Sunday, February 21, 2016

Thank You, Wondergrove Kids!

Wondergrove Kids is an incredible education initiative that helps young students in primary grades develop the skills they need to be successful. One of the most amazing things that Wondergrove does is live Skype calls in which Maria, a 7 year old animated character, will interact with students to play games and teach lessons. It is impossible to talk with Maria without getting a huge smile on your face.

Yesterday Maria sent a congratulations video to Joe Fatheree and I, the two American Global Teacher Prize finalists.  It brought a huge smile to my face!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Heart is Happy

This is the third post in a series where I am documenting my experiences as a Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.  To read the other posts, click here

The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind of teaching and interviews, but there is one story that I want to share. So far, it's been the most incredible moment since the announcement that I was a Top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.  One of my Wallenpaupack colleagues who teaches in a different elementary school shared this anecdote about her students' reaction to my selection.

She told me that her students were excited when they heard that I was chosen as a finalist.  Before showing them my finalist video, she asked them how many of them felt like they were capable of changing the world for the better.  None of them raised their hand, and they looked at her like she was crazy.

Then, she played my video for them.

Afterward, she asked them again, "How many of you think now that you can change the world?"

Every one of them raised their hand, and they started sharing ways that they could make a difference in the lives of others.

It just doesn't get any better than that. My heart is happy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Global Teacher Prize '16 - Top10 Announcement Day

Predictibly, I didn't sleep very much last night.  With the top-10 announcement scheduled for midnight, I tried to get some sleep beforehand, but it didn't work very well. I don't sleep well when I'm excited.

Around midnight I checked the Global Teacher Prize website and saw that there was a video of Stephen Hawking announcing the top-10 finalists. I was floored. This was the first moment in a day of amazing moments in which it was hard to believe the events occurring.  As a science teacher and geek, there really isn't a more incredible person I can think of to be making the announcement.  As I hit play, the reality hit me: Stephen Hawking is going to announce my name as one of the top teachers in the world.

I had known for about a week now that this announcement was coming.  I knew I'd be excited, but I wasn't prepared for that. Sitting on my couch, I got a little teary eyed as he read my name. That was special.

Next, I saw on the website that the videos for each of the finalists were up on the site.  I eagerly clicked mine, excited to see how they had edited it and to see if it captured my philosophy and passions. It absolutely did!

After that, I spent the next few hours answering congratulatory texts and messages and watching the inspiring videos of the other finalists. Several times I tried to go to sleep, but it didn't really happen. Once in a while I'd doze off for a few minutes, but it just wasn't meant to be.

At school, I was tired, but so excited to share this experience with my students and colleagues.  While I was teaching, two local TV stations sent crews for a story that ran tonight.

After school, before teaching a grad class, I also did a quick phone interview with a reporter for the Scranton Times-Tribune for a story in the paper.

It has been an incredible day. My phone has been dinging with Twitter and Facebook notifications non-stop since midnight. I've received messages from old friends, former students and soccer players, and people I've never met from all corners of the globe. It's still hard to believe at times that it's all real.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I'm Headed to Dubai as a Top-10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize

Global Teacher Prize
 Photo Credit:
I'm writing this post on the morning of Tuesday, February 16th, 2016. Tonight, at 12:01AM EST, I am going to be announced as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, widely considered the world's Nobel Prize of Education. I'm writing this post as the first in a series that will take you along with me on my journey through the presentation of the $1Million prize to the winner at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai on March 13th.  Just as I did when I won the PAEMST award a few years ago, I want to document the experience for those finalists in the future who are wondering what will happen, share my emotions and experiences with you, and preserve my experiences for myself so that one day I can look back and remember all of the details from this incredible time in my life. Maybe by writing down what's going on I can start to let the "realness" of it all sink in.  It's still hard to believe.

I've been sworn to keep my selection confidential until the official announcement has been made, so this post won't go live until tomorrow morning, the same time as the announcement.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to fall asleep tonight.  I can't wait to see who the other finalists are, and I am so excited to see the video that was created last month when a camera crew was at my school for two days. One of those mornings, while I was teaching in my classroom, the crew went up to the high school to interview some of my former students. When they heard that I was a top-50 finalist and that a camera crew was coming they asked if they could share their stories. I have no idea what they shared, and I'm looking forward to seeing if the great memories I have of them in my classroom match what they remember.

Scranton Times-Tribune Billboard
The outpouring of support from my local community in the past few months since being announced as a Top-50 finalist has been incredible.  I've been featured on the local news a few times, had a front page story in the Scranton-Times, had articles written about my teaching in local newspapers, and even had a billboard with my picture on it displayed in Scranton.  I am so very appreciative. I love my community, and they are the reason that I am so passionate about what I do.  It's such a blessing to know that everywhere I go there are people rooting for me.  It's also an amazingly encouraging sign that there are positive stories being written about education and teaching. With the narrative around education being so negative lately, it makes me proud that I can be part of the reason that the narrative is changing.

My travel plans are booked for Dubai already.  I'll be flying out of NYC with Melissa Morris, one of the finalists from last year's Prize. For two days before the GESF all of the top-50 finalists from both last year and this year have been invited to a summit in which we will be working together to look for ways to improve education around the world and improve the standing of the teaching profession.  I am as excited for this opportunity as anything else that is going to happen. Every one of these finalists that I have met in person or online has been a source of inspiration for me.  I feel incredibly honored to be mentioned alongside them. Being able to learn from all of them for two days will be amazing.

My wife, Lori, and my mother will be flying to Dubai a few days after me for GESF and the award ceremony. I'm looking forward to having them there to share the experience with me. Every amazing experience is made better when you have people you love to share it with.

Nancie Atwell and I in New York City
I almost didn't apply for GTP this year.  After being a top-50 finalist last year, I was thrilled to have received that recognition for doing what I love. In September, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, I got the chance to meet Nancie Atwell, last year's winner.  She encouraged me to apply again this year. I'm sure she had no idea how powerful her words were to me. The ability to empower others around you naturally is a characteristic of a great teacher. Right after that, I was nominated by a teacher that I work with in my building and a teacher friend in South Africa for whom I have incredible respect.  That convergence of support and encouragement convinced me to take another shot. At the very least, I figured that it might give me more opportunity to advocate for student-centered education, global service learning, and the empowerment of teachers and students in our educational system.  Also, I didn't want to let down those who had thought enough of me to take the time to fill out a nomination.

So, here we are - hours before this huge announcement that will continue to shape my career in ways I never envisioned when I became a teacher. I realize that with this great honor comes the solemn responsibility to use my platform to fight for educational systems that put teachers and students in situations where they can use their unique talents to make the world a better place.

It's going to be an amazing journey.