Eight Questions for Emerging Leader Robert Zywicki
We’re always looking for new ways to insert ASCD voices into our conversations on Inservice. With this in mind, we’ve developed a fun question and answer session for our ASCD Emerging Leaders. The Emerging Leaders program recognizes and prepares young, promising educators to influence education programs, policy, and practice on both the local and national levels. Learn more about Emerging Leaders on the ASCD website.
Tell us about your role as an educator. What does your typical day look like?
I’m the supervisor of social studies for a district that serves 3,000 students. I begin every day by addressing any student, parent, and teacher concerns or requests. Most of my day is spent as an instructional leader. I coach teachers and professional learning communities, conduct observations and walk-throughs, and review lesson plans and assessments. Each day I meet with colleagues about district initiatives like our new evaluation framework or school scheduling task force. The rest of my day is spent dealing with operational issues (that vary by the time of year), such as scheduling, budgeting, hiring, and organizing our study abroad trip to Poland. Periodically, I am lucky to have the opportunity to guest lecture in AP Economics.
What’s your education philosophy summed up in one sentence?
Empowered and supported teachers produce successful students.
Why did you become an educator?
Public education is the backbone of our republic. I believe educators are patriots who are cultivating our nation’s future civic and economic health.
As an ASCD emerging leader, how do you hope to have a greater effect on education in your community and beyond?
The Emerging Leader program has connected me to exceptional resources, cutting-edge education leaders, and top scholars in our profession. I bring all those resources, impressions, and information back to my district. Becoming an emerging leader has spurred me to start blogging on ASCD EDge about social studies education, the Common Core standards, and my own initiatives within my department. I have started to become involved with New Jersey ASCD, where I can be a voice for school reform in New Jersey. I’m also in the process of starting an ASCD student chapter with my doctoral cohort.
What professional development (books, DVDs, webinars, courses) has made a difference in your career?
Two professional development experiences have been “game-changers” in my career. The first was a Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Summer Seminar at Brown University. It forever changed the way I taught history by focusing on student-centered analysis of primary source documents. The second experience has been my participation in the AP Economics Reading. It connected me with the best AP Economics teachers from across the nation. Since becoming an AP Reader, I have been invited to collaborate on several economics curriculum development projects.
Was there a pivotal moment when you realized your career choice in education was the correct one? Describe that time.
My first job right out of college was working for a financial services firm. I was very unhappy with the work I was doing. So I enrolled in an alternate-route certification program and entered the education profession working as a substitute. The following September I was hired as a full-time World History teacher. I knew within the first week that I had made the right decision.
If you could make one major change in education, what would it be?
I would change the length of the academic year for high school students. My intention would not be to create more time for students to be in classrooms, but rather for students to be outside of class, participating in school-sponsored service-learning opportunities and internships and exploring future areas of study and careers.
What’s the craziest thing a student has ever said to you?
While teaching an AP Economics class of mostly seniors, I noticed a student was eating in the classroom. I walked over to the student and quietly asked him to refrain from eating during class since lunch was only 10 minutes away. He looked me dead in the face and said, “Mr. Zywicki, this isn’t my lunch, it’s my emergency ham.” Apparently fearful that I would confiscate his emergency meat, he pulled a baseball sized wad of deli ham out of his pocket and stuffed all of it into his mouth.