2017: A Retrospective


My family after successfully defending.

2017 has been one of the most eventful years of my life. I became a dad; I earned my doctorate; I published an entry in SAGE encyclopedia as well as a few other neat moments along the way. Today’s post is dedicated to recounting and appreciating this past year, so fair warning that this post is selfishly about me and my family. I will unpack and reflect on my pedagogy, of course, but I’ll spend time doing the same about me personally.

A BIG thank you to the many in my life who made this year a special one for me.

Part I: Dad Life

25586909_10108101658752760_2813733674408696642_oWhere to begin? My little girl is nearly a year old now, and while it is hard for me to wrap my head around how a year has already passed, I try to appreciate each day I have with her. Parenthood changes you, and that change I think is unique for each person. Where you are in life and your mindset and outlook play a big role in how someone might see their role as a parent. I do know the cliche of not knowing how much you can love someone until you have a child rings true–at least for me. I believe the expression of a child being your heart walking around outside of your chest is fairly apt as well. That said, I stand by what I tell most when discussing parenthood that there is something to be said about becoming a parent at the right time. My wife and I are planners, so our little girl arrived really when we felt we were ready and most able to take on the selfless task of caring for and loving another person unconditionally. While exhausting at times, it is the most rewarding aspect of my 2017. I have been challenged in ways I could only try to anticipate, but I have also felt an unrelenting joy that my daughter and wife bring to my life.

All that said, I think there is value in sharing a few opinions I have formed while in midst of learning to be a father–

#1. Dads do not support one another like they could or should. While I am certainly not upset with any of my dad friends, I realized we do not spend any real time asking one another for advice or reaching out when in need or just to vent. I made a feeble attempt to start a dad group on Facebook, but nothing came of it. I would like to see this change. My wife has surrounded herself with support both with her mom friends and with online forums. Guys–dads–we have to do better. While my year was good and manageable, there were certainly times I wish I had a group of men (dads) to lean on.

#2 Relearning how to communicate with your partner is a real thing. I believe my wife and I are good communicators, but the birth of our daughter challenged that perception. I found myself irrationally irritated at times, or I would step into what I called ‘landmines’ with my wife when I would not do something as she would want when it came to our daughter. We spent the entire year relearning how to talk to each other and understand one another’s needs, concerns, desires, and beliefs about parenting. I cannot express to new or expecting dads enough how important it is to prepare for this reformatting of communicating with your partner!

#3 Comparison culture and mom shaming is a real issue. I worry about comparison culture for my students all the time and the effect social media has had on how they see themselves. The reality is this culture affects adults just as much. We’re just better equipped to process it. There were times when it was impossible not compare our daughter’s development with other infants of the same age, or to avoid others interjecting what they think your child should be doing by a certain time frame. I think this was hardest on my wife as she navigated the expectations of grandparents and other moms. While she was supported by this same group of people, there were times I know she and I both felt judged or misunderstood about our approach to parenting, and our daughter’s developmental milestones timeline.

#4 Being a dad, for me, is awesome. Being a parent is not for everyone, and I recognize it is not even an option for some. I am just thankful I am one–it is the right time, and I am absolutely with the right partner. I genuinely love my life and my family.

Part II: Life Goal Unlocked–Earning My Doctorate

FB_IMG_1494383977810I knew at the age of 15 I wanted a doctorate degree. I wanted it for the silly reason of being called Dr. Jones just like one of my favorite fictional characters, but I also felt generally inspired that getting a doctorate was a noble and worthwhile endeavor. I knew at the same age I wanted to be an English teacher, and I saw being an educator as the perfect excuse to pursue me doctorate. Thankfully, my time as an undergrad only strengthened my desire, and I remember having important conversations with a professor I admire to this day, Dr. Darren Crovitz, about what it would take to get my doctorate degree.

Eleven years after completing my undergraduate degree, I finally earned that doctorate in English education. Throughout the journey I was supported by my wife, caring professors, encouraging colleagues, and students who also believed in me. When I successfully defended my dissertation this past March, I remember holding my three month old daughter and weeping after my committee told me I had passed. That is a moment I will never forget. I was overcome with the emotion of achieving a dream, having my daughter and wife there to see it, and knowing my brother–who had passed away during my undergrad years–would be proud of me. I will also always remember my hooding at graduation where I finally got my wizards robes (doctoral robes) and knew I had earned something no one could ever take away from me.

Moving forward, I am working to continue to use the skills I developed in my studies to research, write, and hopefully find small ways to improve education where I can.

Part III: Writing & Publishing

BookThanks to a Dr. Ryan Rish, who was a member of my committee, I had the opportunity this past year to contribute to an academic encyclopedia for the first time for publication. The publishing group SAGE, who is famous for their academic encyclopedia series–was putting together a volume recognizing out-of-school learning. I was selected to contribute an entry on project-based learning. The publication came out earlier this year, and I am proud to be a part of the collaborative text. While the price tag of the volume is a bit too high to justify buying outright for most, if you find yourself interested in seeing my entry, you can find the text in most university libraries or certainly on Amazon. I hope it is the first of many opportunities to publish.

That being said, I am working on two current projects now. One is a chapter in a book that will be released late next year that I am co-writing with a university professor, Dr. Jennifer Dail, and a colleague who helped me with the research, Mr. Glenn Chance. The entry will focus on using documentary as peritext. The second project is not a guarantee, but I am hopeful I will get to co-write an entire book about leading the charge for innovative teaming within school buildings where innovation is demanded, but systems and structures have not changed. I remain hopeful the publisher will greenlight our project soon. I am also thankful I am getting to use my skills I developed during my studies the way I had intended.

Part IV: Pedagogy & Mentorship

17-18 P21 Learning Exemplar LogoThis year has seen me take on mentoring other teachers as a major focus of my pedagogy. It took nearly two years of me being in my current role as my school’s Academy Coach to realize that one of the most important aspects of my job is to be an instructional coach for my colleagues in order to help build their capacity for project-based learning instruction and innovative teaching practices. I spent more time this year working with teachers one-on-one and helping them map out projects, being in their classrooms, and working with all of our schools in the cluster to bolster our mantra of being “Innovative and Transformative.”

One of the big accomplishments in this vein is my cluster of schools’ designation as a Partnership 21 (P21) exemplar for 21st century learning. A team of teachers from each of our five schools led by me spent the better part of year applying and preparing for the chance at exemplar status. As of this past November, we were officially designated by P21 as exemplar schools. P21 is collaborative coalition of educators, government, and corporations to promote and celebrate 21st century learning skills, including developing the 4Cs–collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity–in students.

More importantly, I was able to deeply mentor and work with a few of my colleagues in ways I will likely carry with me forever. (Heck, I might even write a book one day!) I am incredibly thankful a few of my colleagues who have trusted me this year to work alongside them and their students. I am so excited to see those teachers grow. They continue to develop into extraordinary educators and leaders in the school building.

Finally, I realized I was ill-prepared to take on work based learning this year. I just did not know what I was really getting into as I took up the mantle of coordinator this year. Still, the experience has been profound, and I believe in the development of the 4Cs and employability skills in our schools now more than ever. I see the need first hand. I am going to work closely with my CTE group this spring to develop ways to assess, monitor, and accelerate our students’ grasp of employability skills and to create authentic opportunities for them to use those skills before getting into WBL, or certainly before they are off to life after high school.

Part V: Looking Ahead

The reality is I do not entirely know what 2018 will hold for me, my professional career, or this blog. I genuinely felt my entries this fall were lackluster and did not have the substance I would typically like them to have in order to help out other educators and grow my own practice, so one goal for next year is to improve the quality of posts on my blog.

I’ll start that process with my first entry of 2018 being another roundtable discussion with former students from my Studio program, which acted as an immersive project-based learning, cross-curricular learning experience. These student are all in the latter half of their college careers, and the discussion should make for a rich reflection of what cross-curricular and hands-on instruction does or does not do for college preparation. You can see my first roundtable discussion with my first cohort here.

In conclusions (I know, I know–I could choose a better transition), I hope anyone who actually read this entry all the way through (bravo to you) happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


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