Preparing for the School Year

The upcoming school year is rapidly approaching and it is a bittersweet moment. Spending time with family and friends, working on my new house, enjoying time with my new wife, and enjoying time exploring my new neighborhood…these are all moments that will be reduced as I begin this new school year. Yes, I will miss those moments, yet I’m excited for the upcoming possibilities that this school year holds. It’s going to be a year of innovation, growth, socialization, and self-discovery. It’s a year all about students!

When students enter into my classroom, excuse me, when students enter into THEIR classroom, it will be a place for them to be who they are. It will be a place where they can grow in their social skills, grow in their knowledge, and grow in their faith. I do not want my classroom to be a place where students feel unwelcome or out of place. Our classroom will be a community.

Preparing a classroom is not easy, yet at the same time it is exciting. This summer our school did a little remodeling. The classroom was painted and new carpet was laid. It’s a much different look now! With all these changes, there is more to do to prepare for the upcoming year. There is more cleaning, moving of desks and cabinets, and hanging posters up on the wall, but this is a representation of our upcoming year…it’s a fresh start!

Every student comes into a classroom with a past. Every student has their story. I cannot let those stories impact how I see a student. Every student that enters into the classroom is a new story and this school year is a new chapter for them. The past will not define my perception of a student. This upcoming year is like the new paint and carpet in my classroom for each student…it’s a fresh start.

I’m excited for this upcoming year! Next week students will enter into their classroom, some will be eager and others may be nervous, but each student will be there to grow as an individual or a community. We will grow together and we will share laughs and failures and we will become a better community. We will see our faith grow individually and in each other. We our going to SHINE!

NCEA Day 2…The Presentation

So, today I did something that I never thought I would do…present at a national conference! Sure…it wasn’t the entire convention I was presenting to, but it was still letting my voice be heard to teachers from across the country. I was overwhelmed, excited, nervous, and all those other words to describe my anxiousness. All that matters though is that I did it. I took a risk and faced it head on. I did something that was different for me and I did it well.

Yes, I said I did it well. Do I know that for sure? No…but I felt like I did well. My perception from observing the audience was that they were receptive of what I was saying…and sometimes that is what matters most. I will never know the true outcome of my presentation, but if it helped one person, that is what matters. I was placed in Junior Ballroom B at the Duke Energy Convention Center for some reason. I spoke from the heart…I told the great story that is St. Michael School…I shared my Joy of the Gospel with the people that attended my session. That’s what I set out to do. I wanted people to walk away from my session energized in a way that will make them want to bring their passion of the Word of God to the families in their school community. Now it’s up to the Spirit to lead them to deliver that joy to the families.

Leading up to the presentation, I was nervous. Why? Why was I so nervous telling the story of a place that I hold so dear to my heart? Here’s the answer…there’s a lot pressure sharing the long, wonderful story that is St. Michael School. I have only been at the school for 3 years, but I can tell that the families and teachers have a deep care and love for the school community. Placing myself in front of educators from around the country to tell this story was overwhelming, but a great honor as well. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to tell the great things that St. Michael School does to educate both our students and school community.

The main thing I did throughout this whole process was to let the Spirit lead me. I had to trust that I was being placed where I needed to be, and I truly feel that I was led to where I needed to be. I was where the Spirit placed me to give the spark to someone or some place…who that was or where that was I may never know. All I do know is that I was able to share my Joy of the Gospel and Joy of St. Michael School to those in attendance at NCEA 2018!

NCEA 2018 Day One…Spirituality and Mission

Today was the first day of the National Catholic Educational Association Convention and Expo in Cincinnati. I went into today with having a basic idea of which sessions I wanted to attend, but as I went further into the day I let the Spirit lead me into the sessions I needed to be in. Yes, the sessions I needed to be in…not the sessions I wanted to be in. Sometimes we need to let ourselves go and let the Spirit place us where we need to be.

Even before sessions began, the Convention began with Mass. Today’s Mass was special as it was presided by His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. In simpler terms, he oversees all Catholic education for the Vatican. The main theme for the Mass was “Who are we seeking?” We are seeking the Lord, Jesus Christ. We need to seek Him everywhere.

This is sort of why I let the Spirit lead me to the sessions I attended. I was seeking the Lord where I needed to find him. I found him in 2 sessions that dealt with Spirituality and Mission in schools. Why was I pulled to these sessions? What was I to find in these 2 sessions? I believe I found my reasons…I need to be stronger in developing mission and faith formation for myself and my school community.

Session 1 was great. I spent the session thinking and reflecting on my own reason of why I am a part of a Catholic school. It strengthened my calling of being a Catholic educator….yet I also found new ways, simple ways, to bring faith formation to myself and my colleagues, which will only lead itself to developing a greater faith formation for our students. It’s where I needed to be.

Session 2 was a last second decision. I was about to walk into a session, yet I stepped out and went next door only to be pulled into a session on developing spirituality and faith formation. Very similar to the first session, yet it was more interactive. More opportunities to share and build with other Catholic educators. This was more of what I needed, especially since it built off my first session. I found several connections and ways that I feel will benefit my school community well. I’m excited to share what I gained in these 2 sessions.

Again, I didn’t really have a plan, but I did feel I needed to be in these sessions. Sometimes we need to let go of our plan and let the Spirit lead us to His plan.

Our keynote address was by His Eminence and then Bishop Caggiano. Their discussions were on the Joy of the Gospel and Catholic education. This was a bit overwhelming for me since my presentation tomorrow is Taking the Joy of the Gospel from the Classroom to the Home! How am I supposed to follow up a Cardinal and a Bishop on this topic? I will try my best, but all I can do is let the Spirit lead me. The Spirit will guide me in what I need to say and share. The Spirit does wonderful things for us. We just need to place our trust and focus on letting the Spirit place us where we need to be.

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I will be presenting. I will be sharing the story of St. Michael School and how we take the Joy of the Gospel from our classrooms to our families. We have areas we can grow and I feel we are on the right path. I’m excited for tomorrow, yet I’m also nervous. I know that I will share from the heart and that I have amazing support behind me. Please keep me in your prayers.

God bless!

My One Word for 2018…Family!

Family. Family can be defined as a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. Yes, that is a very basic definition of family, but what characteristics do I see in a family? I see family as a group of people who care for each other; who want to see each other grow and be better each day; to learn from each other; support each other; to laugh with each other; to have fun; and most importantly, want to be with each other.

Now, why would I choose the word family as my One Word for 2018? Well, there are may reasons. First of all, I am blessed to be a part of a loving supportive family. My family has guided me throughout my entire life and I am so fortunate to have my mom, dad, and sister to be there for me everyday. I am also blessed to have a great brother-in-law and 3 nephews to make me a stronger person. They are so instrumental in me being who I am today!

Secondly, my life with be changing on July 7 when I begin my own family. I will be getting married on July 7 and I am beyond excited to begin my new life and family with my amazing fiancee! She is so supportive, loving, and caring that I don’t know where I’d be without her! My family life is going to change on July 7, but it also means it is going to be even stronger because of all the support I have and will continue to receive from my current family!

Thirdly, I want my students to feel as if we are a family. My classroom will be supportive, caring, wanting each other to grow better each day, having fun, laughing, and wanting to be there. Every student should want to come to school not because they have to, but because they want to be with their classmates. I want students to take risks together and challenge each other to be the best they possibly can be, both academically and spiritually.

I want my students to look at their faith with open eyes and hearts to find ways that they can guide others in their faith. I want students to take their strengthened and renewed faith and take it home with them to their families. I want my classroom to extend from the school building into their homes. I cannot let the opportunities to grow the faith of my students to slide by. I need to see my students and classroom as a family more. I need to guide and facilitate ways for my students to want to support each other even more.

While my classroom is not the definition of parents and children living together in a household, I feel we are and can be an even stronger “family” by the characteristics I feel a family has. I am excited for my future family, but I’m also excited to take the second half of the school year and 2018 to grow my classroom into more of a “family”.

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