Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bold and Ballsy: Teachers Who Inspire

I’m still settling in on my #OneWord2017. It's so hard to choose just one. Depending on the day and my mood, I toss around things like focus, balance, intention, purpose. They all clearly circle around a similar idea and each one merits serious attention in my life. And I will eventually choose one. I'm pretty sure of it.

And, yet. There's another, very different, recurring theme that keeps coming back to me.

What I really want to be this year is: bold and ballsy. It strikes a different tone, no? An earthier, grittier ring. And the two words must go together. Sounds like a good job for the hashtag:

I apologize if the ballsy part is a bit off-putting for you. There's an explanation, if you'll read on.

I am surrounded by amazing educators, both online and in my day-to-day. My ever-growing PLN consists of incredible teachers, administrators, edu consultants, authors, bloggers... so many outstanding people working hard to make learning better for children. And many of them push themselves in personal ways that are nothing short of inspiring, too.

Below is my shortlist of educators leading the bold and ballsy charge. These folks inspire me by what they're doing both in and out of the classroom. They deserve some celebrating!

1. @kellyhaydenMT: My dear friend Kelly is a woman of adventure. After teaching 5th grade in Montana for eight years, she pursued international teaching and landed a position in Bogota, Colombia where she, her husband and two young children (ages 4 and 6) are now living for two years. She teaches 6th grade science and is ROCKING life in South America! They went from a mountain town of 40,000, to a bustling city of nearly 7 million. Nearly every weekend, they are traveling to other parts of the country, exploring their new culture and living life in a big way. And, because moving to Colombia isn't quite enough, Kelly applied and got accepted to present at a STEM conference in Rio de Janeiro in March. Yeah, girl, go get 'em!

2. Hardcore Halnon: Andrea Halnon is a 3rd/4th grade teacher and former colleague of mine in Vermont. Shortly before turning 50, Andrea started running. Soon thereafter, she began competing–5Ks, 10Ks, and longer races. And in recent years, she's added triathlons to the mix. To date, Andrea has run 5 marathons, 25 half marathons and 31 triathlons. One of her many goals is to run at least one race each month of the year. (And, remember, she lives in Vermont. Think cold. Think snow.) She's incredible! I mean, just look at this list of personal and fitness goals for 2017. (And, believe me, she will knock each of those items right off her list.) Andrea, I don't call you Hardcore Halnon for nothin'!

Hardcore Halnon's 2017 personal and fitness goals.

3. Team #Ditchbook: Led by Matt Miller (@jmattmiller), author of Ditch That Textbook, this incredible group of educators is always brainstorming ways to make teaching and learning more Different, Innovative, Tech-laden, Creative and Hands-on. Most recently, Matt organized (for FREE!) an opportunity called #DitchSummit, which included 9 recorded interviews with amazing educators. The videos aired over winter break. Gasp! You missed it? (I missed some, too... shhhhh!) Well, you're in luck... Matt is re-releasing the videos January 12-18! Click here for details.

Be sure to follow the rest of Team #Ditchbook to see the amazing things they're doing with students and teachers: @karlymoura, @seanjfahey, @sandyrotto, @TTmomTT, @emosier3, @leadlaughlearn, @craigklement, @TaraMartinEDU.

4. #Booksnaps: Speaking of @TaraMartinEDU, she is leading the charge with educators and students, alike. Annotating PD books and getting kids to analyze text has never been more fun! Using Seesaw, Snapchat and other photo editing apps, Tara shows us how inserting Bitmojis and fun annotations on top of text can be a powerful and creative way to dig deep into any kind of text. Visit her blog for an in-depth tutorial to get started!

5. #teacherpowered: I am incredibly inspired by several teachers in my district (@mtkristigaines, @AlisonFeddes, @hirsch_tara) who are pursuing the idea of #teacherpowered schools. (Did you know these schools exist?) The teachers at these sites develop a focused vision and mission, and then run their own school through shared leadership. We traveled to Casper, Wyoming last month to see one teacher-powered school in action: Woods Learning Center. It was incredible. Many thanks to @DeyonneJ and the rest of the Woods Learning Center staff for hosting us!

And now for the BALLSY explanation:

6. @Mr_B_Teacher: Justin Birckbichler is a 4th grade teacher in Virginia. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer this fall, at the age of 25. He is chronicling his journey with treatment in his incredible blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. Discussing testicular cancer can be taboo in our culture, and part of Justin's blogging mission is to spread awareness of this kind of cancer. His posts are remarkable. Please share his story far and wide!

Justin's ordeal hits close to home for me. I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (Stage 1) on my 39th birthday (truth)–nearly 3 years ago. I was lucky to have caught the cancer at such an early stage, and I required only three weeks of radiation.

It was a surreal time in my life. I would finish teaching, drive a few miles to the hospital, get 25 minutes of radiation, and continue on to get my kids at pre-school and Kindergarten. I'd rush home like every other working parent, make dinner, and get kids into baths (maybe) and bed. All with the help of an amazing husband, to be sure. While on the one hand I was fighting cancer, on the other, life still felt pretty normal. And as ridiculous as this sounds, radiation therapy was–quite literally–the most relaxing few minutes of each day. Seriously. I got to lie horizontal, relax, breath deeply, with no one demanding my attention. When a typical day was bookended by teaching 28 fourth graders and wrangling my own tired kids through the evening hours, this was bliss. But, yeah, this was also cancer. Weird.

Unlike Justin, however, I chose to keep the diagnosis relatively quiet. Because my treatment was going to be so minimal and side-effects wouldn't be obvious, I didn't feel the need to share the news broadly. I told my school colleagues, family and close friends. My students didn't know, nor did their parents.

At the time, it seemed like the right choice. And, to a large degree, it still does. So many people are fighting more severe cancers and are really fighting for their lives; my experience hardly seems comparable. It really wasn't.

But, all the same, I do feel like I carry this little "cancer survivor" secret around with me at all times. I've switched to a new role in my district since my diagnosis and treatment, and not all my colleagues know. Nor does my Facebook community or amazing Twitter PLN. I hate to drop this cancer bomb through a blog post, but it feels deceptive to keep it under wraps as I follow Justin's journey.

I am so overwhelmed by Justin's generosity of the experience. What he is going through is deeply personal, and he has chosen to share that experience and help others in the process. How selfless. And bold. And totally ballsy.

It is this boldness that I find lighting a fire under me these days. I suppose it's part of what motivates me to blog, to reach out more broadly, cast my net wider in the edu world.

While 2016 had its heartbreak and I, myself, had a serious bout of depression from Nov. 8 or so until winter break, I do think my #BoldandBallsy mentality is off to a solid start. Last year, I participated in the Teacher Leadership Initiative, which led to launching a Twitter project in my district (with @kellyhaydenMT): getting school hashtags going in my district to share and celebrate the awesome at our schools, and the creation of a district Twitter chat. I also helped organize (with @MrHagemeister) the first #EdcampBigSky, which took place in November and saw 125 attendees. These are definitely things to celebrate!

So what's next? What bold and ballsy moves can I make in 2017? Looking forward to the journey of discovery. Go big, or go home, as they say. Maybe my #OneWord2017 will help me identify some goals and make them a reality? Fingers crossed. Cheers to all of you and a fantastic 2017 ahead!