Archive for the ‘Motivation and engagement’ Category

#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!” 

yellowbrick

“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!

kidlearning

“All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.”
— Magic Johnson

As a student success teacher, my mandate was to help students at risk of not succeeding find the strategies and supports to be able to pass their classes and graduate. In this role, I would often have interesting conversations with my colleagues about students, their potential, their work habits and their behaviour.  One response that I heard very often was: “This student just can’t pass my class.” Or “This student just can’t cut it.” And I, in hindsight, had much to learn, because I would simply agree with them and sometimes even try to find other solutions for those students; a change in timetable, a creative solution to have a more 1 on 1 option with another educator or anything else to remove the “so-called problem”. I sat there, lacked belief in the kids, gave up on their potential and robbed them of their future success.

As I sit here writing this, although I thought I was a good educator, I feel like I let kids down.  Recently, through a friend on social media, I had a reminder that kids can do anything and that it is educators who are their biggest inhibitors. This belief in limits, in predetermined potential and classroom privilege has been hindering students’ dreams for many years.  I once said, when a student doesn’t succeed, it is simply I who failed, who did not have the knowledge to help him do so.  I don’t think I ever believed so much in these words until now.

When a teacher tells me that a student cannot pass his class, they are often putting the entire responsibility on the student. If the student played by the rules and did as teacher said, they should be able to pass like anyone else. Basically, the teacher does everything right, and it is up to the student to pull his own weight. Although I am not downplaying the importance of collaboration in learning and that the student has a key role in his success. However we, as educators, must step up to the plate and also take ownership for the learning.  As @casas_jimmy put it so eloquently, “a teacher who says who says ‘I have to look at myself when a student fails’ is the type of teacher you want working in your building.”

Our current education system is flawed. We had heard time and time again, how our schools were created for a certain need in the age of the industrial revolution. Therefore, it is time for educators to stand up and use their voice to bring about the necessary transformation. Let’s make education about our kids: about their hopes, their needs and their future. We don’t need schools to fit the needs of teachers. We need to support and nurture our teachers to help create environments that fit the needs of our students.

So as I reflect on my past mistakes as an educator, I can’t help but feel some feelings of guilt. Was I responsible for robbing the dreams and hopes of certain kids by limiting their potential and believing that they just can’t cut it? Maybe I have, and that is a difficult pill to swallow for a person. But I can make this promise: from this day forward, I will believe in the unlimited potential of all kids. I believe that given the right, personalized, supports, all kids can succeed and at high levels. I may not be able to correct all the wrongs of the past, but I can try to ensure that they are surely not repeating again. Kids today have enough obstacles and challenges to worry about and I do not need to add any for them. In the end: I work, I believe and I lead…because #kidsdeserveit.

 

strong

“A great teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.”

Finding your voice, sharing your passion openly can be a dangerous thing. Putting your thoughts and ideas out for the world to see takes guts because you never know how people will react or respond. Recently, I’ve been more regular in my writing of posts; I have found writing to be a cathartic experience. It is a chance for me to go through my thoughts and emotions and put ideas down. For anybody who is naturally more of an introvert, as I am, writing is sometimes the best form of expression.

There are many days where I doubt myself. Many days where I question decisions I’ve made, paths I’ve chosen and talents others tell me I have that I simply do not see. I naturally have a hard time believing in myself, as I imagine, many students do. We all have various stories that make up who we are. Sometimes they are stories we share, sometimes they are stories that no one knows. But these stories are our essence. My story is littered with various great and unique experiences. However, it is also intertwined with many hardships, many challenges and many emotional beatings. The end result is the person I have become.

It is not always easy getting up in the morning. Knowing the demons that you have to face on a daily basis can be quite a daunting task. But if you have a support structure in place and if you open your heart, this makes the load to carry a bit lighter. Finding your inner strength to carry on is an important task. It is finding that belief in yourself that is often the greatest challenge of all.

Imagine what we ask of students. We ask them to be vulnerable on a daily basis. We ask that they learn new things, to fail in class (because it is a learning experience) and to not only complete tasks, (that they may not be comfortable with) but to do so in front of a group of peers. For students to live up to that constant challenge is simply amazing. As educators, we should already be celebrating their bravery.  We should also be allowing them to learn how to express themselves, in various ways and in various contexts. What they have to share should not be confined to the four walls of the classroom. Their ideas should be shared with the world. After all, if we never teach them how to communicate responsibly for a global audience, how will they ever learn?

So as I sit here, finding my strength to share and express myself, I encourage all educators to help students find their strength and find their voice. The most dangerous thing for a person is to be silent; to feel alone and have no one to talk to. As I struggle constantly, I thank those who are there with me and help me along the way. As most students, I don’t always let people in, but the important ones never let me forget that they are always there. In the end, they help carry me through the tough times.

So be there during the battles and challenges that students will face. It is then that they need it most. Amidst my darkness and anguish, I found strength and inspiration. Be a kid’s inspiration! Be their rock! Because #kidsdeserveit.

ripple

“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”                                                 — Dalai Lama

As a child, every year I remember travelling to my aunt’s house in Québec. She lived by a river, and with our family we used to love to go find the flattest pebbles and get them to skip on the surface of the water.  I really wasn’t any good at it, but I kept going back every time and kept trying. When I succeeded, I was happy and when I failed, it frustrated me, but motivated me to keep trying.  I loved seeing the ripples that were created by the pebbles skipping on the water.

This week, the image of that ripple really spoke to me as an educator. As a learner, I would often love to be challenged by various problems; the more I got frustrated, the more I wanted to solve them.  As a teacher, I would love to transform my teaching practices and try new things. Although they wouldn’t always work as I expected, I would definitely create many ripples at my school. When you challenge the status quo, you don’t always have open arms waiting for you at the other end. This is a truth both for teachers and administrators as it is for students and parents.

One of my greatest experiences with this ripple effect at school was when I wanted to change the format of a test in my high school English class. Instead of the traditional written test, I decided to have students respond to questions verbally while they recorded their responses. In the hopes of giving my students various assessment possibilities, and to help prepare them for different situations where you will need to communicate verbally, I thought that it would be a great experience; especially since we would be using technology to record their responses. Boy was I ever wrong! I had students complain about the test because they couldn’t edit their responses as they would in a written test. I had parents complain because it caused anxiety for their kids (they did continue to complain at home). I even had other teachers come and question my choices in teaching practices and urged me to go back to traditional assessments because kids were complaining in their classes.

From such an innocent choice, came so much turmoil. I have learned and grown a lot since then. I was able stick to my convictions and justify my choices. I never try anything new without ever thinking about it first. Although it was difficult, like skipping those pebbles, I just kept trying. I hope my students grew because of it; I know that I have grown because of it and because of them.

But this image is also important to me for one other reason. In education, as we try and to change and transform the current education structure, we can be seen like people who cause ripples, people who disrupt the calm waters. I look to many people for strength and inspiration. I am not necessarily comfortable with risk-taking and standing out, but when I see other educators who lead, who take their talents and use them and who inspire kids as leaders, I tell myself: I need to be more like them. So to my friend, who supports me, encourages me, questions me and is there when things seem to crumble – thank you. Thank you for being there, thank you for listening, thank you for your words of support; mostly, thank you for being my constant inspiration, my symbol of hope and my drive to keep doing what I do. Thank you for being that pebble.

Like a pebble disrupts the calm and comfortable waters, I urge all educators to be those pebbles of inspiration. Don’t accept the way things are because they’ve been always done that way. Don’t accept calm waters because they seem easier. Continue to try new things, continue to question the status quo, and mostly, continue to be the pebble and the ripples of change, because #kidsdeserveit and they will thank you for caring.