Sunday, August 30, 2015

Serious Summer Fun

Playing baseball all summer is fun.

Arriving at Williamsport and the Little League World Series, as reward for your hard work, is fun.

Playing in front of crowds in excess of 45,000 people that are usually reserved for Major League players in Major League stadiums, is fun.

Playing on national television for two weeks, is fun.

Hitting homeruns is fun. ( A new record 85 were hit this year)

Hitting a walk off single to help your team win a United States championship, is fun.

Playing ping pong, collecting pins, sliding down hills on cardboard boxes and making friends with kids from all over the world, is fun.

Eating cotton candy and funnel cake, is always fun.

Celebrating your birthday on the same day that you play for the Little League World Championship, is fun.

Winning the Liitle League Baseball World Championship after trailing 10-2, is fun.

Watching the majority of the two week tournament with my two teenage sons, was so much fun.

While undoubtedly serious about having their share of summer fun, these athletes were also serious about winning a World Championship. This was in evidence by the stellar play of all the participants throughout the two week tournament. Once again there was plenty of drama provided throughout the competition. Some games featured pitchers seeking no hitters while others displayed walk off home runs. The pursuit of that championship dream was in full swing from the first pitch to the last out.

The dream began with long hours spent practicing on hometown baseball diamonds. The competition would start locally. However, as each team  advanced, their quest to fulfill their dream would literally require some of them to travel across the globe. This would require great effort and sacrifice from the players, coaches and their families. Earning the right to play at Williamsport resulted from their ability to consistently play at a high level and was due to possessing resilient qualities that elevated them above their competition. Knowing how to play at a serious level but having fun while doing it was something these participants would have a lot of experience in prior to their arrival at Williamsport.

While playing the game of baseball is fun, losing is never fun. Unfortunately it is one of the two possible outcomes that result from most competitions. Of all the teams represented in this year's tournament, only one went home the champion. Here is where the resiliency of these individuals and the ability to put a loss in perspective by their coaches, is needed the most. When emotions are acknowledged, effort is appreciated and children feel loved, they will move forward.

Hopefully in the minutes, hours and days that follow the conclusion of this year's tournament, the athletes will not remember the journey's end, but all of the "serious fun" they had along the way.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Capturing the Magic of Rambling Pines"

As I near the completion of my 24th season at Rambling Pines Day Camp I am amazed by the many ways that one is able to capture the magic of the camp experience.  One of my favorite ways is to frequently absorb the natural beauty of this camp. This can be done upon arrival in the morning when the camp is at its most tranquil state. The many acres of lush greenery can be quite breath taking, as the sun peaks out above the many rows of majestic pines trees. Equally spectacular are the views which are available during the two overnight sessions if we are fortunate to have them fall in alignment with the full moon. The entire camp is illuminated as the campers gather on our fields to make Smores or listen to songs by for the campfire.

One of my favorite ways to experience camp is at night, at home. With myself, my wife and my oldest son working at camp, and my youngest son still a camper, we take the opportunity to discuss  our experiences, albeit from different perspectives.  I am sure many families have similar conversations about their daily experiences at the dinner table on a nightly basis. It's a great way to extend the camp day and to feel as if you were actually part of the experience.

Using a digital or a video camera is another great way to capture the camp experience. Perhaps a special moment in arts and crafts is preserved, or the competitions during our Olympics or relays, or just a humorous lunchtime interaction experienced by our children.  There are many opppotunities throughout the season to preserve the individual and collective camper moments as they develop. Using digital photos and videos are great tools to use to ensure that these memories endure over time.

This year, due to the creativity of Jr. Counselor Peter Ryseck I learned of a new, innovative way to capture the camp experience. This done from a " birds eye" view.  Ryseck a senior at Hopewell Valley High School created a remote control plane that includes a battery, three propellers a circuit panel, a Go Pro camera and a remote control. Ryseck can use this control to fly over the camp and take video images of the various things that go on during the camp day.  After filming, he lands the plane, then detaches the camera and uploads the images to a computer. Once uploaded, the images can be edited to create a new and unique perspective of the camp experience for the viewer.

Rambling Pines is celebrating a milestone 40th season this summer. There have been many ways to capture the special moments that have happened here, over the years.  Impressively, Peter Ryseck in his second season as a staff member, has found a new and innovative way to capture its magic.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Perspective On "The Secret Game" by Scott Ellsworth

After deciding to pursue the answer to the mystery locked deep within the pages of Scott Ellsworth's "The Secret Game", the reader will quickly become impressed by the obvious extensive and exhaustive effort that is committed to this writer's research. The story focuses on a single college basketball game that is played behind closed, locked doors and in secret on the campus of the North Carolina College for Negroes in the 1940's.  However, Ellsworth's effort to tell the story behind the "Secret Game" goes well beyond the scope of its title and provides the reader with a deep and meaningful image of modern American society at that time, in the Deep South.

Early on Ellsworth examines the roots of basketball, the contributions of its inventor Dr. James Naismith and its evolution on a national and international level. As the sport evolves the author forces the reader to come to grips with the deeply rooted racial issues that divide America throughout most of the 20th Century. Here again we see the painful yet accurate portrayal of a sport where elite black athletes are denied the opportunity to compete against the elite white athletes, due to rigid cultural beliefs and traditions. Beliefs and traditions where a segregated society endures due to values that are deeply entrenched in the Deep South and are passed down in families from one generation to the next. While this mindset was prohibitive and was bound to stir various emotions within the reader, the author goes to great lengths not to justify segregation but to represent its origins and the maintenance of these southern traditions fairly.

Ellsworth's  presentation of the men attending Duke University and the North Carolina College For Negroes (the participants in "The Secret Game") is comprehensive.  We learn about their lives prior to their arrival at their respective schools, while in attendance there and then beyond the years that follow their departure from their schools.  We learn of extraordinary and interesting  individuals who come from vastly different cultural and economic backgrounds and gain a clear perspective of how their economic and social statuses assist them, or limit them as they evolve throughout the story.

While racial discrimination continues to permeate Southern society at this time, Ellsworth introduces us to various people who possess great courage and actively seek to change existing racial attitudes and segregationist traditions.  Bravely, these changes are sought by people who have experienced forms of racial and ethnic discrimination of their own, despite intimidating efforts to stop them. As these efforts continue successfully, hope is created that eventually barriers can be broken down socially and in athletics. Perhaps eventually the gym will provide the setting where the best can compete against the best despite the racial status of the opposition.

As the book moves toward conclusion with the commencement of the " Secret Game" the reader must marvel at the expansive efforts of this author to tell this. story and to tell it well. A story that tells a of an historic yet unlikely athletic contest, while weaving in the social issues of the time.  Once again here the reader is reminded of the author's desire not only to tell the entire story, but do so in an accurate and fair manner. For this he is to be commended.

The reading of " The Secret Game" is a most worthy pursuit for those readers who have a passion for American social history,  basketball or those who  just want to read a good story masterfully told by a masterful story teller.  We are fortunate that Scott Ellsworth was committed to learning and then telling this compelling story.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Are you a Teacher Leader?

"Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."
~Steve Jobs~

While attending a workshop today at Rider University I carefully reflected upon what constitutes "teacher leadership." Over the course of my twenty one year teaching career I have always been surprised when I have observed educators shying away from informal leadership roles because  they do not "view themselves as a leader."  The fact that they are serving in a teaching role responsible for the education of children suggests that quite the opposite is true.  Their principals that hired them and the eager faces and smiles that await them each and every day certainly suggest otherwise as well. What then constitutes a "teacher leader"?

Do we define the "teacher leader" as someone who builds a transparent classroom culture by building relationships with their students and parents, based on trust and respect?

 Or is the "teacher leader" the person who provides learning opportunities for their students based on independent choices which enable them to find their own voices?

Perhaps the " teacher leader" is that person who collaborates and shares ideas with their colleagues, investing time and energy to improve the educational experience for both staff and students.

Maybe the " teacher leader" is the soft spoken listener who provides support when it is needed and guidance when it is requested.

The " teacher leader" assuredly puts "kids first" and will do anything to promote the joy of learning for both adults and children.

The " teacher leader" is an active learner and consistently looks for ways to improve their own performance and ultimately the educational experience that they provide for their students.

The "teacher leader" is driven by their purpose and seeks to grow while being an " agent of positive change."

As teachers it is our responsibility to provide leadership to those we serve. Those children each and every year that walk through those school house doors, expect that we will provide it for them. There are many ways that this can be accomplished but ultimately we must lead.  We can assist in learning through navigation and facilitation. We can provide instructional experiences that empower our students to both consume new knowledge and create new applications as a result. We can also provide lessons that engage the spirit and minds of our students, leaving them with the desire to learn more. When we work with our students in any capacity with the desired goal of achievement and advancement, we are leading them.

Are you a teacher leader?   Most definitely those who provide formal education for others, are. Maybe the better question is; Are you an effective teacher leader? Ultimately if we seek to improve ourselves, our craft, our students and invest in a positive school culture for all stake holders, then we are off to a good start. However we must never get complacent and we must always strive to improve. Thus ensuring from an educational perspective that our tomorrows far surpass our yesterdays.

Monday, August 3, 2015

In Search of Bliss

Over the past few days my most recent followers on Twitter have inspired the forthcoming post. (A major benefit of being connected).  Jennifer Houlette informed me that we shared length of teaching service and the parenting of two teenage children in common. Brian Durst posted a quote by the author Joseph Cambell regarding the pursuit of "bliss" that resonated with me and has resulted in the day long contemplation of its true meaning.  Consequently I decided to examine the pursuit of bliss as it applies to my own children and those that I teach.

My hope is that once my children have their passions ignited by things that matter to them they will pursue them with all the vigor they can muster. They will research. They will consume. They will create.  They will take risks despite the possibility of failure. They will learn to celebrate effort and adapt to failure. The joy of learning more, will always drive the pursuit of learning more.  

The pursuit of new knowledge and the acquisition of new skills will allow my children and those that I teach to enjoy life and make meaningful societal contributions.  Ultimately I believe this may lead to their individual bliss, but this is only something they can determine.

As a parent and educator it is vital that I contribute to an effort where a multitude of choices are provided that will peak and sustain their interests, while fostering their growth. It is imperative that guidance and support are provided when sought but not forced upon them.

If we as adults are of the mindset to control their choices and their future direction, we will fail them. We must empower them to think and act independently.  Failure to do this will create a population that evolves into adulthood helplessly.

As an educator and a father, my true "bliss" will only be achieved if I am fortunate enough to observe the children in my life commit their energy and passion to a lifetime of learning.  Eventually using the knowledge they acquire to lead an ever changing global society that provides opportunity for the social, technological and economic growth of their citizens. Only then will the search finally come to an end.