#Blogamonth Give Thanks

That which is bitter to endure can be sweet to remember…

So as I read the topic for this month’s #blogamonth, all the obvious thoughts flooded my mind- I am so thankful for my children, my wife, my family, my friends, my colleagues, etc.   But as I thought about the topic some more, it occurred to me that there are some things that I am thankful for now, that at the time I was enduring them, I was not so able understand that I was struggling through a challenge, or perhaps I was unable to see the value in overcoming the challenge.

So as to organize chronologically thoughts in a linear manner, I will share some of these experiences for which I am thankful that I have had to endure.

As I have shared very openly, I struggled mightily as a child with what would now be diagnosed as ADHD, and there is high likelihood that I would also have been medicated for my hellacious temper.  My Montessori Principal at Children’s House in Levittown was named Ms. Cannon. She had a big green chair in her office, and a very cool canon right next to the chair.   I remember this because I spent a great deal of time with her in her office.   I don’t remember that time being horrible, or that I was enduring such a hardship; in fact, I have fond memories of those times.  But I can’t tell you the name of any other teacher I had there.  I am thankful for Ms. Cannon, because despite the fact that I spent enough time with her that she is the one I remember from those years, I remember those years fondly.  She obviously never made me feel like a bad kid, even though I was causing trouble.

I also remember Ms. S.  She is the one who sent me home from school in second grade.  I don’t remember what I did, but I do remember always feeling like she never forgave me for it.  Fortunately, I had the appropriately named Mrs. Tickle the next year.  She was a legend at my elementary school.  My sister had her, too.  I am thankful that she made me feel good about myself.  Also, her class is the earliest for which I have very specific vivid memories of lessons and activities.

My first year in junior high, I still had that crazy temper, and the ADHD was in full effect.   Crammed into a public school classroom with 40 kids in a room, I was doomed to fail.  Couple that with my short fuse and a feeling that I wasn’t going to back down from any bullying, I found myself failing all my classes and getting into fights nearly every day.   I also found myself in a very unique situation.  They kicked me out of school.   At the time, it didn’t feel like this would be something that in retrospect would evoke good feelings, but it was a life-changing experience. It gave me the amazing gift of empathy for struggling adolescents. So I am thankful that the two guidance counselors told my parents to put me in military school.   I am also thankful that my parents didn’t listen to them. 

Instead they put me in a small school where I could get the attention I needed, the positive peer-pressure to motivate me, and the challenge to help me reach my academic potential.  While I was at that Hebrew day school in Bucks County, I was not aware of how negatively some people treated me- nor was I remotely aware of being what many have said was a tortured adolescent. Actually, I was very happy in those days.   I had a feeling of belonging that helped me grow and learn. I am thankful for the adolescent blinders that I had on in those days that kept me from seeing the negativity of the adults around me at school.

One of the most difficult times in my life was my junior year of high school.  In a 9 month span, we lost my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother.   The effects on my family are still lingering.   But at that time, I found myself incredibly fortunate to be in a school that was very much a family.  My teachers, friends, and even people I didn’t know were there to support me through this incredibly difficult time.  I am thankful that I was in that type of school environment.  It certainly represented for me a key element I have always sought in schools where I wanted to work, and in the last few years, in the schools where we send our children.

During my college years, I certainly had some ups and downs.  During one such down time, my actions led to a rift between me and my family.   This rift was accompanied by a new challenge- I had to pay for the rest of my schooling.  This was a monumental obstacle for me.  But I am thankful that I knew at a young age that I wanted to teach and coach.  That aspiration allowed me to see the light at the end of that very dark tunnel.  Once I emerged at the end, I was very thankful that my father had made me work for that degree.  It made such a profound difference in my life- although I wasn’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about it at the time.

In the years since, I have always been cognizant of and openly gracious for people in my life who have supported, guided, and even tough-loved me.  Mentors like Pat Lukacs, Joe Merluzzi, and Neil Gruber at Berkeley Prep- my first teaching job, Rich Basirico at Hilton Head, Bob McGrath at Pine Crest. Good friends and colleagues like Chris Piccone, Joey Walters, Phil Consuegra and others who continue to be a part of my life.

But along the way, I reflect with thanks on those from whom I learned about the kind of professional and/or person that I do not want to be.  Whether it was negative colleagues, abusive supervisors, or those for whom the education and well-being of our students did not appear to be in their top five motives for being educators.  But I am thankful for their poor examples, as I am for their influence in my continuing to move onwards and upwards towards finding the right place for me and now for my own children.  That being said, I am a “high road” kind of guy. Regret, anger, resentment make us rot inside, and I have had too many wonderfully positive people and experiences in my life to allow that to happen, so I choose instead to thank them.

I recently wrote about my feelings about my current experience, so I will merely say that I am thankful for where I am and who I am with professionally and personally.

All of these experiences and people (and certainly countless more) have shaped me, and I am thankful to have the kind of mindset that has allowed me to grow at each step of the way.  It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been a great ride so far.  More to come.


No Surprises Here

Yesterday, we held our first #edcampdavis at the middle school for our half day of professional development.  It is no surprise that the 3 and a half hour event was massive success.  That is not to say that the edcamp style program would work everywhere to the same powerful level. I don’t believe it would. 

So that begs the question: What is it about us that had this very simple process be so remarkably impactful for our community?

There are a number of catalysts for this success. First, we walk the walk of being a community of learners who exemplify the growth mindset.  Our approach to yearly professional development programming manifests this attitude.  Entirely created, developed, and executed by members of our faculty and staff, teachers have 8 PD strands to choose from for areas of study during the course of the year. 

This element also reveals another key trait that had yesterday be so meaningful for our group- so many of our people are accustomed to raising compelling topics, and facilitating meaningful conversations on those topics.  

Further, we are a culture that easily finds comfort in a room of colleagues having candid discussions on even the most sensitive topics (having difficult conversations with parents was one session yesterday,  for instance). 

Finally, a significant contributor to the positive climate we felt in the building yesterday is the wide-spread experience with this model that many of our people have had prior to executing our day of learning.   Many of us have participated in edcamps, so there was leadership and guidance even in the process of building the board while we ate.

As a culture that walks the Dweckian walk, we benefit from opportunities to share our collective knowledge,  creativity, and passions as educators. 
The edcamp model works for us because it provides a forum that allows us to play to these strengths with great ruach (spirit) while also making our kehilla (community) stronger in the process as we build kavod (respect) for each other and deepen our chochma (wisdom).

At a time when so many schools are looking to outside sources for PD, we choose to tap into the incredible wealth of talent within our walls that lends itself to the fluid, organic collaborative model that edcamp provides.