Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

“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.

Counting Down

“Let’s not countdown the moments until we have a break, and instead starting today, let’s countdown the moments that we have left to make a difference in the lives before us.”

On social media, so often we see posts of countdowns to the weekend, Christmas, Spring Break, summer; it is usually accompanied by elation and celebration. As students and educators, we often can’t wait until there is a break from school. Why is that? We know it’s because we work HARD!  Education is a tireless job and the breaks are something we look forward to and desperately need.

This “tradition” has been around for many decades. We don’t know about you, but we can definitely remember our teachers keeping track of countdowns. In many cases it isn’t done with a negative intention; however this seemingly harmless practice can have profound consequences.  

You may have heard the phrase “perception is reality”; think about it, when someone online, who is not an educator, sees us gleefully posting about how much we can’t wait for a break, what message does that send? What about to the parents of the children we serve?  It sends a message of “these kids are driving me insane and I need a break” or “Woe is me, my job is so much harder than others so I deserve this break”.  Now don’t get us wrong, teachers do work hard. We work harder than most realize and with many unpaid hours.  But again, what message do we really want to be putting out there?

Let’s have a quick comparison with anyone who has ever trained a dog. We are taught with dogs to be conscious of our tone of voice. When disciplining a dog for a bad action, we should not use a pleasant voice, because a dog will associate that with good behavior. This of course is possible because of that pleasant tone we use to praise a dog. We are also taught to be repetitive with dogs. In order for behaviour to be learned, it must be constantly addressed.

Now let’s come back to school. Hypothetically, from a young age, teachers put down that innocent countdown on a blackboard or a bulletin board. Also regularly, when referring to that countdown, a pleasant and often exciting voice is used by the teacher. Students in turn mimic that pleasant voice and share their excitement from that break from school. We all need breaks because we feel tired, overworked, and uninspired. But we think that maybe instead we should be building up a pleasant tone with the amount of time we have left!

I don’t know about you, but we’ve had those teachers who talk about how they can’t wait to be out of this school.  How they deserve this break.  And as a student, I (Todd) remember a teacher once telling us just that, and somehow, in someway, I felt like the problem.  I felt like it was my fault the teacher was counting down the day until she could rid herself of me and my classmates.

I (Roman) also had a similar experience. As a child, I loved school. It was a place to learn new things, to meet new people and to escape reality that wasn’t always fun. I knew that no matter what, with the teachers that were there, I was in a safe place where I could shine and be recognized. Every time teachers would put up that countdown, I would always feel a sense of being weird and different. While most were like the teachers, happy to be escaping school, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be in my “fun place” for the summer. These made me feel inadequate. I couldn’t share what I felt because no one would understand. Unbeknownst to be, I kept this tradition alive in my early years of teaching.

This is where our disappointment comes in; disappointment for two reasons. First, we all have been guilty of this practice in our careers. Second, disappointment because the very job we chose out of love for learning and teaching has so many students and teachers celebrating the end moment instead of focusing on the here and now.

And that’s the kind of countdowns we now need to hold in our offices and classrooms.  Not countdowns that celebrate the moment we get to “escape”, but instead countdowns that celebrate the moments we have left. Even more, why not start a count up until the beginning of the next school year, where greater learning adventures and fun will take place? Where all of us, kids and adults alike, will grow together as a family.

Our world is so filled with turmoil and pain.  As educators we are held to a different (and sometimes unfair) standard.  So even though it may seem like a countdown to summer is innocent, we have to take a step back and evaluate.  What is the message we’re sending, even unintentionally?

We know that the message we want to send is that every moment matters.  That even though we look forward to time with our families and time to decompress, we know that at school, that is a child’s safe place.  A child’s place to feel valued, important, worthy, and get the best education possible.

Let’s not countdown the moments until we have a break, and instead starting today, let’s countdown the moments that we have left to make a difference in the lives before us.  Our Kids Deserve It.

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.

Relationships

Posted: February 15, 2017 in Motivation and engagement, Uncategorized

relationships

“The strength of our student relationships makes the difference in translating our passion for teaching into their passion for learning.”                –Beth Morrow

As schools and districts are attempting to transform classrooms, teaching practices and opportunities for collaboration, there is a historical danger in the way that this process is being undertaken all across North America. Millions of dollars are being spent on buying technology, on new furniture for classrooms and on professional learning networks that focus on math, literacy and standardized testing results. New leaders promise society that this time around, the policies they will develop and implement, will help better prepare students for today’s world. 

In all these undertakings, there is one fundamental issue that is never addressed by leaders: relationships.  Research tells us that the emotional relationship that is created between students and teachers has a great impact on the learning in the classroom. For anyone who studied Maslow, this comes as no surprise. Yet if we reflect on how we support teachers, schools and districts on the capacity to build and maintain such relationships, we quickly realize that it is simply not a priority. It apparently does not matter what research tells us, if politically it doesn’t fit, no attention will be given. 

Relationships are the cornerstone of our communities. From the dawn of time, man has searched to build relationships to survive, to create, to live. Yet our schools are the anti-thesis to such dialogue. If we study current PLNs, district priorities or mandatory lesson plans (implemented in various states and districts), we quickly see that our system does not want to foster healthy and important relationships between learners. (Yes, teachers are learners too.) When was the last time you saw a school or district mission or vision promote healthy relationships as a key foundation to learning? When have you seen scheduling or time allotted for teachers to get to create relationships and build on them to allow for authentic and deeper learning? The answer is unfortunately both easy and scary: we just don’t see it. 

I have been fortunate enough to have built key relationships in my career. I pride myself on the importance I give to building relationships with my high school students. I could still name my students, stop and talk to them at the grocery store, congratulate them on their wedding or birth of their third child. I take the time to ask how college is going, their job hunt or even their troubled relationship. They do not stop being important because they left my school with a diploma. 

I have also build amazing relationships with incredible educators on social media. From the #kidsdeserveit co-author and Principal in Texas, to a school leader in New Mexico, to a novice teacher in Missouri, an elementary school pioneer in Ottawa and even a teacher in a small community in Australia. Relationships take time to build, time to maintain and time to grow. However, the relationships that I have been blessed enough to create have been life-changing. From book studies, to tweets to multiple daily texts. I am growing exponentially as an educator because of them. 

I have never been a person who believed in himself. I never thought that I was capable of making a huge difference in education. Many of my friends feel the same way; like if what we do is not valued and has little impact. If we feel like this, imagine how our kids feel! I try to keep reminding m y PLN of how amazing they are. Of how much we really have in common and how much we heir leadership is making a difference. You see, I know a leader who is definitely a game changer yet sees no power in what he does. Yet I would write a book about his many accomplishments as teacher and leader. 

Teachers need time to build relationships with their students if they really want to have an impact on students. Principals need to foster relationships with teachers to have a meaningful impact on their practice and overall assessment. Admin and senior leaders need to forge collaborative relationships with principals and  teachers. School personnel need to forge relationships with the community and with parents. Government employees and policy makers need to build relationships with districts and system leaders. It is these relationships that will spark the true transformation in our schools and within our learners. 

As a challenge this coming week, i invite educators to reach out and build their relationships with others. Because our #kidsdeserveit and we, as educators, deserve it just as much as them.