Way back in August 2011, I was hired to teach fourth grade at Wiley Elementary School in Urbana. This job, which came after three years of working as a substitute teacher in Champaign, Mahomet, and Urbana, was the fulfillment of a dream I had had since I was in fourth grade. For the past seven years, I have worked with hundreds of students, teaching, learning, leading, and guiding. Some days were full of joy and amazement, other days made me go home wondering where it had all gone wrong. There have been relationships formed that will stay with me forever; relationships with students, with coworkers, with families.
But there was another dream I had, too. As the result of some strong urging from friends and educators I greatly admired, I decided to pursue a path of school leadership. I received my Master of Education in Educational Administration degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2016. For over two years, I applied for over 150 jobs with over 100 school districts, almost all of which were in Illinois. From February 17, 2016, to June 12, 2018, I was interviewed for over 35 leadership positions, including assistant principal, principal, technology integration specialist, and curriculum coordinator.
I recently read that the average school leader applies for 25 jobs, is interviewed for 5 of them, and gets offered 1. Apparently, I am above average.
Last week, I was offered the position of Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Learning with Freeport School District #145. After some discussion with my wife, I decided to accept, and the school board approved my appointment last night.
The stated goal of this position is to “provide leadership and coordination to produce an aligned and articulated instructional program in all core subject areas; to improve teaching and learning by providing leadership in curriculum development, curriculum design, professional development, instruction, and evaluation in all subject areas as it relates to the infusion of 21st Century Learning practices across the instructional system; provide staff with research-based best practices related to 21st century learning to sustain continuous improvements in curriculum, assessments, and teaching activities to ensure that every student has access to high quality instruction to meet or exceed the standards for college and career readiness.”
It was roughly eight years ago that I began blogging about my adventures in substituting. After a year, the adventures were in teaching fourth. What will my adventures in the 21st century hold? Only time will tell!
Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of updating this blog daily (or at least weekly) something happens to stop it from happening. After months of not being able to update it at work, my district network specialist was finally able to bypass whatever filter was blocking WordPress, but some configuration has changed and, once again, I am unable to update, despite my best intentions. (Even now, I am only able to write an update because I am waiting to help with childcare during a women’s event at my church; my wife was one of the planners and so I was “voluntold” to assist.)
Interestingly enough, though, this frustration of not being able to do something despite my best intentions ties directly into a topic I have been mulling over in my mind for several weeks and then had an epiphany about the other day: culturally-relevant teaching. (more…)
I’ve written about field trips to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts many times over the past seven years that I have been teaching at Wiley. They are some of my favourite trips to take with students, most likely because they are short bus rides and they expose students to an amazing world-class performance space that is right in their own neighbourhood. Today the two fourth grade classes at Wiley got to go to the Krannert Center for the second time this school year, this time to attend the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra‘s youth concert. When we arrived, a student noticed a bus from Effingham and wondered aloud why someone would come so far. I explained that not every community has a place like the Krannert Center and reminded the students who were listening how fortunate we are to have a space so close and so accessible. (I said this then and write this now while still acknowledging that ticket prices for general admission are often well beyond what my students’ families can afford, especially if they want to take the whole family. This is something that I wish the Krannert Center Board of Directors would consider changing.)
During today’s performance, the students not only got to listen to movements from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, movements from Georges Brizet’s Carmen Overture, and a complete piece by CUSO’s current Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop, but they also got to learn about music composition and orchestration as Music Director Stephen Alltop explained concepts such as melody, colour (or timbre), and harmony.
Later in the afternoon, I had my students write letters to the C-U Symphony Orchestra, thanking them for the performance and sharing their favourite parts. I was impressed with the number of students who recognised some of the melodies, the knowledge of different musical instruments, and the personal connections many made. (One student shared that she loved the Peer Gynt Suite because that is the music her mom uses to wake her up each morning.)
I was so proud of all of our fourth graders! They were a model audience, listening intently at the right times, clapping at the end of pieces, responding when asked to, and ignoring the distractions of classes around them that were not quite so well behaved. A huge shout-out to our music teacher, Mrs. V, who arranged this, and the parents who were able to come and help us out!
[NOTE: Neither video is of the C-U Symphony Orchestra, but I wanted videos with the music in case students’ parents saw this and wanted to talk to the children about the music they heard today.]
Those who know me well know that athleticism is not my strong suit. Sure, I like riding my bike and, when the weather cooperates, cheerfully bike the 5-6 miles from my house to work and back. And yes, I love camping and hiking through the woods. But beyond that? Nope. I don’t play basketball, soccer, rugby, football, volleyball, hockey, baseball, tennis, lacrosse. Nor do I compete in track and field events, figure skating, swimming, running, or competitive cycling. Now, this can be chalked up to several reasons: I am blind in one eye, so I don’t have any depth perception; I likely have exercise-induced asthma, so running is generally a bad idea; no one in my family participated in athletics when I was growing up; very few of my friends cared much about participating in sports; I enjoy being a spectator.
This last bit is an important point, though! Even though I myself do not participate in sports, I actually really enjoy watching others play, compete, perform, etc. This was true in high school, when I was in the pep band and performed for nearly every football and basketball game. This was true when my baby sister was on a soccer team and I went to her games. And this has been true for the seven years I have been teaching fourth grade and asking my students to let me know about any games or performances so I can go and cheer them on.
A few weeks ago, two of my students invited me to come to their basketball games on Saturday mornings. I gladly accepted the invitation. While watching them play, I was reminded of a few lessons you can learn from being on a competitive team and wanted to write them down, both for myself and for those who may be reading:
Cooperation: Watching my students play on a team, I saw many examples of cooperation. Particularly as they were playing basketball, I watched as they got the ball, passed it to others, and worked together to achieve their objectives. What was especially interesting to witness was when those on the other team did not cooperate and took wild shots instead of passing the ball to another. Cooperation is that constant trait of working together for the glory of all, not the glory of one.
Compassion: My students won both of the games I watched. In fact, they dominated. But they showed compassion and kindness to the other teams. There was no gloating or mockery. When someone fell down, one of my boys was the first to run over and help him up and help him across the court.
Focus: There are so many voices yelling at the boys playing on the court. I was impressed as I watched my students focus on listening to their coaches and ignoring all of the other noise bombarding them. I noticed another boy who listened to what everyone was saying and, as a result, he was frequently confused and made poor decisions.
Joy: This may be the one thing that I saw most exuberantly. I am fully aware of the reality that not everything I have my students do in the classroom brings joy to them. As much as I love all of the subjects I teach (and I really do!), I know that my students do not always share that love, that joy. But I have burned in my memory the image of my students’ smiles of pure joy when they saw me walk into the gymnasium to watch them play. That joy lasted throughout the game.
As Spring Break wraps up and we return to the classroom on Monday, I hope to bring these lessons from the court to the classroom. I plan on using the examples I saw as I teach my students to cooperate, to show compassion, to focus on what’s important, and to find joy in the things they do. Many teachers throughout the country have adopted the Hour of Code; maybe it is time to institute the Hour of Joy, where students are given the freedom to explore whatever it is that brings them the most joy and to share that joy with others.
I feel very fortunate to work in a school that has classroom parties because I know that it is a tradition that has been vanishing in many parts of the state and in the country. Our awesome Wiley PTA assists us in planning and organising these parties, which are usually done three times each year: once in the fall, when we have a Halloween party; once in December, when we have our Winter holiday parties (recognising that we have students of many faith traditions, we don’t have just a Christmas party), and a Valentine’s Day party. Now, I love parties and I love holidays. But there is one party that I dread each year: the Valentine’s Day party. It usually ends up being lots of cupcakes, lots of sugar, and lots of drama. And so when my fourth grade partner this year, Mrs. B, suggested we abandon the Valentine’s Day party and have a March Madness celebration right before Spring Break instead, I was fully committed to making it happen.
When February came around, even though we had told students and families that we were not going to have a party, there was still some disappointment that we weren’t having a party when everyone else was. (Never mind that my class got to watch a movie that afternoon, instead.) But by the end of the day yesterday, when we had our celebration, I don’t think anyone was wishing we had had a party in February instead!
The March Madness celebration had four components that we turned into stations that the students rotated through: party food in Mrs. B’s room, where students had pizza, chicken wings, egg rolls, macaroni and cheese, chips, salsa, cookies, soda, ice cream, and more; filling out brackets in my room, where students learned about the NCAA tournament brackets and then filled out their own; NCAA tournament history in the Library, where students read a short passage about the tournament and watched highlights videos; and basketball outside with the P.E. teacher.
I can honestly say that this was the most successful party I have had in my seven years at Wiley. The students had fun, the teachers had fun, the parents had fun, and every learned something while doing it!
Huge shout-out to Mrs. B for the idea, the planning, and the implementation of something that I hope will become a new tradition for the intermediate students in my building! So many people were asking if we were going to do this again next year; my answer was the same every time: That’s the plan!