Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Sometimes we have to find the light in the dark

“Life can be tough. Teaching can be tough.
Sometimes we need to find the light in the dark.”

The past few weeks have been a struggle for me. Although I have been faced with countless obstacles and challenges before, recently these many same challenges, compounded together have become an unbearable weight on my shoulders.

I have also had to brave the wilderness, embrace vulnerability and take some time to collect my thoughts, finally deciding that it is important to share.
(You can obviously note that from this past reference, Brené Brown has been a great influence in my reflections.)

Educators are supposed to be great.
Educators are supposed to smile.
Educators are supposed to create moments and learning adventures! 

Although these are all true statements, and these are the images portrayed to us on social media, we must also acknowledge that teaching and learning aren’t always amazing, incredible and perfect. Many times strategies don’t work out, the trauma faced by our students is too great, and there is a major lack in system support to educators making these amazing adventures temporary not possible.

“Sometimes you have to go through darkness to get to the light.”

For those who know me, I am always filled with hope, kindness, and optimism. I believe in the goodness of others and that there is always a way to make something happen. But I also know that I sometimes feel defeated, I sometimes feel like I just don’t know. And many educators, although they may feel the same way, are afraid to share their voice for fear of judgment from peers, from parents, from their own building or system leaders. As educators, we must also realize that we are not modeling a growth mindset, empathy nor kindness when all we share are the incredible things that happen. There is always more than one side to any story and we need to be brave enough to share all those sides, regardless of the apprehensions we may have.

We are lucky in education to have access to incredible communities of learners and passionate teachers. We need to remember that we have to support each other, listen to others and share our own struggles to learn collaboratively. 

In the past few months, I have scrapped lessons, I have started over, I have listened to students cry, I have witnessed trying behavioural attitudes, I have heard and witnessed major trauma in the lives of student, I have contacted parents, I have broken down, I have sat in meetings; I have sometimes hit rock bottom, and many times, have felt alone because no one around me seemed to have that same reality. In my own struggles, I have worked hard to find that light.

So I urge all educators, be humble, be honest, be authentic. Share the amazing and share the challenges. When looking for help, be wary of the word “expert”, because no such thing exists. If you want to offer support, do not market yourself as an expert. We are all passionate learners and educators. We all have something great to share with others. Let’s work together to build up our communities.

And to the broken system: find the humanity in your approach. When we have students, staff, and family in crisis; do not ask for many pieces of paper. Do not ask your teachers to sit for hours filling out detailed accounts about students, incidents or recommendations. Take some time and go talk to others. To leaders, directors, superintendents: find your way out of the offices and into the schools and classrooms that are screaming for help, that are searching for hope. The traditional ways of isolating ourselves in our hierarchical patterns and buildings do not work to support our education system. Be brave enough to challenge the structure and way of working by going to see the students, to see the teachers, to hear the stories. 

Although to some this may not seem like a worthwhile investment, you may, in fact, be having a far greater impact than you realize. You may be saving a life.

“If you feel like you’re losing everything, remember that trees lose their leaves every year and they still stand tall and wait for better days to come.”

This weekend, I spent time working outside: pulling weeds, planting flowers, planting vegetables, mowing the lawn, watering, etc. Since I became a homeowner with my wife many years ago and we dreamed of designing our landscaping, I started having to carve out time to maintain the outside esthetic of our property. There has been a constant investment in flowers, seeds, water, fertilizer and mostly hard work. And to be honest, most of the time, I did not want to actually be doing this work, I would rather have been sitting in a chair, reading a good book, basking in the sunlight. When I didn’t properly maintain our yard: we had much more weeds, flowers didn’t bloom as well, leaves didn’t grow as much; in essence, the beauty and health of our plants depended on the time I had invested into the maintenance of our property.

This weekend has given me a lot to reflect on both personally and professionally. It is important to garden in our own lives and grow our souls.

Personally, I need to better understand that time needs to be set aside for my own growth. If I want to strive, to bloom and to produce beautiful blooms, I need to take care of my own life and balance. This means time to to rest, time to go to the gym, time to connect with others. I can’t always fill my calendar with obligations and preparations for work. I need to be mindful of having some time for my own care and growth. This is an ongoing challenge and process for me.

I also need to make sure to weed; weed the negativity out of my daily life. I need to build hope by planting seeds of kindness, empathy, compassion and positivity. I need to keep the positive people, the bringers of joy, of support, of love into my life. I can’t feel bad when I eliminate what hinders my own growth and beauty.

I will admit right now, this is not an easy process, nor is it a fast one. This is an ongoing journey that takes time, but beauty in life cannot be rushed. We need to realize that we are worth the investment.

Professionally, I also need to garden so that I may thrive and grow. I need to understand that my students are the beautiful flowers in the garden and I am there to tend to them and watch their beauty, talents and gifts bloom. I need to treat each student as a unique flower that has unique needs and adapt my environment for them. I will always remember Alexander Den Heijer’s wise words:

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

There are some flowers that bloom early spring, others in the summer, others in the fall; we cannot rush the process and we need to remember that when it comes to our students. Students don’t need to be fixed, they need to have an environment rich in educational nutrients so that they may bloom, thrive and radiate their beauty.

In gardening, as in life, we often look for quick fixes: a spray, plants with little maintenance, flowers already in full bloom: anything that will diminish the work that is needed but that will reap the full rewards at the end. In life we often pay others to clean, to garden, to cook, to maintain. In education, we look for the quick fixes in literacy, in learning; the apps that will make students perform well on tests so scores soar; whatever it takes to ensure the appearance of beauty in eyes of others.

I believe this is where we often miss our opportunities. Life is not a race. Take the time to prepare, to plant, to work, to tend to your garden. Make life a priority. Don’t lose sight of the beauty in front of you by trying to find the quickest way of getting to a destination. Find the beauty in ordinary moments. Do less, but love more deeply, show more compassion, smile more, enjoy the sun. Eliminate what is holding you back.

You may or may not enjoy gardening, but take care of yourself, take care of your heart, take care of the lives entrusted to you on a daily basis.

We need your passion, we need your heart, we need YOU. So please, take care of YOU.

“It is when you breathe that you find clarity, peace, forgiveness, compassion. It is then, that you find YOU.”

It is no secret, for those who know me, this has been quite a year. A year of transitions, a year of adapting, a year of lessons…leaving a leadership role to come back to the classroom, to my first joy – leading learning with students.

Three years may not seem like a long time, but a lot changes in three years. From Snapchat to slang, from homework to engagement; students have been continuously evolving and my absence from the regular school routine has created a gap that I was ill-prepared for.

I set many goals for myself this year, and I decided to embark on a journey of overcoming many challenges in education. From creating a love of reading in high school, to flexible seating, to inquiry-based learning…I tried. Things were not always easy or perfect, many hurdles existed, but I have been learning a lot. I have also gotten many of the stares; you know the ones that look at you like you’re crazy or disillusioned because you believe in the possibility of change or because you are trying “elementary” things in a high school. The ones who judge you for being different.

When I talk to friends or teachers, when they ask me how my year has been, I try to be honest. If I was to give myself a letter grade today, I would give myself a “C”. A “C” because I am constantly learning, because not everything went well, and because I know I could have been better. This year has been full of struggles: the struggle to learn, the struggle to try, the struggle to keep going, the struggle to balance, the struggle to manage time more efficiently, the struggle to be a better person.

Far too often in my life, I have been told I am not enough. Far too often have I believed that I am not enough; that is probably one of the biggest struggles of all. It is one thing to put others’ needs before yours and call it servant leadership. However, when you forget who you are and you don’t take care of yourself, you find yourself lost at sea, unable to find the peaceful shore.

With all of this, I have learned that we can’t always be the saviors, the givers, the leaders. Life is about balance and when you lose that balance, in essence, you lose yourself.

So teachers, what is my message today? Struggling is part of life; it is okay to struggle. It is also okay to let go. Let go of the burdens you carry, let go of the pressures you feel,  let go of the attitude of putting your work before everything else. Let go doing whatever it takes…when it is at your own expense.

Loving others is also showing that you love yourself. Caring for others is showing that you also care for yourself.

So surround yourself with your pillars of strength. Live an authentic life. Learn what you can, when you can and avoid finding excuses. Know that you will struggle, similarly to your students; and that is okay. But in that same breath, know that in your struggles, it is okay to let go and breathe. It is when you breathe that you find clarity, peace, forgiveness, compassion. It is then, that you find YOU.

In the fall, during my last post, I shared about how I was hanging on. Now, as the end of the year approaches, it is fitting that I reflect and look at what I will do after hanging on. And so, as the year winds down, I ask you: are you ready to let go?  

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.

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.




“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…

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.”


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:

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?