Reflecting on “The Work”

“…we are all in a kind of relay race. We carry the baton as far as we can, then we pass it on.” – Wes Moore “The Work” p. 95

I just finished Wes Moore’s new book, “The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters” earlier this week, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m normally not one for self-help books, so when this was handed to me I didn’t really think much of it. But, as I dove deeper into the text, I found myself becoming more appreciative of life and thinking about the importance of the connections we make with others.That doesn’t always happen in every book, so I thought that I should write down some notes and share along.The book is filled with great examples of how many amazing people found their calling.

Wes Moore is a pretty amazing person. Once a young student with behavioral struggles, he found his way to earning a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, becoming a Rhodes Scholar, and serving two tours in Afghanistan. These feats could not have been done had it not been for the many mentors he had along the way. Through his journey, he has been able to discover his true passions.

My biggest take aways from the text are the following:

  • We MUST give back to our community.
  • We MUST recognize that we wouldn’t be where we are without the mentors who have guided us along the way.
  • Share your education with others.

As I read through these pages, I think of all of the people in my life who have allowed me to become the individual, the family man, and the professional I am today. We are mentored by those who see things in us that we might never see, and they allow us to overcome the fear of trying something new all because they have given us the courage to believe.

The book also gave me time to think more about the importance of education. As a high school teacher, I feel like I have spent so much time talking about the monetary value that college can provide for students (ha!), and I tend to skip over the experience as a whole. Moore writes, “School isn’t just a place to learn; it’s a place to meet really smart people who can help you in ways you can’t even predict” (39). Whatever time in life do you get to try out as many experiences as possible and discover who you are, or who you would like to become along the way?

Overall, I’m thankful to have read “The Work”. It gave me time to take a step back and think about my passions, my relationships, and who I’d like to become. Am I honoring the people I’ve always looked up to? Having a job isn’t “the work”, it’s earning a paycheck. Giving back, applying your passions and strengths, that’s all part of “the work” and working towards a life that truly matters.

A challenge that I am going to make to myself this year is that I want to get involved in one of the non-profits mentioned in the reference guide. The reason I became a teacher is because I love mentoring youth, and there are so many great programs out there to be able to connect with kids who need it more than ever. Since I wrote this down, I HAVE to do it.


Side Bar:


Finding Your Strength Zone

It’s been so long since I last wrote a blog that I actually forgot the password to this site (it’s “Frodo” in case you’re wondering). I’ve experienced so many great things within my profession recently, and every time I think about writing a post, something else comes up. However, this week, a theme has been resonating in so many conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read, I had to write about it. The theme is “finding your strength zone”. In the “Maxwell Daily Reader”, John Maxwell discusses this very thing. He uses an example of a basketball team where all of the first string players are switched to positions they don’t normally play and are forced to face the second string players. The first string gets pummeled. The idea here is that although you might be an amazing Center, you’re probably a lousy Point Guard. Imagine Bill Laimbeer playing Isiah Thomas’s position. Not very successful.

So this is what I’ve been thinking about over the past several days: playing to one’s strengths. We all have them, but do we get to utilize these strengths as often as possible? What can we be doing to make sure that they’re present more often? Maybe it’s implementing a new project within your building where you’d be able to offer others assistance. It could be trying out a new teaching method in the classroom.

Whatever your strengths are, how can you use them more in your daily routine?

Lots of questions, I know! I’d love to hear your comments.

Who’s Doing All Of The Work?

Since my post on teaching in the hybrid classroom a few days ago, I have had some amazing conversations with several educators who are either teaching a hybrid/blended course or have thoughts about doing so. This has given me even more inspiration to continue writing about what I’ve experienced teaching a class like this. Thanks for that. 

Whether you are teaching a face to face class or online, there is a preposterous amount of planning, prepping, thinking, and discovering that goes on BEFORE the students even come into the classroom. That’s an incredible amount of work, and most of that normally falls on us, the teachers. I can’t even begin to explain how many hours of YouTube searching I have put into looking for something that directly correlates to a vocabulary word that might be used in class for further understanding. My thought was that I wanted my students to make a connection, so it was my job to find the source and explain the connection. In my brain it made sense. I am the teacher; therefore, I should be finding the material. I never realized how wrong I could have been. 

Our district (#FraserSchools) has been looking at lesson design differently through a really cool company called Modern Teacher. This professional development has allowed me to look at my own lesson planning and asks me to find ways to ask the deeper questions and promote thinking. Looking at my own classroom, there were plenty of resources to assist with (my version of) planning  that I never thought to ask for help. The students. Isn’t it believed that the person who does all of the work does the most thinking and learning? I have been missing out on PLENTY of learning opportunities because I have always been the one who chose to find all of the learning material.

So here is what I am NOW doing:

I’m planning differently by creating more open-ended questions and requesting inquiry, so that students can teach their classmates and myself. Rather than sitting on the couch and finding several different sources that best exemplifies a vocabulary word (i’m just using that as an example), I send it out to the students. I ask THEM to scour the internet to find ways to explain a particular word or concept to the class. They then share them in a discussion board in the class. The results? THEY FIND BETTER SOURCES THAN I DO! Think about this win-win situation…THEY are learning, THEY are sharing, THEY are doing the work. This is all because I decided to own that I shouldn’t be the creator.  Instead of receiving only a few resources from their teacher, they now have plenty of sources to choose from since their classmates are providing the material and posting it in an open forum on our class site.

The hybrid environment has made it easier for me to loosen the reigns and give the students control, and what a difference it has made. I feel it’s a place where we can all call each other learners!

Side Notes:

  • The students shared some REALLY awesome examples of words to prove their understanding. They’re going to have some really cool study guides for a final now and in the future.
  • I love admitting that many of my students are smarter than me



Teaching in the Hybrid Classroom (My three year journey)

It’s been way too long since I’ve blogged. Seriously. It’s been awhile, but you look FANTASTIC. New haircut? To be honest, I haven’t written because I felt like I could never really think of anything special to post. But after attending so many awesome sessions at MACUL (that deserves a WHOLE other post) this year, I started to think about finding my own niche in the field of education, and it’s been right in front of me the whole time! I need to share what I’ve been doing as a hybrid instructor these past three years!  Before I begin, let me say this – teaching in a hybrid environment has changed my entire philosophy on what education should be, made me rethink who the learners should be in the classroom, AND allowed me to realize that learning takes place beyond the classroom walls. As a teacher, the hybrid class has given me permission (and time) to realize that the traditional teacher role is changing.


Example of what the front page of a normal week looks like. Within each folder, there is instruction, screencasts, discussion board, and assignments.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. “What’s a hybrid class?,” you ask! (great question, btw!) My hybrid class is an 11th grade English course in which students are not required to be in my classroom at all times. We like to use the term hybrid because it’s a mix of both worlds: face to face time AND ONLINE time. On assigned online days, students (who have achieved a C- or higher) don’t have to be present. They have permission to stay at home during our scheduled time. Students with lower grades, are required to be in class with me on those given days. On assigned face to face days (traditional brick and mortar), all students are required to come to class. This means that all of my instructional materials are on our learning management system (we use Blackboard). Everything I would normally give my students in the traditional role can be found on my Blackboard site. My site now includes lessons, videos, discussion boards, assignments, journals, and resources for students to be as equipped as possible to complete assignments. Students have access to this material at all times. 

So, let’s pause. I need to at least. Think about how this concept is different than a traditional course: students work at their own pace (I go week to week), and if they understand the material (and can prove it by working on assigned material within a given time frame), they don’t necessarily need to be physically present in class on certain days. This allows me more one on one time with the students who truly need it. Class size is cut down on online days, and I can now focus on the students who are struggling with the material. Pretty cool, right?

When I do require face to face days, these class periods STILL tend to look different than the traditional class because I don’t really have to focus on the direct instruction piece for as long as I used to. Since the students already have ALL of my teaching and instruction within our Blackboard page, students can then work at their own pace in class, and I have time to walk around the room to assist. My role is changing, and I’m really digging it!

Teaching a hybrid course has really given me the ability to think about the learner rather than just the teaching itself. I’m able to see that there are many types of learners in my classroom, and some students need more one on one assistance than others. For once, I feel like I have time to be able to sit and work with students during class. Does this mean that every single student in my class has passed with flying colors? Certainly not. We will always have learners who struggle (and many who choose not to do the work), but I can certainly (and vulnerably admit) say that those students are more on my radar than ever before, and I feel like I have more tools to assist them with than ever before.

I look forward to continue adding insight to my observations from what I’m learning because in the hybrid classroom…we’re all the learners! I’ll be writing much more on this….


Almost Paperless (and what that says about our students)!

If I were ever to write a book about teaching in a 1:1 school, I would call it, “Using My School Bag As A Lunch Box”. Ok, so maybe the publisher could come up with something more clever, but what I’m trying to get at is that I have gone almost (a BIG ALMOST) 100% paperless in my classroom. My bag now carries my Macbook, my iPad, and my lunch. That’s it. No more weighty essays pushing me to the floor. The same amount of essays are being assigned, but the approach has changed. What’s even more interesting about this is how my (almost) paperless classroom has become a norm to my students. In just under a year, a major culture shift has changed throughout my building in which students are now expecting teachers to have an interactive website that they will be using throughout their class. Textbooks and notepads are becoming foreign to them.Image

Our building uses Blackboard as our learning management system, and the majority of our staff is using it on a daily basis. Whether it’s posting lesson objectives, collaborating on assignments, taking quizzes, or blogging, my Blackboard site has become my one stop shop for students to go to inside and outside of the classroom. When I brought this approach to my face- to-face class (I also teach hybrid online courses) last year, many students shrugged their shoulders and preferred I deliver all of the information to them as they have received in the past. “You create, we consume,” they stated. But this year had changed. Our entire staff is now using Blackboard, and students now have completely different expectations. They want the material in their hands, and they want to be able to work at their own pace. Having an in-class/out-of-class website gives me time to work with the struggling student who needs the extra help and also lets my students who don’t need to side by side guidance to run with what I’m giving them.

Going paperless means so much than not using paper; it lets students have access to everything in my class, and gives them time to explore.

I cannot believe the change in expectations of my students at the beginning of this school year compared to last year. I no longer have to fully explain how to use Blackboard, or a particular app (like Haiku Deck or Evernote)….they just seem to know. AND if they don’t know, another student knows. Look out folks, this generation of high school students is coming to your college and your workplace in the future, and they won’t take “put your cell phones” away for an answer. They solve problems and communicate with each other that way. I’m excited for their future, and I feel like my (almost) paperless classroom can get them ready to own their own learning. Sorry, Xerox machine. Your days are coming to an end.

Learning With My Two Year Old

I know it doesn’t need to be stated, but I’ll say it anyway: I LOVE SUMMER! It’s a time where I can reflect on the school year, get some reading done (that doesn’t happen to be essays written by 11th graders), and spend some quality time with my family. My oldest daughter, Mae, is two and a half, and I am really enjoying watching her learn life. Recently, she has been going crazy for the ABCs, so I had an idea that we could find items around the house that represent each letter of the alphabet. Since it’s summer vacation, this was an awesome learning experience to take some time and create something together.

Making this video was an awesome experience because I was able to ask my daughter questions about what she thought each item started with (ex: “Mae, what does Ice Cream start with?” “What sound does a ‘t’ sound like?”) throughout the production of the movie. So, essentially, we had many learning experiences from this: during the making, we explored the letters of the alphabet, and we also have an end product that shows our learning. What has been really cool about this experience is that she is now asking me days later, “Daddy, what letter does this start with?”. Boom.

This project didn’t take long to make at all, and that’s exactly the point here. Technology is now advanced enough for us to take quick videos with our phones, tablets, and computers; it’s then fairly (iMovie takes some getting used to) simple to then edit the movie together. Is this movie Hollywood quality? Absolutely not. But the learning is there!

This project is a great example as to why I love tech integration with education: we learned throughout the process and now have a pretty cool product to show what we’ve learned. We bonded, we learned, we explored. If one were to use this in the classroom, a vital part to this project would then be the “visible thinking” piece as well where students explain their thought process throughout.

I am absolutely loving this bonding time with the family (I also have a 6 month old daughter), and our learning possibilities are endless this summer!

Promoting Teacher Leadership By Doing

After planning with some amazing educators, tonight was the very first Galileo Leader’s #800voices chat in an attempt to offer a way to reclaim the agenda (are you listening, Lansing?). Around 20+ leaders from around the country (we had some peeps from Alabama and Rhode Island…woo hoo!!!) shared and participated in a conversation that surrounded promoting Teacher Leadership. To me, tonight’s conversation itself was a perfect example of what being a teacher leader is all about: learning and growing from one another. In just an hour’s time, a large group of people reflected on what it means to be a teacher leader, how one can promote others to lead, and there was a wonderful outpour of examples as to how they have chosen to lead in their district. It seemed that there was a common theme of the night: passion and life-long learning.

Every story that was shared (you can find the storify of the chat here), a true passion rang from each person. One of the coolest stories of “leading where you stand” came from Kristen Berry, whose class of 136 7th graders collectively read 4,283 books this year! Now that’s an #eduwin! 

What I learned from this evening’s #800voices conversation is that in order to lead, one must continue to see purpose and be inspired. Speaking and working with these amazing teachers continues to inspire me on a daily basis. They make me want to continue to work harder even when times are tough, and they certainly make me want to share my story. This, folks, is how we begin to reclaim the agenda.