Presented by Phil Strunk, History Teacher, Clarke County Public Schools
In an unprecedented year we all need words of encouragement and reminders that even in the midst of hard times there are things we do well. Check out this video where Phil Strunk (@MrPStrunk) encourages educators to learn from others, but also recognize that they themselves have talents to bring to the table.
It is my privilege to serve as one of the spotlight speakers for the virtual Brainstorm Conference. My name is Phil Strunk. I am a teacher from Clarke County, Virginia where I teach sixth and seventh grade United States History I and II.
Let me be the 10,000th person to say during this pandemic that these are unprecedented times we are living in. Our world was thrown for a loop and now we are trying to put the pieces back together. We are craving normalcy. Today, it is my hope to provide you with some encouragement as we continue this new journey in education.
I’d like to begin this spotlight video by making a bold claim. I am sure some of you may disagree with me. Some of you may raise your hands in the air and say, “Yes, Phil Yes!” Some of you may be disgusted by my opinion while others may praise it. My claim is simple, but it is one that I like to be upfront with when I talk to people, because I think it is absolutely essential in knowing me. You see… my big… bold… claim… is that I LOVE pizza!
I love pizza with pepperoni, I love pizza with different kinds of cheese, I love pizza with basil, I do not love pizza with pineapple because that simple does not belong on pizza. I love fresh, oven-baked pizza. I love fastfood pizza. One of my favorite places to get pizza from is a national chain called MOD pizza. I imagine that my first time in a MOD pizza was much like Charlie in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The incredible thing about MOD is that when you go in, you are met with a wide variety of cheeses and other toppings that you can put on your pizza. The staff takes you down the line and asks what YOU want on it. Sure they have some recipes on the wall, but I like to embark on my own pizza experience here. I get red sauce with basil and then some mozzarella cheese, but I don’t stop there. I ask for some asiago cheese and if I’m feeling particularly dangerous I ask for bleu cheese as well. When we get to toppings I am a simple man, just pepperoni, bacon, and onion. Then I ask for their pesto finishing sauce after the pizza come out of the oven.
As I take that first bite into this pizza I am so thankful that I got to choose how I wanted this pizza constructed. It is absolutely wonderful as I savor bite after bite.
That being said… my wife is not a big fan of my pizza. She puts garlic, arugala, mild sausage, bacon, and olive with mozzarella and asiago cheese. That pizza is fantastic for her, though it would certainly not be my preferred choice by any stretch of the imagination. And you know what… that is OKAY! We can both go and get our preferred pizzas and enjoy our own meals together!
As we address how this applies to education and as I considered what I wanted to speak about, I wanted to speak about something that people had not heard before in keynotes. However, considering the world we are living in, considering the amount of posts on facebook, twitter, instagram, tik tok, and pinterest I am realizing that maybe like me, you could use this reminder. You do not have to copy and become a teacher that you are not; what students need right now is for you to be YOU! You do not have to be the Pinterest-perfect teacher. You need to embrace what makes you uniquely you as an educator and what helps you reach support your students.
I’ve tried to replicate other teachers and copy paste what they do in their classes. I’ve tried using the same mannerisms, the same one liners. I’ve tried attempting to replicate their lessons. You know… it just doesn’t hit the same. Students do not respond as well, because they smell a phony a mile away. You don’t have to put anchovies on your pizza because the person in front of you did. Don’t be something you aren’t! Be authentic. Be yourself! It took me a while, but I like to think I am beginning to come into my own, and borrow things from others, but losing the pressure that I need to be that other teacher. You can do that too!
As you watch videos from other educators throughout this virtual conference or learning from educators in general, they are going to express ideas that work well for them in their classrooms, with their kids, and their circumstances. But… You are likely not experiencing those same realities. You have your own classroom, your own kids, and your own circumstances. Now what I am not saying is to totally discount what you are going to see, rather I am saying you do not have to control c and control v everything you watch. Find things that work for you. Take an idea and modify it to meet the needs of your students. Don’t watch these videos or learn from others with the mindset of “Ugh, why haven’t I done this before” or believing that you are not enough. For YOUR students… YOU… ARE… ENOUGH! Your students rely on you, not the teachers in the videos. They are subconsciously expecting you to be the gatekeeper of strategies to support their learning, to do what will make them most successful. The people who are presenting at this conference who are trying to provide support to others are sharing things, because they have been successful for them, and there are certainly universal theme and concepts that can be extrapolated across schools, grades, and content. They are going to provide you with resources they have implimented that have worked incredibly well for them. Don’t shame yourself for never having used them, use this time to explore those resources, to learn about strategies that may turn out to be highly effective as well.
Some of these ideas may work now for virtual learning, some may work great for when we get back into classrooms, some may be a healthy combination of the two. Approach this with a confident growth-mindset. Go into this learning with the understanding of your strengths, and celebrate those strengths. Recognize the areas where you are knocking it out of the park. Identify growth points, areas where you can improve in. But don’t wallow in those areas and dig yourself into a pit of despair. Use other educators who are in the trenches in the war against ignorance like you are and learn from their tactics to develop a battle plan in the pursuit of student success and knowledge. Do this with a drive and sense of purpose, not with a sense of defeat. I know that I am constantly learning from others. I moderate a chat on Twitter and participate in others where we all learn and grow together. The more minds we have working on cracking the problems in education, the more likely we are to make serious headway. And that means we also need your mind! So in the midst of these times where we are told to wear masks in public, where we are teaching virtually, where a trip to a restaurant for a sit-down meal seems like forever ago, do not lose sight of what you also bring to the table.
Remember what you like on your pizza! Make it your own. If you like that your buddy put bacon on it, but the broccoli was one step too far, then forget the broccoli. If you want some extra cheese on it, DO it! Eat the pizza that is good for you; be the teacher that is good for your students.
Now with all this being said, I’d like to leave you with a call to action. This is where we are going to go a bit more interactive. Some of you may have already started writing down or taking notes of things you have learned from this professional development experience. However what I’m about to ask you to do is good both now, during future conferences, or anytime you want to intentionally reflect on your craft. Take a piece of paper out and divide it into 3 columns. We are going to do what my wife calls a self-growth-inventory. An SGI! Similar to a KWL chart, I am hopeful this will impact us as educators preparing for a deeper dive and reflection into the columns. At the top of the first column write an S. The second colum write a G. The third column write an R.
Your first column I want you to write your strengths. Identify areas that you know you are strong in as an educator. I know that I am strong in my content knowledge. I know that I am strong in my use of certain edtech tools. I know that I am strong in direct instruction. I know I am strong in building relationships with students. Are any of these strengths your own? Or do you have other strengths? Are you a master at station learning? Do you manage student conflict well? Are your warm-ups unmatched by others? Do you provide incredibly robust performance assessments? Write down each strength you can think of and pause the video if you have to. We get so obsessed in our line of work with our perceived weaknesses that we never really sitback to recognize the skills and talents we are blessed with. We take those things for granted, but I assure you, there is nothing to be taken for granted here. Write these strengths down and put a smile on your face as you maybe for the first time since this whole pandemic started or for the first time ever, you realize that you have strengths and they are important!
The second column, the “G” column is where you are going to write down your growth points. None of us know “everything” and we all have areas we would like to improve in. The point in calling them “growth points” instead of weaknesses is to shift our mindset. Instead of looking at others and then considering ourselves inferior to each other, we recognize that in learning from others they are helpful checkpoints along our own journeys. I know I would like to grow more with eLearning instruction, I’d like to improve in how I give feedback, I’d like to learn about tools that other teachers have used to enhance student success and see if they can help my students. What are some areas you are trying to grow in? Are you trying to improve with indirect instruction strategies? Maybe looking for ideas for alternative assessments? Trying to figure out how to better connect with educators? Recognize those growth points and embrace learning about them with excitement instead of focusing on a perceived deficit. I have students who love to tell me everything they know and then at the first challenge they give up because they do not know how to do something. It is during that time that I remind them that believe it or not, the reason why we go to school is to learn new things not just to talk about everything we know. Use this time to explore and celebrate learning new things by targeting areas that will help you grow and improve as the educator your students need!
Then we move on to the third column. The “R” column. This is where I want you to keep track of resources. These conferences are worthless unless they spur us to action, and if we don’t have resources and foundation to act with we’ve got a problem. What good is a pizza without the crust? Write down, type down, track resources. Maybe they are links to presentations, specific ideas, people to reach out to, social media handles or emails. Keep track of these ideas so you don’t lose them. These things may be useful now, or they may be useful in the new year, but they are useful to no one if they are forgotten.
After you complete this chart at the end of your conference experience, I’d like to encourage you to share it with others. Maybe you have a friend who is attending the conference. If you’re on social media, take a picture and use the conference hashtag and tag me in it to @MrPStrunk. Because maybe your SGI is similar to others and you can collaborate and grow together!
What do you like on your pizza? How much sauce? What kind or kinds of cheese? Is your pizza for herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores? Do you like it thin and crispy or deep dish? Let me say it again.... What do YOU like on YOUR pizza?
What works for your students? What resources do you have at your disposal? What are some free things you can easily implement at your school? What are some universal truths and research about students that you apply to your room? How do you build relationships with students? What makes you the teacher that you are?
It can be tempting to go online and feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s, but you do not need to feel that pressure. You need to do what is right for your students. You can always learn more and apply more ideas into your room, but add your own personal twist on it so it works for you too. During this conference, identify what your strengths are, identify your growth points and add to your arsenal as your record resources. If I had not done that with pizza, I wouldn’t have known how much I like certain toppings on my pizza. I don’t copy the exact pizza of others, I make the pizza that is right for me. Sometimes you can and/or should copy things from others. I, like many others, enjoy pepperoni on my pizza, but sometimes while I’m ordering pizza and I may hear what someone is putting on their pizza I’ll think “hey that sounds good” and copy them. I, like many others, enjoy using TpT for resources and lesson ideas, and sometimes I certainly do copy those things resources because that works for my students, but I do not have an identical classroom to another teacher each day, I have found what works for me and sometimes added my own twist on it to do the best for my students.
I hope this conference is rewarding for you. Like all learning, it is a journey not a destination. We can always grow, we can always learn, but we can also offer ideas, we can also teach. As unique human beings, there are attributes in the essence of our souls that make us who we are. Please don’t lose sight of your value. You matter, you are important, you are enough. Learning is not like climbing out of a hole. It is like going down a pure, running river as opposed to a stagnant lake. It is like heating up the pizza, instead of just eating raw dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings. Let’s be honest though, sometimes we do feel down. We feel like we don’t measure up. We have a self-defeating feeling of woe. We feel like we aren’t enough. What I would like to ask you to do, if you ever feel down, if you ever find yourself counting your deficits compared to other teachers, please remember to ask yourself… what do you like on your pizza?