I have recently been honored by several of my favorite Twitter peers with a "Sunshine Award." It is my honor to reply and spread the sunshine forward! I have to warn you that this was the hardest blog post I've ever written (and the longest - sorry). It is filled with emotions that I rarely choose to share with others.
First, I'd like to thank the following colleagues for including me on their lists: Jennifer Collette (@jennmarieco), Drew Frank (@ugafrank), Will Gourley (@willgourley), Rachelle Wooten (@rwootenits), Paul Stolt (@pstolt1), Tammy Neil (@mathneil), Michael Ogg (@principalogg) and Judy Arzt (@judyarzt). It really means something to me to be told that I make a small difference in someone's life. I can guarantee that everyone above makes a huge difference in my life as well.
Here’s how this chain letter of inspiration works:
1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger & let him or her know when you complete your post.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger authored for you.
4. List 11 bloggers (I chose Twitterers mostly) to pass along the challenge. (I listed more in hopes of spreading the sunshine further.)
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers/Twitterers you nominate to answer, and let all them know they have been nominated. (You can’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you, though.)
“11 Random Facts About Me”
1) I have only taught one grade for my entire 15 year career (by choice): 5th grade.
2) I built a crazy huge classroom library for my students (see picture to the right). (Here is a blog post on its creation.)
3) I teach in the same district that I grew up in.
4) I love Mountain Dew!
5) I am an extremely adventurous eater - My American peers in China appreciated hearing my critique of various dishes before they would try it. (I only tricked them once!)
6) I am such a fanatic about my Blackhawks that I hang the "Win flag" outside of my house after every win.
7) I don't like ice cream or spaghetti.
8) Although embarrassing to admit, I have an autographed baseball card by everyone who has played for the Cubs since 1999! (None have been acquired directly by me, though - those days are over! Thank goodness for eBay!)
9) I once considered teaching and living on the Freedom Ship, and even flew out to Florida to help write the educational philosophy of the community (see the picture to the right)!
10) I spent a year cataloguing most of my dreams (2-5 each night) and still have them saved in a few notebooks that are fun to read over!
11) I hope to some day write a book or three. I think I would enjoy writing about an education topic, I'll definitely stay away from fiction!
"Answering the Questions"
The following are the answers to questions asked of me. I answered at least one question from each of the bloggers who nominated me. It was kind of nice being able to choose questions where I felt I had a somewhat unique answer to! I'm not sure I could have done some of those questions any justice!!! Here are the questions and my answers:
1) If you could make one significant change that would shift the course of education, what would it be?
Answer: I actually have three, but hopefully two of the more realistic ideas will become books in the near future. The following is just a dream: I would give each teacher complete autonomy to teach in a style that they feel best suits them, with materials that they choose, using pedagogy that they believe in. There would be three stipulations: (1) Each teacher would follow the district and Common Core curriculum to ensure some consistency across the district. (2) Each teacher would attend weekly PD trainings (staff/team meetings) to ensure that everyone is exposed to best practices. (3) Each teacher would be evaluated based on something similar to Charlotte Danielson's rubric which encourages a student-led classroom.
Answer: My ideal classroom is actually not far off from the one I have today. Each of my 5th grade students would have a dedicated MacBook Pro that they used in class and at home. The classroom would have lots of room to spread out, work in groups, work on the floor, etc. The room could easily be transformed to meet the needs of the current lesson. Several projectors allow for several sites to be displayed at a time along our 20+ foot long whiteboard. The full-time co-teacher or paraprofessional would supervise the whole group while I got to meet with individual students to provide specific feedback on their work. Although our school day is about an hour longer, that extra class time is used exclusively for more recesses, unstructured activities, and student-created clubs.
Answer: I love to travel, and I travel for many different reasons. I've been all around the U.S., Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico, Finland, Sweden, England, France, Monaco, Italy, China, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. I associate one positive emotion or another with each place:
Answer: I love to cook, but I'm more of a practical cook than a creative cook. I spend every Monday evening all year long cooking for 120 people at a local soup kitchen. I have arranged my school schedule so that I can leave 45 minutes before the kids do so I can get there on time (they have Art at the end of the day). The reason I started doing this five years ago was because I recognized that I really had my priorities mixed up. I was struggling to find happiness in my life and I was feeling sorry for myself. Upon reflection, I realized that it was mighty selfish of me to think that my life was bad when so many people in the world suffer every day with a far worse fate. I decided to check out volunteer opportunities in my community and I came upon my local soup kitchen. I've been one of the three main cooks ever since! Every evening I spend there, I'm reminded how fortunate I am to have the family, friends, job, finances, etc. that I do and that I am truly living a blessed life.
Answer: I spend a ton of time with my family. Although I am not married and don't have any children of my own, I am extremely close with my sister and her son and daughter, as well as my mom and dad. My nephew is nine years old and has autism. To see life through his eyes has helped me better understand my students, and has made me a more compassionate person. I feel as though he and I communicate with each other a little differently than the rest of the world communicates with him. I've felt that strong bond with him since he was a baby. My niece is a "13 year old stuck in a six year old body!" Although only a first grader, she seems to have an eidetic memory and knows how to infer gestures and hidden meaning, sarcasm, as well as opportunities to manipulate! (She's an evil genius who might some day rule the world - I'm a little scared of her!)
Answer: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein
I believe strongly that everyone has talents, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. One of my first lessons I teach my students each year is called, "Marble Theory" where I tell my students that I believe that everyone is born with a million marbles inside their head, along with an endless supply of cups to hold those marbles. Each cup can hold up to ten marbles and is labeled for the skill that it represents. The more marbles a cup holds, the better you are at that skill. Not all marbles are currently inside of cups, however. We need to allocate them over the course of our life.
Answer: As a life-long Cubs fan, I would love to become the general manager of the team that I idolize (assuming I could not fail and would deliver a World Series to my home town!). I'm not sure anyone in the country would be more celebrated than the person who assembled the first World Series-winning Cubs team in over 100 years (the longest streak in professional sports)! Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed looking over baseball statistics and trying to decide how the Cubs should spend their money! Knowing I could not fail, I think, would make the experience even that much more fun. That being said, I work hard to teach my students that failure is an important part of learning (which I firmly believe). I am happy to "fail forward" in my current position as 5th grade teacher, but I would not want that pressure as Cubs GM!
Answer: As a talkative, nervy, annoying junior in high school, I was once told by my "Writing About Literature" teacher that I was the worst writer he ever had in his class. He did so during class as he was handing back graded assignments. Shocked by his words, I laughed, said something obnoxious under my breath, and acted as if I didn't care. My guess is that he was having a bad day and my persistent, adolescent attitude struck on his last nerve. That being said, he never apologized, withdrew his remarks, or made up for it in a different way. I just spent the rest of the semester knowing that whatever I wrote would be pointless since he so strongly disliked my writing style! Because I was such a hard-headed teenager, I decided to make it my goal to prove him wrong even though I never liked writing, nor literature. I decided I would try out for the school newspaper! The newspaper advisor told me I would have to submit a sample article to him since I had not taken the prerequisite courses necessary to be on the paper, so I did. Long story short, I got on the paper and became Sports Editor and Business Manager within months. I later became News Editor of my college newspaper, and currently host my own blog ;) - none of which have been paid positions, however. :( Although I still might not be the best writer in the world, I know that I can't possibly be the worst! I wonder if the jerk was just trying to light a fire under me?!?! Hmmm...
Answer: I was never one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he "grew up." I never wanted to be a professional baseball player or an astronaut. I never saw myself becoming an adult and never had a strong enough interest in one area that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to it. So after I finished my second year of college, I had to finally declare a major! I spent my first two years at the local community college, because I thought I shouldn't waste my parents money going to a school that might not offer my future major. Fortunately, Winona State University in Minnesota liked my grades at Harper College and offered me in-state tuition if I transferred there. I decided it would be the best decision to do that, so I looked into their programs. They had a good business, nursing, and education college, so I thought a little about those majors. I knew right away that anything medical wouldn't work for me, so I started to think about a degree in business. I had worked as a temp for the past six summers at various local businesses and had done very well. I thought that was a definite possibility. But this particular summer, I had decided to work at a Scout Camp instead of my usual temp job. I was Nature Director, and I got to teach outdoor science to Cub Scouts! The parents thought I was a natural and gave me so much confidence that I started to wonder if a degree in education would make sense. Then it struck me: All the businesses I worked in didn't care what degree I was earning, they would eventually want me to get my MBA, so I could always get a job in business with a degree in Education (but not the other way around). My decision was made. 15 years later, I haven't given a thought to working in business! :)
Answer: Honestly, I would move to the Caribbean or somewhere else with a beach and the perfect climate. I would still want to teach, but I would create my ultimate classroom explained in Question #2 (and I would have the money to do it!) My family has been itching to move to a warmer climate, so they would join me and with all my money, I would gladly build/purchase their own dream homes nearby (but a comfortable distance away!). I would hire & pay a second teacher to allow me the flexibility to provide feedback (but also to take days off whenever possible). It's a childish dream, but that's OK. I never play the lottery anyway! :)
Answer: I would tell myself that everything in education is cyclical, so hang in there during the rough times. When I first started teaching, I had 100% autonomy to teach anything in any way I wanted. Seven or eight years later, I was almost entirely restricted in what I could teach and how I taught it. Today, I am as close to full autonomy as I've been in ten years! It's no wonder that my first five years and my last three years have been the most enjoyable years of my career! I'm just not someone who enjoys being puppeted! I need to feel empowered to make decisions, try new things, and learn from my mistakes. I know that I'm a better teacher this way, and my students enjoy a better experience when I believe in what I am doing!
Play it Forward: Here is a list of people on Twitter who I appreciate collaborating with or look to for ideas. Some have blogs that I read, while some don't. These people, however, have consistently provided me with advice, feedback, or support over the years. These are the people whom I hope to collaborate with more in the future. (There are dozens more, but I was supposed to only list 11 and I started to feel guilty! I know that I left important people off of this list, so I apologize to them - I ran out of time and space!)
Joy Kirr (@joykirr)
Tricia Fuglestad (@fuglefun)
Greg Miller (@millerg6)
Julie Jee (@mrsjjee)
Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)
Ben Kuhlman (@bkuhl2you)
Lisa Mims (@brighteyes49)
Maria Caplin (@mariacaplin)
Katy Gartside (@katygartside)
Kathryn Hoffman (@kkht6912)
Billy Spicer (@mrbillyspicer)
Brianne Koletsos (@b_kol)
Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers)
Scott Jones (@escott818)
Matt Coaty (@mcoaty)
Tim Walker (@timdwalk)
Brad Gustafson (@gustafsonbrad)
Josh Gauthier (@mrgfactoftheday)
Gary Anderson (@andersongl)
Kimberly Hurd (@khurdhorst)
Misty White (@maddawgmisty)
Darin Johnston (@aniowateacher)
Scott Hastings (@scotthastings1)
Craig Yen (@craigyen)
Julieanne Harmatz (@jarhartz)
Ginny Moe (@ginnymoerhsb)
Tom Whitford (@twhitford)
Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs)
Jessica Bamberger (@missbamberger)
Nancy Carroll (@ncarroll24)
Paula Naugle (@plnaugle)
Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z)
A.J. Juliani (@ajjuliani)
Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks)
Hugh McDonald (@hughtheteacher)
Michelle Cordy (@cordym)
John Fritzky (@johnfritzky)
Robyn Thiessen (@robyntheissen)
David Hochheiser (@davidhochheiser)
Shawn McCusker (@shawnmccusker)
Oliver Schinkten (@schink10)
Andrea Lawson (@mmegrade5)
Bernice Homel (@bhomel1)
Catherine D (@catherine_d2013)
Holly Clark (@HollyEdTechDiva)
Tanya Avrith (@edtechschools)
Reed Gillespie (@rggillespie)
Ben Brazeau (@braz74)
Maggie Maslowski (@maggiemaslowski)
and so many more including those who nominated me...
Here’s the set of questions for the above bloggers (if you were listed above, you are encouraged to write your own blog post, passing appreciation on to others - no pressure though! This takes a lot of time!):
1) If you could make one significant change that would shift the course of education, what would it be?
2) What would your ideal classroom look like?
3) Best place you ever vacationed?
4) What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of?
5) What do you do to escape?
6) What is your favourite educational quote?
7) If you could do anything knowing you would not fail what would you do? Why?
8) What was the most unfair thing that a teacher ever did to you?
9) When did you know you wanted to be an educator?
10) If you won the lottery, what would you do?
11) If you were able to go back through time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?