In the Fall of 2020 I was honored to have been selected by my colleagues as our building level Teacher of the Year. This is the first step in a district wide competition with 56 teachers selected from every school. The first stage is the narrowing of the list to a “Top 10” based on an written application. This second part relates to my views on the teaching profession. The first part was called “Why I Teach”.
Teaching Profession (two double-spaced page)
A. What do you do to strengthen and improve the teaching profession?
My father has worked in a factory for 45 years and my mother has worked in a bank for nearly as long. They were able to build a solid middle class life but they worked jobs. A profession is more than a paycheck, it is a career based on lifelong training and participation with colleagues that uphold standards while expecting innovation and growth. Over my career, I have learned that an administrative title is not necessary to be a leader in this community. I am an advocate for innovative practices with colleagues and practice continual reflection in my own practice.
Speaking and writing have allowed me to advocate for better practices. District leaders have asked me to lead school and district level professional development sessions dealing with game inspired designs and active techniques like blogging and note booking. State conferences have also hosted my sessions. The South Carolina EdTech Conference invited me to speak about Flipped Class technique I developed called “QWIQ” Notes, I have been a presenter on various subjects including game inspired designs and historic education at the South Carolina Council for Social Studies. I was also selected to present twice at the National Future of Education Technology Conference regarding my game inspired practices. Presenting at large conferences has been fun but my reach is much larger through my social networks and blogging.
Over the last four years, I have been reflecting on my practices and advocating for various educational practices through my blog, classroompowerups.com. This year 12,500 visitors have viewed my site over 18,500 views. Over the last four years, my writings have been viewed 54,000 by 28,000 visitors dwarfing my conference audiences. The Corwin Connects blog and the Classcraft blog also hosted several of my posts. My writing is reflective and improves my own practice but teachers from around the globe have contacted me to collaborate and discuss implementing practices I have written about. Speaking and writing has allowed me to be a guest on several podcasts, including frequent appearances on Explore Like a Pirate author Michael Matera’s “WellPlayed” Podcast, the “Teacher Pop” Podcast with Jordan Billings, and the “Ed Got Game Show” with Matt Farber and Steve Isaac.
Speaking to the large audiences both in person and online is an exhilarating experience but I have also tried to mentor at a classroom level. Over the last few years education students from Coastal Carolina and Horry Georgetown Technical College have been frequent guests in my classroom. These collaborations allow pre-service teachers to observe my class, ask questions about my practice, and assist in small group activities. Also at the school level, I introduced National History Day to Early College High School with students in each grade level participating. Over the last decade we have successfully implemented this engaging History centered project based program. I have been the Regional Coordinator for South Carolina NHD’s largest region for the last 6 years with over 600 students from Horry County and surrounding districts participating each year. In addition to arranging the competition I also advocate for the skills based practices of the program and annually lead professional development sessions.
B. Upon what criteria should professionals be held accountable, and how would you ensure the criteria is being met?
As I reflect on this question, I disagree with the way it is framed. Professionals should hold themselves accountable for meeting institutional goals while maintaining and improving on practice. An organization that sets minimum accountability standards devalues the professionals and fosters an entrenched minority that will meet this bare minimum and nothing more. The teaching profession does not need an established top down accountability criteria but rather a culture of shared responsibility and expectations. The cultural criteria I would advocate for would be similar to the National Council on the Social Studies’ “C3 Framework” based on college, career, and civic readiness. This education would allow graduating students to become active community members in a flourishing democratic society. Parents, teachers, administration, and the students at the school level would collaborate to create shared expectations with the framework as a starting point rather than implementing a top-down administrative mandate. This takes time, mutual trust, and hard work in an educational system that too often finds itself a pawn in political conflicts. It would also require collective negotiations and functional advocacy groups for all of the parties involved.
Top-down accountability solutions are simple and direct, but “accountability” suggests blame and redirects the systemic failures onto a single teacher pillar of support. We have tried a century of accountability measures, and they have all failed. They will continue to fail because top down accountability measures produce workers that do just enough to not get fired rather than professionals who seek to elevate their students through innovative practices. For the last 15 years I have been part of an educational community which demonstrated the ability of this criteria to thrive. At the Early College HS we have dedicated teachers, active administrators, and invested business and community partners, and passionate parents and students all working towards a common vision. We hold each other accountable every day. Administrators walk through the classroom, students and parents are invited to our monthly meetings, and teachers are expected to be community leaders. If given a platform as Teacher of the Year I would use my voice to advocate for similar openness and culture building at the school, district, and state levels challenging administrators and parents alike to join students and teachers as partners rather than judges and juries. Together we can create the culture necessary to develop and meet criteria necessary for student success.