Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Access for All

Ben & I with Maggie Cox, president-elect of
NACTE prior to our podcasting session
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in two great professional development opportunities, the Nevada Association for Career & Technical Education (NACTE) Conference, and the CUE Leadership Development Institute (LDI).  While my role at NACTE was that of a presenter and as an attendee at CUE LDI, a common theme came about from each event that resonated with me, the idea of equity and access to all that are affected by each organization.  

Months ago, my BeerEDU Podcast partner-in-crime, Ben Dickson, and I submitted a proposal for the NACTE Conference, a session on beginning podcasting, using our show as an example of why podcast, the equipment and software involved, and how educators and students can use podcasting as a way to demonstrate learning, connect with authentic audiences, and have fun at the same time.  After our session was accepted, I was also approached by the coordinator of the conference, Craig Statucki, and asked if I would be willing to participate in a panel session during lunch on one of the days of the conference.  Craig is somebody that I have been connected with and have looked up to for a long time, so without question, not even as to what the topic was going to be for the panel, I agreed. 

One question that came up in our presentation: were we going
to provide beer for the session?  
In our presentation, our attendees asked a lot of great questions on the why, how, and what of podcasting.  While our session was an hour long and mostly informational in format, I wish we could have had longer, perhaps even a three-hour session to help our audience to begin building the beginnings of their podcasts.  And I must give Tom Covington and Michael Jephcott of the TOSAs Talking Tech Podcast a lot of credit, as many items Ben and I presented in our session was provided from episodes of their show.  We even directed attendees to check out Tom and Mike's four-part series on how to start a podcast.  But one of the main points that Ben and I tried to convey and what many attendees asked about was related to access to content for students and choice in assessment, catering to student strengths, as well as a more modern way of communicating with families and the community through podcasting.  While I feel that it was a great session, there are definitely some things to improve upon for later, and Ben and I have already been asked to bring the session back to the regional ACTE conference to be held in Lake Tahoe in the spring of 2020. 

As for the panel, as I had mentioned, I did not know what I would be addressing, so I tracked down Craig after my session to inquire.  He informed me that I would be on the panel with Snehal Bhakta, a friend of mine from my years in Las Vegas and a coordinator of career & technical in the school district, and Dr. Summer Stephens, the superintendent of the Churchill County School District in Northern Nevada.  The topic of the panel would be equity and access to career & technical education for all students.  While I am not an expert on career & technical education, I did work at a CTE school for many years and along with my (limited) experience in special education, I do have strong feelings about access to CTE curriculum for students and schools, so I was very excited to serve on the panel, especially with two people like Snehal and Dr. Stephens that have a lot of experience in CTE and leadership. 

I had never served on a panel prior to this.  It was a bit intimidating to think that I would be put on the spot with questions that I hadn't been presented with prior to the panel, but the topic was something that I was knowledgeable of, passionate about, and I had two other people that I would consider experts along with me to take some of the pressure off.  Once we got going, I had nothing to worry about; in fact, the first question that was presented by the moderator was something that I wanted to answer right away. 

It was an honor to serve with Snehal Bhakta and Dr. Summer Stephens on this
panel.  I look forward to serving on another panel someday! 
The question related to the importance of offering CTE courses to students.  Right away, I thought about a student that I had nearly 10 years ago that came to me on the first day of school to tell me that while he was going to work very hard, he struggled with reading and writing and English was not his first language.  Ultimately, this student improved his reading and writing skills and passed his proficiency tests (something required for graduation at the time) and graduated with his peers.  His hard work had a lot to do with his achievements, but he was also in a school that offered him courses that he was interested in and would help him to prepare for a career or further education after high school and gave him the motivation to succeed, something that many students that struggle do not have the luxury of having and often times end up giving up and struggling to graduate, or even drop out of school because of their lack of motivation.  The point I tried to convey in the first part of the panel was that if more schools offer a variety of CTE courses, more students could find something that they are passionate about. 

As the panel progressed, my colleagues on the panel brought up some great points about bringing access to CTE for all students.  Topics covered ranged from the funding of CTE programs, encouraging female students to enroll in male-dominated courses like auto mechanics, welding, and computer science, to one of the most intriguing topics, how schools build their schedules around academic and CTE courses to provide access to all students.  I had never thought much about this before, but it made me realize that many schools struggle with this.  Often times, in order to give students a schedule that meets the required courses in which they must enroll, students are excluded from enrolling in their first choice elective courses, which include CTE courses.  Schools must work harder to ensure that students have access to their preferred electives and work to build schedules that allow students to explore their interests.  To piggyback this, I also believe that schools need to work harder at building relationships with "non-traditional" education programs, such as with companies and unions in the community.  Colleges and military branches are always represented at career days, why can't something like a local carpenters union also be represented and come to schools to give presentations?  Perhaps this is the case where you teach, but it is something that I have not seen much of in my career and the schools in which I have taught. 

Prior to the event, Ben and I got on our bikes
along the beach near Asilomar, taking in the sights!
From Lake Tahoe, after a quick stop to run some errands and take care of some things at home, I drove from Reno to Salinas, CA for a night with my friend Ben Cogswell before heading to Pacific Grove for the CUE Leadership Development Institute at the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds.  LDI is an event I had attended twice previously, missing the 2018 installment, as I was moving to Reno the same weekend of the event.  The purpose of LDI is to bring together members of the various CUE affiliates in California and Nevada to brainstorm ideas on how to make CUE a better organization and give affiliates the opportunity to learn from each other to improve events and connections for those that the organization and affiliates represent.  Like the NACTE Conference session and panel, the theme that I took from LDI was access:  How do we as an organization, and in my case, a leader within CUE-NV, provide access to educators within the State of Nevada and make CUE membership worthwhile?  Between the leaders of CUE as a whole and each individual affiliate, 22 affiliates in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to network with people and share ideas about how to make our affiliates better and offer teachers in our areas high-quality professional development and opportunities to connect with one another. 

Ultimately, whether talking about access to career & technical education curriculum for all students or providing a way to provide professional development to all educators, the takeaway from either is that we must work together to provide students with the best possible education and opportunities to explore their interests.  Choices in electives for students and providing training for educators to be better at their craft is a great start.   I encourage you to ask the tough questions about what we can do to be better for our students. 

Until next time...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

What Team Are You On?

Desmond Howard showing Ohio who is the best in the 1991 meeting in this
storied rivalry.  While the Maize & Blue have had a tough go of it in recent
years, I have a feeling things are about to change! Image courtesy of
Competition is something that has dictated human nature since the beginning of time.  In the beginning, it was about mere survival.  Humans competed with one another for food, for shelter, for protection.  As time went on, competition dictated the successes and failures of nations, of empires.  Today, competition drives so much of the world, as nations compete economically, individuals compete for better jobs, and on a more recreational level, various games, sports, and the rivalries that arise as a result, like the Yankees and Red Sox, Maple Leafs and Canadians, Packers and Bears, and Michigan and Ohio (State, but Michigan fans don't add the rest of the name when referring to the school from the state to the south).

Recently, Pear Deck announced that it was partnering with Microsoft Education to offer its platform for use with PowerPoint Online, something that has been available with Google Slides for some time.  You can check out my post on this announcement, Pear Deck for #MicrosoftEDU, here.  This announcement gave me the opportunity to explore Office365, OneDrive, and other Microsoft apps a little bit further, as I haven't used Microsoft much over the past few years since I started using GSuite for Education apps exclusively.  It also sparked a conversation between me and a handful of others on a recent episode of Sons of Technology: The Podcast about competition between educators and the camps that teachers tend to put themselves into.  Listen to the episode (and subscribe) below or find Sons of Technology wherever you listen to podcasts to check out this conversation and many more.

We all know those people, in fact, we may be those people.  "Forget Microsoft Office365, I'm a Google teacher!"  "Why do you use Nearpod?  Pear Deck is so much better!"  "You're still using Kahoot!?  You know that Quizizz is better, right?"  "I can't believe somebody would buy a phone other than an iPhone, it's light years ahead of anything Android."  You get the picture.  In fact, I have been this guy before, criticizing somebody's preferences over my own.

Over the past couple of years, I have shied away from such criticism.  Who am I to judge somebody based on their personal preferences?  And who am I to judge what a school district provides to its teachers and students?  While I certainly prefer GSuite for Education, it's mostly because it is what I know after the districts I have worked for adopted Google as their platform of choice.  If somebody works in an Office365 district and doesn't have access to Google, I have no place to judge and criticize them.

Why create a divide when we should unite in the name of student
achievement, empowerment, and connectivity! Image courtesy of
While my shift to a more accepting attitude toward others' preferences was more out of respect for others, it brings about another important point: if something works for you and it is beneficial to student learning, what difference does it make?  We don't need to put ourselves into teams that try to compete against one another when we all have the same goal:  student achievement!

Now, this does not mean that we should support absolutely everything and try to implement every single tool that's available into our classrooms, far from it!  If you like a tool, use it, tell people about it, brag about what it can do for you and your students.  Have constructive debates not about what tool is better, but how each tool can be beneficial.  Try to see all sides and make informed decisions about tools to you, don't just use a tool because a colleague or a company told you to do so.

As for sports though, keep it civil, but keep running your mouths and keep rivalries alive!  I am sorry Randall (Sampson), I love you, but you are a Buckeye fan, so I may be a little bit slower in getting to you if a group of Wolverines has you surrounded.

In closing, one team that I hope you will join will be my book team!  I have been relatively quiet about it, with a few tweets here and there and some mentions occasionally about a book that I have been working on.  As of July 9, 2019, I signed a contract with a publisher on the book that I have been working on for the past few months.  More details will be released as we get closer to a finished product, but I cannot wait to reveal to you what I have been pouring myself into, with the hopes to inspire those that will read my work.

Until next time...