Last month educators had to say goodbye to Joe Bower. Shortly prior, we lost Bob Sprankle. This week, I was stunned to learn we lost another innovative educator, Deven Black. I knew Deven as an intellectual out-of-the-box thinker. I loved speaking with Deven because he appreciated having lively conversations where we might disagree on a topic and knew on the other side of it, we’d both come out smarter.
Deven credits me for getting him started with social media. He said he was pissed when my advice on how to get started with Twitter and other social media was, “Just create an account and do it.” He was looking for a more complex answer I suppose. He told me he followed my suggestion and later grew to appreciate my advice to simply jump right in. At the time Deven was a special education teacher and later he became a librarian (which you can read about here). Because of his intellect and insights, it wasn’t long before Deven became quite well-known in the world of education.
In 2012 he was named one of the top 20 education bloggers by the Bammy Awards. You can read his take here. The same year he gave a great talk at Jeff Pulver’s #140Edu Conference. His topic was “How to make dropping out work for you.” It’s worth watching. You can watch his talk or read the transcript here. Deven was also was part of a group that contributed to the New York City Department of Education’s ground breaking social media guidelines which were the first in the world to be created with students and teachers.
Bammy 2012 Top Education Bloggers. Devin is on the left. Back row.
Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett
In 2013 Deven won the School Librarian Bammy Award as a result of his ability to create a 21st century learning center. Black was nominated by a colleague who wrote:
“Deven…made a difference by taking over a library that had become moribund, out of date, anachronistic, completely disorganized and with no technology. In two years he turned it into a much more modern, way more up-to-date, fully automated functioning library that circulates 200 books a week. He also is always on a quest to support students in learning in ways aligned to their interests, strengths and talents.”
Black was up against some fantastic librarians including two, Shannon Miller and Joyce Valenza, who were tremendous mentors and sources of guidance and information to Deven.
Deven and I after winning his award.
The Bammy’s may have marked the height of Deven’s career. The events that happened next seemed to lead to a downward spiral. He had some work issues and lost his permanent teaching license. Then he literally, broke his neck, but he remained optimistic.
In his last blog post he wrote:
I start 2014 with a new outlook. I have a sliver of a cadaver’s hip in my neck to remind me that life is fleeting but our usefulness does not end with death if we don’t want it to. I already signed a donor consent form noted on my driver’s license, but I’m redoing my living will to also specify organ donation in any form useful.
I have a new opportunity to grow and develop into the best school librarian I can be, and I’ve certainly learned the value of collaboration. Don’t be surprised to get a call, text, email or tweet from me proposing some joint project.
But most of all I have learned I need to take better care of myself, physically, emotionally and in every other way you can imagine.
I hope your 2014 will be all you want it to be. I will be working hard to make sure mine is.
Speaking of Deven’s blog, it’s great. I cite it often in my writing. One of my favorite posts he wrote was “My One Great Lesson This Year.” Check it out at http://educationontheplate.com. I think you’ll enjoy.
I hadn’t heard much from Deven after 2014. I did not know that he had a history struggling with mental illness. I knew the side of Deven that he shared in his blog. A thoughtful, deep thinker, who had smart ideas on how to make learning more fulfilling. Along with others, I was stunned to learn he was murdered and nearly beheaded at a homeless shelter just a few blocks up the street from me.
As we lose another one of our colleagues too soon, I am thankful that Deven not only shared his organs with those in need, but he also shared his insights and ideas that are forever captured in his blog.
On Deven's Facebook page, his son, Jonas shared this:
The next day he shared this:
Read the New York Times story here
It seems in his death, what happened to Deven has prompted reactions that will help improve the lives of others. I can't help but wonder what blog post Deven would be writing right now if he could.
Deven's funeral will be Sunday afternoon at 1 pm at Congregation Sons of Israel of Nyack. The address is 300 North Broadway, Upper Nyack, NY. Burial to follow at Temple Israel Cemetery in Blauvelt, NY.
Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.
Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.