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New York Educator of the Week: Chris Casal, Computer Teacher, @HeathcoteSchool

What is your current job of position?

After 11 years working for the New York CIty Department of Education I was offered a position in Scarsdale, NY. Scarsdale is a suburb in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Official title is computer teacher, but I prefer “purveyor of geekery.” I run the school computer lab as well as support our 1:1 Chromebook initiative in the 4th and 5th grades. I collaborate extensively with teachers on lessons and units as well as support them in classroom technology integration. I provide tech support to the entire building to ensure we are always up and running. In addition I facilitate extensive professional development sessions within my building as well as throughout the district to help ensure all staff have the tools and knowledge to push the limits on their own.

As the “purveyor of geeker” I aim to instill the desire to iterate, innovate, experiment, and explore in all my students as well as colleagues. Tweeting, blogging, augmenting reality… If it’s geeky we’re trying it @HeathcoteTech

What is your educational background?

I was a student in NYC public schools from K-8th grade. Jesuit educated in high school. B. S. in Film and Television Production from Boston University. An MST in K-6 General Education and a MSEd in Administration, SBL (School Building Leader) both from Pace University. MSEd in Instructional Technology, K-12, from Touro College.

Describe your educational philosophy and educational vision?

“My philosophy is to keep my students on the cutting edge, and to keep their knowledge of the basics sharp. It is imperative to stay on top of the current trends, but it is also imperative to know where we’ve been. To paraphrase the old saying “if you don’t know history you are deemed to repeat it”, for me it equates to “you may not like Microsoft, but you need to know them to understand how we got to Twitter…”

How do you grow and engage your professional learning network?

I grow and engage my PLN by trying to give back and share as much as I take. I’ve learned so much, and been pushed to try great new things, because of the people I respect, admire, and follow within my PLN. I try to do my best to give back as much as possible. I hope my contributions are as valuable to others as I find the contributions of so many people.

What is the greatest benefit of your professional network?

The wealth of knowledge and experience, and the willingness to share and help. An example: I was about to purchase 80 Chromebooks for my previous school. I had 2 brands/models to choose from. I did the usual Google-based research, but I needed some more substantial feedback to break the tie. I tweeted out my indecision and the 2 options. Within the hour I had multiple people respond with their experiences & opinions on both models. My PLN helped me make the choice, providing me with a wealth of knowledge and experience I couldn’t get from Best Buy and Amazon reviews.

If you blog, what is the focus of it? How long have you been writing? Who is your audience?

I do blog. Been doing it off and on since 2010. The focus is more about calming the voices in my head and clarifying my thoughts than anything else, but it is education, technology, and the convergence of the two that drive most posts. Often my mind goes a million directions at 100 mph. For me my blog is a way to get those thoughts and ideas down on “paper” in hopes of bringing clarity to them, as well as allowing me to reflect. I have almost as many posts in draft as I do published. For me blogging isn’t about audience per say, its more me making sense of what I do. Thinking out loud so to speak. But people do read it, occasionally, so I hope my ramblings help them in their instructional technology integration journeys.

How do you use social media to connect with other educators? What is your advice to teachers on social media and education?

I use Twitter as my primary connection platform, but I also connect with educators on Google+ and Facebook too. My advice to educators on social media and education is to stop thinking about it as social media. As I tweeted during #ptchat recently, “it’s no longer ‘social’ it’s just ‘media’ and we are using it to broadcast & publish our story, our message, our awesome.” We need to take the idea it’s solely social out of it and keep in mind it’s become more of a broadcast platform. Teachers should be using it to showcase the great things they do, the work of their students, all of their professional successes. We use Twitter extensively at my school (@HeathcoteSchool) to engage parents, create a transparent learning community, and showcase all of our student’s successes. That, to me, is why it’s so crucial to use these platforms in education. We can tell our stories better than anyone, and what better way to do it then broadcast it to the masses.

What advice in general do you have to teachers today?

Don’t fear technology. Our students don’t. If we are to be the best we can be, to be the best we can be for our students, we have to be open to change and advancement. We don’t have to all be experts, we don’t all have to live a fully techy life, but we all need to be open to it. If we’re not we’re failing our students.

Describe a teacher who has had a significant impact on your professional development?

That is a tough question to answer. There have been many teachers and administrators that have had, and continue to have, significant impact on my professional development. But I would say there are colleagues in my building that I use as sounding boards and beta testers for a lot of what I do, and they help me immensely:

In my new school, my mentor Christine Boyer (@5Boyer). She is the MakerSpace guru in our building and had fully embraced my geekery. She is doing amazing things with her students, from designing and launching rockets, to dedicating a month to student passion projects. Any time I have a technology whim she is willing to try it and she has been known to bring her students to my lab and tell me to try out whatever I want to with them. She has been an amazing resource my first year in Scarsdale. She is an amazing resource for her students, and is truly a teacher who lets students drive their learning.

From my previous school, Deborah Van Doren (@ms_vandoren) is a 5th grade teacher who is open to trying anything technology. Any time I wanted to see how something might work in a class setting she was my go to. She was immensely helpful in showing me the potential pitfalls of a deployment. She was also very willing to tell me when things didn’t make sense, seem unnecessary, and openly questioned the value of what I proposed. She helped me reflect on what I was  doing and forced me to make things as concise and useful as possible before rolling it out to staff.

Maria Camastro (@mariacamastro) is a Kindergarten teacher who is a self-described technophobe. She hates technology, but she is willing to try it. She is a teacher who has seen the value of Twitter in the classroom and has embraced it. Whenever I was unsure of how to teach something, or if its clear and tech-jargon free I ran it by Mrs. Camastro. She was a great resource for me for those times other teachers tell me “I can’t do it, I’m not a tech person.” I send them to Mrs. Camastro and they are more willing to embrace technology after seeing how she uses it.

Ms. Boyer, Ms. Van Doren and Mrs. Camastro have been instrumental to me in giving feedback and allowing me to use them to test out lessons, tech plans, and overall ideas. There are a lot of people I respect and follow that make me a better teacher, but I think those three are the best examples of people I work with, and have worked with, every day who help make me a better teacher, for both students and colleagues.

What book would you recommend to teachers?

the Likeable books by Dave Kerpen

They are focused on business but are very relevant to teachers in the age of social media use in schools. We as teachers and schools need to put our best digital foot forward and create positive brands for our learning communities.

Additional info:

We use technology & social media extensively.

Here are a few of our links:

Heathcote School, Scarsdale NY – school website

@HeathcoteSchool on Twitter

Our hashtag on TagBoard:

#heathcotepride – general info & overall sharing

Related sites: – computer lab blog

@HeathcoteTech – computer lab on Twitter