An Opportunity That Won’t Go Down the Drain!

This past weekend, a lot was put into perspective. I was frustrated, upset, angry, demoralized, and just wanted to get away from it all. I thought I could do something. I tried. I studied up on it. I went out and bought what I thought was needed to get it done. I just couldn’t make it happen.

What could cause all this? What could drive me this crazy? Well, it sounds like a simple task…I am trying to take out a screw from the bathtub faucet to make it stop dripping! I thought I could just go in there and take it out without any issues. I looked at it. I studied it. I watched videos on how to fix it. I had the tools. Yet, there was an unexpected twist…the screw was stripped!

When this twist happened, I had some support. Some other people looked at it and gave me suggestions. I went out and bought what they suggested would help. I came home and started using it, yet it still didn’t work. I tried and tried. I got frustrated. I got upset. I got angry. I felt like I’m not good at this and that I’m not able to do anything. I didn’t know what to do.

Now, here’s the part that put a lot into perspective. If I felt this way over this task (which I’m still working on) how do my students feel every time they attempt an activity, think they know it, are given the right tools, yet still can’t succeed at that activity. How do they not show their frustration? How are they showing their frustration yet I don’t pick up on the signs? How can I be more supportive of the challenges and unexpected twists they encounter in their learning?

It took for me to struggle in my own experience to truly understand what students may be going through. I can’t fix a faucet. I’m trying. I’m determined to get it finished, but how many of my students have given up. How many have given up because I didn’t recognize the signs they were giving me. I need to be better. I need to recognize. I can’t let these opportunities go down the drain!

“It is what it is”…but is it really?

I recently came across a tweet that asked the question. “What is the most overused phrase in education?” When I saw this, I immediately thought of “it is what it is.” This phrase just really gets to me. Why? How can 5 words just get to me so quickly? Well, it is what it is…but I don’t buy that!

How did I get to this point? Well, the answer is 4 years. The answer to many questions or ideas that I proposed for 4 years was “it is what it is.” Ideas that could engage students…ideas that could help parent-teacher relations…ideas that could help bring about a change in culture of the school…”it is what it is.”

Does it always have to be “it is what it is?” Absolutely not. It is only what it is if you decide to keep it that way. It is what it is if you don’t want to push the limits. It is what it is if you feel that you are complacent and don’t want to push the status quo. If you want what it could be, take that risk. Take the opportunity to be what it isn’t and show what it is like another way.

“It is what it is” can be a burden on a school. It can lead to a staff that feels that they don’t have a voice. It can lead to students not being heard. It can lead to a feeling that if it is what it is we can never get past this point. Challenging your faculty, staff, and students is is what “it isn’t” and that’s where a school needs to be. A school cannot be what it is as our society, culture, and technology changes. We need to go where our school isn’t so that we can be what it needs to be, not what it is. Let me distinguish one thing first though, traditions of schools need to be upheld. Traditions are what make a school what it is. These are ideals that need to be “It is what it is.”

I went through 4 years of “it is what it is.” It was a 4 year challenge to myself to keep finding ways to be what “it isn’t.” By taking those risks, I found that what it isn’t isn’t that bad of a place to be! Challenging what it is made me a better teacher and a better mentor and guide for my students. “It is what it is” frustrated me, but I realize that each time I came across that, I found a way to be what it isn’t for my students. I became what it isn’t for myself, my family, and my school community.

I might be unconventional and not “it is what it is” but I am for sure doing what is best for my students and the school community, but hey; “It is what it is!”

My #OneWord2020…Gratitude

Gratitude is defined as noun: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

As I ended my last school year, I had many mixed emotions. I was frustrated at several different situations. Opportunities that I felt I was overlooked for; not being able to return to where I spent 4 years; and not knowing where my next adventure was going to take me. I felt that maybe I wasn’t good enough. I felt that maybe I should look into different aspects of education. One thing I did not feel was gratitude. Yes, I had gratitude for the students I was able to have as part of my life. I had gratitude for the families that supported me during my transition out of my previous school and the opportunities that I was not given. I had so much gratitude for my family that gave me unending support and care during the time that I was unsure of what the future held for me. I did not have gratitude for the lessons that I was being provided. I did not see them with a grateful heart, but rather with resentment and animosity. As I reflect back on this time, I realize that I took the wrong road. I need to show the gratitude in times of difficulty.

My #OneWord2020 is gratitude. I cannot go through my career not having gratitude. I need to be grateful for everything that makes me become better for my students, family, and myself. I too often take these things for granted. That’s my fault. It’s my fault for not appreciating the opportunities that make me a stronger and more focused educator.

I’m going to start showing my gratitude now:

  1. My best friend/wife: Where would I be without her? She is the most supportive and amazing person I know. She knows when I have rough days and she knows when I’m excited to share my amazing stories. She is there for me when I need her the most and she is ready to listen when I need it. I can’t thank her enough and I am so grateful for her.
  2. My family: They know how to cheer me up and listen to me when I need someone to be there. My nephews are so important to me and I can’t show my gratitude enough for how their silliness and stories make me forget about the stresses of work and life. My parents, sister, and brother-in-law are more than what a person could ask for. They support my work through ideas and donating to the various charitable drives my school has. They go above and beyond for me.
  3. My PLF (Professional Learning Family): This past November I attended the Teach Better Conference and this is where I changed my focus on what a PLF can be. My gratitude for the Teach Better Team is immeasurable. When I say team, I’m including the Team, speakers, and the “family” that I formed during the 2 days that I was there. They motivated me, refreshed my passion for teaching, recharged my energy to be BETTER, and accelerated my desire to accomplish some goals that I have set for myself. I was able to connect with educators that truly want me to become BETTER! It was what I needed. Yet, even before Teach Better I had a PLN that was there when I needed. They supported me, yet I did not show my gratitude back! I need to do that more! Thank you to everyone who has supported my educational career!
  4. The families I’ve worked with: Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your child’s education. I am so grateful for your trust and generosity. I know that if I asked for anything that it would have been provided for me. Your support of me and your child was probably often overlooked and I did not show my gratitude. I am so grateful to be in such great communities that value the importance of education, and especially Catholic education!
  5. My students: WOW! Where would I be without them? They are the reason I do what I do! I need to show my gratitude for them even more. I just hope that they see how grateful I am when I attend their events (athletics, drama, concerts). My students make me better and I need to let them know that. My gratitude for them is beyond measure. Each student makes me who I am. They bring a new joy for teaching each day. When they share their stories, I need to show my gratitude for them sharing their voice. I cannot limit their growth. I need to let them see my gratitude for being who they are!

Each day is an opportunity for me to show my gratitude. As I have stated, I did not show gratitude for those difficult moments last year. Yet, these are the moments where my gratitude needs to be shown the most. I need to use these lessons to increase my gratitude for those that make me stronger. I also need to appreciate the difficulties. Be grateful for those things that I don’t receive because perhaps I need to see them as opportunities for growth.

When I was overlooked for several positions last year, I felt I wasn’t good enough. I felt that I wasn’t ever going to become anything in education. While that is what I felt, I needed to step back and be thankful that I wasn’t given a position that I was not ready for yet.

Now that I am where I am, my gratitude for this community is tremendous. They have taken me in and allowed me to be who I am as an educator. They have embraced my style and allowed me to grow. For this, I am so grateful. I have also been able to see more growth in future endeavors because of connections that I have made.

Gratitude…it’s what I need to strengthen. I need to show it. I need to embrace it. I need to be it. I cannot allow myself to take life for granted. I cannot resent being overlooked. I need to show gratitude for those that keep pushing me to be better!

As 2020 moves forward, my gratitude for all of you is beyond words. Thank you! Thank you for all you do for me!

Proud…and There’s Nothing Wrong With That!

Wow! I am so proud of my students! I have no cares saying that to anyone! It’s a great feeling! It’s a great feeling that I challenged my students…hold on, let’s get this straight…they challenged me and my family…and they did an amazing job! My school is holding their annual canned food drive. I discussed with my class how important it is to serve others and be grateful for the blessings they have in their lives, especially during this time of Thanksgiving. I felt that they understood the message and then I asked them how the canned food drive went for the class last year. They explained to me that the class brought in a total of 72 cans last year. Now, understand that they had 28 students in their class last year. 72 isn’t a bad amount, but it did seem surprising.

That brings us to the challenge. I told my students that my last school had a canned food drive and that my class of 16 dominated the collection. I also mentioned that my family really likes to help out and they donate generously to my homeroom. That’s when one kid asked “Can we challenge your family?” I said “sure!” Now it was on! Now they wanted to beat my family! Each day they would ask, “When is the food drive starting?” This was back in September and October. The canned food drive started in November! They wanted to be a part of this experience!

As the food drive started, it didn’t take long for the students to surpass last year’s total of 72 cans. They passed that in the first week…and they only kept increasing their total! Going into the second last day, the 5th grade (students and family combined) had a total of 409 cans. The breakdown of students v. family was 205 to 204! This competition has been close the entire drive! Going into the last day, the students have collected 243 items! I have been so proud of my students!

What makes me so proud of this class? Yes, the dramatic increase in their collection is something that I am proud. Their willingness to give to others is what I am even more proud about! What I am most proud of is that they came together as a class and made themselves a better community. They worked together as a group and saw how each of them adds value to the class. They grew in an understanding of how to appreciate each other and build on the greatness that each one of them has. That’s what makes me proud!

Teachers need to share these proud moments! Teachers need to tell the stories that make them proud of their students! We cannot hide these stories! We need to celebrate our students! We need to celebrate the joys that they bring us as teachers and a community! I am proud of my students! I am proud that I have seen them grow and become a stronger group of students that want to help out each other and their community! I am proud that they have made me a better teacher!

While we need to show that we are proud of our students, we also need to thank our students for being in our class. Many times students have no choice in where they are, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t thank them. Each day a student will give us a moment to be thankful. We need to express our gratitude to them. Share that we appreciate all that they do to make us better! They are the reason why we do what we do!

Be proud of your students and thank them! I am proud of my students and I can’t thank them enough for making me better!

 

Teach Better 2019! A Reflection

I entered the Summit Educational Service Center for the Teach Better Conference with expectations. I reviewed what sessions I would like to attend prior to arriving so I was ready to learn. Yet, once the conference started my expectations were already met and exceeded.

One of the most challenging moments of the conference was at the very start. Owning my Faults was an eye opener and it was from that point forward that I realized that I need to be better. When I say I need to be better I don’t just mean better for my students, but rather I need to be better for my students, colleagues, family and friends, and myself.

After that eye opening experience came Chad’s eye opening presentation. Wow did it make me think. It made me realize that I have had moments that have made me wonder if I was in the right career. I have had moments that made me think if I could be doing something different. Yet now, after listening to Chad, I now see that I am where I need to be and that I just need to bring my focus back to being better for my students. I need to be more better today than I was yesterday. I need to be even better tomorrow than I am today. I will be better!

Not to take away from other conferences, but what truly set Teach Better apart from other conferences was that the presenters are educators. They provided practical resources that could be implemented the next day (Oh…and I did implement the next school day!). The presenters all were ready and willing to show their passion and enthusiasm of education and that they were all willing to make the educators present better.

Speaking of the presenters, the group of educators that were gathered for the conference blew me away! Never have I experienced a group of that caliber at one conference. Honestly, I never thought I would get to have one on one conversations with presenters like Adam Welcome, John Meehan, Alicia Ray, Jake Miller, CJ Reyonolds, Michael Earnshaw, Robert Martinez (Resiliency Guy), Ryan Sheehy, Dave Burgess, Tara Martin, and of course, the Teach Better Team. My PLN (or PLF, professional learning family) has grown by leaps and bounds…and I couldn’t be happier! I was able to actually interact and engage in conversations with these educational leaders. I could tell that they actually care to see me grow as an educator.

The entire community that I encountered was there for one reason, and that’s to be better. I really don’t know how a person could have walked away from 2 days of immersive learning not wanting to be better. The Teach Better team did something special!

One of the special moments that I had was when I had a brief moment to talk to Dave Burgess. Dave and I spoke about an idea that I have and he then pointed me to the direction of John Meehan. Now, I recognized John’s name from Twitter (a great resource for teachers!) and I never really put it all together. John and I share the awesome connection of competing in the NCEA Social Media Influencer contest. While it was in different years, John and I are passionate about Catholic education. I didn’t expect to go to this conference and connecting with another Catholic educator who is ready to join forces on a project. If it wasn’t for Teach Better, I wouldn’t be this energized to begin focusing on this project I have in mind.

Each session I attended, and it was so difficult to decide which sessions to attend, was where I needed to be. Each session led me to another thought or idea of how I can be better. Each session was a session that I needed to hear. When I attended Joshua Stamper’s 15 minute session, it was one that made me realize that what my students are dealing with can be a major factor in their learning. Now, even before I went into this session I was aware of how trauma could impact my students, but it was great to hear of how to work within these situations.

I would say that the Teach Better conference was one of the best educational conferences I have been to simply because it was real. It was real educators working to make real educators better. Also, Teach Better wasn’t all about education. It was about the educator as a person. A key takeaway from the conference was that I need to make time for myself and my family. The only way I can be better for my students is to be a better me. A better me for myself and for my family.

Teach Better was what I needed to be a part of at this moment in my career. The connections that I made and to meet some of my Twitter PLN are moments that are going to be with me for the rest of my career. It was where I needed to be. It was the right conference at the right time. I never expected to leave Teach Better feeling as energized as I did.

Thank you to Chad, Jeff, Rae, and Tiffany for your dedication to making educators better. Thank you for letting me join your family! I’m going to keep getting better for myself! I’m going to keep getting better for my family! I’m going to keep being better for our students! I’m going to keep getting better for all my fellow educators!

Let’s get out there and TEACH BETTER! See you at Teach Better 20!!

TB Picture

Picture Day!

Picture Day is always one of the most interesting days of the school year! It’s a day when memories will be made, captured, and shared for years to come. It is also a day when the school community can get even greater information about the true character of students. I teach at a Catholic elementary school where there is a dress code. The dress code is a simple one of a polo shirt, khaki pants for boys and khaki pants or skirt for the girls. So Picture Day is truly a day where students can express who they are!

Today is Picture Day at my school. Students are coming into class with so many different styles. Some are styles that I would never have expected, which is absolutely great. Students need to have ways to express themselves more. They need to express who they are through their clothing (on acceptable days at my school), in their classrooms, and in the way they show their learning. The most important part of having students express themselves is that they feel comfortable enough to do so. Teachers need to develop a culture within their classrooms where students feel welcome and encouraged to share their learning a way that expresses who they are.

While the chaos of having to go get pictures taken usually interferes with the school day, it is well worth it. Students are excited with how they dressed and they are excited to capture that moment of the school year. It’s a memory! It’s a moment that they want to remember and have last in a yearbook. It’s about them!

As an educator, I need to remember that each moment that I have in a classroom can become a lasting memory for one of my students. It’s a moment that they may cherish, even if it isn’t captured in a picture. The picture/video that they have recorded in their memory may be even greater than the one captured by a photographer. I need to provide them with the best opportunity to capture as many life-long memories as possible.

While styles change (both in clothing and in teaching), the moments of Picture Day don’t change. It’s the moments, the outfits, the laughter, the smiles that make this day worth it! I don’t mind the chaotic schedules and the mystery of when my class will be called down if it means a memory will be captured. All that matters is seeing each student ready to “Say Cheese!” SMILE!

Picture Day

A New Beginning

At the end of last school year, I learned that I would begin working at Communion of Saints School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I also learned that I would be taking on a few more challenges in my teaching career. I would no longer be teaching 5th and 6th social studies, but I would now be teaching 5th social studies, religion, English, reading along with 4th grade social studies and reading. I’ve never taught 4th grade before and I’ve never taught English at either one of those grade levels, but it’s what I have been called to do!

As I began this school year, I felt like a student who is attending a new school for the first time. Where’s my classroom? Who are these teachers? Who are all these students? Will people like me? Most importantly, where’s the restroom? So many questions needed to be answered.

Well, over the period of a few weeks, most of these questions were answered, but at the same time, so many new questions developed! Slowly, I began receiving answers to those questions as well. The community of Communion of Saints School has been extremely positive and supportive. In return though, I am trying my best to be supportive and positive where I can.

Now, let me explain how my students are…so far! They have been amazing! I have 28 students in my homeroom…which is way more than the 16 I had in my homeroom last year. Know what though? I like it! These students are very social, but I take it as a great thing! To me, it means that they truly care to be around each other. It means that they are already a community of learners! They have also readily accepted me into this 5th grade community. These are my students!

The overall community of Communion of Saints has been a blessing. The pastor spoke to us and said the school is an extension of the mission of the church. No truer words could be spoken about Catholic education. The students here will come to learn and leave to serve. That is the theme of this school year, “Come to learn; Leave to serve!”

The theme of the year is going to be my goal. I want my students to develop a passion for learning, while also building their passion to serve others! We have already set up a few challenges for this school year. One challenge is going to be the canned food drive. My students want to challenge my family to see which group can bring in more cans. This is the same class that brought in only 75 cans last year! They are motivated. They want to become better people. They want to grow in their faith!

This school year is already almost a month in the books, but it has been a very eventful month! I’m in the early stages of planning a grade level retreat for 4th and 5th grades. I have a few more ideas that I want to bring into the school. The school has an awesome energy and they are looking to push their students to do even more! It’s going to happen and I’m excited to be a part of it!

It’s going to be a wonderful, new beginning!

PS: I did find out where my restroom is located!