Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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

 

“We must be willing to assume the role of learner as we work side by side with children and our peers in a never-ending growth process of excellence.”

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Post by Dr. Mary Howard and Roman Nowak

As we write these words, we are mindful that schools everywhere are contemplating what intervention practices they will implement for their most fragile learners. We (Roman and Mary) spend much of our time pondering this very issue so we applaud these efforts as we are committed to the collective responsibility of educators to ensure success for all learners.

Given the recent study showing less than promising results for our intervention efforts in RTI (Response to Intervention), however, we wonder if we are posing the right question. What if we redefined our focal point so that “What intervention practices should we implement?” is transformed into “How can we humanize our approach to intervention?”

We believe that this question could shift our efforts from a grab-and-go intervention mindset to professionally responsive decision-making grounded in honest conversations that lead to positive practices. If we re-envisioned our roadblocks or challenges as opportunities, we could make thoughtful choices with a broader purpose designed to ensure success for our most fragile learners while awakening personal passions residing deep within those learners.

As educators, we are aware of our profound mission of helping students find success. There is an immense pressure placed on teachers to help students attain standards or achieve various state tests and benchmarks. This pressure often translates into a desire to find quick fixes that could apply to all students in a professional trade-off where little attention is given to the student before us. Each student has unique needs but these are often ignored as we try to find grandiose and convenient “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

Pernille Ripp’s tweet below illustrates how this intervention shift could refocus our efforts within a renewed spirit that would deepen and amplify learning rather than replace our most powerful pedagogical practices.

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As we begin our reflection on possible solutions or pathways to success, let us keep in mind a common belief or practice that often hinders transformation in learning and support. As an education system, in the search for efficacy, we often look to convenience for solutions. In The Danger of Convenience, David Cain argues the downside of relying on some “new technologically-endowed superpower” to solve problems that may not need a technological fix. Albeit convenient, technological solutions cannot replace the heart and empathy of a passionate educator. With busy schedules and high pressures, we may be satisfied with quick and suitable solutions. But these solutions rarely take into account the specific needs of students; therefore not allowing them to reach their full potential. As a system and as leaders, we need to strive to push past this traditional belief and implement solutions that are more complex, have more depth, but that always keep kids at the center. And this kind of responsible decision-making by its very nature means that we must take the time to engage in committed professional dialogue so that we can make the most informed choices.

With this lofty but achievable goal in mind, we take a closer look at some shifts that can help us initiate our journey to re-envision professional roadblocks as opportunities for success:

Keeping the child at the center of our efforts
Programs, packages, and scripts have become increasingly commonplace in schools. These one-size-fits-all approaches have exacerbated our efforts to support children who do not fit neatly into such a narrow perspective of learning. As a result, we are seeing the aftermath of what Tom Rademacher aptly describes: “With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.”  When fidelity to the program requires our full attention, fidelity to the child, who brings unique needs to the learning table, will inevitably be minimized.  We can only keep the child at the center when we loosen the reins of obligation to the program. We do this by making room in every day for the essential practices that accommodate responsive differentiation and allow children to take ownership of their own learning so that they can become active participants in that learning. Practices such as read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading allow us to address learning needs through approaches that bathe children in high quality texts they can read and choose to read. Students need to be able to have a voice and choice in these texts so we fill our learning spaces to brimming with beautiful options. This helps develop their autonomy, responsibility and encourages deepened engagement in tasks. Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward remind us that “Books are the best intervention.” Yet independent reading and engaging peer collaboration that revolve around those texts is often sacrificed for interventions that actually reduce the volume of reading and meaningful talk.

Using numbers to inform our practicescodered
There was a great article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership about being “Data driven vs data informed.” Although data often comes to us in numerical formats (percentages, ranks, grades), we must move beyond the numbers and see our students in the data. What story does our data tell us? What story does our knowledge of children tell us? What school story do we want to share with the world? Numbers can be a great starting point since the results of assessments can help inform how the student conveys his or her learning at any given point. However, in order to get to the root of any challenges or roadblocks, educators need to go beyond the numbers and learn about students as they actively engage in learning in order to professionally assess how to support learning. This deeper knowledge is inseparably connected to the daily learning process. It is important to challenge current beliefs and practices with data and to be aware that the numerical data may conflict with our deepest understandings about children. We must be responsible for our school story and the unique faces that bring that story to life. When people pose questions about success and begin to cite numbers from rankings, turn that story to the names of your students and everything they are accomplishing. As educators, we need to advocate for our students and put the focus back on their personal learning journey. It isn’t all about the numbers…it is about people and our responsibility to support each individual journey.  

Acknowledging our first line of defense
We have inadvertently created a revolving door leading to the “fix it” room as we relinquish professional responsibility from the heart and soul of our intervention efforts – the classroom teacher. With the best intentions, these thirty-minute instead of supports ignore the other six hours of the day that offer our best support opportunities. Even when tiered supports are deemed appropriate they reflect in addition to instruction that maintains the classroom teacher as the first line of defense. Our most effective interventions occur in the heat of learning moments based on expert kid-watching, flexible small groups, side by side support and intentional differentiation. These on-the-spot interventions reflect the carefully designed supports that occur in the natural course of any learning day as students actively engage in a wide range of meaningful independent or collaborative learning experiences. We must remember to encourage, build and celebrate professional practice. In order for our educators to be fully engaged in every child’s success and well-being, we must offer the right tools and opportunities that fit the child, the experience, and our purpose as we acknowledge that financial incentives will not solve current roadblocks. As Daniel Pink expressed so well in his TED talk based on the book Drive, we must give our people autonomy, mastery and purpose in the work they do; this is how we will encourage transformation in our schools. When knowledgeable educators are afforded the freedom to make the professional choices for the students in front of them, they are far more likely to expend their precious available minutes in the learning day in the best possible ways.  

Making professional knowledge our first priority
The very foundation of our instructional efforts rise from the decision making of expert teachers based on sound professional knowledge. Intervention programs are prevalent but none of these will ever replace teachers who have a deep understanding of literacy practices informed by research. This requires schools to hold ongoing professional learning in high esteem, using day to day instructional experiences as growth opportunities. It is this deepening knowledge over time that can help us to identify or refute practices as we sharpen our instructional lens to focus on intensifying our efforts so that we can achieve the accelerated progress that can only occur within a spirit of professional urgency. Professional wisdom helps us to make these moment-to-moment choices that draw from our best understandings about children at any given time. As we try to include voice and choice for students, we must offer a parallel system for our teachers. We need to allow them to have more autonomy and choice in the professional development we offer as we broaden learning opportunities that are designed to support their personal growth and where they are in their learning journey. We must continue to break the traditional mold of professional development and offer creative solutions for a constantly evolving world. Just as we make room for children to follow their passions, we must build a culture of support where we can celebrate professional curiosity so that we can encourage teachers to follow their passions on their own and through collaboration.

It is clear that educators have a great heart and want to support the needs of the learners in front of them. But it is imperative that our hearts and intellect unite as we cautiously examine our own practices so that we can alleviate those that are ineffective and embrace those that truly merge our beliefs and our actions. As leaders, we must acknowledge the commitment of our educators by offering the professional support that translates to informed commitment. This requires us to continue reflecting and challenging the current status quo to ensure that any programs, solutions and pedagogical practices that make their way into our classrooms are dynamic, research-based and evolve based on the needs of students. We must resist the temptation to simply purchase a product or implement an instructional approach without the benefit of the best interests of children guiding the way.

In a system overloaded with data, we must keep our sights on the individual faces and stories of the kids before us. Given a vast sea of professional options, we are ethically responsible to make thoughtfully responsive choices. Let’s not assume that what we are doing works. Let us question, let us learn, let us grow so that we can constantly do better for students based on our heart and our head. We must model success to help learners find their own success. And we must be willing to assume the role of learner as we work side by side with children and our peers in a never-ending growth process of excellence. Only then can we truly say that we have made the shifts that will humanize our approach to interventions.

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References:

Study: RTI Practice Falls Short of Promise https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/11/11/study-rti-practice-falls-short-of-promise.html

Code Red; The Danger of Data-Driven Instruction
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/nov16/vol74/num03/Code_Red@_The_Danger_of_Data-Driven_Instruction.aspx

From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
https://shop.scholastic.com/teachers-ecommerce/books/from-striving-to-thriving-9781338051964.html

The Danger of Convenience:
http://www.raptitude.com/2017/11/the-danger-of-convenience/?utm_source=Jocelyn+K.+Glei%27s+newsletter&utm_campaign=f44dad74e9-Newsletter_11_30_17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0d0c9bd4c2-f44dad74e9-156827377

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching by Tom Rademacher
https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2017/11/21/why-the-phrase-with-fidelity-is-an-affront-to-good-teaching/

#nationaldayofwriting - You are You-er than You!

In honour of #nationaldayofwriting, I reflected on what I wanted to contribute as a learner to mark this important day. I have recently struggled to keep up with a regular schedule of writing. With my busy work schedule, balancing family life, kids’ activities and homework, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of events that often leave me too tired to devote the time needed to share a written expression of my thoughts.

So as I ponder the recent reflections of educators and students on #whyiwrite and #nationaldayofwriting, I am left thinking of my students who often share their difficulties in keeping up with the demands of writing prompts, writing certain types of texts and the overall rigid demands they often face at school. I often find myself sharing my own struggles with writing and how I try to overcome them.

Passion for me is of the utmost importance when writing. When faced with the task of writing a prescribed piece, where structure is rigid, I also lack motivation. So as I think of students and their struggles with writing, I see myself being the champion of voice and choice.  As much as we want to share the characteristics of certain texts, as much as we want them to have that perfect essay or newspaper article, my true goal is to have students who want to express themselves, who know how to formulate their ideas and who can communicate clearly.

Therefore, in honor of #nationaldayofwriting, I have decided to write with my passion in mind: education. In a recent post, I celebrated my own learning and shared a piece of my story. As an educator, I do not only shine, I don’t always have the most exemplary strategies and have the most engaged students and my class isn’t always a picture from a magazine. So as I write about my passion, I strive to continue sharing not only my successes, but to also share my struggles. Therefore, I feel compelled to write about my first teaching experience.

As teachers, we often think that our first life changing experience will be either during our practice-teaching placement or even the first day of school following our teacher’s certification. In Ontario, where I grew up, there was such a shortage of certified teachers that I began my first contract during my second year of university, while completing my honors in History and French literature.

At 20 years old, I was going to be in charge of arts and physical education for grade 4-8 students. I was excited because I wanted to get my career started as soon as possible. I was warned about one of my groups because I was going to be their fifth teacher in several months and they were known as an “active” group. Thinking back so many years, I didn’t know what I did today. I didn’t walk into my job thinking about building relationships and getting to know my students. I went into my classroom with the same mentality that I grew up with: I am the teacher, you owe me respect.

Picture this: I walk into the classroom on my first day, slam the door shut and begin by giving these 25 students a lecture on respect and how they would listen to me and because I was the teacher and authority figure. Thinking back to this moment, I am not proud. I cannot even believe that it was me. I mean, it is definitely no Ron Clark moment (yes he is my first EDUhero). To add insult to injury, when one student actually did act out (why am I not surprised), I made her copy a page from the dictionary.

So why do I share a story that most people would keep hidden? I could have, and honestly, until this post, I have never talked about this experience. I share it so others can realize that no matter where we currently are in our career, we have all had those not so good moments. Life isn’t perfect. If Twitter existed back then (yes I am old enough to say this), I don’t think I would have tweeted the moment, but I would have reached out to PLN for support. That is the difference.

So my challenge to all of you today: Don’t be afraid to share your story, your moments of weakness, your learning. That story will resonate for someone. Your lesson will help uplift someone going through a difficult time. Most of all, by sharing your story, you help support the idea that not being perfect is okay. Today may be #nationaldayofwriting, but I encourage every educator, every student and every learner to keep writing when passion strikes, keep writing every day. Find your voice, share your words, and no matter how imperfect things are, remember the words of Dr. Seuss:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. Shout aloud, I am glad to be what I am. Thank goodness I’m not a ham, or a clam, or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam. I am what I am, what a great thing to be. If I say so myself, happy everyday to me!” 

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometime you are meant to stick out. This is a statement I say to myself often. When you feel like you don’t fit in, you try to find ways to go about your day, to accomplish your objectives and to feel proud of whom you have become. It isn’t always easy; there are many obstacles you will encounter, but in the end, you have to have hope that being different is your purpose.

As a child, I never fit into the norm. Although I came from a traditional family, my mom and dad, my sister and myself, I found out quite quickly that I was not like everyone else. I had different interests as a boy: I liked reading, spending time with family, having game nights and watching movies. My weekly schedule was different as well. I was sent to a French school, a language I did not speak, I spent my Saturdays in a Polish school to enrich my culture and I did not play sports or go on play dates or to birthday parties, because financially we couldn’t afford it. I went to Church every Sunday and I was part of my church’s children’s choir. As I reflect back on my childhood, although I learned so much and grew up in a loving environment, I am not surprised that I didn’t fit into the regular crowd.

As a student, I wasn’t one to blend in either. I was left-handed, I was often the first to put up my hand to share the answer to a question, I excelled at the “game of school” from an early age and was an extreme perfectionist. I can still remember drawing in my art class. When I would want to make a change to a pencil drawing, I couldn’t simply erase my work because I knew there would be a mark left on the sheet; I would rip up the page with the mistake and start anew. Socially, I was more awkward. When you don’t spend your childhood in organized sports, you don’t learn the same skills as kids your age.  I was often the last kid picked in gym class, I often didn’t fit into the street hockey games at recess and I was chosen less often for group projects. That kid, who ate his lunch alone or would hide in the school to avoid recess, was me.

To this day, I don’t know if the teachers in my school knew the torment I felt in the halls. As an educator myself, I am assuming not, because I can’t imagine watching a child walk, feeling that little, and doing nothing. The whispers that came as I walked anywhere, the looks I got for being different, the teasing and taunting I endured were all part of my norm. These experiences, which for some would be characterized as “part of growing up” or “building character” or “building a tough skin”, were not always easy to get through.

Relationships and friendships have always been more difficult from me. I didn’t come from a social family. My lack of participation in traditional “western” events and ideologies did not contribute to the building of a positive self and the doubt created by an emotional school experience had a lasting impact. When you live a large part of your life in a deficit-based mindset rather than a strength-based mindset, your views change. The colours in the world that seem so obvious and vivid to some appear dull and lackluster to others.

There is no doubt that as an adult, I have been deeply shaped by the experiences I have lived. Where I once dreaded sticking out and preferred hiding, I now find strength and solace in being unique and different. My history has also given me a different perspective on education. I strive to find those colourful penguins who are different, who don’t fit in. I focus on building relationships and spending time with students. The time that I once hoped for with someone, the wish to be noticed, the relationships I once wanted as a child, are now the focus of my teaching career. Making a person feel noticed and important is the only way we can truly make a difference in someone’s life.

As I transpose this same celebratory mindset with adults, it is also both rewarding and challenging. It is a mission to help build people up, to help them reach new heights, to appreciate them, to celebrate them and to make them achieve more than they knew possible. After all, isn’t that one of the missions of a true leader? At the same time, like that seesaw in our childhood playground, as you push someone up, you often find yourself down. If you don’t find the balance in celebrating others and celebrating yourself, you can often encounter another challenge: finding your happiness and your accomplishment.

So what is the magic solution? There is none. No recipe exists to make the world a perfect place. But I do know one thing. If we all embrace being that colourful penguin who doesn’t mind sticking out in a crowd, if we all become conscientious of those around us, if we all take care of each other and treat one another with dignity…the world will be a more beautiful place.

So take the time to listen. Give the gift of your time. Reach out to those around you. Celebrate the uniqueness of every person around you. It is your heart that will make the real difference in someone’s life.

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Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the  world. – Auggie

In the past few weeks, I saw the trailer to the movie Wonder with Julia Roberts and it looked amazing. It is one of those trailers that when you see it, you automatically get goose bumps and chills. I told my wife immediately, when this movie comes out, we have to go see it. The English teacher in me also said, you must read the book before you see the movie. There is nothing better than visualizing the story through your eyes before you see someone else’s interpretation.  So I bought the book, and yesterday morning, while on the plane to a meeting, I started reading it. Less than 24 hours later, I made sure I finished it. The impact? Immense!

The amazing and touching story of Auggie, a boy who is different and unique, who is often mistreated for the way he looks. Many prevalent school and life-related themes and issues arise when reading this book: bullying, kindness, courage, friendship, love, judgement.  English teachers for many years have debated the “literature canon” and what should be taught in schools; when you read Wonder, the reflection suddenly turns to why are we not reading this in our schools.

Auggie’s journey and his experiences are both enriching and heart-braking. As I intently read every word, one passage ripped my heart out. One character, Auggie’s friend says:

“I can’t imagine looking in the mirror every day and seeing myself like that. It would be too awful. And getting stared at all the time.”

“and I really think…if I looked like him seriously, I think that I’d kill myself”.

As I read these words, I filled with emotions and tears rolled down my cheek. How many of our students and how many people around us walk around every day feeling this broken? To some, it is the way they look; comments about their hair, body type, facial features, etc. To others, it is comments about how they look on the inside; the choices they make, the friends they have or do not have, their religion or beliefs, etc. Everyone has a certain image or perception of themselves. This image is often thwarted or modified based on our relationships or on constant comments made from people around us.

This book needs to be read by everyone. A dialogue needs to be started. A reflection ought to take place. We can no longer hide behind ignorance, inaction, blame or traditions.  Kindness, love, compassion, empathy, these are all values we get to choose and they should be part of how we teach and how we build relationships.

You never know what is hiding behind someone’s smile. You never know what someone has lived that morning, in the past or the anguish they are going through. We all need to be more aware, more caring and better people. It is up to us to make the difference in someone’s life.

So as the end of the school year approaches or for some, has just concluded, reflect on how compassion and love will become regular priorities in your life, in your class and in your school. Do not judge, do not abandon, do not mock. Everyone has worth. It is up to us to make their worth shine, to nurture it and to protect it. If we don’t, the end result could be dangerous. So take the challenge! Be there for others, celebrate them, love them and build them up. For some, it may simply be an affirmation of self-worth, for others, it will define their existence.  Remember, everyone deserves a standing ovation once in their lifetime.

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“One of the largest barriers to our success is the creation of our own limitations through these fears.”

Social media has changed the way we live our day to day lives. Today, Facebook helped me remember an important step in my life. On this day two years ago, I began the interview process for a job that changed my educational career. For the first time, I would leave the comfort and happiness of my classroom with my students. I would now work at a larger scale helping develop and implement programs for student success in middle and high school.

This wasn’t an easy decision for me. It weighed heavily on my soul. How would taking this step change my vision? How would it help me realize my dream of learning and influencing change? The first time the posting went up in the fall, I did not apply. I kept wondering how my students would react to me leaving. Would I be happy? Could I make a real impact outside of the classroom? How would this impact my family?

The second time the posting went up, in the spring, I took it as a sign. I felt like I need to live a change and so I tried. I figured I wouldn’t get the job, so at least the application process would be a learning experience. To my surprise, I was the chosen candidate. Now here I am, with an amazing PLN on Twitter and beyond, learning more than I could imagine and connecting more and more with exceptional educators who help me grow as a person, as a parent and as a teacher.

One of the most important lessons this has taught me is the place fear plays in your life. Fear of the unknown, fear of judgment, fear of inadequacy and the fear of failure. Usually, one of the largest barriers to our success is the creation of our own limitations through these fears. And as I reflect today on everything I have learned, I am reminded of a thought: “Stars can’t shine without darkness.” It is okay to live our emotions and feel fear. However, that fear needs to be our driving force to help us achieve what we want and what we need.

I find many parallels in my story and in my dreams to Dorothy’s journey down the yellow brick road. Life will take you to many places. It will present you with many unknowns. As you travel down your path, you will find those who give you courage, those who impart wisdom, those who show you love, and yes, there will also be those who darken your path and who create negativity in your life. In the end, you will create your own story and you will draw out your destiny. As you try to build the relationships with the people on your journey, you must remember that everyone is there for a reason. Not everyone that crosses your path is there to stay or there to encourage. Sometimes they are there to help you learn a valuable life lesson. And this is okay. As an educator and as a leader, you need to reflect on what your goals are and how to stay focused on them. In order to move forward, you sometimes have to let go of certain things or certain people weighing you down. And that is such an important lesson in growing as a leader. I recently read a blog post by @CoriOrlando1 called Zoom Out. Cori reminds us that we need to take the time to stop, pause and give ourselves perspective, to shift our focus and to continue growing. That is so very important, and we rarely let ourselves reflect like this.

As Angela Maiers puts so simply and so eloquently: You matter! It is necessary and okay to think about you. Happiness is rooted in how you help others, but you need to be truly grounded and proud of what you are accomplishing. Time is the greatest gift and the greatest symbol of love for another. So make sure to give your time to others. In Stephen Covey’s metaphor of water, rocks and sand in a jar, he reminds us that we decide what our priorities are. For those who give you that time, cherish it and celebrate it. For those who need your time: make yourself available to them, make the choice to be there for them. It can sometimes be the one thing that saves a life.

Kids and adults are living in a fast-paced life. They are bombarded with stimulation, entertainment, stresses, priorities, money. As a teacher, as a leader, we need to cognizant of what people are feeling and we need to just be there for others.  So why do I do what I do? It is simple. I do it to make a difference. I do it for the kids. I do it to be there for others. Am I perfect? The answer is simple, no. But I will always keep trying to be better, to be proud of myself and to help others find their purpose. As you reflect on your story, on your purpose, on your impact, just remember one thing: You matter!

“I used to think that a teacher needed to know everything and be the expert at the front of the classroom. When a student asked me a question, if I didn’t really know the response, an immediate sense of panic, accompanied by a sudden onset of sweat droplets found themselves taking over my life. This was how teaching was always presented to me: an adult who had the answers who shared them with students. Funny enough, that is what I wanted to become.”

Today, as an educator, it is important to help students find their voice, not simply listen to ours. Everybody has a story; relationships are built on stories. Cultures and societies for centuries have relied on stories to progress, support and develop their communities. Yet since our “modern day” education system has been implemented, as a whole, educators have left little place for students to use and develop their voice. This must change, if we want society to grow, prosper and make a meaningful impact, we need to transform education and how it is lived by all people involved.

For students to find their voice, they need to see teachers who also find their own voice. They need to know how to take risks, to be comfortable and how to deal with mistakes and changes. Do we allow such an environment for our students? A visual representation for the word FAIL is well known to educators.fail

 

The question remains. Do we really build this growth mindset in our classrooms? Are our actions congruent with the message we are sharing? For students to feel comfortable to share their voice, they must truly feel as if they are in a safe environment to learn, to make mistakes and to start over. They must also be comfortable to live and share their emotions. Life isn’t always “pink” and things aren’t always okay. Through the hardships, we learn how to deal with challenges and obstacles. Are we willing to share our own hardships to help them overcome their own?

Over the past several months, I have slowly begun to build my own voice. After a lifetime of feeling like my voice was suppressed, some people have helped empower me and helped me continue to grow as a leader. My life growing up was filled with betrayal, disappointment, shame and doubt. As I went through the motions of school, I never felt like I belonged, never felt like my voice was important.

Although I came from an immigrant family, first generation in Canada, as a white male, I was definitely not a minority. I had lots of love and structure in my family, but we came from near poverty. I didn’t play sports, didn’t go to birthday parties, didn’t wear the brand name labels and didn’t have big group of friends. All of these involved a big investment in time and money, something we just simply didn’t have. I went to Polish school on Saturdays instead of watching cartoons or playing hockey. I sang in our Church choir. I developed my culture immensely, but at a young age, that just wasn’t cool. I also battled weight issues and still do to this day. As I didn’t fit any traditional mold, I spent most of my life being ridiculed, bullied and alone. I would never talk about it because I couldn’t bear breaking my parent’s’ heart. I was often considered a teacher’s pet, but for most of my life, some teachers, who were truly angels, made me feel safe and made me feel somewhat important.

As I reflect on my past, on my experiences, I see how broken my voice was and sometimes still is. I hope that every year, as I work with students, I can be a pillar of strength, a supportive ear and a sense of empowerment to their voice. No child should ever live a life of shame, guilt or loneliness.

There is no perfect way to teach a class. There is no magic way to help students find their voice. In the end, it is the relationships we build with our students, the experiences we help create and the support we give them that empowers them. As teachers continue to explore new ways of teaching and learning, incorporate technology-enabled learning and continue in professional development, we simply need to remember one thing: our voice is important. Students’ voices are important. Let’s make a greater place for these voices in our classrooms and our schools. It is these voices that will help change the world, that will bring happiness to those who need it most.