Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lesson Reflection #1- The Purpose of Music

This blog post is the first in a series of lesson reflections that I will write during the 2017-18 school year.  

As a music educator, one of the courses I teach is seventh-grade general music.  I strive to make music accessible and engaging for my students through teachings that relate directly to their lives.  I feel the importance of approaching music not only from a historical standpoint but also through the lens my students experience music in their lives daily.  What does it mean to them?  Why is it relevant to them?

With this in mind, I decided to begin the year with a music appreciation module.  In the past, this included an active listening unit and an introduction to music lesson.  This year I’ve expanded the module to include multiple lessons on the topic of “The PURPOSE of Music”. 

One of my goals this year is to use appropriate grade-level vocabulary and language.  As a teacher who spent years working with high school students, I became programmed to use large vocabulary words.  Last year, when I began teaching middle school (again) I noticed it was necessary to communicate using simpler and more direct language with these younger students.  Sounds easy, but it's an adjustment that takes time to master. 

While searching for lesson materials, I stumbled upon a valuable slideshow in LinkedIn Slideshare called “15 Purposes of Music”.  Although I appreciated the content of original slideshow, the vocabulary was too advanced for my students.  With my goal in mind, I removed and replaced many large words with smaller ones.  Hopefully, you’ll notice the difference in vocabulary when comparing the two.  You’ll also notice that my edited slideshow includes two questions per purpose (slide).  I’ve shared both versions of the slideshow below. 

During the lesson, I paired my students in groups of two and implemented the jigsaw teaching strategy.  I asked each pairing to become experts on one purpose of music (assigned by me) and explained they would help teach their purpose to the class during our next lesson.  In addition to talking with their partners, students were allowed to use the Internet and ask questions of me to clarify understanding before answering questions and digitally submitting their work.

Aside from a short introduction and definition of musical purpose, I did not teach any of the fifteen purposes beforehand.  Granted, I was in the room to guide students, but they were asked to construct their own understanding. 

I gave the students fifteen minutes to learn about their assigned purpose and answer the questions in complete sentences.  This proved to be an adequate amount of time for the activity.  Students enjoyed working in groups of two and conversing with one another. 

The changes I will make for next year include:

·      Modifying my questions so they aren’t exactly the same for each purpose.  I noticed that, although the two questions were appropriate for most purposes, these generic questions were not applicable to all purposes.
·      In addition to a brief definition of each purpose, I will include one resource in an effort to foster independent understanding before students answer questions.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions by commenting below.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Getting your Ed.D- The Great Debate

In a country full of educators who pride themselves on lifelong learning, one would think getting an Education Doctorate Degree is a popular culminating option, yet only about 10% of us actually complete the degree.  I’ve been wrestling with the idea of going back to school (again) for this purpose and wanted to write a post on the topic for anyone in a similar position.  Here is what I've learned about the Ed.D while gathering data to inform my decision.

An Education Doctorate Degree is essentially a research-based degree.  Unlike a Master's program, which covers topics with greater breadth such as Educational Leadership as a whole, this is more focused in nature.  Focused on what?  Focused on whatever topic in education that sparks your individual interest.  Although core classes and some electives exist in most programs, the majority of the work will be self-directed towards a dissertation. I recommend selecting your dissertation topic carefully. Aim to develop a clear vision of what you’d like to research during the program and understand how the topic directly aligns with your career goals. This will set you up for success down the line.

Deciding if this is for you and whether or not to begin your studies at any particular point in life is a complex question.  Here is a list of three "Pros and Concerns" that are guiding me through my decision process.  Hopefully, it can help you navigate yours as well.  

Pros of having an Ed.D Degree

Becoming an Author-  many dissertations have been converted into book form.  If you’ve ever wanted to write and publish your own book, the comprehensive research required during an Ed.D program could make that dream a reality. 

Salary Benefits- if you get your Ed.D early in your career, you will likely make a return on your investment and profit as a teacher by moving up the salary scale.  Administrators may or may not be compensated for this additional education (depending on your location and district).

Career Advancement- including an Ed.D on a resume will validate you as a highly qualified candidate for many jobs in higher education, administration, educational consulting, etc...

Concerns of an Ed.D Program

Heavy Workload- this degree will demand your attention and cut directly into your free time and weekends. Reading and writing assignments for an Ed.D will be ongoing. You will need to master time-management.

Expensive- depending on which college you attend, this degree will likely cost $35,000-$75,000. This is a large investment that must not be taken lightly.

Not Required- this degree is not necessary in order to move into administration at the K-12 level. MANY educators move up the ladder into administration without possession of this degree.

What is your experience with this degree type?

If you have an Ed.D, did the degree propel your career to new levels?  

Please comment below. All opinions welcome.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Top 5 Education Podcasts

Podcasts or “audio blogs” have become quite popular over time, and for good reason.  This free and convenient source of media provides an ideal format for anyone with time to listen.  Research suggests that roughly 100 million Americans have listened to at least one Podcast by the age of twelve!  Have you ever listened to a Podcast? If not, I've included a YouTube video at the end of this post to help get you started.

As a lifelong learner with a significant morning commute, I’ve found Podcasts to be a consistent source of motivation and stimulation while on the go.  I regularly listen to episodes on the topics of education, leadership, technology, productivity, and health.

There are an array of choices available to educators, but not all shows are created equal...  Some have too many advertisements, some have been created solely to promote a product, and some are just plain boring.  I’m writing today to save you time and help steer you in the right direction on your listening path.  

First and foremost, I’m going to recommend you check out The Education Podcast Network.  This resource is a great starting point for any educator looking to discover relevant content.  Many of the shows featured on their website are hosted by successful teachers, administrators, and thought leaders on a wide variety of topics.  Some of the Podcasts I list below are part of this network and some are not, but for newbies, this is a great starting point to education Podcasts.  

In no particular order, here are my top 5 favorite Podcasts.

  1. Better Leaders Better Schools-  As a young principal, Daniel Bauer has created a network for school leaders to come together and learn from one another.  His Podcast guests explore leading with courage, changing school culture, and relationship building.  As a host, Daniel comes across as a bright individual who doesn’t take himself too seriously.  This makes for an informative and enjoyable listening experience.  
  2. The Fat-Burning Man-  Don’t be fooled, the title of this show refers to “mankind” and has a lot to offer any gender.  I stumbled onto this Podcast a few months before my wife and I got married.  The show is hosted by nutrition and fitness guru Abel James and centers around healthy diet and lifestyle choices.  I originally began listening to lose a few pounds weight but have learned a lot about healthy sleep habits, exercise routines, and happiness.
  3. The Cult of Pedagogy-  This Podcast focuses on strategies, classroom management, education technologies, and best practices specifically for teachers.  Jennifer Gonzalez is a down-to-earth and witty host that brings practical advice directly to teachers all over the globe in 20-30 minute weekly episodes.
  4. Master Leadership-  This show invites its listeners on a journey seeks to take their leadership skills from average to extraordinary.  Guests on this show are typically battle- tested educational leaders who share their philosophies, stories, and leaderships tips for the sake of our youth.  I recently had the pleasure of being a guest interviewee on this show.  If you’re interested in taking a listen, I’m on episode #51.  
  5. TWiT-  This Week in Tech is the flagship Podcast hosted by Leo Laporte and a staple in the technology world.  Laporte generally always has a panel of 3-4 tech experts alongside him to discuss the hottest tech stories each week.  This show is not directly related to education, but, technology is one of my passions and many of the emerging technologies they cover end up in our schools.  


Thursday, April 6, 2017

All Roads Lead to Twitter

My path to becoming a connected educator began last April during a conference workshop presented by none other than @tomwhitby (founder of #EdChat).  A few minutes in he said,  “There is an entire community of educators sharing great ideas on Twitter that you’re missing out on if you're not connected.”  I created my account the very same day and have become an avid user since.  Twitter has become my 24/7 professional development companion.  The graphic you see below exists to illustrate the benefits of being connected; this post will elaborate on each bullet.     

Networking-  Twitter has given me a deeper understanding of and an increased ability to effectively network.  My Personal Learning Network (PLN) currently includes roughly 900 professional educators from all over the world.  Before Twitter, this network was limited to colleagues within my building and district.  Through direct messages and face-to-face interactions, I’ve established real relationships with many of these people.  They continue to motivate and inspire me through their tweets.

Professional Blogging-  Reading professional blogs has given me authentic insight into the minds of other educators.  There are thousands of educators who regularly share candid professional experiences in the form of a blog such as mine.  Although reading professional publications can be informative, hearing the thoughts of our peers will often resonate with you on a deeper level.   Had I never established my Twitter account, this blog would not exist. 

Collaboration-  Many of the connected educators making consistent use of Twitter are open to collaboration.  Learning how to use the direct message feature will enable you to begin private conversations with like-minded educators.  These exchanges can help push you out of your comfort zone with the confidence of knowing someone impartial is there to bounce ideas off of. 

Educational Reads-  The grassroots movement of teachers teaching teachers about teaching has become the norm for many connected educators.  If you’re looking to dive deeper than a “500 word” blog post on a particular topic, there is no shortage of material.  The Hack Learning Series and Pirate Books by Dave Burgess consulting are among my favorites.

Conferences-  Organizations and school district accounts frequently promote local and national conferences in “tweet” form.  As a Long Island resident, some of my favorite local conferences are the Connected Educators Summit and EdcampLI.  With a professional Twitter account, it's never been easier to find out about upcoming events.  Make sure to follow educators in your state to stay informed.

Innovative Ideas-  Shifting the paradigm from traditional schooling to that of 21st-century learning is a complex challenge.  Social media can act as an incubator for game-changing ideas in our field.  Following the right people will make innovative ideas accessible.  More importantly, these ideas will literally come to you upon logging in to your Twitter account.  Here is a list of 14 Trailblazing Educators for you to explore. 

I wrote this post to share my experiences, inspire and guide newcomers along their journey to being connected.  The education-related content on Twitter has transformed me into somewhat of an advocate.  I recently finished co-teaching a staff development course on the subject in my district and have intentions of running it again in the near future.  Here’s a shout-out to @tchrmom2boys for co-teaching with me and “hopefully” inspiring others.  On that note, thanks to all members of my PLN for adding value to my life.

How are you leveraging Twitter as a 24/7 professional development tool?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mindfulness over burnout

Yesterday when I arrived home from work my mind was not in a positive place.  The hustle and bustle of the week at school triggered an inability to turn off my brain and relax.  This stemmed from an overwhelming schedule and a realization that it’s not getting any easier.  My previous post "Where do you teach?" discussed some of the pros and cons that come along with being a full-time teacher working in multiple schools.  I kept that post positive and upbeat, but the truth is, working in education can be extremely stressful.  Educators are consistently being asked to do more with less.

Have you ever seen one of those images that states “I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower?”  I see them all the time on Twitter.  While there are similarities between the two and I can appreciate the analogy, teachers have one fundamental flaw... we have no superpowers.  We are human and must be “mindful” of our own limitations.  They do exist.  
As a dedicated professional I always give 100%.  For me, this includes staying hours past my contractual workday, bringing work home on weekends, and going that extra mile for my students.  As a connected educator, I know for a fact there are thousands of professionals with a similar work ethic.  It’s a beautiful thing and our kids deserve it.  However, we all need to slow down sometimes in order to avoid burnout.

Like I said, yesterday I hit a wall.  I was stressed to the point which I distanced myself from my family and temporarily ceased to feel any joy.  I know that sounds bad; it was.  I'd like to use this post to share how I cleared my head and hopefully, help others.  The secret is mindful meditation.  

This past year I’ve begun practicing mindfulness.  The simple definition of mindfulness is “being aware of what is happening in the present moment.”  It means showing up for life, being conscious as it unfolds, and not just going through the motions on “auto-pilot”.  Here's a link to an incredible resource that explains and defines the term in greater detail.  The owner of this website is Long Island native and mindfulness guru Cory Muscara.

Practicing mindfulness is something I do regularly to avoid burnout.  On difficult days (like yesterday) I use meditation.  There is a great free app called Headspace that contains ten-minute guided meditations.  I always feel better after meditating.  It’s not that I become stress-free in just ten minutes, but, I do always feel better than I did ten minutes earlier.  Meditation is not for everyone, but mindfulness can be.  The ability to live in the moment and get rid of the excess noise (your thoughts) in your head is empowering.   

Mindfulness can take many forms.  Here are three simple tasks you can try to help you become more present:

  • Turn your phone off for an hour and unplug.   
  • Take a brief 10 minute walk outdoors. Feel your feet touch the ground. 
  • Take a few deep breaths in the middle of a long day.  Breath in through the nose for 8 seconds, then out through the mouth for 8 more.

What do you do regularly to avoid teacher burnout?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Where do you teach?

When many educators ponder this question they instinctively envision the building in which they work.  Up until last year, I did the same.  

What changed? I have just completed my first semester as a full-time teacher teaching in two buildings daily.  This position requires a 20-minute commute in the middle of the day.  Adjusting to the role of “split teacher” was challenging at first and I want to share my experience with professionals in similar situations.  After reflection, I’ve come up with a brief list of pros and cons about the position.


Perspective- The biggest pro I can identify is the gift of seeing two schools up close.  It’s fascinating to partake in two different climates and cultures simultaneously.  This has given me perspective on a much deeper level and helped clarify the nuances of each school.  For anyone who enjoys learning about organizations, this is an intriguing perk of the position.

Networking- Although you will spend less time in each building, split teachers get to know two faculties.  I have 2x the amount of colleagues and inevitably 2x the opportunity to network.  These relationships can lead to more friendship and growth opportunities.  Teaching in two buildings is a powerful way to spread your name around the district.   
Duties-  Split teachers typically do NOT have these responsibilities (at least not as many).  Aside from being a scheduling headache for administrators, there is less time for these duties due to your mid-day commute.  This will vary from district to district.  Policies regarding these duties can generally be found in either your union contract and/or your faculty handbook.


Prep time- Depending on your commute, your prep time can and will be extremely limited.  When I taught in one building I had down time almost every day.  I would spend this time walking or socializing and allow my brain to unwind.  As a split teacher you have significantly less time to prep for your classes (when not traveling).  This makes the day go fast but can also lead to burnout if you’re not careful.  I’ve found it helpful to meditate on certain occasions.
Building involvement- This is a subjective con, but for me, I do not like being the “ghost”.  If you’re a teacher that comes to work, does their job, and leaves then this could actually be considered another pro.  However, if you’re someone that wants to be an integral part of your building and participate in committees, clubs, school events etc… teaching in two schools will hinder that level of involvement.  There is simply less of you to go around.  

So, where do I teach?  When asked this, I used to tell people "I teach at Great Neck South High School".  I now say "I teach in the Great Neck school district." For better or worse, educators must be aware of the world beyond the four walls of their classroom and realize they are part of a bigger picture. It's comforting to identify yourself with your building or grade level but, in this unpredictable educational climate, change may be right around the corner.

Thanks for reading! Before you go I'd ask you to think about you current position. Do you consider yourself a school or a district employee?