#DBCBookBlogs: Block Breaker

My oldest daughter and Minecraft are the roughly same age. In May 2009, Minecraft (Classic 0.0.10a) was released and in June 2009, Bailey was born. Take a minute to guess which one held my focus that year…

It wasn’t until 2014 that Minecraft really got my attention. Lucas Gillispie came to my district talking about this video game with blocks and creepers and that I definitely needed to get this going in my school. Um… no, thank you. However, after a “quick” (aka 2+ hour) Skype session while downloading Minecraft and getting into the inevitable flow state that ensues, I was hooked. I, too, wanted to break “just one more block”. He was right… I needed to get this going in my school. I saw so many possibilities in classrooms! Minecraft Club became a thing, classes started using MinecraftEdu to teach volume, coordinate grids, perimeter, area, setting, etc and I was in love. We even had our 4th grade classes create our state as their culminating product for their research project. Read more about that in an earlier blog post here.

So when Brian Aspinall asked me if I would be interested in endorsing his book Block Breaker, I immediately said yes! I loved it the first time I read it and couldn’t wait to have my hands on the final product. Now YOU get to read it, too!

SPOILER ALERT… It’s NOT really about Minecraft!

BlockBreaker

Because I could literally write a book about the goodness of this book, I’m going to attempt to stay focused by sharing my tweets and a quick thought… we’ll see how this goes, okay?

It’s here!

I was so excited to finally get my copy! Of course, Brian is the sweetest person and rather than celebrating that his book was out, the first thing he told me to do was find my name. I’ve got to admit; it’s the first time I’ve seen my name in print like that, which really tripped me out a bit. I shared it with my students and they were pumped because it’s a Minecraft book, which automatically gave me street cred as a “cool teacher”. Thanks for that, Brian! LOL!

Hello, World

Oh my goodness! Brian just puts it out there as soon as you start reading! We’re not even in Chapter 1 yet and he’s already inspiring, encouraging me to push beyond any limits that I have placed on myself and others.

Chapter 1

Brian tells a story in chapter 1 that touches my heart. His “why”; his reason behind using Minecraft in the classroom is one that you will want to read again and again. It brought tears to my eyes and challenged me to consider what else I can do to reach every student I encounter. Brian specifically states:

“This book isn’t really about Minecraft; it’s about personalizing learning and meeting each student’s educational needs.”

Chapter 2

Specifically speaking to math and Minecraft, Brian gives an abundance of evidence as to why this video game is the way to reach students. Best part: as educators, we don’t have to know a thing about how to play Minecraft! Let the kids teach each other!

Chapter 3

So this chapter escalates quickly! Check out the blog post that inspires the controversial topics Brian discusses here! It’s all good… REAL good!

Chapter 4

So this chapter is as close as it gets to becoming a Minecraft book. Redstone is in the title of the chapter. But what this chapter is really about, is 1:1 relationships, getting to know your kids on such a level that you’re not focusing on their weaknesses, but on their strengths as a way to improve their weaknesses.

Chapter 5

I loved this chapter for two reasons.

  1. Brian discusses the difference between computational thinking, computer science, and coding. Those three words are not all interchangeable; they do not reference the same things.
  2. There’s an interview with Steve Isaacs. The aforementioned Lucas introduced me to Steve several years ago via Twitter and I got to meet Steve face-to-face at a Minefaire two summers ago. Super awesome guy doing pretty epic things! Go check him out on Twitter.

Chapter 6

Mic. Drop.

Chapter 7

Brian doesn’t just share this thoughts in this chapter (although, for my money, his thoughts are research enough for me…), he shares research. He takes me back to my educational psychology class (that I wish I had paid more attention in), back to the teaching of Piaget. Giving students the opportunity to get their hands dirty, both figuratively and literally, allows them to connect with content. Giving them choice provides them with the opportunity for ownership. Brian even says it breaks down walls to provide equity. Wow!

Chapter 8

You’ve heard of something being a “labor of love” (or a “labour of love” as a shout-out to my sweet friends outside of the US)… that’s what this chapter focuses on. #DBC50Summer was so much Hard Fun that I chose to continue it with #DBCBookBlogs. It can be tough – finding the time to read the books and write about them. Not only devising a plan to implement, but then finding the time in my schedule to implement it… but you know what? I LOVE IT! It’s exciting and I’m growing. When I grow professionally, others around me grow as well. It’s Hard Fun.

Chapter 9

Feedback vs Grades… this is a big topic in my book, not my figurative book, lol. My actual book. I have been in a position without grading for three years and I love it. I give feedback. Students share their projects with me, not because they want the “A” or because they “have to”, but because care what I think. I could talk for days about grades and how they are for the parents. What baffles me is that educators feel that grades are unfair, students hate grades, parents get upset about grades… it seems like so much focus is on “the grade”… I wonder what would happen if GPA information was eliminated from college/university admissions? Just thinking out loud.

Chapter 10

What does your class culture say? What’s the best way to find out? Ask your students! Ask them tomorrow! Support them. Maybe you think you are, but it’s not coming across to them that way. Their perception is their reality.

Implementation & Final Thoughts

As I said, this book really isn’t about Minecraft at all. There are Minecraft ideas embedded throughout and lots of examples of how Minecraft applies to various topics at hand, but this book is so much more than a “how-to”. If you’re not a gamer, please don’t let that stop you from purchasing this book! It’s a short, very fast read and has sooooo much ooey-gooey goodness for educators that I’d hate for anyone to miss out because you’re “not a gamer”. (I see you with Candy Crush on your phone, btw…)

I am in the middle of a PBL with my sweet friend and colleague Holli Hudson (7th grade math teacher) in which students are designing a dog park and creating it in Minecraft. I will write a blog about it (and our past PBLs using Minecraft, which are pretty incredible) as my implementation for Block Breaker.

By the way, if you’ve been sitting here the entire time wondering why you know the name Brian Aspinall, it’s because he wrote Code Breaker (DBC Book 34). With two amazing books already out, I feel a trilogy coming on and I can’t wait to see what he shares with us next!

You should definitely check out Brian’s Instagram because his stories are on fire (his random airport air drops are everything) and he shares his travels with his followers. For a limited time, Brian is offering his Scratch Coding course for free. I’m not sure how long this offer will last, so jump on it now. Finally, check out Brian’s website here and his TEDx Talks here. (While you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe to Brian’s YouTube channel here.)

As always, there is a flipgrid to share reflections and ideas. Huge thank you to Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to copilot this space for global collaboration on every Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc book ever. Be brave, take risks, be the first to create a video! It’s the PIRATE way, right?!

Why are you still here?! Go get Brian’s book, Block Breaker!

#DBCBookBlogs: A Passion for Kindness

Holding open a door. Saying hello to a stranger. Stopping by a fellow teacher’s classroom during your planning period to see if they need anything. Offering to cover recess or lunch or car or bus duty for someone who seems a bit overwhelmed this week.

All free. All require very little effort. All require 25(ish) minutes or less of your time. All are amazing acts of kindness that we can do for others. All sound like exactly the kind of thing Tamara Letter, author of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc book 65 – A Passion for Kindness, would do!

PassionforKindness

Having been a huge fan and follower of Tamara for a while, I was so excited to see her book released on Valentine’s Day. Her tweets and Instagram feed scream positivity, kindness, and compassion for others and I just couldn’t wait to get into her book and learn more about her. Through DMs on Twitter, I knew we shared similar struggles. Sure enough, as I read through her experiences of miscarriages and the loss of friends way too early, I sat with tears streaming down my face. Then, as I read about the kind acts that promoted healing and the compassion she was shown and the families of the lost loved ones were shown, the tears came again. This book is beautifully penned and oh-so-touching. One doesn’t have to be an educator to appreciate Tamara’s stories; one only needs to be human.

When I was a sophomore in high school, one of my sweet friends, Brittany, was killed in a car accident. We played softball together, we were cheerleaders, we were both going to be teachers. She was a year older than me in school, her mother worked in our front office, and her younger cousin and I were in the same grade and were best of friends. I will never forget that day; it was like a bad dream that I will relive over and over again. Every February 15 I wake up filled with dread knowing that something isn’t right, then I see a calendar. This year, on February 15, my copy of A Passion for Kindness arrived at my front door.

Like every other DBC book I’ve read, it was exactly the right book at exactly the right time. You see, every year on February 15, I have sent Brittany’s mother a message on facebook letting her know that I was thinking of her, I loved her, and share a happy memory of Britt. This is the first year I wasn’t able to do that. Brittany’s mother passed away unexpectedly in November. I was lost. I didn’t know how to handle my grief this year because sending Brittany’s mom a message was a way to grieve, and her mom had shared that it was a way for her to heal as well. Midmorning, I decided to message her younger sister: “Hey P – usually I send your sweet mama a message today to tell her that I’m thinking about you all and that I love y’all so much and today I feel a little lost because I can’t send your mama a message. Your family has always meant so much to me. I remember cheerleading practice with Britt, throwing you up in different stunts with her while your mama would just shake her head at us. I love you to pieces sweet girl. You & your daddy are in my thoughts and prayers today & every day. Brittany certainly isn’t forgotten, and your mom won’t ever be either. Both of them live in your sweet smile and beautiful spirit. Love you!”

I wasn’t sure how it would be received. P was so young when Britt passed and her mom’s passing is still so raw and new that I was worried I may have upset her.  Late that afternoon I received back, “Oh thank you so very for sending me this!! Britt touched so many people, and loved everyone! Her and mom are in a wonderful place and I know they are both watching over us all! And one day we all will be reunited together!”

Throughout her book, Tamara speaks about wanting to be certain that those who hear the stories know she is never trying to put the spotlight on herself, but on kindness because she has a real PASSION for Kindness! I believe her wholeheartedly! I share that story, not because I ever want anyone to say anything positive about me, but because someone may be in a similar situation and have the same worries I did about how a message would be received, or how to grieve, and maybe even is it still okay to grieve all these years later. Tamara shares story after story of kindness, and highlights so many others throughout her book in sections of Kindness Cultivators! She truly makes the world a better place to Lead, Love, and Learn and gives her readers the tools (garden tools even) to create the same environments in their own classrooms, schools, and communities. Please do yourself a favor and get this book! It’s heartwarming, beautiful, and inspiring!

Implementation

So…. I may, or may not, have already implemented this book… okay… I did.

Back in early January, Karen Caswell (@kcasw1) sent me a message about being a host class for a Kindness Read Aloud in February called #KindnessCrewCRSS. My students were so excited to join in and eventually we chose The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. We implemented this Kindness Read Aloud this past week and had a blast reading answers from around the world; schools from Canada, Australia, and the United States joined in to answer our questions, and all of our students also answered the questions via Google Form. It was great to have time to discuss acts of kindness. Finally, each student was tasked with thinking of one act of kindness they had witnessed someone else do (adult or student) or completed themselves while on school campus. They wrote them on index cards and turned them in. On Monday, I will finish our newly decorated bulletin board by putting these examples of acts of kindness on the board as a constant reminder to Be The Good! This intentional focus on kindness throughout the remainder of the school year and beyond will be our continued implementation of Tamara’s book.

Tamara’s heart is good as gold. Everyone has rough days and I am sure she is no different. I feel certain that those closest to her know that there are days that she gets down and out, frustrated with the system and all the things that frustrate the rest of us. What I love most about her is that she doesn’t let it keep her down and that’s not what she chooses to share publicly. She is clearly compassionate, kind, generous, loving, and always doing what she can to make the world a better, more positive place to be. I can’t wait to give her a big hug for that! By the way – if you do nothing else… check out this precious video of her getting to hold her book for the first time… you see her joy coming through and it’ll make you want to rush out and buy your own copy! Trust!

One of my favorite things from the book is the sketchnotes from, not only Tamara herself (you should see the tomato, y’all – it’s precious), but also from THE Julie Woodard! I have been a fan of Julie’s work for a LONG time – you’ve seen it all over Twitter; she did a beautiful job taking Tamara’s words and bringing them to life in the book! If you want more from Tamara, check out her website here! As always, you’re welcome to contribute to the flipgrid, which the amazing Andrea Paulakovich allows me to co-pilot with her. This was her incredible idea when #DBC50Summer started back in June 2018, a space for global reflection for every DBC book. There will be a prompt, but you certainly don’t have to stick to it! Just share something awesome you got from the book!

Below are tweets, tweets, and more tweets from the book. I made myself quit tweeting about halfway through the book so I could finish it. HA! You’ll have the same problem; I promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See what I mean… I had to MAKE myself stop tweeting about the book! So so so good! Go grab your copy so you aren’t missing out! A Passion for Kindness is the perfect 65th book!

#DBCBookBlogs: From Teacher to Leader

During the summer of 2016, I received a call from my Superintendent’s office asking me to meet with him the next day. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meeting was about and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I joked with him as we walked to his office that I now knew how it felt to be called to the principal’s office.

After exchanging pleasantries, he shared a job description with me that was pretty much something out of a dream. Not only would I formally combine my love of instructional technology and reading, I would be piloting a position unlike anything in our district. I would be working with students and teachers in an effort to support our first magnet program that had opened just a couple years before, in a school that had been open for 16 years.

There were tears as I realized this would mean I would have to leave an elementary school full of students (including my own daughter), teachers, and administration that I loved like family and venture into a completely new world of middle school.

The 64th book in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line of incredible books is one that I would have loved to have during this transition in my career. In the book From Teacher to Leader, author and educator Starr Sackstein takes us on a raw, unfiltered journey through her first year as a leader.

teacher2leader

From the very first chapter, I knew this book would be something special. Two quotes from page one had me fully invested in whatever Starr was ready to share from that moment on.

“Regardless of whether they stay in the classroom or go to another position, they must reimagine themselves in order to stay relevant and excited about the work they are doing.”

“From the second I decided education was my path, I never allowed good enough to be part of my story.”

Status quo, complacency, and mediocrity are some of my biggest pet peeves. I appreciate that Starr shares this same philosophy and lives it out loud immediately in her book.

Making the decision to leave the classroom was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally. It was November 2013 when a media coordinator position opened in my district. Anytime a singleton position opens in a school, especially in a small district that you love, you know you have to go for it – even if it is 45 minutes from your home. So I did. Telling my students that I was leaving mid-year was devastating. I will never forget that last day of school with them. They were so proud of me for following my dreams and yet, we cried through the entire day. One student didn’t even come to school that day because he was so upset. When we returned from Christmas break, they had a new teacher and I had nearly 300 new students.

Even as I left my classroom that afternoon (nearly five hours after the students left from their early dismissal), I stood in the doorway and cried as I thought about the laughter, learning, and love shared in that room. It’s one thing to leave the classroom… I was leaving my students. I felt so selfish leaving them; I knew that if I didn’t go for it, it might be several years before another position came open. I had to do what was right for my family and me. It didn’t make it any easier to leave.

As a media coordinator, I felt the first of the feelings of isolation that Starr authentically shares with us in her book. I was a “singleton” – the only person in that position in my school. However, when I began the pilot position I mentioned above at the middle school… well, that was a whole new level of isolation. By definition, a pilot is the first. In this case, it was the first and only in a middle school. There was only one other educator in the entire state of North Carolina with the same job description (who interestingly enough was also named Alicia) and she was nearly two hours away and serving in a high school. I couldn’t share any of my frustrations with anyone at school for many reasons. I didn’t know them, there was no trust built yet, and to be honest, some of my frustrations were about one staff member or the other, or the way things had historically been done, and I certainly couldn’t air those as an instructional coach. Talk about destroying relationships before they even started! Isolated, alone, and desperately craving camaraderie and fellowship with others, I turned to Twitter.

Oh how I wish I’d had this book then! Knowing that others have felt those same feelings would have talked me off a ledge so many times. Thankfully my directors were just a phone call away. I tried building relationships that first year and planting seeds as Starr suggests. I felt like an epic failure. I couldn’t see that I was making any difference, like I was a hamster spinning in my wheel inside my big brick cage. Anytime I felt like throwing in the towel (which was about weekly), my directors would come to my rescue. I can’t tell you how many times my mentor and friend Lucas Gillispie shared the same line with me.

Play the long game. -Lucas Gillispie

Looking back on the past three years, he was right. I see the shifts that have happened at my school. While I’m not naive or prideful enough to believe it was all because of me, I am grateful to have a small part to play in those changes. I am so proud to work for the students, teachers, and community I serve and I love that I get to see many of the seeds that I sporadically threw on the ground that first year grow into some amazing experiences and terrific relationships!

Starr shares excellent advice on how to handle that first year (let’s face it… years, plural) as a leader. She shares about cultivating relationships, co-planning and co-teaching, remaining relevant, supporting teachers by meeting them where they are. The reflections from her Education Week Teacher blog “Work in Progress” are so powerful because they are truly the unfiltered version of her first year. These were her thoughts as she went through those trials and successes – reflecting and celebrating, sharing her intentions publicly.

I did quite a bit of highlighting in this book because I kept reading things that stood out to me as truth! So much of what Starr shares I can personally vouch for its effectiveness in new leadership roles. Things like showing up, modeling learning, gathering feedback, knowing adult learners, and knowing your change-makers are all vitally important in establishing yourself as a successful leader.

Starr encourages us to frequently ask ourselves if we are the type of leader we would want to work for. I love that she never asks the teachers she serves to do something she wouldn’t do herself. I fully support that and I believe teachers appreciate when leaders are willing to “do the dirty work” – I know I did as a classroom teacher. It spoke volumes to me when one of the leaders would work one-on-one with a student, or teach my class while I observed another, etc. I try to do the same for the teachers I serve.

So finally… that brings me to my implementation of From Teacher to Leader which stems from Starr’s wisdom about listening. I’ve got to be honest with you; I’m a horrible listener. My brain is always going a mile per minute and I’m so guilty of thinking about how I will respond (or even something totally off topic) while someone else is talking to me. During one of the coaching PD sessions I attended, we participated in some excellent protocols for listening.

In one, Partner A did the talking for 2 minutes while Partner B drew sketchnotes about what Partner A said. Then, for one minute, Partner B shared the sketchnote with Partner A sharing what they heard them say. Partner A then had 30 seconds to correct or extend on anything Partner B said in their restatement.

Another protocol was based solely on feelings. For three minutes, Partner A talked about something they felt strongly about while Partner B made eye contact and listening without speaking. Partner B then has 90 seconds to restate what Partner A said relaying the emotions they saw exhibited from Partner A. Finally, Partner A gives feedback about how it felt to truly be heard by Partner B. Then the roles switch.

I have to tell you that both of these were incredibly awkward. I didn’t realize how strange three minutes of eye contact with a friend would feel and how many times my mind would start to drift and I’d have to purposefully bring myself back to the conversation. It did prove to me how important active listening is and how poor I am at doing it on my own!

So my implementation is to purposefully engage in active listening with both the teachers and the students I serve. I’m not saying I’ll employ either of the protocols I just shared, but I will be more attentive and intentional about pausing the thoughts in my head and allowing what others are saying to process completely before responding. (This is going to be so tough for me… anyone else struggle as much as I do with this?)

No matter what, it’s important to remember what Starr says here! The learning happens through mistakes. Take all the learning you can from every mistake throwing perfection out the window. Leaders make mistakes, too. Being transparent in those mistakes will build more authentic relationships which leads to more successful leadership.

Man, what a book! I am loving Starr Sackstein and her vulnerabilities in sharing her story. If you’re considering making the move from the classroom, have recently made the shift, or are already in a position of leadership and are looking to grow professionally, I would definitely get From Teacher to Leader and start reading! Bet you can’t put it down!

As always, the flipgrid is available for your reflections if you choose to use it (thank you Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to join in this brilliant idea for global collaboration on every DBC, Inc book) and I would love to connect with you on Twitter or Instagram. I definitely recommend that you connect with Starr (contact info will be updated here soon) and check out a free preview of the book here. Warning: you’ll want to purchase it! If you want more awesomeness from Starr, you can google her to find tons of podcasts, YouTube videos (including this TEDxTalk about giving up grades), and check out her other books!