Monday, August 17, 2015

Men(tors) On Sticks

Ok, I'll admit to having men on sticks in my classroom.

Let me explain.

They are pictures of men's faces. They are laminated and affixed to Popsicle sticks. These men  are actually my teaching mentors. I use them for educational purposes.

Here's how it started:

I had been using the reading/writing books and ideas of master high school English teacher/author Kelly Gallagher for years. Then came the speaking & listening books of communication guru/teacher/speaker/author Erik Palmer. Next, it was the student engagement "create experiences" teacher/author/educational pirate entertainer Dave Burgess (of Teach Like a Pirate fame). Most recently, I came to know the student-led-classroom work of award-winning teacher (before he was a published author) Paul Solarz.

As I prepared for the 2014-15 school year, excited to tap into my inner (insert any one of the above mentioned gentlemen), I pondered how I could help connect their lessons and ideas to my students. I thought, "wouldn't it be wonderful to have these educators do the teaching?" Knowing that wasn't possible for obvious reasons, I decided to do the next best thing: put their faces on sticks and hold them up in front of my face when I introduced a new concept or strategy. Yes, you heard that right. Essentially, I wore masks of these fine men.

I became Kelly Gallagher when I taught my students the six real-world writing purposes and shared  reasons to read. When I showed them how to sneeze on their papers to get their ideas out. When I avoided Readicide by NOT teaching a book or short story to death.

I became Erik Palmer when I taught and modeled PVLEGS so my students could speak effectively. When I gave them numerous speaking and listening opportunities so they could become better. When I taught them the five types of evidence and introduced them to syllogisms and ACOVA.

I became Dave Burgess when I had my students use play doh on the first day of school to share
something about themselves. When I immersed myself in my passion, encouraging my students to do the same. When I used many of his incredible hooks to create experiences for them, and not just lessons. When I covered all my walls with black plastic tablecloths and hosted campfire flashlight reading day.

I became Paul Solarz when I introduced student e-portfolios. When we started Mystery Skypes. When I started using Paul's book ideas like "Give Me Five" to help create my version of a student-led classroom.

Although my students have seen their teacher wear these educator masks to help them learn so many incredible things, they've also been fortunate to meet most of these men either virtually or face to face. We Skyped with Dave Burgess back in September and did a Mystery Skype with Paul Solarz and his class this spring. Most incredibly, we Skyped with Erik Palmer numerous times, and had an actual 2-day face to face visit from him in May. A highlight of our year for sure!

Are there other men(tors) I'd like to put onto sticks? Yes, there's Matt Miller for when I ditch my textbook and add something new to my digital classroom. There's Michael Matera for when I introduce some gamification. There's Don Wettrick for when I introduce Genius Hour again.

However, I better add a few women(tors) too. My students thought it wasn't fair that females
were originally left out. Very soon, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Pernille Ripp, Julie Smith and Kyleen Beers (with Bob Probst) will be added to my collection.

Now that you know the backstory, I'll bet my men(tors) on sticks idea doesn't seem so weird.

Naaah,  it probably still does. :)


  1. I love it Sandy! It's a tremendous honor to have my head on one of your sticks! ;)

    1. Now I have even more opportunities to use it since I'm starting off with our student-led classroom experience right away.

  2. Very cool! However, Sandy, you are an excellent teacher in your own right. When you learn ideas, you own them and make them to be your own best version of them, No mask necessary to hide behind ... you are the awesome rockstar teacher yourself! :)

    1. Thank you, Matt! Ever since I heard Austin Kleon's Ted talk on Steal Like an Artist, I felt validated in borrowing from the best and creating my own version that fits my style and my students.

  3. Sooooo fun to think of you parading around the classroom spewing ideas from these men! I agree with Matt, however - you have made these ideas fit what and how you teach - feel free to step out in front of them and show the kids your own passion for their ideas. :D Here's to a great year, Sandy!

    1. Thanks. Maybe instead of putting these pictures on sticks, I should make a educator mentor wall. It would be a great way to pay homage to their inspiration.

  4. I totally told my mom about this. "See? I told you I'd be big someday! I'm on a stick!!" I think she's proud. Seriously, I love that you give credit where credit is due. It sets a great model for your students about responsible citing of resources. But mostly I love your commitment to continuous growth. You are what all educators should be. You rock.

    1. Thanks, Erik! Glad I could help stoke your ego. In case you haven't noticed, you HAVE made it. I love sharing the inspiration for my brilliant ideas with my students. I'm very transparent about my social media connections and how they make me a better teacher.