Top 10 Events of 2018
At 7 and 10 years old, my children are old enough to go on all the adventures. Quite frequently, I urge them to appreciate our experiences by telling them, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” They always reply with a snarky “Dad, you always say that.” But it’s totally true. Life continues to bring us amazing new experiences and for that, I am totally grateful.
Here are the Top 10 Events of 2018 in chronological order.
1. San Francisco to meet the State Teachers of the Year (February)
This was my first opportunity to meet the amazing cohort of 2018 State Teachers of the Year. What an incredible group of human beings! These people are committed educators, fierce advocates, and passionate about all facets of improving education. In just one week, I created 55 new lifelong friends who have pushed and inspired me in my work in education. This trip was full of once-in-a-lifetime moments, including a conversation with Sal Khan (creator of Khan Academy) and a VIP tour of Google’s headquarters. At Google, our group helped design a Google Doodle that was later used on Teacher Appreciation Day. Google also helped me create videos to celebrate my decision to become a teacher and acknowledge the amazing work we are doing at East Kentwood High School.
2. Buddy weekend at the A-frame (February)
Excited to use our new cabin, I invited my best buds up for a weekend. We spent most of our time celebrating the 90s with an Atari and Nintendo emulator that had all the games. Our hike across Chippewa Lake was cut short when we learned that my brother got Mario to jump over the flag. Tim made it across the lake in his Subaru, but had less bumper when he was finished. We had an epic bonfire and discussed the mysteries of space exploration.
3. Chop Top Challenge (March)
Several years ago, my brother and I dreamed up this silly idea of inviting people to cut the roof of a car and drive it across the country with us. In this third installment of the event, we had 17 teams join us as we drove roofless from Chicago to New Orleans. This event always takes place during spring break, and my brother and I have always known this left a small possibility for really terrible weather. But we never thought it would happen. We were wrong. Snowmageddon took over on the first day of the event and teams were lucky if they logged 20 miles. Teams met at the halfway point at a dive bar in Memphis, where each team had to karaoke. My brother and I slayed a RATM track and broken bumper Tim got engaged. The finale of the event proved to be one of the highlights of my lifetime (bested only by my wedding, the birth of my children, and a handshake with Obama.) We organized a police-led parade of 17 choptops rolling down Bourbon Street, led by a roofless Toyota Previa minivan that hosted a full NOLA brass band. Recap video is here.
4. NCTM Washington DC (April)
For the third year in a row, the East Kentwood High School math department was well represented at the biggest math teacher conference in the country. Kathy, Brian, Lindsey, and myself all led successful workshops. Khadijah won a tablet (thanks Casio), Jenin made some new friends, and Sarah visited Abe. After two years of hard work, the Teachers’ Edition of The Practice of Statistics was released, and I can officially call myself an author.
5. State Teacher of the Year Washington DC Week (April)
Three years ago, I got the amazing opportunity to visit the White House and shake hands with President Obama. I remember wondering how on Earth a high school math teacher ended up at the White House. I am now left wondering how a high school math teacher ended up at the White House twice. So crazy. We also got the opportunity to share our thoughts with Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, have brunch with Mike Pence, and spend a day at the Watergate Hotel. We wrapped up the week with an emotional visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and an inspiring journey through the National Portrait Gallery. Jamie and I got dressed up fancy and ate food better than Olive Garden.
6. Wilcox family adventure (June - July)
This trip was a busy 31 days on the road with the kids. We planned the adventures around workshops I was facilitating in Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Denver. In Wisconsin, we explored the University of Wisconsin, took a pontoon boat ride on Lake Mendota (thanks Josh), and toured the Harry Potter themed campus at EPIC (thanks Joe). Hawaii gave our family many once-in-a-lifetime experiences: out-of-this-world snorkeling, riding horses on the beach, and ocean swimming in a cage with sharks. About that last one, I didn’t do much shark watching, as I was busy staying afloat as my two children gripped my shoulders like their lives depended on it. In Colorado, we spent time with my sister and her family in Denver, replaced a radiator at 10,000 feet, and took up a whole section at a Rockies game.
7. Wilcox A-frame (July)
As a child, my family would always spend a week up north in a cottage on a lake. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to provide this same experience for my own family and this summer it finally happened! It was the first week at the A-frame with the big family, including my brother and sister and their families and the grandparents. We did all the up north things, including fishing, kayaking, and playing cornhole. Joe and Danielle tried out their new home (Sprinter van) for the first time.
8. Camparamadingdong (August)
The original Camparamadingdong was my bachelor party in 2004. We had so much fun that we made a tradition out of it. For the 15th year in a row, my buddies and I ventured deep into Manistee National Forest to do some remote camping. Every year seems to develop a theme, and this was the year of the remote control rock crawlers (HEED!). We spent most of our time hanging in the hammock stack or enjoying the best Lake Michigan swimming in years. Oh, we also got tired of having no bathroom, so we brought our own.
9. Denver Phish shows (September)
Back in February when I met the State Teachers of the Year (STOY) from across the country, it came out that I have been to a few Phish concerts in my day. Much to my surprise, there were several other STOYs that shared my enthusiasm for the band (or at least showed interest). I organized a Phish Teacher of the Year weekend in Denver and was joined by Oregon STOY Matt Bacon and Montana STOY Melissa Romano (and her lovely husband). For the two STOYs, it was their first ever Phish show (and maybe their last). Between shows, we had an epic bike ride and an inspiring hike in the mountains.
10. Education Mastermind (all year)
One of the most important ideas I have advocated for in education over the past couple of years is that of teacher leadership. I truly believe that we need to flatten the hierarchy of leadership in schools and empower teachers to initiate positive change. To this end, we created an Education Mastermind - a collection of some of the best educators in West Michigan, with the goal of growing leadership skills so that we can positively impact our communities. Over the course of one year, I have learned and grown personally and professionally in significant ways because of this amazing group of educators. In March, I got to pitch the Education Mastermind idea to Governor Snyder. At the end of the year, Van Andel Education Institute graciously offered to support us moving into a second year. A new cohort of the Mastermind has just recently started and their potential for future impact is tremendous (if they can first figure out who in the group will be in charge of the selfie).
Lake Geneva water park - Family fun with the Stewart family. Good times hanging with my longest time buddy Chris.
State of the State Address at the Capitol - House representative Winnie Brinks invited me to be on the floor during Governor Snyder’s final State of the State address.
Toronto Gary Vee - Chris and I got some quality hang time in Canada, where we learned about cryptocurrency and got entrepreneurial with Gary Vaynerchuk.
SXSW EDU - My first visit to Austin, Texas for an awesome education conference of forward thinkers.
Cesar Chavez march for social justice - Inspiring event organized by Lupe Ramos with some incredible speeches from several DACA recipients.
Atlanta workshop - Woodward Academy is so nice, and I finally found the hip parts of Atlanta.
AP Reading in Kansas City - graded 200,000+ exams with 800 of my closest friends. Had fun hanging with Caitlin and our new friend Ashot.
Honda Meet 18 - I love that my children look forward to going to the racetrack every summer for the Honda Meet family reunion.
Space Camp - I got to be a kid for a week as I completed space missions with my fellow State Teachers of the Year.
Boston SAT - Spent four days reviewing SAT math items, visited Harvard, and hung with many great friends.
Princeton Next Steps conference - Got to visit my mentor Daren Starnes at his school and started thinking forward with my fellow State Teachers of the Year.
CMC South conference Palm Springs - Two workshops from the Stats Medics and a planning meeting for the next edition of the AP Stats book.
UM Alumni Donor event - UM School of Education Dean Elizabeth Moje has been so gracious and inviting to me and my daughter. We pretended that we weren’t out of our league at this event and Reese met the Provost.
Home Alone Symphony - Family tradition taken to the next level with a live symphony performance and amazing choir.
As I look back through this list of experiences for 2018, I realize it is not the place or the event that makes them special. It is all about the people. I am so grateful for the amazing family, friends, and colleagues I have in my life. This year has given me opportunities to add many new people to this list. You all have been so gracious and supportive this past year. Here’s to a great 2019!