What Exactly Do Great Educators Do Differently?

April 1, 2019

I woke up ready to find out the answer to this question…exactly what great educators do differently?! I anxiously packed for a trip to Houston, Texas where I’d find out the answer! I was anxious because, although I’d been on a plane before, I had never navigated an airport alone and would be going the furthest west I’d ever been.

Maybe you just learned something new about me. I’m not exactly a world traveler (yet). I was pretty worried about this trip. I checked off a lot of “firsts” while finding out what great educators do differently… first solo airport navigation (including security, where I learned that multiple Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc books stacked at the bottom of my carry-on looks suspicious enough to merit a bag search), first flight alone, first time renting a car, first time being in Texas (I’d only visited TX long enough to stop at the welcome center when I was a teenager visiting friends in Louisiana), first time driving in the city, first time driving through a toll (yes, seriously), first time attending a conference alone, etc, etc. You get the point. For someone with generalized anxiety disorder (ahem, me), this was a HUGE undertaking.

I made it to the Texas airport, and as I was approaching the line to get my rental car, I hear my name. Nervously I looked around and (insert squeal of delight) THE Pirate Captain is coming down the escalator! I’ve never been so happy to see a friendly face in my life! That might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

That evening I had the privilege of meeting & chatting with several of the speakers for the Houston 2019 What Great Educators Do Differently conference – David Geurin, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Katie Martin, Jeff Zoul and I got to reconnect with my dear friend, Derek McCoy and my awesome publisher, Dave Burgess! Heading to bed early, I was ready for the upcoming fast-paced day of learning!

April 2, 2019

As always, Dave lit the room on fire with his Teach Like A Pirate keynote. It reminded me that this month is ONE YEAR since I experienced his keynote for the first time. I wrote a blog about it here. (Spoiler: It changed my life; literally a Life-Changing Lesson, or LCL as it’s referenced in the book.) I saw it again in June 2018 in Florence, SC, so I was pumped to take it all in again. This was the perfect way to start the day. From Dave’s keynote, I got that great educators create experiences, not just mere lessons; for “lessons are easily forgotten, but experiences live forever!”

Following up on this idea was Jeff Zoul‘s session on classroom management. It is unrealistic to expect every student to be engaged every second of the day. It had been a long time since I’d engaged in a best practices session on classroom management, so I was excited to hear what Jeff had to say. I was affirmed in this session because many of the management strategies I already use, Jeff shared. What I learned about great educators in Jeff’s session is summed up in this tweet. Don’t copy someone else’s management techniques… they have to be YOU!

Perhaps one of the sessions I was most excited about was Jimmy Casas’s session. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care what the author of Culturize (and more) presented on… it could have been oompa-loompas, fairies, or proper techniques to watch paint dry… I just couldn’t wait to hear from him! (Culturize left me in pieces – read more about that in my #DBC50Summer blog post.) He did NOT disappoint. His session on addressing underperformance was a clear reflection of his passion and purpose in developing a strong culture in schools. I learned from Jimmy that great educators don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. Great educators have the conversations and offer help, not just in that moment, but checking in & following up with those who are struggling.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, it was time for our lunch keynote from Rick Wormeli. Yep… THE Rick Wormeli, one of the first National Board Certified Teachers, international speaker extraordinaire, and the man who made me realize that traditional grading practices are asinine during his #HiveSummit interview with Michael Matera (author of Explore Like A Pirate) this summer. Lunch was delicious, I met Aaron Hogan (author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth & a new book coming soon – so excited), AND Rick owned the keynote and taught me that great educators “never sacrifice sound pedagogy because someone above [them] isn’t there yet.”

It was time for the final session and I wanted to see David Geurin, Derek McCoy, Amy Fast, AND Katie Martin speak! I would have LOVED to clone myself in that moment. I split my time between Katie Martin and Derek McCoy. Katie’s story about her own child’s struggle in school reminded me that great educators know their learners. Great educators focus on the strengths of their learners and grow them from where they are. Derek got me when he said, “we can’t spend any more time building schools based on what adults need!” From him, I learned that great educators are focused on the students.

By the end of the day, I had chatted and learned from these phenomenal educators and several of the participants!

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(Left to Right and Top to Bottom) David Geurin, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Casas, Amy Fast, Aaron Hogan, Jeff Zoul, Katie Martin, Rick Wormeli, Derek McCoy

April 3, 2019

As I confidently (because hey, I survived so many “firsts”) packed up my suitcase, careful to separate the books this time to get through security faster, I reflected on my time at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference. I wondered, if I were to sum up what I learned in one or two sentences, what would I say?

I spent the majority of my flight home considering that, and came to this…

Great educators are willing to take risks in the best interest of their students. They are willingly to relentlessly learn and grow, seeking the very best way to teach every learner.

And I realized in a VERY humbling moment… I did just that. I took a huge risk, investing time, money, and a tremendous amount of anxiety to attend a conference to better myself and my practices for every learner I have, both adult and middle school learners. Flying halfway across the country to attend a conference alone, meeting and reconnecting with several educators I admire and respect, was something many around me could not understand. (Trust me, they asked why I was doing this multiple times.) I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend #WGEDD and I highly recommend going to one if you have the chance. I will definitely seek it out again!

**I believe this qualifies as my #DBC50Summer implementation of Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller and serves as a piece of my implementation of Lead Like A Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I had no idea about this conference during the writing of those blogs, but it certainly fits the implementations of letting go of fear and being relentless, don’t you think?

#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!