Cary Harrod started as an elementary teacher, was a gifted specialist for 19 years and spent 10 years as the instructional technology specialist for Forest Hills School District, Ohio. In 2016, she decided to re-enter the classroom, where it all began and is celebrating her 30th year in education.
I worked with Forest Hills School District with Cary Harrod as the lead around 2006 and knew right away that she was a great person to know. We have kept in touch ever since. I definitely had to have a conversation with Cary. Hope you enjoy our conversation!
Where you grew up
I grew up in Bowling Green, OH. A beautiful place to grow up…a small town but made bigger due to the university. My childhood was idyllic; I spent loads of time riding my horse and wandering all over town with friends. My dad was a teacher, my mother a stay-at-home mom. Around my Junior year, our family imploded when my father lost his teaching job. The only thing my father loved more than teaching was his family; unable to secure another teaching job, he spent the rest of his life in a dark cloud, leaving us shattered and lost.
Your family and where you live now
I have been married to Bill for almost 23 years. We have a 21-year-old son, Liam. We live in Cincinnati, OH but recently built a home in Traverse City, MI. We plan to retire there. Friends think we’re crazy for going north, where it’s cold but we love everything about Traverse City…the weather, our view of the deep, blue waters of Lake Michigan and the rich cultural life. Here is a timeline of my life:
Born in Bowling Green, OH.
- Moved to Cincinnati in 1988. Began job at Forest Hills School District in 1988.
- 1988- 1997 3rd and 4th grade
- 1997 – 2007 Gifted Specialist
- 2006 – 2016 District Instructional Technology Specialist
- 2016 – Present 5th Grade ELA/Social Studies teacher
What it was like for you as a student/learner
I loved elementary school. To this day, I can name all seven of my elementary teachers; I carry a piece of each one of them with me and hope to bring those pieces with me when I enter my classroom each day. I was a good student, up until 8th grade where I struggled to understand algebra. I received my first “D” and something was extinguished inside me. I became completely detached from school and learning; it would be years later that I rediscovered a love for learning.
Your journey as a teacher and gifted educator
I love my story. Each step of my journey has led me to this moment in time; the steps, a rich tapestry of experiences, today guide me as I venture through the landscape of personalized learning. With only two years left before I can retire, I often think about how I could simply be coasting to the finish line but instead, I’m working harder than ever. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that there is more to learn that we have envisioned for the past 100 years…and it is beautiful.
Our classroom is featured in the newly released book, “Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works.” Excerpt HERE.
Instructional Technology Specialist
In 2004, I was a technophobe; in 2006, I was asked to lead a district-wide five-year project that would support over 400 staff members, as they learned how to use technology to support learning. I inherently understood that technology was a game changer; it would level the playing field. Then, in 2011, I led a district effort to bring a BYOD program to our middle school.
Personalized Learning: Back in the classroom – I had been studying personalized learning for about two years. (2014-2016) when I took Barbara’s personalized learning course. In 2016, I decided to return to the classroom to see firsthand what personalized learning looks like.
Key Points we discussed:
- The world has changed; therefore, reading and writing should change.
- Use five elements to support the work I’m doing around personalized learning: VOICE, CHOICE, PACE, PLACE, AND PATH steeped in student-directed learning.
- Our literacy classroom is built on the idea of volume–authentic reading and writing all the time. We are laser focused on becoming better readers and writers through real reading and writing experiences. Busy work in the form of worksheets and projects have been removed. We call our literacy time “STUDIO”, where students work to hone their craft.
- No longer plan “lessons” but rather design experiences that are open-ended, allow for individual pathways and reflect real life. (Edublog Student challenge, Slice of Life Blogging Challenge, Mock Newberry, March Book Madness and Connections.)
- First 6 weeks is setting the foundation for the personalized classroom: Knowing and Understanding Ourselves; School Routines; Student agency; Relationships/Culture/Community building; Learning? What is It?; Content related; Skills and habits needed to support deeper learning; Connected learning.
Hope you listen to the whole conversation so you get to the part when we talked about education today and in the future.
Blog: Like Never Before
Website: Like Never Before
What I have come to understand, however, is that we will not achieve better education systems or outcomes without stepping back from the constraints of “school thinking.” I need to let go of what I know and think about school–its structures, history, and influence–in order to be able to think more openly about education and its possibilities. And in order to do that, it feels necessary to break some rules, to upset some conventions, to seize authority rather than wait for it to be granted. ~Sherri Spelic