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Recently, Marvel Comics released the landmark issue Captain America #700, which includes a special back-up story using unpublished pages drawn by the late, great co-creator Jack Kirby with a new script by current writer Mark Waid.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

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Relisting, Reflecting, & Resolving

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2018 is here! But first, we recently passed the “Best of” season, with everyone sharing the  best _________’s of 2017.

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For example, here are a few lists ranking the Best Superhero Movies of 2017, and they don’t all agree on #1:

Compare these lists with your own ranking. (Personally, Spider-Man: Homecoming was my #1 for its spot-on take of a younger, more optimistic Peter Parker.  The high school setting helped, too.)

 

 

There are also plenty of “Best Comic Books of 2017” lists, many containing a variety of topics and genres beyond superheroes.  For instance . . .

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Sadly, I haven’t read that many new comics in the past year. I’m eager to check out DC’s Mister Miracle mini-series (by Tom King and Mitch Gerads).

Created by Jack “The King” Kirby after his glory days at Marvel, Mister Miracle (Scott Free) and his fellow “New Gods” are “b-list” heroes at best. But that means the stories can take more risks with higher stakes than perennial favorites like Batman or Wonder Woman.

Check out this preview page of the series, in which Mister Miracle and wife Big Barda discuss remodeling their home while breaking into a villain’s lair . . .

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Notice the classic 9-paneled page layout the series strictly follows throughout its entirety. Consider how much creativity can arise even among such well-defined structure. (There’s an analogy here for teachers.).

Plus, this series explores mental health issues, another helpful topic for teachers to examine.

Speaking of education and teachers, we get our own “Best of 2017” lists too!

Here is Edutopia.com’s list of “2017 Education Research Highlights.” And a few noteworthy items below:

  • Practice tests and student-planned steps are two of the best test-preparation strategies.
  • Clickers may help with fact retention, but can hinder deeper comprehension.
  • Finger-counting (with other number games) is okay and actually helps 2nd graders with math.

Two schoolgirls count on their fingers

 

Of course, this season is also time to preview the upcoming year.  We have lists anticipating new comic books, along with the latest lineup of superhero movies.

Even better, educators can plan for the future and prepare accordingly.

Here is NPR’s discussion of “The Biggest Education Stories of 2017 and 2018.”   And eSchool News is touting “4 Exciting Trends That Will Define the 2018 Education Industry.*

*Spoiler: It’s technology-focused; and I don’t like the term “education industry.”

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Whether it’s comic books, movies, or educational trends, we’ll just see how things turn out in the next 12 months.  And after the year passes, we’ll see another wave of lists.

TEACHERS, what about YOUR lists?  

  • What were your highlights from last year?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?
  • What will you do to make it happen? 

 

Who needs friends?

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The new Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and is already setting records, as you can read in this Forbes article.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trailer’s impact, courtesy of Fizziology:

Putting Captain America’s beard aside, I’d say the most exciting element of the trailer is NOT the big battles or bad guys.  Sure, we get Thanos and multiple fights. But the BEST part is seeing how all these heroes work with each other.  

Just take a look at the “screen cap” attached to the official trailer’s YouTube video:

It’s Bucky!  Black (Blonde?) Widow!  Cap (and his beard)! Hulk! War Machine! Falcon! Black Panther and a whole bunch of Wakandans!

The last time movie-goers saw most of these characters, they were arguing and battling each other. But all it takes to make amends is a world-conquering villain. That’s friendship for ya.

If you’ve paid attention to recent superhero movies, the theme of FRIENDS appears quite often.

 

No, not THAT theme . . . apologies . . .

We mean REAL friends.  To remove the “ear-worm” song from above, take a closer look at the following trailers of current movies.

Start with Thor: Ragnarok . . .

Thor’s “friend from work” comment at the 1:20 mark is one of the best lines in the entire film.  

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(Fun fact – there’s a neat story about the origin of that line, which came from an unlikely source. Read more here.)

 

Or check out this Justice League trailer and listen around 1:50 for Barry Allen/Flash’s awkward “I need friends” admittance to Bruce Wayne.

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Everyone needs friends, and that includes TEACHERS.

Unfortunately, teaching can quickly become an “isolated profession,” and you can read more about this “Lone Ranger” phenomenon in an article by The Atlantic HERE.

A growing research field focuses on teacher collaboration and how to help educators work together.  Some people consider teacher collaboration as the “missing link” in successful school reform.

Here is a summary of one study about “High-quality collaboration” and its benefits to teachers and students.  There’s a useful section in the article called “What this means for practitioners,” and if you’re in a hurry, here’s one excerpt from the summary:

School and teacher factors influence the quality and type of collaboration. Teachers in elementary schools, more so than in secondary schools, collaborated more frequently about instruction. Higher-quality collaboration is more common among female teachers than male teachers, particularly about instructional strategies, curriculum, and assessment.

 

Another study of middle school teachers found positive results from “professional learning communities” (PLCs) consisting of same-subject, same-grade teacher teams.  However, overall effectiveness depended on a lot of factors: “leadership and organizational practices, the substantive details of PLC activity meetings, the nature of conversations in PLC activities, and the development of community among PLC teams.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement about influential factors for successful collaborations. This is the challenge of teacher teamwork.

You can’t force friendship, and you can’t coerce teachers to collaborate. As these studies show, effective collaboration requires meaningful application and multiple nuances to result in teacher buy-in and worthwhile work.

As with most interpersonal relationships, the process is delicate and sometimes messy. Just consider how well superheroes get along (or not) throughout their long history.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping each other get along and collaborate.  Even so, here are three resources (and highlights) that could help.

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“7 Reasons Why You Need a Teacher Friend” (Tame the Classroom)

#1: You need someone to tell you “no” 

When you have a bad idea, like giving students stupid awards, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Heck, no!”  When you’re thinking about writing a parent a nice-nasty reply to a note and you let your teacher friend proof it, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Nope, edit this so you won’t get fired.”

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“Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complimentary Strengths” (Edutopia)

Virtual Collaboration: Share Work Products on a Common Drive

By sharing work products on Google Drive . . . teachers know what their colleagues outside of their collaboration group are doing. They also know how they’re doing it. This enables them to replicate and/or get ideas from each other.

Even without meeting in person, they have instant access to work products, like:

  • Unit plans
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum maps

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“Making the Most Out of Teacher Collaboration” (Edutopia)

Personal Steps to Effective Collaboration

If I had it to do again, this is what I would do to get the most out of my formal and informal collaborations with other teachers:

  • Build relationships
  • Observe the best
  • Ask questions
  • Share
  • Come prepared

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The above ideas are not as “scholarly” as the research studies shared earlier. But they can still provide useful steps.  At the least, none of these education offerings require a world-conquering villain.  Be thankful for that!

 

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Arch-Enemy

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Merriam-Webster defines “arch-enemy” as “a principal enemy.”  The Online Etymology Dictionary provides more of a historical background for the term, which arose in the 1540s.

Arch-” refers to “chief” or “first.”  “Enemy”  comes from Latin inimicus, which literally means “an unfriend.”

 

Every good superhero has an equally evil arch-enemy.  Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman and Joker.  It’s commonly held that a hero is only as good as his or her villain.  Check out this keen artwork picked up at Deviant Art!

First there’s DC:

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And then there’s Marvel:

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Spiffy visuals, eh?

There’s even a fun quiz to see how many heroes and arch-enemies you can match.

Teachers also face arch-enemies, but who (or what) are they?

Depends on whom you ask.

For some, it’s the unprofessional treatment of professional educators.

For others, it’s “bad theory” and “convenient untruths” like learning styles and multiple intelligences.

We’ve talked before about both issues (click HERE and HERE for the former; or HERE and HERE for the latter). But this time let’s turn the focus on ourselves.

 

Sometimes a teacher’s worst enemy is himself or herself.

This past year, the Marvel Comics Universe featured a “Secret Empire” story in which Captain America was a sleeper agent for the nefarious Hydra. Say it ain’t so!

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It was all due to a personified Cosmic Cube girl messing with Cap’s mind. (Just go with it.)  Things all turned out okay and Captain America is back to his super-heroics, having punched himself in the teeth with Thor’s Mjolnir hammer.  Comic books – yay!

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Steve Rogers is not the only iconic hero to face himself in battle. The film Superman III, despite all of its faults, has a nifty Superman vs. Clark Kent battle thanks to Richard Pryor’s home-brewed kryptonite.

Here’s a clip:

 

Hopefully, teachers don’t get so violent in confronting themselves. But we should be brutally honest in our self-evaluations.  Are we losing our passion? Are we giving our best? Are we informing our instructional decisions on sound research as opposed to the latest fad?

Let’s not get too down on ourselves. Everyone has a bad day. An “off week.” A challenging class of students – the kind that makes you earn your paycheck. Burnout is common, but treatable.

Regardless of setbacks or success, the best teachers are always getting better. Let’s look into the mirror to recognize strengths, pinpoint weaknesses, and grow the heroic abilities necessary to “fight the good fight” of educating kids.

 

 

 

 

Grit-ty Heroes

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“Grit” is a popular term in educational circles today, particularly with helping students succeed.

Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” “having stamina,” and “sticking with your future day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

I got those “gritty” quotes from the following TED Talk video with Angela Lee Duckworth, and you should watch the entire thing (about six minutes).

 

In the world of superheroes, “grit” has a much different meaning.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, “grim and gritty” superheroes nearly saturated the comic book market.  If you’re interested, you can read a thorough analysis of this time period HERE.

“Grim and gritty” got so popular it seemed almost everyone got in on the act–Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, even Aquaman!

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Coming to theaters near you!

 

Thankfully, most of these heroes’ gritty phases were short-lived and brighter days returned.  For some heroes (or anti-heroes), however, it’s always been about grim and grit:  The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and about 87% of Image Comics from the 1990s.  Exhibits A-to-Xtreme below . . .

 

Given the above definition of “grit,” I would argue that the grittiest superhero is Captain America.

 

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Remember, Steve Rodgers stood up to evil and injustice while he was still a 98-pound weakling.  His heart and passion did not change after he gained powers and a costume.  At times, Steve has given up or lost the title of Captain America. But he continued his work behind the scenes and/or assuming another superhero identity.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse that Steve’s non-Captain America heroics will appear in upcoming Avengers movies:

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(He’s even got a beard – extra grit!)

 

At the time of the TED Talk video, not much was known about teaching and cultivating grit in students.  Nevertheless, you can find research summaries HERE and HERE, which also include resources and tools for student grittification*.

*Trademark 2017, Daniel J. Bergman

In the video, Duckworth refers to research of Carol Dweck on “growth mindset” as one potential factor in teaching grit.  This is a good place to start.

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For example, HERE is one of Dr. Dweck’s articles (“The Perils and Promises of Praise”) that discusses the impact of teacher praise on students’ motivation and self-concept.  All teachers should read this article, since 1) it is short, and 2) it has direct application in the classroom. In other words, it won’t take a lot of grit. But you should stop and think about how you respond to students, and what other messages are conveyed in your words.

And this is just one step. As explained near the end of the TED Talk video, teachers who want gritty students must also be gritty themselves.

Don’t let grit become one more educational fad that passes away.

 

 

Summer Break 2017

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Summer Vacation is well underway, but today (June 21) is the official first day of summer.

“Teach Like a Superhero!” is also taking a summer break, but here are a handful of highlights from the previous academic year:

Job Juggler – Batman’s butler Alfred has many jobs, and so do teachers!

D-List to A-List – Superheroes can go from D-List to the A-List, and so can your students!

Flame On! – How to avoid teacher burnout, with help from the Human Torch, Ryan Gosling, and Julia Child.

Leave a Legacy – How do teachers truly influence students . . . and generations to come?

 

Enjoy your summer!

And honor Adam West’s memory by catching some waves!

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