21 February 2018

Book Review: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk

Book: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk
Author: Jordan Raynor

You are called to createPlatform: I read this on the Hoopla Digital app (and the Hoopla Digital website) with my library card from the St. Louis County Library

You could also find it at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Who's This Book For?
  • Anyone who thinks they have entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who thinks they might desire entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who doesn't know what they want to do with their work lives
  • Anyone who would describe themselves as a "creative."
  • Anyone currently feeling unfulfilled in their "secular" job.
  • Students seeking to understand entrepreneurship and working in a "creative" industry from a Christian, Biblical perspective

My Take:
Leading a single-income household with 3 children (my wife has been lovingly giving of herself, joyfully staying home since 2011), I've often felt a pressure to leave my paltry teacher's salary behind for greener pastures of private industry as a corporate trainer or the like.

The thing that usually made it hardest for me to envision myself NOT in education was the idea of leaving behind this people-centered industry for a job where my worth would largely be measured in efficiency over love, and generating wealth for others over shaping lives. It felt like a dead work. It felt less spiritual. It felt like a waste of the majority of my waking hours in the name of making my family more secure and comfortable. Certainly, I have a mandate to care for my family, but I don't believe God wants us to work so that we can put our trust in our 401k.

Part of that low view of corporate life came from ignorance on my part of the amount of face-time that you all not in education get with co-workers on your teams and in your offices, part of it was a blindness to the impact I could and should have been having to bless my fellow teachers (not only my students), and a low view of how God uses work and business to help us glorify Him in how we live and what we value.

If you've ever felt the same way about work, this is a great book for you. I appreciated Raynor's breaking the book into a what, why, how, and so what framework of entrepreneurship and creating from a Christian worldview. The tangible examples from businesses and business owners that you'll probably find familiar serve as a means to build your faith for the way God uses work, entrepreneurs, and creative productivity to bless those around you and to fulfill a mandate from Genesis to create and bring order, just like the Creator (who Raynor sometimes refers to for the purposes of this book as the "First Entrepreneur".

I also appreciated how Raynor mixes in biblical and scripture references into a genre that I've seen sometimes error toward vaguely biblical, but more self-helpy. I didn't come to this book expecting every piece of truth to come explicitly from scripture, but there is plenty of good reading on entrepreneurship and innovation if you're not looking for a Christian perspective. Layering the word God on an otherwise "regular" business book doesn't make it better, it makes it less genuine. All that goes to say, Raynor mixes biblical truth and business examples into the narrative in a way that enriches his story, rather than distracting from it.

Called to Create clocks in at 240 pages, which might be a tad longer than a busy entrepreneur/creative might typically be able to get through if not in the practice of reading, but the narrative is easy and the 4-part structure of the chapters also makes it more digestible.

I wholly recommend this book!

19 February 2018

I Went to a PBL School and Discovered How Little I Know About PBL

Altogether, I've probably attended at least 75 hours worth of professional learning and workshops on Project-Based Learning between my work with Pathways to Prosperity, various sessions at EdCampSTL, METC, and MORENet conferences, and training from THE Buck Institute for a week last summer and one day in December with my new school, the STEAM Academy. I've designed and/or implemented several projects that I thought were pretty good. I've seen the Most Likely to Succeed film 5 times. I have a great foundation on the general "how" and definite passion for the "why" of project-based learning.

I had AMAZING visions for what my students were going to accomplish this year! We started so well - I threw the curriculum pacing slightly out of order, found a project integrating Algebra, Geometry, and Architecture that I loved, had a friend come mentor the kids for a day, and took some really good pictures! I co-designed a project for our 6th graders that involved planning the purchases and recipe scaling for a Thanksgiving meal for all 80ish 6th graders in our building. My co-teacher was super into it! The kids worked together so well!

And yet, here I am in the middle of February, and I find my classroom and our school becoming test-prep central. Don't get me wrong, PBL activities are still happening in the building - our fine arts department has begun a cool Carnival themed unit called "STEAM Caliente" that I'm sure is going to be amazing for our students, but I feel entrenched in this anxiety and pressure to prepare my students to death so we can meet our goal of all students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on our state tests in May.

If YOU were to ask ME the question, "How can I do PBL units and make sure I cover all of my standards," I would tell you to "make sure that you design your unit backward to ensure that what you want the kids to learn is at the front, and that as the kids work, the learning will work itself out." I would point out that your test-prep cramming is meaningless in the end anyway.

But here I am, feeling at a complete loss for vision for the task before me.

See the source image

Who's got a model for PBL that involves deep, interdisciplinary projects with kids who do well on their standardized tests AND also administer days worth of practice tests to generate predictive data for students' performance on state tests. Send me your links! :)

Back to that question that you would ask me - I would tell you that feeling uncomfortable is really good for you professionally, and I still believe that, but I've also found that it can be a lonely, humbling place. (But in the end, humility is great, too).

17 February 2018

Why Do We Keep Looking for the Next Best Thing?

The next MJ.
The next LeBron.
The next iPhone.
The next band.
The next app.
The next activity for your kid.
The next testing platform that will address all of your district's needs.
The next extension that completes your productive workflow.
Your next car.
Your next house.
Your next job.
The next friendship that finally completes you.
The next ___ followers on your Instagram or Twitter.
The next thrill.
The next church.
The next meal.


Let me drop this there-is-nothing-new-under-the-sun truth bomb on you from the writer of the book of Acts, describing the Apostle Paul's visit to Athens, Greece:
"Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new."
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Acts 17:21 ESV

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Acts 17:21 ESV

There's nothing particularly of moral or ethical weight to the statement on the surface; its simply descriptive of what the people of Athens often did to fill their time. Taken in some context, however, I see it as an indictment on the waste of what these men (and women) were filling their time with and giving their worship to. The beginning of this chapter states that the city was "full of idols," and as my pastor continued to preach last week, I stayed fixated on my own searches for "next."

I've spent a ton of time on this blog, in my classroom, in conversations with friends, scrolling newsfeeds and Twitter chats in search of any opportunity for "telling or hearing something new." In and of itself, new can be good. Innovation is obviously a great creative force. When the search becomes "nothing except," however, is where things go awry.

I put a ton of worth, identity, and effort in being known as a guy who is usually hip to new trends in education, new apps, new websites, new tech. Your thing might be bands, or sports, or cars, or styles, or celebrities. Whatever. There's an entire sub-culture on the internet and social media making people famous for knowing "next." People crave it!

And if people crave it, that means they worship it.

What's the mean for the classroom?

For me, worshipping the "next" thing in education leads me to neglecting what's right in front of me. Neglecting the kids in front of me. Neglecting the duties God has already called me to and made me responsible for. Maybe someday my job will be finding and sorting through "next," for educators to help them in their jobs. But for now, its important for me to be about not the next, but the present.

Next makes it hard for me to collaborate with others, because they might get more credit than me.
Next makes it difficult to have polished lessons, because you rarely use/do something multiple times to iron out kinks in your delivery.
Next makes me more time on my Twitter feed than in giving feedback to students and contacting parents.
Next leaves little room for someone else to have a good idea, because Next is best worshipped when I am the one who did that.
Next feels good when I get to share something new with a colleague, but instead of being helpful, Next just lords it over them.
Next needs an audience, so when I worship Next, I'm only content on a PD day if I am facilitating one of the sessions.

Keeping abreast of new research and tools is obviously an important professional obligation, and my PLN keeps me going often when I need perspective outside my school/district, so I'm not suggesting that we neglect new things, or seeking innovations to improve our craft or our students experience. We must keep in perspective WHY we seek those things.  We seek innovation and change for our STUDENTS, not for ourselves.

Next must be more FUN - for STUDENTS.
Next must be more ACCESSIBLE - for STUDENTS.
Next must be MORE RELEVANT - for STUDENTS.
Next must provide MORE OPPORTUNITIES - for STUDENTS.

Otherwise, we're just spending all our time "telling and hearing something new."