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.