As a school leader, my first non-negotiable is that outdated pedagogy must be left behind. Technology has enabled so many improved teaching strategies in the past few years, that it would be inexcusable for teachers (even veteran ones) to still be stuck in 20th-century pedagogy. It’s OK if a teacher is hesitant to embrace education technology out of nervousness. That can be remedied with guidance and support. It’s not OK, however, for a teacher to avoid technology simply because they want to teach the way they’ve always taught. It’s nearly impossible to have a high-performing 21st century school if the teachers are still caught in a 20th century pedagogical rut.
Another non-negotiable relates to professional development. Since instruction improves when teachers are motivated, I believe in giving teachers the leading voice when it comes to guiding their own professional development. I want teachers to set their own goals for improving their own instruction, and then I will have them make their own PD plan for each year. Insisting on PD that is driven by individual teachers will improve the quality of instruction every single year.
Students must be made to see the relevance of their education, so another non-negotiable will be making connections between school and the real world. Each discipline and each class must make a concerted effort to demonstrate to students how their learning directly connects to life after high school in the real world. As students see more real world relevance in their daily classroom work, their motivation and work ethic will improve.
Time and again I’ve read that the best way to lead, is to lead by example. That is why as a school leader I intend to teach a class. I believe having a principal teach a class will help to inspire confidence in the school’s teachers. If the leader can truly relate to the teachers by being “in the trenches” alongside them, that can only help to facilitate a positive and trusting relationship.
When it comes to decision-making, I plan on asking a simple question: what is best when it comes to improving student achievement? When presented with a decision that needs to be made quickly, of course the leader should weigh the pros and cons of each option. But even more important is to analyze the options through the most important lens in a school: student achievement. Asking “what is the best thing to do here to help improve student achievement?” acts as Occam’s Razor, a tool that will help me quickly cut to the chase, and choose the option that best serves student learning.
My goal is to follow the Distributive Leadership strategy. Involving faculty in decision-making increases the faculty’s sense of ownership of the school. And as the sense of ownership increases, faculty will be more likely to care about results. They will become more motivated, and proactively work to achieve the goals of the school not because their principal told them to, but because they want to!
Be personable! Build relationships with all people on campus! When the leader makes an effort to smile and be friendly, not only does it contribute to a more positive culture on campus, but when a problem arises, there is a stronger foundation upon which that problem can be more easily resolved!
I am an experienced high school social studies teacher, having now been in the classroom for twelve years. I have taught the breadth of the social studies canon, including World History, US History, Government, Economics and People and World Cultures. I have taught 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, all the while implementing curriculum that is project-based, real world-connected, focused on choice, and facilitated by technology.
My first job in education was serving as the Assistant to the Principal of a charter high school in Boston, MA. It was there I earned an appreciation for the complexity of school leadership.
After deciding to become a teacher, I earned my Masters in Education at Stanford University, with a focus on the teaching of social studies. It was there I developed a teaching style based on improving students’ skills (as opposed to focusing only on content).
My first two years of teaching were in two different schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was exposed to a wide variety of different cultures (Latino, Chinese, Afghan).
After moving back east to be closer to family, I settled in to teach for seven years at Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine, a large comprehensive traditional public high school. It was at Thornton where I became a master teacher. My students won the state championship at the National History Day academic competition three different years, and several of my students went on to compete at the national level in Washington DC. I facilitated Project Citizen, which had my students advocating for public policy solutions to local problems in front of school administrators, city councilors, and state legislators. I developed the Go Global - Increase the Peace curriculum, which had my students communicating and collaborating with international pen pals around the world, and then presenting their learning to the local chapter of the World Affairs Council.
In addition to my teaching, I also wore many other hats while at Thornton. I served as a mentor teacher to multiple student teachers from local universities. I served as a committee chair during our school’s reaccreditation. I led many professional development workshops at a variety of conferences. I served a 120-hour internship with my Principal, towards earning my Building Administrator certification. I was elected to the state legislature to serve as state representative for my town.
After a wonderful professional experience at Thornton, my family moved west once again to be closer to my wife’s family. I now serve as the Social Studies Department Chair at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana, CA. While teaching at Samueli, I have also begun developing online lessons for Nearpod.com, and my lessons have been viewed over 20,000 times by teachers all over the world. And last year, my Go Global - Increase the Peace curriculum was given the 2015 “Award for Global Understanding” by the National Council for the Social Studies (the largest organization of social studies teachers in the country), which just may be the highlight of my whole teaching career.
Why do I believe what I believe about education?
Catholic Mass is long. At least for a kid, it felt as though that sixty minutes dragged on forever. And while it provided a lot of time to daydream, it also provided a lot of time to think. And with learning by osmosis, the ethic of serving others sank in over years of exposure to priests’ sermons. By the time I was a teenager, I knew I wanted a career dedicated to helping others.
After college I signed up for Americorps, which is kind of like the domestic Peace Corps. I spend my one year of service working for the I Have A Dream Foundation of Boulder County in Colorado. I spent a year helping to run an after-school tutoring center in a low-income housing development, and that experience affirmed my hunch that education really was the key to empowering people.
Once in the classroom, I quickly realized that traditional social studies lesson plans were not for me. I watched my master teacher lecture for thirty minutes or more, and I knew there had to be a more engaging way to teach. I embraced project-based learning (depth over breadth) and found my groove as a teacher.
In my post-college years, I also had an epiphany about reading. I realized that I enjoyed reading because I now got to choose what I wanted to read (unlike in college).
I started applying this principle of choice in my classes, and learned that it had an exponential effect on student motivation. I now provide my students with choices at every possible opportunity, and I’ve discovered that students take real ownership of their work with every choice they get to make about it.
The final piece of my teaching philosophy that slowly developed over the years is the emphasis on the real world. I witnessed in my early years that unless students saw personal relevance in the classroom work, they would never be fully engaged with the curriculum. I began to connect projects to things in the real world that my students actually valued, and once again I saw motivation and achievement increase. Once they cared about the subject matter, then they actually cared about doing a good job.