EmergingEdTech is Delighted to Feature an Interview With one of the web's Most Inspiring and Beloved Teaching and Education Technology Voices
Vicki “Cool Cat Teacher” Davis is well known in the online world of educators. She has blogged for years, gaining a huge following, and recently moved to her own domain under the moniker she has come to be known by: coolcatteacher.com. Her contributions to the domain of teaching and education technology are inspiring. This Cool Cat has been awarded Edublog’s “Best Teacher Blog” award, and has received numerous other accolades for her teaching and education technology thought leadership. We were fortunate enough to get this ed tech rock star to consent to an interview and share some of her work, her inspirations, and her future plans with us.
1. Hi Vicki – thanks so much for taking time to have this dialogue! I noticed that when you transitioned to the new site, you also updated the site’s introductory phrase from, “Teaching students with new tools, enthusiasm, and belief that teaching is a noble calling” to, “Teach with better results, lead with a positive impact and live with greater purpose.” Can you share a little about how your perspective has changed over the years and what led to this new language?
Actually, my purpose statement is still continuing to be redefined. Right now, it is “A real teacher helping teachers be really excellent.”
My perspectives haven’t changed. Readers of my blog will often see me write about how teaching is a noble calling. I also want to help teachers teach with better results and lead with a positive impact and have purpose — but it comes down to this. Most people don’t understand what it is like to be a teacher today. They don’t know what it is like to have 3 50-minute periods to plan out their week and grade everything.
I’m tired of going to conferences and having people who get to work in quiet offices heap guilt upon me about what I should be doing. So, if you see a hint of rebellion, yes it is there. With the ability we teachers have to build our PLN and connect with each other, I want to help the profession of teaching appreciate our importance and to help EACH OTHER. That is far better than having people who don’t have a clue make up what they think might work. I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and teaching is different today than it was even five years ago because our culture and use of mobile devices has fundamentally changed so many things.
So, right now it is just about talking about whatever can help teachers move forward from my own classroom practice.
2. Your Podcast, “Every Classroom Matters” is wonderful, and I strongly encourage all teachers to subscribe. What an excellent resource for teachers, education technologists, administrators, and other educators! You have done an inspiring job of creating a multifaceted approach to education technology advocacy and providing platforms for sharing and learning. I have sort of assumed the audio-only Podcast is gradually getting displaced by Vodcasts, but yours is certainly thriving! Can you tell us a little about your ‘listenership’ and maybe share some of the exciting guests and topics you have lined up for future broadcasts?
I prefer to call it an “Internet Radio Show” as that is what it is. Through BAM Radio, I have a Senior Producer (Jeannette Bernstein) and Executive producer (Errol Smith) who coach me and help me better share with listeners.
Radio is more intimate in many ways. I also wanted to have a professional high quality show that could be listened to anywhere in the world. As I’ve traveled to China, India, UAE, South Africa, and beyond there’s a common thread of teaching best practices. I want to interview people anywhere in the world without being a bandwidth snob. Also, a quick ten minute show for busy teachers is something that teachers can fit into their break or their walk around the track. I want it to be easy and accessible to anyone.
I also want it to be short and professional. I don’t have a lot of time and honestly, most people don’t listen past the first 12 minutes of any show. My vision for the show is to help share best practices of best classrooms everywhere for busy teachers who need to be inspired but don’t have a lot of time. I’m a teacher and I love teachers and want the world to see how amazing teachers are. They’re the best.
3. At The College of Westchester, we have enjoyed participating in classroom collaborations across the globe as a part of SUNY’s COIL initiative. Your 2012 book, Flattening Classroom, Engaging Minds, focuses on this very subject. Collaboration is one of the commonly cited 21st Century Skills that today’s schools need to teach. Please share a little with us about how this work affected you and your students over the years, and the connections and longer term learning experiences I am sure this book and he related work has led to for you.
Collaboration is now in my DNA. While I’ve moved on from Flat Classroom, we’re just finishing up participating in the Gamifi-ed project (http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com) and my tenth graders are doing the Physics of the Future project (http://physicsofthefuture.wikispaces.com) with students in Iowa. Knowing how to collaborate with others who are not in the face to face classroom is an essential part of being a successful 21st century student and citizen. It is something we must do. Students should know not only how to work with the students sitting next to them but also with one around the world. I’ve found that my student’s worldview and professionalism changes without having to leave our small town of Camilla. Global collaboration changes everything. Once you go flat, you never go back!
4. I know you have a new book, Reinventing Writing coming out in June. Wow, you are one busy prolific educator! Please tell us about this exciting new work.
There are 9 new tools that have changed everything about how we write, learn, and live. As I worked with teachers and collaborators, I found that no one had made it simple for the everyday teacher to understand. For example, I take the traditional index notecard that you’d take with a term paper and put it beside Diigo and explain how the notecard has been reinvented and how to use that instead of the paper notecards. I teach teachers how to brainstorm with their students.
But more importantly, teachers need to know how to build writing communities. Peer feedback and audience are two proven ways to improve the quality of writing and are things that can be empowered through writing communities. I’ve taken my experience of the last ten years of building such thriving communities and made it approachable for the everyday teacher. In fact, many of the chapters have collaborative editors and we worked on many of them in Google Docs together.
5. I’ve seen you share inspiring content on Twitter, and appreciate your “Inspiration” menu button on coolcatteacher.com, which makes it easy for readers to delve into content that can inspire their teaching. I know I find certain books to be encouraging and inspirational, like Sal Khan’s One World Schoolhouse for example. Are there any specific books or other resources that you would recommend that every teacher read?
Fred Jones’ Tools for Teachers for Classroom Management. I love Todd Whitaker’s books especially What Great Teachers Do Differently. I love Rafe Esquith and Ron Clark and anything by Angela Maiers. My most transformational book of this past year is Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. These are important books for teachers to read. I also hope teachers will start building their PLN and join in on Twitter and beyond in the amazing conversations there.
6. So, with all the time and energy you’ve spent focused on ed tech in recent years, I’d love to know … if you had just one recommendation to make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would it be?
Take 15 minutes at least twice a week to learn something new.
Keep a list of the next 3 tools or technologies you’d like to test out and possibly use in your classroom.
Move forward a little bit every week. Awesomeness always happens outside our comfort zone.
7. What are the most important recommendations would you like to drive home for administrators and leaders at other institutions regarding the integration of technology and education?
I wish everyone would listen to the recent show I recorded with Richard Wells @ipadwells from New Zealand about the SAMR model. (http://www.coolcatteacher.com/ecm-samr-model/) When you use technology, the classroom fundamentally changes. If I could get everyone to listen to that 10 minute show, I would. SAMR is a simple model but one that can help us understand that technology shouldn’t just replace paper, it should change everything about how we teach and learn in the 21st century.
8. The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be rather overwhelming – what specific uses of technology do you see emerging as the most meaningful and most promising for engaging students and impacting learning outcomes?
I’m using flipped classroom techniques and sophia.org in my classroom but not to flip, to blend it. Every classroom is bricks (Face to Face) and clicks. Every teacher has a physical person and a digital persona online. The best way for me to teach much of my content is to use tutorials, quizzes, and interactive work. Then, to use creative methods like gamification (see http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com) and genius/ passion projects. The Maker Movement and Learning Commons are important concepts for schools to understand. These are all methods that don’t prescribe tools but are an approach to teaching and learning. Start with what you want to DO and then select the tools.
9. I have to ask … why “Cool Cat”? Is there a story behind that?
In 2005 I was sitting in my classroom brainstorming about the name for my blog. Before I could teach my students I had to do it too. My student Casey Cox said, “Mrs. Vicki – you’re cool and we’re the wildcats, so why don’t you be the Cool Cat Teacher” – I went home and created my personal blog with that name that night. Little did I know more people would know that name than my real name. 😉 Every time I keynote and people say my blog name, people turn their heads and say “Oh, I know that blog!” It is funny.
10. Any additional thoughts, observations, or future plans you would like share with EmergingEdTech readers?
Right now, just a message of encouragement. I recently wrote a post “How to Make it to the End of the School Year” http://www.coolcatteacher.com/how-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-school-year/ – we need to know and understand that there is an emotional side to teaching. We need to help each other make it and move forward! We need to be encouraging and positive. Teachers need each other so we can level up and improve. And remember — teaching is a noble calling. No one can take away your nobility but you can give it away. Don’t. We are a profession that changes lives. It is a precious and tremendous responsibility. Students are a gift, let’s be one right back to them.
Thanks Vicki – this was awesome! You are an inspiration to many, myself included. My loyal readers and I really appreciate you making the time to have this dialogue and share some of the thinking and work that has made the Cool Cat Teacher a respected and beloved educator and web presence.