Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back & Remembering @Joe_Bower @DevenKBlack @BobSprankle

Over the course of the past year, we have lost three innovative educators. Each of whom has influenced my practice in meaningful ways. Joe Bower, Deven Black, and Bob Sprankle. While I am deeply saddened that our live conversations and interactions have come to an end, social media has provided an outlet for their ideas to live on. Because each educator was generous with sharing their thoughts and ideas, they leave behind a digital legacy that can live on to inspire others. 

Below is a little insight about each of these educators.

Joe Bower @joe_bower  
Joe Bower began inspiring me several years ago when I came across his blog, "For the Love of Learningwhere he shares his distaste of grading and blogs and his admiration for the work of Alfie KohnIt didn't take long before his blog became one of my favorites. He was one of my 25 favorites on Twitter as well. 

I was shocked when I learned he was taken from us too soon and too young as a result of an unexpected, heart attack. Joe's writing was always informative and inspirational. 

If you want to learn about progressive ideas in the areas of grading, assessment, and homework, check out Joe's book, De-Testing + De-Grading Schools, one of his talks, and his blog.

Deven Black @devenkblack 
I knew Deven as an intellectual out-of-the-box thinker. I loved speaking with Deven because he appreciated having lively conversations where we might disagree on a topic and knew on the other side of it, we’d both come out smarter.

Deven was part of a group that contributed to the New York City Department of Education’s ground breaking social media guidelines which were the first in the world to be created with students and teachers.  

In 2013 I sat next to Deven in Washington D.C. when he won the School Librarian Bammy Award as a result of his ability to create a 21st century learning center. He took over an out-of-date, disorganized library, with dusty old books and turned it into a modern, automated library created with a mission to support student learning in ways aligned to their interests, strengths, and talents. The Bammy’s marked the height of Deven’s education career. The events that happened next seemed to lead to a downward spiral. He had some work issues and lost his permanent teaching license. Then he literally, broke his neck.


I hadn’t heard much from Deven after 2014. I did not know that he had a history struggling with mental illness. I knew the side of Deven that he shared in his blog. A thoughtful, deep thinker, who had smart ideas on how to make learning more fulfilling.  Along with others, I was stunned to learn he was murdered and nearly beheaded at a homeless shelter just a few blocks up the street from me.  

I am thankful that Deven not only shared his organs with those in need, but he also shared his insights and ideas that are forever captured in his blog. If you want to learn from Deven, check out his blog. It’s great. I cite it often in my writing.  One of my favorite posts he wrote was “My One Great Lesson This Year.” Check it out at http://educationontheplate.com. I think you’ll enjoy. You may also appreciate his 140Edu Talk where he explains high school dropouts is not a crisis. It is a message. One that tells us that school sucks, it is not reaching them, or that they feel they have no hope for success in high school or beyond it. You can watch his talk here or read the transcript here. 

Bob Sprankle @bobsprankle
Bob Sprankle was such a wonderfully kind man so giving of his knowledge. We often met up at conferences such as Alan November's Building Learning Communities. We would discuss tips, tricks, and what we were up to. I was always impressed with what he was doing with podcasting. There was the teacher professional development podcast, Seedlings which Bob hosted with Cheryl Oakes and Alice Barr. I had the pleasure of being a guest on a few episodes talking about topics such as harnessing the power of cell phones. He also did the Room 208 podcast.  Check out the movie he made about it with his students. 

My heart broke for Bob because I knew he had been suffering for many years with crippling pain from complications from polypropylene mesh used during a hernia operation. This pain prevented him from doing the work he loved so much. After years of service the Maine school system refused to provide Bob with disability benefits. I was one of Bob's many friends who tried turning to social media to address the issue. After years of crushing denials fighting the system, he and his family were forced to turn to the kindness of strangers to keep up with medical and living expenses. Eventually, after so much work and intervention of elected officials such as Maine state representative Robert Foley, the fight resulted in Bob receiving the benefits he deserved, but the fight took its toll and Bob died just a few weeks later at the age of 52.  

If you want insights into Bob's genius, Wesley Freyer compiled a thoughtful collection of memories in his blog post here and has started a site named Bob Taught Me which migrates and archives his various digital spaces.