Archive for the ‘Motivation and engagement’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…
I am hanging on!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A letter to you, my student

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Nowak

 

Do what you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you willing to jump?

Fighting for the fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today:

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

I will see every child for who they are.

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

I will celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of every student.

I will advocate for the needs of every child.

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

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

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

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

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

I will lead with heart and kindness.

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

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

I will see them be their true selves.

 

#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!