Expecting the Unexpected

As the days go by in the classroom, educators must recognize that students need breaks. Students need to be given opportunities to sit with each other to grow, learn, and be children. Being a fifth grade teacher, I am constantly reminded that my students are still children. They need to have moments to stop and be reminded that they are still children. We need to be silly…we need to laugh…we need to dance…we need to sing. How do we do this as educators? Well, we expect the unexpected!

Educators setup lesson plans…we setup guidelines…we setup classrooms that we feel will be the best environment for learning. Yet, we do all this and sometimes the best lessons come from those unexpected moments of stopping and building on a question from a student that leads you to something new…something that takes the lesson in a new direction…to a learning moment that involves having students grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

These unexpected moments are when you change direction and take that risk to go away from YOUR plan and into THEIR plan. The key to all this is that it is YOUR plan…if it is YOUR plan where does the say of students come in? THEIR plan are filled with unexpected moments. They know what they need. We need to recognize what they need. Plans are made to change. Plans are made to be filled with opportunities to let students be children.

I spent this morning with fellow teachers guiding students in making ornaments for a Christmas movie themed tree. Students socialized with their buddies and created so many wonderful ornaments. Following their ornament making, we came back to our classroom and we could’ve moved onto a lesson, but the students deserved a break…so we watched VeggieTales and a story about Christmas. They sat quietly and enjoyed it…they were being children. It are these moments that make me appreciate the unexpected. Was this in my plan for the day? No. Did I need to do this? No. Was it the best thing for the students? Perhaps. Did it build a relationship between the students of this classroom? Absolutely. That’s what this is about. The unexpected moments building my classroom into a community. That’s so important to me!

Unexpected moments lead to expected results. I have found those results involve laughing, singing, smiles, and a stronger classroom. Letting students be children in unexpected moments brings joy to a classroom. I’m so grateful that I had this unexpected moment today!

Wonder…What I Wonder

I went to go see the movie Wonder with my family. First of all, it is a very powerful movie. I’ll admit that I started crying within the first few minutes of the movie. As I watched the movie though, I started to wonder a lot.

I’m a fifth grade teacher. All I could wonder is “how do my students feel?” and “what would my students do if an August Pullman entered into our classroom?” I would like to imagine that my students would welcome Auggie with open arms and excitement, but would they really do that…I don’t know.

This made me feel like I know I have more to do to make all my students feel welcome. Am I doing everything I can? Am I excluding any of my students? If I’m not, I know I need to. If I am excluding, then I am sorry. I do not mean to do these things.

What can I do to make my room more welcoming? First, I need to be present and welcoming. I need to welcome my students to their classroom. I need to take the time to listen to their stories. I need to gain an insight into their lives and experiences. I cannot let these opportunities to slide by.

My students are wonders. Each student has a certain connection to me. I need to build on these connections. I need to welcome these connections into my classroom. The wonders that are my students are wonders that make me a better teacher.

I also need to teach my students to be Summer’s and Jack’s. I need to teach students to stick up for those around them that need support and also how to learn from their mistakes.

I need to make my students wonder and grow. I cannot leave these great opportunities left untapped. I need my students the same way that my students need me. I am not here simply to give them information but rather I am here to help them see the greatness that lies inside them and each other. In the same way, my students help me see the greatness that lies in me and they show me ways to grow in my wonder.

I am so grateful for each of the wonders in my classroom. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to see them achieve their successes on their own and together. I am also grateful that they help me become a better person.

Be kind. Be great. Be you. I am a wonder.

Bearing Witness… “Wrap Up”

First of all, titling this post as “Wrap Up” kind of seems like the wrong title. So, let’s think of it more as “Send Forth”! We did not wrap up anything but we were called to be sent out to our schools and dioceses to bear witness to what we have learned. We are to carry, or bear, the realities that we have encountered and teach others how to not let these tragedies happen again.

We learned the history of anti-Semitism…we learned what the Church did during the Holocaust…we heard a story of a survivor…we witnessed the evidence of anti-Judaism…we know where society went wrong. We learned that anti-Semitism isn’t an isolated event. We were called to learn, grow, and be the change in society through our classrooms.

Bearing Witness was a program like I never encountered before. It shared sadness, tears, and questions…but we also shared happiness, laughter, and answers. There were moments from this experience that I know I will never forget from both ends of the emotional spectrum. Some parts were overwhelming, but some parts were full of silliness. How can this be?

The answer is people! The educators on this experience were honest, real, and passionate! They wanted to be here! They wanted to grow! This is one of the most important part of growth as an educator…you have to want it! These 42 educators wanted it!

I had heard that the Bearing Witness was intense and could be difficult to encounter…and what I heard was correct. What I didn’t hear though is that bonds would be made from educators from across the country..Los Angeles to Boston! I didn’t hear that there would be joy and excitement…and there was plenty of that! I imagined it would change my life because it would be difficult and overwhelming. And it did, but it changed me because I grew within my profession and as a person.

I now see myself wondering what I can do to model behavior that will create an ally environment. I’m looking within to see how I can best serve my students. I’m looking at all the educators I have grown with this past week and figuring out how we can collaborate to not let this program be isolated to our schools, but expanded into our society!

I want to thank the Anti-Defamation League, NCEA, the USCCB, and Georgetown University for their commitment to the Bearing Witness Program! Naomi, Seth, Naomi, Fr. McManus, Rabbi Sandmel and all those who made this happen…Thank You!

Bearing Witness has meant a lot to me. It was difficult for me to be away from my fiancée and loved ones for the week. I faced those challenges and they grew harder and harder everyday, yet with everyday hope grew knowing that I would see her and my loved ones soon. We have that hope. We need to share that hope. I need to grow stronger. I need to Bear Witness.

Bearing Witness…Day 5

How can I take what I’ve gained over the past 4 days and bring it into my classroom? How can I make this knowledge relevant and practical to my students? Well, Echoes and Reflections will do just that! Echoes and Reflections will bring the stories of the past into the lives of my school community members!

Today has already brought new ideas and inspiration for my classroom. I have find ways to make my classroom more than a classroom. My room, let me rephrase that, our classroom will be a community. A community that understands, accepts, and appreciates differences. If we can build that, then we can begin to make that difference. Then we can begin to bear witness to the challenges we face in our society.

Spending part of the day in the conference room of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put the week into perspective. The Church has faced challenges when it comes to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. While these challenges exist, it says a lot to have a meeting of 40 Catholic educators who want to educate our students on recognizing that our faith is built on the fact that Jesus was himself Jewish. We cannot accept anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism when our faith is built on the Jewish faith. Having the USCCB opens its doors and meeting stop to help further the education that we will provide shows a commitment to end these behaviors.

Day 5 offered so much, that I’m still processing what I took in. I do know that I have a lot to do in my classroom to make our classroom an environment. I know that the real difference will begin with my own actions. I cannot set expectations for my students when I’m not meeting the expectations myself. We as teachers need to model the behaviors we want to see from our students. Challenge yourself and then challenge your students!

Bearing Witness…Day 4, Part 2

Complicity and the Holocaust was something that I thought of prior to coming to Bearing Witness, but I never thought of the complexity of it until these past few days. What defines complicity? What are complicit actions? Why did some people become complicit during the Holocaust? Did they even know they were complicit?

Some Were Neighbors and our further discussion on the exhibit was intriguing. I know that I will take several techniques/methods back to my classroom so my students understand this idea in greater depth. As the phrase goes, a picture is worth a thousand words…pictures from the European Jewish communities during the Holocaust may say thousands of words! I can’t wait to partake in this activity with my students!

The time at the Embassy of Israel was something special. Hearing from the Counselor of Academic Affairs and listening to his description of modern Israel was great! Their innovative minds and technological creativity is inspiring!

Kenneth Jacobson’s telling of how Jews see Israel today was powerful. His knowledge and passion for this topic is unmatched. I was able to see how the relationships that the Jews have in the region are essential to their success. It was also interesting to hear how the US is significant to the development of the region.

Today was very overwhelming. It was heavy with a lot of information but full of knowledge that I will be taking back to my students and school community. The main idea that I will discuss is the idea of complicity. Students need to see how their actions can be seen as complicity during some actions they take against others.

Today was a lot to process. Tomorrow we learn how to apply more of this in class! See you at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops!

Bearing Witness…Day 4, Part 1

What makes a survivor? What makes a person able to say that they were able to successfully escape an event that places them in great danger? Today, I met a survivor!

Hilana Peabody was a young girl outside of Krakow, Poland. She heard stories of Jews being forced to clean sidewalks. She was subjected to the harsh realities of a culture that’s wanted to see her and the people of her community suffer. Yet, she was unaware of the reality around her because her mother protected her from seeing such abuses.

She told of a story of when 800 members of her community were sent away to go work. People waited to see their friends and relatives return…yet, not one returned on the train. It wasn’t until later that night when one person got off a train…he survived. He survived a mass killing of 800 people…the people of Hilana’s community.

Hilana’s mother was concerned for Hilana’s safety, so her mother sent her away to another town. She was shuffled around. They asked a priest to provide them papers so that they could be seen as Catholic. She was afraid that she was going to die. Her mother was confronted by a soldier and her mother begged and pleaded for him to let her and her children live. The soldier took what they had, but did let them go. She survived!

These are stories that we need to protect. These are stories that need to be heard. We can see pictures and read textbooks, but nothing is more powerful than the words of a person who was there when it happened…the words of a survivor!

But sadly, not all survived. Some were turned in by their neighbors. The community in which they lived abandoned them. The Jews of the community had nowhere to turn. Today, one image/artifact struck me. Today I saw bullets that were removed from a mass grave in Lithuania. These bullets took the lives of children, women, and men all because of what people thought they were.

Looking at the bullets was like looking at the mass grave. It was like looking at the community. It was like looking within yourself. What bullets do we use today to attack others? How do we stop these bullets? We care for each other. We accept differences with eagerness to learn more. We be the light for others. We love.

“Please, please, please work hard. You are in charge now. Make sure this world is good for my children’s grandchildren.”-Hilana Peabody

Bearing Witness…Day 3

These were human beings. These were people who had families, worked, made their community’s life a better place. A mentality, no, a culture destroyed what they had because they corrupted the minds of others to believe that this segment of society was evil.

This was the 1930s. This is the reality that I faced today at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Now, I knew of this reality, let me phrase it better, this tragedy well before I visited the museum today. Today was different because I had a deeper background of the culture that perpetrated the acts. I understand where the methodologies of the Holocaust began. We need to know that our society laid a blue print for the Holocaust to happen.

This perspective is what I used to view the museum today. I needed to see the history as an extension of what we did. We cannot let this happen again! We have a responsibility to act.

I was moved by the names that are listed in a walkway. I saw my name, Adam, listed. I have no idea how many Adams were killed, but I do know that I cannot sit by and let another Adam be taken simply because someone claims that they are different.

Our Church has a responsibility to protect all persons. We need to learn what they knew so we can learn to prevent these atrocities from happening again!

We also live in a strong democracy. We live in a society where we are free. Today reminded me that we may not always be free. As was stated at the memorial, democracy is fragile. We feel that we have so much, but if we are not careful, it could all be taken away.

Today was a powerful day. Today I was able to see more about why the Holocaust happened. I was able to see what actions were missed that could’ve reduced the loss of life. Now, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? What does today hold for us? Let us be the witnesses and the light!

Bearing Witness…Day Two

As we continue our journey through Bearing Witness, we dove deeper into anti-Semitism and then history of this concept. The Jewish history is a history of deep understanding of community, culture, and faith. I gained a better appreciation of the faith connections between my Catholic faith and the Jewish people. Yet, I also learned that the connection has not always been the most congenial.

When we were presented a 2500 year history of anti-Semitism in 1 hour and 30 minutes, we were provided insight into a way of life that I feel no group should ever face. People being chosen and blamed simply because of their race, culture, social status, profession, and religion was, and still is, an atrocity that too many were complicit in, and that includes faith groups!

Being able to see how the actions of the Holocaust stemmed from this history of anti-Semitism and was not anything new was eye opening. It was even more eye opening realizing that the actions were aided by the example set forth by the Inquisition! These were actions that Catholics performed. We need to ensure that these actions never happen again!

I know that I will take this new perspective into my classroom. I will be sure that I have my students realize that the actions of our faith need to be an example of positivity and relationship building between faiths! We cannot, and will not, tear down another faith!

I’ll be honest, tonight was my first night in a synagogue! Seeing the scrolls with the Books of Moses on them was special. The delicate nature that the rabbi used while handling the scrolls shows that there is such great care and respect for God’s Word! Also, meeting a rabbi from a Liberal Reformed Jewish community and a rabbi from a Modern Orthodox Jewish community was tremendous. As was said, this was something special and needs to be done more often. Having conversations between different groups within the faith is essential, just as conversations with other religious groups outside the faith are important!

Today was special! Today was challenging! Tomorrow will be a whole new experience! Tomorrow we visit the Holocaust Museum. Tomorrow will be….

Bearing Witness…Day One

This week I’m at the Bearing Witness Institute. I’ll be spending the week gathering new ideas, methods, and knowledge on the Holocaust, prejudice, and anti-Semitism. I’m honored to be a participant for this experience!

First of all, God has mysterious plans for us that we just need to trust are in our best interest! After an over 2 hour delay, I made it from Columbus, Ohio to Washington DC! It sure did take awhile, but it was worth it!

Seeing over 40 Catholic educators devoting a week of their break to furthering their commitment to students by enhancing their skills and knowledge is inspiring. I was even more inspired by learning that the Bearing Witness program extended from the relationship that was and still is shown between the Catholics and Jews of Cleveland! My city is a strong religious community!

We need to remember that if God asks us to do something that we cannot fail! This is because God gives us the grace to do His work! That is why I’m here! I’m here because God asked me to be here! I will not fail because He is guiding and giving me the grace!

Day 1 of Bearing Witness was about respect! We need to respect and understand our faiths before we understand the power of human relationships! Yet, we are not here to learn about history, we are here to learn about human beings.

Summer Break…Is It Really a Break?

Many people tend to think that teachers have the summer off. Little do they know that there is truly never really a break from teaching! Yes, it is true that we do not have to go into our schools and educate a classroom full of students each day, but that is not what education is truly all about! A teacher’s “break” is full of many different experiences that lead us to new ideas that we will share with other teachers or bring into our classrooms!

Each summer is loaded with opportunities for educators to expand their knowledge and grow into more effective learners in the classroom. There are many different conferences like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the National Principal Conference (NPC), ASCD, NCEA conferences, BbWorld, and others, that all take place during the summer months that educators from around the country attend just to become better educators. They take their “break” and spend it focusing on the needs and best interests of the students. They would rather take their own time to grow in their profession than take time away from students during the school year to grow. Of course there are times when conferences need to be attended during the school year and teachers don’t always look for those because they know that they would rather be in the classroom with their students.

I will be attending an institute from July 16-21 in Washington D.C. that focuses on Anti-Semitism, Prejudice, and the Holocaust. This is a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and bring back many ideas and resources that I will share with my colleagues. It is an opportunity for me to grow in empathy, compassion, and understanding of those that I teach and the subject that I teach. This will not be a break for me, but rather me expanding my passion for my profession and my students.

Attending conferences isn’t all that we do. Many teachers find themselves, as I write this on July 10, researching, planning, and already decorating their classrooms for the upcoming school year. I have already been to my classroom 5 times since school ended and I am ready to head back in to begin decorating. Sure it might seem kind of early, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t think of my classroom and my students. When I walk through Target, there is no way that I am passing up the Dollar Spot! I need to check and see what wonderful items they have for educators to decorate their classrooms. I have already bought several items that I know students will enjoy!

Don’t get me wrong, teachers do enjoy taking family vacations and relaxing. It’s a natural human instinct. We like spending time with family and friends and taking in leisure activities. We need it as well as anyone who works. It is time that we also learn to develop and grow relationships with those around us that we love and care about. This time also helps us an educator to strengthen our patience and clear our minds so that we may open them to the questions of our students.

On paper educators get a few months off, but for educators there is very little to no time off. We constantly think of ways to best serve our students. We are learning, growing, and sharing knowledge that we are gaining. We are preparing for a new group of students to enter into the classroom. We are eager and ready to educate! We want the best for our students! will see you all back in the classroom! Enjoy the rest of your summer!