Sunday, December 14, 2014


 Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.
~Peter Drucker~

The Man In The Mirror
Each day of my life, I seek to become better. I seek to make the necessary strides to improve upon my life in various capacities.  As a husband, a father, a son, a friend and an educator, I desire to grow each and every day. This is a challenging proposition because in order to grow it is necessary to reflect upon shortcomings that need attention, or flaws that need correction. Sometimes the honesty that accompanies reflection can be painful to endure and life is easier or more comfortable if it is avoided. However if growth is the objective, stepping out of the comfort zone is a risk I must be willing to take,
Sharpening the Tools
The last twelve months of my life have encompassed unparalleled professional growth. A conscious decision to become a "connected educator" has allowed me to elevate my reflective practices to new heights. Weekly online and eventual face to face interactions with a global network of educators, have improved my instructional practices exponentially. These relationships formed as a result, have influenced a personal and professional  transformation. My classroom has become a community that provides an authentic and engaging learning environment for my students. Within this environment we have created a culture that empowers students to develop their own reflective skills and thus grow as 21st century learners.

Paying it Forward
Reflection has been a priority over the course of the past ten weeks that I have spent mentoring pre service teachers from Rider University.  One of our weekly exercises was to spend time reflecting on the observable outcomes of a particular day. If they taught,we reflected upon the quality of their lesson, if I taught we reflected upon the quality of my lesson.  Our conversations focused on the strengths and the weaknesses of the lesson, while looking through a lens that examined student learning.
Although the exercise was to help them understand the value of reflection and improve, I can honestly say that their reflective feedback enabled me to grow professionally and improve the quality of my instruction. At the end of ten weeks I firmly believe that they embraced the idea that honest, authentic reflection is a vital componenent of the learning process. Ultimately it is this reflective piece that leads to success, for both the student and the teacher.
Eyes On The Prize
We are living in an age of an unprecedented commitment to student centered learning . As educators it is important to facilitate opportunities that allow students to collaborate and create. With both collaboration and creation we should expect students to experience a "productive struggle" as they work to complete various tasks. The development of clear protocols must occur at the outset to ease students through the navigation process. Once the task has been completed and the desired outcomes reached, the students need to be encouraged to honestly reflect about process and outcome. Again as is the case with the adult learner this will force the student beyond their comfort zone. As educators we need to find a way to help our students embrace authentic and honest reflection.  Moreover, we will need to encourage the celebration of their success and assist them in the rebuild when failure occurs. Only then will authentic growth be a natural consequence of their reflection.
Parting Thought
The "growth process" is personal in nature and everyone arrives there in their own way but at the end of the day, the quality of the image in the mirror forces us all to contemplate, "what is" and "what can be."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exercises in Gratitude

Throughout the course of the past few days my students and I took advantage of several opportunities to express our "gratitude." With the onset of the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching  the timing was particularly appropriate. I expected my students to express gratitude for their family, their friends, their homes and their pets. With each conversation their responses did not fall short of my anticipated expectations. After 20 years of teaching and learning, you develop an understanding of the middle school students mindset. However, what unfolded became an unexpected surprise as the exercise quickly developed into a learning experience. 

For the past couple of weeks we have been investigating the challenges that  the Paleolithic humans had faced in attempting to fullfill their basic needs.  My students are well aware of the struggles that their ancestors faced due to various physiological and environmental factors. I was impressed during the "exercise of gratitude" that my students were grateful for their ability to meet their basic needs and for the efforts of others to provide for them. It was obvious to me that in considering their own gratitude that they were reflecting upon the challenges that were faced by prehistoric cultures. They were expressing gratitude for not having to endure similar circumstances. This was not something that I had expected to learn as the exercise progressed but was thrilled when I realized that this had become one of the outcomes.

The exercise would also teach me a valuable lesson about stretching the thinking of my students. During this exercise my most  "social "group of students revealed themselves as my deepest and reflective thinkers. When asked about what they were grateful for, they provided responses that reflected a great deal of contemplation. Their answers revealed an obvious depth of thinking and the exercise unexpectedly taught me a great deal about their willingness to stretch their thinking. These students were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to stretch their thinking. This question of  "gratitude" had peaked their interest, and their responses  revealed, passionate reflection and genuine enthusiasm. 

However, this exercise did not produce the same result with all of my classes as other groups of students gave one word answers to the question. They seemed reluctant to push the limits of their thinking and their responses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence or a lack of interest. What is clear with the later group is that new strategies need to be implemented in an effort to stretch their thinking, build their confidence and spark their interest.

As I prepare to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family, I am grateful for the love of my family and friends as well as all of the positive influences that have shaped the course of my life within the past eleven months. Additionally I am grateful for the gifts bestowed upon me by my students when they are least expected. It is those gifts that teach me the most valuable lessons and allow for my maximum professional and personal growth.

Friday, November 14, 2014



" And suddenly you know its time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings."
    Meister Eckert

The past eleven months since I began blogging have provided numerous opportunities to celebrate and reflect upon my experiences as a middle school educator.  This has been a year full of milestones both professionally and personally, having started my twentieth year as a middle school educator, celebrating my fiftieth birthday and this April, my wife and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage.  Throughout these past twenty years I have benefited greatly from the guiding and supportive hands of many experienced educators who I am fortunate to call friends. The relationships that I have built with peers, students, administrators and parents throughout my career have made a profound impact on my success as an educator. While my career is one which I reflect upon proudly, the early chapters of my professional story go well beyond the walls of Pond Road Middle School.

The journey actually began approximately 10 miles North in Lawrence Township twenty five years ago. I began working as a substitute teacher and was eventually hired as an assistant Winter Track Coach at Lawrence High School. From 1989-1995 I played an active role in helping to build a successful Track and Cross Country program until I eventually resigned in 1995.

Throughout those years I had the privilege of developing relationships and working with hundreds of quality students, athletes and coaches. The positive and consistent support that I received from my Athletic Director helped to shape the early years of my my career in education as well as my young adult life. 
These experiences during the my early years were full of life lessons that would ultimately have a lasting impact on me as an educator.  While observing the maturity of many athletes and students, my experiences with them was also part of my maturation process. Indeed it was a time when we were all coming of age, albeit at different periods of our lives.

The athletes that I was fortunate to coach directly, or watch develop taught me the value of respect, responsibility and trust. These are values that I still have the highest regard for, even today. Although I have lost contact with most of them, every once in awhile I will learn of their successes.  To actually be able to learn of their success in the adult world as a contributing member of society is indeed
quite gratifying. 

In turn, I am full of gratitude and appreciation for the countless number of veteran educators, and administrators from Lawrence Township who recognized the potential that lived inside of me.  Their mentoring allowed me to continue to move forward in this profession, ultimately enabling me to make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of young people, as both a teacher and a coach.

The foundation for my success took root a long time ago in the halls of the Lawrence Township public schools. My experiences there and the relationships that were forged there, still occupy a special place in my heart. I am reminded that every journey must have a starting line and a finish line. While the finish line for this journey looms in the distant future, I will always be grateful to the people of Lawrence Township for providing the starting line.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Living Outside of the Comfort Zone

Teaching children of the 21st century we are consistently encouraging them to live outside of their comfort zones and take risks. We do this for various reasons. One, we want them comfortable with the idea of "taking chances" despite the possibility of failure, two , we believe that the growth potential can be exponential with each risk that is taken and three, it will stretch their capacity to learn over the  course of their lifetimes.

Lifelong learners ourselves we must lead the way and embrace this concept of risk taking as well. If we expect our students to fully buy in to the idea, then we must demonstrate a courageous mindset. One that reflects potential failures and gains. Moreover, we must be willing to openly share these pursuits and their results, if we expect the same of our students. 

Within the past two months I have been
confronted with situations in my personal and professional lives that have required me to make multiple courageous  decisions. Each decision required a departure from my "safe" or comfortable life. They were not easily made and were given careful consideration. However the leap outside of the comfort zone has paid great dividends on all recent occasions.

Had I not decided to fly to New Orleans by myself to attend a National Education conference  (#ecet2Nola) I would have denied myself one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life. I would have missed out on collaborating with amazing educators from my state and throughout the entire nation. I would have missed out on a chance to be part of over 300 teachers parading down Bourbon Street, escorted by a High School Band and local law enforcement. (Talk about elevating and celebrating. Wow!)  I would have missed on a chance to improve my craft in ways that would ultimately benefit my students.

Had I not decided to play on a PGA golf course ( the longest one in Disney World) I would have missed out on an amazing bonding opportunity that my oldest son and I will remember for the rest of our lives. He is still talking about how we played on a course that the great "Tiger" Woods played on.  Furthermore had I not taken advantage of the opportunity to tackle the highest water slide in the world (Summit Plummit) with my youngest son Scott, I would have squandered an authentic opportunity to demonstrate my willingness and the importance of taking risks to my son. We both successfully embraced and completed the challenge and it was awesome to hear him say that this was the highlight of our trip.

As the adults of the 21st century we must continue to cultivate opportunities for our children to push their limits and take risks. We must do so in an environment that presents failure as the "first attempt in learning" and remove inhibitors that may cause them to dwell within their comfort zone. Lastly we must celebrate the risk and the result if our children are expected to achieve their true growth potential as both learners and contributors.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Live from Nola

Ecet2, live from New Orleans. My first live, on site blog post.  I am currently taking an active role in a fascinating session about the art of blogging. 
Our presenters by their own admission are active bloggers but on different levels. One has a strong writing background and blogs often,(a former sports writer) while the other blogs occasionally, mostly for the opportunity to connect with his students.   
Our audience is very diverse, some have been actively blogging for awhile, some started recently and others came to find out how to get started.  The main idea shared early on and often was that blogging was an opportunity for sharing one's voice or telling their story. As educators, blogging is not only a great vehicle in which to share our voice but is also a great vehiicle that can be used to enable our students to  share theirs.

Throughout the session the participants shared various reflections on  a vehicle called in an effort to develop a better understanding of how the process worked. While admittedly the blogging process pushes one beyond their comfort zone it is a risk that people appeared willing to take.  The connection was made to the comedy Seinfeld about everyone having something to say and while it may appear to be about nothing on the surface, most likely it will have value to someone. Translation, "there is an audience out there for everyone."
 The conclusion of the session left me with a great challenge in that we were being asked to create a post on the fly which is something that I usually don't embrace but... when in Rome!

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Tell Me Your Story"

Create more opportunities to engage and empower my students.  

Install a balance of learning that includes both consumption and creation. 

Build a culture of learning that enables students to cultivate relationships with both their peers and their teacher. 

These goals, set prior to the start of this school year were the result of a passionate and inspired student centered vision.  Each and every day there is a collective effort towards achieving the realization of this vision. While a work in progress and not without challenges, I am happy with the success that we have achieved thus far within our classroom community.  The students are being stretched, they are embracing challenges and they are producing a body of work that reflects a quality effort, passion and pride.

Our first unit this year focused on the Five Themes of Geography.  The students learned the identity of the themes, how to distinguish one from the other and most importantly how to connect the themes to their lives.   There were multiple opportunities for collaboration with peers as students consumed and unpacked various new terms and concepts.  Varied formative assessments  were completed on a daily basis. The students reflected a firm understanding of the concepts and they successfully demonstrated an ability to connect the themes to their own lives. Upon reflection I was pleased with their level of understanding but I wanted something more.  I wanted to empower them to learn more. I wanted to engage them in a process that would allow them to create a product revealing their personal connections to the themes and demonstrating their knowledge of those themes. Thus the idea for Telling Your Story was born.


After careful consideration a document was produced to assist the students in the creation process. Essentially I wanted to learn more about my students and their lives in Robbinsville; therefore the idea of Telling Your Story was developed. With all project opportunities I strongly believe that the best student work occurs when they have choices and options in all phases of development. This project which would mark their initial effort would include multiple options to choose from.  My experience has always indicated that when students make their own choices.Their voice and passion always resonates the most clearly.

When the day arrived to introduce the project to my students, we read through the assignment together carefully, answering all questions and clarifying all concerns.  The initial introduction of the project took place in one of my inclusion classes. Both my co- teacher and I prepared a written narrative, "Telling Our Stories" as sixth grade students and of our connections with the five themes of geography. This was intended to model our expectations and hopefully strengthen our connection with our students.   Following the completion of the introduction the students were provided with two and a half class periods to assist them in completing their efforts. Four additional days were allocated at home to assist in the completion of the assignment.


During the initial phase of production the students carefully chose the option that enabled them to best Tell Their Story or they developed a  unique option that was best suited to their strengths.  Although the projects were of an individual nature, a culture developed within the classroom community that allowed students to ask questions of each other, to provide assistance during the development process. Furthermore opportunities were created that allowed for collaboration and constructive feedback. While observing the process as it unfolded, helping students triage their concerns and helping to facilitate the overall process for individual students, I was not sure what to expect in terms of the final results.  Students required redirection from time to time and adjustments were required to make sure that the students were applying what they had learned correctly. After two and half days most made significant progress in class but all still had quite a ways to go before bringing the journey to an end. I wasn't sure how they were going to get there but I knew I couldn't wait to see the results once they did.


The day finally arrived for the students to present their finished products to me and their peers.  The audience and the presenters were equally enthusiastic to share and learn from each other.  The hope that I had initially was that the students would reinforce their understanding of the Five Themes of Geography and in the process a passion for their own lives would be ignited.  They did not disappoint!  One thing that was heard loud and clear was that my students love being kids and they love the opportunities that they have to enjoy their lives. For some that meant vacationing in Greece or Costa Rica, for others it meant riding their bikes in their neighborhoods , or taking trips to Maggie Moos, a local ice cream shop. Some told tales of surfing, playing soccer, lacrosse, softball or they even wrote and sang songs telling their story. Throughout the presentations the students were excited to share their passions and the audience clearly enjoyed learning of the diverse cultures that were being presented. I observed joy on the faces of my students as they shared a piece of their lives with their peers and the pride they took in their work was clearly in evidence by the quality of their work.   I would be remiss if I failed to comment on how impressed I was with abilities of my students to successfully manipulate the technology that they used to complete the assignment. Images were effectively used to support the written text. Animation was used to enhance the visual quality of the presentation. Even hyperlinks were used to impressively create an interactive presentation that allowed for audience participation. While I wasn't sure what to expect at the conclusion of the production process, I was beyond thrilled with the results.


One of the outcomes that I am striving to achieve this year, is to create more authentic learning experiences for all of the stakeholders within our learning culture.  In order to achieve this I believe that reflection on the quality of instruction and the  learning experiences must take place on a daily basis. Ultimately this will lead to my own professional growth as well as growth for my students.

After the final presentation took place, I commended my students on their efforts in preparation and production and for their courage in sharing their products with their peers. I then discussed with them the importance of reflection and we all agreed that it was necessary in order to improve or grow.  I then asked them to participate in a two part written reflection activity. The first part included three questions that were designed to help them find a deeper understanding of their strengths and the areas that they could improve upon. The second part included more questions.  This set designed to gain feedback on how the overall project might be adjusted, to produce even greater results as they applied to student learning.

After completing the written activity students were asked to move about the class and share at least two things that they felt comfortable sharing with others about both their own performance and project design.  As I observed the process unfold I was quite impressed by the courage that students demonstrated in sharing their thoughts with each other after they had critically self assessed. The final piece of reflection was for the collective group to share with me what they felt comfortable sharing about their own reflections and then to give me feedback about the project design. Again I learned a great deal about their courage as they critically assessed their own abilities and provided me with constructive feedback as well.

The Story Ends for Now

Over the course of  the past several days I have watched and listened to so many students stories and the following things have been made abundantly clear; my students are passionate about their lives, they enjoy sharing their life experiences with others, they take pride in their work, they understand the five themes of geography and can connect them to their lives, they understand how to utilize technology to enhance their presentations, and most importantly they are courageous and willing to take risks in order to achieve something memorable. Mission Accomplished!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"A New Journey Commences"

 "Morning will come, it has no choice."
                       Marty Rubin

Every year my students arrive with a great deal of enthusiasm. However the enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that there will many changes that will require their attention and adaptation.  Just months ago they were securely nestled into their fairly self contained fifth grade environment.  Now upon arriving in sixth grade they are faced with the challenging reality of having to change classroom environments at least eight times a day. Additionally they will navigate a nine period schedule that requires them to implement new organizational strategies.  The need to adapt to this change, as well as others, with a sense of immediacy, can create a varied level of stress and anxiety for them. One of the ways to minimize this, is by developing a community and a culture that inspires a love of learning and creates a safe haven where this can occur.

Creating a community that promotes a sense of belonging for my students has been a priority throughout the early part of this school year. The existing seating configuration has enabled the building of peer relationships and provided valuable early collaborative experiences.  Currently, we are studying the Five Themes of Geography. One of the five themes of geography that we are examining has particular appropriateness when considering the circumstances currently confronting my sixth grade students. The theme Human  Environment Interaction is one that focuses on how humans depend on their environment, how humans modify their environment and how humans adapt to their environment.  The consideration given to "depend", "modify", and "adapt" as it applies to my current group of students can strongly influence the quality of their learning experiences throughout the year.


My students depend on their classroom community to provide a culture that inspires them. They depend on a culture that creates opportunities for collaboration with their peers. They depend on a culture that helps them continue to build their love for learning. They depend on a culture that allows for the free movement of ideas and the respect of others when sharing those ideas. The growth of my students depends on their ability to cultivate a culture of learning and take full advantage of all of the resources that have been provided within their classroom community. One of the many things that my students can depend on this year is that many modifications will be made within their instructional experience.


The manner that our classroom community is modified depends on whether we are creating learning opportunities that require consumption or creation. If the daily experience is geared to the consumption of ideas and information, there may be a great deal of peer to peer collaboration.   The students will work collectively to unpack the knowledge that they have just acquired.  Furthermore, if consumption is the goal, than interactive discussions may be occurring to facilitate and support any learning that is taking place.  On other occasions our students will be given the chance to create. This will occur on a collective or individual  basis.  When these situations arise, the students will be empowered to act independently and engage in various activities that require them to adapt to a variety of changing circumstances. The success of the sixth grade student requires the understanding that modifications will occur and that they are capable of adapting when they do.


Beginning in sixth grade, social relationships begin to take on primary significance for my students.  Finding time for friends and for their studies in a balanced manner is a challenge that most find difficulty adapting to. With the advent of digital technologies this challenge has been magnified exponentially for students within the past decade. Furthermore, the academic landscape of the sixth graders day has changed drastically and navigating through it successfully can be quite challenging early on. My students have four content area teachers and as many as four cycle teachers. Their success requires them to familiarize themselves with the teaching style of these teachers as well as meet their expectations. Additionally the workload has increased and learning to manage their academics and a  possible extra curricular schedule, creates its own set of challenges. The life of a sixth grader provides them with many challenges to endure and in which to adapt. The more effectively that educators, students and parents partner at this stage of development , the more successful the student will become and the easier they will find it to adapt to sixth grade.

The arrival in sixth grade every fall for  my students really is " A Whole New World " for them.  As I build relationships with them and their parents it is important to remember that there are things that they need to "depend" upon to help them achieve success.  Essentially their environment will be "modified" greatly and they will be confronted with new circumstances that will necessitate their ability to "adapt".  A conscious effort to be mindful of the stressful challenges that transition can create and a guiding hand to assist with adaptation, will greatly strengthen their ability to succeed. This success that they achieve will lead to a consistent increase in confidence that will ultimately give them the necessary courage to take risks and grow as learners.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Celebrating the Success of September"!

"Positive relationships between teachers and their students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction."
   ~Robert Marzano~

Throughout the summer months, I contemplated the type of learning community and culture that I wanted to develop with my students for the upcoming school year.  One thing was clear as the vision for the culture was developing, relationships and their cultivation were going to be the foundation of our community. These relationships would not only be teacher to student but equally as important they would be peer to peer. The goal was to build a learning community where easy collaborative experiences could take place along with effective communication practices. Thus the seating configuration was changed dramatically and instead of rows which inhibited collaboration, tables were created with students sitting in close proximity to one another, ultimately promoting collaboration.  Before students could establish relationships with each other though, I felt it was important that they establish an identity of their own that reflected their "mindset".

One of the first activities that was designed to empower students and foster their identities was the creation of personal motto statements. All students and teachers that play a significant role in our social studies classes  were asked to develop an original motto or research one that resonated with them and adopt it as their own. Once they selected their motto they were asked to mount it on  a piece of paper, 8.5 X 14.5 and prepare to present them to the class. The hope was that with each presentation we could learn what was inside of each others heads and hearts. As the presentations unfolded we learned a great deal about each others values, commitments, and passions.The various mottos left all members of our learning community feeling significantly inspired. Once collected, the motto statements were proudly displayed throughout our classroom for all to see on a daily basis. Upon their arrival on Back to School Night the parents had the opportunity to view the impressive compilation of student work, amassed as a result of the efforts of their children.

On Back to School Night my goal was to leave our parents with an understanding that I was committed to establishing a strong relationship with them and their children. That I was passionate and inspired about my role as an educator. That through confidence and success, all of our students would develop a life long love for learning. That empathy exists in my heart, and that we all want the same thing for our children. That academic and social growth, leading to productive and contributing members of our society is the ultimate goal. Furthermore we discussed the importance of empowering and engaging their children in instructional practices that will enhance their interests and stoke their passions. Although it was my 20th Back to School night my new families were meeting an educator that has been re-energized and whose passion for education has been reignited exponentially. As the night came to a close I felt satisfied that I had successfully communicated my message. I looked forward to the following day when their children would allow their peers and I to become better acquainted with them as a result of the presentation of their "culture boxes."

The "culture box" presentations required all of the students to collect five artifacts related to their personal and private lives.  Once collected the artifacts were then placed in a container in preparation for their presentations. This relationship building experience did not disappoint as the students presented with a collective sense of pride in relation to their family histories, their ethnic backgrounds, their religious affiliations and their interests.  Each presentation left their peers in the audience with a sense of curiosity and a desire to learn more about each other. The culture boxes presented by the teachers also led to the establishment of a stronger connection with the students as they were able to develop a deeper understanding of their teachers' backgrounds and interests.  One of the greatest consequences of the activity is that it allowed our students to understand that while cultures can be studied from both an ancient and modern perspective, they can also be quite personal.

The student and parent surveys, the day one getting to know you interviews, the mottos, Back to School Night,  the culture boxes, and the daily opportunities to engage collaboratively have allowed us to make significant strides in building relationships with all of the stake holders of our learning community. The enthusiasm and overall passion for learning that I have witnessed thus far and the warm welcome that was conveyed by our parents on Back to School Night has truly made this a " September to Remember". There have been many reasons to "Celebrate the Success of September."  I look forward to continuing the building of a culture and a community in the upcoming months, where the interests of my students are always at the forefront.

(Teach to Change Lives Image posted by Wade Stanford on Twitter 8/23/14)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

" A Lifetime of Memories, One Unforgettable Weekend"

" Education is not the filling of a pail but the igniting of a fire."  ~ William Butler Yeats~

The journey to NJPAECT2 began in late August with its appearance on my Twitter feed, in which presentation proposals were being solicited by conference organizers.  At first glance I was intrigued, but considering its commencement in early September I was reluctant to pursue the opportunity.  While my  long time friend and co presenter Jane Hutchison and I have been presenting in front of various audiences for the past few years, the early September date left us both feeling apprehensive. Veteran teachers with over 41 combined years of experience, we were both concerned about the successful launch of a new school year and the professional commitments required of us. While deciding on weather or not to submit a proposal, an encouraging request from conference organizer Barry Saide jump started my adrenaline and after careful reflection with Jane and the blessing of my family, we decided to pursue the opportunity.

As summer vacation was drawing to a close, I headed to Long Beach Island for a vacation with my family and awaited word on the acceptance of the proposal. Later in the week an invitation to attend the conference arrived and my excitement started to build. Eventually I found out that we would be presenting at the Edcamp on the second day. While excited and appreciative of the opportunity, I must admit the prospect of presenting in this format was challenging because it would mark our initial effort within this type of environment.

 Labor Day quickly arrived and with it the start of a new school year. As always I embraced the opportunities to build new relationships with my students and renew relationships with my peers.  Back to school night soon followed as we enthusiastically welcomed our new famiilies to the sixth grade team.  The slow pace of summer had vanished and we were settling in to the start of another school year.  As the third week of September came to a close, although exhausted I was eagerly awaiting the weekend and attending NJPAECT2.

Early in the morning on September 20th, Jane and I headed to Raritan Valley Community college for what would evolve into a weekend that neither one of us will soon forget. Unquestionably it became one of the best professional experiences of my twenty year career as an educator. The event featured some of the most inspirational and passionate people that I ever had the pleasure to enjoy a professional experience with.  Not only was the intellectual quality of the event first rate, the quality of character of the people attending was equally outstanding. I met so many people with special talents and qualities that I left both days feeling priveledged to have been invited to share this experience with them. I would be remiss, if I did not spend some time expressing my gratitude for some of the many that left an indelible mark on my heart over the course of the weekend.

Thank you Barry Saide: Your leadership was both impressive and inspirational. It is difficult to find the right words to properly convey my gratitude for being included in this experience.

Thank you Jimmy Casas and Jeff Zoul for a glimpse into what makes you both such outstanding and effective leaders. The bond that the two of you have developed made your session on "Connected Educators" , a truly authentic professional experience.

Thank you Jane Hutchison for sacrificing your weekend at what is a challenging time of year and investing in an experience that furthered our professional growth exponentially. I am blessed to have you for a friend and a partner in learning.

Thank you Glenn Robbins for providing a forum to discuss " Digital Citizenship" and for sharing your story of resilience. I was truly inspired.

Thank you Kathy Suk for hosting this event and for sharing your passion for your students, your craft and your fellow educators.  Watching you look on with such pride while your students presented Teach 2 Matter was an awesome experience.

Thank you Jeanne Muzi, for your energy and passion. Your commitment to implementing Effective Questioning Techniques in the manner that you discussed is a " Game Changer" for kids.

Thank you Spike Cook for your belief in people and your obvious commitment to making everyone that you lead, better.

Thank you Sandra Paul for your drive, your love of education and for your obvious ability to elevate the passions of others about technology and all things educational.

Thank you Steve and Catherine Isaacs for your warmth and kindness over the course of the weekend, and for sharing your expertise on gaming.

Thank you to all of you who attended the session on "Engaging and Empowering at the Middle Level." You brought a high level of excitement and passion to the conversation. Thank you for inspiring us and validating our commitment to this approach towards learning.

Finally, thank you to my family for their blessing in allowing me to pursue this opportunity for professional growth, especially over the course of a weekend. I am blessed to be a member of our family.

There were so many others who played such an important role over the course of the weekend from a logistical, a pedagogical and a spiritual perspective.  Please accept my sincerest gratitude for all that you did to make this a remarkable professional and personal experience.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Day of Service Beyond All Others!

There are days in our personal and professional lives that leave indelible marks on our hearts forever. The marriage to our soul mate. The birth of our children.  The day that we begin our careers and actively start making a productive contribution to our society. These days are special and embedded deep in our memories. We can easily recall the details and vivid images that were present on those days as a result of their significance. Life is constantly producing days that are worthy of celebration. Unfortunately life also produces days of a tragic magnitude that eventually live in our memories and our souls, that stir a host of painful emotions.

 Professionally I have celebrated the opening of the doors of the middle school where I currently work, attended multiple commencement ceremonies and bore witness to the transformation and maturation of countless adolescents. The day to day opportunity to witness the academic and social growth of  today's youth is a joy everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least for one year of their adult life.  The confident smiles that surface when students realize that special achievements have in fact taken place, provide goose bumps for even the most experienced teacher. Although ours is a profession that provides daily challenges, it is also one that provides daily rewards. The potential rewards albeit unknown at the years beginning is what brings us back re-energized every September.

Early in September of 2001 relationships and routines were being established just as they had at the start of each school year since I started my career in 1995. The sun was high in the sky on this particular day and I remember it as a beautiful, even picturesque, fall day. Emotionally I was feeling some anxiety as that evening we expected to welcome our parents in for our annual Back to School visitation. All and all though it was a day like any other, but that would dramatically change within the first hour since our arrival that day. What was a normal day began to take on the appearance as anything but normal.  A visit from a close friend and colleague informed me that one of the towers in New York City was down and that details were still emerging. After teaching another class and a visit to the media center (where we had access to cable television), I was able to begin to gather the information that would haunt our nation for the next several days and months. Terrorists had flown two planes into the Twin Towers and thousands were dead. A terrorist attack had been inflicted on the United States. My wife and young children were in various places throughout the community and we would not be reunited until later that afternoon. This day was quickly becoming emotionally challenging on a personal and a professional level.

Temporarily myself and my colleagues were the only things protecting our students from the knowledge of these horrific events. A directive was issued to not turn on the television or the computer, or talk about the events in front of our students.  We were asked to keep our own emotional reactions in check and retain some sense of normalcy temporarily to maintain the security of our students. In other words, do what we always do, act in the best interest of our students.

Looking back I am sure there has never been a more difficult request of myself or our staff in order to protect the emotional security of our students. As the day wore on we learned of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed near Pittsburgh, all part of a terrorist plot planned by Osama Bin Laden. Parents began to arrive early and sign their children out of school,  as genuine concern brought the need for our families to be together at this time of national crisis.  As a staff we continued to perform our duties and kept close attention to the events as the day unfolded. Eventually instructions came from our administration that just after 1:00 in the afternoon we would read a prepared statement revealing to our students what had taken place during the morning hours of that day.

With great effort to not betray my fears and painful emotions I read the statement and provided my sixth grade students with the knowledge that their nation and its citizens, had been the victim of an attack.  In an instant their stable and secure lives changed forever. Questions emerged but were difficult to answer, as we still did not have many answers of our own. We did our best to allay their fears and address their concerns.  Eventually the hour arrived where we were all able to return home to the comfort of our families and begin to unpack the significance of the day's events.

Without question September 11, 2001 was the most challenging day of my teaching career for so many reasons. As professionals within the educational community we needed to put our personal and emotional concerns on hold throughout the course of the day and protect the emotional stability and security of our students. I was and still am extremely proud of my colleagues for their heroic efforts in maintaining some sense of normalcy on that day and continuing on in the best interest of our students. To accomplish this while being separated from our own families was indeed a personal struggle and a challenge.  Ultimately though, we are teachers and instinctively we will always provide love, care and service for our students, even under the most challenging conditions.

Today as I consider the enormous loss of human life and the widespread destruction of property at the hands of terrorists that day,  I am still filled with sadness. Watching the havoc that was wrought on that day was heartbreaking and the recall of it still stirs a great deal of heartache upon reflection.  However, what cannot be lost during this time of reflection is the strength provided by the many heroes that day which included the thousands of educators that stood tall and protected what was immediately in front of them that day. We must never forget them. We must never forget the heroic efforts of all of those that sacrificed in an effort to provide peace during a time of unspeakable terror.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Search of Balance

Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding a way to serve others by using them.

~Thomas Kinkade~

Sitting here at age fifty as I begin my twentieth year of teaching, I continue my journey in pursuit of a life that has balance.  Admittedly it remains a topic that I still have more questions about than actual answers. Over a month ago I was having a conversation with a first year teacher on Twitter who has phenomenal ideas and energy.  She was sharing the extensive preparation that she was undertaking during the summer in order to confront the challenges that awaited her as a first year teacher. Her approach and day to day efforts were quite impressive to say the least but I cautioned her to find a balancing point in order to sustain her energy over the long haul of a ten month school year. Another member of my PLN who had been monitoring the conversation admonished me stating that "balance" is a  personal matter and differs from one person to the next. Initially I was taken aback by the comment because my sentiments were only motivated by assisting in the overall success of this first year teacher. However after recent contemplation on the subject of balance, I realized that he was correct in his assessment. Balance is in fact a personal matter and varies depending on your current circumstances that surround your life.

During one particular day in July, I was sitting at a gas station at approximately 7a.m. and took notice of the minimal traffic flow at that hour which seemed to be indicative of the slower summer pace.  Summer routines had been settled into and there was a definite simplicity about life at that hour.  As I pondered my day ahead, I began to compare my summer days during July and August while working at my summer camp job, to the days that unfold over the course of the other ten months of the years when I work as an educator.  Simplicity while present during my life throughout the summer months due to a relaxing of responsibilities is certainly not a word that I often use from September to June. Those are the months of the year when the "balancing act" is the most challenging. During those months the priorities and responsibilities increase exponentially at work and in our household.  Meeting the expectations created by these responsibilities creates many

The challenges begin in an effort to get everyone out of the house on time and where they have to be. My wife and I are both educators and my two teenage sons are in middle and high school, so it is not uncommon that someone (usually my wife)  plays beat the clock on a daily basis to ensure that everyone is where they need to be in a timely fashion. While the safe arrival of my own children at their schools allows me to properly focus on the academic and social needs of my students, the academic and social development of my own children  is occurring simultaneously and is never far from my mind.

Balance then becomes a question of priority setting, time management and responsibility fulfillment. Can I use the hours in a day, week, month or year to adequately meet the responsibilities that have been bestowed upon me by those that need me? Can I do it in a fashion where everyone (including myself) is getting a fair amount of committed time and effort? and Can I do it in a fashion where I can sustain my optimum physical an mental health? My success and the success of those that depend on me require me to at least pursue and attain balance on some level.

Here is what I think that I know.  Balance is a personal issue. Balance varies from person to person depending upon your age, status and limits. Balance is only attained temporarily due to the consistency of change in our lives.

This is what I believe. We owe it to ourselves and the one's who depend upon us to pursue it. If nothing else, balance or it least the appearance of it gives our life definition and stability.  As educators and or parents we have a responsibility to our children to demonstrate to them the value of balance, even if attainment is only temporary. The anxiety of the day to day schedule and time management issues faced by our children can only be lessened if they can believe that balance is worth pursuing and certainly something valuable, once attained

Does balance exist? That's a question only you can answer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Girls and Boys of Summer

Robbinsville Softball 2014 LL World Champions
The last month of the summer of 2014 has produced many memorable moments. For the third time in the past seven years, I have had the privilege to watch former students of mine from Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ pursue a World Championship in Little League Softball. Watching these young ladies, some who sat in my classroom just two years ago on live national television was thrilling. Their skill level was superior to the competition this year and they were clearly the best team. While skill and work ethic were obvious strengths of this team, they possessed qualities that were even more impressive.  They possessed an unmistakable confidence and poise which would ultimately pay huge dividends and help them win their first World Championship. That poise and confidence did not just surface for the first time in the final game. These qualities were cultivated over months and even years by their dedicated coaches that put them in a position to become World Champions. The girls, their coaches, parents and community members have many reasons to be proud and there is much cause for the celebration of their success this summer. As I watched the students from our school on national television record the final out, I remember repeating proudly,"they did it, they did it." I will never forget the joyous, emotional reactions of the girls that followed that last out. I am proud of their success and in the manner that they represented themselves and their community this summer. They demonstrated true grace and class in their victory and taught everyone a lesson in perseverance.

After watching that last out in Oregon, my focus eventually turned to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the 75th annual Little League World Series. My two teenage sons have not played a Little League baseball game in over three years yet they remain enthusiastic and passionate about the Little League Word Series. They continue to watch it with great interest. Every year as I watch as well, I am reminded of the joy that accompanies youth sports. There were many compelling stories this year that took place both inside and outside of the field of play. The captivation of the nation by Mo'ne Davis, a 13 year old girl who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, was a story that marked a drastic change in the gender landscape of youth sports. Her success on the mound this summer was unprecedented and played a significant role in the arrival of the Taney Little League from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Williamsport for the World Series. While Taney fell short of advancing to the U.S. title game, 36,000 people turned out and were able to bear witness to them winning two games. Meanwhile, Mo'ne was at the center of it all. Davis in the interviews came across as the consummate team player, claiming discomfort that the attention she received detracted from the overall success of the team and the attention they deserved as a result.

Another great story featured the Jackie Robinson Little League West, from Chicago, Illinois, the first team of all African Americans to advance to the Little League World Series in thirty years. They would ultimately upset the team from Nevada and win the United States Championship. This was a team of "grit" that would come from behind time and time again, putting themselves in a position to play for the coveted World Title. Yesterday against South Korea they made a spirited run at the championship, scoring three runs in the final frame but fell just short of achieving their ultimate goal. Although the scoreboard reflected a loss this group of young boys represented themselves with great integrity and dignity. On two separate occasions after a Chicago pitcher hit a South Korean batter, the pitcher went over to check on the welfare of the hitter and shook the hand of the hitter in an apologetic gesture.  True class and true sportsmanship! South Korea emerged as the champions and deservedly so as they were clearly the most talented team offensively and defensively. They completed this years competition going undefeated and have never lost in their three appearances at Williamsport, also winning titles in 1984 and 1985.

While watching the telecasts over the past several weeks my sons and I watched great competition but more importantly we watched kids experiencing the true joy of sport. We witnessed repeated gestures of sportsmanship game after game. We learned of the camaraderie and friendship that existed off the field among all the competitors that is part of the Williamsport experience.  We watched the coach of Rhode Island, David Belisle, in defeat give one of the most inspirational speeches in the history of any sport.  I only hope that either one of my sons aspires to be that type of coach. These telecasts allowed us to experience first hand the positive qualities of sports when our athletes and coaches perform and behave at the highest of standards.

While we have the opportunity as fans to watch and appreciate professionals play this game at the highest level, it is important that we reflect on the joy that is experienced when it is played at its most fundamental level by our children. It is important that we take the time and honor the boys and girls who conduct themselves in an honorable fashion and remind us each summer that their love of the game and the manner in which they play the game is just as important as ultimately winning the game.  When we think of the Boys and Girls of the Summer of 2014 we will remember their grit, their grace and their poise and the indelible mark that their performances left on our hearts and ball fields throughout America.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Story of Connected Educators!

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives."  ~Robert John Meehan

September is just around the corner and with it comes the arrival of my 20th year as a middle school educator. I can still vividly remember the phone call that essentially began my career. This special phone call informed me that I was being recommended for a middle school position in the Robbinsville School District. Finally my dream was about to come true. That first year was full of many challenges and many successful moments. My success that first year was due to strong relationships with many supportive colleagues and a loving wife who provided a nurturing and a guiding influence that enabled me to overcome the toughest of challenges. I couldn't have navigated through the obstacles of that first year without them.  When I needed advice, they provided it. When I needed to be set straight, they did the straightening. When I needed an ear, they lent me theirs. When I needed to fly solo, I was given the space to try things on my own.  I have many fond memories of my early years and the relationships that were forged with my colleagues and my students. These connections created strong bonds  throughout the early years and helped me to build strong relationships. They have indeed made me the confident and successful educator that I have become.

As the years have gone on, whenever I have been given the opportunity to share my passion and vision for education with others, I have never hesitated to do so.Within the past few years my teammate and close personal friend Jane Hutchison and I have made a concerted effort to share our passion and wisdom with pre-service teachers at Rider University. In March of this year we shared with the students of Rider an encore presentation of a workshop that we had created called " The Characteristics of a Highly Effective First Year Teacher." Based on the feedback that we  received from their professors and the students, we found the workshop to be beneficial to their development.

 After concluding the March presentation my partner and I were approached by a senior at Rider who shared that she was going to a job fair the next day and that she had seven interviews with area school districts scheduled.  During our presentation we had shared the value of using "social media" and the benefits of becoming a connected educator.  It was obvious from our conversation that she was already a  "connected educator" and clearly understood the value of the use of social media.I remember being impressed with the confidence that she possessed when we first met that evening.  Evidently I was not the only one impressed by her credentials. Months later my school district would hire her for a third grade position.  Throughout the past few months I have been inspired by her tweets and blog postings which have revealed a strong work ethic and a passionate commitment to her craft. She begins her teaching career in 2014 as a confident and inspired "connected educator. As she begins the first year of her career it is clearly obvious that she possesses all of the 21st century tools to thrive as a first year educator. With assistance
provided by her PLN and mentors within our school district , she is sure to soar in her first year as an educator.

While 1995 signaled the beginning of my professional career, 2014 signals the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life. Year twenty marks the start of my career as a new and improved  "connected educator."  Unquestionably as a result, I am a changed practitioner and in turn this brings new and exciting changes for my students.
As a connected educator, I have access to thousands of people from around the world who care about the success of my students. 
As a connected educator, I have access to a global network of inspirational voices who embrace their roles as agents of change for today's youth.  
As a a connected educator, I have access to the latest in innovative technology.
 As a connected educator, I have the opportunity to discuss educational pedagogy with instructional and administrative leaders throughout the country and around the world. 
As a connected educator, I have the ability to make strides and improve my craft in a consistent and immediate manner.

While I look back at the first twenty years of my career, I realize that I have always been a  "connected educator" and that the relationships that I have built with children and adults are the cornerstones of my success.  However with the help of Twitter, the connections that I can now make and the relationships that I can build as I develop my PLN are more diverse and expansive than ever.  With each new connection that I make there is a new opportunity for collaboration and professional growth. The immediacy and the possibilities associated with this new "networking" provide a great deal of excitement for the individual and collective members within our profession. The more conversations that we can have about transforming education the more students around the world will benefit. Whether you are an educator who began your career in the 20th century and continue to evolve in the 21st century, or you are starting your career in the 21st century one thing is clear; using social media to make connections well beyond the classroom walls,  is a formula for success for today's educator. The  "connected educator" is going to be a force within this profession for years to come because they will possess the tools that they need to take their instructional practices to new heights. When will you begin to write your story?

Friday, August 1, 2014

In Search of the Wow Moments!

As has been the case for the past twenty three summers, I have been spending my days recently working at a beautiful day camp facility in the Sourland Mountain Region of New Jersey called Rambling Pines. This camp, owned and operated by the Jordan family for 39 seasons is a special place and is held very close to my heart.  My wife and I met there over twenty years ago and our children have attended as campers for the past 12 summers.  Although it is a place of my summer employment, it continues to be a place where my family continues to bond. This year my oldest son Peter is working with our younger campers as a member of our Leadership in Training Program while my son Scott is enjoying his second year in the Teen Travel camp.

While this summer has provided me with the opportunity to forge new relationships with children and staff members, it has been one that I have found challenging for a number of reasons.  Six weeks in and I can honestly say that I have not yet hit my stride. The summer heat this year and the nature of my job as Athletic Director has left me feeling frequently drained of energy at days end. As a result, I have not been as active reading or growing professionally as compared to previous summers. However one thing that continues to be a consistent source of enjoyment has been the opportunities to connect with my PLN on Twitter. As was the case during the school year, our communications when they occur, continue to energize and inspire me.

Recently I was participating in a hashtag chat called #TLAP 465, discussing the content of a book that I have grown quite passionate about. (Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess). This book and its author are game changers within the field of education. Within the context of the book educators are encouraged to create engaging learning experiences by using various "hooks" to excite students about their learning.  I always find myself inspired whenever I have the opportunity to discuss this book and the ways that I have implemented the "pirate" approach in my classroom.  I don't remember how it happened exactly but a question was posed during the chat that allowed me to discuss my " Day of Wow" during this past year. This was easily one of the most memorable, engaging experiences for me and my students last year. It was a day that allowed my students and I to create a learning experience that focused on exciting moments throughout history, as part of an effort to launch a new unit of study. Whenever I share the experience of the "Day of Wow" with others, they are genuinely intrigued and want to know more. I am always more than happy to oblige. This leads me to the best part of the story.

After reading my tweet about the "Day of Wow", a valued member of my PLN, Traci Logue, began asking questions about the details of the day. Before I knew it, we were revisiting the day and the experience. I then referred her to an earlier blog post that I had written called," The Wow Factor."  After she read the post we had the opportunity to continue our conversation. This was an awesome opportunity for me to reflect back on  the "Day of Wow and look forward to this year's version.  I am grateful to Traci  for her curiosity, kindness and positivity that was exchanged throughout the conversation.   After we finished our conversation I was more inspired than I had been in weeks. I started to consider the importance of  the "Wow" moments in education, especially since the beginning of a new school year looms on the horizon.

As educators we have a responsibility to guide our students toward the discovery of their own " Wow" moments. This is how we fuel their passion for learning. They want to be engaged. They want to be interested. Most importantly they want to be excited about what they learn.   The Wow moment is the ultimate reward for their effort. While I am looking forward to this year's "Day of Wow", (still under construction) my goal is to help my students find those Wow moments when ever and where ever possible. Life is full of them, you just have to look under the right rock.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mid-Summer Stop on a Farewell Tour

 There are three occasions every year in which Major League Baseball, takes "center stage". In late March or early April there is "Opening Day" in which all 30 Major League teams begin their quest for the "holy grail" know as the World Series Championship.  In late October there is the "Fall Classic" in which the best teams in both the American League and the National League compete for the World Series Championship. In Mid-July we have the fan favorite the Mid- Summer Classic or All Star Game which showcases the best that both the American and National leagues have to offer in a one game exhibition.

Fans across America after voting  for the best starting lineups from both the American and National leagues are given the opportunity to bear witness to an annual exhibition of sport featuring baseball royalty. Traditionally this is an "exhibition" game for the fans and has featured the best young and veteran talent that the game has to offer. Each year most of the players, after being selected by the fans, barring an unfortunate injury arrive at the designated city for that year and take part in a four hour contest that has featured many memorable moments over the years.

 In 1985 the game was complimented by the addition of another exhibition known as the Home Run Derby. This competition takes place the night before the game and allows the fans yet another opportunity to witness current major league players showcasing their skills in what is usually an awesome display of power and stamina. Again this spectacle produces a mixture of talent from each league and enhances the overall experience for the fans.

On the night of the All Star game  regardless of  team loyalty, (Redsox, Yankees, Phillies or Mets) we all root for the same team. We root for the American League or the National League because on this night all of the greats are on the same team.  For one night rivalries don't exist. During the player introductions we can actually root for the legends who on any other night are our rivals. This is the beauty of this game. One of my all time favorite moments took place in 1999 at Fenway Park when the All Century team was introduced. What a magical night. The collection of talent amassed on the field at Fenway that night was unprecedented and it is unlikely that it will be equaled anytime soon. Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn both in attendance that evening as members of the all century team engaged in a conversation about hitting that was captured by cameras and microphones.  The conversation was short in duration but one likely to be remembered for the ages.

While the game is held annually to honor and show appreciation for the support of the fans, this year is a year that beckons us as fans to turn the tables and show our appreciation as fans for one of the true greats of the game.   This year, this night needs to be about honoring a man that has been the face of  Major League Baseball for the past 19 seasons. This night needs to be a Mid Summer Classic that pays homage to the great career of Derek Jeter. This night needs to be a night when a thunderous ovation accompanies his every at bat. This night Jeter plays all nine. This night Baseball Nation does not stop showing their appreciation for all that Jeter has done because collectively they will not get another chance.

This will be Jeter's 14th and final all star game.(Ninth as a starter)  For the past 19 years in an era that has been marred by the usage of  PED's, he has always played the game " the right way" and represented it with integrity.  He has been a leader. He has been clutch. ( See Mr. November) He has been gritty.  He has been fundamentally sound.  He has been a role model for boys and girls all across America. He has been a true "Champion".  He is a first ballot Hall of Famer and a legend of professional sports in America.

 His career has been one continuous highlight film.  Who could forget the full speed crash into the left field bleachers to catch a ball against the Redsox, only to come out bruised and bloodied?  Or the play against the A's in the playoffs when he came across the field to take a cutoff and gun down Jeremy Giambi at the plate?Or his homerun on his 3000th hit that helped the Yankees win a ballgame?  Throughout his career, game after game, Jeter simply "got it done" and  he did the right way. He did it through hard work, grit  and commitment. He is certainly one of the greatest Yankees ever to put on the blue pin stripes.

I will miss watching Derek Jeter at the plate never wasting an at bat, on defense never giving up on a play and in the post game interviews, always being the consummate and classy professional.  For the past 19 years he has been class, grace and grit personified.  As he makes this mid summer stop, this final time on his farewell tour, fans across this great nation regardless of team loyalty, need to acknowledge and show appreciation for his work ethic, his achievements and his contributions to the great game of baseball.  Class acts like Jeter only come around every so often.

Friday, July 4, 2014


" A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect"
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie"

On multiple occasions throughout the course of the school year,  I am fortunate to receive tokens of appreciation from my students and their families. One occasion occurs just prior to the start of the winter break and a later occasion occurs at the conclusion of the school year. The thoughtfulness of the students is always something that warms my heart. While the the thought by itself is very much appreciated, the thing that is most meaningful comes in the sentiments that they write within their cards or from the nature of the gifts themselves.

The sentiments in the cards and the gifts themselves are clear reflections of the relationships that we have built throughout the course of the year. A gift card to Barnes and Noble to support my love for reading or my passion for sports or history.  A gift card for ITunes to support my passion for music. A box of candy to feed my sweet tooth. These gifts are not random and are special because they reflect the effort that my students have made in building a relationship with me, just as I have with them. That is a wonderful gift in itself.

We are all familiar with the phrase " it's the thought that counts". When I consider the thoughtfulness of my students, I am filled with gratitude that they have made it a priority to use a gift or a card to convey their appreciation for my efforts and to demonstrate my importance in their lives. Although the students take advantage of multiple opportunities to present me with gifts of their appreciation, the reality is that I receive gifts from them on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I am privileged to observe their social, academic, and athletic growth throughout the course of the school year. These opportunities to witness and ultimately celebrate various types of student achievement are incredibly special gifts, in their own right.

When a student reveals a smile that says " I understand", that is a gift. When a student who has lacked confidence when presenting in front of their peers suddenly nails it, that is a gift.  When students take initiative in the classroom to guide and support each other, that is a gift.   When a student/athlete earns a personal best and a victory on their last throw of the season, that is a gift. The beauty of these gifts is that they are spontaneous and they occur as a result of our collaborative efforts and hard work. Furthermore they occur within a culture of learning which promotes and celebrates student success. A culture that has been passionately cultivated by the commitment of all of the stakeholders within our learning community.

As I "wrap up" another successful school year, I reflect with pride and humility on the numerous gifts that my students have presented me with over the course of the school year. Whether sentimental, material or as a result of their individual or collective achievements I have been blessed by their generosity, love and commitment. As September looms on the horizon and with it the coming of a new school year,  I look forward to the opportunity to build relationships with a new group of students. Moreover, I look forward to observing their growth throughout the course of the upcoming year. But mostly I look forward to the positive impact that their effort, commitment and achievements will have upon me. That is the greatest "gift" of all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

True Colors

For the past 19 years I have worked in a community that has experienced dramatic population growth. As a result our school population has grown in proportion to our town. One thing that has remained a priority over the course of my career, has been a commitment to helping establish a culture, where people feel a strong sense of belonging and where they can grow. With an annual increase of staff and students, we have experienced our share of growing pains over the years. However I would argue that the culture within our building, although always a work in progress, continues to be a constructive effort of all of the stakeholders within our school community.

We are a unique school community as we are essentially a grade 4-8 middle school.  The 4th and 5th grades are configured more as an upper elementary school and the 6th through 8th grades take on the characteristics of  a middle school. We have successfully educated over one thousand students due to the efforts of dedicated educators for many years now. Within the next couple of years due to new construction within the district, the fourth grade will return to the elementary school that they left many years ago and we will return to our original 5-8 middle school configuration.  Although not the ideal situation, we have all made it work for quite awhile. While it may seem that the current configuration has created two separate schools,  we are in fact one school, proud and unified.  We are a family and we care a great deal about each other. Never had this been more apparent than on Friday, June 6 when the members of our school community stood together in a unified effort to show support for one of our beloved colleagues.

Several weeks ago we learned that one of our own, a beloved teacher, colleague and friend was diagnosed with stage three Pancreatic Cancer. While in a fight for her life, it is a fight that she is determined to win. At first our staff was saddened and greatly concerned to learn that someone we care a great deal about was enduring this life altering challenge. However leaders within our building quickly took action and have launched a multifaceted assistance campaign to help our dear friend.   One of the ideas was to sell t-shirts throughout the school and supporting community.  This allowed many people connected to our school community to quickly get involved in an effort to provide assistance and support. The t-shirts are purple,(the symbolic color of Pancreatic Cancer) and they contain the motto of our friend " SEE YOU AT THE FINISH LINE."

This past Friday, the majority of our staff and several of our students in an awesome show of support, compassion and love, arrived at school wearing the t-shirt that you see in the picture above. In all of my years as a member of this school community, I continue to be impressed by our ability to send loud messages of support, compassion and unity to others, when they are needed the most.  Although the road ahead is long and is of the toughest to endure, one thing is for sure, we will continue to support our friend unconditionally as she continues on this painstaking journey.

Although we do not live in harmony within our school community 100% of the time, or anywhere close to it for that matter, there is one thing for certain.  When one of our own is hurting or suffering, we will always turn out and support them. The future for our friend remains uncertain but we will be there at the "finish line" to meet her and embrace her when she rids herself of this disease . Meanwhile we will continue to show our "true colors" and support her, as she makes every effort to arrive there.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day!

                                       (My Thoughts on the First 16 Years of Fatherhood)

1. There is not a more challenging, important or rewarding job on the planet than Parenthood.
2. There have never been better days than those in which I became a husband and a father, each time.
3. I must never underestimate the importance of finding quality time to spend with my children.
4. Listening will always be more important than preaching,
5. As the co-leader of my family, I must model for my children the principles of love, serve, and care.
6. My greatest joys in life come from bearing witness to the achievements and growth of my children.
7. I must continue to learn and become better, ultimately my children will model my teachings as a parent.
8. You can never properly prepare for fatherhood.
9.  Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" gets more poignant and depressing the older I get.
10. My wife is amazing and extraordinary, her support and wisdom are  "game changers".
11. Teachable moments are always there.
12.I have failed at times and I will fail again, but I must fail forward and never give up, too much is at stake.
13.The challenges never stop coming.
14.There has never been a better example of "on the job training".
15. When I found the "one", I couldn't wait to be one.
16. The love I feel for my wife and my two sons is the driving force in my life.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Classroom Magic!

"Is there magic in this world? Certainly! But its not the kind of magic written about in fantasy stories.  It is the kind of magic that comes from ideas and the hard work it often takes to make them real." Robert Fanney

     This past Thursday evening a valued member of my PLN,  Cori Coburn-Shiflett was wrapping up our weekly Region 5 chat on Twitter and asked for a rather thought provoking "take away" response. The request was for the posting of a picture that would serve as a symbol, characterizing our school year.  My first reaction was to sort through the photos on my IPhone and look for the appropriate image to serve as my symbol. Initially I wasn't really sure what I was looking for, then it hit me right between the eyes.  The Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World was my symbol. When I looked at this picture, I saw  "magic" and I realized that there were not many other more appropriate words to describe my 2013-2014 school year.
  Suddenly, after thinking unsuccessfully for days about a topic for my monthly blog, I had "magically" found my inspiration.  For the past several weeks I have been reflecting on my growth as an educator as well as the growth of my students throughout this school year.  I recently recalled the ideas of author/educator Dave Burgess about creating "engaging educational experiences" for students.   Dave advocates transforming the classroom environment into a place that captures the attention of students and that allows the students to engage in the ultimate learning experiences. In other words make the environment in which they learn and the learning that takes place "magical". It is not surprising that Dave has a passion for magic, as well as education. After seeing his workshop one has no trouble understanding how he works his magic, engaging and empowering  his students. The Teach Like a Pirate movement that has resulted from Dave's book of the same name,  inspired me to create my own classroom magic throughout 2013-14.
      There was the " Day of Wow" in which our classroom environment was transformed into a place that inspired the passions of my students. Various topics were presented from a " red carpet" platform and were of a a riveting nature that engaged one and all.  There was the " Match my Inspiration" quote activity where students and teachers brought in inspirational quotes during Black History Month in an effort to highlight the struggle and resiliency of African Americans. There was the Women's History Month presentations in which students researched various women based on individual interests and then presented their findings to a curious and engaged group of their peers. There was the Women's History Month closing "chat" activity exploring the impact that women have made and continue to make in our society. This activity included a mock hashtag, student generated questions and a period long discussion that was moderated by a student.  Most recently, students constructed their Egyptian Mummies. This culminating activity to our unit on ancient Egypt  allowed students to work cooperatively in groups producing well written biographies about wealthy Egyptians, while designing artistic sarcophagi. On all of these occasions the passions and the enthusiasm of the students was obvious. The learning environment and the level of student engagement throughout consistently took on a magical quality.
     As teachers we do not wave a magic wand and achieve magical outcomes from our students. We plan relentlessly and implement strategies that allow our students to embark upon magical journeys. We hope ultimately to put them in a  position to achieve"magical "outcomes. We strive to empower our students to create their own magic as well but this is not easily achieved either. We achieve this only after creating relationships with our students and by taking the time to understand their passions and interests.  When we see the faces of our students " light up". When we observe their passionate approaches. When we witness their enthusiastic presentations. We then know that we have accomplished our goal. We have helped to make learning magical for our students.
   In a year that has featured monumental changes with the addition of Student Growth Objectives and new evaluation models, the business side of our profession has created  new challenges to overcome. However the development of my PLN, the reading of quality educational blogs and the utilization of limitless resources on Twitter, has re-energized my commitment to my craft. I can always seek their guidance and support and rely upon their positive attitude to help me produce that classroom magic.  As I move closer to closing the book on another school year I am grateful for the opportunities to create magical moments in the lives of my students every day, and I cherish the opportunity moving forward to do so for many years to come.