Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Moving Forward {with Mr. Cavnar}

Image result for bobbie cavnarThis past summer, I was fortunate enough to travel to Germany with a group of amazing teachers.  Bobby Cavnar, the 2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, and the recent recipient of NEA's highest national teacher award was one of them, and we became buddies.  I respect him, and know that he is a great teacher who thinks deeply about the issues that are impacting public education here in NC. 

This week, in the wake of another deadly school shooting - Bobbie wrote a great piece about how we can move forward in NC.  I highly recommend it.

Read it here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Choose NBHS {I did}

AP Information Booth, 8th Grade Open House
One of the primary changes in NC public education over the last several years is the rise of charter, STEM, and private schools actively recruiting talented students out of traditional public high schools.  Here at NBHS, we have certainly noticed the trend, and have quietly witnessed other schools attempt to sell their programs.

Whereas many of these nontraditional schools have much to offer our students, NBHS remains an amazing high school.  And we do not believe that great students will continue to simply walk in our doors without careful consideration.  Everyone now has a choice.

AP trip to the Civil Rights Memorial Museum, Montgomery, AL
To that end, we have decided to build a PR campaign to educate the families of Buncombe County on exactly what our school offers.  For my part specifically, that involves our Advanced Placement program.  We have developed a website specifically for our AP program, complete with information about all of our (now 16!) AP courses.  In addition, we opened an information booth at our 8th grade open house for families to ask questions and learn about our top notch programs.  This is just the beginning, but I hope that it helps paint a more complete picture of what NBHS has to offer.

We are the only school in Western North Carolina that offers 16 face to face AP classes, coupled with three AP history field trips (these trips include educational tours of NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and DC).  Extensions of our AP program include our Robotics team, Science Olympiad, Mock Trial team (law), and our competitive Mathematics team.

I have taught at NBHS for 18 years, and am so proud of our school.  I believe in our teachers and students, and have witnessed firsthand the positive impacts that this institution can have on a child's life.  I choose NBHS.  I think you should too.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Visit to Dachau {Vlog}

Travelling to Germany this past summer with Go Global NC was truly an amazing experience.

As I am teaching about the Nazi era of German history (in my American History II course) for the first time since my return, it is cause for reflection.
One of the greatest gifts from the trip was that each of us (teachers) were required to either, A. write a reflective blog post for a certain day, or B. record a video blog entry (Vlog).

Being an avid blogger (written), I decided to try my hand at a Vlog.  Luckily, I recorded my Vlog immediately after visiting the Nazi Concentration Camp of Dachau.  It was the most emotional experience I had while in Germany, and I am pleased that I was able to reflect on it for posterity.

Per their website, "On March 22, 1933, a few weeks after Adolf Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau. This camp served as a model for all later concentration camps and as a "school of violence" for the SS men under whose command it stood. In the twelve years of its existence over 200.000 persons from all over Europe were imprisoned here and in the numerous subsidiary camps. 41,500 were murdered. 

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...

  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.

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