On Being Named an Apple Distinguished Educator - Class of 2015

A few weeks back, I was informed I had been accepted into the 2015 class of Apple Distinguished Educators. It was an honor to say the least. A few days after the announcement, I sat down to write a piece for my school district, Lincoln Public Schools, about all what the ADE application involved, what it means to me personally, and how it will affect my classroom. The original article can be found here, but I have also copied the text below. Additionally, I have included my 2 minute video required for the ADE application.

What did you do to be considered for this award?

One Wednesday night in mid April, my wife and I were just finishing up dinner when I received an email notification on my phone. I looked down to see “Congratulations! ADE Class of 2015” appear on my screen. My heart skipped a beat or two as I fumbled to punch in my code on my cracked iPhone screen.

Back in February, a colleague encouraged me to apply for the 2015 class of Apple Distinguished Educators. In all actuality, it wasn’t the best timing as I was trying to finish up the final course work for my degree in Educational Leadership. Nonetheless, after doing a bit of research about Apple Distinguished Educators, I realized that passing up the opportunity was not a choice I was willing to make.

The application, which only comes available every two years turned out to be extremely competitive. Applicants all over the world are required to answer four essay questions and create a 2-minute video featuring the educational highlights of their classrooms.

So, I got to work. I spent my days teaching at Campbell and came home to work on the application for hours every night for about two weeks. I wrote essays on how I have used technology to leverage learning, my philosophy on creating a positive classroom climate and how I have attempted to influence the broader educational community.

It was within the writing portion of the application where I described how the experiences I’ve had thus far in life have helped to shape my understanding of the world around me. I wrote about how traveling to places like Central America, Israel, China and Pakistan have impacted my worldview and taught me a lot about what life can look like within cultures very different than my own. Additionally, I shared about my multiple ventures to India to labor with and train teachers working in highly impoverished areas. I explained how all of these experiences have impacted my understanding of education and have helped shape my ever-evolving paradigm of pedagogy.

I also noted my five-year involvement as a founding board member of The BAY, an ever-growing youth advocacy non-profit based here in Lincoln. I went on to highlight that I hold two master degrees, am a soon-to-be published author (on teaching with MinecraftEdu), a $10,000 Code.org grant recipient, and a contributor to our district’s new Computer Science curriculum. I shared how I seek to influence the local educational community through speaking in university classrooms, presenting at conferences like UNL Tech EDGE and NETA and blogging my thoughts about things like Flipping the classroom, programing with Logo, all the way down to insomnia-curing educational philosophy.

In addition to the essay questions, I also got to create a film showcasing what the creative minds at Campbell were doing in the computer lab. Within this portion, I tried to weave in my own philosophy and pedagogic beliefs and how they find their way into my computer lab. I highlighted Campbell kids learning with MinecraftEdu, using web resources like Code.org and how the kids use our mini Makerspace to learn about robotics and engage within STEM activities.


More than anything I tried to convey my chief aim as a teacher: The more we listen to kids and let them have a say in their own education, the more we empower them for the encounters the face today. I explained that as an educator, it’s my responsibility to see all these kids as individual people with individual makeups.

To me, this means meeting kids where they are. It means getting to know what kids find interesting, what they find relevant, and what they find meaningful. I think the best way to do this is to treat them like people; listening to them and being authentic with them, talking with them and making an effort to recognize their humanity and individuality.

So far, in my journey as an educator, I have surrounded myself or put myself within environments that have forced me to reflect and realign my understanding of what education can and should look like. All in all, the more I learn, the more I hesitate to lay claim that I have a corner on any of it. Nonetheless, it is my hope to continue down this path of investigating what learning looks like in such an exciting time of exponential change.

What does this mean to you personally?

Currently, I am the Computer Science teacher at Campbell Elementary and finishing up my eighth year within LPS. Prior to this position, I was fourth grade teacher at Saratoga Elementary for six years. Just like Saratoga, Campbell and every other building in this school district, there are loads of amazing educators advocating everyday for the children in our community.

So, to be singled out amongst this group is humbling to say the least. There are veteran teachers with whom I work alongside that have been serving this Lincoln community for decades longer than I have been walking. Much of the credit goes to these teacher leaders: the heartbeats of school culture, the giants of education. All real praise should go to them.

But more than anything, I think the lion’s share of the credit really goes to my kids. The good little souls that grace my classroom make me look good – real good, apparently. My role has been to create a space for that student creativity and infuse real world connections. When schools like Campbell set aside time for relevant and engaging learning environments, good things will inevitably take place.

All in all, I’m grateful, a little nervous, but all-around delighted for the honor. Opportunities like these seldom come our way, and I am overjoyed to get to represent all the good things happening here in Lincoln. It means a great deal to be recognized; it means even more getting to advocate for my neighbors and community.

How will this impact students that you teach?

For the 2015 class of Apple Distinguished Educators, Apple selected 646 individuals from 48 countries worldwide. Being a part of this group, I will have the opportunity to attend the ADE Institute this summer in Miami, Florida. At the gathering, I will be honored to be meet and work alongside some of the most influential and innovative teachers on this side of the globe.

Undoubtedly, I will have the opportunity to showcase what my Campbell kids are doing and share it with these top-shelf educators. To think that the goods and creative works my students have produced will actually spread more ideas than I could ever do alone is staggering. What I hope to convey to my students is that my role will be as an ambassador to highlight what they are doing and how we go about learning in our classroom.

Lastly, I am looking forward to Apple’s ADE Institute to simply learn, play and discover. A great deal of teachers use their summers to attend professional development, seminars and conferences. They do this because educators know the value of continual learning and the perpetual development of their practice. I am looking forward to the ADE Institute for this very reason. I will be able to grow my network of learning professionals, share my own experiences, and be able to display the amazing works of the wonderful kids at Campbell Elementary School. The platform I have been given is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I hope to represent Lincoln Public Schools, Campbell Elementary and the Lincoln community well.

About Apple Distinguished Educators, from Apple's website

ADEs are part of a global community of education leaders recognized for doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom. They explore new ideas, seek new paths, and embrace new opportunities. That includes working with each other — and with Apple — to bring the freshest, most innovative ideas to students everywhere.

ADEs advise Apple on integrating technology into learning environments — and share their expertise with other educators and policy makers. They author original content about their work. They advocate the use of Apple products that help engage students in new ways. And they are ambassadors of innovation, participating in and presenting at education events around the world. Being part of the ADE community is much more than an honor — it’s an opportunity to make a difference.

There are now more than 2,000 ADEs worldwide, from the United States to China, New Zealand to Turkey. And they gather every year at ADE Institutes and education events around the world as well as online in the ADE community to collaborate on solutions to the global education challenges of today and tomorrow.