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.