How fun is this?
Three years ago I moved into a position of instructional coach for my building. The majority of my days are now spent as a content-generalist coach focused on helping teachers improve pedagogical skills. Our opt-in model keeps the conversation focused on one thing: pedagogy as opposed to content. This is a very smart model for honing in on the “P” sphere of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework. However, perhaps even smarter is the fact that I am not completely removed from being behind the wheel of my own classroom. Teaching my own class is a way to assure my attachment to at least most of the day to day experiences of our folks in “the trenches.” My opinions on instructional practice and concrete strategies are only as good as my ability to pull them off in my own classroom. I say this for perhaps a different reason that you might think. The core of my role as a coach is to question, to advise, to consult, encourage, and inspire my colleagues toward better and better things. It really isn’t about “me.”
That said, my ability to move down any strategic path toward best practices in instruction with a teacher is directly tied to both my familiarity and comfort level with that mode of learning. Put simply: you can’t talk the talk without walking the walk. So during the day, I teach Principles of Biology during period three as well as Marine Biology. Marine Biology is a special case across the board. The program was created in 1999 and and includes night classes from 7 to 9pm on Mondays, a roster made up of students from our three local high schools, and a week-long field study on the coral reefs of the Bahamas each April. Did I mention yet that my district respects and fosters solid innovation? For that, my students and I are terribly lucky.
To my original point
Seriously. Blogging is such a reflective act for me. So often I start down a simple path and quickly realize there is far more under the hood to discuss. So with that out of the way, allow me to introduce you to two of my newest colleagues: Jennifer Toalson and Alex Paolillo. Interestingly, between the two, they teach quite a range of subjects: General Biology, Environmental Science, Microbiology and Genetics. More interestingly, they were (somewhat recently) Marine Biology students of mine. Our department has a total of less than seven FTE’s. Therefore, here are two-sevenths of my immediate world. Jennifer was a member of the 2002 Marine Biology class and Alex was a 2004 member.
Jennifer joined the Benton Science Department last year and was an immediate success. As the oldest of seven, she is a natural at building relationships and getting the most out of younger folk. Jennifer’s Dad is also a teacher of industrial arts at a high school across town. Alex, who will begin his teaching career this fall, also comes equipped with a teacher’s pedigree. Alex is actually the son of two teachers and his father was at one time the Director of Secondary Education in our city. And yes… in my prized image below, you’ll see Alex attempting to feed bread crumbs to seagulls from his bare chest in The Bahamas. Tell me this isn’t going to be fun.
How many of you have been lucky enough to have two former students as direct departmental colleagues? How fun is that?
I can’t tell you how excited this makes me. Again….. I am now only a really a small part of the science department at my high school. However, with a wife who is the Department Chair, it is even more exciting to see our immediate world become so infused with young, enthusiastic blood. One thing I can say for sure about Alex and Jennifer: they really want to make a difference in the lives of young people. With that, anything they want to work hard for in this profession will come to them. Not only do I remember their high school days as fun-filled, I now have spent time with them as colleagues. The following pics will give you a glimpse of them in their (recently) younger days as Marine Biology students. One might wonder if perhaps holding a sea urchin or encouraging sea gulls to feed from your belly makes one a likely candidate for biology educator in later years. I am staring to believe so. (funny now to see them so young again here in the next two images)
I recently thought about doing a quick and dirty post that mentioned these two coming on board as biology teachers. (as biology teachers, biology teachers in my hometown, and as biology teachers in my current school) The day it hit me was a few weeks ago when Erin, Jennifer, Alex, and I spent the day at a biotechnology workshop in Kansas City… (many thanks to Erin for organizing the day’s events.) Overall, we had a great summer day of re-connecting to the past and teambuilding for the future.
Since Marine Biology began in 2000, some of my former students are undergrad marine biology students. A few are even PhD candidates. People frequently ask about those. However, the demographic that isn’t often inquired about might just be those who have lived their entire lives in the center of the continent… who love biology… love the energy of youth… but cannot find a better reason to move that far away from a strong family/friends network. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this as of late.
See what this does? I start out with an idea to post a simple image from a recent workshop and I end up tacking it on to personal connections, people-to-people connections, coaching, and the TPACK framework. When I began blogging a just over a year ago in April- it was done as a “proof of concept” exercise. That has blossomed into the mess you now see. The bottom line is: You cannot imagine the effect blogging will have on your future learning unless you are actually doing it. This truly is a new genre of writing. It is more than empowering for the everyman who embarks upon it. Give it a try. What are you waiting for? And while you’re at it… give my two new colleagues a shout out from the masses. They will soon be getting an earful from yours truly about establishing their “digital footprint” and getting connected as a professional. I am excited about being a leader in the “T” (in TPACK) revolution in the Saint Joseph School District.
Artwork*TPACK framework courtesy of Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler *The rest… me. .