Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Image via Mark Harkin [CC BY 2.0]
I remember watching some old movie or TV show when I was in elementary school back in the 80's (it was probably the kind of show my mom wouldn't have been happy to know I was watching.) In the show, the Bad Guys were trying to hijack a plane--they had guns!--but the quick-thinking pilot was able to save the day by pulling the plane up into a steep climb so the Bad Guys couldn't climb their way up the aisle to get into the cockpit.

Eventually, though, the plane stopped climbing, and "stalled." Now, 10-year-old me wasn't exactly sure what caused a plane to stall...but it was pretty clear what that meant: the plane stopped flying upward, nosed down, and began to dive back towards earth. Of course, this was great adventure on the show, because it meant that the Bad Guys went tumbling forward toward the cockpit, banging their heads and getting knocked out.

Meanwhile, the passengers were safely buckled in their seats, screaming about the plane plummeting toward the ground, and the editors cut back to a shot of the pilot and co-pilot straining as they heaved on the control sticks to regain control of the plane. Of course, they were able to level out and land safely, where police officers met the plan on the runway to take the Bad Guys away.

Such a great story, right? The Bad Guys got what was coming to them. The heroic pilot probably got the girl--honestly, I can't remember, and my pre-adolescent self probably didn't care about that part anyway. The passengers were saved from the horrors of who-knows-what. All due to a stall.

There are times in my teaching practice that I feel like I am climbing and climbing and frantically trying to do more to some how stay ahead of the Bad Guys seeking to hijack my heart and mind. What Bad Guys? Insecurity. Fear. Worry that I won't be able to handle the difficult student, the challenging colleague, the content that rattles me.

Teaching, as I regularly remind the future teachers I serve, is not for the faint of heart! I know that the task of teaching is much, much greater than me. And yet, the Bad Guys attack...and I fight back in the best way I climbing higher, pushing myself, trying to do more.

The honest truth?

Sometimes, stalling is the best thing you can do to defeat the Bad Guys.

Scary? Absolutely terrifying.

Are you going to plummet right into the ground? Will you be able to pull up in time?

Stop trying so hard to climb on your own, and get yourself back on the ground. That's where you'll find the troops really ready to help you take down your Bad Guys.

Instead of trying to keep climbing on your own, don't be afraid to stall...and get your feet back on the ground.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Ten Students You Have in Your Class

In my last post, I shared the nine teachers you meet at school. Today, let's consider the students. I enlisted my son and our Lego collection to help me think up the ten students you likely have in your class...

Does this look like your class?

I was amazed as I talked with my son about his insights into human nature as it manifests in the classroom. Here is what we came up with:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Nine Teachers You Meet at School

My son and I share a common bond in our love of Legos. Yesterday I snapped this picture of a sort of bizarro "Super Friends" team assembled from our collection:

Quite a team, right?

This morning, I started thinking (and laughing) about this picture again, and my thoughts turned toward teaching. This crazy picture reminded me of the many different approaches teachers take to their teaching practice. So, if you'll indulge me, here are the nine teachers you meet at school:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thoughts about Meaningful Interactions in Online Courses

As regular readers of this blog will likely know, I am currently part of a doctoral program in Educational Technology, and my learning in this program is online.

The online design of the program is deliberate. It is convenient for me to be able to study at a distance, to be sure, but I'm also learning--both through the content of my coursework as well as the pedagogies employed--how educational technologies offer alternatives to face-to-face learning environments.

Early in my program, we spent a significant portion of a course reading about, discussing, and reflecting on the No Significant Difference phenomenon: the fact that countless research studies have shown that there is no statistically significant difference in learning outcomes when the media of instruction is varied. The body of research reviewed is comprehensive and compelling; it goes back to the 1920's, and includes correspondence courses, video-based instruction, and--more recently--online courses. The results indicate that while the experience of the course may be different, the learning is "not significantly different."

I confess though, I still get hung up on this point. Because the learning experience is not identical.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Best Thinking Right Now

When I was taking my first class for my Masters' degree back in 2004 or so, our professor, Dr. John Van Dyk, asked us to craft a concise, personal faith statement and philosophy of education. This was a challenging task for me at that time, but it was so valuable. I eventually posted it on my school website as a way of helping parents understand where I was coming from.

John invited us to share our statements in class if we were willing. I was thankful that he also shared his own, and I especially loved the title he gave to his. In fact, I loved it so much, I asked if I could borrow it as a title for my own:

"My Somewhat-Tentative, Though Pretty-Sure-Most-of-the-Time, 
Open-to-Revision, and Somewhere-on-the-Road-to-Sanctification 
Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Education"

That seems about right, doesn't it? I love this because it acknowledges three truths:

  1. I am striving to continually learn and (hopefully) grow, so my thinking and beliefs might change over time.
  2. That said, I am quite confident of my thinking at this point, even though it may change in the future.
  3. I will never have it all figured out on this side of glory...but that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep working, learning, and developing.
And honestly, that's what I'm trying to do with this blog. The intention is to share "my best thinking right now" with an audience that can give me feedback, encouragement, pushback, and affirmation in turns.

So I finally got around to creating an "About this Blog" page that hopefully acknowledges and explains my purposes for the writing here.


As a final note, and in case you are reading this, John:

I am so thankful for John's influence in my professional life. Certainly there have been a great number of educators who have left fingerprints on my teaching practice, but if I had to choose one person who has had the greatest impact on the way I think about the integral nature of faith and learning, it is Dr. John Van Dyk. His influence on both how I understand the craft of teaching as well as how I carry it out in my classroom is pervasive. Thank you, John, for your encouragement to teach well! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#GreatTeachers are #alwayslearning

Over the past year, I've been working to build a new hashtag on Twitter that I may or may not eventually try to launch into a chat. (My Twitterfriends Rik Rowe and Jim Cordery have been very encouraging in this regard!) The hashtag is #GreatTeachers, and I use it to post pithy descriptors of what I view as great teaching. (Tricky, because I am not so big-headed to think I'm a "great teacher"...but I do think I'm a good teacher--maybe even with moments of greatness--and I am always trying to learn, and get better, and hopefully get closer to being "great.")

It is in that light that I tweeted the following earlier today:

I had some retweets, favorites, and comments in response. (That is always so affirming!) The best comment? One from my chemistry-teaching Twitterfriend, Safia. In a series of tweets, she shared this in response:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

10 Ways to Use Social Networks as a Teaching Tool

In my last post, I shared a story as an example of how I learn from my PLN. I use Twitter as a key part of my PLN--I'm there to interact with other educators, to share ideas and resources, and to learn. Twitter (and other social networks) seem like a perfect fit for learning, but perhaps best for informal, personalized, just-in-time learning. This has me thinking and wondering about how well social media fits as a teaching tool. Can social networks be used for formal, whole-group, structured learning as well?

Image via Garrett Heath [CC BY 2.0]