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!

Recess…Let the Kids Play!

Recess was always one of the best times of my school days while growing up. Sure, I may not have been the best athlete playing football. I may not have been the fastest while playing tag. I may not have always been the most social, but recess gave me the time to be social!

Recess is one of the greatest tools that schools and educators have to stimulate the mind, promote teamwork, and increase student engagement. Sadly, many schools have started the trend towards removing recess from the school day.

Recess has been found to help children develop cognitive skills because of the interactive and experiential learning it provides. Students are engaged in social activity that they get to control. Yes, there are restrictions on where they can go and what activities they can participate in (student safety is always first), but the activities they do participate in are student driven. Students lead the way.

Another benefit of recess is that it provides physical activity for students. Students need to be active, not just for their health but also for brain stimulation. Students will respond better to learning once their minds have been actively engaged…and that means movement. We cannot allow students to simply sit in rows and expect them to recite the information back if they are not physically engaged in the learning. Recess provides them with physical activity that makes their minds start to become more active.

During recess, students have the opportunity to socialize with other students that they may or may not typically socialize with during the school day. Students are free to choose who they get to talk with. Now, this does leave the issue of students feeling excluded and these situations need to be monitored. Schools cannot allow students to feel excluded or left out of activities, but schools also need to be sure that students have their personal time. Schools cannot simply assume that a student sitting alone is being excluded, but rather they may want to have their own time to reflect or simply recharge. We need to let the students do what they know is best for them.

Recess safety is also critical. Since students are free to engage in activities of their own choosing, we need to ensure that guidelines are well set and students are aware of their actions on the playground.Even though recess time is time for students to socialize and engage in creative activities, it is not a time for unsupervised behavior. The recess monitors need to be open to student growth and engagement in behaviors that may seem more risky than usual. Now, we cannot allow students to participate in actions that are carefree or endangering to themselves or others, but we can allow them to act in ways that show curiosity and a growth mindset.

With regards to indoor recess, the same rules apply. We need to provide activities that engage students in movement or thinking during recess. We need students to be active. Students can play games or follow guided dance routines through the projector. Indoor recess should not be sit and read sessions, unless the student feels that is best for them.

Recess is essential and necessary for students to grow academically. We need to keep it and embrace it. Academic achievement is greater when recess is around. Taking 20-25 minutes away from students to add in a few more minutes of lessons, takes 20-25 minutes away from a student exploring and being creative on their own. Let recess be recess…and let the kids play!

NCEA17 Day 3…Let’s Get Back To Work!

Today (4/20/17) was the last day of NCEA 2017. Today I started with a session on “Principal as a Missionary Leader.” As an educator and leader in a Catholic school, providing students and the school community with missionary opportunities is a must. We are called to teach students to be missionaries for all and we are to send students out to serve all. I found one statement as profound during this session. The statement was this, “We are all missionaries since we are all baptized.” Being a missionary is a part of our faith. We all need to serve out our calling to be missionaries, and it is the responsibility of the leaders of Catholic education to model how to be a missionary. This session will motivate me to go back to school and be ready to show my students how to serve and to serve with me.

Session 2 for today was “Irresistible Catholic Schools”. Yes, Catholic schools can and should be irresistible. This presentation was a wonderful session to close out my small session portion of NCEA17. Bringing Catholic schools back to Catholicity was so powerful. We need the Catholic aspect of schools to be the main point of Catholic schools. We should not be a school that has religion classes, but rather a religious school that has subjects added to the school. We can only get to this point by developing relationships that are based on religion. When a visitor, parent, or stakeholder enters into the school, that person should immediately recognize that the school is Catholic. The community of the school needs to show clearly that it is Catholic. This is something that I know I will take back to school!

The closing Mass was great! The Liturgical committee of NCEA17 needs to be applauded! They truly did a remarkable job over the past 3 days. As we wrapped up NCEA17, the transition to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the host of NCEA18, was started. The Planning Committee for NCEA18 has a lot to do to outdo the Archdiocese of St. Louis!

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of NCEA17. The Social Media Influencer Contest that provided me the chance to attend this event in St. Louis is something that I will carry with me as a Catholic educator. The stories of Catholic education need to be told. We need to tell our successes. We need to tell our experiences and share our faith. NCEA17 motivated me to continue to share my stories and to continue to strengthen my career as a Catholic educator.

Thank you to the entire staff of NCEA that supported me and treated me so well throughout my days in St. Louis. Thank you to all my colleagues that worked with me and shared their stories for me to tell to the world. I am excited to go back to work and continue to share my passion for Catholic education and the Catholic faith!

Now let’s get back to work to share our faith through Catholic education!

“C” you in Cincinnati for NCEA18!

NCEA17 Day Two…Proud To Be A Catholic Educator

Today (4/19/17) began with Mass led by Bishop Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown! He had one of the finest homilies that I have ever heard. It connected very deeply with me for several reasons, and I am glad that I was able to hear it! The music was by the Archdiocese of St. Louis High School chorus and they were fantastic. These masses have been amazing!

My first session was on “Shared Leadership.” In education, there is no way that we are able to go into this field on our own. We need to know when to stop and let those around us to take a position of leadership. We need to trust those who work with us to share their gifts and talents and make the burden on us lighter. Reflect on the why, how, when, who, where, and what! We each have special skills that make the Catholic education system remain strong and we need to utilize all those skills to their fullest potential possible!

During the second session time, I was helping setup for a Lunch and Learn on EdCamps. EdCamps are one of my favorite professional development functions to attend. The Lunch and Learn brought in 120 educators to learn this developing kind of professional development. It was a great opportunity for me to support NCEA and their movement to evolve the EdCamp model into Catholic education.

I then attended a session on how to market a school better and what are some areas to look at to increase enrollment and improve retention of the current students. I know that I found several techniques that I am excited to bring back to my school and share with our committees to help strengthen our school. It is important to improve alumni relations, have a strong social media presence, build community relationships, and look from within to see where gifts and talents are not being fully utilized.

The final session of the day was “Teaching to the Gender Differences.” This session was very good and I know will make me a better educator. Boys and girls learn and develop differently, which means we need to treat them differently. We need to create educational techniques that allow students to create, be hands on, and experience the learning. We can’t teach boys and girls the same way. We need to understand how students develop. This session made me want to do so much to help all my students.

I ended the day with a TweetUp event. As you know, social media has been a huge part of my educational experience. I have found great passion in sharing the stories of my school with educators from around the country and world. This evening allowed me to connect in person with many of these educators that I have gotten to know. Now, I was kind of a celebrity at this TweetUp. People were excited to meet the Social Media Influencer contest winner. While it felt good to be treated this way, it was even more exciting that people are paying attention to the wonderful stories that I am sharing about my school community. Thank you to all of my Tweeps that have supported me throughout my social media experience.

There is one more day of NCEA17! There is one more day of sharing, growing, and learning. I am proud to say that my passion for Catholic education has grown even more during these past 2 days! I know tomorrow will make it grow even more!

NCEA17…Day One

Today (4/18/17) was Day One of the National Catholic Educational Association Convention and Expo. This was my first experience attending a national convention, so I was a bit overwhelmed hearing that there would be over 8,000 attendees here in St. Louis for this convention. As I reflected upon the idea that there would be over 8,000 people attending a convention that centers on Catholic education, I began to feel more comfortable. There was comfort realizing that there are so many people giving their time to further their passion…their passion for Catholic education.

The day started with an amazing Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The music, which was provided by the elementary chorus of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was great. The young students did a fantastic job. The setting for the Mass was beautiful. Just a wonderful start to the day!

Following Mass, I attended the session on “Beyond the Canned Food Drive.” This session allowed me to see new ideas of how to get my students actively involved in service in the community, both school and local. One great thing about this session was giving me the realization that my school already does many of the activities that the presenters were providing. I gained several new ideas, but I also felt positive after knowing that my school is already doing great things.

My second session was “Best Practices to Connect and Engage Your Faculty.” The speaker was tremendous. He had so much energy and motivation that it was inspiring. Even though I am still just a teacher, I know I found several things that I can do to engage my colleagues, but I also found many ideas that I want to share with my principal to engage our staff even more! I know that this session is one that will stick with me for the future!

The keynote address was beyond amazing. Jonathan Doyle gave one of the most inspiring speeches on Catholic education that I have ever heard. We do not choose to be Catholic educators, but rather we were chosen to be Catholic educators. His words and passion for Catholic education and Catholicism overall made me want to continue my career in Catholic education. Mr. Doyle’s words will stick with me. His willingness to show us that our vocation is greater than us was awesome. I can’t wait to get back and share what I gained from his presentation with my colleagues.

Day One of NCEA17 was great. Tomorrow is a busy day, but I know it will be just as motivating! St. Louis has been a great host city! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds for me!

Homework…Is It Necessary?

Homework has consistently been a subject of discussion lately. Does it add value? Does it have a purpose? Why should it be given? Why shouldn’t it be given? Let me explain to you how I feel about homework.

Homework does have a benefit if, and only if, there is a practical and reasonable reason for it to be given. Giving homework just to get a grade in the grade book does not benefit the student. Giving homework to have a student see how a learned concept is applied to real life situations does benefit the student. Homework needs to be first and foremost in the best interest of the student.

I have been anti-“homework for the sake of giving homework” for nearly my entire teaching career, which is about 9 years now. I recall a meeting with a principal where I stated directly that I am not a fan of homework and she nearly lost her mind. I then explained that homework should not simply be given because a teacher needs to give out homework. I explained to her that I see students reinforce the wrong process or technique multiple times in an assignment and a teacher is forced to reteach the material, a student gets a poor grade, the student gets frustrated with school, and then a student loses interest in the material. The principal did not care to hear that or listen to my beliefs.

Now, 9 years later, I am sitting here writing my beliefs on homework to an audience that will listen and may or may not agree with me. I can say that my beliefs are what I feel is for the best of my students. My students come from a background where they are involved in many outside of school activities, and each one of these activities is important to their social, physical, and mental growth. I would never suggest to my students to stop any extra activity if they are still maintaining positive academic growth. Students need these activities to help develop their entire being, and I am a big supporter of these. These are the activities where I want students to apply what they learn in class. I want students to start thinking about how their dance moves connect to science. I want students to see how music connects to math. I want students to build upon their interest in sports to discover the history of that sport. This is the homework I want to see in schools.

The best way to reduce homework in schools is by having a solid relationship with your students. Taking an interest in the activities of your students can help you build “homework” that relates to those activities. Have students design a math problem or explain a science concept that connects that activity to your class. If you’re discussing fractions or ratios in math, have the student describe how they used ratios/fractions while helping to prepare dinner. Also, explain energy transfers in the cooking process. Have students research some aspect of a household chore. Make the learning relevant to their lives. Give students homework that means something to them.

I am not anti-homework…I’m anti-busy work. I want students to find value in their out of school assignments. I want students to see how their learning extends from the classroom into their out of school lives. We need to make homework feel less like a burden and more of an opportunity to grow. Growth work…not homework.

One situation that will stand out to me regarding homework is when I was at a school and there was a student that didn’t do his homework for many classes, but when I assigned homework, he always had it done. I asked him why does he do the homework for my class and not the other classes. His response was “You don’t assign homework that often so I knew it was important.” That right there made me think…homework can be seen as important if the teacher treats it as important. The student knew that I saw the importance of that assignment and that it needed to be done. He didn’t recognize other assignments as important because it just had to be done for a grade. He lost interest in the class and work because he didn’t see value in it. We can lose students if we assign work that is not important to the class.

Homework does have value. Homework does have a place in education. Homework needs to be given with a reason and purpose. I believe that the way we as educators look at homework needs to be evaluated. If we give homework as a way to assess what we have taught, perhaps we need to improve how we assess. If we give homework to extend the learning in the classroom and have students apply what they have learned, we are turning towards the right direction of purpose and function of homework.

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.