EdCamps…They’re a Must!

Last year I had my first encounter with an EdCamp. A colleague approached me and mentioned that she was interested in attending a local EdCamp and I actually was looking into going right when she mentioned it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’m glad that I got myself into it!

I arrived at Mentor High School and was already impressed to see so many educators gathered on a Saturday morning, willingly being present to further their craft as educators. This was not forced professional development, but rather a true desire to work, learn, and share with other educators to develop professionally.

Today, I am at #EdCampCLE. It’s a morning of gathering and bringing new ideas into classrooms around the Cleveland area…Columbus and Pittsburgh, too! A great thing about EdCamps is that you will never know what will want to be discussed until you get there. You discover the interests of the educators that are there and begin to develop and discuss ways to better yourself and others. Now, I am not the perfect teacher (far from it!) but I am one that is willing to share what I know and do with others and I am willing to learn from others who are willing and ready to share what they know!

EdCamps, or the “unconference” as they are known, allow teachers to learn and build on their interests. Nobody tells teachers what they have to learn. Nobody tells teachers that this is how things have to be. EdCamps allow teachers to grow where they feel they need to grow. They allow educators to connect with other educators and build connections. This allows educators to build relationships and further their own knowledge. This allows educators to model the educational style that should be utilized in classrooms. Be a facilitator and have students build on the strengths and weaknesses that each have and grow as a community.

I have had the pleasure of attending 5 EdCamps. I have made many great connections from these experiences and I would highly recommend you attend one. Don’t be afraid to share. Don’t be afraid to connect. Be that culture change in your school. Be the driver of change. Be a risk taker. Be an EdCamper!


Taking Risks

“Where do we want to be?” “Where do we want to go?” “How do we get there?”

If we simply answered those questions with “Where I am.” and “Wherever I’m told.” and “The easiest way.” then perhaps this blog isn’t for you…or maybe it’s something you need to read!

Risks are defined as situations involving exposure to danger. Taking risks models behavior that students need to see. Risk taking challenges not only ourselves but our students as well. Now, would we ever place our students in position of danger? Absolutely not! Would we ever place our students to look at an unknown situation and let them discover the results on their own? I sure hope so! The best way for students to begin taking risks is to take them on your own!

Walk in front of your classroom and say to them “Hey! I’m ready to try something new! How is this going to turn out? I’m not sure but let’s do this together and see what happens?”

“What happens if this doesn’t work right?” “What will the other teachers think of me if this messes up?” “What will students think if this is a total failure?” I’m sure these thoughts have crossed your mind and that these are the reasons why you may have limited the risks that you have taken. Well…let me tell you this…these questions don’t mean anything and that you should be asking yourself the following questions:

  • What will my students learn from this?
  • How will this lesson change how my students see this topic?
  • How will we grow as a class from this risk taking?
  • Which students will develop a greater appreciation of themselves by this activity?
  • How can I model growth by failing?
  • Which students that may not normally stand out in class excel in this activity?
  • How can I effectively show the importance of risk taking to my colleagues?
  • Who can I invite in to observe this lesson that may need encouragement to do the same?
  • How will this benefit our school?
  • How will this benefit me?

Let’s change those negative questions into learning questions! Let’s take those risks to grow and develop into educators that want students to rise above where they are and see where they can be.

Even before we get to a risk taking activity, we need to ensure that students feel like they belong in the environment where risks can be taken. Build a relationship of trust and confidence. Work with students to help them see both their strengths and weaknesses. Work with students so that they can build on their strengths and challenge themselves to improve on their weaknesses. Most importantly, let students know that you want to see them succeed at any cost and that you care about them. If this trust and confidence is in place, students will take risks because they know that it’s okay to fail.

So take the opportunity to build relationships where students see that they are cared about and that they are trusted. Take your own risks in class. Show how to improve upon the strengths and weaknesses that you have and that you will grow. Change those negative questions into positive questions! Learn together.

How Do I Show Passion?

This week is a long week for many students at my school. 6th grade is at camp all week in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The 6th, 7th, and 8th grade drama club is in tech week and has performances on Thursday and Friday night. As a moderator for the drama club, I am seeing first hand that tough schedule that these students are going through. They are challenging themselves to see where their passion lies and to break out of their comfort zone into the world of theatre. I have been impressed with their work and commitment.

One thing that has truly been great for me is that I can share my passion of theatre with my students. I can show them new ideas that they may never thought and they are giving me guidance and support to challenge myself even more. Being placed in a position of leadership has been truly great for me. Seeing students being creative and learning while being in a position of leadership has been something I needed to see within my educational career and beneficial for me as I face the question of “What’s next?”

One important part of my educational career that I need to keep reminding myself of is to keep the passion for what I do. Participating in the drama club keeps my passion flowing. Drama club reminds me that I do what I do for my students. My students need to always come first when I make decisions regarding education. Helping to moderate drama club or other activities that interest students is critical. My passion builds from knowing more about what my students want and how to better connect with them.

Yet, I am at the point in my career where I need to decide how and where I want to share my passion. I need to see if this is the time for me to continue on into a “lead learner” position or continue serving my students as a classroom teacher. I need to discover if my passion could carry over into a whole school or within my classroom. I need to decide my “What’s next”.

Perhaps this upcoming decision will build my passion to continue serving students by whatever path I take. My passion has to be seen in every action within my classroom. I have to keep focusing on my students and my joy of education. My passion comes from the connections I create with my students. I know that the relationships that are made with students is what drives me to be even better than I am today.

Passion for education has grown for me over the past 2 years. I have found myself growing my PLN and finding the best techniques for connecting with my students. I’d like to believe that I am showing my passion daily in and out of my classroom. My PLN has been instrumental in building my passion and I am extremely grateful for their support.

I want to continue to show my passion. I want to show my students that they deserve the best that I can give them and that I believe in their success and their abilities to create, discover, and grow as innovators. I want to be there for them and their needs. My passion may take me out of my comfort zone in the same way that theatre is taking my students out of their comfort zone. Wherever my career in education takes me, all I know is that my passion will be for the best of my students.


The Arts and Education

My school is currently in the rehearsal process of their upcoming musical. I attend as many rehearsals as possible since I enjoy the process of seeing a show come together and I assist on stage crew for the production. Even if I didn’t assist with the show, I would still find a way to be involved, because I feel that the arts are essential to the growth of students in many different ways.

When I see a student start to discuss the possibility of auditioning for a show, I get excited. It’s a great feeling seeing a student take a risk and step outside of their comfort zone to show their gifts and talents. I’ve seen so many students that I never would have imagined participating in a show that amaze me everyday. It is also great seeing students excited throughout the school day because they’re anticipating play practice after school!

There’s more to why I support the arts than simply having students excited for play practice. Students need an outlet for their creative side. Students also need a place where they can get their creative side flowing. Hearing new music…learning dance moves…reading a script…putting their minds into a world that is beyond their own can allow students to utilize skills that they are learning in class to new use! Perhaps, they could learn a new skill in theatre and apply it to class!

I grew up in the theatre. I was in my first show at the age of 8. 28 years later and I’m still involved with theatre! I know I’ve used my “acting” skills many times throughout my educational career. Having some acting training surely does go a long when a lesson doesn’t go exactly as planned (which of course never happens!). Improvisational skills are great skills to have!

I truly believe that I would not be in the education field if I had never been involved in theatre. I grew in my ability to express my thoughts and develop greater creativity skills because of growing up in theatre. I also gained valuable skills when I worked on stage crew and set building. If I never grew my confidence in being in front of large crowds, I probably would never have felt it possible to be a teacher.

Theatre isn’t the only area of arts that I find important. Drawing, graphic design, sculpting, and photography also are important. Not all students are going to be working in an office. Not all students are going to be lawyers or doctors. There are students that need to be in a more creative field. A field where they can show their abilities through drawing, computer arts, or photography. As a society, we need these professions. We need the arts in school so we can best serve all students.

I am excited to see my students in their upcoming musical. Being a part of this performance is going to mean so much to me. Their ability to grow socially and artistically is amazing. These students are going to make our school look great! It’s only because of the arts that we can see the greatness in all of our students.

My #OneSong2017…Give Me Your Eyes

As I chose my #OneWord2017, which is Perspective, I later learned of another hashtag movement called #OneSong2017. I’m a big lover of music and lyrics, so I knew this was something that I needed to look into! I started reflecting and trying to decide what my one song would be that would help inspire me and remind me of my one word and my goals. There are so many great songs to consider, but one song really stood out to me…Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5AkNqLuVgY

The song starts off by a man in a plane looking out a window of a plane considering how great the view is of the world, but once he lands he starts to see people scattering everywhere through the airport and he starts to wonder why he never cared about these people. Then he starts to ask God to give him His eyes for just one second so he can see all those internal struggles that people are facing that they never show.

He also asks for God’s eyes so he can see all those unforgotten people that he has not seen in his personal life. He asks God to give him a new perspective on life. He wants to see the world from the perspective of recognizing that life is more than just about him. He needs to realize that life is about those internal struggles that people just can’t tell to everyone. He wants the eyes to be able to see the love for humanity that God has.

This song summarizes my personal journey as well. I love what I do and I enjoy my work, yet there are times when I become complacent in what I do and I need to recognize that my students may have some other concerns are issues that they just cannot tell me. These issues will impact their learning for that day or time, but I need to show that compassion and caring for them regardless of these issues. I need the perspective to see the learning through their eyes.

I need the eyes of my fellow teachers so I can see how they reach certain students differently than I do. I need to see how their interactions make a positive impact on student growth. I also need to see how they see me.

I need the eyes of all involved so I can learn perspectives of the education taking place at my school. I cannot look at education only through my eyes, but I need the eyes of all involved who care about the success of our students.

Give Me Your Eyes is a powerful song for me. I need to take the time to use the eyes of others to grow in my own education and future plans. I need to use the eyes to see how I’m growing as a teacher and as a educational leader. I need to use the eyes to develop ways to better build relationships.

Give Me Your Eyes for just one second; Give me your eyes so I can see, everything that I keep missing, give me your love for humanity! Give me your eyes!

My #OneSong2017

One Word for 2017…Perspective

As I wrap up the year of 2016, I need to reflect upon where I have been and where I want to go. 2016 was a great year for for me as an educator. I finished my first year as a 5th and 6th grade social studies teacher and I learned the intricacies of being responsibility for a variety of preps. I gained great insight into the minds of elementary and middle school students. I grew as a teacher and mentor. I also learned the importance of Twitter as a tool for professional development and growing my PLN. I would say that my word for 2016, Passion, was a driving force behind all that I did. I know that my passion for education has grown and I know that I will still use passion as a special word for me.

Now as we begin 2017, my new word for this year will be perspective. I need to keep what I do in perspective of where my students are. I need to ensure that my perspective remains on what is best for my students. I need to venture out and see new perspectives on what other teachers are doing and how they are educating their students. I also need the perspective of seeing my actions and how I treat others through the eyes of my students. I need to remain fair and just to all my students.

Perspective is defined as “a particular attitude towards or way of seeing something.” My perspectives on many educational topics differ than those of other teachers in my building. Even though we differ, I cannot simply say that they are wrong and that I am right. I need to see perspectives on educational topics from the viewpoints of those that differ from mine. Perspectives are what make us unique.

I also need to allow students to show their perspectives through creativity. I want students to share their perspectives on topics that we discuss in class. I want students to have their perspective recognized as important.

Perspective is also important to my career. I need to reflect on what side of education I want to continue. Do I want to remain as a teacher in the classroom everyday or do I want to join the perspective of administration? Perspective will be an essential area of reflection for me in the upcoming months. I also know that I will be tapping into the minds of many fine administrators that I have been able to learn from and call my PLN on Twitter to see where they can lead me.

Perspective is going to be an area of growth for me. I will stay focused on my perspective and be open to new perspectives of the many fine educators that I call my friends.

Social Media Influencer Experience Reflection

Over the past 11 weeks, I was challenged and encouraged to share my thoughts, ideas, and happenings on 10 different topics relating to Catholic education. My time as a Social Media Influencer for the National Catholic Educational Association was a time for me to reflect on where I have been, where I am, and where I’m going in Catholic education. The topics that I was able to share about are topics that are extremely relevant to my job as an educator in a Catholic school, but also as a follower of Christ in the Catholic faith.

When I began the contest, I was unsure how to tell my school’s story and what we do. I was extremely excited to tell our experiences, but I truly believe that we are also very humble and are hesitant to share because it’s not who we are. We are told to be humble and just do what we are expected without seeking recognition. It was difficult at first, but that difficulty turned into pride. We need to be proud of what we do. We need to understand that an activity that we do is not a small thing but that it can mean a lot to a parent or a benefactor. We cannot hide our story.

The first week led us to the question of “Why Choose Catholic Education?” This was a question that I felt like I could answer on my own, but I also knew a great resource for an answer would be my students. Why do my students choose Catholic education? Why do they find Catholic education to be important? Why do I recognize Catholic education to be important? When I asked my students I was surprised by their answers. They see the importance of the Catholic faith to keep them focused on their faith. They want their moral character to be improved and they see that Catholic education is helping them. They see that the work of us educators is bettering their lives. We may hope that it happens, but asking students just shows us that we are doing the right thing. This also helps me to recognize that I am doing the right thing by choosing Catholic education.

Week 2 was Professional Development for Catholic Educators. Professional development for Catholic educators needs both relevant classroom technique development but there also needs to be a faith formation/spiritual direction element for Catholic educators. We must understand that our position is not just content formation, but also faith formation. We need to provide educators with the proper skills of how to model the faith for our students. We need to show teachers where they can grow in these techniques and open their minds to the world of Twitter and other social media sites so they can connect to other Catholic educators. #CatholicEdChat is an excellent chat on Twitter that has personally helped me grow in my faith and as a teacher.

Week 3 was service in Catholic Schools. I was blessed to be able to share the amazing stories from my high school days. My alma mater was able to lead me to understand the importance of serving others within the framework of the Catholic faith. For me to now help others see the importance of service in the Catholic faith is a blessing.

Week 4 was Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service. This week allowed me to share how my school connects our religion content and core subjects to the faith. The importance of community is seen through the commitment of all teachers to model the Catholic faith through their lessons and actions. This was a great week for me to reflect upon how my Catholic education experiences helped me grow in a learner of knowledge through serving others.

STREAM was week 5’s topic and it was one that I was excited about. My school is beginning to enter into STREAM and teachers were very supportive. I know teachers have continued to do STREAM projects from this week’s topic and students are already excited to do more! Connecting faith into the mentality of STEAM adds an extra element that Catholic schools are blessed to teach!

When I began week 6 and the topic of Exceptional Learning in Catholic Schools, I began to reflect upon what am I doing to aid exceptional learners. Changing the focus from special education to all students who either need more guidance or are accelerated shows that Catholic education provides many different learning opportunities for our students. The programs that are already available to change the focus to exceptional learning are great and I’m ready to see where my school takes this idea.

Professional Learning Networks in Catholic Schools was a wonderful topic. We as Catholic educators may sometimes feel isolated when it comes to forming PLNs. We may not know where to turn to for support. Catholic educators need to rally together to strengthen our commitment to teaching within the Catholic school setting. I am so fortunate to have found the #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. This Saturday morning chat has opened my eyes to new ideas and experiences in my classroom. Teachers need to look further than the boundary of their school to find educators who want to share their faith and passion for Catholic education. We need PLNs that will have us grow academically and spiritually.

Week 8’s topic of the preliminary sessions for NCEA 2017 was overwhelming, but in a great way! I was overwhelmed by the number of sessions available for teachers to learn from! Whatever your interest you have in Catholic education, there will be a session for you. The growth that I know teachers will experience at NCEA 2017 will be immense because there are so many educators and supporters of the Catholic faith ready to help teachers, administrators, and support staff do even greater things within their schools. NCEA 2017 is going to be a tremendous Convention & Expo!

Week 9 was Leadership in Catholic Schools. When I saw this topic, I knew that leadership in Catholic schools is more than administrators. Leadership in Catholic schools involves all those who show pride and commitment to furthering the mission of the school. Staff, teachers, administrators, benefactors, parents, and students are all leaders. We work as the Body of Christ in Catholic schools. We lift each other up and work to strengthen our education and our faith.

The last week was Catholic Identity. Catholic identity needs to be visible in all things that we do and throughout the school. We need to let guests know that from the moment they arrive on our campus that we are Catholic. We need to show the loving, compassionate, welcoming spirit to all who are a part of our school community. I believe my school does a tremendous job sharing our Catholic identity and I am blessed to be a member of this school.

I have found great joy, passion, and excitement for my Catholic faith over the past 11 weeks. I know I will continue to share the stories that my school has to tell, which I can then only hope will ignite the passion for the Catholic faith even more to my PLN. I want people to be a part of the love of Christ that St. Michael School has and shares.

Thank you, NCEA, for letting me be a part of this tremendous opportunity. I know I have grown as a follower of Christ and more passionate educator because of the Social Media Influencer Contest. I can’t wait to continue to share my faith and influence others to do the same!

God bless,

Adam W. Cottos

Students…Leaders in Catholic Education

Students will rise up to meet challenges and expectations if we provide them the opportunity to do so. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students how to become effective leaders. We also need to model how to be leaders. Leadership also needs to be seen in all students. We cannot pick and choose who we want to be leaders simply because we “see it” in a student. We need to see all students as leaders and find a way for each student to show leadership.

I have had the pleasure to work with many students who show great leadership skills. While I was at St. Ignatius, I worked with students who participated in the Arrupe Neighborhood Partnership Program. This is a program where high school students work with children from the neighborhood by providing tutoring and being a “big brother.” We prepared students for how to interact with students, but the students took it upon themselves to lead the neighborhood children into new leaders. They strengthened and bettered the lives of those young children. The St. Ignatius students are great leaders.

St. Ignatius students also developed many new programs and clubs that define leadership. Under the guidance of Mr. Skerl, students led the movement to form a society where they gather, pray, and act as pall bearers for those who do not have anyone to bury them. They also formed a program where they gather, pray, prepare a meal, and then go out and meet homeless and give them a meal. Students led these movements to become what they are today.

Students want to be leaders. One great way for us as educators is to have students lead prayer services and retreats. When it comes to matters of faith, we need to let students show their faith to other students. As adults, we also need to model our Catholic faith. This modeling will allow students to see how to live the life of a Catholic as an adult. This is beneficial. We need to let students see other students model the faith as well. They need to see the presence of the Catholic faith in students their own age. Student leaders in student faith formation is important to growing the Catholic faith.

Students being servant leaders increases the involvement of other students in service projects. Teachers and schools need to provide opportunities for students to serve others. Teachers need to be guides of the Catholic faith while passing the leadership to students. Students need to represent schools because they want to, not because they have to. Students can bring the faith to others by their actions. Students can bring the faith to others through their ideas. Students need to be involved in all aspects of service. Students need to lead.

I am blessed to work in a school where students are provided the opportunity to share their faith. We have many opportunities where students can lead. We have a Liturgical Council where students plan the masses by choosing songs, petitions, and other parts of Mass that can be arranged. We have a weekly Advent prayer service where students lead the school in prayer. We also have service projects that students are actively involved.

Students need to become leaders in the Catholic faith and of their education. We need to lead them to opportunities to share their passion and love of Christ. We cannot simply lead students, but we need to teach students to be leaders in the Catholic faith and education!

My Mentor…Leadership in Catholic Education

A man who means so much to me and has been an amazing leader in my Catholic education career has been Mr. Karl Ertle. When I was a young 8th grader and dreaming of attending St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Mr. Ertle was the admissions director. I visited St. Ignatius several times, took the admissions test, and was more than excited when I received my acceptance letter from St. Ignatius. Being a young man, I didn’t realize the impact that acceptance letter would have on my parents since I didn’t factor in the tuition. All I knew is that I was a Wildcat!

My parents called up Mr. Ertle explaining that it would be difficult to pay for St. Ignatius. Mr. Ertle asked my parents this question, “Did we accept Adam?” My parents responded with, “Yes.” Mr. Ertle replied, “Then he is going here.” My parents explained the financial situation. Mr. Ertle said, “We accepted Adam and he is a Wildcat. He will be going here.” My parents were confused by this concept, but they trusted Mr. Ertle. The confidence that Mr. Ertle provided my parents led them to build a great relationship with him, and it provided me an opportunity to grow under his leadership.

Following my 4 years at St. Ignatius, I went on to Cleveland State University. I graduated with a business degree and was unsure what to do after. St. Ignatius has an alumni volunteer program that allows recent college graduates to return to St. Ignatius and spend a school year serving the community. The volunteers would live on campus, spend time with the Jesuits, work with the high school students, and discern where the future will lead. Mr. Ertle fought hard to get me into the program, and I am very grateful that he did.

Mr. Ertle was my supervisor during my time as a volunteer. He was actively involved in all the programs that the volunteers worked with and was an amazing example of servant leadership. He showed me that a person truly does need to care for the least of us and not just say that you need to do it, but also show how to do it.

Once I completed my year of volunteering, I went back to Cleveland State to receive a teaching license. I was inspired by my year of service to go back to school and become a teacher. My main inspiration was Mr. Ertle.

When I was at Cleveland State, part of my requirement to become a teacher was to do my student teaching. After I left St. Ignatius, Mr. Ertle went to Cleveland Central Catholic to become president/principal of that high school. I contacted Mr. Ertle to see if I was able to do my student teaching at Central Catholic. I still remember his answer…”Who do I need to talk to?” This response showed that he cared to show me more about Catholic education and how to become a better leader.

During my time at Cleveland Central Catholic, I observed how Mr. Ertle interacted with the students each morning. I noticed how he learned the name of each student and would be present to greet them at the door each morning. He also made it a priority to participate in faith formation retreats and made the students and staff feel like they were a part of a Catholic faith community.

Mr. Ertle made sacrifices to ensure that students were welcomed into the school. He would talk with the students about academics, faith, and just life. He lives a life of service and doesn’t just preach a life of service.

I am blessed to know Mr. Karl Ertle. I truly do look to him as a model of leadership in Catholic education. He is now at Walsh Jesuit High School, but I know I can turn to him for guidance, support, and friendship. He is truly a leader in Catholic education! Thank you, Mr. Ertle!

Parent Teacher Union…Leadership in Catholic Education

My school is blessed with an extremely active Parent Teacher Union. Our PTU is active in fundraising, providing homeroom parents, social outreach programs, collaborating with teachers to provide academic/social activities for students, offering grants for teachers meet the needs of their classrooms, and assisting teachers through access to professional development opportunities. It is through their commitment to Catholic education that we are best able to serve our students. The PTU is aware of the ever-changing world of education and they ensure that we, as teachers, are able to provide their students with the most up-to-date classrooms and preparation for teaching.

While the PTU provides teachers with access to professional development and resources for our classrooms, they also provide us with resources that better engage us as Catholic school educators. PTU shows us what it means to be servant leaders. They generously donate their time to come into the classroom and share holiday celebrations with the classes, plan events that connect the school to the community, and organize events that gather students together in faith and in sharing.

One large undertaking that PTU recently started in connection with the teachers is a hot dog lunch/celebration. PTU provides all students the opportunity to receive a hot dog, snack, drink, and condiments at the beginning of the school year with an extended recess. All the students play together under the supervision of parent volunteers and teachers. It is a great experience seeing all of the students playing together at the same time. The PTU’s leadership shows the students and teachers that socialization and friendship is important part of growing in the Catholic faith.

I have been blessed with PTU’s kindness several times. I was able to purchase some flexible seating options through the support of PTU and I will be attending a conference through PTU’s generosity. I would not be able to enrich my own life and the lives of my students without the commitment to Catholic education that PTU provides.

I am also thankful for PTU’s support of me throughout my Social Media Influencer participation. They have been following along since day one and I am very happy that I was able to address the PTU to share my experience at one of their meetings. I feel I have grown as a teacher because of the members of PTU.

We need to recognize that parents and the parent groups of our schools are amazing guides and leaders for Catholic education and the Catholic faith. We need to work with the parents by making them aware of the great things that we do as teachers, but also by connecting with parents to share the resources and commitment they have to Catholic education.