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.