Archive for the ‘Motivation and engagement’ Category

“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.

 

#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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“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.

ship-in-a-bottle-artistic

“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.” – Neil Gaiman

In spring 2016, Ontario’s Ministry of Education launched a Well-Being Strategy. Officially, for the first time, the education system reacted seriously to what our kids were living as they grew up in Ontario’s schools.

Today I saw the picture of a ship in a bottle and suddenly a plethora of feelings and words came pouring out. By no means as a child, was I even intrigued by this hobby. I am personally a perfectionist and the detailed concentration and handling that is needed to complete this piece of art is way beyond the capacity I could control. I was always deathly afraid of breaking a piece or breaking the bottle. Even more present was my utter uncontrollable frustration at such a precise task.

As I think about this ship in a bottle, I can’t help but think of some students. They are fragile, intricate, valuable and beautiful, yet they are guarded. These colourful boats are surrounded by a class encasing protecting it from the outside world. As these kids walk into our classrooms, they are hoping to be discovered; their true story and true beauty untold. They are a mystery, an unlimited batch of potential, awaiting discovery. As teachers, it is our duty to create a safe and inclusive environment to protect them. However, we do not only protect them like those ships in bottles, we also want to continue to add to their beauty by painting, adding a sail and keeping the ongoing development of that ship.

It is our job as educators to help all these ships go out to sea. To help them open their sails, to find their wind and let a ship do what it is supposed to do. We need to help them open the doors to unlimited possibilities.  In order to allow students to become those discoverers, we must help them rid themselves of that protective glass cover. Although we think that the bottle is there to protect, in the end, it is making interaction with the boat more difficult. It makes it harder for people to paint the wood, to add to its beauty and become the true ships they are meant to be. Humanity has used this process to protect them from being hurt, from being broken, so that they may go through life with as much happiness as possible. In the end, are we not simply limiting our potential and possible joy?

In reality, as I am writing this reflection, although students are a metaphor for the ship in the bottle, I realize that I am the metaphor for the ship. I live that guarded life. I’ve been put together, chipped, broken, dropped, glued and painted. I am hesitant to accept the mission and the beauty of life because of how I have limited my possibilities in the past. As I, myself, try to shed that protective bottle, I urge my fellow teachers to work at removing that protective casing from their students.

Help kids be kids, help them discover their passions and happiness; get to know them. So many possibilities exist in this world; let us help kids open their doors to all these possibilities.  As Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently put it: Every child deserves to be treated like they miracle they are…because #kidsdeserveit!