Is it strange that I have not written a post in almost three months? It is almost embarrassing to admit that fact as I sit here writing this post. I have started writing many times in the last few months; yet the words never made it to a full post, nor did they make it to the digital world.

As I came back to teaching full time in August, I came back with an fervent attitude, a strong passion and a smile that beamed from ear to ear. Over the days and weeks, I kept my passion and smile, but something was slowly happening. I was struggling. Struggling to keep up with my routine, struggling keep my balance with work and family, struggling to write or participate in my regular Twitter chats and struggling to be me.

Often times, social media is a place where we can share the amazing things we try and do. This is a great outlet to showcase our wins, our pride and the amazing work of our students and colleagues. What we rarely see is how all teachers struggle. We have grown up and lived our lives with the stigma that struggle is negative, that it is bad and makes you weak. Although we can pretend like this is not the case, the pure absence of struggle in most posts, carries the faulty truth in this generalization.

I fell into this stigma. I felt like less of teacher because not all my posts or my days were always positive. I felt like a failure because there were days where I simply wanted to break down and cry because I could not reach every student. I felt like a failure because people brought down my optimistic, and maybe innocent, view that I could actually change students’ attitudes towards learning and reading.

As I looked to others for support, for inspiration, for advice, I just kept thinking: Why me? Why do things not work out for me?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not easily beaten down, I don’t let go without a fight, but  I do have moments of pure struggle. I also reflect on the existential question of should I be an educator? Although many have a hard time admitting it, I need to share this vulnerability with my mindset; it is of course what I ask my students to do on a daily basis.

We all have those doubts about how effective we are. We all feel like we are making strides, to later find ourselves two steps back. But I want to believe and to share that this is normal.

We need to reflect, we need to be authentic, we need to let others know that we are not always okay. That are smiles often cover up some doubt, some worry, some deep reflections. It is fitting that this post comes after my last one, The Fear Within.

Yet no matter the questions, no matter the sleepless nights, no matter the countless efforts on a daily basis, I continue:

Because I have hope.
Because I believe.
Because my students deserve better.
Because I am where I need to be.

So…
I am hanging on!

 

Image result for the minute you think of giving up, think of the reason why you held on so long

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”         – Nelson Mandela

It is one week until I welcome students back to my classroom and from anyone who has heard me talk about this time of year, they know just how much excitement I have in my voice. There is nothing like starting off a new year. From the greetings, to the high fives, to the chats about the summer; so much positive energy is wrapped into this one day of school.

At the same time, as much as I am excited, there is a little fear. I have been out of the classroom for three years in a leadership role supporting 12 districts. I have had so many amazing experiences, I have learned so much and I truly feel blessed for the experiences I have had. But as I come back to the classroom and a new routine, with my smile, my energy and my promises, I can’t help but still feel a small pang of fear.

I fear that I won’t live to the expectations I set for myself and that others may have for me.
I fear that I will not give students the learning adventure they deserve.
I fear that my creativity and passion may get sidelined by “red-tape” and obstacles.
I fear that no matter my interventions and my heart, I won’t be able to reach every student.
I fear I won’t get my classroom transformed to where I know it could and should be.
I fear I will simply not have enough time.
I fear I will be alone on my island.
I fear I will have a hard time finding balance.
I fear I will not be as good of a dad or a husband.
I fear that I am not good enough.

It is normal to have so many fears and tell myself that my fears are also amplified because I was away from this reality for a few years. I also realize that these fears are often what will drive us to dream, to push boundaries and make anything happen.  As educators, we are gifted with amazing students every year. We also, put so much pressure on ourselves; we often have a hard time accepting less than perfect. Although this is a great ideal, it is also unrealistic.

A friend of mine, Jean-Luc Boissonneault, shared some wise words today:

“Revealing your weaknesses doesn’t make you look weak, it proves that you are strong.”

So as I prepare to leave for one last conference before the school year begins, I take solace in the support and love I have from my family and friends. I appreciate the encouragement and words of comfort that come from friends all over the world. If I have so many people who believe in me, I can and will believe in myself. I will also dream the impossible and make it happen.

We may all have some fears within us. It is time to let them out, push them aside and make the incredible happen.

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“But we will be a family. We will make a difference.”

Being a connected educator is both a blessing and a learning challenge. There is so much wonder, positivity and amazing ideas that are shared; at the same time, one can easily feel like they are not up to par with other educators. Therefore, with my kids in mind, as I prepare to return to the classroom as a high school English teacher next year, I felt compelled to share some of my thoughts with my future students.

A letter to you, my student

I may not have a perfect classroom.
I may not have all the flashy colours.
I may not be able to brag about all the free things I can get for you guys.
I may not be able to offer you a 1:1 experience.
I may not have all the best flexible seating.
I may not be able to control school funds and how they are spent on you.
I may not be able to post my classroom to a Pinterest hall of fame.
I may not be able to give you access to every possibility imaginable…

But,
I will give you my heart.
I will share joy on a daily basis.
I will show empathy, compassion and kindness.
I will create learning adventures.
I will push you harder than ever before.
I will believe in you.
I will let you know you matter.
I will always be there with you.
I will help you change the world.

You see,
We may not make headlines.
We may not get 25 000 likes or followers.
We may not be cited in research.

But we will be a family. We will make a difference. We are in for the ride of our lives.

I can’t wait to meet you and begin our learning journey together. You are amazing!

Mr. Nowak

 

Do what you can

Every single day that a child walks into our schools should be a day filled with joy, excitement, belonging, awe and growth. We owe that much to our kids.”

Every morning, my day begins with a thought, an image, a Tweet of positivity, of encouragement or hope to start the day off right. This morning after sharing such an image, a member of my Twitter PLN replied with a response sharing a short film that she thought of when reading the tweet: “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.”

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Thank you Vicky Vinton (@VickiVintonTMAP) for sharing this message today and for inspiring me to write this morning. A link to the video can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004882589/ten-meter-tower.html

As educators, we often want to try new things. We look on social media, we go to conferences, we exchange ideas with peers and we suddenly get a burst of inspiration; we are filled with a sense of awe and energy. Plans are made, notes are jotted down and we look forward to our return to our school to start implementing some of the amazing things we just learned.

Then reality hits us. We go back to our classrooms, our schools; we go back to the pile of grading, to the cluttered chaos that needs to be organized, to the emails that came in, to the messages from parents or administrators asking us for replies, for answers, for forms, etc. Our good intentions and our focused energy become diverted by the traditional routine that we have left.   We never abandon ideas intentionally, but the energy and time it takes to make that change happen is often what holds us back.

But beyond that, there exists are great fear within us. A fear of what the change will bring. When you change something, you have to be comfortable knowing that the new adventure or the new journey will not be certain, will not be mapped out and will create a sense of instability. It is easy to go back to our jobs and go back to our routines and say: “This is how it has always been, this is how it always must be.” What we need to realize is that as the world is changing and evolving at a fast pace before us and so we ourselves must be comfortable with the idea of change.

In the video, many people respond to fear and new adventures in varying ways. There is doubt for some, uncertainty for a few and yet boldness for others. It didn’t matter whether they were accompanied or encouraged by others, sometimes that fear and self-doubt became too strong and led to abandonment. So what does this teach us? We need to refocus and reflect. We need to change our own perception and our mindset to be able to move forward and accept the new adventures to come. We need that group of inspiration, of support , of encouragement and of friendship; we need some stability in our journey. However, what we need most is the trust in ourselves to be lost in something new.

Sometimes we need to accept that how things have always been done are not the way things ought to be.  Many challenges and obstacles exist when we try to include innovative methods in a traditional structure. We sometimes have to accept that the journey will be slower than expected or full of roadblocks because somethings aren’t in our control. What we can’t accept is to keep doing the same thing because change is too difficult. We can’t refuse to jump because we don’t know how we will react once the ground beneath us is gone.

So where does this leave us? A life in education is a calling that brings such fulfillment and joy but can also be surrounded by great challenges. The path isn’t always clear, there is no clear road map, but it is a journey that needs to be taken. Kids deserve the best! Kids deserve to feel safe, to learn, to be believed in, to have amazing adventures, to be loved. Every single day that a child walks into our schools should be a day filled with joy, excitement, belonging, awe and growth. We owe that much to our kids. So if the current way of doing things is not allowing all kids to have these feelings, we need to be brave enough to stand up, say it is enough and change how we are doing things. It will not be easy, it will ask a lot time, of effort, of heart, but it is needed. To all educators, the question then remains:

Are you willing to jump?

Fighting for the fish

“I will remember that every child has worth and deserves the best…I will lead with heart and kindness.”

Early last year, I was privileged enough to share a guest blog post with #KidsDeserveIt. It was the beginning of my blogging journey and I really started to reflect upon the art of teaching and my role in educational leadership and transformation. I called it Thinking About the Fish because for a long time, Albert Einstein’s quote really spoke to me.

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You can read the post at
http://www.kidsdeserveit.com/single-post/2017/02/15/Thinking-About-the-Fish-KidsDeserveIt

This morning, I was compelled to not only continue my reflection but to transform it. In that earlier post, I put the emphasis on thinking about the fish, the kids. Teachers often talk about those kids who present professional challenges and push boundaries; they allow us to learn to grow as educators and leaders. Today I realize that we cannot simply keep thinking about them, we must fight for them.

Our education system was built on creating a uniform system that offered the same service to everyone. It was based on a set amount of content needed to be mastered by all students in a set amount of time. When a student could not show mastery, they would often be labelled as “slow learners”, “kids not meant for school”, “kids who just don’t have it” and the list goes on. We have worked so hard at creating a public system that offers equal accessibility to education that in fact we are perpetuating false traditional stereotypes and setting kids up for disappointment.

Time and time again I see students that are asked to learn the same thing, at the same time, at the same pace. When kids don’t fit in that general mold, they tend to be educationally marginalized. I, myself, have been an educator that has perpetuated this traditional method and belief, and I am horrified that it is part of my past. Although some of my feelings may seem extreme, I can’t help but imagine how many lives I have negatively impacted with comments and beliefs that were so deeply rooted in a system that does not value the child as a learner. If we think as a society that every student before us will and should be able to master the same content and skill at the exact same moment, and that this should be the decisive factor in determining the success of these students, we are robbing not only kids of their future, we are robbing our communities of great leaders.

Schools buy and implement programs, worksheets and packages that promise the next great thing in education. They say they will be the saving grace for helping all kids succeed at appropriate levels. They promise an ease in planning as many lessons are already structured with guides, scripts and questions. These programs are essentially deemed the “holy grail” of learning.  What they fail to see is that every classroom is full of individuals. These individuals all have stories, pasts, needs and voices. Pre-planned programs do not offer an adaptation for each learner before us. They do not allow for us, as educators, to respond to the needs of every “fish”.

Kids go into school with natural curiosity and wonder and slowly go through the system and begin to not only dislike school, they begin to dislike learning. Our “disengaged” learners in schools who exhibit behavioral problems often act out because it is easier to be the trouble maker than the kid who doesn’t get it. We try to use rewards to get kids to complete tasks, to read more and to finish their homework. In the end, what do we accomplish? We make the kids who need a bit more time or need to learn things differently feel inadequate, feel unusual and feel stupid. In the hopes of educating every child, we are in fact telling them that they are not good enough, that they do not matter.

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So as we continue to ask all fish to climb trees and judge them for it, I stand up today and fight for those “fish”. I will not and cannot allow for this to continue without raising my voice and calling for action.

Today:

I will remember that every child has worth and deserves the best.

I will see every child for who they are.

I will work to better know each and every child that walks through my door.

I will celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of every student.

I will advocate for the needs of every child.

I will teach and guide learning based on the needs of every student.

I will support every student and help them achieve their full potential, their dreams and help them follow their path.

I will challenge the status quo when it caters to policies that benefit only a certain group of students.

I will back up my decisions, my thoughts and my beliefs with heart, passion and research.

I will ensure that everything I believe and say will be lived, celebrated and seen in my own classroom.

I will lead with heart and kindness.

I will never forget the fish. I will always do what I can.

I will see them shine. I will see them do incredible things. I will see them change the world.

I will see them be their true selves.

 

In the end, only kindness matters...

 

Yet again, another horrific story fills the feeds of social media and news reports. Another mass shooting at a high school leaves many asking, why? As the story unfolded, I found myself truly shaken like never before.

I will remember that haunting Wednesday evening for as long as I will live. I am standing in my kitchen washing dishes, my daughter eating her supper, with the news playing on the television, I find myself trying to explain to my seven year old what is happening in Florida. And as I start my explanation, my voice starts to quiver, goose bumps form on my arms and tears roll down my cheeks. How do I explain such acts of violence and hate to such an innocent child? How do I make sense of something, when I myself have a hard time wrapping my mind around it?

As the days go by, as more details come through; emotions of hurt, hatred and anger start taking over communities all across the world. This tragedy becomes another opportunity for division, for political debates and for heated exchanges. But we must rise beyond that. In this time of grief, we need to come together. We cannot let hate and anger take over our emotions. We need to turn our emotions to kindness, to hope…to action.

Everyone has a story; everyone has a path that influences the way they feel. Let’s never forget to know these stories, to empower these voices, to listen to the truths that need to be spoken. More than ever, we need to focus on the kids before us. We need to make sure they are loved. We need to make sure they know that they matter.

A good friend, @TaraMartinEDU, shared a post this week call Unconditional. (http://www.tarammartin.com/unconditional/)  She pushes readers and educators to reflect on their own perceptions and reminds us that we need to love without condition. We cannot have students walking our halls knowing that one mistake or one bad choice will leave them lonely and isolated. We cannot let them feel abandoned. We need to uplift them, to know them, to be there for them. Are we all ready to accept her challenge and simply love our students? Can we all make sure that they know they matter?

As I still try to make sense of what happened, as my heart aches for what others are going through, I know I must always try to be a beacon of light. I must lead with kindness if I want my students to believe in good. I need to encourage us to stand together, to be united, not in our silence, but in love and in hope.

We need to talk about it. We cannot forget it. We need to act on it. Policies must change, laws must change. But more than anything, our hearts must change. You see, we can change our policies as a first step. We can safeguard buildings with metal detectors, security screenings and other preventative measures. But if we want lasting change, if we want to safeguard this world for our children, let us change our hearts. Let’s be open to kindness, to compassion, to empathy, to forgiveness. Let’s be open to love, to friendship, to gratitude, to peace.

So tonight I will hold my daughters a little bit tighter. I will be thankful for every extra minute I have with them. I will strive to share a little bit more love, because I know that they need it and that is what they deserve.

And as I remember this tragedy, I want to be left with stories of hope. So I share with you a powerful reminder of kindness, of heroism, of leadership. A story shared by Journalist John Gray:

scottbeigelThis is Scott Beigel, a Geography teacher at the high school in Florida where a gunman opened fire on a peaceful Wednesday afternoon. When the shots rang out he did exactly as he was trained to do, get his kids secure in the classroom and lock the door.

But Scott did something else. When he saw other children running in horror from the gunfire down the hallway he put his own life at risk by opening his classroom door and ushering them in. He saved them. Before he could secure his own life however he was hit with a bullet and killed. Make no mistake he traded his life for theirs.

 
In his last moments on this earth Scott Beigel taught his students the most incredible lesson any of us can ever learn. He taught them that he loved them. Let us live Scott’s lesson, let us show others that we do indeed love them, unconditionally.

Be kind. Always.

 

My #oneword

Education is about learning, about change, about love but most of all, about kids. My last few years as a teacher, I have been privileged to find my voice, define my purpose and connect with so many innovative, creative and passionate educators from around the world. Last year’s #oneword challenge was difficult for me; trying to simplify one’s goal, one’s essence to a single word seemed like a daunting task. As I have been reading the many #oneword posts from educators across North America, I cannot help but be inspired. This year’s #oneword came with no hesitation: BE KIND.
(Okay, for the perfectionists like me, it is technically two words, but I do like to challenge the status quo, so I am permitting myself to think outside the box.)

Kindness has been a life-altering choice for me. I have had the honour of working with several classrooms across the world on kindness collaborations: from stories about kindness, to songs, discussions, to even choosing how we can make a difference by spreading kindness in our communities. There is so much negativity present in our everyday lives, so much judgement, hatred and jealousy. It just seems so natural to try to counter all those feelings with more positivity and kindness.

So as every day passes in 2018, I want to remember to:

Be kind…and listen to others. To know their stories, know their passions, understand who they are.

Be kind…and celebrate others. People need to feel important, noticed, cared for, that they matter.

Be kind…and share time. Time is the most precious gift you can share with others.

Be kind…and inspire. Inspire others to see, talk and live kindness and love.

Be kind…and smile. Be happy for yourself, share happiness with others. The world needs more happy.

Be kind…and dare. Dare to challenge, to transform to be different. Dare to be you.

Be kind…and dream. Dream of better possibilities, dream of change and dream of a better world.

Be kind…and take care of myself. As much as I need to be there for others, I need to take care of myself as well.

Be kind…and share love. Build relationships, care for, empathize and be present for kids.

So as I reflect on 2018 and think about what many adventures it holds for me, I feel empowered to know that it will be filled with positivity and kindness. For the longest time, Ellen DeGeneres has been a role model to me. As she strives not only to help others, but to promote kindness, I feel it is our duty to do the same. So every day that I get to spend with my students, with colleagues, with family, I feel it is fitting to always end it with “Be KIND to one another”. In the end, that is what matters. That is what will change the world and transform education.

“You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” – R.J. Palacio (Wonder)

Always choose kind.

Here are links to other amazing #oneword posts:
Keith Peters https://t.co/rw2x9PDyPa
Russ Shwartz https://t.co/mKSYfD3vHG
Lindsey Bohler https://t.co/UCgMxq6qcI
Todd Schmidt https://t.co/SWf4J97bGW
Bethany Hill https://t.co/GTF7roQAlA
Mandy Ellis https://t.co/z2UgJ6e5kG
Jeff Kubiak https://t.co/tfoKZwtE1r