Staying Hungry

Before I’m an educator, I’m a learner.

Photo credit: James Barker

“The best teachers I know are the ones that still see themselves as works in progress and are continually looking for new ways to improve. They are learners. They are students of their profession and calling.”

— Jarod Bormann in Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD

At 40 years old, I’m now in my 18th year of teaching at my fourth school. With memories of being the “young guy” on campus still fresh in my memory, I now wear the label of veteran.

Of course, those years of experience offer confidence and insight. 17 years removed from rookie, I have a clearer sense of my professional strengths and weaknesses.

I know a whole lot more about classroom management and student behavior. I have a firmer understanding of what optimal conditions for learning look like. My thinking around assessment and learning has evolved astronomically. I’m better at setting personal boundaries and establishing self-care practices that allow me to be better in the classroom.

But I’m keenly aware that I still have a long, LONG way to go and a whole lot more to learn.

And I love that.

There might have been a time early in my career when I envisioned the master teacher as an educator who had basically arrived. This was the teacher who held her students’ attention with hypnotic powers. Who oozed the sort of charisma that inspired incredible heights of work, creativity, and achievement. Whose timeless classroom management systems had been tweaked to a state of permanent perfection. Who drew from a bottomless well of instructional resources to locate a solution for every possible challenge. Who personally knew every inch of their content area and whose expertise was legendary.

Who never made a mistake, never failed, who never felt embarrassed or frustrated.

Today, there might be some aspects of confidence and mastery in that vision that I still strive for. But I also recognize that most of that picture of “arrival” is mere mythology.

I now see that year-over-year consistency leads to stagnancy, that comfort breeds complacency.

As I continue to grow as a professional, as I learn from my PLN, as I read Mindset by Carol Dweck or Professionally Driven by Jarod Bormann, I’m constantly reminded that we’re all — ALL OF US — on a continuous journey of growing, stretching, and learning.

Even the best among us fail, miss the mark, pick ourselves up and continue to learn.

Especially the best among us.

I took a new teaching position this year, and in some ways, a new position means going back to square one. Hitting reset.

It’s a chance to ignore my old assumptions and beliefs, to reimagine every moment, every class, every course, every subject. To critique my own practice. To push the limits of what is possible for every one of my learners.

I want to push myself into uncomfortable spaces and take bigger risks.

Because I haven’t made it. And because “making it” isn’t the goal, anyway.

“If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. ‘Safe’ lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.”

— Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate

I’m a student of my profession.
I’m a lifelong learner.
And the appetite for growth is real.

So I’m getting after it.
I’m seeking to stretch, risk, grow, and learn.

I’m staying hungry this year.

Episode 67 – Dr. Erik Youngman

67 - Dr. Erik Youngman

Guest Profile

DR. ERIK YOUNGMAN has been a first grade teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Today, he’s the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Libertyville School District in the Greater Chicago Area. He advocates for continuous learning, feedback, growth mindset, metacognition, innovation, and visible learning. Follow Dr. Erik on Twitter @Erik_Youngman.

The Challenge of Change

Although his career has been overwhelmingly positive, change is a theme that must be continually addressed. Change can lead to either low moments or tremendous opportunities. Organizational change can spark awesome professional conversations but also requires learning mindsets, shared vision, collaboration, communication and a clear understanding of why the change is being put in place.

Growth Mindset

Adopting a growth mindset requires a powerful shift in thinking. Don’t just learn from mistakes; reflect throughout the day and seek feedback to spark learning from every activity for continuous improvement. Even if you’re performing well in an area, careful scrutiny and reflection can lead the further growth and development.

When teachers create, model, and use common vocabularies, it equips students to better reflect and gain more insights from their own learning journeys. When students and teachers are empowered to reflect and self-regulate, make choices, take ownership, and monitor their own progress.

The Possibilities in Education Today

What really excites Erik about the state of education today is the tremendous opportunities for learning among educators today. Books, journals, Twitter, conferences are fuelling so many powerful conversations around technology, equity, personalized learning, student choice and voice, and competency-based learning. In his position he is honored to be involved in many of these conversations, which are shaping education today and for the future.

Professional Goals, Passions, and Productivity Hacks

In terms of professional growth in 2019, Erik is ready to take some risks. His goal is to share his perspectives and learning with other educators more than he has in the past. This interview is a good start! He’s also presenting at the ASCD conference in March, he’s writing an article about homework for an online magazine, and he’s exploring a collaborative effort on a book with other authors as well.

Erik is a big sports fan, but another area that intrigues him is that of leadership. He loves to study successful leaders and pays close attention to their activities, quotes, and recommendations.

His productivity hack is all about maximizing time. He calls his workouts “multitasking education research exercise.” He listens to education and leadership podcasts at maximum speed which allows him to consume a large amount of content as efficiently as possible. He also takes notes on his phone to remember innovative ideas and resources worth pursuing further.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Erik’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Erik recommends following @GeorgeCouros for a constant source of reflection and inspiration.

An edtech tool that does so much for learners and learning in Libertyville right now is Google Slides. If you like Slides, you’ll really love this Slides add-on: Pear Deck. Follow Pear Deck on Twitter @PearDeck.

Dr. Erik has two book recommendations, both of which have been instrumental in his own learning journey and dissertation. The first is called Rethinking Homework, 2nd Edition: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs by Cathy Vatterott.

The second is called On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting – A Book for K-12 Assessment Policies and Practices by Thomas Guskey.

Follow these two authors on Twitter @RealHomeworkldy and @TGuskey.

Over in the education podcast space, Dr. Erik recommends Better Leaders Better Schools by @AlienEarbud and The Wired Educator by @WiredEducator.

Follow Dr. Erik

If you’re interested in hearing more from this guest follow Dr. Erik on Twitter @Erik_Youngman.

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Song Track Credits

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Good Teachers Take Risks

“Successful teachers endure the vulnerability of being a learner and take risks to provide the most effective instruction to their students.”  —  @torreytrust

Photo by @AlexRadelich

I was doing some research this summer and came across an article written by Dr. Torrey Trust titled Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.

The headline seemed simple enough. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about the power of solid PLNs (even though there’s still an absurdly high number of teachers who aren’t connected anywhere outside their own school, but that’s a post for another time).

But then, near the end of the article, came the quote. Here it is again:

“Successful teachers endure the vulnerability of being a learner and take risks to provide the most effective instruction to their students.”

Yes and YES.

Think about what we want to see in our learners. Curiosity. Hunger for improvement. Grit in the face of difficulty. Tolerance for ambiguity. Imaginative design. Creative innovation. Problem-solving. Growth mindset.

Too often, though, teachers don’t do the hard work of modeling this for our students. We settle for staying sane. Running a tight ship. Checking all the boxes. Getting the job done.

And we mean well. I mean, we’re all in this because we care about kids, right? But comfort creeps in. We fall in love with our pet systems. And the Mr. Cavey of 2019 starts to look, sound, and act an awful lot like the Mr. Cavey of 2018.

What we pride as consistency actually makes us grow stale. We stagnate.

Learning involves risk.

Is learning actually risky behavior? Of course it is. Whether it’s serving a volleyball, dancing the tango, or writing a blog post, the process of learning risks discomfort, fallibility, and public failure.

We’ve all seen (or been) people who make the choice for safety. People who absolutely refuse to play volleyball, step out on a dance floor, or publish their thoughts. People who refuse to try a new application, or travel somewhere unfamiliar, or ask their crush out on a date.

I’ve had students like that.

And I’ve been like that.

Safety. It’s a slow death.

This year, let’s commit to being vulnerable. Let’s commit to taking risks in front of our students. Let’s reject the safety of the known for the vulnerability of learning.

Because in the end, we can’t expect from our students what we aren’t prepared to do ourselves.