Each month, Mink’ED will highlight the work of several education-based small businesses and consultancies that draw from the unbounded creativity and expertise of classroom educators. In some cases, these business ventures represent a new career path for the founding visionary; in other cases, the business is in support of continued full time work in education.  In all cases, however, I fully endorse and find inspiration in the amazing creativity and entreprenurial efforts of these colleagues and friends.  I believe their success and high quality work is specifically due to their work in front of kids, in classrooms, and in teaching.

KEVIN LEVIN: a teacher playing a historian playing a teacher who is a historian

In 2008, I accepted the responsibility for designing and facilitating a full day institute for social studies teachers in Virginia Beach Public Schools with a specific focus on the Civil War.  Our goals were ambitious and wide-spread: to provide in-depth lectures by renowned historians and scholars, to connect these current understandings with the best practice of history education, and to showcase innovative technology and digital approaches used in the field.  Flush with funding from the Teaching American History grant program, VBPS fully committed to giving its elementary, middle, and secondary level teachers the opportunity to really understand the complex and intricate long view of the Civil War – from antebellum causes and brewing, through the events of the war and Reconstruction, and, most importantly, the lessons learned from the Lost Cause era.  With leadership like Georgeanne Hribar and Lannah Hughes, VBPS agreed that understanding the contemporary legacy of the Civil War was critical as the state of Virginia embraced the Sesquicentennial celebration.

levinOver the course of several months, I built the workshop schedule. Big names in the Civil War history landscape joined our agenda: Anne Marshall from Mississippi State, James Marten of Marquette University, Stephen Berry from University of Georgia; digital projects by the Digital Scholars Lab at University of Richmond and ValleySim at Hope College.  With nearly 125 teachers in attendance, the keynote address by Jim Loewen of Lies My Teachers Told Me fame focused on the mythology of the Civil War and the importance of teaching a balanced and accurate perspective of the whys, whats, and hows.

Kevin Levin was also on our list of verified speakers – at least for a short time.

Kevin taught at St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, and I met him through mutual work on The Valley of the Shadow project.  His work in the classroom was top shelf according to mutual friends and STAB colleagues, and his work with Bob Kenzer at the University of Richmond gave us opportunities to work together on several other TAH projects, including a walking tour of Richmond.  I approached him to speak at the VBPS workshop based on his prollific blog writing, though.  Written with a clear scholarly understanding, Civil War Memory provides a unique combination of commentary, content lessons, and context – all from the lens of a practicing classroom educator.

Three weeks before the scheduled conference in Tidewater, Kevin withdrew from his presentation.  His blog was very widely read, very popular, very informative – and these articulate narrations had caught the ire of more than a few Confederate sympathizers. Targeted threats had been made, and we determined that the VBPS conference might not be safe for him to attend.

Kevin has since moved to Boston and continued his work in the classroom and as a historian.  His blog has propelled him into a front row seat on all things Civil War, and in my view the accessibility and charm of a successful teacher is the secret ingredient to this success.  Kevin has published his first book, gives numerous talks and lectures, and seems to be the go-to interview for national services that want to better understand this complex human interaction over the last 150 years in the American South.  Check out his blog to see the on-going debate and conversation that his writing inspires – although hopefully the death threats have ended.


REIFY MEDIA: elegant solutions for digital education

More recently, I met Sarah Glova when I was seeking instructional design consultants to create a new set of online courses.  Recommended by mutual friends, Sarah’s background and training in education clearly informed her technical sensibility.  Using online courses can be the signature tool for stretching the reach and scope of long distance learning, but so often the design lacks the intuition of a teacher.  Choices and decisions are made with a different aesthetic and sequence when education remains the primary lens.

reifyReify Media is a small business that specializes in digital solutions – from online course design to web design. Sarah and her team are talented and responsive, and their goals reflect that earnest, conscientious approach that expert teachers possess and appreciate.  Online learning doesn’t have to be an either/or of strong content pedagogy, and I have enjoyed brainstorming with Sarah on ways to advance the conversation around teaching and learning in the digital age.