Monday, October 23, 2017

Relationships (build the better teacher)

My (younger and better looking) colleagues, Wil Maney, Tony Dezio, and I were invited to the ECET2NC conference this past weekend in Charlotte, NC.  Funded by the Gates Foundation, this conference promised new ideas, and inspiration.  Wil Maney and I were both especially excited to go, because we were selected based on our mentor (veteran teacher, me!) and mentee (newer teacher, Wil!) relationship.   I would argue that the conference had some great moments, but also suffered due to time constraints.

But the crucial takeaway from spending two days with great teachers from all across the state of North Carolina is...


  1. THERE ARE SOME REALLY AMAZING TEACHERS IN THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA.  And, 
  2. Relationships are still everything.  


Through all of the programming and speakers at this event, what most inspired me was meeting other teachers, getting to know them, and learning about them.  From there, I became interested in their teaching.  And we developed trust.  As our relationships developed, our ability to learn from each other increased.  This was also true for Wil Maney, Tony Dezio, and me as well.  We learned more about each other, and when our conversations touched on teaching and learning - they were so much more meaningful.

We discussed more about our issues as a public school teacher than ever before, and by the time we returned home - we had some new ideas about our approaches to teaching, to learning, and to our leadership potential (coming soon!).  And we learned to trust each other's ideas, and know that we would each be taken seriously.

But most importantly, we are closer.  We are better friends.  And we have new friends from Wilmington, Raleigh, Charlotte, and even right here in Asheville.

So, how do we make better teachers?  I'm still not exactly sure, but I know how to start..

Relationships and trust.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

High Fives and Rock n Roll

Every new year I create new goals for myself - both personally and in the classroom.  And though I am required to document my "official" goals in a "Professional Development Plan," I also like to seek growth in other areas of teaching that fall outside of the traditional lines.
This year the goals are simple, continue to build the culture in my classroom:

1.  I am going to greet every student as they enter my class with a High Five, every day that I can.

2.  I will use music for everything that I possibly can.

So, I LOVE to give high fives, and I also love to connect with my students - so daily greetings are great, but they also enable me to also carve out some time to have a chat, ask about their day, or just notice how they are.  Relationships are everything, and daily high fives are just another chance for us to get to know each other.  More importantly, it is hard not to smile when giving a high five.  So, opening our day with a smile means it is a worthy cause.

As for music, I have been using loud music since day one of my teaching career, from quiz songs to class introductions - we rock out.  But, this year I am hoping to expand my practice to include songs that signal interludes as well.  So far, Rob Base's It Takes Two means quiz, and The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army means its time to play the Grahamy's Review Game ( I was even able to visit The White Stripes record label this summer...and get a picture with...an actual Grammy...it all came together nicely ;)

So needless to say, I am excited about this school year - and so far, handing out  High Fives and Rock n Roll has been just the start we needed.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Ties That Bind {Family Edition}

My classroom door: Family means all are welcome.
The thing is, I just LOVE being a teacher.  I love meeting new students, getting to know their families, decorating my classroom, and planning lessons.

But what I love the most is becoming family with these kids - learning to believe in each other, to inspire each other, tolerate bad moods, and laugh together.


But with the news of late from Charlottesville, I am more energized than ever to teach. Witnessing any resurgence of the beliefs espoused by the KKK and Neo-Nazis is terrifying for our society, and even more demoralizing for teachers of the social sciences.

The suspect accused of killing a counter protester in Charlottesville was recently described by (none other than) his high school history teacher, who said "This was something that was growing in him,” Weimer said. “I admit I failed. I tried my best. But this is definitely a teachable moment and something we need to be vigilant about, because this stuff is tearing up our country.”

Have we Are we failing our communities by not being more effective teachers of inclusivity?

Have we failed to reach the most vulnerable students among us?

The footsteps of the Selma to Montgomery March, Civil Rights memorial
AP History field trip, 2016
As many have said, it is a fact that these hateful beliefs have existed in our country for many, many decades. Our class trip to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery AL was certainly a shocking confrontation of that truth for our students, and for us teachers.

And it also true that the rise of the internet has played an important role in allowing these hateful beliefs to fester, with like-minded people. This has helped create the false notion that hate is not a fringe concept, but more of a political stance. This is a lie.

I feel lucky that my primary curriculum is AP World History, as the entire course is about how it has taken the entire world to create what we are today.  And that the process continues, as we learn from one another.  But it is (obviously) not enough for me to simply retell my students historical events from around the globe. I must work harder to create an environment where diversity is an asset to us all, and hateful speech is never, never accepted.  

I believe in public education, and I believe that I can make a difference.  I am fired up, and ready to go.  Here's to a new year, creating our new family, and a new commitment to my class goal, which remains:



The goal of this class is multifaceted, but overall we will attempt to
develop a more complete understanding of world history by: Exploring the

Ties that bind ALL cultures together, igniting curiosity, and
encouraging individual creativity through the study of history




Thursday, July 6, 2017

Deutschland Dispatch # 7: Reflection

The Brandenburg Gate, ( Yes, where David Hasselhoff performed)
How did my travels to Germany make me a better teacher?


1.  My increased passion.  My students respond best to me when I exude my passion for a particular topic.  If nothing else, my time in Germany ignited a deep passion in me for Europe - and starting this Fall I will increase my coverage of Germany in my day to day classroom discussions.  And not only in the historical sense, but more in a cultural awareness understanding.  I can more honestly answer questions like: How tall is the Berlin wall?  Are the German people friendly? What is the food like? Did you see Hansel and Gretel? etc.
(answers: Not as tall as you think, As long as you are not late, meat and potatoes, No, though I looked).
Me,o n top of the Reich stag building, Berlin 2017

2.  Long -lasting relationships with quality educators.  This trip to Germany has been some of the best professional development I have ever experienced.  The main reason?  The people that I met.  I am first and foremost, a relational learner - and I learn best when I am in a group of people.  Dialogue and conversation dominated this trip to Germany for me, and I learned SO MUCH from these new friends.  This will have a positive and direct impact on my students, as I will be able to bring new methods, ideas, and approaches to my classroom.

The Soviet army, on top of the Reichstag building, Berlin 1945
3.  Modeling a life of travel and adventure. I want my students to see beyond the four walls of the classroom.  I want them to know that the wider world is the best place to learn.  And that we learn best when we are taken out of our comfort zone, and experience new things.  So, my main priority is to live that very belief.

4.  Seriously unpacking the North Carolina public school system.  Two of the things that jumped out at me the most in Germany include: The complete lack of technology in German classrooms, and the unabashed student tracking of the school system.

Studying these differences, it elicits more questions for me, including:

  • Why are we giving every student in our school system a device?  Is it worth it, and is it increasing student learning?  And if so, why are the Germans (who are well known for their tech and engineering prowess) not following suite?
  • Does placing students in separate schools after the fourth grade pay dividends?  Is the German system set up to support kids strengths?  Or is the system merely maintaining societal class lines (all middle class kids attend one of the two top schools)?
  • And what about the university system?  The fact that the German universities are free changes the game.  Whereas, the intense tracking of the lower grades can correspond to socio-economic distinctions, the fact that an achievement score on your final exams (usually completed after 10th grade) means entrance to any university that one chooses, is amazing.


So, overall, I left Germany with a head full of new ideas, inspiration, and many new friends.  But I also returned home with more questions, which tells me that the trip was a worthwhile endeavor - and an experience that will continue to bear fruit for me and my teaching for many years to come.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Deutschland Dispatch # 6: Munich is Amazing.

The "new" Rat haus in Munich, with famous Glockenspiel
Driving from Freiburg to Munich is an incredible experience, namely for the view of Lake Constance, with Switzerland on the other shore. Though I was initially focused on this being the setting for the infamous Council of Constance (1414) where Moravian founder Jan Hus was executed, the beauty of the region became overwhelming - and was undeniable.

Entering Munich, it was clear that this city takes its architecture seriously.  Around every corner there seems to exist another amazing building, most of which are either churches or palaces built by the Bavarian kings (Ludwig or Maximillian).

Free day in Munich, by bike
We stopped at the Olympic Park (constructed for the 1972 Olympics, which turned into a nightmare due to the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli athletes) where we ate lunch and took in an extreme sports showcase...which was awesome.  From there we traveled to the BMW headquarters (in a building built to look like a four cylinder engine no less), where we learned about the famed German apprenticeships.  And it was as impressive as advertised - seeing 16 year old students completely immersed in the BMW business, and learning the skills while on the job.  Our group seemed unanimous in our appreciation for it, and discussed the opportunities (and barriers) to implementation in the USA. It was also a relief to meet students who were not necessarily University bound, as we had spent much of our time learning about the Gymnasium schools, and University systems.

A surfer on the Eisbach
By day 2, we truly started to drink deep from Munich - we walked around the city, explored on our own - and navigated the U-Bahn.  Seeing the famous Rathaus and glockenspiel, walking along the Isar River, and consistently finding amazing Turkish food was the order to the day.

Eventually we found the famous English garden, a massive park (larger than Central Park) that stretches for miles.  In addition, it is a favorite local haunt, and being around all of the everyday folks from Munich made me feel most at home.  Sunbathing, tossing frisbee, and (of course) soccer games were taking place as far as the eye could see.  The park is dotted with pedicabs, monuments, and the river.

The English Garden bike riding gang
Overall, it was clear that the English Garden was the coolest place in all of Europe, and we had to return the next day.  So, on Sunday -we rented bikes, and headed out.  We decided that we needed to emulate the locals and take a dip in the extremely cold river, the Eisbach that runs through the park.  (Munich has created a fast flowing channel, with man made waves that allows for surfing.  But many folks also just jump in this channel and allow the fast current to carry them down.)  So we did it, and it was exhilarating, though cold.  (But upon getting out, I quickly realized that my wedding ring...was gone!  Indeed the extreme cold of the river had allowed it to loosen, and now it sits somewhere at the bottom of a German river.  Initially, I freaked.  I looked for it to no avail, but my friends all made me feel better about it.  I decided to try and find a new one while in Munich- to no avail.)


The Doner- Turkish food in Munich
Concluding this trip is bittersweet, as I am so excited about seeing my family at home, yet hate to see this experience end. After ten days in Germany with 29 friends, who started off as strangers, my concluding thought is simple:  Everything is about human connectedness.  Everything we do is driven by relationships with each other.  From the deep depths of emotion that I experienced in Dachau, to the thrill of leaping into the Eisbach river in the English garden - the ties that bind these emotional experiences together remain my feelings towards those that I love.  Walking into the crematorium at Dachau was an overwhelming fear of loss.  Swimming in the Eisbach was joyful, as it was a shared visceral experience with 10 of my friends.





Monday, June 26, 2017

Deutschland Dispatch # 5: Dachau.

The entrance to Dachau
While in Munich, we took the (way too short) drive to Dachau.  The first concentration camp built by the Nazis, Dachau became the model for most subsequent camps.  Architecturally, it checked every box that you probably expect a Nazi concentration camp to check: barbed wire, grey, stark, low ceiling buildings, and a feeling of hopelessness.  Upon entering, it is clear that this is no ordinary memorial.  Instead, everything that we did simply felt like a funeral for those who suffered and died.  It was quiet.

The infamous "Work makes you free" sign.
The feeling of despair was most potent, and it was hard to shake.  Today there are many memorial gardens, and houses of worship dotting the area - but the feeling is still there. Especially when touring the crematoriums (with their ovens, and fake showers), and the execution firing ranges - it is mortifying.

The Dachau concentration camp is located a mere 18 miles from downtown Munich - one of the largest cities in all of Germany.  It is surrounded by neighborhoods, and a small town (sharing the name Dachau).  When the US forces liberated this camp in 1945, they required all residents of the town to tour the camp and see the horrors.  In addition, the residents had to help bury the dead.  In many ways, this was the most terrifying element for me - as it was simply not very hard for tyranny to succeed.  The longer I was there, the clearer it was just how out in the open this process actually was.  Due to public complacency, and more likely, abject fear - it was borderline easy.

But the nation of Germany has worked harder than most to shine light on these horrors.  Again, we visited a massive concentration camp where some of the worst horrors were ever committed by man.  And it goes back to how I felt in Berlin - this country is so intent on using its own history as a tool to grow.  Though painful, as an historian, I can not applaud this sentiment more.

I walked away in tears, as I thought about my own family and loved ones.  But as I walked, I became more resolute to fight my own complacency in the face of tyranny, and hopelessness.  This tour made me even more grateful that I am a teacher, a profession that remains most crucial for the betterment of the human race. I hope that I can play my part well.

Never again.





Friday, June 23, 2017

Deutschland Dispatch # 4: I Love Freiburg

One of the old town gates of Freiburg.  The site of a medieval with hunt.
Freiburg, Germany immediately felt familiar to me, as I would compare it to my city of Asheville, NC.  It is located on a river, in the middle of the famous Black Forest.  Just 20 minutes from France, it is well known as an outdoors Mecca of sorts, attracting hikers, kayakers, students, and liberal types from all over Germany.  They lead Germany in sustainable living, which we took in first hand by touring the communities of Vauban, and St. Peter - each of which are two of the most environmental friendly communities in Europe.  We were also fortunate enough to hike through the Black Forest (home of Hansel and Gretel) and learn about the massive wind turbine that provide much of the energy for the area.  It was beautiful ( and reminiscent of home), as well as inspirational.


In addition, Freiburg is a university town, and it shows.  The University of Freiburg brings in thousands of young people, who populate the town with an amazing energy.  In the evenings, as we strolled through the city in search of more ice cream, we were inundated with young students who sat with their bare feet in the shallow water channels, or bachle (which are about 2 feet wide, 6 inches deep, and run throughout the old city, apparently for fire fighting in the Middle ages), drinking beverages and talking.

Market day at The Freiburg Cathedral
It was during our stay in Freiburg that our group truly hit our sweet spot, and we all came to absolutely love the city.  By that point, we had all been together for 3-4 days, and we fell into a groove with each other.  Travelling became easier, and it was clear to all who among us was best with German translations, map navigating, or filming.  Folks were able to recognize other people who traveled at their respective pace, or who enjoyed similar activities. Everyone consistently demonstrated a touch of grace with each other (which was especially impressive in the 90 degree heat, with no AC), and hugs became much more common in Freiburg.

Language Barrier?  Soccer makes it all okay.
We attended numerous lectures at the university, and the heat was (unfortunately) sweltering.  That said, we all received numerous perspectives on the German education system (from teachers, university professors, and students) - and this provided a perfect catalyst for rich discussion among all of us. Notably, while at the University we were introduced to students who were recent refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  We listened to their stories, and learned more about the German government's decision to welcome millions of refugees in 2015.  We then had lunch together, wherein I once again learned that when a common language is a challenge (my German is awful, and they are still learning English) - you talk about soccer, which we did (For those of you keeping score at home, they cheer hard for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, respectively - though all of us agreed on the merits of Messi)...and it was awesome.
Black Forest

And therein lies the brilliance of this professional development: take 28 qualified teachers to a foreign country, provide them opportunities to learn about schools, and create space for discussion and reflection.  at its end, you will have 28 teachers who return home with new ideas, criticisms, and inspiration for their classrooms.  If your lucky (which I have been), they return home as great friends as well.


The Bachle of Freiburg




Featured Post

What is Punk Rock Pedagogy?

The most valuable preparation that I ever received for teaching history in a public high school was from punk rock bands.  Growing up in Win...