I Like…

I like

My #OneWord2019 is dissonance. That word is especially important to me because I think we all could do more to delve deeper into what we believe and whether those beliefs transfer into our actions. The act of self-reflection is vital to becoming a better educator. Let’s take a look for a moment at a simple and often used statement…”I like.”

I like pizza.

I like to vacation in Hawaii.

I like dogs.

I like…

You get the point. However, let’s think about what that phrase means when used in our classrooms and schools.

I like the feel of the paper in a real book.

I like to use a pencil/pen and paper.

I like a classroom that is quiet and organized.

Here is where I may make some educators uncomfortable (maybe even angry). When educators make these types of statements, they are really verbalizing their likes, not the likes of their students. There is nothing wrong with stating your likes and how you learn best, but the danger is when your preferences are mistaken to be the preferences of others.

I think what is important is to give learners, no matter their age, some variety in how learning can take place. Let them find their preferences through a variety of activities and experiences. I am someone who reads almost exclusively on an electronic device. For me, it is much easier to have reading material always at my fingertips. I don’t need to have access to a pen or highlighter with which to mark essential passages and ideas. Often overlooked is the fact that I don’t carry a purse; there is no place to carry a book and pen! I can read at night without the awkwardness of finding the right lighting. I read more than ever because of the ease at which I can access the printed word. When I have mentioned my preference to teachers, many respond by saying that they could never do that and that kids need to touch and feel the pages. I have no problem with the personal preference they express; my issue is with assuming that kids have that same preference and need to handle paper to make reading a meaningful task.

My challenge to you is simple. Try to be more aware of how your personal preferences impact your classroom. Give students the ability to experiment with different modalities. Let them find out what they are comfortable with and will help them learn best. Try to resist forcing your way of learning onto them.

Don Sturm

2018…Professionally the Best Year Yet!

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As I take some time to reflect on 2018, it is apparent to me that this was the best year of my career. Other than a couple of years where I struggled to get a hold on the stresses of being a teacher, my career really has been a positive one, but this year was a particularly good one!

One reason is that I am finally comfortable with my position as a technology integration specialist after five years. When I was hired to be a tech integration specialist, I was thrown into a new 1:1 iPad initiative that meant learning on the job… every day! I always felt like I was behind the curve and was reacting to situations rather than looking ahead as I was used to doing in my classroom. As my district has become more comfortable with iPads, my position has turned into more of an instructional technology coaching position. This is where my passion lies, helping teachers to provide students a relevant education. Teachers view me as more than just a tech resource and contact me for instructional advice, rather than just a technology issue.

One huge impact on my 2018 has been the #4OCFpln of which I am an active member. This is a Voxer group that I was introduced to by Louie Soper (@mr_middle_2 ). I was in a direct message conversation with Louie and another social studies teacher about the idea of standards-based grading. During this conversation, Louie messaged me and said he had this “think tank” that I should consider joining. It has honestly been the best professional decision of my career. This group of passionate educators who I talk (yes, Voxer is a walkie-talkie app) with everyday challenges my beliefs and make me strive to be a better, more informed educator. I have had more rich educational discussions since I joined in May than I have had throughout my whole teaching career.  This group is truly a family. Many of us are going to present at ISTE19 on the power of Voxer and social media connections, and we are all staying together in Philadelphia!

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I have read more this year than I ever have. In fact, I think as I write this, I am on target to read 54 books. This surpasses my goal of completing 50 books in 2018. Most of these books have been non-fiction books focused on instructional strategies and education related topics. While I have always been a reader, it has been the Voxer book studies that have upped my reading game. This online, asynchronous book study group was started by the founder of #4OCFpln Matt Larson (@mlarson_nj ) and Ricardo Garcia (@rokstar19). We conduct an in-depth study of one book a month. Invariably, each of the discussions brings up other books that “need” to be read. I am much more knowledgeable about the profession of teaching as a result of this book study group and my reading habit. 

Lastly, my #OneWord2018 was CREATE, and create I did. One of my goals is to get teachers and students to realize the importance of creation using technology, not just consumption. As has been part of my position from the start, I continue to create tutorial videos for both students and teachers to help navigate the ever-changing world of technology. I create graphics with a quote of the day every day using Buncee (@Buncee ). This year also saw the creation of new professional development options that I call deep dives. These deep dives posit teachers into situations and discussions where they hopefully start to think deeply and reflectively about education topics. These deep dives have covered topics like assessment, grades, student engagement, creativity, and student voice and choice. I am also in the midst of writing a chapter and vignette for a member of #4OCFpln (@Rdene915 ) who is publishing a couple of books in the near future. While I am hoping they are good enough to be included, the process of writing down my thoughts about the changing nature of education over my career has been a valuable self-reflection exercise. In the wings is a podcast series with a 4th-grade student discussing books that she will choose. I am excited about this new endeavor because it does involve working directly with a student and sharing our joy of reading.

I am looking forward to starting 2019 with all of the positive habits of 2018. My new #OneWord2019 is dissonance. Getting educators to consider what education should look like for students in 2019 versus the current reality is an important step in making our schools better and more relevant for students. Here is to a great 2019!

Don Sturm