Sunday, December 20, 2015

Remember When You Used to Believe...

'Tis the season for jingle bells, cookies, trees, family, giving, music, snow (sometimes), and oh yes... the jolly old man in the big red suit. Do you remember the day when you used to believe? The season seemed to be filled with anticipation, excitement, and pure happiness about everything. A general positive feeling filled the air and nothing seemed as if it were impossible. Everything was a Christmas miracle. Ironically, this feeling is no different than that time when you thought you could actually make a difference in the world. Do you remember when you used to believe that? Unfortunately too many adults (young and old) stop believing in that as well and that is when negativity and apathy begins to consume our lives.

The reality is that YOU can make a difference. One person can make a large difference in the world. It's all about perspective though. One person may not be able to be THE difference in the world but they certainly can be A difference. Each day in education we make a difference of some kind. You've all heard it before; each day you provide a child with the gift of hope, or even on your worst day you are one of your students' greatest hope. There are many things in our profession that are dictated to us but that doesn't mean we have no control over making a difference or creating our own destiny. So for this holiday season, I'm asking for more people to once again believe in their ability to make a difference. After all, our charge is to serve children and our community. This is a serious responsibility but one that we can certainly achieve our goals with if we simply believe in our ability to affect change in the face of adversity. Channel your inner child and remember what it felt like to believe, and then the smile on your face will lead the way. Happy Holidays everyone and I will see you again in 2016!

Black Knight Kudos ...

Thank you to everyone who is participating in this year's Crazy Attire event to raise money for the Rescue Mission!

Congratulations to Marian Draper for being named All-CNY first team for Cross Country!

Congratulations to all of our musicians for their participation in various performances both in school and around the city during the past few weeks!

This Week at RFA...

12/21 - Boys (v) Bowling vs. Whitesboro
12/21 - Girls (v) Basketball vs. Notre Dame
12/21 - Boys (v) Swimming at Sherburne-Earlville
12/22 - Crazy Attire Day for Students
12/22 - RFA Winter Concert #2, 7:00 pm
12/22 - Girls (v) Volleyball at VVS
12/22 - Boys (v) Wrestling vs.Sherburne-Earlville
12/22 - Boys (v) Basketball at Notre Dame
12/22 - Boys (v) Hockey vs. Ithaca
12/23 - PAJAMA DAY
12/23 - Boys (v) Swimming at South Lewis Central
12/24 - NO SCHOOL
12/25 - NO SCHOOL

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

During the last 2 weeks of 2015, take a moment to think back about the best day or three of teaching that you had this year. What made it the best day of the year for you? Reflect on what you did, what your students did, and what else outside of your control influenced  your day to make it happen? Moving forward, work to incorporate as many of those attributes into your daily routine and be the difference that you want to be.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Judge, Jury, and Executioner...

Almost on a daily basis I see the immediacy needs of our society enacted in both children and adults feeling the need to play the role of Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Technology and social media are wonderful tools and are debate-ably the worlds most meaningful inventions. However, if not used appropriately, can be the worlds most devastating force. There is a phrase that goes something like this; "It took centuries to build an empire but only days to destroy it." This phrase is indicative of our current society's desire to use social media and the internet to make rash judgments about things without truly knowing what's going on. There's a reason why our English teachers and Social Studies teachers are struggling to teach kids about proper/legal citations for writing papers and the concept of freedom of speech. Our children are growing up to 'think' that everything on the internet is accurate and that freedom of speech means you can write or say whatever you want about a topic/person with the protection of the computer screen.

The bigger question I raise is what are we doing about teaching our children compassion in this society of immediacy? You used to hear the phrase, "innocent until proven guilty", frequently in our society. Today, we rush to judgement on people and events because of our thirst for immediacy. We have lost the concept of compassion and have become short sighted enough to forget that we are all human beings. In schools, we actually encourage our students of today to attempt tasks and fail. We encourage risk taking in hopes that students will make a mistake and hence learn from it. As a society though, we have lost that. Our overall sense of compassion and understanding when individuals make a mistake have disappeared in favor of the Judge, Jury, and Executioner lifestyle that many currently live, because this method makes us feel better about ourselves when we see others falling. I hope that it won't be long before our children help us relearn the art of forgiveness and compassion. As a community, let's LISTEN to each other and seek to understand before we make up our minds about what is real and what is fiction.

Black Knight Kudos ...

Congratulations to the Vex-Robotics team on their victory this past weekend at the Saratoga Springs competition which qualified them for the State Championships.

Congratulations to the ladies indoor track team after being crowned champions at their MVITA Relay Meet #1 over the weekend. Full results can be seen at

Thank you to the Rotary Interact Club for their involvement with providing elementary students with a day of joy this past week at the Fort Stanwix Men's Club event.

This Week at RFA...

12/14 - RFA Winter Concert Performance at Strough Middle School, 8:15 am
12/14 - Boys (v) Bowling at Notre Dame
12/14 - Boys (v) Hockey at CNS
12/14 - Girls (v) Volleyball at Central Valley Academy
12/14 - District Parent Advisory Meeting
12/15 - Boys (v) Bowling at Central Valley Academy
12/15 - Girls (v) Bowling vs. Central Valley Academy
12/15 - Boys (v) Basketball at Baldwinsville
12/15 - Girls (v) Basketball at Whitesboro
12/15 - District Attendance Committee Meeting
12/16 - Select Choir Field Trip to Bethany Gardens
12/16 - Boys (v) Bowling at CNS
12/16 - Girls (v) Bowling at CNS
12/16 - Board of Education Meeting
12/17 - RFA Winter Concert, 7:00 pm
12/17 - Sophomore Seminar on Media/Communications, period 4
12/17 - Boys (v) Swimming at Cooperstown
12/17 - Girls (v) Volleyball vs. Whitesboro
12/18 - DWI Awareness Presentation to Seniors, period 8
12/18 - Girls (v) Bowling at Whitesboro
12/18 - Boys (v) Wrestling CSC Tournament at Camden
12/18 - Boys (v) Hockey vs. Watertown
12/18 - Boys (v) Basketball vs. Whitesboro
12/19 - Travel Club hosts Breakfast with Santa, 8:00 am
12/19 - Boys (v) Wrestling CSC Tournament at Camden

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Over the coming weeks, seek to understand before making judgement. When a student comes to you with a concern or didn't complete their assignment, seek to understand what may be happening in that child's life prior to making judgments. The ensuing conversation may just be the best conversation you've ever had in your life.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Maybe NYSED Got This One Right...

In an era where most educators and parents want to criticize everything, especially those that are decision makers, I have to say, I think NYSED got this one right!! On a daily basis I am finding adults that lack the essential 21st century skills that our decision makers feel our students must possess in order to be productive citizens in the future. In my opinion however, 21st century skills are "soft" in nature, difficult to measure, and not a traditional part of American high school curriculums. To tell you how many emails I receive a day that make me wonder if the adult on the other end has ever sat through an English class would be embarrassing. Electronic communication is a 21st century skill, but where is the education in regard to how to use it? Just because it's an email doesn't mean we have to forget the basic conventions of standard American English, does it? Can we not combine 2 skills into one here?

Typically, all of these "skills" as we are calling them have once upon a time been known as "attributes". You either possess the ability to do them or you don't. We have normally been afraid to try and teach an individual how to improve these skills because that would mean tough conversations and having to tell someone to their face that there is a deficit. But isn't that education? Don't we tell our students in one way or another every day that what they are doing isn't good enough? Shouldn't we expect the same of ourselves? After all, receiving that paper called a teaching certificate doesn't mean we are omnipotent, it means we are legally able to teach kids in a public school setting. Let's not forget that our responsibility to children is to facilitate learning, not dictate content. Our jobs become much more interesting and ironically, easier, if we allow our students to create their learning experiences collaboratively.

Black Knight Kudos ...

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Vex Robotics Tournament this weekend. It was a wonderful event and truly highlighted RFA's talents!!

Congratulations to all of our students who participated in the All-State Music Festival over the weekend!!

This Week at RFA...

12/7 - RFA Senior Pictures Due for Yearbook
12/7 - CEAL Field Trip to Gansevoort Elementary
12/7 - Boys (v) Basketball vs. CNS
12/8 - Rotary Interact Club Field Trip to Ft. Stanwix Men's Club
12/8 - Girls (v) Bowling vs. Camden
12/8 - Boys (v) Wrestling at Camden
12/8 - Girls (v) Volleyball vs. Thomas R Proctor
12/8 - Boys (v) Hockey at FM
12/9 - SMART Schools Investment Team Meeting
12/9 - Boys (v) Bowling at VVS
12/9 - Girls (v) Basketball vs. Camden
12/10 - Sophomore Seminar, 8th period - Legal Field
12/10 - Boys (v) Swimming vs. Holland Patent
12/10 - Girls (v) Volleyball at Camden
12/11 - Italian Club Dinner @ RFA, 6:00 - 8:00 pm
12/11 - Boys (v) Hockey vs. Corcoran
12/11- Indoor Track at Colgate University
12/11 - Boys (v) Bowling at Camden
12/11 - Girls (v) Basketball at Sherburn Earlville Tournament
12/11 - Boys (v) Wrestling at Poland Central
12/11 - Boys (v) Basketball at Camden
12/12 - Mathletics Competition at Whitesboro
12/12 - VEX Robotics Competition at Saratoga Springs
12/12 - Girls (v) Basketball at Sherburn Earlville Tournament
12/12 - Boys (v) Swimming at Indian River Invitational
Upcoming - 12/19 - RFA Travel Club Pancake Breakfast with Santa, 8:00 - 11:00 am

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

During the next few weeks, choose one of the four 21st century skills that you think you can improve upon easily and make an effort to grow. After a short period of time, assess yourself on your progress by collaborating with a colleague to seek true and honest feedback, Don't be afraid to be different and learn, it's what we do!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Giving Kindness is Free...

What if everyday were similar to a day between Thanksgiving and New Year's? I ask this question because as I walked through the malls and stores this past weekend, it's ironic to me to see how many more kind and giving people you come across during this one month stretch. I find people saying please more frequently, I see people donating to causes, and I certainly hear the words "thank you" more often for simple gestures like letting someone go onto the escalator first. What would our society be like if every day were like this?

I ask this question because I wonder, does everyone suddenly change into some bizarro personality because that's what they think they are supposed to be during the holidays or do all of the really polite, well-mannered people suddenly emerge from hiding and spend time in public during this month? We all know manners, how to be respectful, how to treat others... so what is so hard about being that way every day? I am excited for our school's Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program to get off the ground in the coming weeks because it's about time we find more ways to acknowledge positive behavior. Too often, people don't do the little things in life because we feel like they may go unnoticed or not given praise. Maybe the praise and recognition we need is not external but internal. Perhaps the feeling that one gets when they do a small gesture of kindness or go out of their way to help another is what we need. We all know that society would be a better place with more random acts of kindness... it's time to stop preaching to the choir about it and start leading the orchestra.

Black Knight Kudos ...

Thank you to everyone who participated in any of our giving programs prior to Thanksgiving. What a great gesture as a school community to provide for others.

Congratulations to the Junior class for a well organized and attended Open Mic Night!!

This Week at RFA...

12/1 - Ed. Policy Committee Meeting
12/2 - STASS Meeting
12/2 - SBIT Meeting
12/2 - Faculty Meeting
12/2 - Board of Education Business Meeting
12/3 - NYSSMA Field Trip, All-State
12/5 - SAT Examination
12/5 - Robotics Competition @ RFA

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

How often do we focus on the positive behaviors in our classrooms? More often than not, when a kid does something kind it goes unnoticed because as adults we know 'that's what they are supposed to be doing'. But they are still kids and they are still learning. Maybe instead of addressing every negative behavior and drawing more attention to an unruly situation, try spending a week making a big deal about every positive interaction or behavior. Go out of your way to say "thank you" to a kid that you witness doing something great, especially if you don't know them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Because I Said So...

This past week I had the privilege and honor of meeting with and fielding questions from a Syracuse University Project Advanced (SUPA) English class. Having the opportunity to meet with kids and answer their questions is always the best part of any day. Our students bring a unique perspective to schools and can really cause us to think about 'WHY' things are the way that they are. After all, isn't public education supposed to be about what kids want and need? For the longest time, since I can remember, the phrase "because I said so" has been a fixture in public schools. Teachers use it frequently when kids question an assignment, topic, or expectation; administrators use it frequently when challenged by teachers or parents; and district leaders and politicians use it as a blanket clause to justify decisions. The reality is, we often use the phrase "because I said so" because we don't know any other way to do what it is that we do, educate.

Public schools have been in a rut for the better part of a century. Yes, a century. Not a year, not a decade, not a generation, but a century. Schools feel very similar to what they did 100 years ago. We are hesitant to make changes to our schedules, courses, offerings, approaches, instructional methods, and more. After all, it worked for us when we went to school so it must still work for them, right?! However, I'm 38 and when I was in high school we used a computer maybe once a year, not once a period like we expect our students of today to do. What worked once upon a time doesn't always work anymore. It's time to listen to our kids and make the necessary adjustments to public education and become 21st century establishments for their benefit. If we truly expect our future citizens to be able to change the world, we need to teach them to live and survive in the world that exists around them now, not the world that we grew up in of yesteryear. For once, maybe our students need to be able to use the line, "because I said so."

Black Knight Kudos ...

Congratulations to the sophomore class and thank you for everyone who participated in the turkey donation to the Rescue Mission. In all 50 turkeys were donated!!

Congratulations to STASS and thank you to everyone who participated in their canned food drive. More food was collected than we can weigh, at least 5 flat bed carts left the building on Friday to help families in need!

Congratulations to Jed Musch and the VEX Robotics team who were recognized by the Genesis Group's "Celebration of Education" awards program on Thursday, 11/19.

Congratulations to all of our Fall athletic teams and athletes on a very successful season. Good luck to our winter sport athletes and teams as they begin their seasons.

This Week at RFA...

11/24 - ASVAB Administration
11/24 - Open Mic Night
11/25-11/27 - Building Closed
11/26 - Happy Thanksgiving!!
11/27-11/28 - Bobby T Ciccotti Hockey Tournament 

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

One of the most challenging things to do as any professional or adult is to accept feedback or criticism. We try to call it constructive criticism to make it sound and feel more positive, but often times we still take it too personally. When our students give us feedback it normally is even more hard to swallow because they are kids, what do they know? I bet you will get some of the best feedback possible when allowing your students to provide you information in a safe and productive way. Seek some feedback from your students about how the first quarter of the year went and see what can be done to better the learning environment for everyone!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Happened to the Common Core?

 Roughly 4 years ago the entire educational community was spun into a tizzy and the alarms were sounding as if our entire universe and all that we stood for was about to explode because of the Common Core Learning Standards  (CCLS). Mass confusion, hatred, fear, assessment, optimism, APPR (New York's teacher evaluation system), money (yes we can't forget to mention Federal/State financial aid), and many other things ensued following the arrival of the CCLS. Back then, it almost felt as if the world of education was being terminated in light of a new effort, an effort that none of us could explain or figure out.

Fast forward to today and I ask, what ever happened to the Common Core? All the hysteria, panic, fear.... education was being ruined... where did it go? Schools look very similar today as they did then and one could even argue that schools that implemented the CCLS with fidelity are finding increased academic outcomes. Of course we are still dealing with the stress and issues related to over assessing kids and the APPR process, but neither of those are the Common Core. Still, the CCLS have been a positive shift in education if not for any reason other than we haven't abandoned them yet after the scrutiny they have caused. Most educators feel the standards are positive, productive, and worth while. The CCLS have also caused schools to think collaboratively and combine efforts in regard to reading and writing while bringing our issues in math to the forefront. While we may not all agree about the approach to implementation and curricular decisions made as a result of the CCLS, hopefully we can all see the standards themselves are well written and provide a good foundation for developing our curriculum.

To that end, our new commissioner in New York State, MaryEllen Elia, has asked our help in collecting feedback about the Common Core. This link: will take you to a survey to provide her with your feedback regarding the Common Core. While the survey is not a referendum on the CCLS, it is an opportunity to provide feedback about the standards. I encourage all educators to take a moment and let your voice be counted.

Black Knight Kudos ...

Congratulations to Jed Musch and the VEX Robotics team who are being recognized by the Genesis Group's "Celebration of Education" awards program.

Congratulations to Marian Draper for her performance this weekend at the NYS Cross-Country Championships.

Congratulations to the Black Knights VEX Robotics team on their performance this weekend at Liverpool High School.

This Week at RFA...

11/16 - Second Marking Period Begins
11/16 - College Application Assistance Night, 5-7 pm, RFA Library
11/16 - Parent Advisory Committee Meeting
11/17 - Rotary Interact Club Field Trip
11/17 - Jill Pekarski Guest Speaker for Journalism and Knight Times
11/17 - Discipline and Attendance Meeting
11/18 - NYS Academic Excellence Scholarship Announcement
11/18 - MDA Lock-Up Fundraiser Event
11/18 - Smart Schools Investment Planning Team
11/18 - Board of Education Meeting
11/19 - Field Trip to 9/11 Memorial and Museum
11/19 - Sophomore Seminar, Law Enforcement & Fire Department
11/19 - SBIT Meeting
11/19 - Dr. Monger Guest Speaking from Cornell University
11/19 - Teacher Coordinators Meeting
11/20 - West Point Museum Field Trip
11/20 - PBIS Meeting
11/20 - Area All-State Music Festival
11/20 - Field Trip to Munson William Proctor Art Institute
11/20 - Shop With A Cop Fundraiser, Basketball Game @ Strough Middle
11/21 - Mathletics Competition at Westmoreland
11/21 - Area All-State Music Festival
11/22 - JROTC Basket Raffle Fundraiser
ONGOING - RFA Ceramic and Sculpture Display at Jervis Library
ONGOING - STASS Canned Food Drive
ONGOING - Sophomore Class Turkey Collection
11/24 - Open Mic Night

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

When was the last time you allowed your students to run the lesson? Hopefully it was sometime last week or anytime other than never. Instead of doing the traditional worksheet to demonstrate knowledge or review for that test, let your students develop the review lesson and tasks associated. You may be pleasantly surprised with their knowledge and may learn something about their learning styles you didn't already know.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Morale? Huh...

One of the prevailing trends in education is to hear that morale is low in our schools. Teachers' morale is low, students are negative about their school experience, and parents are just frustrated with the whole ball of wax. Walk into almost any school and ask the administration this question,  "what's the must important thing to fix in your school currently?" Almost universally you will get the cliche answer of,  "morale."

Is that truly the case though? I will admit that I'm one of those administrators who thought morale was low and that's the solution to all of our problems, but I'm not sure that's true. I have struggled to find a teacher not wanting to teach kids to the best of their ability. If morale was low, wouldn't we expect to see people "mailing it in." Teachers and staff members routinely come to work every day smiling and ready to make a difference. Even in the face of disruptive students and rude mannerisms by our kids, the adults in our schools still show up every day ready to make a difference. So I pose the question, is morale the problem or is the problem really the inability of leadership to make a difference? Being a leader that's kind of a loaded question, but it's the truth. It's time that we, as leaders, step up and make a difference for our communities. Morale is fine, but stress is not. By taking care of our school communities and helping our staff's by reducing stress, not only will morale be higher than ever but our adults may just become the super heroes that we hope the can be.

Black Knight Kudos ...

A giant Black Knight thank you to all of the veterans in our community, past and present, who have sacrificed for our way of life. Happy Veteran's Day!!

Congratulations to our new National Honor Society inductees. 65 students in all have joined the RFA chapter this year.

Congratulations to our athletes who participated in the girls cross-country, boys cross-country, and girls swimming Sectional competitions this past weekend.

This Week at RFA...

11/10 - Rotary Interact Club Polio Vaccine Fundraiser (lunches)
11/10 - Field Trip to Oneida Community House
11/10 - Field Trip to MWP Institute
11/11 - VETERAN'S DAY, No School
11/12 - Sophomore Seminar on Veterinary Science
11/12 - Guest Speaker Andrew Derminio (Knight Times/Journalism)
11/12 - Rotary Interact Club Polio Vaccine Fundraiser (lunches)
11/12 - Math Competition Field Trip to MVCC
11/12 - DASA Task Force Meeting
11/13 - End of Marking Period 1
11/13 - Rotary Interact Club Polio Vaccine Fundraiser (lunches)
11/13 - Guidance Field Trip to MVCC
11/13 - Cap and Gown Ordering During Lunches
11/14 - Vex Robotics Competition at Liverpool H.S.
ONGOING - STASS Canned Food Drive
ONGOING - Sophomore Class Turkey Collection

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

When was the last time you went out of your way to help a colleague that may have been having a bad day, simply because it was the right human thing to do? Take a moment and this week and try to do something nice for a colleague. Maybe introduce yourself to that person you never met even though you've worked together for 10 years, maybe just compliment someone on their hair or smile. We all have personal baggage that other's don't carry, supporting each other reduces our stress!!

Monday, November 2, 2015

A New Beginning...

 One of the most challenging things that all human beings can face is change. By nature we enjoy the comfort of routine and knowing what happens next. In education, most of our whole lives are centered around routine and clearly defined expectations. We have bells that tell us when to leave or arrive at class, due dates for assignments, clear and precise directions for how to complete assignments, and curriculum that tells us what we should be teaching.

So what happens when these routines are disrupted? In our classrooms we have mastered the art of improvisation because rarely does a lesson go the way we want in our head. However, many of us still struggle to handle change when we are not in control or don't know what's coming. This week I begin my new journey with my new professional family at Rome Free Academy High School. While I myself am excited, nervous, optimistic, and yes a bit scared; I know that the foundation established at RFA will help this transition. I look forward to the opportunity ahead and through collaboration as educators, I am excited about the amazing things we can do together. Change is never easy, but through listening and open communication, anyone can make the change process what it needs to be to benefit all.

Black Knight Kudos ...

Congratulations to the girls cross-country team for winning their second consecutive Tri-Valley League Championship this past weekend.

Congratulations to the RFA Marching Band on their second place finish this past weekend during the NYSFBC State Championships.

This Week at RFA...

11/3 - RFA Blood Drive in the Small Gym
11/3 - Education Policy Committee Meeting
11/4 - STASS Meeting in the Small Cafe
11/4 - Faculty Meeting in the Small Cafe
11/4 - BOE Meeting
11/4 - National Honor Society Induction in the Auditorium
11/5 - French Club Dinner in the Cafe
11/6 - FBLA Field Trip to Herkimer BOCES
11/7 - SAT Exams
11/7 - Marching Band Performance in Veteran's Parade
11/7 - NHS Dodgeball Tournament in the Large Gym

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Think about the last professional transition that you went through. I'm sure that things went well while others did not go so well. What could you have done differently to help yourself and/or your colleagues have a better transition experience?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

When One Door Opens, Many More Follow...

One of the hardest things to do in life is to deal with change. There is that old saying, "When one door closes, another door opens." I wonder though, why does a door have to close for another to open. Why can't many doors open when someone decides to go through a new door? I am about to embark on a new professional journey in the coming weeks and I refuse to think that the building that I have helped to lead over the past 3 years is going to be a closed door. Instead, I can think of thousands of opportunities that have been opened because of my decision to walk through a new door.

I think of all of the people that have touched my life (students, staff, and parents) and I honestly don't see why a door has to close. Instead of that thinking, I choose to think that thousands of doors are opened now with all of the amazing people that I have had the opportunity to lead. The lessons that have been learned, the friendships that have developed, and the opportunities that await for all of us are infinite. So, when one door opens it doesn't mean that another one has to close. It should mean that we are growing and continuing to build our learning network and opportunities to expand our knowledge. I embrace my new adventure while always remembering the network of teachers and students that I leave behind. My learning is never complete and through those many new open doors, I know I will someday reach the summit.

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

There is almost never a good time in life to make a change as an adult. Whether the change be large or small, it's always scary and filled with doubt. Take a moment to reflect on your first weeks of school and  challenge yourself to find one element of your own performance that you can change before it's too late this year.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Don't Overthink It: What We Can Learn About Our Teaching Philosophy Through Golf

1.5 Seconds of Thought
This week I have decided to dedicate my blog to the game that I love and hate the most, golf!! Thanks to a recent outing with a colleague, I got my game into the best shape it's been in for years AND got this awesome idea for a blog post. While we spent the afternoon laughing, high fiving for good shots, talking to ourselves after poor shots, there was one constant about the game: Regardless of a good shot or bad shot, the mumbling was always, "Don't overthink it!" Almost everyone knows that sports, especially golf, are mentally grueling and the more you think while playing usually the worse the outcome. So why do we continue to overthink things? Is education any different right now in this time of uncertainty and change? Maybe, just maybe the adults don't always have the perfect answer because we overthink it, but collaboratively with our students, I know the right answers will be found.

Famous golfer Ben Hogan once said, "Golf is the hardest game in the world. There's no way you can ever get it. Just when you think you do, the game jumps up and puts you in your place." I find this to be a perfect analogy for our profession. The second we as educators think we have everything figured out and become stagnant is the second we have failed ourselves and our students. One thing we have all learned about life is that change is a given and currently in education change is becoming more and more the norm. So why do we resist change so much in our profession. After all, if our duty is to promote learning to our youth, why are so many educators turned off to the idea of learning new strategies and trying new lessons? While degrees and certifications may prove our intelligence, they certainly do not make us omnipotent wizards of the classroom. Our craft is always changing and the only way to ensure success for all is to recognize this, accept it, and grow with it. If we don't overthink the change, then it won't be anything to fear.

I leave you today with this quote from Bruce Crampton, "Golf is a COMPROMISE between what your EGO wants you to do, what EXPERIENCE tells you to do, and what your NERVES will let you do." I'm not certain that there could be a better correlation for the difficult task of being an educator. We must continue to want to grow and acknowledge our biases and understand that our beliefs are simply that, our beliefs. No one's beliefs are absolute and prescribing of everyone in our communities. It's time to compromise with our egos and experience and take the risk that our nerves are telling us to take!!

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Take a moment to think about that teacher from your own school experience that for one reason or another you felt was against you or gave up on you. Think about the characteristics about that individual that bothered you and caused you to feel that way. Now self reflect about your own behaviors and actions. If there is anything remotely close to those actions that caused you to feel disenfranchised from that teacher, fix them so none of your students feel like you have given up on them!! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

5 Things We Have To Stop Pretending

After a week hiatus from blogging to enjoy a school event, I've been challenged to join the growing number of educators out there to blog about the 5 Things We Have To Stop Pretending in education. Thank you to Christina Luce for "nudging" me into the blogging world and for prompting this post. So, without further adieu, here are my top 5 things we need to stop pretending in the world of education:

1. PRETENDING!!! We need to stop pretending period!!

2. FAIR AND EQUAL MEAN THE SAME THING. Over the course of history, we have developed this notion that in order to be fair for everyone, things must be equal. Likewise, being equal means that things are fair. Unfortunately, this is simple not true and WE KNOW IT!! All educators have been through countless professional developments where we have heard this but yet when we return to the recesses of our comfort zones, a large majority of people in schools still practice this archaic philosophy.

3. YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE IN REAL LIFE. We need to stop pretending that in the real world you only get one chance. The idea that one opportunity should define a student's ability or capacity for knowledge is simply not real world application. That is not to say that we should not have deadlines for tasks or goals/expectations for completion, however merely to say that students should be given as many opportunities to demonstrate KNOWLEDGE as possible. As in the real world, these multiple efforts or lateness on an assignment would come with a penalty, however the task will have been completed rather than cast off as a zero in a grade book, which is an indication of zero knowledge... simply not true.

4. BEING BETTER MEANS THAT WE ARE BAD. Far too often the human race sees the need for change as a negative. The most successful people and businesses in the world are that way because they are constantly growing and changing. Changing does not mean that things are broken or bad, simply that they can be better. Just because something worked 20 years ago, 7 years ago, or even this year doesn't mean it will work again or can't be done better. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a great quote... how about "If it ain't broke, make it better!!"

5. OUR WAY IS BEST. One of my favorite authors, Michael Fullan wrote, "One of life's great ironies is that schools are in the business of teaching and learning, yet they are TERRIBLE at learning from each other." We don't share our knowledge and resources. Sometimes within schools collaboration doesn't exist and certainly between schools and districts it is minimal. We are not in competition with anyone so why aren't we more supportive of each other? We have many talented people in our field, we need to continue to learn from them so that we can all be better!!

Worth the Read...

MotivatED - Stories of Teaching and Learning (blog)

5 Things We Have To Stop Pretending (list of blog posts)

Seven Practices for Effective Learning

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

As we close out the school year, think about the quote, "If it ain't broke, make it better." What can you do next year to improve upon an already successful practice or strategy that you are currently using!!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Power of Communication

In today's society of immediacy and electronic devices, the art and power of communication seems to be a disappearing skill. The advent of email and text messaging has quickly made the concept of a phone call almost obsolete. All too often when asking staff members if they've spoken with a parent, they can quickly reply with, "I've sent several emails." While email is great and so is text messaging, there is no substitute for a good old-fashioned phone call. Might they take more time? Yes, most often they do. However, the relationships that can be built through a conversation are much stronger than those built through a letter. There is no substitute for the tone in a person's voice or the sense of urgency that can be displayed.

When working with students, it is important for us all to remember the POWER of our communications with them rather than for us to think that we have POWER because we are communicating with them. Unfortunately, adults can have moments where they utilize their position as a position of power to communicate with students. Barking orders, making demands, raising voices... All methods of communication which we all know are not good, appropriate, or helpful. They merely elevate tensions and make situations worse. We all benefit when we utilize the power of communication in a positive way. More often than not, disrespectful and unruly students lack the self-awareness and control to think. As adults, if we can utilize our outstanding communication skills and habits that we have, we can ensure that any situation ends without incident or escalation. Using a calm voice, not being afraid to walk away from a confrontational student, and keeping body language open and warm are all methods of communication that we know work.

Either way you slice it, having positive relationships with students, families, and colleagues is cultivated through the power of communication. Good, timely, and transparent communication is vital to building these relationships of trust and maintaining them. So, when talking to your students, think about what your body language and tone are saying, not just your words. The next time you're thinking about sending that email, consider picking up the phone instead. It all pays off in the end.

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Next time you find yourself in a situation where your anxiety is rising and your blood pressure boiling, take a moment to step back and think. Take a deep breathe before speaking or responding to whoever you are engaged in conversation with. You will find that a clear thought and calm voice can change the course of any conversation.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Did I Just Say?!

Have you ever had that experience where you just finished saying something and you immediately wonder, "What did I just say?" Or how about that moment when you're giving an impassioned talk and when you pause for a moment you notice the blank stares on the faces of the people you're talking to and you can hear crickets in the audience. The worst is when we are speaking to students and they completely misinterpret something that we are attempting to communicate to them. We've all been there as leaders, teachers, and speakers. So what do we do about it? Ensuring that our message is communicated correctly is more important than we realize.

One of the all-time best courses I have taken in my own education was related to psycho-metrics and how the mind works. What we don't realize is that 85% of what we intend to communicate, get's interpreted differently than we want it to. In our head, we here the beautiful symphonies of Beethoven when we speak. Our listeners however are hearing the challenging sounds of the third grade beginning string orchestra playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Roughly 15% of what we say gets communicated correctly. If we can remember that, it helps to ensure that the message was received because we can differentiate the message as needed based on the audience.

Ironically, this same phenomenon can help to open up lines of communication between staff and students within a school. When we recognize that we may not be communicating correctly and acknowledge that deficit of 85%, we become open to allowing people to question us. Those probing questions open the door for dialogue, learning, and collaboration. So, the next time someone questions you on what you just said, instead of being defensive and assuming they didn't listen or disagree, take the question as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to ensure that the message is communicated clearly and that communication lines become open. So please, ask me what I just said to you because I would rather know that the message was received, rather than hope you understand.

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

My reflection moment this week is more about allowing others to help you reflect and grow. We often get evaluated by our superiors, but rarely get evaluated or welcome evaluations by those that we serve. Take a page from the customer service manual and ask your students to evaluate you. Or if you're an administrator, ask your staff to evaluate you. The feedback will most likely be true growth producing feedback.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Advanced Placement or Advanced Pressure?

Not only does the month of May signify the home stretch for those of us in education, it signifies the most stress filled time for our high school students. The SAT exam is coming up followed closely by the ever demanding Advanced Placement (AP) exams and final exams. More than ever our high school students are expected to be completing college level and AP courses prior to leaving high school and for some, the burden may become Advanced Pressure more so than Advanced Placement.

During this time of testing for our students who we generally may classify as strong, bright, mature, and yes, advanced; we may forget that they are still kids just like everyone else. They may be a tad more intelligent than the average student on a bell curve, but they are only 17 or so and have all of the worries and stresses that come with being a teenager. As educators and leaders, we need to keep this in mind through the coming weeks and help our students not only prepare, but manage the stresses of their lives.

In the next few weeks, let's remember to encourage our students that while the test may be demanding, it's nothing that they can't master. That the test produces a number of their intelligence on a given day at a given moment in time but is not a measure of the complete individual. Talk to your students and ask them about what concerns and stresses they have and be willing to share your own stories of sacrifice, struggle, and hurt when you went through similar processes in life. Our students look up to us for advice and support and when they hear our stories of struggle and can see that we aren't super human academic robots, it increase their self esteem and reduces their anxiety. So, during this coming month, make sure AP doesn't stand for Advanced Pressure but becomes a true measure of our students' knowledge.

Worth the Read...

West Genesee Community Movie Night is Coming...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

As we come to the end of the school year, take a moment to ask yourself, "What made my favorite teacher, my favorite teacher?" and "What made my least favorite teacher, my least favorite teacher?" Hopefully you will not possess any of the qualities that you disliked in your least favorite teacher. However, no worries because if you do, there is always time and room to grow!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

'Tis the Season!!

'Tis the season where students and staff alike enjoy a nice night out, maybe a nice dinner, and an evening of sharing laughs and smiles dancing. This is also the season where our traditional model of schooling has forever promoted the "cool" and "not cool" groups in our schools. Recently, our school had the opportunity to listen to former NFL and Syracuse University quarterback Don McPherson speak of this topic. The concept that our schools have a box of popularity and that if we don't fit into that box, or that perception, then we are an outcast.

I would like to take this opportunity to promote the concept of togetherness and support for all members of our communities. Each of us has a story to tell, none of us have anyone that knows 100% of our story. Too often we make judgments of others based on their appearance, maybe past history, or worse yet a rumor. While we have made great strides in public schools to reduce bullying, it still occurs and it still hurts our students and communities. As the leaders of our schools, all adults need to step up and remember that all of our students and co-workers have their own stories and stresses impacting their lives. We need to take time to UNDERSTAND each other, not infer meaning based on partial or bias information. We all deserve the opportunity to enjoy our school environments, whether we choose to be there for our job or if we have to be there for our education.

So, during this prom season, I ask all adults in schools to step up and applaud the students that are making strides to bring your school community together. Recognize the students whose names you may not know but say "hi" to you every day. Encourage students to break down those barriers of hierarchy that have long been established in our schools. Finally, support your students. Get out and chaperone their events and visit them on their memorable nights. Be a part of their positive memories of high school, be the influence that we all desire to be in our students and who knows, you may even enjoy the night out yourself!!

Worth the Read...

West Genesee Community Movie Night is Coming...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Have you ever worked in a small school or small community where everyone knew everyone's name? Can you name all of your co-workers? If so, can you introduce them to someone new and offer some information about that person? In many cases we can not, the hustle and bustle of the work week is too much for socialization as well. Take a moment to get to know a co-worker that you may say "hi" to every day but never took the time to stop and have a conversation. We are one in the same, adults caring about kids... Let's do it together!!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is Failure Final?

 I often wonder why it is that people are afraid of failure? Beyond that, educators in general seem to be so afraid of failure. Almost every educator recognizes when something doesn't make sense and needs to be changed, but are reluctant to try something different because what if it doesn't work? That would make us failures!! In conjunction with that, every educated and worldly adult knows that we have learned life's lessons through failure. By making mistakes and not giving up. So I ask the question, is failure final?

Well, I would argue that clearly in life it is not. We are able to make mistakes and are provided opportunities to correct our mistakes, learn from them, and move on with life. Often times, the feeling of success that accompanies our learning experiences and/or corrected mistakes is a rejuvenation of life in general. In education, failure has long meant that we are not good enough. Most educators never struggled with school and may not realize what it means to be that student who wasn't successful on the first try. Do we know how that changes the motivation/psyche of a kid? I know I don't, because failure motivates me. However, for many it does not. So how do we reach them?

First, we must not be afraid to fail ourselves. Michael Jordan said, "I've failed over and over. That is why I succeed." Thomas Edison said, "I haven't failed. I just found 10,000 ways that don't work." This attitude is what we need to embrace in education, both as educators searching for change and as facilitators in learning. We have been trained to celebrate success and condemn failure. What would happen if we embraced learning? I bet the world of public education would be a different world if we accepted the failures of our students not as a reflection of our own abilities as a teacher, but as an attempt to receive our admiration and support. Once a failure does not need to equal always a failure. We know this, so let's stop promoting it.

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

We can all admit that the profession is different than when we entered as a first year teacher. What is 1 thing that you used to do as a novice teacher that you know worked, that for one reason or another over the years you've given up on? Why and can you bring back that fire?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why Are We Afraid of Why?

Welcome to this first blog post as I venture out into a new world of social media! Needless to say, this is somewhat stressful as it is a new experience. Ironically, as I put the page together I found myself asking, "WHY has it taken me so long to make this leap?" Then I thought, WHY are human beings, and more specifically those of us in education, afraid of asking WHY?

As teachers, we ask our students WHY all the time. It's second nature to ask a student to explain their thoughts and push their thinking to go deeper. However as colleagues, we often view the word WHY as an attempt to weaken our sense of being. When we question WHY certain practices exist, WHY policies are enacted the way they are enacted, and WHY decisions were made, the word has almost universally a negative connotation. If it is okay for us to question our students in this manner for the pure sake of understanding the students' thought better, why as colleagues can we not do the same. After all, a school or community is a sense of family and should be there to support each other and share ideas. Asking WHY should be a compliment as it is a gesture of curiosity, understanding, and growth.

In this time of turbulence within educational institutions, we need to ask WHY a lot. WHY do we do what we do on a daily basis? And do we need to continue doing those things, or make some changes. As we ask WHY of ourselves, students, colleagues, and communities, we also need to listen. Listen to each other to understand WHY and learn how to move our profession forward. We are doing many many good things in the field of public education, and have been for a long time. Perhaps it is time to question those good practices and learn how to make them great!! I wonder WHY we don't do that more often?

Worth the Read...

Take a Moment to Self Reflect and Grow...

Find 1 new initiative that you have implemented this year that you feel is working and ask yourself WHY? Can you apply these reasons for success to others areas of your room/building to improve those aspects?