What Would Brian Do?

“Someday, it will be your turn,” she said.  “Everyone should take a turn at being Chair of the Department.”  Dr. XYZ was a long-time colleague and had been Chair for a couple years when they told me their thoughts.  But, I vowed to never be Chair, I could never do that type of a leadership position, I’m not a leader.  My closest professional friend always encouraged me to do it, but warned me of the potential hardships.

As time wore on, Dr. XYZ was adversely affected by the position of Chair, they became bitter and angry.  They happily left the department in retirement when their term as Chair ended, but Dr. XYZ was never the same person.  Why would I do that to myself, to my family, to my life, to my colleagues?  He still encouraged me, not saying I should, just assuring me I could.

He retired.  I dreaded the thought of losing him as a colleague.  I was comforted by the thoughts that at least we could still be friends, he would speak in my classes, we could go fishing again, we could continue to photograph the Pennsylvania Elk, I could still listen to his stories for hours.

The fall semester began without him in the department, but I survived the first week in his absence.  He died on Labor Day, the first day of the second week of classes.

The first semester without him was hard.  I muddled along, still somewhat in shock and not yet facing the reality.

The second semester without him was excruciating.  Everything I did, everything I didn’t do, everything reminded me of him.  My joy of teaching had changed, there was sadness.  He was gone.

I’d like to say there was a defining moment, but there wasn’t.  It just slowly built within me.  Something was missing, not just him, but my purpose.  I needed a new purpose, a redefined reason to carry on.

“I’ve handpicked you,” said the new interim Dean.  “You’re perfect for the job, plus it’s your turn.”  There it was again, “my turn.”  Why would someone need to take a “turn” at being chair?  And besides, I had no leadership experience.  “Seriously,” the Dean encouraged, “we really need someone to take the reins, John.  I know you care about this department, I know you can do it.”

I talked a lot with my wife, she strongly supported my decision either way.  I prayed a lot.  But, I also considered deeply, what would he suggest?  He was the most caring person I ever met, I knew what he would want me to do.

I was elected, thankfully defeating the opposing candidate named none-of-the-above.  I’ve seen that candidate win before, but not this time.

My first 9 months of serving as Chair are drawing to a close.  He has been in my thoughts nearly every day.  His passion for teaching, for life, and for people has guided me.  I’ve not yet been adversely affected by the position.  As a matter of fact, I feel like I have a purpose, every aspect of my professional life now has more meaning.

I doubt I’ll ever be a great chair, but they have unanimously nominated me for reelection.  I know that I can do this, because every time I’m faced with a tough decision, every time a student needs help, every time a thoughtful solution is required, I will continue to ask myself, “What would Brian do?”



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Working to Stay Connected

Do you have a personal learning network (PLN)?  Do you have a collection of connected professionals?  I’m trying some new avenues of connecting with folks and wonder how you stay connected.

My original PLN is still working for me, mostly a Twitter network.  I don’t tweet, I just follow awesome professionals and lurk.  I’ve learned so much from these folks.  The problem is, I don’t have many personal connections.

Recently I have attempted to connect with local professionals via LinkedIn and email.  My goal is to connect with local superintendents, principals, and teachers.  I want to be able to connect with them, ask questions, and receive advice.  The problem is that I’m finding it to be a lot of work making the connections.  There are awesome folks online sharing awesome stuff, but the more important connections are local and personal.

I’ve been working on emailing folks and sharing with folks on LinkedIn, but it is a slow, arduous process.  I hope that I can stay connected because I feel it is important as Chairperson of the Education Department to have powerful, valuable contacts.

What do you think?

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Stress and Passion…

stress-954814_1280My biggest concern with becoming the Education Department Chairperson was the thought of all the stress.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised that while the job is overwhelming, the emails never-ending, and the problems new everyday, I don’t dislike the position.  I expected to feel stressed, but “stress” isn’t the right word.  The job seems more challenging or overwhelming, not so much “stressful.”

Maybe a quote I saw recently, credited to Simon Sinek, is correct.  The quote is, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

What I have learned, regardless of stress, overwhelming tasks, or challenging responsibilities, is that it is difficult to measure progress in the Chair’s position.  I have to focus everyday when I go home to recognize that I did in fact, make progress, I did accomplish something, I was not a complete failure.

Now, it’s 12:02am and I need to get back to work, figuring out how to cover the classes for a faculty member that will be going on medical leave for the semester that begins in less than 2 weeks.  :-O

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Reflection Resolutions…

family-christmas-2016-smallAlmost exactly 6 months have passed since my last post.  Nobody has noticed, nobody cares, except for me.  I promote reflection, thinking, and understanding in every ounce of my teaching, yet I continue to fail to type my own reflections.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a reflective practitioner, but my reflections typically don’t get posted.  Therefore, my reflections don’t help me learn as much as they should.

I hate New Years Resolutions.  I never make them anymore because I never kept them.  Maybe they weren’t realistic, maybe they weren’t with conviction, maybe they weren’t important.  I’m going to make a couple this year, one of which is to post at least once every two weeks.  Surely I can post 26 reflections of my professional life in one year, surely I can post twice a month, surely I can.

I don’t expect anyone to read this but me, I’m not posting for anyone’s approval or reading but my own.  So listen, John… post twice a month!

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Below is an Online Introduction from a summer class I am teaching, ED 500.  One of their assignments is to create an introduction that is posted somewhere online.  If you are viewing this for another reason, like you just happened to find it or you are looking at my blog for another class, enjoy.  You can learn something about me from this introduction.  If you cannot view my video on this page, follow this link.

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My Revolution Revelation

Over winter break, I began a revolution in my teaching.  After losing a dear friend and colleague, my motivation and interest to grow as a teacher and learner was severely tested.  I needed something motivating.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 8.47.34 AMToward the end of last semester, I was encouraged to take a look at the research and writings of Carol Dweck and Joan Boaler in regards to the Growth Mindset.  I was skeptical at the outset, not just because my spirit was fading, but also because of who the individuals were that had encouraged me to explore (another story for another time).  But, the first synopsis of an article I read was intriguing, and I began to read more.  I soon found the Mindset Kit.  After exploring this website and the materials provided, I somehow found myself at the YouCubed.org website, exploring Growth Mindset articles, information and activities for mathematics teaching and learning.  Then, I discovered Joan Boaler’s new book, Mathematical Midsets.  I downloaded the book for my iPhone Kindle App and proceeded to read it nearly nonstop from cover to cover.

I felt like a kid again, I was bubbling with ideas for my math and technology classes on how to promote and lead my future teacher-students toward a growth mindset philosophy.  I began listing activity ideas from the research I had reviewed.  I began to revise my courses based on the growth mindset concepts of which I was excited.

As I researched, planned, and revised, my revolution became a revelation.

I soon discovered that nearly all of the activities that I already used in my math classes were promoting a growth mindset.  Most of my notes and activities were aimed at teaching for understanding, demanding exploration, enjoying mistakes, expecting children to build their own math knowledge, and promoting positive attitudes toward mathematics.

So, this semester, I have begun a revolution in my teaching.  I am clearly and succinctly leading my future teacher-students down a growth mindset path.  But the path is not unfamiliar, the revelation is that I have been doing this my entire career.  Now, I have research and knowledge to back up what I’ve been practicing.  More importantly, my Revolution Revelation has been Revitalizing.5866575567_80f7e228e7_o_d

If you have not yet explored current brain research, mindset articles, or growth mindset activities, you are on the outside of the revolution.

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Who Am I?

Hi, I’m posting this for my ED 610 class, but feel free to read on if you’ve found this blog… by some very odd, terrible twist of fate.  I’m Dr. John McCullough, Professor in the Education Department at Clarion University. I have a D.Ed. in Elementary Education, a M.Ed. in Science Education, and a B.S. and Secondary Ed. Certification in Mathematics.

This is my 24th year as a full-time faculty member in the Education Department. Prior to working in the Education Department, I worked for a Science Education Grant, also at CUP. My first education job was teaching at Cranberry Area School District in Seneca, PA. I taught Junior High Mathematics and Senior High Computer Science for 4 years.
I have been married to my best friend, Leeann, for 31 years. We have 3 sons, Corey – 28 and his wife Vanessa and their daughter Lily, Shawn – 24, and Kyle – 29. Family 2015We also have a great family dog, Shadow, a black labrador mix.  In addition, we provide food and shelter for a stupid cat.  Our cat Luke, who I always referred to as our stupid cat, died a few days ago.  I can’t call him stupid anymore and I only did so because in truth, he thought I was stupid.  He lived nearly 19 years, he had a good life.  We live in the big city of Kennerdell, PA. Kennerdell is mostly known for its lookout high above the Allegheny River, its old railroad tunnels, its scenic beauty, and laid back attitude.

In my spare time I love to be outdoors, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, photography, golfing, or building yet another deck. I have been using computers and the Internet for many years. Since 1989, I have been a die-hard Apple Macintosh fanatic. My tech skills are quite good on Macs and adequate on Windows machines. I just wish computers would work all the time! (Wasn’t that what we were told… they always work?… Ha!) My favorite thing to tell anyone that will listen regarding computers is “if all else fails, deprive them of power.” If they stop working correctly, pull the damn plug!

Not long after they came out, I bought an iPad. A couple of years ago I bought an iPhone. Before owning these devices, I couldn’t quite figure out why someone would want them or need them. I cannot believe the amount of time and work I accomplish now with these devices at my ready 24/7. That might also be a problem, so sometimes I have to leave them behind for peace and quiet… literally and mentally.

I believe very strongly in the educational theory of Constructivism. You learn as you do. I am not a good instructional presenter, but I’m a good instructional facilitator. In other words, I can’t lecture well, but I can effectively lead you in the right direction. One of my favorite quotes is “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” I have taught a bunch of online courses, so I hope that my method of teaching is appropriate for our web course and your learning style. I have spent a TREMENDOUS amount of time planning and designing this course so that you can complete it mostly at your own pace. I look forward to reading about each of you!

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Spring 2016

JohnAlthough it’s currently 9°F, I am thinking about the Spring 2016 semester.  The semester begins in a few short days and many changes are on the horizon.

For ECH 415: Teaching and Learning Mathematics: Grades 1-4, I plan to delve deeply into Mathematical Mindsets.  Mindsets are a relatively new-to-me philosophy that focuses on the research that shows that a brain can learn new things quickly.  The belief that a person has a math-brain or doesn’t have a math-brain are false.  I have always felt this was true, but research I am reviewing shows that there are some exciting things happening to make mathematics education exciting.

For ED 417: Teaching with Technology, I am planning to focus again on topics that have proven valuable for teacher candidates.  Hopefully, introducing Google Classroom will add to the Online Presence, Presentations, web design, and SMART content.

For ED 610: Mobile Educational Technology, I will be reviewing new apps and content, all while focusing on the same modules as in the past.  ED 610 is great fun and I want it to stay that way.  Students discover and share wonderful resources in this class.

Spring 2016 should be a productive semester and a few other projects are in the works.  Blogging will be a struggle, as always.  But coming back to WordPress after a long hiatus seems to be a wise decision.

Here’s a quick little review of who Dr. McCullough is… using a wonderful app called HaikuDeck.   Don’t be afraid to explore Haiku Deck.  It can be used on a desktop or laptop computer, but it really shines when you use it on a smartphone or tablet.  I prefer it over PowerPoint for simple, elegant presentations.  The “Deck” I have posted below is text and visual, no audio.  Enjoy!

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Getting bloody…

“When you live on the cutting edge, you’re bound to get bloody.”  I’m sure I didn’t create this quote, but I certainly say it a lot and seem to live by it.

Well, I’m bloody.

I made a variety of mistakes with my ED 620 class during the first week regarding posting of dropbox and grade items.  You would think I would learn my lesson, that I’m bound to get bloody whenever I try and do new things in an online class.  But I always make mistakes, get bloody, and then take it harder than I should.  Students are usually very understanding and I certainly appreciate that… often.

One of my personality flaws is that I’m not understanding of my own mistakes.  I lost a lot of sleep over my recent D2L mistakes.  I still haven’t forgiven myself for accidentally shooting a hole in our swimming pool with my crossbow… and that was several years ago.  Another story for another time.

I guess the main point of this post is that teachers make mistakes, especially when they try new things.  So, some teachers don’t try new things.  Unfortunately, the education culture is such that many teachers don’t want to make mistakes, especially in front of their students.  Most want to appear as the all-knowing, always-right, authority-figure at the head of the classroom.  In reality, those stereotype-driven, wishful-thinking individuals are actually attempting to model characteristics that are completely unattainable in every avenue of life.

Try new things, get bloody, you’ll heal.

Luckily I don’t take myself seriously enough to worry too much about the worldly consequences of my mistakes.  And by the way, the pool still leaks.

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The Little Things…

The main thing I wanted to reflect on in this post, besides stress and being the anti-blogger, is the design of my courses.  It’s no wonder D2L drives me crazy… there are so many options, so many design possibilities, so many ways to screw up.  I am very meticulous about details.  I make sure every content item is within a folder, I make sure most course files require little or no scrolling, and I always try to use a large, readable, sans-serif fonts.

Just as there are pedagogical things I consciously do in a face-to-face class, so too are there things in online classes.  Yet I wonder if anyone ever notices.

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