Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rejected Not Dejected

My superintendent sat me down in his office on Wednesday and told me the news that I was not going to be hired for the Assistant Principal position in my district. I believe his exact quote was, “we are going in another direction”. The world slowed down and my heart dropped. His reasoning was I was weak in the area of curriculum. My defenses shot up immediately. My head was screaming that was knowledge! Any dummy can learn curriculum! You’re missing out on the fact that I am a leader! My heart told me in an Eeyore-like way that I was being rejected as a person. (I get tremendous self-worth from my job. Whether this is positive or negative is immaterial in this blog. It just is what it is.) I was not good enough to help lead the school. I put on the brave face of thanking him for the opportunity continued a conversation that seems hazy at best and walked out of the office dejected.

Thoughts swirled around my head. How could he not notice what a great leader I am? I have great relationships with the students, staff, board members, and parents. What more could he want? Why wasn’t I good enough? The worst part was that I had to teach a kindergarten class ten minutes later.

The class came and guess what, the kids were smiling. They were laughing and having a great time. They didn’t know how sad and depressed I was. As I think about on all the most difficult times in my life children always seemed to make them better. Most are ignorant of the heartache adults’ encounter in life. They just want to know are we going to do something fun today? This cheered me up a little bit.

I then had to attend a meeting held after school that day to announce who the new AP was going to be. I felt embarrassed to be in the room with the rest of the staff who knew I had been interviewed for the job. I was ashamed and embarrassed. They all knew I wasn’t good enough for the job. I avoided eye contact and waited for them to leave before I got up. I did not want to hear their awkward pity that I didn’t get the job.

I went home and ate a bowl of ice cream; I was still dejected. My conversation with my wife didn’t help. Still dejected. Next up was my old man basketball appointment. I play every Wednesday night from 8-10 pm. I have missed a couple in five years and each time I pouted like a little child and my wife realized I need that time or I will be a complete mess. The games were great that night. I played with some new guys at the park under the lights and we ran the court all night. I didn’t stop playing for almost two and a half hours. Guess how many times I thought about the rejection? You guessed it ZERO. I went home took a shower and went to bed.

The next morning I had a much better perspective. I had the clear understanding that my knowledge in curriculum outside of physical education is weak. That is easy to fix. My superintendent didn’t tell me I was a poor leader and unfit for the job. I wasn’t given feedback that I had to make changes to my attitude or personal skills which is much harder than learning curriculum. He is new this year as well so he didn’t know me as well as my last superintendent either. He had to make a judgement based on my interviews and resume. The person who got the job was better on paper and in the interviews. The silver lining in being rejected for the position was that a woman of color got the position. I am proud to be in a district where your credentials and ability is what gets you hired not your gender or skin color.

I wrap this stream of semi’consciousness with this thought. Even though I was rejected I will not be dejected.

Time to open up this week people!

Q1: What is the biggest rejection of your life? How did you get over it? #slowchatpe

Q2: How did rejection push you in the right direction? #slowchatpe

Q3: Did rejection ever get you down and you never got back up? What happened? #slowchatpe

Q4: How has avoiding rejection negatively impacted your life? #slowchatpe

Q5: Who is you rejection pick up crew that dusts you off so you can try again? #slowchatpe

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#NJPAECET2

Forward to my #CO_PETECHCAMP people: Slowchatpe is a blog is that is dedicated to growth mindset. It is based in physical education and health but tackles the entirety of education. I, like Andy Vasily, believe that we can learn so much about physical education from other sources. I attend every educational conference I can. I read business books, physical education books, or general education books all to further my pedagogy and become a master teacher. The same goes for podcasts, webinars, GHO’s and so much more. This week my blog is a recap of the #NJPAECET2 conference. The conference is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I hope you enjoy the blog. I also have a voxer chat for #slowchatpe. Terry and Lynn will tell you all about Voxer and how it will change your teaching. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or feedback that will make me better.  Sincerely Justin.

I have been to numerous conferences over the past ten years. Every conference has its own feeling. Its own vibe. Edcamps have this freewheeling energy of openness and curiosity. What will the sessions be? Who will present? Are the presentations going to be useful? Will I have to leave and go to another session? So many questions and such high expectations. Educators enter and leave with a natural high that is contagious.

Technology conferences showcase the newest tech trends in education. You learn new apps, new programs, and new ways to use Google. Someone always has a new piece of equipment that is either in beta or costs so much you can’t afford it yet. Either way you leave with a wealth of technology knowledge.  

General education conferences discuss pedagogy and best practices. Master teachers discuss what they do to teach their students in the best possible way. They dissect the art and the science that is teaching. Everyone leaves with new strategies and projects that will take their teaching to the next level.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a conference that combined all three into a bonding experience that will have a lasting effect for all its participants. That’s right. This conference was a general education conference that incorporated technology and threw in an hour long edcamp right in the middle. That conference was the #njpaecet2 (also nicknamed the alphabet conference by @mrnesi).

I walked into the conference having no idea what to expect. The first way this conference was different was that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone right away. They assigned me a seat at a table. I was also walked me to the table; which in hindsight was to make sure that we went to where we were supposed to more than their lack of faith in our ability to find our table number. I was under the impression that I would go find and sit with @mritzius, @btcostello, @lavonnaroth, @jaybilly2, @shahlock, or maybe @techedupteacher if I was lucky. This would not have increased my PLN or pushed me out of my comfort zone. Instead I sat a table full of wonderful strangers. I ended up hitting it off wonderfully with @m3lissamurphy. She was hilarious and we had a blast together. Two people shouldn’t laugh as much during pd as we did! This is why we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I loved how the conference forced that interaction and helped me expand my PLN. The whole entire table (3) was fantastic. SHOUT OUT!

I noticed that the conference was mostly white. I would say there were 15-20 people of color their at the most. I would not have noticed this years ago. Being connected has allowed me to realize that this is a problem in education period. Most teachers are white so may be difficult to get more people of color to attend just based on sheer numbers. The conference is invitation only so it would be interesting to see what the percentage of people of color that were invited. My initial thought was maybe money was an issue. Some districts do not have the funds to pay for pd and if the educators were from far distances they might not be able to afford food and lodging. The entire conference was payed for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including food and lodging, so lack of money from individuals or school districts should not have been a road block for teachers. My initial reaction to these observations was that the foundation did not place a high priority on recruiting people of color to the conference.

This thinking was challenged after I heard the opening keynote speaker Baruti Kafele. (@principalkafele) Here was a black man talking about race right off the bat. I hadn’t even finished my bfast yet! He was engaging and hilarious. His message was clear and concise. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I didn’t even care that he told substory within substory and went over his time which meant that the sessions would be pushed back and lunch would be delayed! His speech was a homerun. I would highly recommend you follow him on Twitter and hire him to speak in your district. My greatest takeaway was him asking us what is our signature? What makes us great teachers.

The next keynote also challenged my assumption that people of color were not represented properly when Michelle King took the podium for her keynote. Here was a black woman keynoting right after a black man. Maybe the committee did have a plan. Michelle’s speech rocked. The crowd was on the edge of her seat while she took us on a roller coaster of a trip. Her speech did not directly address race (unless I missed it) but the fact that she was at the podium spoke volumes. In school we have the hidden curriculum that teaches our students as much as the explicit curriculum. The conference yelled to the room that they were intentional about giving people of color the floor even though they didn’t directly mention their intentions at all. My favorite part was when Michelle broke down the number of approximate days she would be alive and how many she had used already. That concrete representation of an abstract idea was brilliant.

If the story stopped there I would have congratulated the #njpaecet2 committee for their effort in providing opportunities for people of color. There is more though. Another keynoter they brought in was Joyce Valenza. She brought the discomfort. She talked about mansplaining, manterruption, and how women were not given the same voice. She talked briefly about race as well which furthered my discomfort. I have been really working on being comfortable being uncomfortable. I can only imagine what other white men in the room felt like. The beauty of her keynote was that we (men) need to hear the problems. They are real and need to be addressed. Joyce did a fantastic job of using the crowd to prove her points about the real problems women face in education. Her message was not only to make the men more aware of the problem it was also to empower women. Joyce only apologized seven times during her keynote! I am sure that is a record for her. My takeaway from Joyce’s speech was that I have to be aware of my micro aggressions with women. Do I cut them off in the middle of the sentence? I have eliminated hand raising in my class so I don’t have to worry about only calling on boys which I am sure tons of teachers unconsciously do. (she stated she even did it unwittingly) Am I a manterruptor? At the very least it is at the forefront of my consciousness now.

The sessions at #njpaecet2 were solid. I was able to meet up with Lavonna Roth (@lavonaroth) and learned how to physically represent nerve cells and their synapses with a group of people. Her session was lively and informative. I periscoped some of it and my PLN was asking me for her resources! I understand why Lavonna was flown in from FLA. I learned two new literacy approaches to add to my repertoire. The first was a simple partner definition activity. Each person took a definition and summarized it to their partner.  Lavonna walked around and listened to the participants summarize. It is such an easy strategy that I am sure most know but I am not most. The second strategy she demonstrated was using note cards to make a word tree. She had five participants take a note card and put the person with the main idea in the front. The other four people put their hands on the front person’s shoulder. It felt a little like church but was a cool group activity that allowed us to get up and move. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter and buy her books. (I get no cut from her) I left with new ways to teach literacy while still staying true to my movement roots.

Another session I thoroughly enjoyed was Cory Radisch (@MRHS_Principal). I have been to his sessions before and I knew he would bring it. My philosophy on sessions I pick now is based on the presenter and not the content. If I follow them on Twitter or have heard how great the person is through my PLN I will go to their session regardless of what they are presenting about. I know that I will be engaged and be able to glean some gold nuggets of wisdom from them no matter what the content. Cory delivered. His message of being a merchant of hope is something that I can’t get enough of. He brought two teachers with him who were able to show us how their classroom was structured so their students could succeed. I highly recommend you check him out if he is presenting at a theater near you.

The final session that blew my mind was run by David Culberhouse (@DCulberhouse). I knew that David was a brilliant fella just by his blogs that I read. I did not have much interaction with him online before the conference. Like most people I come in contact with I knew him and he had no idea who I was. His session about thinking around the corner was transformational. He was able to show how far technology has come and the skills our students will need when they graduate. My favorite line was when he told us those skills aren’t being tested. His idea of intentional disruption blew me away. This paragraph is doing his session no justice and I apologize for that. If you are still reading this I would suggest you follow Dave. Your brain will hurt but you will become smarter.

A huge miss of the conference for me was the forced colleague table activity. They started off by forcing norms on us. First I am 33 I don’t need norms. Second shouldn’t we talk about our norms as a table. What if we wanted different norms? Third you invited me to the conference. Why are you inviting people who need to be told to be respectful. (that was a norm) (is anyone else thinking of Norm from Cheers right now?) Fourth the activity was boring. We had to individually come up with a problem. Any problem about anything. We then wrote our problem down and passed the paper to the person next to us who was going to give us ideas about the problem. After that we each told the table our problem and then had to vote for one. That one person was going to have their problem dissected and analyzed the next day. The activity fell flat. No one at my table was there at the end the next day. In addition, it was too long to wait. That could have been started in the morning and finished at dinner. I would vote that idea off the island if we were on Survivor.

2015-09-20_2225The greatest takeaway of the entire experience was back at the hotel. I was able to really talk with Manan, Michelle, Dave, Lavonna, Barry and so many other leaders in a relaxed environment. We talked education, sang, and danced. It was wonderful to socialize with people who had the same excitement for education that I have. There was a special time during the night that I ended up outside on a park bench with Christine (@ccavallo2), John (@C0ACHSuk) Jarvay and some random ladies. Motown was rocking on the radio, tunes were belted out, and fun was had by all. What made this really special was our conversation with Jarvay. He was dropping knowledge on us and I was ready to catch it. His views were fresh and there was no sugar coating any of it. It was the perfect ending to a phenomenal night.

To wrap this blog/novel I would like to that the entire #njpaecet2 committee, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and every person who presented and attended the conference. I would highly encourage everyone to reach out to your PLN and find out how you can attend your local #ecet2 conference. You will make connections, raise your pedagogy, eat a ton, and have lots of fun while learning. Can you think of anything better than that?

Q1: What was your favorite part of #njpaecet2 ? #slowchatpe

Q2: What do you think needs to change at #njpaecet2 to improve it? #slowchatpe

Q3: What session blew your mind? Why? #njpaecet2 #slowchatpe

Q4: Who should present at next year’s #njpaecet2 #slowchatpe

Q5: Who should people be connected to that you met at #njpaecet2 ?

Finding Your Bliss

This month Dr. Will’s (@iamdrwill) blog challenge is FINDING YOUR BLISS. This is a great subject to think about for so many reasons. The first being what makes me happy? This should be a question that I have the response to right away. I do have responses but they seem so short lived in my mind. A chocolate peanut butter cup. Buffalo wings. Reading a book beside a body of water while sitting in the shade. A cold beverage keeping me hydrated. Basketball on Wednesday nights. These things all make me happy but do they really give me bliss?

I next did what any smart person would do. I looked up what is bliss.  According to the interwebs bliss is defined as: supreme happiness; utter joy or contentment. Do the above things give me bliss or just temporary happiness? Would I eat, drink, and read books forever if I won the lottery? Not a chance. So anything that is temporary really isn’t my bliss. My bliss has to make me feel like I am a part of something bigger than me.

My bliss falls into two categories. Family and kids. If I was filthy rich would I spend all my time and money with my family? Yes indeed. It would be fantastic to be afforded the time and opportunity to really enjoy my family for a large amount of time. I would attend every ball game, dance recital, chess match, spelling bee, Boy Scout meeting, and anything else my children wanted to do. I would take my wife to every restaurant and beach she wanted to visit. I would be living my bliss. Almost.

There is more to life than just my family. I couldn’t sit around and live my life only for my family. I need to make a dent in the world. Change it for the better. I need to be around kids. They keep me alive. They help me realize the world is a great place. Problems are only as big as you make them. A smile is only a joke away. Kids have a way of showing you how much you are needed in the world. They are my hope that something I do will have a lasting effect on the world. Kids bring out the joy in me.

Together my family and being around children are my bliss. Both give me the supreme happiness and utter joy that I crave in life. There is nothing better than to see my children growing up and learning to do things on their own. Their smiles melt my heart in a way I could never have imagined. Being married to someone who I can share the good and the bad of life makes every day just a little bit better. Watching my students learning new skills, laughing, exploring, and being excited to come to my class and be around me brings me great joy. Knowing that I am positively shaping their small world and starting a ripple effect that could change the larger outside world; bliss.

Q1: What is your bliss outside of school? Why? #slowchatpe

Q2: What is your bliss inside of school? Why? #slowchatpe

Q3: Do we ever ask our student’s what their bliss is? #slowchatpe

Q4: How can we connect our teaching with our students’ bliss? #slowchatpe

Q5: What are you doing to create more bliss in your life? #slowchatpe

Humanity before Ideology

I have been thinking about this post ever since I saw this picture.2015-09-06_1507It amazed me. The caption beneath the picture read, “South Carolina’s director of public safety, Leroy Smith, helps a man wearing a National Socialist Movement T-shirt up the stairs at Saturday’s rally after it appeared he was suffering from heat exhaustion.” I wondered would I do the same thing? Would I help someone out who hated me simply because of my DNA, my skin color, the family I was born into? Would I aid a person who despised me because I was different from them? Would I assist an individual whose entire being hated me through no fault of my own? I would hope the answer is yes. To be completely honest I don’t know what the truth would be.

What struck me as fantastically awesome about this picture was that the director of safety put humanity before his ideology. Mr. Smith did not allow his compassion to be snuffed out in the face of a racist. He did not allow the neo-Nazi racist ideology to obscure his empathy.

Humanity: Humaneness; benevolence.

“he praised them for their standards of humanity, care, and dignity”

synonyms: compassionbrotherly lovefraternity, fellow feelingphilanthropy, humaneness, kindnessconsideration, understandingsympathy,

tolerance; empathy

Idealogy: a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

“the ideology of republicanism”

synonyms: beliefs, ideas, ideals, principles, ethics, morals; More

This year I placed my students into groups and had them look up the word empathy and role play one scenario that would display to the class what empathy looked like as well as the difference between empathy and sympathy.  I then paired my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders with someone who was different from them. The difference could be the gender they identified with, their skin color, height, weight or any other physical characteristic that separates us. I asked my students to look at their partner and notice every difference in physical appearance they could. Notice the difference between their hair, skin, cheekbones, nose and eyes. I then had them see the similarities between themselves and their partners. They were also directed to imagine how that person felt when someone made fun of them, was rude to them, or ostracized them. I hope that this exercise increased their empathy with their classmates. At the very least I was intentionally and explicitly teaching them what empathy was as well as how to grow their own empathy.

I have put my ideology before humanity many times on social media. (especially Twitter) I look at the words the person wrote and respond based on what I thought they meant. I did not think about who the people were and what they were really trying to say. I would pounce on them and didn’t care if I was in a sea of others that was jumping on that individual. Where was my humanity? How did I forget that there was a person on the other side of the screen that could be hurt and angered by what I said? Why didn’t I think about whom the person was and where they were coming from?

What makes this even crazier is that I have been on the receiving end of this before. I poke my nose (which is rather large) into all kinds of conversations on Twitter. I have had people tell me I think and speak these ways because of my white privilege. I have had what I had thought of as a compliment turned around on me. People have questioned my use of social media because I didn’t follow the norms that I didn’t know even existed. I promise you that I have never had malice or negativity in my heart during these conversations. I am sure that I am ignorant in many issues and areas and have been at fault numerous times for responding when I should have been just a lurker. What has happened in response to my constant curiosity is that I have received feedback that I belive has put people’s ideology in front of their humanity. I may be too sensitive in this assessment. It is something I have been struggling with for a while. Where does constructive criticism end and haters begin?

This makes me wonder if I have ever done that with my students before. Have I reacted to their behavior or responses strictly based on my ideology of how “good students” should respond or behave? Was I too harsh on a student because I perceived they weren’t working hard enough, cared enough, or thought they had an attitude? Have I put my beliefs in front of the fact that they were kids, students, someone’s children? I hope not but I have the sinking feeling I may have.

This year I am hoping that I can remember that everyone I interact with is a human. They are somebody who thinks feels, wants to be loved, and wants to be accepted for who they are. I have been really working on seeing people as much more than the physical shell they are temporarily using. They are more than what they think and how they act. They are people. This year I am going to put humanity in front of my ideology. I hope you are able to do the same.

Q1: Have you ever put your ideology before humanity? How did you rectify it?

Q2: What do you do to see people as humans and not who or what they look like?

Q3: How do you teach your students to see each other as people?

Q4: How do you forget the labels that have been placed on students by others?

Q5: What people or hashtags are based on humanity first and ideology second?