Saturday, June 24, 2017

Don't Blink                                              

I did, they told me not to and I did it anyway. I blinked and 18 years went by in what seemed like 5 minutes. Or in other words a "blink of an eye." 

Rocking him to sleep at night, dropping him off at preschool, Little League baseball, the nurturing years at Sayen School, the challenging years of middle school and then the years of triumphant spirit at Steinert High School.  Years full of anecdotal growth academically and socially culminated yesterday with commencement exercises at the Sun Center. Now my oldest son stands on the precipice of the collegiate experience as he readies to enter Rider University in the fall, ready to take yet another step towards carving out the life that he imagines for himself.

Yesterday it was obvious that he is ready to take this next step by the confident manner in which he conducted himself at his graduation. While he appeared exuberant in his mannerisms it signaled to me that this was his day and he was going to enjoy it with his people. His four years had been about building pride and spirit for his school and using that as the foundation to build relationships with his peers and his teachers. Yesterday was one final opportunity to demonstrate that pride and display his commitment to that spirit, by celebrating the class of 2017 with every opportunity that was presented. 

As the commencement exercises came to a conclusion with the exit of the graduates, they put their high school years in the rear view mirror, essentially writing the last chapter of their childhood. Yes I blinked again and a room full just an hour ago now stood empty in front of me. High School graduates all, having left to chase after their dreams and build a life that they only imagined in what seemed like just a few short years ago.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Senior Shine

This post is dedicated to Jennifer Snyder, Kathy St. John, Jim St.John Jane Hutchison and Tom Hutchison. I am grateful to have watched with you, all  of our children grow into outstanding young adults.

This Senior Awards program for the Steinert High School Class of 2017 sparked a week long celebration of the "senior experience" both in my personal and professional life.

Receiving the invitation for our son Peter to attend the awards ceremony prior to the event left my wife and I with feelings of gratitude and anticipation, wondering what the recognition would entail. When the night arrived and he was recognized twice for his spirit and his contributions to his senior class, we were overcome with a strong sense of pride. Enhancing the experience was witnessing Andrew, David and Jimmy all receive special recognition as well. Watching them grow and develop their strong character over the years, fueled the joy that I felt for them and their families on that evening. 

As I listened to the accolades bestowed upon this senior class I sensed just how special these individuals were.  My son had put himself in a position to stand by side with his peers and join with them  in celebration, on a night designed to honor all of them. I was beyond thrilled for our family, but mostly for him as it was yet another memory to add to his amazing high school journey. 

With graduation two weeks away we are entering the home stretch and the conclusion of the public school chapter. The growth I have witnessed in my son  from infant, to toddler, to preschooler, to elementary student to adolescent and now adult has been extraordinary. I couldn't have written a script with a character that would eclipse the man he is becoming. I eagerly await the details as the next chapter of his life unfolds. Thankfully I will have a front row seat to take it all in.

Teaching 6th grade students allows me a one year window to view the growth of approximately 100 students annually. A great deal of time is invested into building a culture within a 180 day period which will enrich their lives academically and socially. Relationships are forged and for that 180 days we all share in life's triumphs and miseries. I would argue that for better or worse we all get to know each other fairly well. When the final June bell sounds it signals a time to be grateful for the time spent together, but also the time that awaits. They will head off to seventh grade and I will begin talking steps to welcome next years class. My year with them brought to inevitable closure.

Some of my ex-students I will see often in the hallways and some will stop by, while others will move completely forward not looking back. It may seem sad but it is just the nature of this job. Two years ago a special event commenced giving graduating seniors and their former middle school and elementary school teachers a final chance to say goodbye.  The "senior walk" took place this morning as former students, now graduating seniors, paraded nostalgically throughout the PRMS hallways. My spirits were lifted watching the joy on their faces as many of my former students greeted me with handshakes and hugs. The confident look on their faces signaled to me that the were indeed heading in the right direction. The last senior stopped for a moment, shook my hand and told me that I was one of his favorite teachers. I couldn't really imagine a better way to conclude an event or a week that had brought so much joy to so many.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Upon Further Reflection

Reflection enables me to be better in all facets of my life that require my attention and that I choose to maintain effectively. This became clear to me long ago and thus it it is a practice that I engage in willingly. Personal and professional growth continues to be achieved because I realize the true value of these practices. Although growth is one of the desired outcomes that is attained from reflection, there are outcomes that sometimes result in emotional struggles. While  honest reflection reveals strengths it also reveals mistakes, flaws and shortcomings. These can be challenging to face and lead to a reluctance to engage in the process at times. Sometimes I just wish that I was flawless in a particular situation or performance and reflection was unnecessary.

My experiences have taught me that like an onion their are many layers to peel back when engaging in the reflective process.

Layer 1: I must assess  the performance or issue through an objective lens, staying void of emotion as I examine the issue and my role or performance within it. What were my strengths? Where could I improve? What other factors were relevant in terms of how they impacted the issue or experience?

Layer 2: I must ask myself if my assessment is truly an honest one? If it isn't what is preventing me from making an honest assessment? Are my emotions clouding the process? Sometimes I may need the help of others.

Layer 3: I need to sit down with someone that I trust and honestly share the issue or experience with them and then openly listen to their feedback. Remembering that if it is someone I truly trust they will give me honest, objective feedback.

Layer 4: Apply all that I have learned about myself  from the current situation, to future situations. Keeping  in mind that I can always improve and others will benefit from those improvements as well.

Reflection is a complex at times painstaking process, but it is a skill that has great value. This particular skill allows citizens within global societies to move forward if they are courageous enough to engage in its practices and embrace the remedies that it reveals. This skill is one that must be taught to our children at a young age in order for them to recognize personal imperfections and failures. We must then use reflection as a tool to enable them to first accept failures and then to grow from them.  When we have done this we put them in a position of readiness to accept the challenges that await them in their future.

I am a better person today because of my ability to be reflective, but that's not to say that I wouldn't be just a little bit happier, if only I did it right the first time, most of the time.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ten Reasons to be Happy that its the Opening Day of Baseball Season

1. At the start of the first day, your team is at least tied for first place in the division. 

 2. There are still 161 games full of possibility and remarkability yet to be played.

 3. More than likely you won't have to shovel any more snow in the near future.

 4. A boat load of new prospects made it to the show and it will be fun watching them impact the game.

 5. A healthy dose of "web gems" each and every night begins immediately. 

 6. Having the opportunity to learn about the game from the great story tellers of the game for the next six months. 

 7. The renewal of the daily box score checking ritual.

 8. The chance that someone soon will pitch a no hitter or a perfect game. 

 9. Being able to sit outside in the fresh air with family and friends, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark.

 10. Knowing that weather or not the post season is a realistic possibility, the season will contain plenty of special moments, for your team.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Choosing Sides

This past Friday I was interested to know what my students thoughts were about the outcome of this year's Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.  Before I reveal their thoughts to you though I must tell you this; after caferful reflection, I blew it. That's right, you heard me.  Full disclosure, me a 22 year veteran teacher, I had a golden opportunity not to just find out what my students thought but why they thought that way, and I "dropped the ball."

While I did find out there is intense dislike for Tom Brady, some due to his success and some due to "deflategate", and I also gleaned that most of my students were tired of seeing the Patriots win. What I didn't find out was why they believed the Falcons would win the game.  Was it better Quarterback play? Did they believe that Atlanta' defense could stop the potent New England offense ? Was it because of an advantage on Special Teams. Why? I will never know because I never asked them to quantify their response. Fifteen yards, personal foul on yours truly and a loss of down.  Lesson learned!

In my 6th grade classroom there is no shortage of opinions on anything and that's a good thing. I want my students to be partners in a community with an ever evolving culture where they can confidently speak their mind on a variety of subjects. More importantly though I want them to know that they are accountable for how they form their thoughts and why they "choose the side " that they do.  I need to ask them questions and they need to question themselves.  When this occurs it allows the opportunity for both the students and their teacher to engage in reflective practices. Ultimately that will lead to individual growth and produce life long learners. 

Oh , before I forget, the results of the poll, Falcons over the Patriots by a three to one margin 58 to 19. Interestingly, 19 students said that they didn't care.  Why were these the results when I polled my 6th graders from Central New Jersey? I can only imagine.  I think I will go back in on Monday and ask them.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Giving Thanks

Thank you Dr. King for having the courage to challenge authority and conformity. For lighting the path to change with civil disobedience , as opposed to violence and venom. For being willing to climb to the mountain top despite being knocked down repeatedly. For seeking the fulfillment of your dream, knowing that it held the promise of a better life for all of the future generations to come.

Thank you to all of those who followed Dr. King, for believing that our best days always lied just ahead. For those that endured the injustices and fought peacefully seeking justice. For those that sang a hymn or lit a candle, or refused to be treated like a second class citizen, thank you.

Thank you to those who serve, in the hospitals, in the schools, on the front lines protecting our freedom, those who patrol the streets or fight the fires. To all that serve in the churches or government offices, thank you for continuing his legacy. When we serve each other we strengthen the ties that bond us as citizens and our nation prospers.

Thank you in the months ahead for being willing to move forward with a clear mind, but being vigilant at the same time.  Thank you for being willing to hold our leaders accountable to the highest social and political standards. Thank you for taking the necessary steps to maintain peace and harmony.  Thank you for carrying the torch to continue Dr. King's legacy. The light will always shine on this great nation as long as we continue to be the guardians of his dream.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Full Circle

"There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

    `Edith Wharton~

In 1989, my career in education began when Harry Conover the former Athletic Director at Lawrence High School decided to take a chance on me and hire me as the assistant Winter Track coach. Beyond the opportunity to work with young student athletes every day, the thing that thrilled me the most was the opportunity to coach against the men who had coached me as an athlete, during my years at Steinert High School. My passion for, and knowledge of the sport was a direct result of their influence on me. Over the next six years being able to develop a positive professional relationship with these men who had mentored me as my coaches, is something I will cherish forever. Every chance I was given to spend time with them as a peer and learn from them as a coach, brought me great joy and enriched me professionally. I only hope they realized the gratitude that I felt towards them, as they assisted in my professional and personal growth.  They all have had an immeasurable influence on my life as an athlete, a coach, an educator and a man.

This September I began my 28th year as an educator. Six years were spent coaching High School athletes and the last twenty two teaching Social Studies to middle school students.  The rewards have been plentiful, but the ones that have brought the most joy involve learning about the successes of my former students, as adults. At least twenty former students are educators as I publish this post.  The following are some of the stories of former students and the current stages of their journeys.

Chris Katzman is a fifth grade teacher at the Drew School in East Windsor who teaches with my wife.  He is an outstanding educator and is beloved by his students.I had the opportunity to coach and teach Chris and I knew in middle school that he was a born leader.   Last year I attended his wedding. Watching him write that new chapter in his life was amazingly special.

Brian Williams is the Vocal Musical Director at Robbinsville High School, He develops amazing voices and directs School Musical performances that are first rate. I have seen several  performances over the years from the choir and from the musicals that he has directed and I always walk away impressed and inspired.  He is a gifted educator.

Kyle Gafgen is a Physical Educational teacher in East Windsor and the Head Track coach at Kreps Middle School. When I coached him in middle school he was quite the speedster. The last time I saw him he led his team to victory against our team at Pond Road a few years ago.

Marissa Dilts is an outstanding 4th grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School and is a valued member of my PLN. Recently we engaged in a district hashtag conversation about professional growth and New Year's resolutions on Twitter. She continues to nurture young lives and enriches our district.

Casey Kennette is an elementary school teacher in Edison New Jersey who implements an innovative 4th grade program. A few summers ago she showed campers the "ropes" at the Rambling Pines Day  Camp in Hopewell and I was privileged to serve as her supervisor. I learned first hand of her passion for teaching and her enthusiasm for working with children. I hear great things from administrators in her district about her performance as an educator.

Ben Hutchison continues his academic journey in the fall of 2017.  He begins the pursuit of his "passion", a career in History, on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg University.  I wish him all the success that this new adventure affords him.  I especially look forward to learning about the experiences that take place when the learning environment takes the form of the most important Civil War battlefield in the northern United States.

These are just some of the success stories that reflect the paths chosen by former students in the field of Education or History. I consider myself fortunate to have had a front row seat for at least part of their journey. I am proud of everything that they continue to achieve and of the productive, contributing adults that they have become.

A few years ago my friend, mentor and former coach Jerry Bleistein after learning that one of my former athletes had coached against me and had coached his team to victory said " see it comes full circle". I always knew it would, I just never thought it would happen so soon.

(This post is dedicated to all of my students past and present who continue to inspire me each and every day.)