I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

University School of Milwaukee - Summer Spark 2015

The inaugural Summer Spark Conference - what a BLAST!

I consider myself very very fortunate to be asked to present at University School of Milwaukee's Summer Spark this week on June 15-16.

I was fortunate because...

  • I was able to hear from the pirate himself - Dave Burgess! I just don't know how he kept up that stamina for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT! 
  • I am FUELED up for another year of teaching already! Being in the same room as Dave Burgess when he speaks from his SOUL will do that to a person!
    Yes, I brought my own sword to Milwaukee... Didn't need to get it through security, since we drove!
  • I was able to meet passionate educators such as Heidi Jones, Sandy Otto, Chuck Taft, Tom Mussoline, Pam Nosbusch, Kenny Bosch, Matt Miller, William Piper, Sarah Simac, and Josh Gauthier. Heidi was the ABSOLUTE most excited & effervescent teacher I met!
  • I was able to reconnect (however briefly) with Brian Durst, Adam Moreno, Michael Matera, Pernille Ripp, Andrea Payan, Brad Dunning, Jason Bretzmann, Jay Posick, Andrea Kornowski, Ben Brazeau, and Tom Whitford.
  • I was able to meet COUNTLESS other passionate educators, who sometimes lurk on Twitter, are pretty new to Twitter, or not yet on Twitter. Connections ABOUND! I can't find my list of my new connections today, but I have already added them to my "met face-to-face" list so I can continue sharing ideas and learning from them.
  • I was able to present on Genius Hour - nudging those who are not sold on the idea (yet). It just so happened that the ladies attending were already sold on the idea, so we just troubleshooted issues that could arise.
  • Heidi, Me, and Sandy
  • I absolutely loved the "panel discussion" we had regarding Genius Hour - the four of us (April, Tyler, Tom and I) were asked some pretty tough questions that I loved helping to answer.
I attended some pretty amazing sessions, as well!

  • Jason Bretzmann shared some amazing tools for connecting with students. I think I wanted to go to his other session on flipped /personalizing the learning, but signing up for the wrong one helped me win his book! (Next time, Jason... next time!) He also gave me a great idea to use the next time I present (which was today at my own district!) - Give the audience the link to the "handout," so they can copy and edit their own notes easily - with all the links provided! That way you won't have to worry about someone "borrowing" your slides without your permission...
  • Sandy Otto shared very practical ways to help students speak in front of one another. Because of this session, I'm already planning on activities that help students practice the skills needed, instead of just expecting them to know!
  • Adam Moreno's session on purpose-driven learning was his "swan song" at USM - and it was one I need to hear (again). 
  • Michael Matera & Jason Strains shared their Super Google Forms they use to connect to parents and group students. W-O-W. I really felt we should have passed around the hat for tip money for the work those two have done and so readily shared. This is what Lucy Gray called "professional generosity." Because of their generosity, I'm ready to plug in new students' names and get rolling connecting to parents right away!
  • Michael Matera's mini games session was full of energy. Look out, kids - we've got some fun review games for when we have a few minutes left in the period!
An "aha moment..."
I was able to realize something through a discussion during the "ELA pow-wow" session... We have teachers at our schools not on Twitter because they just don't know. They just can't know what we know about how it has changed our teaching lives. I had an "aha moment" while talking with Sandy Otto - she was just as frustrated as I am for working with teachers who are set in their ways and not open to new ideas.  I used to say that teachers will join Twitter "when they're ready," just like WE did. Something else dawned on me - they just don't know otherwise. Their eyes have not been opened - yet. I compared it to my first marriage: I didn't know how a marriage - or love - could be. If I could have seen what it could be - what I have now - it would not have lasted the eleven years it did. AND... and I would not be the same person I am today. I needed those eleven years so I could grow, learn, and see now what love really is - what it CAN be. Driving home with Hubby (MAJOR kudos to him for coming with on this trip, even though it was his BIRTHDAY!), he let me know that even if Dave Burgess did come to our district, some teachers would think that what he's talking about can't apply to them. Again... they're not ready for it. My next questions are - when WILL they be ready? How many students will go through how many classes of teachers who are okay with mediocrity?

That's not for me to figure out. I will focus on what I can do. I want to be the PURPLE COW! (Dave Burgess channeling Seth Godin...) It's not okay to be mediocre anymore - I need to be remarkable!
What can I do to help children love coming to school?
What can I do to help children get the most out of my lessons - about life and about the content?

I'll be starting the school year off with a bang once again this next year.
I'll be IMMERSED in the lesson - the LIFE lesson along with the lesson for the curriculum.

Thank you, USM Summer Spark - you have once again ignited the fire in this girl!


  1. Oh, Joy! Reading your blog brought back so many good memories from Summer Spark. One of my favorite memories is finally meeting you face-to-face! You have been such a big part of my twitter journey and I will be forever grateful with your help in launching #geniushour in my classroom. Until we meet again dear friend...take care. Big hug!

  2. Joy, You captured the very essence of Summer Spark! From the amazing learning, to the incredible f2f connections, to the re-igniting of passion deep in the soul of every person who was smart enough to realize that this experience was one not to be missed. My phrase when I left was, "I am forever changed." That's the truth.