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 verbose 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 all 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 above, he introduced comic book readers to the creators and the creative process.

This was long before blogs and social media, instead through 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 these 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” of 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 Scott:

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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 continued to display 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 Lee. But we can take inspiration from his enthusiasm, advocacy, collaboration, and lifelong learning. And we can remember “The Man” every time he pops up in a cameo.

 

‘Nuff said. Excelsior!

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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.

 

 

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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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.

 

 

Leave a Legacy

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Marvel Comics recently announced their next company-wide comic book event(s), a back-to-back blockbuster starting with “Generations” this summer and then “Legacy” this fall.

There aren’t too many details yet, but “Generations” features stories teaming up heroes with shared names or titles.  For example, the original Thor (a.k.a. “Unworthy Thor” or Odinson) fights alongside with the current Thor (a.k.a. “Mighty Thor” or Jane Foster).  Or Wolverine (Logan) with his cloned successor All-New Wolverine (X-23, Laura).

A little confusing, yes, especially for anyone who hasn’t read a Marvel comic book the last few years.  During this time, several classic characters have stepped down from their costumes (for various reasons) to be replaced by different individuals–other heroes, a supporting cast member, or brand new characters.

With “Legacy,” some readers speculate many classic characters will return to prominence, donning their masked identify once again.  We don’t know much for now, except that long-running titles are resuming their original issue numbering (e.g. back in the 100s, 200s, 500s, or more, instead of resetting to issue #1 every year or so), and other classic elements are coming back–cover box art, tiny mugshots in the corner, Marvel Value Stamps, etc.

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The focus seems to be the “legacy” of these identities–icons that expand beyond one single person.

Here’s a quote from Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso: “We are looking to honor the legacy of the entire universe, so we are taking the iconic legacy heroes and pairing them with the new class.”

And another quote, this time from Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada: “The Marvel Legacy initiative is a celebration of everything that makes Marvel the best in fiction, and it’s a signifier of a new era for Marvel Comics.”  (Look for Quesada’s artwork on the cover of Marvel Legacy #1.)

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Interestingly, DC Comics is more well-known for its roster of “legacy heroes.”  Again, these are identities that have passed from various individuals.  Sometimes the mantle goes back and forth, and sometimes the mask and costume are handed off permanently–or at least for a decade or more, an entire generation of comic book readers.

Here are some of DC’s more famous “legacy heroes” and some (not all) noteworthy characters who have held the title.

The Flash: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen

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Green Lantern: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner,

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What makes the DC legacy heroes unique is their extensive history and long-lasting impact.  Instead of switching a character for just a short story, event, or gimmick, these replacements truly add to the legacy of the hero.  In some cases, the successor is more famous than the original character, with more accomplishments and greater impact.

Teachers, do you see the connection to our profession?

Contemplate the following statement (and pretty photo, courtesy of Brainy Quote) by American historian and writer Henry Adams:

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Some of my current research deals with the question, “What makes an influential teacher?”

In one study (#10004), I asked nearly a hundred future science educators to share information about their most influential teacher.  Here are the SEVEN most common traits found in their responses describing an influential teacher (along with examples from answers given):

1) Passion  

  • “[He] brought his love of science and teaching with him every day.”
  • “She was unfailing in her positivity.”

2) Rapport 

  • “She cared about us and how much we learned.”
  • “He personally acknowledged each student.”

3) Pedagogy 

  • “She knew how to break down the material so it was easy to understand.”
  • “[K]new when students have problems and what to say to each student, if it is different words to different students.”

4) Time 

  • “[T]ook the time out to explain stuff.”
  • “He gave lots of time to students after class. As much as they needed to get it.”

5) High Expectations 

  • “She pushed me to be a leader in school.”
  • “The way she never gave up on you and made you believe in yourself more than you could imagine. She always had high standards for us.”

6) Fun 

  • “She always made teaching look fun.”
  • “[He] showed me that chemistry is fun.”

7) Helpful 

  • “She was always very helpful and kind.”
  • “His door was always open to his students and he was willing to help any student with whatever problems they had.”

 

These responses came from future science teachers, so the sample size is limited, of course.  But ask yourself which of these traits align with YOUR most influential teacher. What other characteristics did he or she display?

More than one of these seven traits appeared in 80% of participants’ “influential teacher” descriptions.  That means that these characteristics are not isolated, but rather intertwined with one another, even synergistic.

Also consider that almost two thirds (63.8%) of the influential teachers described by these future science teachers did NOT teach science.  There is more to influential teaching than the subject you teach. Or in other words, to quote Muppets creator Jim Henson . . .

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Take a moment to remember the most influential teachers you’ve had, and what made them so influential?  Then ask yourself what sort of influence you want to have on YOUR students.  How can you make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of your students, starting right now?

In many ways, every teacher is a “legacy hero.”  The privilege is not receiving personal fame for our profession, but in inspiring and impacting the generations to come.

 

 

Worlds Collide

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The next BIG superhero movie coming to theaters is The LEGO Batman Movie!

In a promotional stunt, LEGO Batman appeared alongside LEGO superheroes from DC Comics’s CW television shows, which you can check out below:

What makes this video clip special is it is the first time DC superheroes from the CW TV channel (Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, The Atom) have merged with a DC superhero from the movies (Batman).

“Big deal?” you think?

Actually there’s been a lot of chatter among fans, critics, and industry reporters about the pros, cons, and possibilities of merging film and TV-based superheroes.  These are characters that come from the same comic book universe, but are featured in separate media outlets–theatrical, broadcast television, or streaming.

DC, for example, has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman dedicated to film, along with other heavy hitters from the Justice League (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash).  This gets problematic, however, since The Flash also stars in his own television show on the CW (as do Green Arrow and Supergirl, who has also met a TV version of Superman).

The Last Children of Krypton

Confused?  You’re not the only one, and some people argue these two “universes” should stay separate (see here and here).  Others think there could be a way to have a crossover of sorts between TV and Film (read more here).

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More intermingling makes sense for Marvel superheroes, since theoretically, many of these characters actually DO live in a single universe shared between the movies (Avengers, etc.) and television shows (Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.).

Some people claim Marvel could and should have film and TV shows cross over.  Others point out that such an event would still be a monumental and unwanted task.  And that’s not even dealing with different Marvel heroes contracted out to different movie studios (e.g. X-Men/Fantastic Four with 20th Century Fox, although Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman said he’s happy to meet the Avengers sometime).

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Sorry, Wolverine.  No shirt, no crossover.

While not requiring millions of dollars, the habit of teachers collaborating can also seem like a difficult ordeal.  But it’s worth it, with research finding higher student achievement in schools with higher levels of teacher collaboration.

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We’ve talked before about teachers getting along with other teachers and here’s another resource with useful teacher collaboration ideas, including virtual tools, co-planning, scheduling, and more.

And let’s take a closer look at teachers from different universes (i.e. different grade levels).

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The Teacher Channel’s blog “Tchers’ Voice” shares commentary on learning from teachers of different grades.  The blog post is called “Pathway to Collaboration,” and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Challenge yourself to find new ways to team up and learn with colleagues in your building, district, and beyond.

Sadly, there’s not much else out there about cross-grade teacher collaboration, although someone did do a doctoral dissertation on this topic.  (If you need a little light reading, you can find the entire 418-page document here.)

I’ll conclude with examples of insight gained and projects accomplished when my world collided with those of other teachers.

  • A fourth grade teacher who showed me all kinds of management techniques and student jobs that I could also apply in my high school classroom.
  • A middle school science teacher who collaborated with me to successfully submit a grant for highway safety physics curriculum.
  • A business teacher who modeled practical classroom procedures for high school seniors, giving flexibility and freedom to young adults weeks away from graduating.
  • And several more colleagues, mentors, current and former students co-presenting and co-publishing academic work.

No movies or television projects yet, but maybe someday.