Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Beyond the 15 Second Video You Watched 10 Times

There is a good chance that within the past 72 hours you have seen or heard about Ron Clark and a handful of the Ron Clark Academy students breaking the internet with their #DoItLikeMeChallenge dance. It's been covered by CNN, People Magazine, CBS Nightly News, Huffington Post, Complex - just to name a few. People from all walks of life and from around the world have commented - mostly positively - about how it is refreshing to see a teacher connect with his students and show that kind of energy in the classroom. Many commenters have said how they wish they had had a teacher like that when they were in school. Can't argue there.

What you do not see, however, in those 15 seconds is that Ron Clark, the students, and the staff of the Ron Clark Academy is a complex beast. Yes, there is dancing, singing, and endless energy and passion that goes on. But there is also rigorous coursework, strict discipline enforcing manners and respect, and constant reinforcement of the skill sets that young people need to be successful in life. In my years working at the Academy, I had the pleasure of being a part of many of the exciting moments where celebrities stopped by the school or a video became popular on the internet (though nowhere near as big as this one). But I also had the honor of taking the students to national and international Model United Nations Conferences (see pictures below), where the students competed (and won awards) against some of the top middle and high school students from around the world in political and societal debate. I also am proud of coaching the first LEGO robotics team at the school, which made it all the way to the Georgia state finals. There is a national award winning step team at the school, which has won back-to-back titles and not only competes but has a big focus on community service as well. I have had the pleasure of seeing our alumni represent themselves in academic, social, and athletic successes in their high school and college careers beyond their days at Ron Clark Academy.

So as you think "I wish I had a teacher like this" when I was in school when you watch the video, implying one who can dance and be energetic, I also hope in the same breath that you would want a teacher who made sure you were performing your best at every moment academically, socially, and behaviorally as well. That is just a snapshot of the complex beast of the Ron Clark Academy. If you've never visited the Academy, I would definitely encourage you put it on your bucket list! You can find out how to do it here.

Prague, Czech Rep at the Yale International Model United Competition

Istanbul, Tukey at the Hisar School Model United Nations Conference

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

16 for '16

Last year I wrote a "bucket list" (which seemed to be a theme in 2015) at the start of the year with ideas for your classroom called "15 for '15"

Continuing with the theme, I present to you a new version for 2016, "16 for '16":

1) Create a Periscope account and host a 'scope on something interesting to you. If you are not familiar with Periscope, it is a free live video streaming app. Download the app on your phone and feel free to follow me @adamdovico

2) Start a classroom "giving back" campaign. Many students are used to "getting," but it is just as important to learn how to give back. Find a local organization that needs volunteers, supplies, or recognition, and have your students brainstorm ways that they can learn about giving back.

3) Have a "mystery reader" in your class. I am actually stealing this idea from my son's pre-school teacher. She emailed the parents to see if any of us wanted to come in and be the mystery reader. I couldn't pass up the opportunity! I had a blast, and while it is not hard to surprise four year olds, students of all ages enjoy the unknown once in a while, especially if the surprise is one of their parents.

4) Collaborate with the lunch servers. Last year I wrote about encouraging manners and respect in your classroom. To make this more applicable to the real world, have a chat with the lunch servers in your school and ask them to work with you on implementing manners in the lunch line. You can ask them to not serve the students until they greet them and have the student return to the back of the line if they do not say "thank you." It will only take a couple of students to be made an example of before they all catch on!

5) Host a student teacher. If you have a college or university nearby with a educator preparation program, talk to your principal about hosting a student teacher. Colleges and universities need to partner with the local school system to make their programs successful, so step up and offer your classroom to host a student teacher!

6) Join in on a Twitter chat. I have not done this as often as I would like, so this is one of my personal big goals for 2016! There are many highly regarded Twitter chats out there and it is an excellent way to connect and collaborate with educators from around the world.

7) Videotape yourself teaching and watch it back. This can be excruciating to do (no one likes hearing themselves on video), but I promise there is no better way to improve your teaching than to watch yourself in action. You will notice small things that can positively change your teaching style.

8) Write notes to your students. One of my student teachers I supervised wrote notes of encouragement on sticky notes and put them on her students' desks before they came into the classroom. Many of them were personalized and I was able to witness on many occasions their faces when they saw the notes. She even had special thematic treats once in a while like this one below from Thanksgiving.

9) Family book club. This was an activity I did with my 5th graders and their families one year. I selected a book (ended up being Bridge to Terabithia) and told my families that we would have a before school book club that would meet a few times where we would discuss the book. I provided a light breakfast and it was a great opportunity for the students to see their parents also learning and discussing books, just like they do in class!

10) Extend your professional learning. I think it's important to find ways to constantly grow as professionals, and it can be easy to become stagnant in our ways, so extending our professional learning is a great way to stay fresh with ideas and trends in education. You can do this by going back to school for a new degree, apply for National Board Certification, earn a specialist certification, attending local or national conferences, or taking unique courses that pertain to what you do.

11) Keep your classroom website up-to-date. Before I visit schools, I always check their website to get a feel for their school. In this technological age, many parents "window shop" for schools from their websites. It is astonishing how many websites (school and individual teacher) are outdated. Make it a habit to update your website at least once a month so that students, parents, and random visitors to your site get a great first impression.

12) Create a classroom identity. The first school I worked at out of college had a neat tradition. Each classroom teacher would have a "mascot" for their room (usually some type of alliteration) and we would have classroom t-shirts made, which encouraged identity for your room. Naturally, being a Wake Forest graduate and having my last name start with D, we were Dovico's Deacs. What I discovered was that students kept these t-shirts over the years, as I came across one year when I did a commencement ceremony speech at that school and a student from my very first class (whose brother was graduating that day) was wearing our class t-shirt.

13) Co-teach a lesson. With a colleague, create a super engaging lesson that can be done as a duo. With two people, it gives you a chance to go bigger since you have more hands on the job. Look to transform the classroom, create a simulation, or hold class in a unique place.

14) Find a great photographer for a day. I never appreciated the art of photography until I saw how unbelievably untalented I am at it. My buddy J Amezqua is an amazing photographer and every time he takes pictures of me teaching, I am blown away at how good he can make my teaching look. Great photos of you and your kids in action can serve as a wonderful collection of memories from your classroom.

15) Leave your desk organized. Those who know me know that I have a touch of OCD in me, so it is not surprising that before I leave my classroom or office for the day, everything on my desk has to be perfectly organized for the next day. For me, it is one less thing I need to worry about in the morning when I know where everything is going to be.

16) Get into "teacher position." Every athlete can tell you they are taught body positions they should be in while playing their sport. Teaching should be no different! The best teachers I have observed have common body positions: stepping forward from the front of the room, connecting eyes with students, and hands being used to animate.

For more things you can do in the classroom, take a look at Inside the Trenches, available on Amazon and Kindle.  I also have some of my favorite lessons on my Inside the Trenches website.

Happy 2016!