I believe technology is an essential element of the 21st century workforce, so it is necessary to implement technology within our classroom instruction on a regular basis. I believe this because according to the United States Department of Commerce, 96% of Americans use technology on a daily basis in the workforce. This number will most likely increase in the future, as technological advancements are taking place daily around the world. Students are digital natives, so utilizing cell phones, laptops and other devices are creative ways in which we could positively disrupt the monotonous, outmoded teaching styles of the 20th century. The 21st century learner needs to have strong content knowledge and critical thinking skills, but also the ability to use incorporate the use of technology. An example of how I effectively use technology is that I have students bring their own devices, all adhering to the district acceptable use policy. I use QR-readers that are in their binders and have students blog, create videos and research articles that are relevant to the content we are learning. Students also collaborate via Google Apps for Education and produce creative work that redefines the assignments they would have ordinarily produced without technology. I communicate with parents and students via Google Plus, in addition to the learning management systems our school uses. Parents and students often tell me how connected they feel to me with respect to lines of communication, and I readily have myself available to address any needs. I have created a working, living website just for my students to use (jbowker229.weebly.com), and my students use this daily to learn algorithmic and heuristic thinking in my classroom. Time is more efficiently used and active participation is more engaging.
I believe a healthy school culture and climate reflects a discipline policy that is firm, fair and consistent. Students need to be set up for success, so their learning environment must be safe. Discipline should also reflect restorative practices, and teachers should function in such a manner that focuses on not instilling harm to the students. I believe these things because our student are our products and we should treat them with love, care and attention. Every student needs to be treated in a manner that upholds and celebrates positive actions with growth-mindset language. Students need to understand and practice behavior that promotes growth and edification within the entire student body. Every student deserves this same treatment, regardless of his or her background, because we are in the business of educating all, not just some students. I firmly believe that when teachers and staff promote restorative justice and consistent norms, the climate of the school will speak for itself. The culture of achievement will be higher and discipline will be less of an issue when fair policies are in place. An example would be with Avalon K-12, in which I have witnessed the school culture improve over the last eight years. Fights are no longer commonplace and respect for academics and higher learning has dramatically increased. Parents have better lines of communication open with teachers and staff and the population of students underachieving are participating in intervention support sessions on a biweekly basis. Having the proper guidelines for promoting a safe and civil school in place has greatly improved the school climate and culture in Avalon, and I believe all schools would see similar results with the same actions.
I believe parent and community involvement is crucial for the functioning of a healthy school. I believe this because it takes "a village" to raise and teach out youth, and students are only in class about one-third of a day. Involving parents in the decision-making processes and other school groups (Parent-Teacher Association, English Learner Advisory Committee, and School Site Council) transfers to parents continuing to advocate for the school's mission and vision to be accomplished with every student. Community involvement with all our students is pivotal for obtaining a complete education, too. If students spend all their time learning inside of the classroom and not giving back to their community, I believe they've received an incomplete education. In my personal example, being involved with Boy Scouts and athletics allowed me to learn different aspects about selflessness and taking ownership of my own community. This transferred to me having more pride in my own work and doing my best work at all times. Unspoken norms were then developed, including the ability to actively listen and code-switch in my vernacular. In terms of Avalon school, which is in a small island-based community, working with parents and community partners allows for students and staff to make connections with potential career choices. Community partners also donate thousands of dollars in scholarship awards to students each year, primarily because they desire to see their own youth succeed. In Avalon, many of these partners also participate in our annual career fair, donating their time to help prepare our students with the necessary life skills needed in the work force. Effective collaboration and communication entails that schools reach out to parents and community partners, and this makes healthy schools very transparent.
I believe curriculum should prepare students to be independent thinkers with strong content knowledge. The curriculum should prepare students to comprehend, communicate and critique effectively, while also understanding the value of effective collaboration. Finally, curriculum should include some form of digital literacy. The reason I believe curriculum should produce students who possess each of these skills is that these are the 21st century skills necessary for progress in the real world. Explicit and collaborative instructional practices should reflect the content of the curriculum. Instruction should be engaging, motivating, interactive and include learning targets and/or essential questions for students to check their own understanding along with the teacher. I believe these things about curriculum and instruction because I like to see teaching through the eyes of the students. With my own life, structured teachers who adhered to the aforementioned curriculum and instruction elements helped guide me become the critical thinker that I believe I am today. Having challenges with curriculum concepts allowed me to grow my mindset and think outside the box. Participating in projects-based learning in school put my learning in perspective, so I believe instruction should have a linked-learning element so students can develop greater buy-in as to the relevance of the curriculum being taught.
In order to have a shared vision reached, which should include maximizing the learning of our students and ensuring they reach the school and district mission and vision, I have some issues that are non-negotiable. My biggest issue is a growth mindset, as without the ability to focus on positive growth inhibits positive culture change. This requires perseverance, sacrificing complacency and analyzing data. The second is attitude. We cannot have staff gossiping and tainting the environment as leaders of our youth, as it sets a poor example. Therefore, we must do team-building to focus on standing shoulder-to-shoulder, believing in the best in one another and talking to people, not about people. We should provide positive specific feedback to each other, and I plan on leading these initiatives when I become a school leader. Third, we must have passion. Some enter the teaching profession for the wrong reasons. We must have the desire to transform the minds of ourselves and students, so if passion is lacking the profession isn't the right place. We cannot have attitudes of apathy within a school environment, as it is a contagious energy.
I would describe my leadership style as transformational. I embrace the vision of my school district and school and focus on sharing responsibilities. I believe in knowing and using the resources of the entire collective, as accomplishing tasks requires synergy and collaboration. My leadership style forces me to effectively communicate with various stakeholders in my district and school, making me highly visible. Because shared visions are necessary for transformation to take place, I often delegate tasks to smaller teams and patiently await the vision to unfold within the entire collective. Having worked at summer camps for eight summers, I have learned the value of focusing on being willing and able to accomplish a task, and this has allowed me to spread that enthusiasm to others in my sphere of influence.
Upon graduating from Long Beach State University, I began working for Long Beach Unified School District as a substitute teacher for about six months. I then interviewed for a teaching position in Avalon (Avalon K-12) in 2008, and I’ve been teaching in Avalon since. I have three clear credentials (single-subject mathematics, single-subject science, and multiple subject), and I have taught 8th grade Physical Science, various math classes (from Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 to Functions, Statistics and Trigonometry), as well as AVID 9th-10th grades. Being in Avalon requires the flexibility, willingness and ability to teach multiple preps, as we are a small school with diverse needs.
With respect to extracurricular activities, I currently coach boys varsity cross country (going on my seventh season) and advise our technology and fitness & conditioning clubs. I have coached boys varsity volleyball for four seasons and have also advised the chess and Interact clubs for several years. With Interact, I have exposed our students to regional and international service projects and field trips throughout Southern California for years. I have also raised funds through grant donors to take trips to science museums in Los Angeles. Being in Avalon also entails sponsoring entire graduating classes from 7th grade to 12th grade, and my sponsored class graduated last year. It is amazing to watch their growth and still follow their achievements at the college and career levels. I am currently serving as our school’s WASC coordinator, and this is my third year involved with our WASC action plan documents. I help organize and facilitate data analysis for our K-12 school (alongside our Instructional Leadership Team), which includes the school climate data (from our baseline CORE survey, implemented by LBUSD).
The various professional experiences I have faced while teaching in Avalon have tremendously contributed to my growth as an educator. I also realize that this small school environment allows me to learn about the functionality of our school at a faster rate, as there is much greater transparency. The small island community also allows for many community partnerships, which I feel is very unique. I look forward to continuing to develop my professional experience on Catalina Island over the years.
As aforementioned, I believe all children have a spark waiting to be kindled. I believe the learning environment I establish, the relationships that are fostered and the opportunities for genuine learning that I create can and will provoke my students to exude such brightness that they will be noticed and leave a legacy for others to build upon.
I believe each student has a spark because it is in our human nature. Each of us hungers and desires to be known, and to know more. I want my students to realize their true potential through limitless opportunities for growth, both inside and outside my classroom, so that they may become metacognitive thinkers who can advocate for themselves and others.
I come from a broken home. Rather than falling into the trap of self-pity, I chose to heed the advice of a few people of influence, including my grandmother, Mr. Borm, my older sister (Jennifer), parents of my friends, Boy Scout leaders, and coaches. My grandma (Joan) always taught me that we are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love, as we will all leave this Earth in about 100 years; there is no time to waste on trivial matters if we are to contribute to the legacy of human progress. Without her wisdom, I would not be where I am today.
I joined Boy Scouts around the time I met Mr. Borm, and this is where I met several scout leaders and parents of school friends, who all invested time in my life. They showed me they cared for me, authentically. When I was feeling overwhelmed at home, they would step in and give me the moral support I needed. I also played sports growing up, and my coaches in high school challenged me to work as a team-player. They provoked me to share my passion for excellence with others around me, despite my hesitance to be vulnerable with people I did not initially trust. These leaders and coaches instilled in me a sense of community and belonging, when I needed it most.
As a teacher, we need all of these attributes: love, devotion to others, discernment, moral support, and coaching. I feel I am blessed to have had some amazing role models step into my life, and I am glad to be able to do the same for students today, as I am now a teacher and a coach.
From kindergarten to sixth grade, I enjoyed learning, but not school, as I did not feel that my teachers wanted to engage students in authentic learning. I became an educator primarily because of Hans Borm, my seventh grade math teacher, who saw a spark in me and kindled it until I graduated from college. He taught me what it means to be a life-long learner. I believe all children have that same spark that needs kindling; the learning environment I create, the relationships that are fostered and the opportunities for genuine learning that I create can and will provoke my students to exude such brightness that they will be noticed and leave a legacy for others to build upon. I want my students to realize their true potential through limitless opportunities for growth, both inside and outside my classroom, so that they may become metacognitive thinkers who can advocate for themselves and others. Mr. Borm left this world too soon, but he prepared me for the 21st century by teaching me the power of influential relationships, critical thinking skills, devotion to others, and self-discipline. I hope to prepare my students in that same respect.