.  Consider classroom posts, class hashtags, a connect to your blog, a connect to other blogs which inspire you, participating in a Twitter chat, etc.

Week 3- Follow at least 10 other users.  Consider going to other teachers, even in the building, and seeing who they follow.  Remember: the more people you follow, the more you’ll get out of Twitter!  Building your PLN is key to getting the most out of Twitter!

Week 4- Post at least 3 Tweets that details something going on in your classes.  It could be a text Tweet, picture of your class at work, etc. If you’re comfortable, post even more!

Week 5- Participate in a Twitter chat.  These are usually titled with hashtags, and some of my favorites are #edchat, #sunchat, #saskedchat, #leadupchat, and #kidsdeserveit.  Below, however, you will find a table with some other awesome options.  By searching these hashtags, you can access prior discussions and/or posts.  There are many that are content-area specific (mine is #sschat); look for those.  If you find great chats that inspire you, please share with us!


chat
who
when
#sunchat
Sunday Chat
Most Sundays, 9:00 am EST
#satchat
Saturday Chat
Saturdays, 7:30 am
#bfc530
Teacher inspiration chat
Every week day, 5:30 am, all time zones
#nt2t
Teachers new to Twitter
Saturdays, 8 am EST
#edchat
Education Chat
Tuesdays at 12 pm
#urbanedchat
Urban Ed Chat
First Sundays of the month, 9 pm EST
#engchat
English Chat
Mondays at 7 pm
#mathchat
Math Chat
Times vary
#sschat
Social Studies Chat
Mondays at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET
#ntchat
New Teacher chat
Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET

Week 6 and Beyond- Hopefully this has gotten you started down a road to growth.  For some of you, perhaps this isn’t going to work.  But I hope most of you see the value in this kind of 21st Century PD!  My goal with Twitter is to try an commit at least 20 minutes a day.  Some days I don’t, some days I go well beyond.  But I know that I have honestly come treasure the relationships I have built, and continue to build, with my PLN, and I hope you find the same!


Without a doubt I'm excited about where this could take us as a school, and each teacher as individual educators.  I've labeled this post as "Part 1" because I hope to reflect on the challenge at its conclusion, with (hopefully) great stories to share.  Before I conclude I have to give credit where it's due.  I am certainly not the first to encourage something like this in a school.  I give big thanks to the advice and support of some EduRockStars:  Abbey Dick (@abbeydick), Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and Adam Welcome (@awelcome).

Let's see how this goes, and let's grow together!






Thursday, September 1, 2016

Primary Sources: The Lifeblood of the SS Classroom

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard a student describe history as "boring", I'd have long since retired from teaching.  And if I had a dime for every time I'd responded to that reaction with an emphatic eye roll, I'd be a millionaire.  But the truth is, the study of history can be boring...that is if only a textbook version of it is presented.  Making a textbook the center of a social studies course is like basing your idea of romance around something seen in a Lifetime movie:  it is dangerously misleading and fills your head with woefully insignificant knowledge.  When the social studies classroom is not powered by the lifeblood that are primary sources, "boring" is likely a fair description.

Primary sources, of course, are sources which are from the time period being studied.  The sources can be anything from the time period, including journal entries, maps, photographs, speeches, music, etc.  The key is the timeliness of its creation.  They are the evidence of events long since passed, the means by which we base our knowledge of history.  Like most practicing social studies teachers, I was drilled with the importance of these sources as I proceeded through my methods courses.  And this was one lesson which most definitely stuck.

If SS teachers are committed to their students learning beyond what the textbook offers, primary sources have to be at the center of the curriculum.  Imagine trying to help students understand the changes of 1960s America without asking them to listen to Dylan, or asking them to explain the toll of the Civil War on the soldiers who fought without reading a journal entry written on the battlefield. In our classroom, at least, some of the best moments and lessons have come when the students had the chance to sit back and listen to some music, as they did when I spun my vinyl Helen Reddy album when discussing women's rights, or when they were given photographs, letters, and other sources on the Civil Rights Movement, and asked to work together to put them together in a timeline.

I fear that some teachers may shy away from primary source use because of the effort involved in finding such sources.  I assure you, it is no effort at all.  If you know what you are looking for, never underestimate the value of a well-worded search on Google or Youtube.  But if you're not sure, and simply think that primary source use is something needed in a lesson, here is a small sampling of some of my favorite places to go:

Gilder-Lehrman
As a US History and Government teacher, this site is phenomenal, not only for the resources it provides, but the multitudes of other great elements as well.  The website is well-organized and very user-friendly, providing search options for narrowing down the effort in finding the source you want. Each source is accompanied with commentary for context, and also feature built-in discussion questions, which make the teacher's job even easier.  Sources range the gamet from image to sound. Beyond the tremendous sources Gilder-Lehrman provides, I highly recommend that teachers sign up through their website.  This will gain you access to their "History Shop", which is a great place to find hi-res posters, reading guides, books, etc. on the cheap.  In addition, our school is an "affiliate school" with GL, opening us up to additional benefits and freebies that are often offered through the Institute.  Awesome resource!

Library of Congress/ Center for Representative Government (formerly Center on Congress)
The Library of Congress, specifically its "Teaching with Primary Sources" program, is another phenomenal resource.  As one might expect, the Library has access to hundreds of thousands of primary sources, and makes most of them free and accessible to teachers.  An additional benefit of the LOC is that they offer incredible professional development opportunities.  As a teacher in Indiana, I often work with the Center on Representative Government at IU-Bloomington, which is affiliated with the Library of Congress.  I have hosted multiple primary source trainings at our school, which have been extremely well-received by all who have attended.  My favorite option with the LOC is the option for them to prepare documents for you, upon your request, that can be printed in high-quality and sent to you, free of charge!  I was recently able to obtain a series of photographs and letters pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement that we use to timeline the event. And as a shameless plug for the awesome Freedom Summer app which I helped to write...it's awesome!  How much does it change the game for students when they can hold the photograph in their hand?

Stanford's "Reading Like a Historian"
This is a great resource for teachers of US and World History!  Extremely well-organized, Stanford groups their documents into lessons, which are centered around big questions, with the idea being that the students use the documents to fuel class discussion.  In a recent lesson detailing the Puritans I used the tremendous resources of Stanford to ask the kids to read excerpts from John Winthrop's "City on the Hill" speech and John Cotton's "Divine Reason to Conquer Land" speech to analyze the motives of the Puritan settlement.

Primary sources are the "story" of history, and are a SS teacher's best tool in bringing the story to life for the students.  Get on it!


Saturday, August 27, 2016

When Out Of Control Is A Good Thing

Have you ever had those moments when you realize, "Man, you've got a long way to go."  I get those moments all the time as a teacher.  I've been at this for 12 years now, and looking back I can see the growth I've experienced.  But, looking ahead, I can see all the growth still to come.

One of the biggest hurdles for me has always been giving up control in my classroom.  Maybe I'm a control freak, maybe I'm OCD, maybe I'm both.  It's just hard for me to do.  One thing is sure, as hard as it is for me to say...some of it lies in my expectations for my students being set too low.  I should know better by now, after 12 years of teaching (at least in my opinion) the absolute best students, that I'm pretty sure I can throw just about anything at them, and they're knock it out of the park.  And yet giving up control is still tough to do.  But, as usual, the kids showed me the error of my ways.

I am working with an incredible group of seniors in a government class right now.  I've worked with some of these kids for 4 years.  If you're wondering, no, it is not lost on me how blessed I am to have been in a position to have seen their growth in this formative time in their lives.  The thought of them graduating has me getting a little emotional right now...so back to my post!  We've been talking about the "why" of the Constitution- its inspiration, its debates, why it exists as it does.  We recently focused on the debate between the groups known as Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and I asked them to read parts of the writings from both groups, discuss them in small-groups, and then consider how each side would have responded to a set of prompts.  Going into discussion day, I knew it would be a great discussion.  Again, the product of awesome kids.  And then the discussion began.  One period later, as the kids left the room to head to their next period, I realized that I had barely spoken the entire period.  Had I established the basis for the discussion?  Yeah.  Had I provided resources to the groups?  Sure.  Did I steer the discussion?  No way.  That was all the kids.  In the end product, the discussion itself, the one thing around which the lesson revolved, I had exhibited zero control.  And I LOVED IT!  I couldn't help but think, what if I hadn't set the prompts, what if the kids themselves had written them?  What if I had given up even more control?  Does good teaching have to involve the teacher?

Just so you know, I still think the answer to the last question is yes (I'm not in the middle of an existential crisis).  Instead, I'm pretty sure I'm just seeing a reality that I've missed, and as usual it is the kids who have taught me.  Ask yourself- "What are my students capable of?" And if your answer has a limit in it, understand that YOU ARE WRONG.  If there is one universal truth that my students have shown me, not just this week, but in 12 years of teaching, it is that the only limits on our students are those that WE believe exist.  Trust them, respect them, give up a little control, and be ready for them to blow your mind.

One more thing, can I just say how thankful I am to this blog.  People I trust kept telling me, "Blog to reflect, blog for yourself, don't blog so others will read, just write...you won't regret it." Amen brothers and sisters, amen!  Someday I'm going to come back and reread this post...and smile.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Passionate Teaching...It Shouldn't Surprise Your Students

From the title of my blog it should be clear that promoting passionate teaching is central to my "teaching identity".  In my opinion, a "teaching identity" is how one defines everything that is central to who they are as a teacher, from philosophies on discipline and homework to the work one puts into crafting relationships with students.  While approaches to teaching will always differ (and this is not only fine, it's great), one trait must underlie the identity of all teachers- passion for the craft, passion for the students.

I would ask any teacher- Do you know how lucky you are to do what you do?  Are you aware of the incredible gift you have in each of your students?  I know that there are innumerable obstacles to teaching that can threaten one's ability to keep the passion alive.  Teacher pay, the focus on standardized tests, frustrations with parents, etc...the list grows fast.  I get it.  I feel these frustrations as much as anyone else.  I get it.  But I have never been able to understand someone who can't feel hope when they look at their students.  I can't tell you how many times I've found myself in a rut, when I have told myself "You are not doing a good job."  It happens to me every year.  And every year I am saved by the same people- my kiddos.  It goes without saying that I am both thankful to my and for my students.  How can we not be filled with a passionate desire to serve the kids to the best of our ability? They deserve that!

And shouldn't that passion for the craft, and passion for the kids, be demonstrable?  I was in the middle of a discussion with a class recently, and the kids were blowing me away (as they so often do) with not only how well they had grasped the topic for our discussion, but for how they were connecting the dots in such ways to point out great branches of thought, at times beyond what I had considered.  Needless to say, I was amped.  It's hard not to be when you teach amazing kiddos.  When I get amped I tend to get animated (it has to be quite a sight...talking with my hands, talking fast...oh my!) A student seated near me started chuckling, to which I apologized (I can only imagine it was annoying).  The student responded by saying, "It's fine.  You are just so passionate about what you do." I was, of course, flattered by that comment, but noticed the faint layer of surprise in her tone. Should she, or any other student, be surprised that teachers are passionate for their job, for their students? To borrow a line from one of my favorite bands, Led Zeppelin, "It makes me wonder."

What are you doing each day to show your students the passion you have for your work?  What are you doing to make sure your students know that the root of that passion is them?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Day 1: To my kids, to their parents

Day 1.  I am starting my 12th year of teaching, and it never fails...the butterflies.  I'm nervous, but more than anything, I'm excited.  As we start this new year's journey, a few thoughts for my kiddos and their parents.

Kiddos- I know you are in high school.  I know you are hormonal teenagers.  I know you probably feel like you're too old to listen to someone say they care about you.  Well...get over it!  I am genuinely so excited to work with you this year.  I am excited to walk on this journey with you.  I'm excited to do this together.  Notice I've chosen my words carefully, to convey to you the fundamental reality of our work- it is a together mission.  I may be the teacher, but I look forward to learning from you.  I may have a bit more knowledge right now, but your voice, your mind, your heart have tremendous value, something to offer that I can learn from.  And it goes without saying that I hope you can learn from me as well.  Our success this year will be measured together.

I cannot tell you how every single day will go right now, but there are a few promises that I can make to you.  One is that I will never lie to you.  I will be quick to praise your success, and I want to do what I can to help you be the best version of yourself if I have concerns.  I will set high expectations for you, because I believe you can reach them.  I will be there to listen and help, both with class-related issues or otherwise, if you will let me. I will not be perfect. I will admit my mistakes, and work to make them right.  Most of all I will care about you, regardless of how hard you try to make it so I can't.

I hope you have goals for this year, and if I can help you, please ask.  I think it is important that you know that I have goals as well.  I want to do a better job of communicating with home.  If I have a concern that needs to go home, it will.  But I want to make sure I am letting home know when you've done something great!  That is just as, if not more, important.  I want to continue working on giving up control in OUR classroom to you the students.  Each of you is capable of bringing something great to our classroom; I need to make sure I am listening.

This will be a great year, and I look forward to our work together!
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Parents-  If there is one thing I would say to you, beyond what I've said to your child, is to tell you that I am so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with your child.  A primary mantra I have long held as a teacher is "to be the teacher I want my own kids to have."  It is never lost on me, I never forget, that each day you are giving me the thing most precious in your life, and trusting me.  What an incredible honor, and extraordinary mission!  I can promise you that I will keep that mission at heart, and I will care about and challenge your child, just as I would want my own son's teacher to do for him.  Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
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Emerson once said, "Life is a journey, not a destination". I hope that, in the end, we can look back together, and see that this journey has been one in which we've grown, and grown together.  Be open to that journey.  See the dead ends and avoid them if you can.  If not, realize that we often learn more from times we've lost than times we've won.  Find pride in the person you are, not effort in becoming someone you're not.  Find, and stick to, those that add to your life, not subtract.  Move forward with passion.  And remember that there are people in this place that care about you, and trust them. Cheers to our journey!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Key to Handling the Unexpected...Being Prepared for It!

Ask any of my students and they will tell you that one of my constant preachings is on the need to fight procrastination.  Unfortunately it is a sermon which often falls on deaf ears with students, but the importance of preparation is a real thing, especially in teaching.

Most teachers, like me, undoubtedly enter each day with at the least a vague plan for the day, and at most a formal lesson plan.  I'm somewhere in between, largely due to my utter disdain for "formal lesson plans".  I believe in good planning, but the tedious form taught when completing teacher preparation programs has always seemed like busy work.

Planning, however, is a key variable to successful teaching.  I often use my off-time in the summer to map out my ideal plan.  I prepare a blank calendar for the semester, enter holidays and other interruptions which I know about, and then go about setting my plan for what will happen if every class meets for the entire class period every day, without anything unexpected taking place.  I think about what we will do if we run short on time or have time leftover.  Like I said, "ideal".

In thirteen years of teaching I have never actually used my ideal plan.  And I'm ok with that.  I know, going into the year, that this ideal plan won't work.  I know I will have to move things around, or even cut things.  I know that snow days, delays, pep sessions, convocations, etc. will cut into class time.  I know that there will be times that I will need to give extra time to a subject, or that an opportunity for a great class discussion will present itself.  In short, I know that the unexpected is going to take place.  But I have found that it is much easier to handle the unexpected if your prepared.

With a calendar in front of me, I can see what can be moved, and to when.  I can see what can be cut, if needed.  Most might say that having these kinds of plans in place makes the classroom too concrete; quite the opposite.  Being prepared in such a way allows me the flexibility to plan ahead for what may come, and ensure that I am covering material the kids need to know.  If I think that more time needs to be spent on a given subject, or that the class would really benefit from an informed discussion, I can look at my plan and make the necessary moves.

Others might say I'm over-preparing...OK, I'll admit, that observation seems to be more on-point.  I might be over-prepared.  But weathering the storm of a sea that promises, like all, to be tumultuous requires me to ensure that I have a sea-worthy ship.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Importance of Sharing

I'm excited to have been invited by a fellow educator, Mr. Kelly Christopherson (@kwhobbes on Twitter) to participate in the #saskedchat summer blogging challenge.  Since I've just started this blog, I'm always looking for jumpstarts, and this is a great one!  I love the subject for this week- "Sharing".

I'm a teacher of many mantras, but one that is central to me is that I shouldn't ever be doing something in my classroom that I wouldn't want someone else to see.  Effective teaching, in my mind, requires many things, and one of these is transparency.  Now I don't know that this necessarily needs to require posting a formal lesson plan every day; this has always seemed overly tedious.  But I believe teachers are responsible for sharing what is going on in our classrooms.  Our principal, our superintendents, and certainly our parents need to know, deserve to know, what is happening.  More than that, our colleagues need to know.

I've taught for 11 years, and always considered myself a teacher who embraced growth, and was active in finding ways to achieve it.  Last summer, while at an eLead conference, I was encouraged to get onto Twitter.  Best decision ever!  Over the course of the past year, I have developed more relationships with colleagues all over the country, have communicated with #eduheroes more, and have grown more as an educator than I could have ever imagined.  But, as I used the platform to grow in my practice, I found that it also provided an awesome way to share the work in our classroom with admins, fellow students, and parents.  I love taking pictures of student work and posting it, love it more when a parent likes or retweets it, and love it best when students themselves move it forward. In so many ways I'm frustrated for not getting onto Twitter sooner.

I've been fortunate to read the fantastic book Kids Deserve It! recently, and two thoughts shared by the authors really stand out while writing this post.  The authors discuss social media as a tremendous communication medium.  I've never been one to hand out my cell phone number to students or parents (still a personal rule, more on that in a minute), so when students had questions, they were encouraged to either wait until the next day, or email me.  I've always been good about checking email, but I have to think about it, and there were always delays.  Now that I'm on Twitter, and I allow students to follow my professional handle, they tweet me questions all the time, and I get instant notifications, and moreover their fellow students can see the questions and answers.  Love it!

The authors of Kids Deserve It! also quoted another #eduhero of mine, Angela Maiers, who said "When you are not sharing your brilliant ideas, you are doing a disservice to others."  I'm not sure how many "brilliant" ideas I have, but I have passion for the craft of teaching, and we all need that to be shared as much as possible.

We educators work in a world in which sharing is just as important as it always has been, but is infinitely easier than ever before.  This brings with it rules, digital citizenship if you will.  For me, when sharing through social media, the rule is always to remember that once it's shared, you can't take it back.  Therefore I keep the personal and professional distinctly separate.  I have Facebook, Instagram, and a personal Twitter account.  But my current students are never allowed to follow me until after graduation.  My professional Twitter is the only medium through which current students can follow, and as such becomes the primary "sharing" method I use for my classroom.  Another of my mantras is that I go to Facebook to socialize, but I go to Twitter to learn.  Rarely does anything personal (other than the occasional picture of my incredibly adorable kids) go on my professional Twitter.

Sharing is an absolutely fundamental practice in effective teaching.  I hope to impact someone else, but I know that I have been deeply impacted by others having shared with me.  I am thankful when my son's teacher shares something they have done in class, and I hope that the parents of my students, and the students themselves, enjoy it when I do the same.  Educators need avenues of growth, and digital sharing is such a great way to achieve this!  We teach better when we are challenged, when we are inspired, and to borrow a line from two of my #eduheroes Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney, our kids deserve the best teaching we can provide!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Don't Be Afraid to Get Your Pants Dirty

It's the end of July, and while there have been many thoughts this summer about new ideas and goals for the new school year, the time has come to seriously work on moving some of these from "thoughts" to "action."  It is a time not just for setting goals, but considering how they are going to be fulfilled.

With this comes, you guessed it, reflection.  I've written before about my ardent belief in the need for all educators to be ready to love every single student.  This isn't a passing thought or belief; it is part of my passion for teaching.  Having this love for your students pays obvious dividends in classroom planning, quality of activity, excitement of environment, etc., but we can't forget the role that love for our students plays in effective discipline.

We've all seen the teachers whose idea of effective discipline is to expect abject and thorough obedience, and when that isn't demonstrated by a student, then it's time for a referral and the principal's office.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all about respect, and certainly realize that there are times when the admins in the building need to be involved.  But so many potential classroom discipline issues can be rendered moot if the student is within a classroom that centers on three fundamental truths- love for the student, fairness of expectation, and mutual respect between the teacher and the student.

As I was working on this post, I happened to start reading the book Kids Deserve It! by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome.  By the way- If you are an educator or leader in a school, and you're not reading this book, you are missing something special!  One chapter of the book was titled "Never Slam the Door", and it spoke to so many of the things on my mind as I wrote this post.  It spoke to the reality of all teachers that we each have had "that student...the one who works to make him or herself unloveable."  I bet that if we all stopped to think about students who have presented the biggest challenges, from a disciplinary angle, this description would likely apply.  So...what do we do with this student?  Do we present ourselves as simply another in a long line of "senders"- teachers dealing with the student by sending them to the office every time a discipline issue arises?  Or do we strive to work as a "change agent"- teachers who have decided to try and find the root of these issues, and be an agent of positive influence and change in that student's life?  The first route is always an option...if you're looking for the easy way out.  But I can assure you, I can promise you, without a doubt in my heart or mind, that this model will not only stunt the growth of a child, but it will also earn you the ire of an administrator.  Moreover, it will rob you of an incredible moment that could be had with a student.

I've been very fortunate, over the course of my career, to have had several of these moments with kids.  I don't wish for discipline issues, but always try to seize on them as a moment of growth.  I remember having to write an elaborate classroom management plan while completing my undergraduate work, and emerged from college believing that I needed to have such a plan in place in order to have any kind of order in my classroom.  What is clear now, after 11 years of teaching, is that, while it is good to have a process with which one is comfortable, teachers need to be flexible, ready to handle any situation, and ready to understand that each student is going to have a different story, a different need.  My process is pretty simple- as a discipline issue arises, I always offer a quick warning (sometimes verbally, sometimes something as simple as moving through the classroom and placing a hand on a shoulder, or a foot to the back leg of the desk).  If the issue continues I may ask the student to step outside and have a seat.  I know what you're thinking, so far this isn't any different than most teachers.  Here is the key, however- never leave the instance or the student in such a way.

"That student" for me will always be vividly etched in my memory.  This student had a propensity for talking out in class.  As teachers often do, I was "warned" about this student.  Generally I don't listen to such warnings, but would be lying if I said I wasn't keeping an eye on her.  Sure enough, she started the year with issues that ranged from talking out to sleeping to being openly defiant.  After a warning, I asked her to step outside and have a seat, which she did (with a considerable amount of attitude).  The easy way out- claim "good riddance" and be thankful for a few minutes in class without said student.  But sitting a student in the hallway does nothing to fix the issue, and certainly nothing to help the student.  As I've written before, it is our responsibility as educators to love every single kid that comes into our classroom, even, and especially so, those that are harder to love than others.  I purposely ended class that day with about 5 minutes to spare, and stepped outside into the hallway.  The student was sitting down, as I asked her to do, but it was obvious that she was not in a good mood.  I sat down beside her, in the hallway, in the dust, and calmly asked her why she believed I had asked her to step out.  She explained, perhaps grudgingly, that she had talked out and disrespected me.  I then asked her if she thought what I had done in response was fair.  The look on her face was priceless.  I could tell that she had been expecting detention, and had certainly never been asked that question.  She responded with a yes.  What then followed was a conversation about the need for mutual respect, and what I believed she could bring to the class and her classmates.  By the end of that short 5 minute conversation she was calm, I was calm, and we had an understanding.
And I'm proud to say that, from that moment on, our relationship was one of trust and respect.  I continue to look back on that instance as the moment that I began building a relationship of trust and respect with a student for whom I care a great deal.

I don't tell this story to sound my horn, but simply to encourage each of us to remember what Welcome and Nesloney talked about in Kids Deserve It!  We make nothing better by filling out referral forms left and right; we make no impact on the kids when we fill up detention.  Sure, we might gain a day or two of quiet, but how many potential future issues could we solve by simply handling things the right way the first time.  When confronted with a discipline issue, we have to make the effort to find the root of the issue.  We may not know the hurt they are feeling.  We may not know how pain in their life is manifesting itself as a discipline problem in school.  Give them a chance to talk.  "When you listen to a child, you give him back his voice" (Nesloney, 38).  This doesn't mean be lax or stop setting expectations on behavior.  It simply means to check your reaction, and make sure that you give the time to a student. Sit with them in the hallway; don't be afraid to get your pants dirty.  Treat that student with respect, and don't be shocked when you get it back.  Love them...you may be the only one who does.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Being a Father Changed My Teaching

I've been lucky enough, over the course of my career, to have had the chance to mentor several teachers who were new to the profession.  Without a doubt, this has not been a role that I have ever taken lightly.  With every teacher I've mentored, I've always started with the same question, "Why are you a teacher?"  I love this question, because I believe it is at the heart of good reflection.  Why are we here, in this profession?  What is our motivation to teach, and teach well?  What is our inspiration?  I ask myself this question all the time, and even post a small strip of paper on the top of my computer that says, "Remember why you are here."  I was asked once if the strip of paper was a sign that I wasn't happy with my career or school; that strip, this question has nothing to do with being unhappy.  It has everything to do with reminding myself each and every day that I have a mission, and it deserves everything I have every single day.

Today we are celebrating my youngest son's 3rd birthday.  These days, as you might expect, are filled with the usual- balloons, streamers, new toys that Dad gets to put together (and play with...I'm especially stoked for the new Legos), and the best cake ever!  But every year, on the birthday of my sons, I always try to stop, look upon my boys, and reflect on how they've changed my life.  It never ceases to amaze me, and I try never to forget how thankful I am for them, and to them.  They make me a better man.  But when I really stop to think, I realize how much they've changed my teaching.  I was in the classroom for 4 years before my oldest was born, and I know that my love for the craft and for my students was deeply rooted even then.  But without a doubt, when my son was born, my motivation, my inspiration evolved, and dramatically changed my answer to the question, "Why am I a teacher?"

That answer has always been that I believed that I had a heart for the craft, that I believed that every child deserved a passionate teacher, that I wanted to work with these kids and I truly believed I had something to offer them.  But when my son was born, and certainly when he started school, one motivation trumped them all.  I wanted to be the teacher that I wanted my own children to have.

I want my sons to feel three things every day when they go to school- challenged, important, and loved.

I want my sons to have a teacher who is not afraid to push them outside their comfort zones, to realize that each of my sons are unique, like every child, and will need to be challenged on their own front.  I don't want my sons to have a status quo teacher, I don't want them to have a teacher who is comfortable treading water in the classroom.  I want them to have a teacher who is not afraid to use unconventional thinking, try new things, use technology in inventive ways, to stand up for what they believe is in the best interest of my child.

I want my sons to have a teacher who makes them feel important, both as part of a class or a team, but also as an individual.  I want my sons to have a teacher who sees them for who they are, embraces their strengths, quirks, and weaknesses, and loves them for these things.  I want my boys to be empowered to find their voice, and more importantly, use it to be a channel for positive change in this world.

Above all, I want my sons to have a teacher who loves them.  I want my sons to have a teacher who understands that the best teachers are those that know that they need to love, not tolerate or endure, but legitimately love every single child that they teach.  And I want my sons to know that their teacher has that love for them.

Can each of us be that kind of teacher?  Is it too much to ask?  With all my heart, I hope every teacher answers the same way.  I hope that I'm that kind of teacher.  I hope that my students feel challenged by me, know that I will fight for them, know that I love them.  My oldest is getting ready to start second grade, and my wife and I are so thankful that his teachers thus far have challenged, respected, and loved him.  I can only hope that his teachers in the future do as well.

As for me, if asked, "Why are you a teacher?", the answer is simple.  I want to be the teacher I want my sons to have.  Happy birthday son.  Love Dad.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Teaching in a Mad World

Like most Americans, I've followed the tragic events of the past week with a mixed bag of emotions and thoughts.  Clearly, the primary emotion has been tremendous sadness for the lives lost.  Sadness for the families, sadness for the country, sadness for my children and my students.  I was reminded of a poem by the Somali poet Warsan Shire:

"later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole
world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere."

But, again like most, I've felt that overarching need, as we so often do in times like these, to find someone to blame.  I've spent the better part of the day considering that thought, and read countless posts on social media from new "experts" on who I should blame, everyone from the black community to police officers to President Obama.  But, ultimately, it seems that the more I reflect, the clearer the blame is to assign.  If we, as Americans, want to know who we should blame for the creation of a culture in which this level of hatred can exist, all we have to do is look in the mirror.

As I've reflected on these tragedies, and the world in which we live, the other thought that has hit so hard for me is what can be done to change this culture.  What responsibility do I have to make something positive from this tragic time, not only as a citizen of this country, but as a teacher?  I've always been a big believer that complaining rarely gets one any where, and if it does, not only is it rarely positive, but does nothing to address the bigger issue that might be at play.  In my mind, if you want to complain, then you had better be prepared to either offer an alternative, or to be part of the solution.  Complaining without a desire to change something for the better is always being a part of the problem.  So, again I ask, what can we do as educators to try and make a difference in our culture, because make no mistake, I believe this is an issue of American culture, and it will take every American to fix it.

As I've said, I feel great sadness in light of these events, certainly for the families of the lives lost, but perhaps more so for the indictment they lay at the world which we've created.  I can't help but think about the students in my charge, about my own children, and the world to which we are sending them off.  What can I do, a teacher in a small rural school, to change things, to make a better world?  Can these lives lost be lost for something greater?  As I look for these answers, I'm reminded that my responsibility as a teacher to my charges is not only to prepare them for the content knowledge they will need in the next steps of life, but to do my own small part in preparing them for life itself.  And to do that, we educators must take stock of the world into which these young people are journeying.

It seems clear that these deaths, like so many around the country and world today, are rooted in one basic reality: the reality of fear.  Fear of the different, fear of the disagreement, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of the unknown.  We educators have a tremendous opportunity each day to help combat that fear, to encourage our students to embrace understanding, but to do so we must be prepared for the challenge that comes along with it.  It would be easy for us to march into the classroom, and tell the students what they should feel, what they should think.  But that is merely being part of the problem.  We have to challenge them, push their comfort zones, but allow them to grow in their own mind.  What can we do to meet this challenge?  I have a few thoughts.


  • Encourage deliberation- I teach social studies, so the word "debate" is often a favorite.  How often I've heard "Mr. Cline, when are we going to debate?" I've always had a problem with that word, however.  Not in the discussion, and certainly not in the passionate defense of an idea. But what I have so often seen in debates is that the parties involved simply listen to argue, to poke holes in the other sides argument, and the result is generally hard feelings, and rarely any positive understanding.  I prefer "deliberation", which inherently encourages one to listen simply to listen, to learn.  Steven Covey, the author of the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" wrote "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." We have lost the art of meaningful conversation, the ability to speak with someone who is different than ourselves, and emerge not angry, but more knowledgeable; not changed, but accepting.  Encourage your students to understand that there is always something that can be learned from someone else, but they have to be willing to listen for the sake of learning.  Not changed, not adopting a point of view, but understanding that it is a voice, and that every voice has worth, and that we each are better when we can see all sides.
  • Most importantly, love every single one of your students, even, and perhaps especially, the ones that are harder to love than others.  If one thing is clear from the events of the past week, it is that we live in a world lacking in understanding and love.  We have to love these kids, every one of them, with a deep love that lacks any superficiality.  And they need to know it.  These kids need to know that we love them, that we want what is best for each of them, that we accept them for who they are and love who they are.  I've never been afraid to tell a student that I love them, that I care about them, that I am here for them.  If we expect our students to be a positive part of this world, if we expect them to develop the kind of capacity of love and understanding for others that is going to begin healing the wounds of this nation, then we had damn well better be sure to model it ourselves.  And if you can't do that, if you ever feel that it has become cumbersome to demonstrate that kind of love for every single child, then consider the reality that this might not be the field for you.
As Gary Jules once sang, "It's a very, very mad world", and we stand at the precipice of choice: do we accept this kind of tragedy as simply the ways things are, or do we strive for something better, a world of acceptance, deliberation, understanding.  Note that I didn't say agreement.  I may have sounded naive in this post (I prefer the term "idealistic"), but I'm not that naive.  Humans will never agree on everything.  We aren't pattern molds, and we shouldn't strive to be.  Our country is undeniably stronger because of its diversity, not in spite of it.  We need diversity of opinions and thoughts, but we also need the ability to agree to disagree.  How often has someone close to you said something like "We just can't talk politics"?  Why?  We should be talking about politics, and anything else that is important to us.  We just have to be ok with not agreeing on the same point of view.  That kind of growth can't start when we are 30; it has to start when we are young.  It has to start at home, and it has to be encouraged and supported at school. I can't say if every single one of my students is going to need that knowledge we gleaned about some Supreme Court case we covered, or the issues with Reconstruction, or anything else we covered in class.  But I know that skills in the art of deliberation are skills that can fit any future.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Time To Up My Game!

Not too long ago, I told my seniors that one of my biggest hopes for them, as they left for the next step on their life's journey, was that they would find and pursue a passion in life that would help to define who they are, as teaching has done for me.  I'm remarkably blessed that I can sit here and honestly say that I can answer the age-old ice breaker question, "What would you want someone else to be able to say about you?" I am a father, I am a husband, I am a son, I am a teacher.  And each of those are my passion.

I've spent a considerable amount of time on Twitter, and have found it to be an incredible way to connect to my kiddos and their parents, but also a tremendous source of growth.  So many of those I follow inspire me with their blog posts, particularly those that are so real, that have clearly been written from the heart.  In talking with a few of those teachers, the biggest thing I heard time and again was that their blog was instrumental in their reflection on the profession, and if a blog post served to help or inspire another teacher, then that was icing on the cake.  Amen!

Thus, this blog.  I believe strongly in the power of reflection.  As teachers, if we are not reflecting constantly, then our teaching is suffering.  How can we ever expect to grow if we are not willing to reflect on our practice?  How can we ever see our weaknesses, and yes, our strong points, if we are not reflecting?  If this blog can help me in that constant process of reflection, then I can't wait to get started!  And, if something I say in a post could help someone like so many have helped me, icing!

A few things about me as I start this journey:
* The 2016-2017 school year will be the 12th in my career, all at Frankton High School in Indiana.  It is important for me to note that the thoughts expressed in this blog are mine alone, and are not in any way to be construed as the views of the Frankton-Lapel school corporation.
* I have been married for 13 years (as of July 26) to my incredible and beautiful wife, Dawn, and together we are raising two boys, Grayer and Rowan.

With that said, I can't wait to see where this blog goes, and I hope that posts will inspire questions and conversation! For those teachers who are veteran bloggers, I look forward to your tips!  Here goes!