Friday, December 25, 2015

A New Way to Give

As humanitarians there are many ways that we can give to each other.

We can volunteer our time.

We can share our talents.

We can donate our earnings.

We can choose to dedicate our lives to helping others, through work in various types of service careers.

We can continue to embrace that it is "better to give than to receive."

As time passes throughout our lives our understanding of this parable deepes. Life experiences and various influences shape our generousity as we grow as people.  On Christmas Day as I watched my love ones joyfully open their gifts, it was clear yet again that truth lies within these wise words. This Christmas though the exchanging of the gifts would conclude with an unexpected lesson in gift giving.

This year I learned that you can actually receive and give at the same time.   

Let me explain.

My sister in law Julie who recently adopted her second child is perhaps one of the most giving people that I know.  Her generousity knows no end. A teacher, she has made a commitment to providing a Christian education for my neice Molly.  Moreover she has spared no expense donating her own funds to underprivileged children and families around the world.  This year she taught me about a "new way to give."  This year she actually bought me a gift that enabled me to give to and help others.

World Vision Charities provide authentic assistance to children and their families living in impoverished global communities. Recently, a gift was purchased by Julie, through them and presented in my name and my honor. This particular gift would purchase school supplies for students and resources for teachers in African schools over the course of one year. Gifts were also purchased and given in the honor of other family members. The gift from my mother in law will cover medical vaccines and doctors visits for children in Africa. As a family whose vocation has always been to serve children we were all quite moved by this gift.

Over the year's I have always been impressed by Julie's generous heart and giving spirit, she is one of the most selfless people I know.  Leave it to her on Christmas Day, to show us all, a new way to give.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Lessons in Empathy

"When you start to develop the powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you." 
~Susan Sarandon

Several weeks ago we began to improve our classroom culture by changing the mindset about Monday. Instead of dreading Monday we have fostered an attitude where we have begun to embrace its arrival. Our goal has been to create relevant learning experiences to inspire and elevate the spirit of our students. Each Monday has focused on various themes and their connection to us as a community of learners.  Resilience, self worth, gratitude and service are amongst the themes that we have explored thus far. The conversations that have developed each Monday have revealed a great deal about  the values, goals and achievements of all of the stakeholders within our classroom. 

This past Sunday I was checking my Twitter feed and considering possible themes for  "Inspiration Monday" the following day.  I came across a link to a You Tube video by Dr. Brene Brown comparing  Empathy and Sympathy.  After viewing the tounge and cheek animated video I realized that there are distinct and important differences that separate these two concepts.  Sympathy while an important gesture used to console others, lacks a deep leveI of emotional understanding. In order to attempt to understand the deep emotional feelings of others we need to develop empathy. We need to "walk a mile in their shoes".

 In a Middle School community where social and emotional learming share equal value with academic priorities it is especially important to create an awareness for the importance of empathy. Therefore I decided to explore it the next day as part of " Inspiration Monday".

The conversation started the next day by posing the question What is empathy?  to our students. Each class throughout the day clearly communicated an understanding of the definition and even asked for clarification on the difference between empathy and sympathy. After providing clarification on the two ideas we watched a short video "Can Empathy Change the World."

In this video middle school students shared their thoughts on the value of  empathy. They also shared how it could impact someone else's life. At its conclusion we had a follow up discussion. My students shared examples of situations that required empathy within their lives and gave examples where they have provided it. They felt as long as people were responsive to each other and recognized where situations required empathy, then positive change could take place on a small and global scale. Furthermore they felt the key to change was in consistently and genuinely paying the empathy forward.

On this particular day I learned a great deal about empathy, myself and my students. 

I learned that empathy can occur when we listen and truly seek to understand someone's perspective or it can occur via a gesture that addresses someone else's plight. 

I learned that empathy is a vital component of our humanity. When used effectively it can help to forge connections to build and strengthen relationships.

I learned that while middle school students have a tendency to be more focused on their individual lives than on the collective society ,they clearly understand empathy and have the capacity to provide it for others. When educated on its benefits they too can be empowered to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Finally I learned that I need to work harder in my personal and professional lives to extend empathy towards others. It is not enough to simply extend sympathy toward others.  Only by offering empathy towards others can I hope to strengthen my connections and relationships with them. 

In order to improve , I must practice building genuine empathy as I seek to truly understand those in my life who I care the most about.  This was an eye opening revelation for sure and remediation requires my immediate attention. Steps need to be taken that address this personal shortcoming, if I am to continue to grow professionally and personally. I look forward to the challenge as I continue my journey as an educator and as a human being.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Giving Students a Real Voice

For the past several months I have marveled in admiration as I have watched Idea Street (albeit virtually) evolve at the Northfield Community Middle School.  Idea Street, the vision of principal Glenn Robbins, his staff and students, creates daily authentic learning opportunities. The products they continue to create, result from students taking advantage of the chance to learn what they want to learn.  With the guidance of their teachers they explore new adventurous avenues of learning often, all the while staying within the framework of a curriculum. The results are quite inspiring. Maker spaces located throughout the school promote and reveal student creativity and artistry.

One thing unmistakable after reading Glenn's postings about this innovative new initiative is that student enthusiasm is off the charts.  It is obvious that his students embrace their opportunities to come to school each day.  This is an environment where students are engaged and empowered on a consistent basis.

As an industry the time has come to take a hard and honest look at the benefits of creating environments where student voice and choice take center stage. Transformative things happen with student achievement when our students are engaged. Schools like Northfield provide all the proof one needs. 

Talk to teachers nationwide about their successful implementation of Project Based Learnimg and one cannot help be impressed. When students have a choice in their learning their investment in their learning is strengthened as well. Consequently the quality of their work improves and measurable sustained growth occurs.

Our state and federal governments continue to enact and implement educational reforms based on their perception of how to best equip our students for the 21st challenges they will face upon graduation. The suggestion here is to give students a seat at the table.  Give them a voice in the type of reforms that need constructing based on their diverse needs as learners. Once we  truly understand the landscape from a student perspective, we can enrich, strengthen and truly authenticate future reforms.

The voices that get the most attention, should be the ones that have the most at stake. School districts throughout the country continue to demonstrate the value of promoting learning where students have a voice. It's time for our legislators at the state and federal level to first sit down and listen to educators and their students. Then, based on these conversations, constuct a transformative educational agenda with the necessary financing to support it.  When we finally commit to this, we will finally provide our children with a true voice in their educational pursuits.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Value of Connection

Since our earliest days on this planet, we have clearly understood the value of our connection and our ability to work cooperatively with others.  Our service to one another within various communities, consistently demonstrates the benefits and joys that accompany connection. We were not meant to live out our existence in isolation. Quite the contrary, we were meant to make available an infinite supply of knowledge and resources for our human counterparts. It is imperative to our survival that we continue to take advantage of this.  

Simply put, we are better together than we are apart.

Working in collaboration with one another as global citizens increases our chances for success, in a world where common challenges are shared. Sharing perspectives and strengthening our connections with each other doesn't  just  move communities forward, it allows for forward movement on a global scale as well. International communities move forward because global leaders collaborate.

Through our connections with others today, we inspire and elevate each other to potentially great heights.  Moreover, our growth is a direct result of the new connections and resources that we continue to pursue. Making ourselves available to each other and investing in our progress, is a definite recipe for success.

Our personal success stories are a direct result of the connections that we make with others and the manner in which they influence our lives. As children we sought connections with adult role models from various areas of our lives. Family, teachers, and coaches were happy to serve in this capacity and their influence still lives within us today.  Our connection with them as children has unquestionably shaped our lives as adults. Our approach in establishing relationships with children today is a direct reflection of their guidance.

As a 21st century educator, I embrace the reality that each September a new group of enthusiastic students arrive on my doorstep.  Each one is eagerly looking to make a connection and build a relationship. Connections with each student may vary in intensity, but each student needs to believe that they are special and a valued member of our classroom community. These connections are vital to the development of student confidence and the attainment of their personal success.

The other day while attending a funeral service for a beloved colleague and friend,  I experienced first hand the value of student/teacher connection. In a touching eulogy, one of our former students spoke eloquently about his beloved teacher and friend who had recently passed away. He spoke of an emotional connection with his beloved teacher and friend that had ultimately  transformed his life. Her belief and faith in him, along with her unwavering commitment to him over the years, led to great personal triumphs. Perhaps the most noteworthy finds him today serving as a successful classroom teacher. Her connection to him and thousands of other students, will be an enormous part of her professional legacy.

Our ability to connect with each other continues to increase at an unprecedented rate due to the tools provided by social media. We must continue to use these tools as a vehicle to drive personal and social change. The chances for global progress as a result of global connectivity has never been greater. It is imperative that we continue to take advantage of this opportunity and then pass it on to our children. Then, hopefully like us, they will find joy in the world they inherit and understand the true value of connection.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Changing the Culture, One Day at a Time

"Culture is defined and created from the top down, but it comes to life from the bottom up." Jon Gordon
("You Win In The Locker Room First)
  By Jon Gordon and Mike Smith.

Creating a positive culture in a school district is the responsibility of the Superintendent.

Creating a positive culture within a school is the responsibility of the building administration .

Creating a positive culture within the classroom is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.

Building and maintainig the positive culture in the district, school and classroom is the shared responsibility of all stakeholders. When everyone embraces the vision and invests in the culture, there is the potential for greatness.

Creating our classroom culture this year has involved a concerted effort to develop an inspired and forward thinking mindset. The goal is for this mindset to be shared by all members of the classroom community.

Over the course of the past summer I came to the realization that I was wasting too much negative energy on Monday. This was a direct result of my own belief that Monday's were supposed to be "lame".  I began to challenge my own convictions and came to the conclusion that embracing this mindset was actually setting a negative tone for the week ahead.  Ultimately it was limiting the amount of progress that I was able to make over the course of a week. 

"Change the mindset change the culture".

Early on this year I made a declaration, or a promise to myself that Monday's would no longer be lame. The first step to making this a reality, was crafting an approach that would first inspire me to embrace it. Once I embraced it, I could then present to my students. Hopefully then they could become invested in the idea as well.  

About a month ago I emphatically shared with my students that Monday's were  no longer going to be lame. Reaction at first was mixed as some students shared their belief that that's the way things were supposed to be, while others were visibly excited that "lame Monday's" were going to be replaced by something new. Lame Monday's no longer existed, from that day forward Lame Monday's were being replaced by Inspirational Monday's" 

Something special was about to unfold. 

At first my co-teacher and I provided Inspirational mini lessons based on specific themes. The first two weeks focused on resilience and self worth. Students would write down their understanding of the themes and connect their personal experiences with them. Large group discussions would follow.  Usually a motivational video, poignant poem or quote was used to reinforce the connection to the theme and then a short closing discussion ensued. The first two weeks were a huge success as students were visibly inspiired; enthusiastically participating in the mini lessons. This has set a positive tone for the meaningful learning that followed. 

The desired results were being attained as lame Mionday's were becoming a thing of the past.  Students were walking in the door looking for inspiration and leaving inspired.

Two weeks ago we took things up a notch. Students were asked to volunteer to provide the Monday inspiration. They were asked to look for a song, a quote, a movie clip or a poem that inspired them. Once found they were asked to bring in the inspirational material and share it with the class. Students have been volunteering and confidently fullfiling these responsibilities quite nicely so far. Quotes and clips that are meaningful to the presenter have led to meaningful connections and discussions with their peers. 

 On any given Monday you can witness students singing, dancing or engaging in inspired meaningful conversation. There is no denying that the inspiration has replaced the traditional lameness that used to accompany the arrival of Monday.  Our culture is changing and our classroom community is reaping the benefits.

When students enter your classroom and utter" TGIM" you know your culture is moving in the right direction. While "inspirational " Monday's cannot guarantee the abscence of troubling events in our individual lives on that day, they can at least attempt to elevate our spirits. (if only for the 53 minutes that we spend together)  

As we continue to change the culture and perception of Monday, we continue to strengthen the overall culture within our classroom community. Students are taking risks and revealing individual viulnarability. This is leading to stronger bonds with their peers. 

Looking back I wasn't sure how putting an end to the "lame Monday" mindset would be received by my students. However I knew it was a change that I needed to make and that the results would benefit my students. What I didn't realize was how quickly the transformation would take hold or how much it would energize our classroom community. 

Sometimes it's the baby steps that lead to the giant steps forward.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lighting the Lamp

"" "

As educators we are keenly aware of our responsibility to remain knowledgeable about events that have a current impact on our world. The opportunity to use what we have learned, in order to make real life connections with our students, is perhaps the greatest benefit of staying informed. However this can be both a blessing and a curse because while some events are clearly inspirational, others are equally as tragic. 

When the news becomes consistently tragic it becomes more imortant to find new ways to "light our lamps." We need to pursue and find sources of inspiration in order to help us successfully move forward. 

Reading blogs on Twitter continues to "light my lamp" and provide inspiration. Thus igniting and energizing my various passions. There are many that are posted frequently and their authors all posess inspirational gifts.  However, there are three that consistently cause my inspirational meter to soar. 

The Connected Lead Learner by Glenn Robbins consistently inspires my passion for Education. Glenn is a middle school principal near the Jersey shore who is passionately devoted to his students and staff. The work that he has done developing Idea Street, continues to transform student learning while building school community and culture. One cannot learn of Idea Street and its success and not wonder how to emulate it in their school. Watching the growth and success of this initiative as a result of Glenn's blogging, continues to ignite my passion for education.

Jon Harper's blog Bailey and Derek's Daddy taps into my passions for both fatherhood and writing. Jon an Assistant Elementary School principal in Maryland  is a gifted writer and educator. After only a brief sampling of his work you are convinced of this. After faithful readership you learn of the depths of Jon's gifts. His ability to impart life lessons while writing of both his family and his craft is extraordinary.  I can honestly say that after reading each of Jon's posts I have felt more enriched as a learner and always more emotionally inspired.

One of my passions which has been cultivated throughout my lifetime has been my love of Baseball. Suzanne Carbonaro, a Professor at the Rider University School of Education is among several contributing writers for the blog Bleeding Yankee Blue. Her writing consistently reveals her own passion for her students, the sport of baseball, her family and her beloved Yankees.   

My admiration for her writing is strengthened with each post that I read. Her ability to connect baseball, the Yankees and real world experiences while coming from a different angle reveal her gifts as a writer. She literally has taken the phrase "baseball is life" to new, inspiring heights. After finishing Suzanne's posts I always feel that she above all else is a baseball fan, using her writing as a tool to build relationships with other baseball fans. All the while igniting everyone's passion for the game.

Throughout our lifetimes as educators and global citizens it is imperative to our personal and professional growth that we find new ways to " light our lamps." Ultimately we cannot inspire those who depend upon us the most, if we ourselves are not inspired. 

Since becoming active on Twitter two years ago I have amassed an extensive professional learning network of high quality educators that consistently inspire me in various ways. Moreover, their guidance and support helps to elevate my practice as an educator.  My lamp has been lit and continues to burn bright.
    How will you Light yours?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Building Authentic Culture and Connection

"As I listen to my students passionately reveal their rich ethnic and cultural traditions, I  fill with hope for the future of our great nation. Clearly they are eager to embrace the diversity that permeates the culture within our classroom community.  With each question that is posed and each articulate response that is provided, it is obvious that there is an open desire to learn more about the culture of their classmates and families."

Yet another school year has begun and with it the opportunity has arrived to build relationships with our new students and their families. Once again building a positive culture within our classroom community becomes an early year priority. After spending time with "getting to know you activities" during the first few days, the time arrived to begin introducing some content.  This year the early focus is on the Eight Strands of Social Studies and the manner in which they connect to the lives of our students. A great chance is made available to use two of the strands to make authentic connections, build classroom culture, empower students to make choices and to utilize their student voices.

History and Culture were the two strands which were introduced and examined at length early on. Real life connections were established and then an authentic assignment was given that required the students to learn more about their own personal lives. In past years students have always created "culture boxes", in which they have gone home, selected items relevant to their culture, placed them in a box or container, brought them in and then presented them to their peers. Always a great learning experience occurred, as we strengthened our connection with our culture and with each other.  This year we decided to add a new twist.

This year we added a family history component.  Students were asked to go home and find out three interesting facts about their family history, write them down on an index card and then bring them in ready to present along with their "culture boxes".   The result was inspiring.  Our 6th grade students went home and engaged their parents and relatives in conversations, learning fascinating things about their families that were previously unknown. (Thus strengthening family bonds) When it was time to come to school and present, there was buzz of enthusiasm in the classroom as students began to share their family history and culture. The endless smiles on the face of each student was a consistent reminder of the pride and passion that they felt for their families history and culture. One student after another shared an amazing accomplishment or a touching anecdote that was unique to their family.  We also learned more about the diversity that exists within our very own classroom community.  Discussions of religious customs and other cultural traditions captivated the attention of our community over the course of the two days of presentations.  The more that our students learned about each other, the more they wanted to learn. We were really was sad to see the activity come to end. Then something special happened.

We asked the students to write down one or two take aways from the experience and received the following responses. " I found out interesting things about my family that I never knew before." "I found our interesting things about people in my class."  I feel like I know my classmates a little bit better now." " I learned about people in my group so when I work with them now it will be easier."  My students, upon reflection were sharing that they understood the value of the activity an at the same time showing appreciation for the opportunity to engage in it.   Stepping back and listening to their feedback it felt gratifying that we were all able to experience this together so early in the year.  I genuinely believe that we strengthened our relationships and the culture within our classroom community.

I thanked them for their courage in sharing so much of themselves with their teachers and their peers, and left them with this thought.  "You all have such amazing families and interesting cultures, and you are leaving a footprint already on both your families history and culture. One day you will have a family with your own children and perhaps they will engage in an activity just like this, discussing all of the amazing things that you have done in your life." I cant imagine a more powerful idea for them to contemplate, as we wrapped up the activity.

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.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Celebrating Independence

The foundation for this great nation was built over 239 years ago when our "founding fathers" made an irreversible decision. This decision to "declare independence" and free themselves of British subjugation was one that would  change the political landscape of the world forever. This decision resulted from passionate enthusiasm, spirited debate, careful reflection and was not without risk. 

Failure was a very real and an even likely consequence that would follow this bold decision. Yet the only way to achieve the desired changes being sought was for our colonial ancestors to challenge the resolve of their formidable oppressors. The first steps were taken as a consequence of political debate and actions within the halls of the early Congress. The final steps and attainment of their goals would only occur after blood was spilled on the battlefield.

Several years after declaring their independence the colonists eventually earned recognition of their independence. They had achievied an unlikely victory on the battlefield and after accepting the terms of peace proposed by the British monarchy had become independent and eventually sovereign.  Years of suffering and sacrifice had yielded the unlikeliest of outcomes. Not only had independence been desired, now it's attainment had become reality.

Today "independence" remains at the core of our values as citizens of this democratic republic. As a parent and an educator one my most important responsibilities is to foster that independent spirit in my own children and those that I teach. Creating choices that put them in position to exercise their voice is a great starting point. Through the facilitation of practice and process, opportunities are created that allow them to take ownership of the product of their efforts. Their future success and the success of our nation depends on their ability to think, act and contribute independently. Furthermore it is vital that they embrace the importance of risk taking to ensure their advancement and the advancement of our great nation.

As this holiday weekend comes to a gradual close, I am once again in awe of the courageous efforts of our "founding fathers" and those Continental soldiers who fought so valiantly helping to achieve our "independence".  In 1776 it was revolutionary and even treasonous for individuals to think and act independently of the ruling monarchy.  

The Declaration of Independence presented a bold and revolutionary challenge to the existing monarchical govermment. Years later after victory was ensured this concept of "independence" would be a central principle of the new republic's governing philosophy.  Today this principle remains deeply embedded  in our national identity and continues to permeate our national culture. 

Every year 300 million people take a holiday during the early summer and celebrate the independence of the United States of America. It is vital to our future identity and national security that we never lose sight of the reasons for the celebration.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Almost Perfect

For the first time in recent memory the school year was coming to a quick end and a short vacation on Father's Day weekend would follow its conclusion. The weeks leading up to the last day of school provided more tham enough time to plan our brief family get away. Our destination would be Washington D.C. Certainly the allure of the trip was the opportunity to embrace our national heritage from a cultural and historical perspective, but little did we know that we would experience some history of our own during our brief stay.

Our family being a "baseball family" wrestled with the idea of spending much of our first day at Nationals Park taking in a ball game, knowing that we would have    to sacrifice taking in some of the sights that we also looked forward to seeing. In the end however we decided to attend the game. As it turned out that would be an excellent decision. 

We departed for Washington D.C. early on Saturday morning the day after school ended. My amazing wife Jennifer had spent a great deal of time planning the trip and we all were looking forward to our eventual arrival. 

Upon arrival in D.C. we had a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, contacted Uber and arranged for our transportation to the stadium. We had never been to this venue before so we looked forward to the nuances that made the ball park special.

The day was one where you couldn't find enough shade or feel quite cool enough. Despite the oppressive weather we looked forward to the start of the game and watching two of the best pitchers in the National League engage in a potential pitchers duel. The hometown Nationals would face the Pittsburgh Pirates and , Max Scherzer would face Fransisco Liriiano. 

The expected pitching duel lived up to its billng early on, as both pitchers dominated the oppositions lineup for the first half of the game which was moving at a rapid pace. Eventually though Bryce Harper would treat the hometown fans to an opposite field home run and an early lead.  The Nationals offense would take control of the game over the next several innings making the possibility of a Pirate comeback remote. The story though was only half written.

Max Scherzer was looking to write some history of his own. After six innings there was a buzz in the crowd as the patrons began to realize that a perfect game was in the works. Nary a baserunner had reached base via, walk, hit or error for the Pirates as Scherzer's dominance continued throughout the afternoon and into the early evening. Over the next few frames little would change other then some defensive heroics by the Nationals. 

The top of the ninth inning arrived with the Nationals comfortably ahead. The outcome was all but decided except for one major detail. Finishing the perfect game. 

The first two hiitters were retired and the next batter was down to his last strike. Scherzer was on the verge of perfection and making history. We were all on the edge of our seats bearing witness. The Pirate hitter Jose Tabata fouled off the next few pitches.. and then it happened. Scherzer's  next offering rode in on Tabata and hit him on the elbow which was protected by the players body armor. Tabata was awarded first base and just like that, in a blink of an eye a frenetic crowd stood in shock and disbelief. 
 The perfect game had suddenly become imperfect ,but there was still an opportunity to make history.   The no-hitter was still in tact and when the next batters fly ball landed safely in the glove of Michael Taylor in left field ,Scherzer would achieve just that. A major league no hitter and his place in the history books. 

In the end he wasn't perfect but for almost 3 hours and 26 batters he was. He came as close to a perfect game without achieving it as anyone could. In the end he emerged with a no-hitter, a complete game,a shut out and a win. Quite a nice reward for his efforts in the hazy and hot afternoon sunshine. Perfect? nope but almost.

Our vacation on the other hand was off to the perfect start, considering we almost didn't even go to the game. It wasn't just that I've attended 100s of baseball games and never witnessed a no hitter before, or an almost perfect game, if you will. We were there together, as a family on Father's Day weekend and we had all witnessed history. The four of us together on this special weekend in this special place. The memory will live long beyond the day or the weekend, it will live in our hearts forever. Perfect? Pretty close!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cultivating Young Leaders and Embracing Social Media

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."
 ~Steve Jobs~

Several years ago my collegue and friend Jane Hutchison and I developed a workshop for pre-service teachers called "What to Expect as a First Year Teacher." Shortly after developing it, we began providing the experience for pre-service teachers at Rider University. Creating an awareness from an insiders perspective about what to expect as a first year classroom teacher is something we have become quite passionate about. Usually the students are very engaged and our interactions over the years have been mutually beneficial.

One evening last spring after finishing our presentation with some discussion about the value of using Twitter and becoming a connected educator, we were approached by Sylwia Denko who was a senior there at the time. She recommended the reading of a book to us about social media and its value in education. She also told us that she was attending a job fair on campus the following day and had several interviews lined up. She then proceeded to ask Jane and I for some advice.  I am not sure exactly what the advice that we gave was but I remember how poised and confident she was throughout that first conversation.

Shortly thereafter, Jane and I began following Sylwia on Twitter and ironically enough we were surprised to learn that one of those interviews had taken place in Robbinsville where we are currently employed. Eventually we would be thrilled to learn that she had in fact been hired as a third grade teacher.  Over the course of the summer and getting to know Sylwia through various hashtag chat interactions it became clear that she possessed a great deal of energy and an impressive skill set.  There was no doubt that she was going to be an excellent addition to our district and the children placed in her charge were in store for a special year.

 Using Twitter as a tool, it has been easy to follow the success of Sylwia's first year as a classroom teacher. Not only is she active on professional hashtag chats but she has created a Twitter page for her classroom.  She has used this forum to celebrate the success of her students on a daily basis and in in the process updates her parent community about the daily undertakings of their children.  Sylwia's collegues have also gained from her passion for social media. She has shared her knowledge with those previously unaware of Twitter's potential and even encouraged her peers to establish a PLN (Professional Learning Network) of their own.

Recently our district took advantage of Sylwia's talents, as our K-8 Curriculum supervisor Kimberly Reynolds -Tew recruited her to lead two professional development experiences for our staff. Each experience would focus on how to use Twitter to grow as a professional and potentially transform classrooms.  Jane and I were enthusiastic to support Sylwia's efforts and were in attendance at the second workshop at Robbinsville High School. The  session that we attended included staff members and various administrators throughout the district.  All who attended came away with a much better understanding of how to effectively use Twitter as an instructional tool by the time the workshop had ended.

There was an undeniable energy in the room as people asked relevant questions and looked to embrace this opportunity to become connected educators. Suzanne Guidry our assistant principal, established a school account and has been enthusiastically Tweeting about events in our school since the conclusion of the workshop. This account celebrates staff and student achievement and I look forward to watching it evolve over the coming months and the new school year.

In order for school districts to move forward they must consistently find ways to empower members of their staff to provide both formal and informal leadership. When cultivating young leaders they gain the opportunity to install enduring innovative programs that will provide new growth and energy within their professional community. As a result, all stakeholders, especially the students, reap the benefits from the utilization of these "cutting edge" programs.

The leadership demonstrated by Sylwia Denko as a result of her passion for and knowledge of social media, will undoubtedly have an enduring, positive impact upon our professional learning community in Robbinsville. I look forward to observing her influence continuing to take root as she grows as a valuable educational leader within our district.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Keeping Track of the Stuff That Matters

Last week on a dreary, chilly May day our middle school track team (of which I am the assistant coach) was scheduled to compete in our last meet of the season. To make matters slightly worse the meet was to take place at a school approximately 25 minutes away and it was the decision of the host school as to whether or not the meet would take place. As the afternoon wore on it became apparent that the meet would take place as scheduled. I must admit that upon boarding the bus, I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of spending the next 90 minutes in the chilly, rainy weather.  Then something unusual happened, I checked the radar and noticed that the town where the meet would take place was not currently receiving rain. (In fact little did I know but it would not rain there, other than some late mist,over the course of the entire meet.) Subsequently my disposition turned sunny and I began to look forward to the competition.

After arriving, I had more good fortune when I found out that my high school Cross Country Coach was officiating the meet. I had not seen him in the past couple of seasons and it was good to see him in good health. We shared a quick embrace and some brief conversation but the moment was nevertheless special. Whenever I am lucky enough to spend some time with him I am often reminded of the influence that his teachings and spirit have had on my career as a coach and educator.  Over the course of my career I have had the opportunity to coach against him and later after he retired I was lucky to have him officiate our meets. I am grateful for the opportunities that we have shared over the years to renew our relationship and I cherish the brief conversations that have taken place between us.

 I think I can understand the pride that he feels when he considers the success of his former students as confident professionals. Currently in my 20th year as an educator, I can account for at least fifteen former students that are teaching and coaching today. In fact I coached against one of my former student/athletes this year and was able to observe the confident and classy nature in which he conducted himself.  I was excited to share that story that day with my coach and he said with a smile " look at that, it comes around."  Being able to continue a relationship with my coach as a professional over the years has always been special and I am indeed fortunate that it has continued to evolve. I  am looking forward to continuing the same type of professional relationships with my former student athletes.

As we began our last meet I couldn't help but think back to the start of our season and the discussion that I had with my throwers about our goals. We set two fundamental ones; have fun and continue to improve. We talked about how in our sport every competitive effort was recorded and  it would be easy to measure their growth. They would all seek to consistently improve upon their personal bests and that is how ultimately we would measure their success.

As I looked back I was reminded of the smiles that accompanied everyone's personal best as the season progressed.  A fist pump and a smile, often followed, when they learned that they had recorded a personal best performance.  My athletes had shown up every day, they had listented, they applied what they had they learned and yes they improved. Moreover I believe from the smiles, the enthusiasm and the laughter that they had fun along the way. 

As the Shot Put and Discus competitions unflolded throughout that final afternoon I was inspired by the performances of my athletes as they continued to reach new heights. One reached a distance in the Discus that no one ever has while I have been coaching, while several others were still fist pumping and smiling while exclaiming " yes", "personal best."  

We were at the end of  our season and we were still going beyond where we went before. The looks on their faces,  and the smile in their hearts that day is something I will not soon forget.  

While the last meet of the season initially had been one I was dreading, it turned out to be a day that I will not soon forget. It became a day to renew a long time relationship and it was a day to celebrate new personal records. Moving forward it is important for me to remember that even on the dreariest of days, keeping a positive attitude is a must; if not I just might not be able to keep "track" of the stuff that matters.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Is For Appreciation

" I teach because I'm still inspired by a great teacher that I had when I was a kid. So I get that what we do every single day truly matters." Author Unknown

Over the course of the past few weeks and throughout this week parent volunteers have been working hard to deliver messages of appreciation for teachers throughout our nation. They have worked with vendors to purchase materials, prepared meals or simply stood in front of a group of educators and delivered a heartfelt message of appreciation.  I want to start off this post by taking a minute to thank them for all that they have done and all that they will do to make this a special and memorable week for teachers.

Long before I ever decided to answer the call to become an educator there were teachers and coaches who influenced my life. Their passion, enthusiasm, humor, compassion or the level that they engaged me, impacted my ability to learn. While there were ones that I treasured, there were ones that I would prefer to forget as well. Nevertheless, whether they had a positive impact or a negative one I learned from all of them. They all have influenced the culture that I have created as either a teacher or a coach. I am fortunate to have learned from such a diverse group of individuals and appreciate each of their contributions to my life as an educator.

Twenty five years ago I began a lifetime of work that would involve experiences with thousands of students, summer campers and athletes from the ages of three through twenty one. The memories could fill up volumes of scrapbooks based on my interactions with them over the years. The relationships that I have developed with them in the various capacities continues to positively impact me both professionally and personally. I am grateful for the opportunity to build and maintain these relationships.  I appreciate their hard work,  desire,  curiosity,  passion,  humor and the uniqueness of each and everyone of them.  They continue to define my purpose.

In 1996 we opened the doors to Pond Road Middle School and since that day I have had the honor to work with outstanding educators who are passionately committed to making a difference in the lives of their students. They are innovative, creative, nurturing, dedicated and willing to go the extra mile to help their students learn. I appreciate having the opportunity to learn from them. Their influence has had a tremendous influence on my growth as an educator and a person.

My grade level team of sixth grade teachers, amazes me each and every day.  Watching them collaborate to improve their content area instruction or interact with their students makes them very special.  I continue to witness innovative lesson planning and genuine concern for the success of our students in all facets of their lives.  They continue to give of themselves to contribute to the success of our team as well. They execute various professional responsibilities at a high level that consistently exceeds expectations.  I appreciate their vision and work ethic and am fortunate to be included among them as their teammate. My relationship with each of them is unique and continues to contribute a great deal to the evolution of my role as an educator.

Throughout  the past two years  I have made a commitment to transform my instructional practice.  The transformations have included the building of a Professional Learning Network, the creation of  an educational blog, attending national educational conferences and providing professional development experiences. My building administrators and those at our central office have been extremely supportive of my efforts. I am grateful for their support and appreciate the steps they have taken to help me elevate my practice.

A driving force in my daily routine within the past two years has been my Professional Learning Network which literally extends around the world. Our conversations in small and large groups, the resources and professional development opportunities that you continue to bring to light, the inspiration and validation that you continue to provide, make a major difference in my attitude and the manner in which I approach my craft. My most sincerest thank you for your support. There are not enough words available to properly express my appreciation for the relationships that we have built.

My family continues to be the rock from which I draw the most strength. My wife being a school counselor allows us to have a strong empathetic bond. Our daily conversations really help ease some of  the daily stressors that otherwise I would experience alone. She has read and edited every blog post and has supported me 100 percent throughout my professional transformation. When the entire family arrives at an athletic event that I am coaching or something of an academic nature it always provides an immense source of comfort. The lengths that my family goes to in  order to provide support is something of which I have great appreciation and gratitude.

"It takes a village to raise a child." My wife and I are grateful to the educators that have influenced the growth and development of our children since they entered pre-school many years ago. Undoubtedly they have shaped their thinking and played a significant role in the people that they continue to evolve into. We appreciate the commitment and the sacrifices that they continue to make in this challenging but rewarding profession.

This week will focus on the recognition and appreciation for what we do as teachers.  It means a great deal that people go to great lengths to convey just how much they value what we do. In turn I thought that it would be equally as important for me to take this time to make note all of the things that I appreciateThese influences are not only appreciated but are vital to my success on a personal and professional level.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

In the Driver's Seat

Over sixteen years ago I buckled my son into his car seat and as he looked out the rear window, his mother and I brought him home from the hospital. Eventually as he got older we would reverse the seat so that he could see through the front windshield. As the years continued to roll by, the car seat was eventually replaced by a booster seat and then the booster seat would give way to the seat belt.  My son however was still safely encumbered in the back seat. With each adjustment, his perspective as a passenger would change. He would see the world as it passed by a little bit differently. Then one day after we had entered " the teenage years" I heard the word,  "shotgun" and my son climbed in beside me inches away in the passengers seat. Indeed his perspective of the world in motion had changed once again.  Even though he had now taken residence in the front seat, his role in the automobile outside of potential navigator remained a passive one. Over the years while his perspective changed with each adjustment, mine never had.  The car was the one place where the roles were clearly defined and there was never any reason to challenge the status quo.
But then it happened ....

We received the triumphant news that my son had passed his written drivers test. Behind the wheel instruction, to be provided by his school, would begin in just a short while. Off to a local parking lot we went to practice.  When we arrived, I parked the car and both of us exited the vehicle. We would re-enter with my son occupying the drivers seat and me occupying the passenger seat. For the first time since that maiden voyage home from the hospital both of our perspectives were about to be altered. He was not only changing the location of his seat but now was assuming the control of the vehicle. I was not only changing my seat but I was giving up control. The status quo was changing.

 A rite of passage was transpiring right in front of my eyes that was empowering my son to take his first steps toward achieving his independence. He would not only control the direction of the vehicle that day but was moving closer to independently controlling the direction of his life. Symbolically and literally he was starting to choose his path and navigate it.  For a while longer I can ride along and provide guidance and support but in a very short time he will fly solo, accepting the keys  and with it a lifetime of responsibility and privilege.

Within a few short months my son will take his rightful place in the "drivers seat" and that is the way it should be. We empower our children little by little to become more and more independent throughout the course of  their lives. In the classroom and in the real world we encourage them to take control over their education and their lives. We celebrate their success and we provide a safety net when they fail. The day eventually arrives however when we need to take that leap of faith and confidently allow our children to assume control of their own lives.  Soon my son will face decisions that will need to be made that will effect his future and they will begin to come fast and furious, What college to attend? What major to choose? What jobs to apply for?  He will have the full support of his family but ultimately they will be his decisions to make.  The road ahead will provide its share of challenges, but from the "drivers seat" he will be more than capable of navigating them.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Resilience: The Key to Clearing the Hurdles in Life

" The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but  rising every time we fall."
   ~ Nelson Mandela~

Recently there was a viewing of the game known as the " The Miracle on Ice" to celebrate an epic and historic event that took place thirty-five years ago in Lake Placid, New York. This event featured a group of spirited college athletes from various schools throughout the United States defeating the Soviet Union in a Medal Round Olympic hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics.  This improbable upset remains today the pinnacle of amateur sports accomplishments in the United States.  The Soviets were widely regarded as the best hockey team in the world, bar none.  Just a week prior, the Soviets had beaten this same team of amateurs by a lopsided score of 10-3.  Our boys were clearly outmatched.  How does one begin to explain the amazing turn of events? How did this collection of college athletes beat the best team in the world on a stage that had been previously dominated by the Soviets?  The answer ..... Resilience.  This spirit that lives deep within the human soul. A spirit which allows us to overcome even the most insurmountable of obstacles.

Collectively they found something within them that allowed them to put the previous outcome aside and move forward. They found a reason to believe that the impossible was possible. They found a reason to believe that they could achieve something that everyone outside of their team believed impossible. In the games leading up to the game with the Soviets and then with the subsequent winning of the gold medal game, this team would teach us lessons of resilience that those of us fortunate to bear witness would not soon forget.

Throughout the course of our lives we are forced to confront situations as children and then adults that are adverse or uncomfortable.  Perhaps we struggle in the classroom, or the athletic arena or perhaps our personal life provides its own set of challenges.  We seek guidance and support from mentors. We seek their assistance and together we identify potential solutions. Furthermore we assess the situations that create the adversity, utilize resources that are available and eventually move forward. Our resilience makes this possible. Success and failure are temporary conditions. Our resilience must be part of our permanent condition or adaptation becomes impossible.

Our responsibility as adult learners is to use our own experiences with resilience and mentor our children as they attempt to come to terms with their own struggles or even failures.

As educators it is incumbent upon us to reinforce with our students the idea that assessments are performance measurements. They are a means of assisting us in how to best approach our instructional planning in order to provide the optimum learning experiences for them. They will result in success at times and result in productive struggles at others.  Ultimately they will always reveal something about student learning.  Assessment outcomes will never define the learner as a success or failure. If we can successfully impart this line of thinking upon our students, then we can create resilience within them. Then perhaps they will be willing to take risks, and confront challenges entusiastically, while possessing a forward thinking mindset regardless of potential outcomes.  If we can help our students to develop resilience than they can eventually help develop it within others, thus creating a community of resilient learners.

Teaching our children to assess adversity is the first step in helping them achieve resilience. Once they complete their assessment then they can proceed to gather resources, human or otherwise. After gathering and utilizing the resources in an effective fashion then the hope is that they can move forward toward solutions and eventually beyond the adversity. Once resilience is achieved initially, hopefully they can continue to use a formula that allows them to consistently overcome the challenges that confront them. One thing is for sure, life will provide the hurdles, clearing them requires resilience.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

" A Tale of Two Centuries"

In a few short years every student in our schools will be from the 21st century, and no teacher will be. The entire student body and the entire teacher force will be from different centuries.
 ~Lester Laminack

Since reading this quote on my Twitter feed recently I have taken pause to consider its implications. You see, as a sixth grade teacher , all of my current students were born after the year 2000 and this has been my reality for the past three years.  Moving forward it will continue to be the case until I eventually retire within the next fifteen years. As I continue  to digest the implications of this reality, I am sure that it is not as dire as the quote suggests.

Here are some additional realities:

My colleagues and I are products of the 20th century educational system.  Our passion and commitment as professionals has helped to produce many passionate educators who lead our classrooms today.

 The passion that we have for teaching and for our students today was and continues to be fueled by the influences of many outstanding 20th century educators.

The great teachers have always understood the value of engagement and empowerment, these concepts are not unique to the eras in which students learn or teachers teach.

The 20th century teacher was also the 20th century learner and as time marched forward, the 20th century teacher became the 21st century teacher and learner. 

As educators and as humans, we must continue to learn and adapt, if we are to survive in our careers or in life.

In an effort to gain an additional perspective I wrote the quote on the board and sought the opinions of my students regarding its implications. Their responses were varied.

 Some felt that it made no difference at all because a 20th century background could provide additional perspectives for the 21 century student in terms of approaches and strategies.

 Some believed that it was "no big deal" as long as the educator used 21st century methods and technology to meet their students "where they were".

 A few did in fact believe that teachers should be replaced if they were not willing to teach 21st century students with a 21st century mindset. As always their honest feedback provided valuable insight as I continued to work through the implications of this issue.

This is what I believe moving forward regarding the implications of 20th century teachers teaching, 21st century learners.

 The quality of education is the key to the growth of any individual or the advancement of any society. 

The manner in which we educate our children has always and will always evolve as a result of a multitude of political, technological, cultural and economic influences.

We must continue to understand how our children learn and prepare ourselves to meet them where they are.  This is imperative to their success.

As long as we are willing to evolve and adapt, in order to meet the needs of each individual learner, then ultimately it makes no difference when the educator was born or educated. 

 The educator that continues to develop their instructional practices with their students front and center, will thrive in any century and so will their students.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Celebrating Authenticity and Affirmation

Since creating the "Power of Inspiration" a little over thirteen months ago, I have had the opportunity to submit posts on topics that reveal both my interests and passions.  Each submission has given me the opportunity to reflect on my craft and renew my enthusiasm for writing. While I have enjoyed writing each piece, the posts that I enjoy writing the most, focus on my students and the authentic learning experiences we have collectively shared. The following  post, inspired by the efforts of my students, traces the evolution of our second marking period Technology project.

The Launch

Prior to leaving for an extensive winter break my students concluded an exhaustive unit on the "early humans". Awaiting them upon their return would be a long term project that would give them the opportunity to create a product model relevant to the study of the "early humans". This product model would be constructed with the mindset that it was capable of assisting the "early humans" in their daily lives. Within a few days they would need to develop an idea and present it to me and my co-teachers for our approval. After reviewing the assignment handout and answering questions, the class concluded for the day. Their enthusiasm  for this project as usual did not disappoint. As students got up to leave for the day, a handful were already stopping me and passionately sharing their early ideas.  As the day continued more would stop by and share their ideas as well. Over the course of the week I would have many conversations  about the visions that my students were having for their projects. I couldn't wait until Friday.

The Challenge

The following day I challenged my students to take advantage of this opportunity to do something great. I told them they had full creative control and virtually no limits on what they could accomplish. I then told them that not only was this an opportunity to potentially achieve individual greatness but that each one of them was quite capable of doing something great.  I visually referred to a project from a previous year that they all agreed was outstanding and reminded them that the student responsible for its creation, shared common circumstances with them. I then left them with the challenge to go beyond ordinary and strive for greatness.

New Ideas

Over the course of the week I would have many conversations about the early visions that my students were having for this project. When Friday finally arrived we were able to finalize and approve most of the ideas but there were still students that were working through the process that required guidance and support. This year's ideas included; portable fire pits, baby carriers, first aid kits, poison detectors, security systems and a host full of other authentic and useful ideas. The next three weeks would be exciting for sure as we would all witness these innovative ideas blossom into finished products.


One of my favorite days of the project experience was when I had the opportunity to review their sketches. It was exciting to gain an early glimpse at their designs as they continued to develop their ideas.  I was also afforded the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions that may help them move forward as they prepared to enter the construction phase of the project.  As this phase came to a conclusion I was confident in the direction that my students were heading and eagerly awaited the arrival of the finished products.

Presentations and Affirmations

The day of the grand unveiling of the projects brought with it a great deal of excitement. Both the  students and teachers eagerly awaited the beginning of the presentations. Collectively this batch of models/inventions was of the best that we have witnessed in years. The craftsmanship reflected ideas that were very well designed and executed. A three week journey which commenced with the project launch was now one step closer to conclusion.  This day and the few days that followed thoughout were special for many reasons. 

All of the students began revealing their products to one another in short oral presentations. We learned of the genesis of their ideas, the purpose and function of their products and essentially the process in which the product was constructed. We learned of research that had been completed, trials that had been endured and ultimately of  the success that had been achieved. Following the presentations the students asked very thoughtful questions of the presenters which required very thoughtful answers.  This was an impressive element of the presentations as the students were showing genuine interest in each others efforts. 

This year we all were treated to an unexpected bonus feature. As some presentations concluded, the students were offering complimentary affirmations to the presenter instead of asking questions. One student commented to another about  their idea being " very creative", or another commented on how the finished product indicated that they spent a "great deal of time" working on it.  These affirmations were unprompted and unsolicited but  indeed provided a special quality as some of the presentations concluded.


After the final oral presentation had concluded our journey was all but complete.  There was one final step that I was looking forward to taking with my students in order to bring closure to this project. As has been tradition following the final presentation students were required to participate in a reflection activity. This activity explored their thoughts on the positive qualities of the project experience, ways that it could be improved and finally what they had learned throughout the entire process. This as always was one of my favorite legs of the journey because it gave the students an opportunity to add an honest voice to the process. Once again as in past years they provided me with valuable feedback and have helped me to reaffirm the enduring value of the project.  Their feedback will also help me to make adjustments and strengthen the assignment for future classes.

 Some of the positive feedback this year included the following; "it was fun and I enjoyed the opportunity to be creative", " we could make our own choices and there were not many rules" and "it gave me a chance to bond with my mother or father".

Some of the improvements that were suggested included "share more models", "model an oral presentation" and "give more specific guidelines regarding the journal." 

The went on to tell me that they learned how to manage their time better, that homework can be fun and that they learned more about the problems and needs of the early humans.  

As the reflection activity came to a close, I was proud to be able to add the voice of my students to this project once again.  They appreciated the opportunity to add constructive and honest feedback as well.

Final Thoughts

When given the opportunity to create and work without constraints my students will embrace it.

My students like challenges and love the feeling that accompanies achievement.

 Authentic learning is the best way to learn because it allows my students to immerse themselves into their learning  environment. 

 When my students demonstrate that they value the hard work of their peers,  it strengthens the culture in our learning community.

  We need to continue to ask our students if the learning experiences that we provide have value. Their feed back will always be honest because they have the most to gain if they are engaged.  This project, like others  authentic in nature, empowered my students to become active learners. The more engaging the activity the more meaningful their learning will become.  The voices of our students need to be the ones that we hear the loudest and we need to pay attention to them. If not, we risk losing their interest and this is not a result that we can afford.  We must continue to celebrate the success of the authentic learner and affirm the value of their commitment and effort whenever possible.