Higher Faster Further

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Captain Marvel is the latest superhero box office smash, and it’s a must-see for fans of the 1990s and/or cats.

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I’m particularly fond of the movie’s motto: “Higher Further Faster,” which comes from a well-regarded comic book storyline by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez.

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The first thing that came to my mind was the single “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” mixed and remixed by French masters Daft Punk, which you can watch and listen to HERE(Readers prone to seizures – be wary.) 

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Added geek bonus: There’s an anime music video based on the entire Daft Punk album “Discovery.”

 

The other reason I like Captain Marvel’s catchphrase is its application to teachers. In fact, I have a couple of related slogans I like to use with educators:

The first line is wholly original:

The best teachers keep getting better.

The second one updates a well-worn teacher maxim about getting lesson ideas:

Beg, borrow, steal . . . and make it BETTER.*

*We could talk a lot more about “making it better,” but for now here are two articles with some ideas. (Even though both are science-focused, all teachers can apply some of these strategies to their respective subjects.) 

 

These two sayings deal with “lifelong learning.” We teachers must practice an attitude of ongoing learning and actions toward improvement, especially if we expect our students to do the same.

Here’s a neat blog article about lifelong learning, which also provides a nifty-keen visual aid.

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Although the above blog’s target audience is business owners and managers, teachers can still learn something for themselves and their students.

 

Speaking of students, a recent article at Education Week tells of a Des Moines high school’s professional development approach to include both teachers AND students.

You can read more at https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/13/these-students-are-doing-pd-with-their.html, and here is a noteworthy quote from the article:

Students may not use the technical language teachers employ when commenting on lesson plans, but “you’ll hear patterns of what’s considered best practices for engaging students.”

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Teachers, what are you doing to get better?

Maybe you don’t have a formal joint student-teacher professional development program. But hopefully you listen to your students and pay attention to their ideas, gaining insight into your own instruction.

There are plenty of other ways to get better – professional conferences, publications, workshops, graduate classes, and other traditional methods. Or seek out improvement through personal endeavors like a hobby, travel, and relationships with your family and friends.

The summer season is soon approaching, which is a terrific time to recharge and refresh. It’s also a time to review your performance and refocus efforts on getting better.

What workshop or class or trip will YOU take to improve over this summer?

I’m sure you’ll find time between superhero blockbusters to get better, higher, further, faster, stronger . . .

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Flash Forward

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How far do you plan ahead?

Later this month – February 28, 2109, to be exact – a book is coming out that includes a chapter by Yours Truly. (Shameless plug alert!)

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In the previous post, I shared an overview of this book chapter featuring teaching approaches of the Flash (Wally West) and Max Mercury, and the impact on their student Impulse. For now, though, let’s turn out attention to time travel.

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Bart Allen (Impulse) is a 30th century teen transported to late 20th century America. The featured Flash and Impulse comic book stories in my book chapter were published in the mid 1990s. But this isn’t the kind of time travel I want to discuss.

Let’s look at the timeline of academic publication, using my Flash book chapter:

  • April 2017 – I submitted proposal for book chapter.
  • July 2017 – Proposal accepted.
  • November 2017 – Chapter manuscript submitted.
  • February 2019 – Book published.

Altogether, the process from proposal to publication is nearly TWO YEARS. And this isn’t even counting the original call for submissions, formulating my idea, doing the research (reading, looking up, reading, collecting data, reading, analyzing data, etc.), as well as the actual WRITING of the 25+ page first draft.

Two years from proposal to publication is actually about typical for most printed books. (That’s why it’s tricky for a writer to chase trends; by the time anything gets published there’s a new fad taking the world by storm.)

But to be honest, I had to stop and look up some of the above dates in my records. If you had asked me before, I probably would’ve thought the time period was much quicker. Time flies when you’re having fun (i.e. doing scholarly research with comic books).

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Teachers also experience interesting time travel in their classroom work. And like publishing, the educational process can stretch along with many delays. A recent article on Edutopia talks about the long-term impact of teaching. Here is how it summarizes the featured research:

Teachers who help students improve noncognitive skills such as self-regulation raise their grades and likelihood of graduating from high school more than teachers who help them improve their standardized test scores do.

Later, the article addresses the predicament: Standardized tests don’t typically measure long-term teacher impact on things like self-regulation and other “noncognitive skills.”

Countless times, teachers reiterate that if something is important, you have to test it. Using reverse logic, we often assume that only the important things are on tests.

We can’t overlook those things that may be more difficult to assess or standardize. In the face of regular evaluation reports, teachers must keep the far future in view.

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I would argue that these two outcomes – short-term test scores, long-term impact – are not mutually exclusive. Teachers can promote both at the same time, intertwined together.

Take publishing, for our ongoing analogy.

While this Flash book chapter has been moving toward publication, I’ve been busy working on other projects. Journal articles and conference presentations have faster turnaround times, and I’ve done both in the past few years.

Likewise, I have a new chapter in progress for the next “Ages of . . .” book. This one is about Marvel’s Black Panther.

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My chapter deals with T’Challa’s demonstration of 21st Century Skills in defending Wakanda from the alien Skrulls’ Secret Invasion. If that sentence doesn’t excite you, maybe these comic book panels will . . .

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So far, here is the timeline of my chapter:

  • May 2018 – Submitted chapter proposal.
  • August 2018 – Proposal accepted.
  • January 2019 – Submitted chapter manuscript.
  • ??? – Publication???

Right now, I’m awaiting feedback and requests for revisions from the editor. After that should be official news of acceptance and publication. But I’m not holding my breath. It’ll happen eventually.

In the meantime, there are always more opportunities to learn, write, research, and share. And enjoy the future possibilities!

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Flashy Teachers

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We’ve been a little light on blog posts lately, but for good reasons!

Over the past year, I’ve been busy writing a few other projects. The first one is coming out in February 2019:

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My contribution to this book is only one chapter – “Impulsive Students, Speedster Teachers, and Education in the 1990s” – and here’s a preview:

In 1994, DC Comics presented a potential poster child for 1990s adolescence: Bart Allen, a.k.a. Impulse—a time-displaced teen speedster from the future with a short attention span, entertainment-first obsession, disregard for adult instruction, and a habit of leaping-before-looking. This chapter focuses on mentors Impulse encounters along the way—namely Wally West and Max Mercury.

To frame my analysis of Bart’s teachers, I applied the 1998 text Approaches to Teaching by Fenstermacher and Soltis.  And, of course, I used content from over two dozen different comic books. Here are a few examples:

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Wally West (The Flash) is similar to an “executive teacher,” hastening with curriculum, outcome-oriented lessons, and direct instruction for his student Bart.  Taken too far, this teaching can overwhelm the student, even one with super-speed. And the results can backfire . . .

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In contrast to Wally, Max Mercury is more like a “therapist teacher,” also called a “fostering” or “facilitator” teacher by Fenstermacher and Soltis.  But I doubt the authors envisioned a “therapist teacher” doing things like these . . .

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As a “therapist teacher,” Max focuses his attention not only on Bart’s skills, but also on the teenager’s personal development — making friends, making decisions, experiencing effects of relationships and choices. Cultivating personal development means not always giving students an answer, even when they beg for it at super-speed:

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Other times, a therapist teacher simply tells the student the honest truth, helping them refocus on the important goals:

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What kind of teacher are you most like? Both approaches have strengths, some more advantageous in one situation or another.

Learn more when the book comes out February 2019.  You can find it HERE and HERE.

In the meantime, we’ll revisit some of these topics here on this blog – hopefully sooner rather than later!

 

Lessons from Stan Lee

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This post is different than most, pausing to honor the late, great, Stan “The Man” Lee.

I won’t even attempt to write a tribute to Stan Lee’s marvelous life and legacy, as several others have done a much better job.

For example, take a look Marvel’s website HERE, which includes this inspirational quote:

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Also, many celebrities have written kind comments about Stan’s impact on their personal and professional lives. You can read several of them at https://www.rte.ie/entertainment/2018/1112/1010478-stan-lee-tributes/.

Even Netflix is honoring Stan Lee by encouraging viewers to use his catchphrase “Excelsior!” when searching for a show. Try it and see what happens.

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My way of thanking Stan “The Man” Lee is to consider all the lessons teachers can learn from his example. How can we bring these same traits to our schools and classrooms?

Enthusiasm

When I think of Stan Lee, the first thing that comes to mind is not the heroes and villains he helped create. Instead, it’s his overwhelming enthusiasm. Just take a look at this cover to his comic book-style autobiography:

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Or this real comic book featuring a real photo of Stan Lee:

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Although many people learned about Stan Lee through his various movie cameos, he actually had plenty of exposure first through comic book stories. Here is a neat article summarizing Stan’s various cameos through years of comic books. You’ll note a recurring theme of self-deprecating humor, fun, and energy.

Here’s an early depiction of behind-the-scenes with Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko:

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Much later, Stan made an appearance to narrate an entire issue of Generation X:

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This stint prompted a company-wide event the next year, in which Stan appeared to introduce every Marvel comic book’s “flashback” story:

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Advocacy

Stan Lee was an advocate for superheroes and their fans. Like the comic book example with Steve Ditko above, Stan introduced comic book readers to the creators and the creative process.

This was long before blogs and social media. Instead, Stan provided monthly updates in the comic books – Stan’s Soapbox, Bullpen Bulletins, and more. Moreover, he made it fun to be a fan.

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Brandon Zachary from Comic Book Resources wrote an essay, “How Stan Lee Created Comic Book Celebrity and Modern Geek Chic,” explaining “He became every reader’s ‘Uncle Stan,’ a sarcastic but kind figurehead of comics. Stan Lee helped mold the modern idea of Geek Chic into what it is today, and turned Marvel Comics from an entertainment company into its very own culture.”

Stan advocated for more than just superheroes and comics. As a writer and editor, he shared stories dealing with issues like alcohol and drug abuse, racism, hate, and more. Here are five of his “Soapbox” writings addressing such issues, including the one below from 1968:

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One noteworthy issue of Amazing Spider-Man is #96 in May, 1971. This was the first comic book published by Marvel or DC to NOT have the seal of approval by the Comics Code Authority.  The “code” was used to ensure comic books were safe for young readers. But in Spider-Man #96, Stan Lee wanted to tackle the issue of drug abuse.

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Forgoing the CCA’s seal of approval, Stan wrote and published the story. Soon after, the CCA updated its guidelines to consider depictions of controversial subject matter in individual stories.

 

Collaboration

Stan Lee is famous for pioneering the “Marvel Method” of making comics. Before this, writers scripted comic book stories with detailed descriptions and dialogue. To save time, Stan reduced the direction in his scripts and allowed the artists to decide things like page layout, number of panels, perspectives, etc. This created more trust with the artist, to the point where both writer and artist were credited as “co-plotters” in many comic book issues.

You can read more about this collaborative approach here, and hear Stan Lee describe the process himself in the following video:

 

Although Stan Lee frequently receives credit as creator of multiple Marvel heroes, he himself acknowledges the powerful role of co-creators and artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber (Stan’s brother), and more.

Here is another example of Stan’s collaborative spirit, shared by recent Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

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Stan’s spirit of collaboration (and marketability) is perhaps what led to the “shared” universe approach in Marvel Comics. Readers could relish guest appearances, cameos, and team-ups among various superheroes and villains. Such crossovers are much celebrated (and copied) in the series of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Ageless Wonder

This is one of my favorite panels from Stan Lee’s memoir:

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Stan Lee had worked in the comic book business for many years before he began his Marvelous run. This is a recent tweet from writer and reporter Brett White, reminding all of us it’s not too late to start something new:

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During my own lifetime, Stan Lee’s work was less in comic books and more in other media. He moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1981 to oversee television and film versions of Marvel characters.

Soon after came video games, including Spider-Man for Atari in 1983. How many 60-year-olds do you know would gleefully help like Stan in this Blip magazine feature?

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The first time I heard Stan Lee’s voice may have been in the PlayStation/N64 Spider-Man game, published in 2000. Even in his late 70s, Stan enthusiastically introduced “True Believers and Newcomers alike” into a “true superhero action thriller,” which you can enjoy here:

 

Stan Lee continued to try new things throughout his 80s and 90s. Some projects were more successful than others. Nevertheless, his work displays an energy envied by creators of all ages.

In 2001, Stan even wrote special “Just Imagine . . . ” comic book stories featuring characters from long-time rival DC Comics.

 

 

 

 

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More recently, Stan Lee worked on several global projects. His last superhero creation was based on Chinese pop star G.E.M. He also helped create multiple heroes for Japanese anime and manga (making a few personal appearances, of course).

 

 

 

 

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There will never be another Stan “The Man” Lee. But we can take inspiration from his enthusiasm, advocacy, collaboration, and lifelong learning. And we can remember Stan Lee’s example every time he pops up in a cameo.

 

‘Nuff said. Excelsior!

Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

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These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

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Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

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No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

Changing Tools

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Long-time readers of this blog will know that Captain America is one of my favorite heroes. (Just take a look at these posts about Iconic Images, Teacher Evolution, and Grit-ty Heroes.)

Recently, Marvel Comics released the landmark issue Captain America #700, which includes a special back-up story using unpublished pages drawn by the late, great co-creator Jack Kirby with a new script by current writer Mark Waid.

Check out this classic artwork brought to life:

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In the new Avengers: Infinity War film, Cap has a whole new look. Besides facial hair and muted uniform colors, another noticeable difference is his missing shield.

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Over the course of decades and different media, the Star-Spangeled Avenger has used a variety of shields. In fact, the good folks at Comic Book Resources have published a list of TWENTY Captain America shields, ranked from worst to best.

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Each of these shields are unique, but they all serve as both defensive and offensive tools.

Captain America has his shield. Spider-man’s got his “web-shooters.” Batman has endless  batarangs. Green Lantern uses his ring (and lantern).

 

 

What trademark tools do teachers use?

Perhaps the most iconic tool of teachers is the chalkboard (and all its derivations). Just do a quick Google search of the word “teacher” and you’ll discover an array of people posing in front of a chalkboard:

 

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As seen in these images, the chalkboard is cross-cultural and used world-wide.

Much like Captain America’s shield, teachers’ chalkboards have transformed over the years.

First we have the chalkboard:

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In black OR green varieties!

 

Then we got the overhead projector:

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You can face the entire class while you write – BONUS!

 

Then came whiteboards:

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Less chalk dust, but more mind-altering marker smells!

 

Add a projector and computer connectivity, and you get a SMARTBoard:

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More recently, the advent of “Augmented Reality” (AR) is a new addition to standard SMARTBoards. Here are two photos courtesy of the March/April 2018 issue of THE Journal:

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No matter the board, each version serves in the same general capacity – to display visual information, record ideas, provide an avenue for students and teachers to share, and more.

And like Captain America’s shield, the actual effectiveness of the tool depends on the expertise and ingenuity of the user. A state-of-the-art tool used poorly yields shoddy results.

Honestly, the above photos of AR-using teachers are problematic. In one, the teacher is fixated on the board instead of the students; in the second, the computer station is a barrier blocking the teacher from her students. Both examples are just snapshots, but both could be improved with more flexibility and responsiveness to the students.

Let’s look again at Captain America’s multiple shields. Besides the standard round metal variety, I’m particularly fond of Cap’s energy shield.  One version of this tool could change according to the user’s purpose:

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So teachers, whether you have a dusty chalkboard or spiffy AR-enhanced SMARTBoard, or anything between, please be sure to use it well. Practice to increase efficiency. Welcome student contributions. And use it creatively, adjusting to the context of the lesson and learners’ individual needs.

 

 

Batman and/or Robin

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If you pay attention to sports, you may know about basketball super-star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If you don’t pay attention to sports, here’s a recap of “King James” highlights:

 

After recent struggles with player morale, LeBron’s Cavaliers team underwent a massive personnel shift, trading away 6 of their current players and 2 future draft picks in exchange for 4 new players and 1 different draft pick. To put this into context, these changes involved 3 separate deals with 4 different teams, resulting in a turnover of nearly half the entire Cavaliers team.

Teams typically don’t make changes this big so late in a season, but since the trades Cleveland has handily won two games against tough teams. Now, many experts have already pegged the Cavaliers as the “team to beat” in their conference.

One of the new Cavaliers players, George Hill, recently assessed his team this way:

“We have one of the best players in the history of the game, I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that. We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be. He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins. We got to figure it out.”

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What about all of us teachers?  Are you Batman? Or are you a Robin? I would argue that teachers should be BOTH.

First, you are Batman.

Consider how you can mentor and guide a younger teacher also working in the crusade for education. You can provide lesson ideas, management suggestions, and an exemplary model of a caring and competent professional educator.

Need some ideas on how you can be a Batman for other teachers?   Take a look at these articles (and excerpts) about being a teacher leader and mentor:

Becoming a teacher leader” (Edutopia.org) — “[T]ry all the opportunities presented, listen up for colleagues who are nudging you along, and don’t be afraid to take risks — that’s what it’s all about.”

Leading change from the classroom: Teachers as leaders” (American Institutes for Research) — “Today, leadership roles have begun to emerge and promise real opportunities for teachers to impact educational change-without necessarily leaving the classroom. Teachers are now serving as research colleagues, working as advisor-mentors to new teachers, and facilitating professional development activities as master teachers.”

Eight qualities of a great teacher mentor” (Education Week) — “Great mentors push your thinking and help you grow in new ways. They alert you to new teaching methods and provide tips for how to handle various situations throughout the year. Most importantly, though, these “tips” are often posed as questions. Questions require new teachers to discover and learn for themselves.”

So in some ways, being a teacher is like being Batman. (Just don’t let it go to your head–and eat a Snickers when necessary.)

 

You are also a Robin.

As an exemplary teacher, hopefully you are also modeling the commendable habits of a lifelong learner. You are supportive, a sounding board, eager to help, and even provide corny jokes when the opportunity arises.

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The neat thing about Robin is that there are multiple versions. Each individual has his or her own personality, backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, and more.

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In fact, DC Comics featured a whole host of “Robins” in the yearlong series We Are Robin. As explained by series writer Lee Bermejo in a USA Todaarticle, “Maybe there could possibly be many of these kids out there on the streets who have different talents and different capabilities that could be useful to Batman.”

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Likewise, teachers can fulfill the supportive, helpful, humor role in many ways and at many times. This includes having a “mentee attitude” throughout your career. Lifelong learning means there’s always more to learn. (The best teachers always strive to get better.)

Here’s a neat article at WeAreTeachers.com about “How to be (or find) a truly great teaching mentor,” and it includes a section titled “How to make the most of your mentor,” including the following strategies:

“Ask specific questions . . . The more specific your questions, the more helpful your mentor can be.”

“Know when to say ‘I don’t know’ . . . The point of mentoring is to improve, so resist the temptation to say everything is fine when it’s not.”

 

Teachers, are you more Batman or more Robin at this point in your career?

Online quizzes are everywhere, and you can find an “Are you Batman or Robin?” quiz right here to find that answer.

Even better, here’s a “What kind of educator are you?” quiz (from ASCD), which includes 3 book recommendations based on your responses.

Full disclosure: I took both quizzes and found out I’m “The Nurturing Nightwing.”

Learn more about yourself and reflect on your profession, personality, and current position. Then go out and be a great teammate, sidekick, teacher, and superhero.