Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Year New

This time of year I find it especially helpful to take a moment and reflect as we prepare to enter a new year. Many of us have experienced significant changes during 2010, personally and professionally. Whether these changes have been for the better or worse, it’s important to remember and reflect. It seems that hindsight is always clearer than when the path was ahead. Is reflecting enough?

Recently while ringing the bell at Walmart (thanks for setting this up, Jani) I thanked a contributor and said, “Merry Christmas” to him. This older gentleman replied, “and a Happy Year New.” At first this struck me as being odd, but I wonder if it was a slip of the cliché or a restating of it in a new context. I’d like to think that he was telling me to have a happy year and make it new: to move beyond my trials of 2010 and make it a happy year. To do this I need to do more than simply reflect. I needed to rethink and use my 20/20 hindsight.

The root of reflection is improvement, not just remembrance, so reflection can lead to a new and different coming year. To make a year brand new, then, we need to identify what needs to be different in 2011. To honestly answer this question we need to begin with the individual. It’s too easy to point out reasons why things can’t change – it’s much more difficult to create the positive energy necessary for creating a year that’s new.

We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

Through my reflections of 2010, I’ve been truly impressed with many of the initiatives created by all of you to make AAK and the North Country better than it was in 2009. Most recently – the backpack challenge, CSEA’s Neighborhood Center donations, food pantry donations, InterAct helping with the Holiday Baskets and Holiday Mail for Hero’s, mittens and scarves from the Teachers Association, and bell ringing for the Salvation Army. I’ve also heard that many of you have helped to undecorate local giving trees so that families can have a good Christmas. Your generosity is overwhelming. I’m sure that Ghandi would be impressed. But what would you change about 2010, if you could, to make 2011 a new year?

I’d like to regale you with a personal story. Ten years ago my health was not good, my teaching position was eliminated and my wife’s teaching position wasn’t a tenure track. I was fortunate enough to be able to retain a job, but it was at our high school. After my second week of teaching that September, I visited with Mrs. Chorba, my principal and mentor. I asked her to find a way to get me back to the middle school. As we discussed my dissatisfaction she had discovered that my request came from the fact that I found the climate much different from what I was comfortable with. Her words cut me to the core, “If you don’t like the climate and ‘feeling’ of the school, then what can you do to change it?” This sage advice was the beginning of a personal realization that I could have a significant impact on others and my surroundings. Shortly after this, I began working with the policies and procedures at the high school and district levels. It dawned on me that the only time I felt like I couldn’t enact positive change was when I told myself that I couldn’t. Over the course of the six years that followed, I realized that sometimes change is good. What once seemed uncomfortable to me ended up being a tremendous experience. I came to learn that the high school was filled with wonderful teachers and students whom I learned a great deal from. I enjoyed working there and I am a better educator because of my experiences there. As I now reflect on that long-ago adventure, I’m unsure if the school climate was influenced positively by me after my conversation with Mrs. Chorba, or influenced negatively by me before my conversation.

I’ve been asking you throughout the last few years to make a positive impact on the lives of children. You have done so and then some. You have influenced more than just your students, you have made an impact on me. I am genuinely impressed by you and I challenge you to own your day and make the new year truly new.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Year New!

Friday, December 10, 2010


I was visited this past Thanksgiving vacation by one of our PCS alumni. This young man was a former student of ours who also played soccer for me. Consequentially, he was also the namesake of my youngest child, Lucas. This young man had always impressed me with his maturity, insight, and ability to remain calm when everything around him was chaotic. As he grew he had shown tremendous tenacity and drive in all areas of his life as well. I had not heard from him in about one year as he was then preparing to enter an internship for his pending engineering career, therefore, we had a lot of catching-up to do.

Every once in a great while I hear or see something that stops me in my tracks. I had one of those moments when visiting and was struck with a word he used as we talked. He used the word value when he told me about his professors, supervisors, and teachers. He used this word value again as we talked about the other athletes and coaches from the “old days.” He told me what he valued about the various people and situations which helped him develop into who he is today. It was like I was hearing this word for the first time.

Attempting to sort my thoughts regarding this epiphany-type occasion, our dialogue turned to this word. Through discussion, I discovered that he valued these people for what they valued and what they taught him. This young man’s own value system was formed by the ideals expressed by those around him. My mind instantly raced to the implications in our daily interactions with colleagues, students, and parents. What is it that we value and are we portraying this to others?

This time of year is a wonderful time to reconnoiter and rethink about the big picture. Values go to the heart of what’s important. Individuals in our work-family have experienced much loss in recent months, which makes this all the more important. In a quick version of the long answer to the above question, I compiled a list of words which represents what I value; my HOPE is that I’m conveying this to others through my interactions: family, humor, respect, enthusiasm, compliance, work-ethic, compassion, empathy, information.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend – stay warm!

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."
Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teach Your Passion

As I watched our guest presenter, Tim Bedley, at our last staff development day I was struck with a single thought; this guy is passionate about music. Furthermore, he found a way to incorporate his passion into his lessons to enhance engagement and increase learning. This was very cool.

I recently read an article referencing words from one of my favorite children science fiction authors, Bruce Coville. He said, “If someone were crazy enough to let me run a school and I had the privilege of interviewing teachers, my first question would be, "What's your passion?"” This struck me because passionate people move me. The energy, the excitement, and the love push all of us to become better people.

"What's your passion?" Imagine that in an interview. I’m not sure that my college training would have prepared me for that question. The honest truth is that the most inspiring people in the world are teachers. No matter what the topic, they move people to better themselves in some way – to me this is the root of teaching with passion. Unfortunately, I see some of the initiatives coming from our state and federal government being counterintuitive to this. Some of our current educational reformists have, in my opinion, forgotten that public school is a vehicle for personal betterment. Many of the new mandates (and some of the mandate relief proposals) are missing the boat on education and they are certainly not aligned with the SED’s own Essential Elements for the middle-level. If we’re not inspiring kids to search for their own passion, then why are we teaching?

These outside factors do negatively affect us, when all we want to do is teach/inspire. This exact dilemma was presented by Alfie Kohn who posed a very difficult question, “Will teachers treat students the way they, themselves, are being treated…or the way they wish they were being treated?” I encourage you to stay-the-course of the Essential Elements. This is the “secret” that SED and many of the reformists are missing – schools that implement the Seven Essential Elements have proven to be effective, affective, and have high student achievement levels. AAK is such an example of excellence.

Be proud of what you do and have a wonderful weekend.