Sunday, January 29, 2012

To persevere among differences...

I really enjoy watching movies. In particular, I really enjoy watching movies that inspire and motivate me, and it's an added bonus when the movie has a great soundtrack to go along with an inspirational story.

"The Last Samurai" is one of my favorite movies. Even with an open mind I struggle to see Tom Cruise in the role of a samurai, but nevertheless the movie still resonates with many of the same issues we struggle with in 2012. Additionally, I find that the movie illustrates several great qualities that all leaders should possess.

An overarching theme in the movie is the ability or inability to see someone else's perspective; more precisely, accepting or not accepting the differences of others. As educators we are inundated with different and new ideas, different and unique philosophies, and personal beliefs that make differences quite common in the educational setting.

What we struggle with most is finding a common ground to prevent these differences from holding us back. Will your pride and personal beliefs prevent you from seeing things from a different perspective? Will your pride and personal beliefs hold you back from making real progress toward helping move your school forward?

Another main theme in this movie is the perseverance and fortitude to act on your personal beliefs. When you are surrounded with opposing and conflicting viewpoints, will you succumb to the resistance or will you stand strong and continue your journey?

In education there will never be a 100% consensus, and if there is then there is probably something really wrong. When you follow your heart and follow your passion to do what you know is right and true, will you have the strength to push on and continue fighting for what you know to be right, or will you yield? Will you give the other perspective a chance or will you extinguish its flame before it fully ignites?

Hopefully the contrast in themes is evident. While these two themes are quite common in our day-to-day interactions, they are rather difficult to manage in both our professional and personal lives.

As educators, we must stay true to our beliefs and individual philosophies. We must persevere against all resistance to do what we believe is the best for our students. We must have an unyielding commitment to doing whatever it takes in light of any roadblocks and setbacks. We must have the strength to stand when others choose to sit; we must have the courage to speak when others choose to remain silent...

As educators, we must also hear and consider the beliefs and individual philosophies of others. We must take note of resistance and reflect on if what we are doing is truly best for our students. We must have an unyielding commitment to searching and finding the best ways of doing things. We must have the strength to simply watch and learn when others choose to lead the way; we must have the courage to listen while others choose to speak... 

Perhaps finding a happy balance between the two is the key... perhaps these two conflicting themes can not coexist... perhaps one theme is more important than the other... perhaps we will never know...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

12 inspirational blog posts!

Though it has taken time to build up the long list of blogs that I follow through my Google Reader, I am quite certain it was well worth the time. We are all fortunate to have so many great inspirational minds sharing their experiences and thoughts with others. Here are 12 blog posts that have inspired me, motivated me, and encouraged me to be better than the day before. Enjoy!

1) - Att-I-Tude by @coolcatteacher
2) - It's easy... by @mrwejr
3) - Run your day by @bjnichols
4) - Change by @joe_bower
5) - The box by @tomaltepeter
6) - Have a great day (the choice is yours) by @umakadiff
7) - I am not a great teacher by @teachpaperless
8) - What does it mean to love a child? by @stevemiranda
9) - Don't be afraid to act by @justintarte
10) - These are my kids by @michellek107
11) - Today is yours by @coolcatteacher
12) - We need schools where everybody knows your name by @graingered 

Are you a "Linchpin?"

I am currently re-reading one of Seth Godin's most popular books, "Linchpin." Next week PBJHS's book club will be meeting to discuss this book and how it relates to what we do on a daily basis as educators. As I go through my second reading of the book, I am continually pushed to be reflective about how I view society, as well as how I view my role as an educator. As most things with education, there is definitely nothing black and white, and Godin does an impeccable job of pushing us further into the deep shades of grey...

Here are some thoughts that are circling my mind of late:

- How often do you reward compliance & structure over creativity and challenging the status quo...?

- Can you be easily replaced in your current position? What are you doing to make yourself irreplaceable?

- More importantly... what are you doing to help ensure your students are getting the skills they need to be irreplaceable?

- Are you preparing your students for jobs where they only need to follow directions, or are you preparing them to be self-sufficient rational thinkers capable of making their own decisions?

- How do you function when given autonomy and freedom? How do your students function when given autonomy and freedom? Your answer here says a lot...

- Do you avoid fearful situations or do you respond to your fear with control and poise?

- Are you putting an emphasis on things that are quantifiable, or are you putting an emphasis on things that are very difficult to quantify?

- Are you afraid to act because you want it to be perfect before acting, or are you willing to sacrifice perfection for action?

- Do you live a life driven by humanity and emotion? Are you willing and able to make connections where others will not... are you willing to go to the edge for something that's never been done?

- Have you accepted the new value of information and the new currency with which we will determine overall success? - it has nothing to do with money or power...

- I am very much so looking forward to the book club discussion next week as I have had several sidebar conversations with teachers. This book will push your thinking and probably make you feel uncomfortable about your position in life. Though every idea in this book may not be practical or doable in your current situation, Godin makes a strong case for changing the way we do things. Are you ready to be a "Linchpin...?"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What would you do?

I received this as an email last week from a colleague in my district. After reading it I immediately forwarded it to the entire PBJHS staff because of the impact it had on me. I hope you enjoy the story and are impacted enough to share it with others...

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.

Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.

Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the Plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside  for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!

Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!

Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the  boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this  world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!


We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate.

The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference.

We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.'

So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice:

Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

With something to think about...