By Sean McComb, Baltimore County Teacher of the Year 2013-2014; English teacher and AVID coordinator at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts
I recently heard Steven Johnson deliver a keynote on where good ideas come from at the ISTE 2013 Conference. Johnson’s main point is that good ideas are not born in “eureka!” moments of sudden inspiration, but develop from a hunch often helped along over time by inputs coming from diverse environments. Johnson illustrated this point by looking back at Charles Darwin’s journals, where various elements of his theory of evolution float and blip over months, like fireflies on a Baltimore summer evening.
That is where the slow hunch resonated with me as a teacher. I have no expectation of developing a world-altering theory, but do find fresh ideas for my classroom taking root in the summer. It is during these months when I can better mentally remove myself from the grind of the school year, diversify my reading, spend more time with friends and family from variant backgrounds and environments, and some hunches about my practice take hold.
Last summer, I was lucky to have diverse inputs. I spent two months in China as a chaperon for the BCPS China Cultural Exchange and talked with a family member returning from Afghanistan and another who travels the world for business. These experiences planted the seed to focus on having students engage with international issues and cultural differences. Writing BCPS curriculum for English 11 to align with the Common Core State Standards showed a need to bring more informational texts and argument writing to my students. Over time these inputs lent themselves to the idea of students blogging through kidblog in response to international issues raised through “The New York Times” Room for Debate. This allowed for students to engage with an issue with various perspectives presented to them, focus on building specific writing skills with each entry, and write for an authentic audience with class members and Towson University education students, with whom we partnered, responding to them.
As we settle into what will hopefully feel like a long July, brimming with family-time, celebration and adventure, I hope all members of #TeamBCPS can soak in those experiences and inputs and spend a few moments now and again thinking ahead to the students who will enter our classrooms in August. These students will rely on our care and efforts to help them grow, and some pointed reflection on our practice is essential to that effort.
A few questions I will use this summer to guide that reflection and grow a slow hunch:
-What specific skills do I most want to see grow in my students?
-What do I want the student experience in my classroom to be like?
-How can my class be more efficient?
-How should technology transform my pedagogy?
Have a wonderful summer!