“Our actions alone demonstrate that the world can be changed, bettered, influenced — that alone makes the role of an educator all that more important.” – Chris McGee, USA
Like many of the innovative educators we talk to here at Daily Edventures, Chris McGee attributes much of his success to collaboration. “A colleague of mine challenged me to find the five best people in the world at my job,” McGee says, “follow them, connect with them, learn from them. Through these connections, I was turned on to conversations about homework, grading, and classroom experiences outside of the customary model.”
But McGee didn’t stop at simply connecting with other teachers. He took his new-found understanding of how to deal with complex teaching issues, and began sharing with others. Speaking at conferences (including a conference he co-founded, EdCampSTL), staying active on #edchat and blogging extensively, McGee took action to help shift education in his school and around the world.
“I’ve always been fond of collaboration,” McGee says. “I think there is so much to be gained from partners and groups. Teaching students how to work in a group, how to overcome adversity, how to take care of one another is key. This is a great opportunity to infuse social justice topics into our classroom. Collaboration is the key to making the classroom community meaningful, with service projects that are just too big for us to attack on an individual basis. Collaboration with those that are similar, different, down the street or across the globe will be necessary for our students to succeed in the jobs of the future.”
Today, McGee shares his views on professional development (ideas others can easily replicate), and on the rise of the Makers movement, something McGee believes in and is committed to advancing for students and teachers everywhere.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I’ve always had a love for education. I think it’s my “only child syndrome” of wanting to have a space all to myself, or needing to be the center of attention. Some may even call it a Napoleon complex (I’m not very tall). Shortly after entering the field of education I quickly realized, it’s not about me. I realized to be a great educator was to be selfless, giving and compassionate. It is important for educators to realize they have an opportunity to have an impact on future generations. Our actions alone demonstrate that the world can be changed, bettered, influenced — that alone makes the role of an educator all that more important. Reading a letter written to me by a parent of one of my former students and athletes helps me remember that.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
I knew I wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade. I had an amazing teacher, Mr. Pluta. He taught at Summit Elementary in Collinsville, Illinois. He was a phenomenal educator. He had such passion for learning, life and art. He made every class a fun experience; it was truly when I really blossomed as a learner. I also had a really horrible educator (who I won’t name) that berated me, made me feel marginalized and less of a person. Both of these motivations solidified that I wanted to provide a great experience for all students. After I made the decision to become a teacher, I then had an amazing Chemistry teacher at Collinsville High School name Mrs. Luner. She was the one that cared for me, met one-on-one with me when I struggled and guided me through the craziness of science. She developed my love of the content. Seeing the influence a teacher can have on a student and how much caring and compassion goes into the day-to-day of the job solidified my desire to become an educator. It was always about the best content in the world, science, but also about developing personal relationships with students and the community I serve.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
I’ve had a number of opportunities that have influenced education but we have a long way to go. I first began down the path of being an innovative educator through Twitter. I began interacting with others using the hashtag #edchat. This allowed me to connect with educators from all around the world. My district began making a shift from a traditional grading model to one that is standards-based. I knew this was my chance to really utilize my professional learning community (PLN) to further my learning. I radically changed my grading practices and monitored student performance. I wrote this post on grading, and this data collection and gathering ended up becoming my thesis project and action research for my doctorate. I found that through using standards-based grading, I was able to not only predict student performance on standardized assessments, but also provide specific interventions to alleviate any gaps in knowledge or skill. It was a breakthrough discovery. The district for which I previously served implemented standards-based grading and has been using it for the last couple of years. Here’s how much teaching has changed.
This success with grading led me to have the desire to share my experience with others. I began presenting at regional conferences, and this led me to presenting at national conferences. This desire to share the successes I’ve learned and show the data I’ve shared exploded to not only talking about grading, but classroom procedures, integrating technology (a real passion of mine) and leveraging formative assessment strategies to increase student performance. A complete list of presentations I’ve given can be found here.
Conferences can be expensive. In addition, they take time away from being in my classroom with my students. All too often teachers get turned down for conferences and don’t have the opportunity to network. Networking and formal professional development outside the walls of the school are usually some of the first things cut from the budget. This led me to investigate options for educators that are FREE. Like always, I took to Twitter. I consulted my PLN and heard about the edcamp concept. This grass-roots, participant driven, completely free conference is put on by educators, designed for educators and can be that “just in time” answer to the professional development struggles I see across my state. This led me to many great educators online like Dan Callahan and Kyle Pace, who supported me through developing EdcampSTL. A colleague and I co-founded EdcampSTL. In the two years of its existence we have supported over 300 educators in the region and surrounding states and seek to grow to support even more educators. Our planning team has grown from two, to over 20.
I recently discussed my desire to integrate technology into learning. This desire has allowed me to continue to not only learn the new tools, tips, and tricks of the tech, but also how to leverage that technology for student learning. Using great tools, having specific outcomes through standards-based grading, and creating a caring and compassionate classroom culture have allowed me to innovate the way we do things in our classroom.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Technology is critical to my successes. Just like home repair, the right tool for the job makes the job easier. I use Edmodo as my classroom management tool, post all my resources on my webpage for class. I use personalized learning plans for each student (blog posts here and here), pre-test and post- test to ensure content mastery and have implemented 20% time (blog post here) for projects of passion. Whether it’s using devices student bring from home, laptop carts provided by my school, video cameras, flip-cams or iPod Touches, the device or the web tool isn’t important. What is important is finding the right one to leverage for student learning and improve student performance. Sometimes it may be as simple as creating a Google form or changing my classroom to a flipped teaching model — it’s not about the video or the tool, it’s about what it will allow students to do because of used technology.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
The most exciting innovation happening in education is the pervasive nature of content. Facts are now FREE (Note: to those with Internet access, which is another commentary all together)! I often discuss with teachers the shift that is occurring in content knowledge. Asking the kinds of questions on assessment that can be simply “googled” is not good enough anymore. So what are kids doing with the content they are learning? There’s a new movement in education gaining some real traction called MAKERS. There’s a belief that to create a makerspace it takes tons of money, that’s not true at all. Just recently at our last EdcampSTL we hosted a pop-up makerspace (blog post here and here). The idea that educators can challenge and support students through a mindset called design thinking transforms content into product. Allowing students to discover, create and evolve their thinking through building, innovating and inventing is nothing short of outstanding. As a science coordinator I am often connecting concepts and experiences to standards. When I look at this idea of a “Makerspace” in every school, I see so many of the Next Generation Science Standards, specifically the “Science and Engineering Concepts.” There is no better space than a Makerspace for students to: “Ask Questions and Define Problems, Plan and Carry Out Investigations, Construct Explanations and Design Solutions, Obtain, Evaluate, and Communicate Information.” If I could define the Makerspace idea in one sentence I would describe it as “Shop class for the 21st century.” Because we believe so much in this concept and innovation, a group of educators are collaborating and creating with students through a non-profit founded by a colleague of mine called The Disruption Department. I serve on the board as secretary. The Disruption Department provides the platform and the resources for students to learn, to build, and to share innovative things. We’re supporting the shift in educators through Makerspaces and networking. We also support students allowing them to shift their thinking about “school.” School can now provide essential skills to help students become more marketable for high-tech or creative fields. As a member of the board for the Disruption Department, I want a region where all people thrive, not just survive.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
iPad. The iPad just keeps getting better. As wifi access becomes nearly (emphasis on nearly) universal we can see it being leveraged for so much. When the iPad (first generation) came out I was very critical of the fact that there was so much of it that focused on the consumption of information. Since that first generation the development of the app store has created new and innovative ways to think about creativity and productivity. With that device alone students could create content, experiences and share projects that could change the world.
About Chris McGee
- Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
- Current residence: St Louis, Missouri, USA
BA – Webster University: Biology/Secondary Education
MA – Lindenwood University: Educational Leadership
Ed.D. – Maryville University: Educational Leadership
- Website I check every day: www.twitter.com
- Person who inspires me most: Tie: Sir Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink
- Favorite childhood memory: Christmas Eve with the family. Spending time together was always key for me. Family is very important; I love them all very much.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Valencia Spain, pleasure. Can’t wait!
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Daily. I find humor in something every day. I feel levity in life is important and taking everything so seriously can only lead to an unsatisfactory life. I find humor, fun, and compassion in everything I do and in everyone I meet.
- Favorite book: All time: Where the Red Fern Grows, for education purposes: Drive – Daniel Pink.
- Favorite music: All kinds. I like everything from country to rap. I find joy in all kinds of music. I play the Bongo, Djemebe and box for my church choir.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Never say, “I don’t have time,” when you have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Michelangelo.
- Your favorite quote or motto: It changes often, but right now it’s: “The journey is the reward.” –Steve Jobs
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